A Tender Sapphic Graphic Novel Romance: If You’ll Have Me by Eunnie

the cover of If You'll Have Me

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If You’ll Have Me is a very tender, very human story about two women with their own baggage who realize that sharing the burden often makes it easier to bear.

Both Momo and PG have been unlucky in love, and their first meet-awkward hardly seems poised to change that. But as they spend more time together, their feelings and blush-strokes both begin to deepen.

It was refreshing to read a sapphic romance set in a college setting. As I get older, I’ve found myself gravitating towards stories with women who have come through the gauntlet of adolescence only to find they still have a lot of learning and growing to still do. I’ve also met more women who didn’t have their first relationships in high school, in undergrad, or until they started working. It is nice to see those stories get told, too—especially with such lovely artwork! Every panel, even the bluest, is so suffused with warmth. The color palette and linework are probably some of my favorites in recent memory. While the aesthetic influences are pretty clear, the art style also has its own unique signifiers.

I appreciated how the importance of communication was explored in this story. The different inter-character relationships are well written, and handled with warmth and sincerity while not shying away from the conflicts that can arise from good intentions. We see how Momo and PG interact with friends, family, and how those dynamics shape their interactions with each other. We get to know their support networks, their social habits, and this makes their private moments all that much more textured.

One of my favorite aspects of this story was the emphasis on showing rather than telling, which comics as a combined visual and written medium are uniquely suited to. Some of the conversations are just as shaped by what is not said as what is, and the panels where we see PG with her family do this beautifully. There is a weight behind their words, whole histories being considered in the spaces between the panels.

A Tender Foodie F/F Manga: She Loves to Cook, She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki

the cover of She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Yuzaki Sakaomi

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They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but in Sakaomi Yuzaki’s latest manga, that proves just as true for women.

She Loves to Cook, She Loves to Eat is a lovely, heartwarming story about two neighbors who bond over a shared love of food. Nomoto, an office worker with a passion for cooking and no one to finish off the epically-sized dishes she dreams of making, finally meets her match in Kasuga, her very tall, very reserved neighbor with a very, very large appetite—an appetite perfectly suited to dishes containing, say, eight eggs and over three pounds of rice.

The dialogues flow naturally in this excellent translation by Phil Christie, as does the character growth. While the two initially get off on a slightly awkward foot, a series of shared dinners slowly bring them closer together.

But what starts as mutual appreciation is beginning to show signs of developing into something deeper in these first two volumes. Between bashful daydreams, thoughtful gestures, and small steps outside of their respective comfort zones, the two women find themselves wanting to spend more time with each other. And more time looking at each other.

And as their feelings become more and more obvious, it shows clear as day on the page. Blush-lines and all.

a manga panel showing Nomoto and Kasuga eating together. Nomoto is looking at Kasuga and smiling with faint blush lines over her cheek and nose

Tell me this isn’t the face of a woman in love.

The slow simmering of the romance is poised to make it all the more satisfying. This is such a perfect comfort read—clever, funny, sincere and so full of love. The second volume has a bit about the cultural meanings of take-out boxes that had me in stitches.

The focus on food includes some truly delicious descriptions and illustrations, so I’d recommend reading this either on a full stomach or with some savories handy. For example, crab cakes and spicy peanut sauce (which is what I got up to make halfway through volume one!) or popcorn with melted cheese and sun-dried tomato pieces (the accompaniment to volume two).

If you prefer Japanese food inspired by the story, there are also recipes at the back of the books, so you can open to the last page and prepare something ahead of time…

the cover of She Loves to Cook, She Loves to Eat Vol 2

Fans of Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon and that soft, low-stakes romance-with-a-side-of-social-commentary centering two working women will find a similar slow-burn story here, albeit with more overt observations on gender roles and norms in modern Japan. It doesn’t shy away from nuisances like marriage pressure, misogyny and uncalled-for assumptions, but it does not let them take center stage, either. Unless it’s to gently, elegantly skewer them.

Whether portion sizes, passion or paychecks, the women are constantly expected to make do with less. But these diminishing encounters are subtly contrasted with the genuine appreciation, acceptance and admiration that Nomoto and Kasuga’s budding relationship is based on.

a panel showing Kasuga saying, "Speaking up sometimes makes a difference."

