Shonen ai: Wikis

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Books on display at a San Francisco bookstore. Note that some titles are shrink wrapped, indicating sexually explicit content.

Yaoi (やおい?)[nb 1] also known as Boys' Love, is a popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male relationships, usually created by female authors. Originally referring to a specific type of dōjinshi (self-published works) parody of mainstream anime and manga works, yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented manga, anime, dating sims, novels and dōjinshi featuring idealized homosexual male relationships. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (literally: attacker) who pursues the uke (literally: receiver).

In Japan, the term has largely been replaced by the rubric Boys' Love (ボーイズラブ Bōizu Rabu?), which subsumes both parodies and original works, and commercial as well as dōjinshi works. Although the genre is called Boys' Love (commonly abbreviated as "BL"), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.

Yaoi began in the dōjinshi markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of shōnen-ai (少年愛?) (also known as "Juné" or "tanbi"), but whereas shōnen-ai (both commercial and dōjinshi) were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular "straight" shōnen anime and manga, such as Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya.

BL creators and fans are careful to distinguish the genre from bara, including “gay manga”, which are created by and for gay men.[1][2] However, some male manga creators have produced BL works.[3] Yuri is a wider blanket term than yaoi, because it refers to comics with lesbian relationships, regardless of the target audience, which may be (presumptively heterosexual) men, heterosexual women, or lesbian women. Yuri for actual lesbians tends to resemble the opposite of bara, while men's yuri manga is more like yaoi manga, since both are targeted at the opposite sex and are not about reflecting gay reality.




Although different meanings are often ascribed to yaoi and boy's love (with yaoi generally said to be more explicit and BL generally said to being less so), there is conflicting information on their usage.[4]

Yaoi is an acronym created in the dōjinshi market of the late 1970s by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu[5] and popularized in the 1980s[6] standing for Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (ヤマなし、オチなし、意味なし?) "No climax, no point, no meaning". This phrase refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the "difficult to understand" shōnen-ai of the Year 24 Group,[7] focused on "the yummy parts".[8] The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure.[1] As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered "common knowledge to manga fans".[9] A joking alternative acronym among fujoshi (female yaoi fans) for yaoi is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い?, "Stop, my butt hurts!").[3][10]

Originally in Japan, much BL material was called "june" ジュネ ,[11] a name derived from June, a magazine that published male/male tanbi 耽美 ("aesthetic") romances, stories written for and about the worship of beauty,[11] and romance between older men and beautiful youths[12] using particularly flowery language and unusual kanji.[11] Mori Mari in Koibito tachi no mori (恋人たちの森?, A Lovers' Forest), considered "the first work of BL per se",[13] used such unusual kanji for her characters' names that she converted to spelling their names in katakana.[12] Kaoru Kurimoto had also written shōnen ai mono stories in the late 1970s that have been described as "the precursors of yaoi".[5] June magazine, in turn, had been named after the French author Jean Genet, with "june" being a play on the Japanese pronunciation of his name.[14] Eventually the term "june" died out in favour of "BL," which remains the most common name.[11]

Another term for yaoi is 801.[15] "801" can be read as "yaoi" in the following form: the "short" reading of the number 8 is "ya", 0 can be read as "o" - a western influence without doubt, while the short reading for 1 is "i" (see Japanese wordplay). For example, an Internet manga called Tonari no 801-chan, about an otaku guy who dates a fujoshi, has been adapted into a serialized shōjo manga and a live-action film. 801-chan, the mascot of a Japanese shopping centre, is used in the manga.[16]

Yaoi has become an umbrella term in the West for women's manga or Japanese-influenced comics with male-male relationships,[11] and it is the term preferentially used by American manga publishers.[17] The actual name of the genre aimed toward women in Japan is called 'BL' or 'Boy's Love'. BL is aimed at the shōjo and josei demographics, but is considered a separate category.[11][18] Yaoi is used in Japan to include dōjinshi and sex scenes,[11] and does not include gei comi, which is by gay men and for gay men.[1][11]

