The long and short of it is that sometimes I stumble across a piece of media that I feel like everyone should at least try out. Though they won't be loved by everyone, they're great enough that I feel comfortable recommending them without knowing a person's taste ahead of time.
Love Me For Who I Am: This is the kind of story I wish I had had when I was a kid first getting into manga. It follows a high school boy, Tetsu, and his blooming friendship (and, perhaps, romance???) with fellow classmate Mogumo, who is nonbinary. The story is populated with a variety of queer characters, all in various stages of accepting themselves as well as being public about who they are. It's sweet, heartfelt, and makes me hopeful that, perhaps, future generations won't struggle to understand who they are, so long as characters like Mogumo exist as a reference point.
Sailor Moon: If your only exposure to Sailor Moon is the (poorly dubbed) 90s anime, you really miss out on a lot of what makes SM so special. It's a classic for a reason, after all. Hidden powers, secret identities, romance, royalty, a story spanning millennia...Reading the manga as an adult reminded me of what it felt like to be a little kid again, dreaming of big adventures. It would be remiss of me not to also talk about how Haruka, aka Sailor Uranus, was my first exposure to any kind of gender nonconformity (or, at least, that wasn't a joke). In a kinder world, she would have been the first clue I'd had as a kid that I was trans. So perhaps, some of my love for this series is nostalgia blind, but I believe it's worth reading regardless.
Way of the Househusband*: Before I actually started reading this manga, I saw some of the highlights clipped and posted to Tumblr, such as this absolutely incredible gag, and decided I'd better just read the whole thing for myself. Boy howdy was I not disappointed. I'm caught up on content that's been officially released in English, and every volume has had at least one chapter that has made me literally laugh out loud. So do yourself a favor, and read about the (mis)adventures of Tatsu, ex-Yakuza-turned-househusband. He is truly the ultimate malewife, haha.
Witch Hat Atelier*: I'm surprised I forgot to include this in the original list, to be honest. The story follows Coco, a young girl who is tricked into casting forbidden magic. Normally, such an incident would see her memories erased, but a kindly witch adopts her as an apprentice, giving her an avenue to become a witch herself, and perhaps reverse the spell she inadvertendly cast. There's so much about this series that I adore: the art, the characters, the world, the story... everything feels simultaneously grandiose grounded in believability. I'm picking up the most recent volume from my local library tomorrow (7/15/22), and I can't wait to see what happens next.
* denotes an ongoing series
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (Nintendo DS, PC): I've played both this and the sequel, Virtue's Last Reward. It's hard to talk about what makes this game so special without giving away the best parts of it. You are Junpei, a college student who has been kidnapped by the mysterious Zero and forced to play something they call "The Nonary Game." Essentially, the game takes place on a ship with various puzzle rooms for the 9 players to solve. If they cannot escape within 9 hours, they will die. Why have they been kidnapped? Who is the gamemaster, Zero? For that matter, who are the other players? All will be answered in time as you explore this combination visual novel / puzzle game.
Celeste (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch): Celeste is a story that is both comfortingly universal and surprisingly personal. It is a story about radical self-acceptance, about working with the parts of you you dislike and forging a better path forward. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, also a queer story. And if that weren't enough, it's also a satisfying platformer with a slew of accessibility options. And if the game's hardest levels still leave you wanting a bigger challenge, there's a robust modding community for the game as well. Check out the 2020 Spring Collab for an outstanding example. Now if you'll excuse me, I really should get back to the C sides...
Hades (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch): Hades is a roguelite with (1) a compelling story, (2) absolutely incredible characters, and (3) a satisfying progression system. Failure is expected and built into the game's design; it's hard to feel bad about dying in Tartarus for the 10th time in a row when you get more story upon returning to the house of Hades. Throw on some bonus points for a relatable protagonist and his relatable problems, queer relationships, and the ability to be openly polyam, and this game is a real winner.
Yakuza 0 (PS4, PC): Kazuma Kiryu, at this point a 20 year old, fresh-faced member of the yakuza, is framed for murder. Hundreds of miles away, Goro Majima, disgraced ex-Yakuza, has been given the opportunity to earn his spot back in his clan; all he must do is kill his assigned target. What follows is a story packed to the brim with secrets, betrayals, violence, and, despite it all, love, in the most surprising ways. I cannot overstate how much the story of this game got to me. And that's to say nothing about the satisfying gameplay and plethora of side stories, mini-games, and interesting characters. It's the perfect place to start the series, and though I've liked the other games I've played since, Yakuza 0 is still my favorite of them all.