Warning: The following article contains spoilers for the following One Piece arcs: Arabasta, Impel Down, and Wano.
The label for the most popular anime of all time lands on the shoulders of the 1997 shonen, One Piece. This original story, created by Eiichiro Oda, engulfed millions of fans across the globe in a tale about a straw-hatted boy trying to find a crew, aiming to become the king of pirates. While it may appear to be an overstating standard premise, the story introduces complex characters, tragic backstories, and multidimensional villains all while riding on the typical shonen formula.
One Piece, however, has not once, been connected to the world of romance. With a main character who could not be more indifferent about romantic connections — especially as a ‘pure-hearted’ ambitious teenager — this story has not taken any love stories lightly. While at times comprising love interests in the middle of an arc (i.e Sanji and Pudding), the Straw Hats’ true dreams lie in their future as pirates. Nonetheless, amidst the vast panoply of characters introduced, One Piece not so subtly announces a new character every now and then that fills the bill when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation — even if not from a romantic perspective.
Queer content in Japanese culture, albeit popular, isn’t entirely appreciated. More often than not authors will include a few LGBTQ+ characters unknowingly in their stories, without weighing on their importance for queer representation. Genderqueer and gender non-confirming characters are a popular trope commonly found throughout the world of manga, and One Piece is not an exception. Considering every single character in the anime is the epitome of stereotypical personas, the queer characters are exaggerated, to say the least. Nonetheless, they exist in the story, and their roles are nothing of the ordinary. For this reason, We Got This Covered compiled a very short list of the best queer characters in the pirate world.
Introduced in Impel Down as Luffy’s only savior after receiving a copious and fatal amount of poison, Ivankov is a flamboyant ginormous character with a Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter-esque design. With an intimidating size and extravagant persona, Ivankov is immediately disclosed to be leading the New Kama Land in the Impel Down sewers, where he fled alongside many others. He is considered to be the strongest Okama (Japanese slang for ‘queer’), and he is also the Queen of the Kamabakka Kingdom. In addition to his title as the king of the queers, Ivankov is later on discovered to be one of the leaders of the Revolutionary army, alongside Dragon and Bartholomew Kuma.
Ivankov quickly became a fan-favorite character. Ivankov’s natural gag and wit became beloved features among the fans. His power given by the Horm-Horm Fruit also allows him to alter anyone’s body with the use of hormones, surpassing the boundaries imposed by gender. At times with consequences, Ivankov uses this power to transform his enemies and foes into any gender or change their bodies as needed. Ivankov is also oftentimes seen in his female body, switching genders any time he pleases. His genderfluidity, alongside his unique personality and love for Luffy, make him one of the most interesting and somewhat mysterious characters in One Piece.
The first instance in which the audience meets Kiku would never let on that she is one of the legendary samurai from the land of Wano. Kiku’s first appearance dates to when an insistent and downright entitled sumo wrestler is trying to court her, as she continues to dismiss his advances. Not long after, her identity as a samurai from Wano Country is revealed, letting on that she is a retainer for the Kozuki Family, serving as one of Kozuki Oden’s Nine Red Scabbards. In addition to her historical feats, she is also Izo’s sister, one of Whitebeard’s commanders. She is the first transgender character introduced in One Piece.
Although introduced very recently in the story, Kiku’s popularity skyrocketed as a result of her expertise in swordsmanship, legendary status as a samurai, and kind demeanor. Nonetheless, Kiku is appointed to be one of the male samurai in the Red Scabbards to which she responds to be “a woman at heart.” Her gender throughout the arc has been reaffirmed time and time again by the use of ‘she/her’ pronouns, using the female baths alongside other women, as well as the constant reminders of her unbelievable beauty, captivating the hearts of many.
Also known as Mr.2 or as Bentham, Bon Clay is a genderqueer character from One Piece. In spite of his initial introduction, Bon Clay became an extremely beloved character upon having his moral compass introduced as a redemption arc. Bon Clay was first introduced as an agent of the Baroque Works, and as major antagonist in the Arabasta arc. Over time, and upon antagonizing the Straw Hats with his Clone-clone fruit, Luffy and Bon Clay quickly grow close, with both of them sharing an inherent curiosity and playful nature. From that moment forward, Bentham sacrificed himself twice for his friend, showing the true power of friendship.
