“Yuri will save the world” is a popular saying in the comment sections of yuri and shoujo-ai manga online. It’s pretty cringey from a Christian perspective, but in an odd way, for me, it was also somewhat true—though probably not in the way that the comment-writers mean.
Let me give you some context. You know those personal data forms you fill out when applying for jobs? The ones that ask you to declare your religion, marital status and so on? I have always ticked the boxes for single, Christian, female and heterosexual. But for a long time, that last tick was more aspirational than reflective of what was going on in my heart.
I hid my struggles with sexuality from myself, my family and friends, and from God for many years. I knew he knew, but we agreed not to talk about it. At least I agreed for us. I was too ashamed to talk to fellow Christians because I thought they would judge me, and to be honest, I’ve learned that they sometimes do, though not very often. I was too afraid to tell my non-believing friends or family, because I thought they would tell me to embrace it, come out and take my place in the LGBTQ community. That wasn’t what I wanted though, because no matter how persistent and at times overwhelming my experiences of non-attraction (asexuality) and eventually, of same-sex attraction, I had an unshakeable feeling deep in my soul that this wasn’t the best of what God had for me.
Fast forward a few years and one life-changing spiritual encounter later, and I no longer experience same-sex attraction, nor the fear of sexuality that had me shut down any feelings of attraction at all for many years. Some wounds take time to heal though, and living for years in hiding while having poor boundaries in my thought life was not without consequences. So I’m still walking out the journey into wholeness. And along the way, healing has come in many surprising forms, one of the most unexpected being from yuri and shoujo-ai anime.
So here I want to share with you three shoujo-ai and yuri anime that have been important waypoints in my journey towards healing.
I’m doing this because now more than ever, it is important that we talk about these issues openly among the family of God, and that we do so compassionately, with a mindset that values patient relationship-building and a willingness to sit in the discomfort with a brother or sister who is struggling with things that may not be on your radar.
These anime series speak to the kinds of experiences that can be quite common among LGBTQ people, and when watched in partnership with that great counselor, the Holy Spirit, they can be a catalyst for growing in mercy and letting go of the fear of those who might otherwise be considered alien or even threatening to a Christian worldview. My hope with this is to encourage Christians to prayerfully consider watching these stories and listening to voices that can often be avoided in faith communities, and so be moved and equipped to deepen friendships and build bridges across what is often a great divide.
I’m also doing this for my sisters and brothers who struggle like me; to acknowledge that there is a time and place for welcoming LGBTQ stories into our lives even if, like me, you do not feel released to be part of the community, and do not believe it to be an identity for you from God. But there is also a time and place to guard our hearts and stop consuming these stories, which I’ll talk about at the end.
1. Maria-sama ga Miteru (Marimite) (Studio Deen, 2004-09)
The first is Maria Watches Over Us, the classic Catholic girls’ school shoujo-ai, that is, a series that centers on romanticized friendships but without any overt homosexuality (apart from one lesbian character). Think Anne of Green Gables’ bosom friends and kindred spirits or the sisterly bonds in Little Women. It is all very Victorian/Edwardian, without any winks or nods, and in fact that era of puritan English literature is a core inspiration for this type of shoujo-ai.
Maria Watches Over Us is outrageously melodramatic in the most charming way, as things like straightening a uniform scarf, serving tea, and being fooled into performing an embarrassing dance for a fake talent show but embracing it cheerfully anyway become the most high stakes events you could ever imagine. Each girl has her own story, and there are even a couple of Christian characters. Yumi is the kindest character I’ve come across in anime. But Sachiko’s story is what resonated most strongly for me.
Sachiko is visibly afraid of being around men (not an uncommon trope in girls’ school anime). As the series progresses, we learn that her visceral distrust of the opposite sex stems from generations of family brokenness, where the men all take mistresses and the women pretend not to notice.
What? No abuse? No traumatic event? Exactly. For Sachiko—a highly sensitive, introverted character who struggles to express her emotions and connect meaningfully with others—this pattern of betrayal, and the expectation that she will experience the same in her own eventual marriage, is enough to spark her aversion to men and courtship.
This revelation, and the reaction of her friends—sympathy and not ridicule or even good-natured teasing—was so powerful for me, because it is very similar to my own story. And I had always felt ashamed that something so relatively common and, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant as witnessing infidelity, divorce, and subsequent failed relationships as a child could have marked me as it did. Maria Watches Over Us melted that shame away.
