Manga Review: Boys Run the Riot

Title: Boys Run the Riot

Mangaka: Keito Gaku

US Publisher: Kodansha

Status: Complete

Age Relevance: Middle School & Up

How Essential Is It?: Must Have

Curricular Connections?: Can be used with GSA clubs, in ELA classrooms dealing with themes of identity, and in college literature courses on gender and sexuality.

Reader’s Advisory Tags: LGBTQ+ Issues, Gender Identity, Fashion, Bullying, Identity

Anime: None

Live-Action: None

Content Warnings: Misgendering, potentially triggering language and behaviors from others, characters dealing with dysphoria and confusion, some crude language, brief non-sexualized nudity in the final volume.

Publisher Synopsis: High schooler Ryo knows he’s transgender, but he doesn’t have anyone to confide in about the confusion he feels. He can’t tell his best friend, who he’s secretly got a crush on, and he can’t tell his mom, who’s constantly asking why Ryo “dresses like a boy.” He certainly can’t tell Jin, the new transfer student who looks like just another bully… The only time Ryo feels at ease is when he’s wearing his favorite clothes. Then, and only then, the world melts away, and he can be his true self. One day, while out shopping, Ryo sees someone he didn’t expect: Jin. The kid who looked so tough in class has the same taste in fashion as him! At last, Ryo has someone he can open up to—and the journey ahead might finally give him a way to express himself to the world.

Boys Run the Riot Vol. 1 Cover

Boys Run the Riot is an absolutely essential manga for any library. I love manga, but it’s not every manga that I can say with absolute certainty has the potential to save lives. This series does- because I’ve heard from students who’ve read it that it was the most affirming and positive reading experience they’ve ever had. It’s basically impossible for me to review this series without any bias, because when multiple students tell me a book helped them feel seen, I will fight for that book to the death.

The series is easily collectible at four volumes, and the story is straightforward. Ryo is a high school student who is transgender. At the start of the story, he is closeted and isolated. He has a passion for streetwear, and it’s only when he realizes that supposed delinquent Jin shares his passion that Ryo opens up about his gender identity and passion for clothes.

For Ryo, clothes offer a method of performing gender that make him feel the most comfortable.

Although Boys Run the Riot can be seen as primarily an LGBTQ+ manga, it’s also inherently about identity and how fashion can be a vehicle for self-expression. Readers can’t help but feel taken in by Ryo and Jin’s passion for streetwear and expressing themselves. It’s more than just clothes in Boys Run the Riot. Fashion is ultimately a revolutionary and revelatory action.

Ryo and Jin use clothes to disrupt oppressive social restrictions and expectations.

What’s also notable about this series is the care that Kodansha has taken in localizing it. They have worked extensively with Gaku-sensei since its publication. The translator, Leo McDonagh is also transgender, and the team is incredibly passionate about the series. To get an idea, here’s a video from Kodansha:

A note on challenges:

I do think it is a matter of time before this series is challenged, but please do not make that stop you from purchasing it. Our duty, as always, is to provide patrons with books that are validating and vital. Those words describe this series.

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