They really do care for each other so much and it’s so lovely to read. There are so many warm fuzzies, but it’s the grounded sort of tenderness that comes with age. I was smiling so much at the little kindnesses and considerations they had. It’s such a healthy relationship that never loses its sense of humor.

I mean, no one says that the quickest way to a woman’s heart is through her period cravings, but the author certainly understands!

Chapter 16 was the one that deviates a little from this vibe and delves into some heavier topics. It comes prefaced with an author’s note stating such. But it also has a Frog and Toad reference that proves a well-placed picture can express a thousand words. It’s a reminder of the ways queer youth find and make meaning from media that was never explicitly about them, but which made space for stories like theirs nonetheless. For a manga focused on acceptance, it is a series of fitting visuals.

The manga might also appeal to fans of the older m/m series What Did You Eat Yesterday by Fumi Yoshinaga. Granted, the plot seems to take precedence over the food so far, while it was the other way around in Yoshinaga’s manga, but I’m excited to see where it goes. Preferably, with a plate of loaded egg-battered fries on the side.

Volumes one and two are currently available in English, and Volume three is available for pre-order!

Books for When Life is Draining You Dry and You’d Rather a Lesbian Vampire Were Doing It Instead

From the pulpy paperbacks of bygone eras to the neon-saturated teen slashers of today, the vampire has been an integral figure in sapphic storytelling. I personally think the metaphor is a lovely way to explore how marginalization affects peoples’ perceptions of themselves and their relationships, and how “monstrousness” is largely subjective and socially constructed. Stories that subvert or skewer the trope can also remind us to not get lost in the roles others ascribe to us and to our desires, while providing space to engage with the otherwise taboo.

And sometimes, they are plain, unadulterated fun. Which is nothing to sneeze at.

the cover of Vampire Blood Drive

Take Vampire Blood Drive by Mira Ong Chua: When college freshman Bunny (whose first monologue humorously skewers the cliched “I’m-so-plain-and-normal” heroines of many YA/NA paranormal romances), signs up for a campus blood drive, she doesn’t realize who exactly the blood is meant for. Or how said recipients will, um, extract it.

Cue sensual biting scene.

The very FLUFFY sensual biting scene, that is. While it’s got some NSFW panels, the book focuses on the bumpy-but-sweet love story between the two characters on the cover. It has so much sweet fluff, I want to stuff it inside a s’more.

Bonus points for originality, because this vampire love interest breaks with the long tradition of melodramatic angsty femme bloodsuckers to give us a slightly clueless, but still very melodramatic butch! I love Velvet so much. She’s got an arsenal of flirting tactics taken straight from the hearts of fanfiction writers, but delivered with all the earnest sincerity of a woman who is nursing a massively adorkablecrush.

There is plenty of situational comedy lining our heroines’ paths to undying love, but they both are so kind (albeit occasionally misguided) that it is harmless, heartfelt, lighthearted humor. It’s is a comic I can always come back to at the end of a long day, a quick pick-me up that makes my toes curl and my heart warm.

If you like manga art and queer vampire women and copious amounts of cuteness with subtle character development and a world where people are blessedly straightforward—again, with enough fluff to drown a marshmallow—this is it. If you were the sort of teenybopper sapphic who nursed crushes on Sailor Moon characters and bought way too much Hot Topic merch, this book is for you.

the cover of Good Enough to Eat

Good Enough to Eat by Alison Grey and Jae: I love Jae’s books. They are such nice, cozy reads with complex but caring characters. So when I learned she had a vampire romance, I was all over it. This one’s an easy but meaty read—perfect for when you want to take a couple hours to unwind with something that isn’t pure fluff, but also not too narratively cumbersome.

The story starts off with a very nervous vampire trying to work up the courage to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Robin is in the acute stages of blood withdrawal and looking for support with her cravings. Trying to leave behind memories of almost-murder and a clan whose customs include truly callous violence is made all the more harder when she has to go up against price-gouging blood suppliers and her own body’s constant hunger in the struggle to hold onto her values. Shaken, struggling and feeling adrift, Robin arrives at the basement of Saint Mary’s church looking for some kind of lifeline.

Enter Alana, a smart, sexy divorce lawyer with secrets of her own. Still smarting from an old breakup and hesitant to dip her toes back into the dating pool, she hesitantly agrees to be Robin’s sponsor. But when sparks literally fly during their first meeting, both women begin a slow, intense game of push and pull that unspools over nearly two hundred pages before delivering another hundred and fifty pages of toe-curling, squee-worthy romance. While it would be classified as a slow-burn, the writing flows so well that I burned through it in a few hours. I truly didn’t realize how much time had passed until I finally finished.