The terms yaoi and shōnen-ai are sometimes used by western fans to differentiate between the contents of the genre. In this case, yaoi is used to describe titles that contain largely sex scenes and other sexually explicit themes and shōnen-ai is used to describe titles that focus more on romance and do not include explicit sexual content, although they may include implicit sexual content.[19][20][21] When using the terms in this way, Gravitation is considered to be shōnen-ai due to its focus on the characters' careers rather than their love life, while the Gravitation Remix and Megamix doujinshi by the same author, which emphasize the characters' sexual relationships, would be considered yaoi. Sometimes the word hentai is used as an additional modifier with yaoi - "hentai yaoi" - to denote the most explicit titles.[22] However, Kaze to Ki no Uta[nb 2] was groundbreaking in its depictions of "openly sexual relationships", spurring the development of the shōnen-ai genre in shōjo manga.[23] The use of yaoi to denote those works with explicit scenes sometimes clashes with use of the word to describe the genre as a whole. Yaoi can be used by fans as a label for anime or manga-based slash fiction.[25]

While shōnen-ai literally means boy's love, the two terms are not synonymous. In Japan, shōnen-ai used to refer to a now obsolete subgenre of shōjo manga about prepubescent boys in relationships ranging from the platonic to the romantic and sexual. The term was originally used to describe ephebophilia, and in scholarly contexts still is. Boy's Love, on the other hand, is used as a genre's name and refers to all titles regardless of sexual content or the ages of characters in the story (with the exception of titles featuring prepubescent boys, which are categorized as shotacon, a distinct genre with only peripheral connections to BL).[11]

Gei comi/Bara

Although sometimes conflated with "yaoi" by Anglophone commentators, gei comi (also called "Mens' Love", ML, in Japan and "bara" in English) caters to a gay male audience rather than a female one and tends to be made primarily by homosexual male artists such as Gengoroh Tagame and serialized in gay men's magazines.[26] It is an even smaller niche genre in Japan than yaoi manga; none has been licensed in English and not much has been scanlated into English.[27] Considered a subgenre of seijin (men's erotica) for gay males, bara resembles comics for men (seinen) rather than comics for female readers (shoujo/josei).

Recently a subgenre of BL have been introduced in Japan, so-called gachi muchi or "muscley-chubby" BL,[28] which offers more masculine body types and is more likely to have gay male authors and artists. Although still marketed primarily to women,[28] it is also thought to attract a large crossover gay male audience.[29] This material has been referred to as "bara" among English-speaking fans,[30][31] but it is distinct in publishing terms (and often in content and style), and should not be confused with gei comi proper.

Seme and uke

A souvenir from Otome Road showing different character types in yaoi.

The two participants in a yaoi relationship (sometimes also in yuri[32]) are often referred to as seme ("attacker",攻め or せめ) and uke ("receiver",受け). These terms originated in martial arts and do not carry any degrading connotations. Seme derives from the Japanese verb semeru (“to attack”) and uke from the Japanese verb ukeru (“to receive”). Though gay males are often referred to in English as "tops" or "bottoms," seme and uke are more nearly analogous to "pitcher" and "catcher." The seme and uke are often drawn in the bishōnen style and are "highly idealised",[33] blending both masculine and feminine qualities.[9]

