In a year we collectively decried as dystopian every step of the way, I dove head-first into fiction in a way I haven’t since elementary school. I watched more anime this year than in my entire previous life combined, times five. I filled a shelf with novels and graphic novels, primarily romance & queer-themed, something I’ve never really read before. I read 34 books, and I didn’t even start til summer!
This post is just going to catalog most of what I consumed, with a sentence or two about each.
- Jujutsu Kaisen — One of the hit series of the year, and at the upper bound of my gore threshold (which is very low), but really great characters I enjoyed learning about. Supernatural spirit fighting.
- Given — A truly magic love story about boys in a band, and overcoming grief. There’s a one-season anime series, an anime movie, and now a briefer 6-part live action series. They could remake this in every media possible and I’d watch them all.
- Cherry Magic (live action) — Wow what a great romance. It’s the silliest premise I ever heard (Reaching thirty as a virgin gives you the power to hear the inner thoughts of anyone you touch) and I was hugely skeptical, but they use the device in incredibly clever ways to craft a very unique love story.
- Yuri On Ice — The best gay romance in an anime, and still disappointingly oblique and closeted tbh. But what a story! Really beautiful animation of figure skating.
- Bungo Stray Dogs — Supernatural crimefighter squad in a city of villains. Really feels like there’s low key romantic tension between the male leads but maybe I’m making that up. It’s pretty good.
- March Comes In Like A Lion — “Emotional rollercoaster” barely scrapes the surface. Easily my favorite of the year. An elite student of Japanese chess navigates crushing loneliness and grief with the help of found family as he tries to figure out his future. I cried a lot. Beautiful story that I wish went on forever. Was very cathartic for me and made me realize how healing anime could be.
- Honey & Clover — An older anime that is a bit too meandering slice-of-life for my tastes. It’s kinda like Friends except in an art school dorm.
- Fire Force — Listen it’s a terrific mythology and fun characters but what the actual hell is with the woman whose clothes keep falling off? Jiminey. I’ve heard Zoomers call it “fan service” but it’s just animated misogyny that actively distracts from the plot. If they cut that it’d be a top-tier series.
- Full-Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood — Classic series, very fun, huge satisfying story arc. Bit of a slow burn at the start.
- These Show White Notes — This was the most surprising anime, and I’d nominate it for the best new series of 2021 in a heartbeat. Master-level young shamisen player moves to the city after the death of his mentor grandfather and has to “find his own sound” for the first time. Big feels, amazing music, beautiful story. I demand a season two!
- Free! Iwatobi Swim Club — High school students rebuild their school’s swim team, and learn about the different journeys of former friends. Really joyful and relentlessly hopeful. I really admire the characters’ ability to be honest with each other in series like this. Three seasons, all great.
- Dakaichi — Very romance-driven story that focuses on how shitty the media and industry is to actors forced to hide their sexuality. There’s problematic consent scenarios in this, so consider that your trigger warning.
- Your Lie In April — Friends help each other cope with trauma thru music in this beautiful story about finding yourself amidst loss. Really overwhelming, cried a lot at the end. Highly recommended.
- Tsurune — A traditional Japanese martial arts archery high school club? Yes, please. Learning about Japanese culture embedded in a coming-of-age friends story makes this a delight. Would love to see a season two.
- Holmes of Kyoto — A clever antique dealer solves mysteries with the help of his plucky assistant. The will-they-won’t-they subplot between the two is a bit overwrought but a fun series.
- Spiritpact — Very passionate romance-focused supernatural story about battling evil spirits and personal sacrifice. Came into this one skeptical and left smitten.
- Backflip!! — Another high school club, but now men’s rhythm gymnastics. Another homerun of a fun story about young friends having each others’ backs and bonding as a team.
All of these animes were available on Crunchyroll in 2021. As you can see, I got a ton of value out of that sub, far more than any other streaming service.
Graphic Novels & Manga
- Heartstopper (parts 1-4), Alice Oseman — This is where my light obsession with positive gay romance started. So incredibly hopeful and healthy, and perhaps an alternate reality I wish I’d lived in. Made my heart soar, and has taken on some heavier issues in the later volumes. I could read these over and over.
- Bloom, Panetta & Ganucheau — Beautiful summer romance in a bakery, but it feels like a part one for which there is no part two.