When it becomes clear that Sachiko is suffering because of her fears and that it is impeding her life, her friends rally around her to help her to heal. They do so with gentleness rather than manipulation, out of solidarity and not an attempt to “fix” her or set her straight. They respect her, but they love her enough not to turn a blind eye and leave her alone in her struggle.
This is such a beautiful picture of what the body of Christ has the opportunity to be for brothers and sisters who are struggling with issues of sexuality and gender identity. Not just the way in which Sachiko’s friends withhold judgment and instead show sympathy, but also in how they talk to her and try to support her as she confronts her fears. It’s okay to ask someone who has shared their story with you about how they are doing with it, whether (if appropriate and if you’re willing/able) they could use some support or accountability. Speaking for myself, it can be one of the hardest things to bring up with friends and family, and such a gift when a friend takes the initiative instead to follow up and ask how it’s going. It can be a very lonely battle.
Maria Watches Over Us can be streamed on HiDive.
2. Bloom into You (TROYCA, 2018)
Bloom into You is a yuri high school romance—of sorts. First year student Yuu has grown up reading shoujo manga, listening to love songs, and dreaming of the day a boy would confess and her destined tale of romance would begin. But when that day finally arrives, she feels nothing. The subsequent confusion about not experiencing that butterfly-stomach moment or the crystal clarity of falling in love; of not feeling what you expected, what you should feel when a nice boy asks you out; the uncertainty about how to respond to the poor boy; and the first hints of that creeping suspicion that there is something wrong with you—all of that—that’s how it begins for Yuu. And how it was for me too. Just swap out shoujo manga for the chaste Christian romance novels of Grace Livingstone Hill and a bevy of Amish romances (I know), and well, yeah. Let’s just say by the end of the opening voice over in Bloom into You, I had never felt so seen by an anime.
Yuu on her inability to experience for herself what she reads about in shoujo manga and hears in love songs
Rather than yuri, I would consider Yuu to be an example of asexual representation, at least in the anime series (the manga takes the story in a more firmly yuri direction). Her feelings toward Nanami, the second-year girl who falls in love with her, are tender, yet ambivalent when it comes to expressing that affection physically. She lets Nanami pursue her, but doesn’t return her ardor. The ending, too, is ambiguous, which I really appreciated. Yuu’s lack of attraction to the boy who asks her out does not lead directly into attraction for Nanami. She is instead caught somewhere in between, suspended in a curious state of affection without attraction, despite being a teenager with all the raging hormones that this is meant to imply.
That was my experience as well—a kind of suspended animation through my teen years. I used to joke about being “asexual like a tree,” only I thought I had invented the idea. I didn’t know it was actually possible for a person not to feel sexual attraction. Instead, I joked to hide the fact that I thought there was something wrong with me; to hide the shame of not feeling what I thought I should, when all my friends were busy with their high school crushes and college romances. Years later, when I first read about asexuality and watched Yuu’s story unfold, I sobbed as that shame finally lifted.
While I felt a kinship with Yuu’s character, Nanami’s arc also addresses a significant theme: being seen. Her insta-love for Yuu is pretty cliché (and actually masks a broken mixture of self-protection and self-hatred, since she believes Yuu can never return her love), but the development of her affection for and romantic interest in her junior plays out more thoughtfully.
Nanami has been hiding for a very long time, and I don’t mean in the closet. She has instead been hiding from the shame of feeling responsible for her older sister’s death. And it is Yuu who is the first person to not only recognize that Nanami is hiding herself, trying to fill her sister’s shoes and so make amends; Yuu is also the first to do something about it. Nanami’s best friend also knows what is going on, but doesn’t say anything for fear of disrupting their friendship and instead goes along with Nanami’s fronting, even as the facade is crumbling and causing her pain.
Yuu, on the other hand, acknowledges Nanami’s weaknesses, tending to her in those moments where the cracks become visible and refusing to let her pretend that all is well. Yuu also confronts Nanami gently but firmly about the false self she is presenting to the world. Yuu sees Nanami and refuses to let her continue to live a life of performance fueled by guilt and shame. And this is what steals Nanami’s heart.
What this is getting at, from my perspective, is something that is true for many people struggling with sexuality, including myself, and which is a common theme in these testimonies too, from Christians who have walked out of an LGBTQ lifestyle: the experience of same-sex attraction isn’t the root cause, but is instead the fruit of a deeper issue, very often a relational trauma involving a breach of trust, hidden shame or fear, or the conviction that no one will protect you, and so you need to do it yourself. The instinctive response is to hide yourself; yet at the same time, the longing to be seen in the midst of it all and find someone safe with whom to be vulnerable is as strong as that instinct to hide. That’s what we see with Nanami, and in my reading of it, that’s what leaves her vulnerable to falling in love with Yuu. It isn’t about sex—it’s about safety.