The seme is often depicted as the stereotypical male of anime and manga culture: restrained, physically powerful, and/or protective. The seme is generally older and taller,[34] with a stronger chin, shorter hair, smaller eyes, and a more stereotypically masculine, even "macho",[35] demeanour than the uke. The seme usually pursues the uke. The uke usually has softer, androgynous, feminine features with bigger eyes and a smaller build, and is often physically weaker than the seme.[17][36][37] Anal sex is a prevalent theme in yaoi, as nearly all stories feature it in some way.[36] The storyline where an uke is reluctant to have anal sex with a seme is considered to be similar to the reader's reluctance to have sexual contact with someone for the first time.[38] One stereotype that is criticized is when the protagonists do not identify as gay, but rather are simply in love with that particular person.[2][36] This is said to heighten the theme of all-conquering love,[39] but is also pointed to as avoiding having to address prejudices against people who consider themselves to have been born homosexual.[2] In recent years, newer yaoi stories have characters that identify as gay.[3] Criticism of the stereotypically "girly" behavior of the uke has also been prominent.[37] It has been questioned if yaoi is heteronormative, due to the masculine seme and feminine uke stereotypes.[17][40] Additionally, yaoi stories are often told from the uke's perspective.[17]

Though these stereotypes are common, not all works adhere to them.[4][37] Mark McLelland says that authors are "interested in exploring, not repudiating" the dynamics between the insertive partner and the receptive partner.[41] The possibility of switching roles is often a source of playful teasing and sexual excitement for the characters, which has been said to show that the genre is aware of the "performative nature" of the roles.[21] Sometimes the bottom character will be the aggressor in the relationship,[nb 3] or the pair will switch their sexual roles.[43] Riba, リバ (a contraction of the English word "reversible") is used to describe a couple that yaoi fans think is still plausible when the partners switch their seme/uke roles.[42] In another common mode of characters, the author will forgo the stylisations of the seme and uke, and will portray both lovers as "equally attractive handsome men". In this case, whichever of the two who is ordinarily in charge will take the "passive role" in the bedroom.[35]


Shōnen-ai (少年愛 boy-love?) originally meant ephebophilia or pederasty in Japan, but from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, was used to describe a new genre of shōjo manga, primarily by the Year 24 Group, about beautiful boys in love. Characteristics of shōnen-ai include that they were exotic, often taking place in Europe,[44] and idealistic.[45] Suzuki describes shōnen-ai as being "pedantic" and "difficult to understand",[7] saying that they required "knowledge of classic literature, history and science"[45] and were replete with "philosophical and abstract musings".[46] She says that this challenged the young readers and expanded their minds. Although they could not understand the works at first reading, as they grew older they would come to understand the works more. In the meantime, "the readers' attention became focused on the figure of the male protagonist" and how he navigated his sexual relationships.[46] By the late 1980s, the popularity of professionally published shōnen-ai was declining, and yaoi dōjinshi was becoming more popular.[8]


The dōjinshi subculture has been considered the Japanese equivalent of the English-language slash fandom, especially as they both do not have typical "narrative structure", science fiction works are particularly popular in both,[9] and they both originated in the 1970s.[6][19] Typical yaoi dōjinshi features male-male pairings from non-romantic, published manga and anime. Much of the material derives from male-oriented shōnen and seinen works which contained male-male close friendships and are perceived by fans to imply homosexual attraction,[8] such as with Captain Tsubasa[1] and Saint Seiya, two titles which popularised yaoi in the 1980s.[6] Saint Seiya was particularly popular as it had a large cast of characters, most of them male, which allowed "an incredible number" of pairings between characters, although Andromeda Shun was one of the more popular characters to parody in yaoi, as he was presented in the original series as "fragile and sensible, with fine traits, long hair, doe eyes and the most feminine armour of the group".[47] For a time, yaoi dōjinshi was known as “Captain Tsubasa”.[48] Dōjinshi has been described by Comiket's co-founder Yoshihiro Yonezawa as being "girls playing with dolls";[38] yaoi fans may ship any male-male pairing, sometimes pairing off a favourite character, or creating a story about two men and fitting existing characters into the story.[1]

Matt Thorn notes that unlike in slash fandom, a canonical homoerotic element "takes away the fun" of creating yaoi for that series, for example, From Eroica With Love is more popular with slash fans than it has been with dōjinshi artists.[8] Kazuko Suzuki outlines the thematic development of the yaoi fandom, from curiosity about sexuality, to taking a parodic revenge against men, to a feminist protest, and lastly, exploring "ideal relationships".[49]

