For this list, I'm including really major side characters as main characters i.e. a best friend of the main character who is essential to the group/story line all the time. Not a tertiary character, background randos, or someone who only shows up once
Warning: there may be spoilers here for sexuality and minor plot spoilers. For plot spoilers I'll warn in-post.
1. Benson in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts
This boy right here literally said the words "I'm gay" and everything was cool. Then he had a "perfect dream" where he and his best friend were DJs or something and every single fan they had was male, lol. Benson later has a crush on a boy from Kipo's burrow (shown explicitly) and all the characters treat their interest in one another as completely natural and no one says boo. Also I just like Benson, he's a fun character. Kipo in general is a pretty good show even if I'm not too crazy about the art style or animation. The main cast of humans is great with the diversity - the three main characters are Black and of them, two are girls and Benson, as has been stated, is gay.
2. Adora and Catra in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power [plot spoilers in video]
There is no way to talk about this without plot spoilers since Adora and Catra's relationship is intrinsic to the plot. So don't read this if you want to be completely spoiler-free.
Adora and Catra had the subtext of being more than friends in the beginning, then they became friendly-ish enemies, then completely enemies with Adora still trying to reach out to Catra, and then Catra had a small redemption arc in the last season. I truly just wanted Adora and Catra to become friends again somehow because I couldn't see a way for them to get anywhere else with how things were left in season 4.
While some didn't buy it, I think what they did with Catra in season 5 made sense and worked to show how she and Adora could get to a healthier space with their traumas and actually develop something more than friendship with the feelings that were already there, just hidden. Catra running away and saying she didn't think Adora felt the same way about her, "not the way I feel about her" was as explicit as I thought it would get and Catra even outright saying something like that was more than most expected. Both Adora and Catra - the main hero and the main villain-turned-sort-of-hero - ending the series as explicitly in love with each other was a huge win for lesbian representation in cartoons, and that is that.
(Also She-Ra was doing great with the background rep: it had a non-binary secondary villain in season 4, Bow (best friend-main character) has two gay dads that show up twice and they LIVE, the best character in the show aka Scorpia (voiced by Dina on Superstore) had a crush on Catra and it's implied she starts dating another princess at the end of the series, and there's another tertiary lesbian couple that kiss and say "wife" about each other several times throughout the series.)
3. Korra and Asami in The Legend of Korra
Of course I was going to bring these two up. Though yes their friendship and relationship was underbaked, Korrasami walked so Catradora could run!! Korra and Asami were the bisexual/wlw representation that a lot of people didn't have AT ALL in cartoons and even the crumbs we got were savored back on in the early 2010s (I think? Idk man, time is a blur, what is reality). While there's more variety in explicit representation in minor characters in other cartoons way better than what we got with Korrasami - having the main lead hero in Korra, a woman, end up with another woman paralleling the same pose and with the same "Avatar's Love" music the first Avatar series ended in with the heterosexual couple was a big deal (and is still huge to me, fuck y'all who say otherwise lol. Korra haters in 2020 need Jesús!).
4. Adam in The Hollow
I've only seen a couple episodes of this show so I haven't gotten to this scene, but Adam explicitly says "Dude I'm gay", and it's apparently not made a big deal of. Adam is a main character (the three of them in the clip here are the mains) with super strength in this show. The only two tells you could guess he was gay for, as far as I know, was Adam rejecting the main female character in the first season (and not explaining why) and having a rainbow flag in his room before he outright stated it here. He doesn't have a love interest, again, as far as I know, but I think it's super great that him just existing as a gay protagonist in a kid's cartoon is a thing.
5. Garnet (Ruby and Sapphire) and Pearl in Steven Universe [plot spoilers in video]
Look, if we're talking about LGBT stuff in kid's cartoons Steven Universe is going to be part of the conversation.
Pearl and Garnet are main characters, with Steven as the main main character since everything revolves around him
[SPOILER SPOILER HUGE SPOILER]
at the end of the first season is revealed to be a fusion (which in this show means two or more gems fusing into one gem/being) aka a lesbian relationship. Garnet is Ruby and Sapphire, two gems who are already in love with each other (and one entire episode is dedicated to how they met and fell in love with each other) and eventually get married. There's a lot of them flirting, being affectionate, and kissing each other throughout the show when Garnet is unfused.
As the show goes on Pearl gets less subtextually gay with "Do it For Her" and more explicitly gay with how she sings about her unrequited love for Rose in "It's Over Isn't It" (the entire episode where she sings this song shows explicitly how Pearl was in love with Rose), her attraction to a human woman who resembles Rose (she gets her phone number too but nothing comes of it unfortunately), and some flashback scenes where she's jealous of Rose's relationship with Steven's dad, Greg (the hetero agenda at it again, smh). Another gem Bismuth explicitly has a crush on Pearl in the Future series but nothing comes of that either. But women having crushes and attraction to other women is super explicit in this show, and this show also had the first lesbian marriage (of a main character) in a cartoon shown as well.
6. Nitori in Wandering Son
I wanted to include a transgender main character but I have not seen or heard of any [non-Japanese] cartoons with a main character who is transgender. :( So here's an anime with the main character being a transgender girl. This show is super beautiful, and not just visually (the watercolor art is gorgeous). There are a lot of tough spots in the story and it can possibly be triggering for those with dysphoria, but there are a lot of joyful parts to it too and the subject matter was handled very well for what it was. It's been a long time since I've watched this show, but I remember that the main character, Nitori (she doesn't have a confirmed name she changed her name to, though she sometimes would use Yoshino or Lily, so I'm just referring to her by her last name), also had an older mentor to look up to and talk about the transgender experience with as well.
