In this article:
- More publishers are moving queer themes and characters from the peripheries to the centers of their stories, so readers get to enjoy more queer content in new ways.
- Webtoon is both an app and a kind of comic that’s designed for easy reading on your mobile phone.
- From slice-of-life snippets to larger than life tales of fantasy or sci-fi, these 7 queer webtoons can make you laugh, cry, and stay up all night thinking.
Queer themes and characters have a long and fascinating history in comic books. Of course, much of this history is in the context of active censorship thanks to the Comics Code Authority — a problem that is not unique to the medium.
Queerness itself has a history of being erased and toned down in the stories we are allowed to make, and in comics, so much of us is told in codes and hints, often to be filled out by the reader in between the panels on the page. This also meant that queer characters were villains or, as the code was relaxed and its seal of approval quietly disappeared, they were often in the periphery as minor heroes.
But this is changing. Despite the expected moral hysteria over the new Superman Jonathan Kent’s bisexuality (which, for some, was a long time coming), more and more stories with queerness not in the subtext, but front and center, are being published in comic books and graphic novels.
In these stories, queer people are given the privilege of a) existing, b) not dying, and c) a chance at a dignified storyline and a happy ending.
Enter: Webtoon, an app that first launched in Korea in 2004 and then globally in 2014, taking its name from a new type of comic designed to be read on smartphones.
Understood as a part of the Korean Wave and “the next frontier” in mobile content, webtoons have amassed an impressive 72 million monthly active readers.
The Webtoon app is home to over 14,000 webtoons produced by nearly 10,000 creators — numbers that are growing all the time as comics are updated weekly across a variety of different genres.
Like their ink-and-paper forebears, webtoons can make you laugh, cry, or stay up all night in terror. Some feature really impressive world-building and fantastic characters, while others provide slice-of-life joy. And if you’re a queer reader looking for queer content, Webtoon has plenty to offer you, too, by way of queer-centric stories of every kind.
Here are some LGBTQ+ Webtoon comics you should definitely check out.
Always Human by Ari (Walking North)
Author’s Synopsis: This is a story about nanobots, genetic engineering, and two girls falling in love. No matter how technology changes us, we’ll always be human.
This was the first webtoon I’ve ever had the joy of reading, and it set a pretty high standard for queer storytelling in webtoons.
In the sci-fi world of Always Human, people have access to nanotechnology “mods” that allow characters to upgrade their bodies and minds. This comic tells the story of Sunati, who has a habit of altering her appearance dramatically, and Austen, whom Sunati notices regularly at a train station for her lack of mods.
Eventually, Sunati summons up the courage to introduce herself and ask Austen out on a date, and we’re treated to a gorgeously illustrated story that focuses on understanding, acceptance, and healthy communication as the two women fall in love.
In a world of nanobots and genetic engineering, Always Human is charged with very human emotions and experiences. It’s so warm, charming, and wonderfully made that it’s not surprising that it’s been sponsored by GLAAD for a print edition.
The artist herself is a queer woman and has worked on another webtoon I’d also recommend called Aerial Magic. Unfortunately, that one has been canceled due to personal reasons, but the characters, world-building, and themes are nearly as great as Always Human.
Mage & Demon Queen by Kuru (Color_LES)
Author’s Synopsis: Adventurers seek to take the demon queen’s head, but a love-struck young female mage wishes to take her hand. Join us won’t you, for this bawdy tale of love and persistence set inside a real-life RPG.
If you’re down for a sapphic storyline with a little more fantasy and action, Mage & Demon Queen might be for you.
In a fantasy world governed by rules you’d find in table-top and video RPGs, Malori the Mage is looking to defeat every opponent to reach the top of the Demon Queen’s Tower. There, her goal is not to fight what you’d normally think of as a game’s final boss — instead, she wants to win Queen Vel’s heart.
Things are never quite what you expect in this part rom-com part adventure tale, and it’s hard not to fall in love with Malori, Queen Vel, and their fresh love story. The webtoon has been translated to Spanish and French, and there are talks of adapting it into an anime series.
Plus, the author of Mage & Demon Queen is also queer. Her real-life girlfriend even draws short, slice-of-life comics about the two of them in SpringRoll’s Daily Life.
High Class Homos by Momozerii
Author’s Synopsis: Princess Sapphia of Mytilene is not into princes. So, when her parents start putting the heat on her to get hitched, she enlists the help of her equally gay best friend, Prince August of Phthia. But will these two royals be able to pull off a convincing sham marriage? More importantly, will Sapphia ever land a date with the castle maids? Follow these high class homos as they navigate life, love, and (occasionally) their actual jobs.
High Class Homos is a webtoon about a lesbian princess and a gay prince, and it’s all about WLW and MLM solidarity. This kind of bond has an interesting history, and the webtoon is reflective of what was once known as lavender marriages, which were a common way Hollywood figures hid their sexualities in a time when you couldn’t be openly gay for fear of losing your job. (Of course, in some places, this time extends to today, even within “progressive” nations.)
