There’s a heartening trend of lesbian representation in contemporary American kids’ cartoons. The most recent and obvious example is the Adventure Time finale, when Princess Bubblegum and Marceline’s series-long subtext finally made its way into canon. But the long arc of the medium has been pointing in that direction for a while now, between Legend of Korra ending by pushing the main girls as a couple as hard as they could get away with (Dec. 2014) and Steven Universe’s escalation from eye kisses (March 2015) to full-on lesbian weddings (July 2018).
In Japan, within the yuri genre—yuri referring to any sort of romantic or sexual lesbian relationships—there’s a subgenre called Class S. It’s often described as “romantic friendship,” but perhaps “pseudo-platonic lesbians until graduation” would be more accurate. The focus is on close emotional relationships between schoolgirls—and it is very nearly always schoolgirls—that borrow the imagery of romance, such as hand-holding, writing love letters, exchanging gifts, maybe even as much as a chaste kiss, but never more than that. One-sided lesbian pining with the acknowledgement that one’s feelings will never be returned by the heterosexual object of one’s affections can also fall into this category—Tomoyo from Cardcaptor Sakura is an archetypal example. There is nearly always the implication that these lesbian feelings are just a phase, and the girls involved will grow up to be straight and marry men.
It’s generally agreed that the origins of the BL (boy’s love) subgenre of manga can be traced back to the influential Year 24 Group, a loosely classified group of female shoujo mangaka who were said to have revolutionized the shoujo scene. It’s also generally agreed that the two “canonical” works of BL made by members of this group are Takemiya Keiko’s Song of Wind and Trees and Hagio Moto’s Heart of Thomas. BL is a twisty, self-contradictory genre almost by definition—the entire premise is essentially “male homosexuality for girls”—with a lot to unpack, and these early works only double down on the complexity by the ways in which they racialize their protagonists.