Bon Clay’s gender is much more intricate than believed. While Ivankov’s gender is disclosed as transcending the boundaries, Bentham’s is much trickier to characterize. While he utilized male pronouns, Robin and Crocodile never gave him a partner of the opposite gender, on the basis that he is both a female and a male. What is now most befitting of the label ‘non-binary’, at the time Bon Clay just called himself “queer” or, “Okama.” The character became known for his tagline ‘Okama-way’, or ‘the queer way’, and in addition to his openly disclosed queerness, Bentham also idolizes Ivankov for being the greatest okama of all time.
The second trans character to have been introduced in the story came not long after Kiku. Yamato is the son of the former Emperor of the Sea, Kaido. From the introduction, the audience is met with a chaotic teenager whose obsession with Oden goes well beyond just admiration. Yamato idolizes Kozuki Oden, to the point where he decides to take on his mannerisms, and impersonate him upon getting his hands on Oden’s journal. As a result of his desire to become Oden, Yamato proudly proclaimed to be Kaido’s son and to be treated as a man, which everyone has thoroughly respected.
Yamato emulates Oden’s gender, with the wish of becoming the former daimyo of Wano. He wishes to pursue the same adventures as Oden, and finally see the world- as opposed to the reality he’s been due to being Kaido’s son. Yamato quickly became a matter of discussion due to his revealing outfits showing his biologically female features. Nonetheless, Yamato also joins the male characters in the bath, while dismissing Nami’s proposal for bathing together as there were no “mixed baths.” In addition to the straightforwardness in his gender, Yamato’s own chaotic and strong personality became loved in the fandom, although his fate as a future Straw Hat was cut short in favor of becoming Wano’s guardian.
A great example of a genderfluid character whose gender identity isn’t necessarily tied to comedy is Inazuma. They are the deputy commander of the Revolutionary army as well as the second hand of Ivankov. Inazuma’s personality and appearance vary according to what they wish to present. They go back and forth between female and male appearances, thus becoming unknown what their biological gender is. Their personality also shifts, and as a man Inazuma becomes more level-headed and serious, while as a female they present as warmer and more cheerful.
Inazuma isn’t a major character in any arc, although their presence is indisputably crucial in every moment where they’ve appeared. From taking part in Marineford to his work in the Revolutionary army, Inazuma is an essential character that resides next to Ivankov in blind loyalty. While Bon Clay and Ivankov are oftentimes at the root of comedic relief or jokes for being queer or ‘Okama’- albeit never depicted maliciously- Inazuma is never displayed as such, thus working as a perfect example of a genderfluid character who is not at the focus of a gag.
Warning: The following excerpt contains spoilers for anime-only fans for including information from the Wano arc in the manga.
As previously mentioned, Izo was Kiku’s older brother and a former commander of the 16th division of the Whitebeard Pirates. He was also a retainer of the Wano Country and he was allied to the Red Scabbards and the Straw Hats. Unlike his sister, Izo never traveled forward in time, and thus, spent nearly three decades sailing alongside the Whitebeard crew, up until their captain’s death. While not nearly as explored as his sister, Izo is considered to be a Taikomochi- a male geisha. While it is never fully disclosed whether he is genderfluid or simply enjoys crossdressing for other reasons, Izo is normally referred to by using male pronouns and titles, such as ‘he/him’ and ‘brother.’
Izo’s appearance shows a broad sense of gender. While he proudly displays his chest, evidently showing his assigned-at-birth gender, he also wears his hair tied neatly, while sporting a pink and purple kimono. Although his reason for the peculiar sense of style is never disclosed, Izo’s addition to this list derives, purely, from his possible genderfluidity provided by the standardized female-stereotypical outlook, which was otherwise unnecessary for him to sport as a pirate.
While both the manga world and the One Piece universe have plenty to grow when it comes to representation as a whole, Oda has still managed to create some of the most enticing characters in the universe, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Albeit with plenty of stereotypical appearances and even some outdated gags, every single one of these characters is treated with the utmost respect, and most of all, appreciated for being fantastic additions to the vast and complex world of One Piece.