I thought it was a really novel (lol) take on the vampire mythos, and the observations about cliches in paranormal romance writing (and what said cliches offer readers emotionally) were a nice little nod to fans of the genre. I will add that it does discuss AA practices in detail, which might be off-putting for people who haven’t had the greatest experiences with the program—particularly considering that there seems to be a pretty rigid moral binary between nonconsensual drinking from humans and using gross-tasting synthetic blood substitutes. The attempts at deeper ethical questions felt forced, superficial and a little pat. But if I set aside thoughts of these issues (forgive me, Hannah Arendt), and focus more on character development, I can appreciate the story for serving up messy, flawed lesbians! Sure, their moral cloudiness isn’t quite Killing Eve or Castelvania levels of questionable, but it’s very human.

Chapter 16 also has a family falling out with language that can be used as a parallel for homophobia, so readers might want to tread carefully there, too. The vampire clan is not taking too kindly to Robin’s attempts to leave behind their violent, vampire-supremacist attitudes and lashes out using language that is an pretty unsubtle allegory. But, as with certain season finales, pretending this last chapter does not exist will not detract from your enjoyment of the work as a whole.

The fact that the two leads spend so long in a state of some miscommunication while concealing their respective supernatural identities might also be frustrating to people, though I thought it lended realism to the dynamic and made the climactic moments more heightened.

The sex scenes are also realistic, tender and respectfully written while still being very steamy and sensual

Honestly, the Carmilla webseries and WWDITS have utterly ruined me for those staid, poised, cold-as-iced-cucumber vampires whose age has brought them unparalleled wisdom and unflappable, unfazeable flirtatiousness. Because let’s be real, most people would see immortality as just more time to scroll through social media and procrastinate on dealing with their existential dread. Give me vampires with passionate opinions and social awkwardness and all those oh-so-human foibles, but who want to connect with others deeply and sometimes desperately.

And on that note…

the cover of Carmilla

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu: a tense tragedy isn’t exactly high up on most people’s list of comfort reads, but at less than a 150 pages, this story doesn’t require arduous staying power after a week of brutal classes, while also giving you the satisfaction of a story well read. It’s melancholic and gothic, and reading it feels like the literary equivalent of one of those horror movies that works up your nerves only for you to find yourself a lot calmer after the fact. Every time I get to a particularly angsty bit, I remember the web series and all the progress we have made in society. And then I usually end up watching episodes of the web series—which is a lot of fun, has a HEA, and offers much lighter-hearted stress relief. The miniseries also absolutely revelled in its deliciously dark academia aesthetic, well before the concept had a hashtag.

The plot is about as straightforward as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with less overt xenophobia. A lot less. It definitely leans into the whole “predatory lesbian” thing, though, so fair warning. Long story short, an lonely little girl named Laura starts having weird dreams about some strangely beautiful creature sneaking into her bedroom at night. Though she is unsettled by these ambiguous dreams, Laura’s wealthy father ensures that she spends her childhood in relative ease and comfort. She spends most of this time in true gothic fashion, without any friends her own age and constantly yearning for a companion, for someone she can be close to who isn’t her doting pater.

Her idyllic isolation is rudely interrupted in her eighteenth year, when a carriage accident deposits the girl from her dreams on her family’s doorstep. As the mysterious, secretive Carmilla slowly weaves her way into Laura’s affections, the latter finds herself beset by increasingly strange coincidences and occurrences, culminating in the return of those strange dreams. Except now, they are full-blown nightmares that plague her sleep.

Gee, I wonder what’s biting her?

I’m also probably partial to this story because the Carmilla web series was my sapphic epiphany and I will forever have a soft spot for the vampire stuff. It’s a fun delight when it’s well done, and can be a pleasurable diversion in the right spirit. Sure, life sucks sometimes, but the stories we tell and share help our experiences enliven us, before living on in archival immortality. They offer no small amount of campy, heartfelt, exceedingly human enjoyment, which can be radical in its redressal of the status quo’s simplistic definitions, its caricatured demons.

I mean, there has to be a reason why certain characters feature prominently in the formative fantasies of no small number of sapphics…

a screenshot of three cartoon vampire women