Important characteristics of the early yaoi dōjinshi were that they were amateur publications not controlled by media restrictions, the stories were by teens for other teens, they were based on famous characters who were in their teens or early twenties, the same age as the yaoi fans.[6] During the early 1990s, dōjinshi played a part in popularising yaoi.[33] Yaoi dōjinshi has been compared to the Plot, what Plot? subgenre of fan fiction.[50]

Though collectors often focus on dōjinshi based on particular manga, any male character may become the subject of a yaoi dōjinshi, even characters from non-manga titles such as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings,[51] or video games such as Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy,[52][53] real people such as politicians, or personifications such as Hetalia Axis Powers, or complementary items such as salt and pepper. Patrick W. Galbraith sums this up by saying "Among fujoshi, there seems no limit to the potential of transgressive intimacy imagined in yaoi relationships in pursuit of moe."[54]

Most dōjinshi are created by amateurs who often work in "circles";[55] for example, the group CLAMP began as an amateur dōjinshi circle, drawing Saint Seiya yaoi.[47] However, some professional artists, such as Kodaka Kazuma create dōjinshi as well.[56] Some publishing companies have used dōjinshi published in the 1980s to spot talented amateurs,[19][36] such as Biblos hiring Yōka Nitta.[57]

Convention when labelling stories differs between Japanese fandom and slash-influenced fandoms. In Japan, the labelling is to put the two names of the characters separated by a multiplication sign, with the seme's name being first, and the uke's being second.[58]

Global BL

As Japanese yaoi gained popularity in the U.S., a few American artists began creating original English-language manga for female readers featuring beautiful male-male couples,[6][13] referred to as "American yaoi." The first known original English-language BL comic is Sexual Espionage #1 by Daria McGrain, published in May 2002.[59] What started as a small subculture in North America, has, since approximately 2004, become a burgeoning market, as new publishers began producing female-oriented male/male erotic comics and manga from creators outside Japan.[60] Because creators from all parts of the globe are published in these 'original English language' works, the term 'American Yaoi' fell out of use; terms like 'Original English Language yaoi'[61] shortened to 'Global Yaoi'.[62] The term Global BL was coined by creators and newsgroups that wanted to distinguish the Asian specific content known as 'yaoi', from the original English content, and so the term Global BL was used.[63][64] "Global BL" was shortened by comics author Tina Anderson in interviews and on her blog to the acronym 'GloBL'.[65][66]

Current North American publishers of 'Global BL' are Yaoi Press, who in 2007 had over twenty titles on the market,[67] as well as newcomer Yaoi Generation who announced intentions to publish GloBL in the coming years.[68] Publisher DramaQueen, which debuted its 'Global BL' quarterly anthology RUSH in 2006[69] has since ceased releasing RUSH and has been uncommunicative with creators involved in the project, as well as fans.[70][71][72]

Former publishers include Iris Print.[73][74]

Prolific GloBL creators include Yayoi Neko,[75] Dany & Dany,[76][77] Tina Anderson,[78] Lara Yokoshima,[79] and Studio Kosen.[80]

The most recent publishing boom in 'GloBL' is happening in Germany, with a handful of original German titles gaining popularity for being set in Asia.[81] Some publishers of German GloBL are traditional manga publishers like Carlsen Manga,[82] and small press publishers specialising in GloBL like The Wild Side[83] and Fireangels Verlag.[84]


Billboard for a Boys Love Drama CD on Otome Road.