But anyway, the story, like its distinctive art style, is irresistibly cute, and we get to watch August pine over his sunshine knight, while Sapphia yearns for her sweet maid. There’s not a lot of drama or plot twists, which makes for pretty light reading for those of us who want a story where nothing hurts.
There’s also plenty of queer representation to go around, including some for our trans and ace siblings.
Novae by KaixJu
Author’s Synopsis: Raziol is an astronomer with a romantic heart. Sulvain is a kind-hearted necromancer with a troubled past. A strong connection forms between them as they discover the cosmos together, and their relationship blooms. But trouble lurks in the streets of Paris. When the body of a fellow astronomer is found on the steps of the Academy of Sciences, signs point to dark magic, and Raziol and Sulvain’s lives become entangled in ways they could never foresee.
Gay? Check. Historical? Check. Mystery and suspense? Check. And did I mention gay? Check, check, check.
Novae is set in the middle of the scientific revolution in 17th century Paris, and centers on the romance between Sulvain, a mysterious traveler, and Raziol, a translator and astronomer. But trouble is brewing in the French capital, involving dead bodies, a monster, and magic.
There’s also pan and demi representation. And for those of us who are weak for romantic star-gazing dates and carriage rides, Novae has got that, too.
The story is gently and meticulously laid out by KaixJu, which is actually a duo of artists, Jen Xu and K. Rhodes. Their impressive repertoire includes a prequel to Novae called Inhabitant of Another Planet and another historical fiction piece, this time set in World War I in The Ring of Saturn.
Castle Swimmer by Wendy Lian Martin
Author’s Synopsis: What happens when your entire life is ruled by a prophecy – your future foretold by people you’ve never met, who died long before you were born. Such is the story of two young sea creatures. One believed to be a guiding light for his people, a Beacon who will lead them to a bright, prosperous future. The other is a teenage prince for who’s destiny is to KILL the Beacon so that HIS own people might thrive. When both reject the course set for them, it leads to a raucous adventure as big and unpredictable as the ocean itself – and a romance that nobody could have predicted.
The lengthy synopsis pretty much lays down the basics of what you need to know, but I’d like to add that though the plot may sound a little confusing right now, the world is so well-built that it all makes sense pretty quickly as you go along. That, and the plot and characters are so pure and lovely that Castle Swimmer will capture your heart hook, line, and sinker.
And really, it’s about gay merpeople, so how can anyone say no to that?
What I like about it too is that it doesn’t heavily sexualize its characters and focus too much on their otherness, which is all too common in MLM work.
Its author, Wendy Lian Martin, is queer and draws inspiration from Studio Ghibli and Avatar: The Last Airbender. In an interview, she’s also expressed that she’s a fan of other Webtoons on this list, like Mage & Demon Queen and Novae.
Small World by Wonsun Jin
Author’s Synopsis: What do you do when you’re having a bad day? Need a hug? Or just a laugh? Call your boyfriend of course! Follow along with Robin and Julien as they navigate in their own small world.
If you like your cute relationship fluff in a plot that’s a bit closer to reality, then you might also want to check out Small World. A simple, slice-of-life comic that’s kind of like Sundae Kids but gay, it follows boyfriends Julien and Robin through day-to-day domestic life.
The episodes feature stand-alone glimpses of their relationship, and because they’re so short, all 617 of them are pretty easy to binge through. Reading this webtoon almost feels like being the third wheel in their relationship, but it’s hard to mind since everything is (mostly) wholesome and very gay.
Plus, it’s also nice to read about queer couples not just falling in love, but staying in it through life’s ups and downs.
Life Outside the Circle by H-P Lehkonen
Author’s Synopsis: The heartwarming tale of two men who find love in the Finnish countryside.
A metropolitan protagonist moving to the middle of nowhere and finding love (and themselves) isn’t exactly a plot we’ve never seen before (especially when it comes to feel-good holiday films). But Life Outside the Circle’s addition to this tradition is charming in its own right, too.
In it, Sami moves from the Finnish capital of Helsinki to a small village called Ikkeläjärvi. There, he meets single dad Juha and his daughter Maiju, and sparks fly in the tiny, not-so-tolerant town.
The magic to this story is that alongside the cuteness and thrill of falling in love, author H-P Lehkonen doesn’t shy away from its complications either, which many romance plots tend to do. Don’t worry though, there are still plenty of wholesome and sweet episodes, especially those that celebrate queer and trans joy.
The story also explores important themes like trust, family, identity, and stepping out of one’s comfort zones, as well as issues like homophobia and unemployment.
Like Sami, H-P is a bisexual trans man. He’s also a native of Ikkeläjärvi, which shows in the lovely detail he’s put into the settings and its people.
You can read all these and more on the Webtoon site, but I’d recommend just getting the app for free on the App Store or on Google Play.
While you’re at it, do consider supporting these creators on Patreon or whatever platform they use. Not only do they usually give you access to early releases or additional artwork, but the money goes a long way in supporting queer artists, who put out so much wonderful work for us to enjoy today.