Okay, so I just binge-watched two absolutely incredible anime this week, both of which have at least one character in the main cast that challenges the gender binary that is so very often thrust upon us in most societies. I just want to talk about these characters for a bit, and how important I think it is that more genderqueer/gender nonconforming characters like these are represented in popular media.
(WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS ABOUT PERSONA 4 AND OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB AHEAD)
First, let's talk about Persona 4. The main plot focuses around a group of 8 individuals whose worlds are turned upside down when they are thrust into an alternate universe on the inside of their TVs - yes, that's right, inside their TVs. In this world, each character meets an alternate version of themselves that represents an over-exaggerated secret side of themselves that they are either too afraid or ashamed to let the world see. Each character must defeat this version of themselves and learn to accept them as a part of themselves before they are able to leave the TV world.
One character in particular stood out to me among the rest, as we learn that Naoto Shirogane, a.k.a. "The Detective Prince", who has been living their life as a boy for years, is revealed by their alternate self to actually be biologically female. We learn that Naoto decided to disguise themself as a boy long ago when they realized the only way the Police would take them seriously was if they rejected their biological sex and changed their attitude to appear more masculine and adult. While Naoto ends up accepting their biological gender, allowing their friends to refer to them as "she/her", Naoto continues to bind their chest and dress in more masculine clothing (including wearing a boys' school uniform), and they continue to speak in a lower, mostly androgynous voice. While in the animated series, Naoto is "supposed to" openly identify as female after they face their alternate self, in the original video game, Naoto continues to ask the protagonist of the series to refer to them as "he/him", and they are made visually uncomfortable when forced into a situation that exposes/accentuates their assigned gender.
The thing about Naoto is that while every part of their personality hints at them being a transgender man, the story itself is still written to push Naoto into accepting the female side of themself, and because of this, I can't "canonically" call Naoto transgender. However, everything evidenced in their character still leads me to believe that Naoto is still not actually all that accepting of their assigned gender even after they admit that their alternate self is a part of them, so I'm opting to headcanon that Naoto is, in fact, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming.
While Naoto is only actually genderqueer between the eyes (i.e. while there are absolutely hints, direct "Word of God" contradicts those hints otherwise), Ouran High School Host Club actually has a canonically gender nonconforming character named Haruhi Fujioka who has stated canonically in all adaptations that she (Haruhi is often referred to as "she/her" by her close friends and family who know her biological gender) doesn't have a gender preference, and believes that true gender is something that comes from inside a person.
"Listen, Senpai, I don't really care whether you guys recognize me as a boy or a girl. In my opinion it's more important for a person to be recognized for who they are rather than for what sex they are."
Haruhi Fujioka is first mistaken for a cisgender boy after accidentally stumbling upon the Host Club while searching for a quiet place to study. Because of her small frame, short hairstyle, androgynous voice, and baggy clothing that she borrowed from her father, the boys in the club originally mistake Haruhi as a boy interested in their services, however, upon trying to escape the boys, Haruhi is backed into an expensive vase (8 million yen/800,000 USD) that topples over and breaks. The boys originally hire Haruhi as their personal errand boy in order to pay off her debt from breaking the vase, but after seeing how natural and popular Haruhi is with their female guests, the boys make Haruhi an offer to become an official host, which she accepts (if only to pay off her debt sooner).
At the end of the first episode, the boys discover Haruhi is biologically female after walking in on her while changing clothes, and while the boys initially make a big deal out of it, Haruhi quickly tells them that she doesn't mind being referred to as a boy, and that gender doesn't really matter to her. Although the boys continue to refer to her as "she" from then on, they accept her as one of the boys and even go out of their way to make sure the school doesn't find out about her biological gender during mandatory physical exams. Haruhi continues to live her life as a boy throughout the rest of the school year, only ever really wearing "feminine" clothes when she's at home or out running errands, and even then, she sometimes opts to wear a baggy t-shirt and shorts instead.
While I won't get into the whole plot of the series, I will say that the way the writers handled Haruhi's indifference to gender is probably one of the most positive representations of a genderqueer character I have ever seen in modern media, and I am absolutely in love with the series for allowing Haruhi to just openly be herself.
As more and more children, teenagers, and young adults start to come to terms with their own gender identities, I think it's super important for them to be able to see characters like Naoto and Haruhi and realize that it's okay to identify as something other than the gender you were born with, even if that gender isn't within the binary, or even if you're not exactly sure what yet you want to be.