I feel a bit stupid about this, but I probably spent longer than necessary deciding how many tops to put in my list. Top 3 just obviously isn’t enough, even though it packs a punch, whereas top 10 would give me ample room to call out my favorites, but then the stuff in the middle always gets lost a little bit. So… let’s meet in the sort-of-middle and do a top 5.
I’ve picked my top 5 considering every medium I’ve consumed yuri in (anime, manga, VNs, LNs) but I should note that this list does not include manhwas. There are some really good yuri manhwas out there (WAY better than Japanese manga imo), but that’s a topic for another time.
If this list ever gets updated, I’ll record the changes made at the bottom of this page so I can look back on it in a few years and see how stupid I was. Now let’s get into it!
#5 Bloom Into You (Anime)
I’m sure I’m not alone in praising Bloom Into You for being not only one of the best yuri anime to date, but an excellent entry into the anime romance genre in general. It’s not my personal favorite yuri show, but I daresay if we look at it from a genre impact perspective, it may actually be the best. Marimite and Aoi Hana were a big deal in this sphere when they came out, but they really attracted more of a cult following and ended up shaping yuri in a way that I’d argue is partly responsible for its slow growth. Marimite in particular is largely to blame for the god-awful Class S trope that continues to permeate the genre (and most other mainstream anime, particularly girls’ club shows), making creators hesitant to pursue more intense and insightful yuri stories.
Bloom Into You is wonderful in that it sort of walks a line between paying homage to classic Class S yuri while simultaneously moving into what is hopefully the modern approach of explicit confession and acts of love. Starting Yuu off as a character who may as well be asexual for all intents and purposes, a true blank slate who slowly grows to discover her feelings for Touko, is such a simple but beautiful premise, and certainly a harder story to tell properly than one might think. The writer accomplishes this by ensuring that every small action or seemingly trivial scene in the work contributes to the progression of Yuu and Touko’s relationship, and in doing so she simultaneously makes this work truly “yuri” through and through.
Even the other characters, who exist with their own unique set of troubles and personalities, have been expertly crafted to fit in to the main story of Yuu and Touko’s blooming feelings. Maki’s disinterest in love as an asexual exists to highlight the differences in Yuu, who is realizing her feelings for Touko. Sayaka’s unrequited love for Touko exists to highlight the different sides of Touko, specifically the one that she portrays to the world vs the one that she portrays to Yuu.
All of this is wrapped up in a beautiful, animated package that does a wonderful job of capturing these lovely little gestures, like hand movements and gazes, that helped make the manga feel so unique and well-paced. I cannot praise the screenwriter and animators enough for their work here.
I don’t often give as much credence to pure yuri as perhaps I should, but I believe Bloom Into You is so good at what it does, and does enough to avoid being another Class S show through Yuu and Touko’s more intimate scenes, that I can’t help but love it. Truly a staple of the genre.
#4 Tsui Yuri (Visual Novel)
This is definitely not an entry you will ever see on another Yuri favorites list, and I should point out at the beginning here that it’s likely this title is here for a temporary stay. The reason I say that is because what I love about Tsui Yuri is how unique it is as a yuri title in today’s world.
That’s not to say I don’t also enjoy this story of sisterly love; it’s actually very well written indeed. But it’s more than that. See, one of the things that classically makes a lot of visual novels fun is discovering what comes at the end; will I get the good ending? A bittersweet ending? Or god-forbid, on my first play-through, the bad ending? But the yuri genre has been so steeped in the “purity soup” that the visual novels that come out rarely seem to offer me any dark or dramatic choices, beyond the two girls simply fighting or not getting together in the end.
Tsui Yuri is not like that, though. Not even a little bit.
Tsui Yuri explores a rather dirty side of human relationships, but one that is present and exists whether we like to admit it or not: jealousy. And more specifically, how that jealousy can transform love into something that closer resembles an obsessive hate, like an addiction. Now, granted, the game does provide what I perceive to be a tongue-in-cheek explanation that you should try to balance the girls’ feelings for each other. If you succeed in doing so, Tsui Yuri plays out like a lot of Yuri VNs: The girls love each other, there’s a minor falling out, they apologize, have sex, and everything’s flowers and cakes in the end.
Buuut if you choose not to balance out their feelings……
Well, I don’t really want to spoil too much. Suffice it to say that I think the Visual Novel’s presentation and replayability are brilliant. I was absolutely delighted to find when I went back to replay and get the different endings just how drastically different the tone of the story became; I essentially got 3 sub-genres of yuri in one visual novel!
As I said at the beginning of this part, I’m hoping Tsui Yuri is on this list for a temporary stay. Should more yuri come out that does this kind of thing and is able to surpass it in terms of writing and/or art, I would be very pleased (and it would be in the running for one of the best yuri VNs I’ve ever read). But regardless, provided you aren’t a crazy person who has something against sisterly love, I can honestly recommend this visual novel to any yuri fan. Whether you’re a pure-fag, or you’re looking to support the expansion of the genre like myself, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy 😉
#3 Strawberry Panic (Anime)
TOMATO SHOULD HAVE WON FUCK YOU SHIZUMA YOU WHITE HAIRED EDGELORD BITCH HOW DARE YOU STEAL NAGISA’S SEXY PURE MAIDEN HEART FROM MY TOMATO?!
