Boys Run the Riot (Manga) written and illustrated by Keito Gaku, Leo McDonagh (Translation) Published in English in four volumes by Kodansha Comics, 2021 and 2022.
As this adventure begins, artistically talented transgender teen Ryo (AFAB) struggles to understand and put a name to their identity. The opening color illustrations depict an unhappy Ryo, who has spray-painted their school uniform and graffiti painted the scene around them. Ryo’s dialogue which accompanies this scene, “I hate my uniform. It’s stiff and annoying … hot in the summer, cold in the winter. BUT THE BIGGEST REASON … IS THAT EVERY MORNING, IT REMINDS ME THAT I’M FEMALE.”
Ryo is a second-year student in a high school where school uniforms have girls wearing skirts and scarves, and boys wearing sports jackets and ties. Ryo defies the rules, secretly changing out of uniform each day shortly after leaving home, and instead wearing pants and a comfortable jersey (over a binder) while attending school. Clothes help Ryo feel comfort and peace and the ability to express true self. Ryo has always been interested in clothes and enjoys placing online orders for a favorite clothing brand. Ryo’s mom is not happy when the delivery truck pulls up and drops off yet another box. “Are they clothes again?! Boys’ clothes?! Just wear the stuff I got you the other day!” Ryo is defiant, “I always wanted to wear my big brother’s clothes. I’ve been interested in clothes since I was a kid … When I wear my favorite clothes, I feel at ease. It’s the only time I don’t see a version of myself that I hate.”
In volume one, Ryo explores identity, gender dysphoria, and what it means to be transgender. Ryo also befriends a new student, Jin, who should be a third-year, but was absent so much that he is required to repeat second year. Jin is extremely comfortable with himself, even though others see him as an outcast, a bully, and as being different. Jin says, “For sure, I might be … a cringe-worthy guy who can’t read the room…it’s a hundred times more freein’ … to live without shame.”
Outside of school, Ryo and Jin meet unexpectedly at a new “pop-up” clothing store that sells a brand of clothing they both enjoy wearing. Jin likes Ryo’s company and sense of style, and most importantly accepts Ryo as a new friend without question or judgement. Jin convinces Ryo to start a clothing brand with him, since they both have the same fashion-sense. Jin proposes that they create clothing for letting you express and live as your true self, an apparel line to help everyone feel comfortable in their skin. Ryo agrees and their brand – Boys Run the Riot – is born.
Ryo and Jin still have so much to do, and so much to learn. Ryo must design an initial t-shirt to kick-off the brand, and together they need to find a photographer, create marketing, advertising, and most importantly they need to make lots of sales, for their brand to succeed. There will be many new friends to meet along the way, as well as adventures, challenges, and lessons learned.
Keito Gaku, the manga artist, and creator of Boys Run the Riot is a transgender man living in Japan. This is his debut manga series and his first work to be published in English. Kodansha Comics hired an all-transgender localization team to edit and translate this manga, and commissioned Keito Gaku to draw new color cover art for the second, third, and fourth volumes. There is an interview with Keito Gaku at the end of volume one. Here are some of his comments about this manga series:
- The aim of this manga was to depict the feelings of Ryo, the transgender main character, and to portray his growth in a coming-of-age tale, so I needed some other point of growth for him than just his transition. Fashion is deeply related to identity and gender, so it was easy to tell the story of Ryo’s struggles with fashion as the theme. On top of that, I thought the fashion world was something that a high schooler could try and take on if they had a passion for it.
- The fact that Ryo hates his uniform and always comes to school in a jersey comes from my own experience. A lot of Ryo’s inner conflict about his body and mind are also things I have felt and thought a lot about before. Throughout the series, Ryo and his friends grapple with monetizing their lived experiences as LGBTQ+ people, which is something that I also went through while making this series. It kind of felt like I was working these things out alongside Ryo and his friends as I drew their story.
- This manga was created from my own experiences, and it was because of that, that I was able to debut as the manga artist I wanted to be. I think I was able to use those experiences to my advantage in my work. I know it’s easier said than done to internalize this way of thinking, but I hope that I can show people through my work that you can live while using your experiences, instead of being trapped by them.
Boys Run the Riot was nominated for a Harvey Award in the Best Manga category in 2021. The School Library Journal listed the first volume of Boys Run the Riot as one of the top 10 manga of 2021. Keito Gaku was the winner of the prestigious 77th Tetsuya Chiba Prize in Japan, for Boys Run the Riot (2021).
This manga series is recommended for tweens and teens.
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.