Queer storytelling has gone through an incredible shift in the past decade. What started as the first inklings of representation through Will & Grace, and fleeting mentions in ‘80s classics like The Golden Girls, has now blossomed into queer stories infiltrating nearly every genre. However, a majority of those stories over the years have featured an abundance of queer pain, often through the use of rejection and homophobia as the core wounds inflicted on LGBTQ+ characters.
Only recently has TV stepped away from solely causing its queer characters pain, allowing representation to become more than just coming out stories and tales of the closet. With so much queer representation to choose from now, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by choice, but if you’re in the market for heartwarming queer stories, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re looking for wholesome high school romance or juicy college flings, there’s something for everyone in the burgeoning feel-good category of LGBTQ+ representation.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that there’s no bigger viral hit right now than Heartstopper, Netflix’s queer rom-com that follows the love story of outcast Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and rugby-star Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). The tagline for the series says it all: “Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love.” And fall in love they do, in eight half-hour long episodes across a vast array of classic high school scenarios. Heartstopper has gotten across-the-board praise for its depiction of queer joy, especially through its diverse ensamble cast featuring lesbian characters Tara (Corianna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell), and trans character Ellie (Yasmin Finney). It has resonated deeply with audiences, too, as its uniquely heartwarming story gives a whole new meaning to feel-good TV.
The series, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alice Oseman, has taken the internet by storm, setting the record for most time at the top of Variety’s Trending TV chart with five consecutive weeks. The popularity of this Netflix Original feels only comparable to Squid Game’s all-consuming popularity from the fall of 2021, securing the streamer a binge-watch that’s actually withstood the test of time. Netflix has renewed the show for two more seasons already, assuring fans that there’s plenty more wholesome queer storytelling on the way.
The Owl House
The Owl House is Disney’s most unique and brilliant animated series since Gravity Falls; its heartwarming tale of found-family and acceptance makes it the perfect feel-good binge. The show comes from the mind of Dana Terrace and has become somewhat of a cult classic since its premiere in 2020. The show follows Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles) after she stumbles upon a magical world, stumbling into the arms of the eccentric Owl Lady Eda (Wendie Malick), who promises to teach her how to use magic when she’s unable to return to her home. From the beginning, the series is a genuine delight, filled with incredible heart and just enough cheese to remind you it’s still kids’ programming.
Featuring Disney’s first animated same-sex kiss between leading characters, The Owl House is a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ representation in animation. Following in the footsteps of Netflix’s She-Ra, the storyline between Luz and her girlfriend Amity (Mae Whitman) is nothing short of adorable. The Owl House’s queer storytelling has always been central, since the beginning, but to see Luz and Amity get together before the series is even over (an unfortunate rarity) is incredibly important, truly paving the way for the next wave of animated LGBTQ+ representation. Despite the target audience being on the younger side, The Owl House’s storylines are surprisingly mature and enjoyable for all ages.
Based in the world of the groundbreaking 2018 film Love, Simon, Love, Victor is just as charming and important. The series follows Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) as he navigates coming to terms with his sexuaity in the midst of the rigors of high school. With a conservative family to consider and his own personal insecurities to reconcile, Love, Victor doesn’t skimp on the heart or the heartache. In spite of its heavier moments, the series remains a funny and joyful look into the lives of queer kids in high school today.
Similarly to Heartstopper, Love, Victor subjects its characters to the heartache of homophobia and the pressures surrounding coming out, but those elements never eclipse any characters’ journey, including Victor, Benji (George Sear), Rahim (Anthony Kayvan), or Lucy (Bebe Wood). There’s so much more life left to live after coming out, which is what’s often missing from media solely focused on telling that story, but Love, Victor is the perfect example of a series going all-in on what happens afterwards. The series delivers a hopeful message about life and love over the backdrop of high school cliches, making it a good, gay time.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
There might not be a show more queer than Legends of Tomorrow. In its cut-short seven-season run, the series saw multiple lesbian, bisexual, gay, and asexual characters arrive through the Waverider’s revolving doors. Originally assembled by Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), the Legends started as a group of heroes from The CW’s Arrowverse whose disappearance from the present would have no impact on the historical timeline; in other words, Rip Hunter gathered up all the nobodies he could find, put them on a time-ship, and turned that rag-tag group into bonafide time-traveling superheroes. The show’s first season is notoriously rocky, trying too hard to capture the same essence as its predecessors Arrow and The Flash, but in the show’s second season and beyond, Legends of Tomorrow embraces the weirdness.