… And that’s basically what makes Strawberry Panic so great!
……….what, you’re still here? I suppose you’re wanting an explanation, then.
Strawberry Panic is the show that got me into shipping girls. It’s the kind of show that if someone had described to me before I watched it, I would’ve said there’s no way I’d get into that kind of thing: A yuri soap-opera set in an all-girls’ school with melodrama galore, cheating, heartbreak, love triangles, and the whole 9 yards? No way, I’m not into that girly stuff……
……Except I am. I really, really am.
I’ve heard from a couple people (I’m 99% sure they were both girls themselves) that they’re tired of yuri always being so happy and fluffy because real girls’ relationships with each other are rarely like that. There’s a lot of backstabbing, subtle tensions, communication breakdowns… well, hey, I hear ya. Now imagine how that might play out between a bunch of classy rich girls who love each other, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a panic! A Strawberry Panic.
Look, Strawberry Panic isn’t for everyone, but it does what it sets out to do really well. It’s one of those shows where the main “criticisms” you’ll hear about it are the “it was this type of show therefore it was bad” complaints, which says a lot in my mind. But if you’re up for a good dose of girl on girl melodrama, smooching, and some heavy sexual tension, you really shouldn’t miss out on this classic.
#2 Girl Friends (Manga)
Speaking of classics…
Girl Friends is easily my favorite yuri manga of all time, no question. I’ve talked about the problems I have with pure yuri on this blog before, but it’s really just the Class S, “shoujo-ai” ideas that I dislike. To me, Girl Friends is exactly what pure yuri should be.
And you know, I sometimes wonder if maybe Girl Friends was a source of inspiration for Nakatani when writing Bloom Into You, because I feel like the core story there is fundamentally similar; it’s a story of discovery and finding who you are. The difference between this and most other pure yuri stories though is that Mariko and Akiko actually get there, which is so key to the reason I love the story as much as I do.
But of course, it’s not as if the girls are immediately attracted to each other in that way. For chapters and chapters, they truly do start off as just “girlfriends”, bffs, gal pals, walking that line between typical female love and something more. And yet Morinaga does such a brilliant job of sowing the seeds that they are gay right from the start, in brilliantly subtle ways. Especially the shy Mariko, who’s reactions to Akiko’s earnestness aren’t explicitly out of the ordinary for a straight girl, but are just subtly more than you would expect. Just barely.
And of course it’s like that, because she just doesn’t realize it yet. The whole manga takes us on that journey of self-discovery with the girls; all the fun moments and all the emotional pain that goes along with it.
But what really makes the manga for me, and the reason I believe it made Morinaga so popular is because of the ending. God damn. The ending was so touching and sexy and beautiful all at the same time, and it was the first time I read a conclusive ending in a yuri. It just makes it hard for me to understand why more creators don’t follow suit and let the girls experience all that love has to offer. Love is so many things. It’s friendship. It’s respect. But it’s also (and anyone who’s actually been in a relationship can attest to this) a physical expression, and when that aspect is missing, I really don’t think it can be called yuri at all.
I think it’s easy enough to be glibly naive in a pseudo-virtuous way and say yuri can be yuri without that, and to point to something like Liz to Aoi Tori and say, “look, love without physical expression.” I completely disagree, though. Just as many people will tell you those girls are best friends. And as long as that ambiguity is perpetuated in culture and in media, that’s all they’ll ever be, and the yuri genre may as well devolve into girls’ club shows, hand-holding, and “loving” each other until the first boy comes along to sweep the girls off their feet.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want girl friends. I want Girl Friends ❤
#1 A Kiss For The Petals Series (Visual Novel)
I’m gonna be honest with you, it was really fucking hard to choose a number one. But I think if I had to choose one, ultimately, it would be A Kiss for the Petals (or “Sono Hanabira” in Japanese). There’s really no one game in particular I would choose (I’ve linked to Maidens of Michael in the title), because the series as a whole has established a really particular vibe that just screams “yuri” at its core in the most shameless and glorious of ways.
Really, A Kiss for the Petals is like yuri in its purest, rawest form. It’s full of school girls, every female caricature is shipped together, every lesbian act that doesn’t involve a toy is depicted, the writing is both cute and adult as well as moderately paced, the art is clean and prim and proper, and to top it off this really is one of the most professional, long-running, and complete visual novels out there and it’s 100% yuri. A true blessing to the genre!
I highly doubt anyone reading this has not played at least one Kiss For The Petals game, but if not, I’m just telling you now there’s no reason to put it on hold: if you want a glimpse into the meaning of yuri itself, you need look no further than this series.
Here’s to hoping it keeps getting translated… I’M LOOKING AT YOU CRAIG, PLEASE, WE LOVE THIS SERIES, SO STOP GOING CRAZY!!!
And on that note, we’ll wrap it up! Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoyed the list. If you saw something here you haven’t seen before, I don’t know what to tell you other than you’d better go check it out! Peace for now.