I can’t speak for the Millennial experience, but if there’s one thing I vividly remember from children’s shows in the late 90s to the 2010s, it’s the sheer amount of queer-coded content we had on Nickelodeon, the Disney channel, and Cartoon Network.
You could be watching a regular kid’s show with explicitly straight themes but even at that age, you didn’t have to try to pick up on the queer undertones. Sure, no one really knew exactly what it was at the time, but it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kinds of things.
Today’s kids don’t have to pay attention to those undertones anymore. Along with a more open and accepting attitude towards LGBTQ+ people came a slew of shows that didn’t hide the queerness of their characters under subtext. For one, Pearl from Steven Universe singing a whole ballad about losing her beloved Rose Quartz to a man would have been unthinkable just a couple of decades ago.
But for the Gen Zers in the crowd who were born too early to grow up on Steven Universe, queer awakenings came in the form of these kid’s show characters. So, if you had a crush on any of these, it’s time to do some soul searching.
1. Shego and Kim From Kim Possible (2002)
The Kim Possible animated series first aired on the Disney channel in 2002. For the ones who don’t remember what it was about, Kim Possible was an action comedy-adventure about the spying and romantic exploits of international super spy Kim Possible as she tries to stop supervillains from destroying the world. It’s basically the James Bond franchise if James Bond was a teenage cheerleader who foiled villains in her free time.
Kim Possible was canonically paired with Ron, her sidekick and best friend. It’s a classic childhood friends-to-lovers story, but that’s not where it’s at in this show. No. It’s the sexual tension between these two.
Just take a look at this scene where they fight in a restaurant while wearing evening dresses. That entire scene is lesbian culture. Kim even gives Shego a look while she’s pinned under the supervillain.
As for the characters themselves, Kim Possible put the girl boss and Shego put the gaslight in “gaslight, girl boss, gatekeep”. What’s there not to find cool about an international super spy kicking ass without a single hair out of place on her pretty red head?
Don’t get me started on Shego. She was practically older Gen Zers’ “Intro to Goth Girls” case study. Like, come on, the evil goth girl literally got her powers from a rainbow-colored meteor.
2. Gwen From Total Drama (2007)
Perhaps seeing the success of the goth powerhouse that is Shego, Total Drama came out with Gwen as part of their cast of contestants. Gwen was a finalist in Total Drama Island and would feature as a contestant in other Total Drama shows for reasons that are pretty obvious for anyone with eyes.
This sarcastic, deadpan girl crush daydream was one of the most competent campers as she would often win competitions for her team by herself. Besides, beneath her harsh exterior, she turned out to be a very sweet and genuine person which is more than you can say for the more traditionally friendly characters on the show.
The best part? Whether you’re a guy, gal, or non-binary pal, you’d probably have a shot with Gwen considering how many times the show implies she’s bisexual. Seriously, she’s about as sweet with some of the guys as she is with a certain girl who you’d least expect to be her type. It’s the goth girl x sunshine girl duo and honestly, I’m living for it.
To be fair though, a lot of the Total Drama contestants come off as less than straight. Just check out this Reddit thread by Total Drama fans containing their headcanons about the contestants’ sexualities.
3. Jessie and James From Pokemon (1997)
These two had so many queer-coded moments that I don’t even know where to start. Jessie in a suit and James in a ballerina’s tutu? Sign. Us. Up.
There is no heterosexual and straight explanation for what was going on with Jessie and James. It’s hard to put a finger on it back when we were kids and it’s still hard to figure it now as 20 somethings.
Here’s the thing though: among their many ingenious disguises were several instances of crossdressing. There’s was even a time when James was shown with fake breasts. You read that right. While it’s not definitive proof that James himself was queer (because that’s subtext for you) there’s no doubt that scene wasn’t a queer awakening for at least one kid watching the “Beauty and the Beach” episode.
As for Jessie, that woman had domme energy. She knew she was the moment and she was a complete diva about it. Everything about these two screams queer best friends with Meowth being that one straight friend.
4. Zuko and Azula From Avatar: The Last Airbender (2010)
Or literally, anyone in the picture above because Ty Lee is Ty Lee, and let’s admit it, Mai belongs to that special subset of goth girls that queers like so much.
Despite his gloomy and intense personality, Zuko is attractive in a very female gaze kind of way that appeals to straight and queer women and queer men. The prince of the Fire Nation has that “I could fix him” appeal that’s both lowkey toxic and kind of romantic. As r/bisexual puts it, having a crush on both Katara and Zuko was bi culture.
