I’ve been meaning to pick up this particular manga for a while, having seen it in various book stores as well as recommendation lists. Most recently, it won Manga of the Year in Crunchyroll’s anime awards, so I thought it was about time I gave it a read. And boy does Kabi Nagata really hit home and dig into your head with her discussions of mental illness, sexual orientation, and her journey to finally loving herself. A simple, two-tone art style gives way to deep introspection and heart-bearing truths, and I can see why it won Crunchyroll’s award and many others. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I do want to stop and point out to all my readers that this manga does deal with topics of self-harm, eating disorders, and severe mental illness for anyone who may need the content warning.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an autobiographical manga that follows the life of creator Kabi Nagata as she explores her sexuality and searches for some sense of self worth, eventually leading to an encounter with a female prostitute. The comic was originally published on Pixiv, but was then picked up by East Press in 2016 for a single-volume Japanese release and then Seven Seas Entertainment in 2017 for its English release. Nagata notes in an interview on Pixiv that her reasoning behind creating this manga is because “drawing manga is the only thing I can do. Then I started thinking about how to make a living off this. That’s when I decided to base stories off my own private self.” In the process, not only has she won the Manga of the Year award from Crunchyroll as well as high acclaim across the internet from Publisher’s Weekly to Teen Vogue.
Nagata’s art style, with her simple two-tone palette and sketchy drawings, is very reminiscent of a lot of other autobiographical comics. It’s something I see all the time in webcomics as well as mainstream graphic novels. It’s something I see in those little auto-bio asides in manga and it becomes a way to both represent yourself in comic form without creating a character too close to your likeness. It allows you to insert yourself into the story as well as distance yourself from it. I know in the above interview Nagata also said that she tried to find a happy medium between not glorifying her stories too much and not putting herself down in order to reach her audience in a more relatable manner. In a way, I think this shows in her character designs. They’re simple and cute, able to display a wide-range of emotions or switch to a higher amount of detail when the story calls for it. And I don’t think you need a lot of detail for what Nagata is trying to convey, it comes through her writing and art well enough already.
As someone who struggles with mental illness myself as well as experiencing that struggle through the people I care about, this manga hit pretty close to home. Nagata doesn’t shy away from the serious topics like self harm, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders. She actively dissects them in front of her audience, letting us all into the inner workings of her mind. Through this process, I would say that this manga isn’t so much about the discovery of her sexuality, but about looking at the myriad of factors that has forced her to stagnate in life over time and her recovery from said stagnation. Lack of parental approval, depression, anxiety, and her unrealized attraction to women all play a role in her inability to recognize her self worth and needs as an independent person. But, as Nagata shows us, it’s often the smallest actions or words that can give us the motivation to take that first step. It was the kind words of a hiring manager that gave her the motivation to continue making comics. And, in a sort of domino effect, the self confidence she found through art pushed her to finally making an appointment with a female prostitute to explore her sexuality.
One of the major issues that seems to be the backbone of Nagata’s troubles in parental approval. She is constantly searching for her mother’s approval especially when it comes to her professional career. Every time she takes a step forward to find a job, it’s belittled because it’s not a full-time job. This lack of approval leads to the feeling that she is lacking a place where she can belong and be supported unconditionally. This then leads to mental illness like her anxiety and depression that manifests in self harm and eating disorders. Her sense of self worth and need for approval becomes tied to her job. She constantly searches for ways to please her mother as well as a place that makes her feel like she belongs. It’s something I think a lot of her audience can relate and do relate to given the wide acclaim of the book in the US and Japan.
Something I’m also seeing from the responses of fans is that My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a counterpoint to “yuri fantasies” within the genre by displaying realistic people and struggles. This is true in that there’s no fanservice or tropey characters created to fulfill the readers sexual desires. This is a comic about a real person going through real struggles. What I’m not completely sure about is whether I would classify this in the yuri genre at all. In a sense, it is about Nagata’s struggle with accepting and exploring her sexuality. However, I didn’t get the feeling that that was really the main point of it. It seems to me that the story centered around Nagata’s struggle to find meaning and motivation in her life and work and to overcome her mental illnesses to the point where she can finally be happy with where she is in life. Her meetings with prostitutes come off more as a quest for comfort and acceptance than as purely about sexuality.
So I’m putting the question out to you. Do you think My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness would be classified as a yuri or as something else like slice-of-life or literary non-fiction? Let me know what you think in the comments below as well as what you thought about this manga. Do you think Crunchyroll was right to award it Manga of the Year?
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