When you type in “Heartstopper” on Google, a few pastel leaves will flutter across your screen, serving as a reminder of how author Alice Oseman’s illustrations went from a black and white webcomic series to one of Netflix’s most—watched shows of the year. After receiving a 100% average Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes and sitting on Twitter’s trending chart for more than three consecutive weeks, the show was recently renewed for two more seasons due to its tremendous success.
But for what comes off as a show centered around a male gay couple, the teenagers in the show seem to enjoy their identity rather than suffer from it. Rare, right?
In 2016, Heartstopper began as a webcomic series about the precious story of two friends, Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke), falling in love while in the social battle—or in this case, rugby field—of high school. After See–Saw Films asked Oseman to turn the series into a screenplay, the show was adopted by Netflix and premiered in April 2022. Since its release, audiences have been “awwed”–out from how nauseously sweet it is: from bubblegum milkshakes to Nick banning his new boyfriend from saying the “S” word, which is a euphemism for “sorry." Heartstopper’s cartoonish simplicity through the creators' choice to directly translate the graphic novel medium onto the screen is what makes the series both a universal and subtle LGBTQ experience that the queer community has been asking for.
The format of the graphic novel is one that inherently heightens one's reading experience due to its reflection of the typical energy of a comic book—even a moment as simple as a 15–year–old boy crushing on his friend in homeroom displays classic POW! and BAM! moments. When adapting the show, Oseman worked alongside director Euros Lyn so that the screen could read like the pages of her animated and isolated art, which eventually led to the decision of making her the screenwriter of the adaptation.
Oseman's involvement in Heartstopper's production highlights how every effort has been made to stay true to the series' original storytelling medium, from the occasional two–dimensional heart or butterfly drawing to scenes from the show frequently splitting into multiple frames like that of a comic strip or even shattering like glass. Each episode’s title card has the same hand–drawn font from the books, and even the leads, Charlie and Nick, have the same freckled facial expressions and vibrant costumes of their original online sketches. Through this, the show’s color theory embodies the mind of a visual artist, from the pairing of yellow and blue following the leads on hallway walls, to the umbrella that Charlie and Nick share one of their first kisses under, to the rainbow lights beaming through the first lesbian kiss of the season.
This art style gives the show a sense of magical realism, generating a tint of sweetness amidst even more dramatic scenes. Within the film industry, the LGBTQ community’s most prioritized demand has been for writers to invent characters and plots that aren't centered around their sexuality or gender identity exclusively, and Heartstopper does just that. While it includes the expected milestones that queer viewers can relate to like coming out, it does so with an exceptionally sweet cinematic aesthetic that allows the series to transcend live–action storytelling, where these expected milestones often become redundant.
However, it by no means depicts a queer utopia. The show still has its hidden dark moments, whether it be Charlie escaping to the art teacher’s classroom to hide that he is not eating lunch or its depiction of Nick’s home life with his single mother. But the somewhat cliche, melodramatic scenes, like Charlie sniffling into his pillow serenaded by Orla Gartland’s “Why Am I Like This?” or Nick taking the classic “Am I Gay?” quizzes on his laptop are, for one of the first times, effective. The aesthetic direction of the series is not only meant to be a literal homage to Heartstopper's original medium, but also serves as a vivid portrayal of the emotional extremes we feel during our teenage years—perfect for the intensity of a comic book.
So to those who are sickened by Heartstopper’s sweetness: deal with it, because unlike other LGBTQ coming–of–age stories, the series shows that queer happiness for once is here to stay (at least for two more seasons).