But I digress. It is in fact Zuko and Azula. Think about it, Gen Z queers were obsessed with Shego. There’s no way Azula, the literal definition of “gaslight, girl boss, gatekeep”, with her blue fire powers and dominant personality wasn’t a lot of ATLA fans’ queer awakening.
If the siblings didn’t do it for you, there’s a chance it was Ty Lee or Mai. Aside from the Fire gang, there’s Suki, Toph, and Sokka — especially Sokka. That boy had game.
5. The Hex Girls From Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (1999)
They’re the Hex Girls and they definitely put a spell on us.
What is it that queer women like? Goth girls. What’s even better than a goth girl? A talented goth girl. Now, what’s better than a talented goth girl? Three of them. That’s the Hex Girls.
The Hex Girls first made their appearance in Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost. When we first meet them, it seems like they’re going to be the antagonists of the movie. Let’s be real though, we wouldn’t have minded if they were. Of course, they turned out to be a regular rock band, but lead vocalist Thorn was a real Wiccan.
Speaking of Thorn, she was voiced by Jennifer Hale, the same voice actress behind other WLW favorites like Justice League‘s Zatanna, Batman: The Brave and The Bold‘s Poison Ivy, and Totally Spice‘s Sam. Jennifer Hale, if you’re reading this, thank you for carrying the entire Gen Z WLW community on your back.
6. Danny Phantom and Sam Manson From Danny Phantom (2004)
He was a ghost, she was a goth. Can I make it more obvious?
At this point, we may as well change the title to “Cartoon Goth Girls Queers Liked as Kids”. Jokes aside though, have you ever wondered why queer women like goths so much? What’s up with that? Is there some black magic that comes with women who wear black clothes and fishnet stockings? Maybe. But if there is, it’s time to accept this natural phenomenon because here’s another goth girl and emo boy combo that had us all in a chokehold.
When I say emo boy, I’m not talking about Danny Fenton the Human, I mean Danny Phantom the Ghost. This half-man, half-ghost was 100% an act of queer community service with his tight latex suit and anime hottie-worthy white hair. According to u/trufflepastaxciv, “I was like 14 and went crazy when I saw a picture of Danny Phantom in a water tank and in his underwear.”
Sam Manson, on the other hand, is Sam Manson.
“Sam Manson and Shego were the first signs I was going to be a massive WLW,” says u/meowbands.
7. Jade and Beck From Victorious (2010)
This. This is the definition of bisexual culture. Even if you don’t remember who was the actual lead character of Victorious, you probably remember seeing these two and going, “Hold up.”
Victoria Justice may have been the lead character of Victorious but there’s no disputing that Jade stole the show every time she was on screen. Jade West serves as Victoria’s frenemy and rival in the show and the two of them have a Shego and Kim dynamic going on, if you know what I mean. It certainly doesn’t help that Jade shares the same green and black color palette with Shego while Victoria gives us girl-next-door.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend Beck Oliver was often portrayed as a pretty boy because, really, he fit the bill. Tall, slender, and with long hair, Beck had a soft and almost androgynous look to him that was a hit with baby queers.
Jade and Beck, shipped together as “Bade”, was the bisexual awakening of many kids in the 2010s. It’s not even in a “Jade for the ladies” and “Beck for the gentlemen” sort of thing like with the others on this list. I mean Jade and Beck together were the definition of bisexual culture.
Show of hands if you struggled with deciding which one of these two you had a bigger crush on.
8. Blackfire and Starfire From Teen Titans (2003)
Let’s change it up a bit. Instead of just goth girl, let’s think about goth girl and sunshine girl.
Teen Titans was an animated TV series that ran from 2003 – 2006, just in time to raise older Gen Z. The show was about a group of teenage superheroes that lived together in Titan Tower and fought crime in and around Jump City.
It’s a simple enough premise but the show has more than a few dark moments and touches on social issues like racism, particularly in the scene where Cyborg and Starfire talk about slurs for Tamaranians.
Heavy stuff aside, there are a lot of hot characters in Teen Titans that baby queers in the 2000s got to enjoy. You have the obvious ones like Raven, Terra, and Robin, but also the Tamaranian sisters of the show, Blackfire and Starfire.
Starfire is a beautiful and kind sweetheart that fits the girl-next-door trope while being anything but coming from just next door. Her evil sister Blackfire had all the trappings of ultra-hot goth domme supervillain that time and time again has proven to be irresistible.
While these characters were greatly appreciated back in their day, let’s just be glad today’s kids have more than subtext and undertones to go on.