Before the 2010s, there wasn’t a lot of queer representation on TV — and especially not queer representation geared toward kids. Within the past few years, however, all-ages animation has entered a golden age (rainbow age?) of LGBTQ+ representation. With shows like Steven Universe leading the charge and changing the game, no longer do we have to settle for “child-appropriate” (read: homophobic) censorship.
While we still have a long way to go toward representation for the full spectrums of orientations and gender identities, thanks to innovators like Rebecca Sugar, ND Stevenson, and Dana Terrace, the world of animation looks brighter and queerer than ever.
This list couldn’t exist without Sailor Moon. Created by legendary mangaka (manga creator) Naoko Takeuchi, the series focuses on schoolgirl Usagi Tsukino (Kotono Mitsuishi), otherwise known as Sailor Moon, as she fights alongside her friends, the Sailor Scouts, defending the planet Earth against the forces of evil. Created in the ’90s, the series was groundbreaking in its presentation of queer characters, shipping butch-femme favorite Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune and later introducing the gender-bending trio the Sailor Starlights. Unfortunately, much of the original show’s dubbing in English erased its queer coding, transforming the queer couple into “cousins.”
Sailor Moon is streaming on Hulu.
Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time follows adventurer Finn (Jeremy Shada) in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, where he hangs with his friends Jake (John DiMaggio), Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch), Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and more. One of Cartoon Network’s longest and most successful franchises — running for ten seasons with follow-up specials — the show is also well-known for its most popular ship, Bubbline, the femslash ship between Marceline and Princess Bubblegum. Though their feelings for each other were hinted at throughout the series, it wasn’t until the series finale that the two finally kiss and are confirmed to be a couple. Luckily, in the special Distant Lands — Obsidian, their relationship is explored in more detail and inspires one of the best love songs in western animation, “Monster.”
Adventure Time is streaming on HBO Max.
The Legend of Korra
The long-awaited sequel to one of western animation’s greatest hits, Avatar: the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra carried a lot of expectations, leaving fans wondering if the show would honor its predecessor’s legacy. It did. In addition to beautiful animation and martial-arts choreography, it extended Avatar’s legacy through the elements of peace and balance — while navigating a more technologically advanced world — with relevant political themes. But more important for the purposes of this list, The Legend of Korra introduced Nickelodeon’s first bisexual protagonist, Korra (Janet Varney), and ended with her in love with Asami Sato (Seychelle Gabriel) in the series finale. Though there’s been criticism of how the show could have more overtly presented their relationship, it’s important to remember the series ended before same-sex marriage was even legal, and that Korrasami walked so other queer ships could run.
The Legend of Korra is streaming on Netflix.
Created by nonbinary animator Rebecca Sugar, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe focused on its titular lead, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), raised by a trio of alien warriors known as the Crystal Gems (and one human dad) and saving the world from destruction with positivity and light. In addition to modeling nontoxic masculinity through its main character’s capacity for empathy, the show also broke ground for its unapologetic LGBTQ+ representation, focusing on relationships such as the one between Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Shukrani Luttrell) — the literal manifestation of love that makes up Crystal Gem Garnet (Estelle) — and showcasing nonbinary intersex icon Stevonnie (AJ Michalka).
Steven Universe is streaming on HBO Max.
OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes
Created by Ian Jones-Quartey (husband to Steven Universe’s Rebecca Sugar), the Cartoon Network series OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes follows the adventures of titular protagonist, K.O. (Courtenay Taylor), as he works at Gar’s Bodega alongside his best friends, Rad (Ian Jones-Quartey) and Enid (Ashly Burch), while fighting any villains that come their way. Though the show ended way too early for many a fan’s liking, with the third and final season airing in 2019, the series did leave an impact in LGBTQ+ representation. It showcased several queer couples before its finale — both heroes and villains — including couples Lord Boxman (Jim Cummings) and Professor Venomous (Steven Ogg), and Enid and Red Action (Kali Hawk.)
OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes is streaming on HBO Max.