The earliest magazine about Boy's Love was June, which began in 1978 as a response to the success of commercially published manga such as the works of Keiko Takemiya, Moto Hagio and Yumiko Ōshima.[58] Other factors was the rising popularity of depictions of bishōnen in the dōjinshi market and ambiguous musicians such as David Bowie and Queen. June was meant to have an underground, "cultish, guerilla-style" feeling – most of its mangaka were new talent. Frederik L. Schodt describes June as "a kind of 'readers' magazine, created by and for the readers." Essays about the characteristics of the June genre were published with the manga in June. In 1982, Shōsetsu June ("Novel June"), a sister magazine to June began publication. Its content is text-only stories with male romance.[85] Nagaike believes that the true "revolution" in BL culture was when it began to be commercially published en masse in the 1990s.[86] As of the mid-1990s, Shōsetsu June outsold June.[85] As of 2008, June was still running,[87] although the target audience's ages have widened and the style of stories has changed from being "soft love" to more overtly pornographic.[58] The magazine Allan (アラン Aran?) (1980-1984) which was more text-based than June was influential in cultivating a lesbian culture.[88] The Japanese publisher Biblos was a BL publisher established in 1988 but their bankruptcy due to failure of their parent company[36] caused them to fold in April 2006.[89] Most of their titles were picked up by Libre.[90] A 2006 breakdown of the Japanese commercial BL market estimated it grosses approximately 12 billion yen annually, with novel sales generating 250 million yen per month, manga generating 400 million yen per month, CDs generating 180 million yen per month, and video games generating 160 million yen per month.[86]

Japanese BL works are sold to English-speaking countries by companies that translate and print them in English; companies such as Digital Manga Publishing with their imprints 801 Media (for explicit BL) and June (for "romantic and sweet" BL),[19] as well as DramaQueen, Kitty Media, Central Park Media's Be Beautiful[17],Tokyopop under their imprint BLU, Broccoli under their Boysenberry imprint, Aurora Publishing under their imprint Deux Press, and Yaoi Generation. The first publisher of BL in translation may be ComicsOne, which released two volumes of shonen-ai manga as e-books in January 2000.[91] In 2001, the only BL-type manga available in print in English were the barely-suggestive Banana Fish and X/1999,[92] and in 2002, commercially translated BL was "not common".[93] According to McLelland, the earliest officially translated BL manga in print appeared in 2003, and as of 2006 there were about 130 English-translated works commercially available.[36] In March 2007, Media Blasters stopped selling shōnen manga and increased their yaoi lines, anticipating to publish one or two titles per month that year.[94] In 2007 following Biblos' bankruptcy, Libre published an open letter on their website which said that English-language publishers had to renegotiate publishing rights for Biblos' former series with Libre, specifically naming CPM's releases as "illegal".[95][96] Diamond Comic Distributors estimated the U.S. sales of yaoi manga as being approximately $US 6 million in 2007. In English-speaking countries explicit stories are either sold online or displayed in shrink wrap.[97] Mark McLelland surveyed 135 yaoi books published in North America between 2003 and 2006, and found that 14% was rated at 13 years or over, 39% was rated for readers aged 15 years or over, and 47% was rated for readers 18 years or older.[98] BLU reports that although bookshops are becoming more willing to stock BL titles, they are conservative about how the books are labelled, leading to books being shrink wrapped and rated for over 18s which previously would have garnered an over 16 rating, and do not "really follow through on the [adult content] promise."[13]

Thematic elements

BL has similar themes to heterosexual shōjo manga, several exploring adolescent romance and the "interiority of the characters."[99] Common characters in yaoi are schoolboys and yakuza.[100] Sometimes, schoolboys are depicted in sexual situations, which is controversial when these titles are licensed in countries where underage sexuality and its depiction is taboo.[101]

Female characters

Female characters often have very minor roles in yaoi, or are absent altogether.[39][102] Suzuki notes that mothers, in particular, are portrayed badly, such as Takuto's mother from Zetsuai 1989, who killed her husband in front of her young son. Suzuki suggests this is because the character and the reader are attempting to replace a mother's lacking "unconditional love" with the "forbidden" all-consuming love presented in yaoi.[103] Nariko Enomoto, a yaoi author says she feels that when women are shown, "it can't help but become weirdly real".[104] When yaoi fan works are created from a series which originally contained females (such as Gundam Wing),[105] the female's role is either minimised or the character is killed off.[102] Early shōnen-ai and yaoi has been regarded as misogynistic, but Lunsing detects a decrease in misogynistic comments from characters and regards the development of the yuri genre as reflecting a reduction of internal misogyny.[3] Alternately, the yaoi fandom is also viewed as a "refuge" from mainstream culture, which in this paradigm is viewed as inherently misogynistic.[6] Fumi Yoshinaga is regarded as a creator who usually includes at least one sympathetic female character in her works.[106]

