Transgender themes and stories are not unfamiliar territory for anime. What is impressive about Wandering Son in terms of anime, or any other media for that matter, is the sensitivity and honesty with which the series handles its transgender subject matter. Absent are the usual external motivations for crossdressing or the fantastical elements that make the transgender elements seem to be just part of a larger-than-life narrative. Shuichi wants to be a girl because that is part of who he is. While Wandering Son is supportive of the transgender identity of its characters, the series is also seeking to realistically present the continuing struggles of transgender people to live in this binary-gendered world. Shuichi has come out to a group of supportive friends, but his sister yells at him and calls him "sick" after discovering him wearing her clothes.
Shuichi is not the only transgender character in the series. His female friend, Yoshino Takatsuki, wants to be a boy, though Shuichi is the focus of the first episode. The two young characters are still trying to figure out who they are and their place in society. Yoshino, for example, is envious of another girl in her class who comes to school wearing a boy's uniform just because she feels like it. After running into a sobbing Shuichi, Yoshino starts to give him the boy's uniform a friend gave her but then stops and says "this isn't what you need right now."
Reaction to the first episode has been mostly positive, though I will take a little issue with Gia Manry's characterization of Shuichi's transgender identity as a "hobby" in her review of the first episode on Anime News Network. While it remains to be seen how the series will develop over its entire 11 episode run, it seems pretty clear that Shuichi's desire to be a girl is more than just a hobby.
Wandering Son is currently steaming in the US on Crunchyroll - the first episode is available now for subscribers and will be available on Thursday, January 20 for non-subscribers. The first volume of the manga will also be coming out sometime this year from Fantagraphics Books.
Wandering Son follows last season's Princess Jellyfish - a series featuring a crossdresser that is available on Funimation Video. Check out either series if you want to see some of the most positive and supportive examples of transgender representation airing in Japan or anywhere!