Genre: Manga, older teens (16+)
Rep: lesbian, mental illness
Content Warnings: disordered eating, self harm, suicidal thoughts
The heart-rending autobiographical manga that’s taken the internet by storm!
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an honest and heartfelt look at one young woman’s exploration of her sexuality, mental well-being, and growing up in our modern age. Told using expressive artwork that invokes both laughter and tears, this moving and highly entertaining single volume depicts not only the artist’s burgeoning sexuality, but many other personal aspects of her life that will resonate with readers.
You’ll like this book if…
You’re looking for an honest depiction of life with mental illness, coming to terms with queerness as an adult, and the struggles of growing up when your chosen path veers from the status quo.
Normally I wouldn’t review something that’s been professionally published, but MLEWL took me by such surprise and was full of so much relatable and important rep that I couldn’t NOT write something about it!
I, like so many others, first discovered MLEWL thanks to a set of translated pages posted to Twitter and Tumblr. The very concept of a woman in her late twenties hiring a lesbian escort so she can finally be with another woman was incredibly intriguing to me. As a bisexual woman who came out later in life, I can appreciate the ache and uncertainty that comes with trying to figure out how to live as your truest self.
There are plenty of wlw who haven’t experienced a romantic/sexual relationship with another woman for one reason or another – and may never get the chance – so it was really interesting to see a true account of someone taking a less conventional route to experience their own budding sexuality.
All of this said, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is so much more to this story than the author simply meeting with an escort. This isn’t some kinky, lustful lesbian erotica – it’s a story of a young woman taking her life into her own hands and exploring her sexuality as a single step toward overcoming her struggles with depression, anxiety, and extreme feelings of inadequacy.
What worked well
MLEWL is incredibly raw and honest; at times painfully so. Nagata doesn’t hold back when describing her struggles with depression and anxiety, nor her desperate need to please her parents and the gradual discovery of her sexuality. She goes to great lengths to explain her experiences with self-harm and suicidal thoughts to the reader, thus lifting the veil of shame, avoiding classic tropes, and making her feelings easier to understand. In fact, the open way she addresses pretty much all of her trials and victories makes even her most awkward and uncomfortable moments feel familiar. Despite our journeys being so different, I saw so much of myself in Nagata. It was an eye-opening and refreshing read.
While the actual lesbian escort encounter is briefer than I expected, it’s treated with dignity and respect; it’s raw and real and as awkward as one might imagine a virgin with a sex worker might be (I also want to say that Nagata’s depiction of Japanese escort services does a really good job of casting a kinder light on the sex work industry). If you’re going into this looking for smut, you’ll probably be disappointed.
The artwork is charming. I loved Nagata’s flow between a cute, simplified style and more refined, shojou-esque scenes.
What didn’t work well
There are a lot of cultural nuances that may be lost on readers who lack familiarity with Japanese culture and customs. Some concepts don’t translate well into English, which can make some of the storytelling confusing or difficult to relate to. This isn’t a shortcoming by any means (I’ll always commend publishers who don’t try to Westernize manga stories just to make them more palatable to North American audiences).
Occasionally the narrative is a bit convoluted or difficult to follow. Take it slow and savour the experience!