Gachi muchi

Recently a subgenre of BL has been introduced in Japan, so-called "muscley-chubby BL" or gachi muchi (from gacchiri, muscular, and muchimuchi, chubby)[28] which offers more masculine body types and is more likely to have gay male authors and artists. Although still marketed primarily to women,[28] it is also thought to attract a large crossover gay male audience.[107] Although this type of material has also been referred to as "bara" among English-speaking fans,[108][109] it is not equivalent to gei comi proper (although there is considerable overlap, as writers, artists and art styles cross over between the two genres). Prior to the development of gachi muchi, the greatest overlap between yaoi and bara authors has been in BDSM-themed publications[110] such as Zettai Reido, a yaoi anthology magazine which had a number of openly male contributors.[3] Several female yaoi authors who have done BDSM-themed yaoi have been recruited to contribute stories to BDSM-themed bara anthologies or special issues.[110]


Most BL manga have been said to "foster an aesthetic of purity, even when depicting hard-core sex acts."[111] Many BL manga have fantastic, historic or futuristic settings, and many fans consider BL to be an "escapist fantasy".[112] Homophobia, when it is presented as an issue at all,[4] is used as a plot device to "heighten the drama",[113] or to show the purity of the leads’ love.[12] Matt Thorn has suggested that as BL is a romance narrative, having strong political themes may be a "turn off" to the readers.[8] Yaoi narratives show characters "overcoming obstacles, often internal, to be together". The theme of the victory of the protagonists in yaoi has been compared favourably to Western fairy tales, as the latter intends to enforce the status quo, but yaoi is "about desire" and seeks "to explore, not circumscribe, possibilities."[114] Hisako Miyoshi, vice editor-in-chief for Libre Publishing, has said that she feels that boys love manga has become less realist, with more comedic elements or being "simply for entertainment". She thinks that earlier BL focused "more on the homosexual way of life with a realist perspective."[115] Makoto Tateno has said that she feels that BL with a focus on realistic gay issues "won't become a trend, because girls like fiction more than realism."[116]


According to Suzuki, sexual intercourse in yaoi is a way of expressing commitment to a partner, and "apparent violence" in sex is a "measure of passion". Suzuki elaborates that when a woman is raped, she is stigmatised by society, but in yaoi, boys who are loved by their rapists are still "imbued with innocence", a theme she attributes to Kaze to Ki no Uta.[117] Rape fantasy themes have been said to free the protagonist of responsibility in sex, leading to the narrative climax of the story, where "the protagonist takes responsibility for his own sexuality".[101]


June stories with suicide endings were popular,[85] as was "watching men suffer".[118] Matt Thorn theorises that depicting abuse in yaoi is a coping mechanism for some yaoi fans.[8] By the mid 1990s the fashion was for happy endings.[85] When tragic endings are shown, the cause is not infidelity, but "the cruel and intrusive demands of an uncompromising outside world."[119]

