When you’re a butch lesbian that’s attracted to other butch lesbians, it can be hard enough to find a girlfriend, but for Meiri Hiranishi, an awkward otaku college student with no dating experience, things seem near impossible!
Meiri Hiranishi’s debut manga, The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend, is an autobiographical story based on comics she posted over the years to her Twitter, Webtoon, and Tapas. Meiri is a Japanese woman living in the US who longs to find a hot, short-haired girlfriend à la shojo anime heroines such as Sailor Uranus, but her awkward attempts at finding love all end in failure. That is, until she travels to Japan for the summer and meets Ash, an American teaching English in Japan.
The pair share a whirlwind month-long romance until Meiri has to return to the US to finish college, but their long distance relationship ends abruptly when Ash breaks things off. Unable to move on, Meiri struggles to try to win Ash back and find happiness for four long years.
Perhaps a more appropriate title for this manga would be “The Girl That Can’t Keep a Girlfriend,” since the majority of the story focuses on Meiri’s relationship with Ash from their initial meeting, tentative flirting, and declarations of love over the span of one month to their breakup and Meiri’s broken heart.
The initial couple of chapters focus on introducing Meiri and her tastes in women, establishing herself as a shy, insecure otaku, which fit with her depiction as a round, goofy caricature (whereas all of her love interests look straight out of shojo manga). Her embarrassing attempts to get a girlfriend, such as when she tries to go femme in order to win a butch woman over, make it clear that she grapples with her own self-worth and feels the need to change herself to appeal to others.
While there’s a lot of sweetness and fun interactions throughout the story, particularly when Meiri meets and starts dating Ash, the core issues she deals with as a lesbian woman struggling to find love and self-worth will tug at your heartstrings, whether you can directly relate to her problems or not.
Still, it’s all dealt with a witty sense of humor and self-awareness that keeps things from feeling too heavy. It’s also worth noting that Meiri wrote the entire English script herself, and her language feels right at home to someone active on the internet in 2023.
The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend is a look at the life and relationships of a single woman, and the stakes may feel comparatively low to some, but in a world where we need more of all kinds of queer stories, from the happy to the sad, extraordinary to mundane, it is well worth the read. I particularly appreciated the evolution of Meiri’s perception of herself over the course of the manga and seeing her finally get to the light at the end of the tunnel. I look forward to reading more of Meiri Hiranishi’s work in the future!