In spite of its wackiness, or maybe because of it, the show found its home in the hearts of queer superhero fans across the globe, and then rewarded them by continually adding more and more LGBTQ+ characters until there were 5 queer series regulars at one single time, and they were just a fraction of the total representation seen on the show. Co-captains Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan), affectionately known as Avalance, were even about to have a baby together before the show was unceremoniously canceled. Despite the cancelation, Legends of Tomorrow’s focus on telling joyful stories with their abundance of queer characters makes it a stand out in both the superhero genre and in queer representation.
You’ve never seen a biopic quite like Dickinson, Alena Smith’s weird and wonderful Apple TV+ series based on American poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld). The series follows the events of Emily’s youth as she explores her relationship with her voice, her work, and her sister-in-law Sue Gilbert (Ella Hunt). Dickinson is one of the few Emily Dickinson biopics to actually acknowledge the long-debated romantic relationship between the poet and Sue, analyzing her poetry and bringing the true meaning to the forefront. The show is also no slouch when it comes to historical accuracy, as wacky as it may be, with elements of the now-completed series even ending up in the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dickinson embraces both its queer audience and queer lead, ensuring that the oft-treaded period-typical homophobia storyline is notably absent. In fact, the more reasonable barrier comes in the form of Austin Dickinson, who is married to Sue and is also Emily’s brother. In Season 3 in particular, the show becomes a celebration of Emily’s queerness as she embraces her love for Sue and morphs into the poet we’re all familiar with. Dickinson proves that queer joy can be found even in the darkest of ages, subscribing to the idea that, even though it’s based in the past, its queer leads never have to suffer for it.
The Sex Lives of College Girls
The Sex Lives of College Girls is about exactly what it sounds like, but it’s also about so much more. Mindy Kaling’s funny and fresh HBO Max comedy about four college freshmen randomly placed as roommates tackles everything from female friendships to cheating boyfriends, all carried on the shoulders of its hilarious and charming leading women. The show itself is a celebration of its female characters, bringing immense heart to an age most shows won’t dare to touch.
Leighton Murray (Renee Rapp) acts as the show’s foray into queer storytelling, using the stereotypical mean-and-blonde trope we’ve seen a million times before. However, Sex Lives’ take on Leighton’s journey, which includes both coming out and self-discovery, still feels fresh and new. While similar teen-focused shows took their sweet time building their queer characters support systems post-coming out, Sex Lives creates connections and bonds for Leighton that offer an incredibly hopeful take on coming out in the 2020’s. Afterall, for most queer people, coming out is still an incredibly tough journey, and Sex Lives understands that while still allowing Leighton to be more than just her insecurities.
What We Do in the Shadows
FX’s monster hit What We Do in the Shadows, a TV remake of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 film of the same name, follows three vampire roommates mockumentary-style as they navigate undead life on Staten Island. The charm of the series comes from the messy situations the roommates, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Lazlo (Matt Berry), find themselves in. Whether it’s claiming George Washington as the first gay president or attending city council meetings, this charmingly cheesy faux-documentary is incapable of being anything but funny.
From the very beginning, What We Do in the Shadows has been unapologetically queer, with the showrunner even confirming to GLAAD for their Where We Are on TV report that all of their characters are “completely pansexual.” However, it’s one thing to say all the characters are queer than it is to show it, but What We Do in the Shadows doesn’t shy away from embracing its queerness. Each of the characters has flings and flirations with both the same and opposite sex, becoming simply a baked-in trait of each of the vampires. The casual acceptance and queerness of What We Do in the Shadows allows it to stand out as a series that pays no mind to imaginary limits on how many LGBTQ+ characters can be in a single show, making it a must-see for queer viewers.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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