Critical attention

Boys' Love manga has received considerable critical attention, especially after translations of BL became commercially available outside of Japan in the 21st century.[8] Different critics and commentators have had very different views of BL. In 1983, Frederik L. Schodt observed that “aesthetically” depicted male-male homosexual relationships had become popular among female readers as an extension of bisexual themes already present in shōjo manga.[120] Japanese critics have seen BL as allowing girls to distance sex from their own bodies,[121] as allowing girls to avoid adult female sexuality while simultaneously creating greater fluidity in perceptions of gender and sexuality,[122] and as rejecting “socially mandated” gender roles as a “first step toward feminism.”[123] In more elaborate theorizing, Kazuko Suzuki sees BL manga emerging from girls' contempt and dislike for masculine heterosexism and from an effort to define "ideal relationships" among men.[124] BL has been compared to romance novels by English-speaking librarians.[34][113] Parallels have also been noted in the popularity of lesbianism in pornography,[36][38] and yaoi has been called a form of "female fetishism".[125] Mariko Ōhara, a science fiction writer, has said that she wrote yaoi Kirk/Spock fiction as a teen because she could not enjoy "conventional pornography, which had been made for men", and that she had found a "limitless freedom" in yaoi, much like in science fiction.[126]

Other commentators have suggested that more radical gender-political issues underlie BL. Shihomi Sakakibara (1998) argued that yaoi fans, including herself, were homosexually oriented female-to-male transsexuals.[127] For Sandra Buckley, bishōnen narratives champion “the imagined potentialities of alternative [gender] differentiations"[128] and James Welker described the bishōnen character as "queer", observing that manga critic Akiko Mizoguchi saw shōnen-ai as playing a role in how she herself had become a lesbian.[129] Dru Pagliassotti sees this and the yaoi ronsō as indicating that for Japanese gay and lesbian readers, BL is not as far removed from reality as heterosexual female readers like to claim.[13] Welker added that shōnen-ai liberates readers "not just from patriarchy, but from gender dualism and heteronormativity."[129]

Some gay and lesbian commentators have criticized how gay identity is portrayed in BL, most notably in the yaoi ronsō or "yaoi debate" of 1992-1997.[3][12] In May 1992, gay activist Masaki Satō criticized yaoi fans and artists in an open letter to the feminist zine (or minikomi in Japanese) Choisir.[3][12] Satō said that yaoi failed to provide accurate information about gay men, promoted a destructive image of gay men as wealthy, handsome, and well-educated, ignored prejudice and discrimination against gay men in society, and co-opted gay men as masturbation fantasies.[12] An extensive debate ensued, with yaoi fans and artists arguing that yaoi is entertainment for women, not education for gay men, and that yaoi characters are not meant to represent "real gay men."[12] As internet resources for gay men developed in the 1990s, the yaoi debate waned[130] but has had later echoes, for example when Mizoguchi in 2003 characterised stereotypes in modern BL as being "unrealistic and homophobic".[131] There has been similar criticism to the Japanese yaoi debate in the English-speaking fandom.[4][132][133] In 1993 and 2004, Matt Thorn pointed to the complexity of these phenomena, and suggested that yaoi and slash fiction fans are discontented with “the standards of femininity to which they are expected to adhere and a social environment that does not validate or sympathize with that discontent.”[8][134]

As women have greater economic power, commercial demand for the sexualization of men may correlate. Korean manhwa writer Jin Seok Jeon wrote in a commentary to Vol. 5, Chp 2 of an Arabian Nights themed shonen-ai work, A Night of a Thousand Dreams, "Men are now marketable. It's also a time where women are big consumers and can buy almost anything they desire. Some men think this is degrading...but the tables have turned, and I like the fact that men are just as commercialized now." He jokes that after researching guresh wrestling, which requires extreme physical fitness, he does not feel as marketable, illustrating that yaoi and other pornography exploiting men is subject to traditional criticisms, such as the objectification human beings to sexual caricatures and creating unrealistic expectations and negative body images. For the same reasons, it may be celebrated for evening the field between genders and opening a fuller debate on personhood and sexuality.[citation needed]

In China, BL became very popular in the late 1990s, attracting media attention, which became negative, focusing on the challenge it posed to "heterosexual hegemony". Publishing and distributing BL is illegal in mainland China.[135]