The Loud House
Premiering on Nickelodeon, The Loud House made history by introducing the network’s first married gay couple, Howard (Michael McDonald) and Harold McBride (Wayne Brady). Throughout the series, the two make various appearances as the loving, if slightly helicopter-ish parents of Clyde McBride (Caleel Harris, Andre Robinson), best friend of protagonist Lincoln Loud (Sean Ryan Fox, Grant Palmer, Collin Dean, Jackson Petty, Tex Hammond, Asher Bishop). The show later revealed that one of Lincoln’s many sisters, punk rocker Luna (Nika Futterman), has a crush on a girl named Sam (Jill Talley, Alyson Stoner). Luna and Sam eventually end up dating and are regularly showcased throughout the series as a couple, rocking out and being cute together.
The Loud House is streaming on Paramount+.
Danger & Eggs
Created by Mike Owens and Shadi Petosky, Danger & Eggs focuses on D.D. Danger (Aidy Bryant), a teenage thrill seeker, and her cautious best friend, an anthropomorphic talking egg named Philip (Eric Knobel), as they stroll through town and have wacky adventures together. Easily one of the most queer-friendly shows on this list, Danger & Eggs portrayed overtly, unapologetically LGBTQ+ characters, and dedicates an entire episode to a Pride celebration hosted by transgirl Zadie (played by transgender advocate Jazz Jennings). Unfortunately the series was cut short before its prime, ending with one season. Here’s hoping for more innovative work from the show’s creators.
Danger & Eggs is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Inspired by the 1980s series She-Ra: Princess of Power, the 2018 rebooted DreamWorks version was developed by nonbinary creator ND Stevenson (author of graphic novels Nimona and Lumberjanes). Featuring lesbian, bisexual, and nonbinary/trans characters, the show made no secret of its aim to bring much-needed queer representation to younger audiences. Despite having to navigate network restrictions, Stevenson and their team orchestrated one of the most complex queer narratives shown onscreen, telling the five-season-long rivalry/love story between Adora (Aimee Carrero) and Catra (AJ Michalka).
She-Ra and the Princess of Power is streaming on Netflix.
Craig of the Creek
Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek follows lead character Craig (Philip Solomon) as he explores and maps out the kid-utopian Creek alongside best friends Kelsey (Georgie Kidder, Noël Wells) and J.P. (H. Michael Croner.) The show presents an organic, non-tokenized range of LGBTQ+ characters, including nonbinary characters like Angel (played by nonbinary voice actor and storyboard artist Angel Lorenzana), a recurring Sapphic couple dubbed the Witches of the Creek, and main character Kelsey, who is coded as lesbian and later confesses a crush on a girl named Stacks (Montserrat Hernandez.)
Craig of the Creek is streaming on HBO Max.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
Radford Sechrist adapted his 2015 webcomic Kipo into DreamWorks’ Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. The series explores a new world inhabited by Kipo Oak (Karen Fukuhara) and her friends, a postapocalyptic land full of anthropomorphic talking animals. In addition to its vibrant animation and killer soundtrack, the show made waves with its introduction of Benson (Coy Stewart), an openly gay male character (who even uses the word gay onscreen, a rarity in kids’ animation.). Benson’s relationship with love interest Troy (Giullian Yao Gioiello) is the show’s best romantic narrative —the two make the cutest couple even when fighting evil scientists and mutated animals.
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is streaming on Netflix.
The Owl House
The Owl House showcases Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles), a 14-year-old Dominican-American girl who finds her way into a demon dimension called the Boiling Isles, befriending a troublesome witch named Eda (Wendie Malick) and her demon-size companion, King (Alex Hirsch). There is so much to love about this series, from its innovative macabre-cute animation to its storytelling conventions that buck and reinvent classic fantasy tropes. Luz Noceda is easily one of the best characters in children’s animation right now: She’s loyal to her friends and enthusiastic about magic, and she’s Disney’s first openly bisexual protagonist. Though the series is soon coming to an end, its animators have sought continued online support for the show in hopes of future projects and spin-offs taking place in the The Owl House universe.
The Owl House is streaming on Disney+.