- Fence, multiple — A four-volume brilliant comic transitions mid-story into a decent 2-volume novel. College fencing, romance, fitting in, different experiences, and figuring out how to love. Just hugely fun and teaches you about fencing. I hope it continues in 2022.
- Tell Me It’s Real, Klune & Jakky— A breezy romantic read about someone who can’t believe he’s actually found love.
- Breaks (1 & 2), Vieceli & Ryden — A grittier “streets” story about an unlikely romance that deals with a lot of heavy issues. You’ll be rooting for them in no time.
- Are You Listening?, Tilie Walden — An accidental roadtrip with an unlikely companion starts to get a bit weird when they find a stray cat and the duo confront the demons of their pasts, together. Truly moving story. I gave away my copy and re-purchased it immediately, then gifted it twice more. Read this one, for real.
- My Summer of You, Furuya — Just another cute story about two boys figuring out their feelings over the course of a summer together.
- Check Please, Ngozi Ukazu — Coming out and self-discovery as part of a college ice hockey team, set in a frat house that becomes a remarkable home. Two parts, really great story, loved the characters.
- On A Sunbeam, Tillie Walden — A beautiful scifi romance about both running away from a complex past and running toward a bright future.
- The Two Lions, Nagisa Furuya — Trying to escape your past in far-away college and an unlikely friendship that unexpectedly grows into something more.
- Disrupted, Dan Lyons — Absolutely scorching account of a year in an off-the-rails Silicon Valley startup. All of this checks. Appreciated hearing someone else agree, for once.
- Carry On, Rainbow Rowell — The first few chapters were a bit inauspiciously reminiscent of Harry Potter but wow does this take a turn and get great (and gay). Simon Snow is my new favorite character. I even bought a t-shirt referencing this book!
- Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell — More Simon Snow, but in America on a roadtrip with vampires! Great writing and world building.
- Any Way The Wind Blows, Rainbow Rowell — If this was the end of a trilogy, it rose to the occasion and was wonderful. But I want more Simon Snow!
- Conventionally Yours, Annabeth Albert — A classic enemies-to-friends tale about card flopping geeks stuck on a roadtrip together. Loved it!
- Out of Character, Annabeth Albert — The sequel to Conventionally Yours, set in the same friend extended group but a different couple. Loved it again!
- Jay’s Gay Agenda, Jason June — It’s a fun, solid story that’s a bit marred by the repetitive listing of Jay’s agenda over and over. I could take it or leave it.
- Fifteen Hundred Miles From The Sun, Johnny Garza Villa — Wow, big emotional impact on this one, and difficult to read at some points. Very rewarding read with wonderful characters from non-white families.
- The Charm Offensive, Cochrun — Silly plot setup (The Bachelor, but he falls for his handler instead!), but great characters and big payoff.
- Boyfriend Material, Alexis Hall — So good my husband read it too! Setup is again a bit overwrought (“Help I need a fake boyfriend”) but a lovely story that’s very fun, with solid comedic relief.
- Lab Partner, Montgomery — Honestly the writing was uneven, fairly bad at the start especially. Don’t regret reading it but I wouldn’t put it on a short list either.
- Him / Us, Bowen & Kennedy — Two separate books. Steamy romance about ice hockey players. I was looking for something a bit more risque (there’s a lot of detailed sex) but was delighted at how well written and constructed the stories were. Classic perspective-swapping chapters format.
- Roommate, Bowen — Another steamy one, another well-written one (one of the same authors as Him/Us). If you like the setup, you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.
- An Unexpected Kind of Love, Hayden Stone — An American actor wanders into a British bookstore and things get abruptly steamy and then very complicated. Very fun and honest “getting back on your feet” story after a bad breakup.
- If This Gets Out, Gonzales & Dietrich — Popcorn novel about two teens in a blockbuster boy band falling in love. Silly premise that deals with serious issues and comes to a hugely satisfying conclusion.
- Both Sides Now, Peyton Thomas — Star debate team member is transgender and forced to debate bathroom issues at nationals while things get complicated with his debate partner. Had a ton of anxiety about this putting my empathy in tank-emptying overdrive, but it was very gentle with me and I loved it to bits. Peyton’s first novel; hoping for more!
- The Sky Blues, Robbie Couch — Gay teen kicked out and living with friend’s family gets put in the crosshairs of a huge bullying incident at school, and learns just how much his friends and classmates love him even though he couldn’t see it. Heart-swelling wonderful story that starts a little silly and gets amazing.