In 2001 a moral panic erupted in Thailand regarding homosexual male comics. Television reports labeled the comics as negative influences, while a newspaper falsely stated that most of the comics were not copyrighted as the publishers feared arrest for posting the content; in reality most of the titles were likely illegally published without permission from the original Japanese publishers. The shōnen ai comics provided profits for the comic shops, which sold between 30 to 50 such comics per day. The moral panic regarding the male homosexual comics subsided. The Thai girls felt too embarrassed to read heterosexual stories, so they read homosexual male-themed josei and shojo stories, which they saw as "unthreatening."[136]

Youka Nitta has said that "even in Japan, reading boys' love isn't something that parents encourage" and encouraged any parents who had concerns about her works to read them.[137] Although in Japan, concern about manga has been mostly directed to shonen manga, in 2006, an email campaign was launched against the availability of BL manga in Sakai City's public library. In August 2008, the library decided to stop buying more BL, and to keep its existing BL in a collection restricted to adult readers. That November, the library was contacted by people who protested against the removal, regarding it as "a form of sexual discrimination". The Japanese media ran stories on how much BL was in public libraries, and emphasised that this sexual material had been loaned out to minors. Debate ensued on Mixi, a Japanese social networking site, and eventually the library returned its BL to the public collection. Mark McLelland suggests that BL may become "a major battlefront for proponents and detractors of 'gender free' policies in employment, education and elsewhere."[138]

See also


  1. ^ In careful Japanese enunciation, all three vowels are pronounced separately, for a three-mora word, [ja.o.i].
  2. ^ First serialised in Shōjo Comic in January 1976, Kaze has been called "the first commercially published boys' love story",[23] but this claim has been challenged, as the first male-male kiss was in the 1970 In the Sunroom, also by Keiko Takemiya.[24] Matt Thorn says that Kaze was "the first shōjo manga to portray romantic and sexual relationships between boys", and that Takemiya first thought of Kaze nine years before it was approved for publication. Takemiya attributes the gap between the idea and its publication to the sexual elements of the story.[8]
  3. ^ This character has been called an "Osoi uke" (襲い受け, "attacking uke"). He is usually paired with a "Hetare seme" (ヘタレ攻め, "wimpy seme").[42]


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  3. ^ a b c d e f g Lunsing, Wim. Yaoi Ronsō: Discussing Depictions of Male Homosexuality in Japanese Girls' Comics, Gay Comics and Gay Pornography Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context Issue 12, January 2006 Accessed 12 August 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d Masaki, Lyle. (6 January 2008) “Yowie!”: The Stateside appeal of boy-meets-boy YAOI comics
  5. ^ a b Kotani Mari, foreword to Saitō Tamaki (2007) "Otaku Sexuality" in Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi ed., page 223 Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams University of Minnesota Press ISBN 978-0-8166-4974-7
  6. ^ a b c d e f McHarry, Mark (November 2003). "Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love". The Guide. 
  7. ^ a b Suzuki, Kazuko. 1999. "Pornography or Therapy? Japanese Girls Creating the Yaoi Phenomenon". In Sherrie Inness, ed., Millennium Girls: Today's Girls Around the World. London: Rowman & Littlefield, p.252 ISBN 0847691365, ISBN 0847691373.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thorn, Matthew. (2004) “Girls And Women Getting Out Of Hand: The Pleasure And Politics Of Japan's Amateur Comics Community.” pp. 169-186, In Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan, William W. Kelly, ed., State University of New York Press. ISBN 0791460320. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
  9. ^ a b c Kinsella, Sharon Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 289-316
  10. ^ Fujimoto, Yukari (1991) "Shōjo manga ni okeru 'shōnen ai' no imi" ("The Meaning of 'Boys' Love' in Shōjo Manga"). In N. Mizuta, ed. New Feminism Review, Vol. 2: Onna to hyōgen ("Women and Expression"). Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō, ISBN 4313840427. (in Japanese). Accessed August 12, 2008. "やめ て、お尻が、いたいから" - "Stop, because my butt hurts"
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Further reading

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