Trying to find a gay character in books and shows you loved as a kid was like searching for hidden treasure—sometimes the creators didn’t outright state it, and you had to squint, but you held onto these coded side characters like your life depended on it. (I’m still convinced Velma from Scooby Doo is a lesbian. Same with Kristy from the Baby-Sitter’s Club.) Nowadays, as representation gets better, we not only have LGBTQ protagonists, but some really amazing side characters as well, with representation that doesn’t need to be hunted for. These side characters are scene-stealing and heart-stealing and so, so easy to fall in love with.
Jesper (Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo)
What can I say about Jesper that hasn’t been said on book blogs across the internet? Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is a sweeping ensemble fantasy, and while every character is a standout, Jesper rises above the rest. At a time when it’s still rare to see canonically LGBTQ characters in fantasy, Jesper (and his love interest, Wylan) are a refreshing pair. Throw in the fact that he’s () and you’ll see why so many book bloggers (and myself) love him.
Mitzi, (The Girl With the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke)
So this one is technically cheating as this book isn’t out until September, but I love Mitzi so much I had to include her. Blue-haired lesbian Mitzi lives in 1988 Berlin, before the Wall comes down. And while Kai may have stolen Ellie’s heart, Mitzi absolutely stole mine. She’s wise-cracking, brave, and funny, and doesn’t put up with Kai’s nonsense. When this book hits shelves, if you don’t pick it up for the magic and the balloons and the alternate history, then pick it up for Mitzi and fall in love with her like I did.
Clémence (This Monstrous Thing, by Mackenzi Lee)
One of the best things about reading is finding a character you didn’t think would be queer and yet totally is, as is the case with Clémence from Mackenzie Lee’s debut This Monstrous Thing. We’re first introduced to her as Geisler’s assistant, a brilliant French woman helping out the mad doctor with his research. As Alastair continues his search for his brother, Clémence confides in him, telling him the story of the first boy she kissed—though she later admits she lied, and hadn’t kissed a boy at all. It’s a wonderfully unexpected moment for a wonderful, complex character.
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Rhy (A Darker Shade of Magic series, by V. E. Schwab)
Oh, Rhy. Prince of my heart. Maker of bad decisions, but loyal to the end. While Lila Bard is my favorite character in V.E. Schwab’s series, Rhy is a close second. There’s a certain scene in book two, with a certain roguish sea captain, that cemented Rhy as bad decision prince of my heart. Flirty and charming and perpetually frustrating to his brother, Kell, he has escapades I could read about all day.
Cass (The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli)
One of the best things about Albertalli’s Upside is the relationship between sisters Molly and Cass. Not only is it totally refreshing to see a supportive sister relationship, but having one of the sisters be gay is something we rarely get to see in contemporary YA. Cass is funny and smart and totally cares about her twin while understanding they both have their own unique identities. Not only that, but to see a girl who gets the girl and gets to be in a happy relationship in YA? That’s a total game-changer.
Jughead (The Archie comics series, by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson)
While he’s technically not a YA character, Jughead still deserves a place on this list as one of the only canonical aromantic, asexual characters we have in any sort of media. Jughead’s always been a scene-stealer, even in the early Archie comics, but now that the series has been refreshed and updated (and now that Jughead gets his own series), this burger-loving aroace guy can finally be front and center.