Yaoi: History, Appeal, and Misconceptions

Otokogokoro YaoiYaoi, also known as Boy’s Love or 801, is an offshoot of shojo manga. Shojo is categorized by the primary audience: women and girls. Yaoi is focused on male homosexual relationships; however, it isn’t targeted toward a homosexual audience. That type of manga is called bara.

Yaoi is different from more traditional shojo storylines since it is focused on boys seeking love with each other as opposed to a girl seeking that of a boy. Yaoi stories deal with sexuality and violent emotions such as strong loneliness.  Yaoi first appeared in the 1970s and sharply contrasted from the typical shojo focus on emotions and personal development. Yaoi is an acronym, by the way. It stands for: yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (no climax, no point, and no meaning).  The acronym sounds sexual but actually refers to the story structures used in the sub-genre. Osamu Tezuka was said to be the first to use the phrase to describe poor quality manga.

Yaoi stories are typically written by women for women and girls. The sub-genre was thought to have started as fan fiction. Yaoi caused a lot of controversy when it first appeared in the male dominated manga industry. Both the themes and the fact women were the authors shook many traditional mangaka.

Claude and Sebastian YaoiYaoi is characterized by 2 specific character roles:  seme and uke. Seme refers to “top” or “attacker.” Uke refers to “bottom” or receiver. While they do have sexual connotations (much like the American slang “hitter” and “catcher”), they are derived from formal martial art forms.

Interestingly, yaoi characters typically do not identify as homosexual. They are more neutrally in love with a particular character as opposed to being a certain sexual orientation.  Male characters also help avoid misogyny, female stereotypes, and sometimes abusive treatment of female characters in sexual scenes.

Ao no exorcist yaoiIt it thought that yaoi allows girls to safely explore different sexual identities free from stereotypes and societal norms. The androgynous designs of the characters can let a reader see the characters as both male, male and female, or even both female. Also, the characters tend to relate to each other as equals more than a traditional male/female relationship.

I found it interesting how many readers do not like uke who are too feminine; they too easily fall into traditional male/female norms when they act too girly.

Not all yaoi features explicit sex. Manga that features such are called hentai yaoi. Also, yaoi isn’t considered realistic by the homosexual male community. It is wrong to say yaoi’s appeal is solely based on voyeuristic sex. Yaoi has too many variations and stories to broadly brush the sub-genre in such a way.

Until the 1980s, yaoi was often confused with shonen-ai sub-genre. Yaoi remained a niche sub-genre until 2006 when the market began grossing around 12 billion yen a year. The first official Boy’s Love manga translation appeared in the US in 2003. Since then, yaoi has grown in popularity with American women and girls.

References

Camper, Cathy (2006). Yaoi 101: Girls Love “Boys’ Love.” Wellesley Centers for Women. Retrieved January 26, 2013 from http://www.wcwonline.org/Women-s-Review-of-Books-May/June-2006/Yaoi-101-Girls-Love-Boys-Love.

MacWilliams, Mark (2008). Japanese Visual Culture 40-42.

Yaoi (2013). Wikipedia Retrieved January 26, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi.

Zanghellni A. (2009). ‘Boys love’ in anime and manga: Japanese subcultural product and its end users. Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 23(3) 279-294.

Images from manga: Otokogokoro, Claude and Sebastian, and Ao no Exorcist

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