(There weren't many videos on youtube for Wandering Son to use, and the one trailer/preview that had english subs had a slur in it so I didn't want to post that here just in case.)
7. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy in Harley Quinn
In season 2, Harley's feelings for Ivy become explicit and intrinsic to the plot.
I was disappointed in how Harley and Ivy got together since Ivy literally was about to marry a man, got dumped by said man, and then immediately was like "Okay I mean I guess I like you too Harley for reals???" in the season 2 finale. I hope that if this show gets picked up for season 3 that Harley and Ivy's relationship is expanded on more. However, Harley being explicitly bisexual and her feelings for Ivy (even if unrequited at first) are not treated as a joke and I think that was pretty awesome. Also just watch it, the show itself is pretty awesome and hilarious tbh!
8. Enid from OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes
The main main character KO in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes isn't LGBT, but one of his friends, Enid, is bisexual and is arguably the second main character/lead. She has a a bisexual flag sticker on her helmet and is shown to have a crush on one of the female recurring characters, Red Action (who is a lesbian), throughout the series and much much later begins dating her. Red Action also displays feelings for Enid/girls throughout the series (once saying "I like her!...music" while blushing and laughing nervously). At the end of the series Enid and Red Action kiss each other on-screen too, kudos. There are other side/tertiary characters on the LGBT spectrum but I don't think they were explicitly shown to be LGBT and were just confirmed to be by the creator. I haven't watched the entire show/every episode so I'm not sure tho. There is also a prominent gay relationship teased between Boxman and Professor Venomous, two recurring villains in the show, throughout the series, and then at the very last episode they get married officially.
- Luz in Owl House, the main character, has been speculated as maybe not-straight because she's blushed around female characters and hasn't really shown interest in male characters romantically, but let's be real who knows. It's the same kind of speculation with Star Butterfly (main character) from Star vs. The Forces of Evil where she blushes because of a hot girl like once but it's never spoken of and that's literally all there is to that
even if I shipped Star and Janna at one point,as she only dates and talks about attraction to boys in the show. I don't think the creator ever confirmed her being bisexual either. However, Star vs. TFoE has a love interest, Jackie, of one of the main characters' (best friend of Star) shown in a relationship with another girl in like the last season, but this is only a tertiary character with limited screentime and iirc she was only shown with her girlfriend once.
- Danger and Eggs: neither main character I think is ever seen as LGBT but there's just so much other explicit LGBT representation with other side/recurring characters (actually including the T in LGBT) that I wanted to mention it anyway!
- Marceline and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time. They kiss and get together at the end of the series after years of subtext. I'd say they're more secondary characters that get a lot of important story lines with the main characters and on their own. I felt quite VINDICATED I AM SELFISH I AM WRONG I AM RIGHT I SWEAR I'M RIGHT SWEAR I KNEW IT ALL ALONG.mp3 when they finally kissed at the end of the series, explicitly showing they had feelings for each other because you know how it is with annoying people going "lol you stupid gays wanting everyone to be gay, it isn't happening!"... >:)
- While I was bingeing animated short films/cartoon pilots on Youtube, I saw a couple cartoons with LGBT main characters that were cute and worth mentioning: Drawn to You (lesbian) and The Acorn Princess (lesbian and gay prince/ess). I'll mention In a Heartbeat too even though you probably already saw it 3 years ago. There's a Disney+ short called "Out" too, but I haven't been able to find a...way...to see it.
- And while I was bingeing the short animated films/pilots, I was surprised to see one that was 30 minutes long and has millions of views since it came out last year. It's called Hazbin Hotel and the main character, Charlie (the princess of hell) is implied to be gay in the show (a side character says "I don't touch the gays" to Charlie when she tries to shake her hand) and has a girlfriend shown with her (her name is Vaggie though??). The one episode that's on YouTube has the same kind of adult humor as Harley Quinn, and the show has been picked up to be a full series. I thought Charlie and Vaggie were cute together, and am interested in seeing how their relationship is handled once the show is released in full.
- Super Drags had 5 episodes on Netflix (cancelled after one season) and was an adult animated cartoon featuring the main characters of three drag queen superheroes. I personally haven't watched it but, I mean, the main characters are drag queens so they're probably gay lol.
- I know I just shat on The Dragon Prince at the beginning of this post, but... I guess... I'll just say it was nice to see in season 2 two lesbian queens introduced and kiss each other BEFORE THEY GOT IMMEDIATELY KILLED OFF. Okay. Sorry. I'll say it better: uh. It was nice to see two lesbian queens kiss without censorship on a kid's show on Netflix. It wasn't nice that they were already dead in the story/flashback about them being recounted. But there was an effort, you know? These writers were like, "Hey, we didn't get to write a wlw kiss in Korra, so let's do it here AND THEN IMMEDIATELY KILL THEM HAHAHA". (sorry, I really tried to be nice) And then in the next season, one of the main character's surrogate fathers were shown to be husbands and they kissed on-screen in a flashback, so that was cool. One of them is dead though lol (he is technically trapped in a coin but I haven't heard of him being alive after being placed in a goddamn coin, have you?). If they stop killing off their LGBT rep right after explicitly showing that the character WAS supposed to be rep, I will eat my words. But until then, I'm so excited to see what gay characters they're going to show us in the next season so I can speculate on what kind of tragic death they will receive. <3
Sources: me, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
What cartoons have you been watching lately? Also, please let me know if there are more cartoons out there with LGBT rep! I'm always down to check them out if they aren't completely horrible. :D