Shoujo-ai is a term that has a rather negative connotation in Japan but for Western fans usually refers to Japanese media that focuses on the romantic connection fostered between two female characters. Despite not being as progressive of a country as many of its western counterparts, Japan does still have a small but thriving subsection of anime focused at depicting the love that can blossom between two girls, and these shows can be occasionally interspersed with comedy or drama as the mood dictates.
Still for those looking for a good lesbian time, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. This list will hopefully help you find the best of the genre, at least according to MyAnimeList.
10 Simoun (7.48)
Starting off the list is the fantastical Simoun, a show that takes place in a society quite unlike ours. In the world’s peaceful theocratic city Simulicram, everyone is born female and has the choice to choose their gender at the age of 17 through a special ceremony.
Not all people go through this ceremony however as pairs of maidens who don’t make the choice can join up to pilot ships used to defend their society. This interesting conceit makes room for romance and military drama alike, all starring the pilot Aer.
9 Mai-HiME (7.48)
Next, we have Mai-HiME, sometimes referred to as My-Hime in English, which is a synonym for my princess. It’s also a show with a fantasy element to it. In this one thirteen girls with the ability to materialize elements and summon metallic guardians called childs are brought to an academy to battle unknown monsters called orphans.
All this jargon aside, the show offers a good development of its characters and relationships which simultaneously acts as a slow burn set up to an emotional second half that is sure to hit hard.
8 Oshi ga Budoukan Ittekuretara Shinu (7.51)
This show drops the high fantasy elements and magical powers in favor of telling a more grounded story that focuses on a girl’s obsession with her favorite idol star, a minor member of a relatively unpopular group.
This show really dives deep on the idol otaku culture, in part celebrating it and in other parts exposing its less savory aspects. While it does take a nuanced approach to the topic it also manages to be a rollicking good time, with great humor and some flashy hand-drawn dance sequences that are sure to grab your attention.
7 Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena (7.59)
This work is a retelling of the anime classic Revolutionary Girl Utena in a movie form that keeps the romantic subtext of the original. In it, viewers follow the mysterious transfer student Utena Tenjou, a new arrival at Ohtori Academy. At the school, she meets her childhood friend who knows of her past and her rose mark which dictates that people wearing a certain ring must fight over Utena’s hand.
If the plot sounds confusing that’s because it is, convoluted in a way that’s entrancing rather than disorienting, backed up with visual allegory that will give analytical minds a lot to chew on.
6 Konohana Kitan (7.61)
Konohana Kitan is a show that mixes together calm slice of life shenanigans with some light fantasy trappings. It follows Yuzu, a cheerful fox girl living in a bustling village of spirits who, like a certain girl from Spirited Away, finds herself working as an attendant at a hot springs inn.
In her role, she meets an eclectic cast of characters ranging from the quiet Sakura to the critical Ren. As the show develops one can really notice Yuzu’s growing attachment to the inn and her optimistic intent to help her customers as best as she can. It’s a relaxing show that anyone can sit back and enjoy without too much trouble.
5 Oniisama e… (7.79)
Oniisama e…, also known as Brother, Dear Brother, takes place in one of the most venerable anime institutions, a high school. Nanako Misonoo, the star of the show, enters the prestigious all-girls Seiran Academy with bright hopes only to find them quickly dashed by a complex web of lies and jealousy, especially after she gets chosen to be part of an elite sorority.
To cope, and tying in with the name of the show, Nanako shares stories of her days through letters to her former teacher who she calls her big brother. This drama deals with very human problems, like bullying, navigating one’s sexuality, and suicide.
4 Asagao to Kase-san (7.79)
This show drops a lot of the trappings that surround the underlying themes of lesbian love in the other entries to instead decisively focus on a pair of girls, Yui Yamada and Tomoka Kase, who start dating. This focus allows for a deep dive into a genuine-feeling relationship and all the problems and challenges that it might naturally entail.
It’s a short piece that contains just a bit of plot but has room for lots of little heartwarming interactions between two characters that you can easily grow to love and, best of all, it doesn’t waste time before getting right into the nitty-gritty of their romance and related drama.
3 Maria-sama ga Miteru (7.89)
This anime shows up multiple times in the top entries of MyAnimeList so it’s been ranked by its highest placing season. Maria-sama ga Miteru, otherwise known as Maria Watches Over Us, places viewers in a position to watch Yumi Fukuzawa as she joins the Lillian Girls’ Academy, situated in Tokyo.
Once there, she catches the eye of the captivating Sachiko Ogasawara, who comes up to Yumi to offer to be her guide to the academy. It makes for a show with a lot of subtext and a heaping dose of characterization all served up with no pandering fanservice.
2 Yagate Kimi ni Naru (7.97)
The penultimate entry on this tightly ranked list on is Yagate Kimi ni Naru, a show that also goes by the name Bloom Into You. This focused school romance features the lovelorn shoujo obsessed romantic Yuu Koito, a character who eagerly awaits her first confession of love, only to find herself feeling rather hollow when it does happen.
Things change when the seemingly unapproachable student council president Touko Nanami offers another confession of love to her, setting her on a path to the romance that Yuu was seeking all along.
1 Yuru Yuri (7.98)
And now this list finally hits its peak with the relatively long-running show Yuru Yuri, which shows up multiple times in the top echelons of MyAnimeList and so is ranked by its highest season. This lighthearted comedy follows the members of the Amusement Club as they fawn over each other and do amusing things, all while the supposed main character is ignored as part of a running gag.
There’s really not much else to say about this show other than that it’s a fun comedy with very little stakes, especially when compared to the dramatic entries that have populated this list thus far. Watch it and you’ll get what exactly what it says on the tin.
Shoujo Ai is a pretty obscure genre with tons of great series. These are the best ever according to MyAnimeList.