Bloom into You can be streamed on HiDive.
3. citrus (Passione, 2018)
While I would recommend the first two series unhesitatingly for Christian viewers (or most anyone really), this last one requires some major caveats. It’s a pretty uncomfortable and downright problematic watch at times (something that many yuri bloggers have noted as well). The “romance” at the center of it borders on the abusive initially as the one protagonist, Mei, is quite aggressive in her interactions with the other, Yuzu. The series also engages with the themes of pedophilia, blackmail, and pseudo-incest (between adoptive but unrelated siblings). All wrapped up in a high school romance.
If you’re still reading this, let me explain why I’m including it here: citrus confronted me with the fact that I had bought into a fantasy—one that was doing me harm, and potentially leading me to do harm in my attitude and outlook.
It’s the same fantasy that the saying “yuri will save the world” implies: that somehow, romantic love between women is softer and kinder, safer than a heterosexual relationship. That it is more caring and cute, more innocent and wholesome. These are all themes in the comments that go along with “yuri will save the world” in the forums, and they’re also feelings I had while watching and reading things like citrus. And none of them are true, and more than that, these things are dishonoring to men—to my brothers and fathers in the faith, to my guy friends and family—and to the Creator, who “made them male and female” as part of doing his very best to bless humanity.
What really hit this home for me was the realization that if Mei was swapped out for a male character, I would never have watched this series. I would have stopped after that first inappropriate move she makes on Yuzu. This highlighted for me not just the fantasy I had embraced (yuri relationships are safer), but also the root of distrust and judgement I was holding onto against the opposite sex—something I needed to bring before God and seek forgiveness and healing for. What a wake-up call.
I gained something positive from citrus though too: a greater depth of compassion. Because I did keep watching, and when I did, I learned what made Mei so erratic and aggressive in her advances. She had learned from her upbringing and previous relationship (an arranged engagement with an older man) that the only way to connect with others is sexually. Her body was what gave her value. As her story unfolded, my heart broke for Mei, who otherwise was the kind of person I would have been very uncomfortable around in real life, and probably judgmental towards. The same was true for one of the supporting characters, whose outrageous behavior is initially very off-putting, but which covers for deep woundedness and loneliness.
Through this series, I began to see that characters who behaved in ways that I found disturbing did so because of the same core struggles I myself faced: how to connect with others and show affection when past experiences told you that doing so was dangerous. It made me acknowledge that just because I had never acted in such unhealthy ways, did not mean that I was any more pure or righteous than these ones who seemed so different from me. It taught me humility and expanded my compassion.
I want to close with one more caveat…
My journey with yuri and shoujo-ai was not all blessings and healing life lessons. It was also caving in to temptation; scratching an itch. There came a tipping point when watching and reading these stories was no longer healing my wounds, but rather perpetuating them, picking at the scabs and keeping them fresh. They were telling me there was an easier, more comforting way forward than the hard work of walking with God into restoration for my relationships with men and redemption for my past, of taking every thought captive with Jesus.
And so I have had to stop watching this genre.
I’ve had to learn through painful trial and error where the thin end of the wedge of temptation begins for me in the entertainment I consume; what it is that revives that easy but harmful fantasy in my thought life. It’s embarrassing because it’s a very thin edge and I wish I was stronger in the face of temptation. Sometimes that feeling of missing out on a great series is really challenging, and the shame of my weakness washes over me again.
So I want to say to anyone out there who similarly cannot watch yuri or shoujo-ai, yaoi or shonen-ai, or ecchi and harems or super-violent anime, or any other genre, for that matter, that invites you into temptation—it’s okay. Don’t be ashamed. You know where your boundaries are, so just follow the conviction Holy Spirit is giving you and don’t worry about missing out or being too weak to handle it. I’m walking this out with you—we’re walking our way out of the valley together, leaving shame behind and laying hold of the promise of full and complete healing and restoration for our wounded hearts and past mistakes.
Yuri will not save the world. But nor will it destroy it. As Christians, we don’t need to be afraid of yuri or any LGBTQ media. God can and does speak through it, and he is capable of redeeming all things and meeting us exactly where we are at, no matter where that is. For me, he broke off so much shame through these stories, and Holy Spirit also convicted me of my specific sin, showing me in a very clear way the fantasy or lie I had believed, and helping me to see where I still had healing and repenting to do. You could say then that yuri brought me closer to God. Now, isn’t that unexpected?