Home » Comics, Gay Geekery
17 February 2010, 12:00 pm 6 Comments

Gay Geekery: Boys’ Love Abroad, Japanese Yaoi


This post was submitted by Jack

After baring a bit of my soul last time, I would like to talk today about geeky representations of male-male sexuality in Japan.  I’ll do that by defining some words and concepts that will provide a good background.

Yaoi (やおい): Today in Japan, yaoi has mostly been replaced with the term Boys’ Love (ボーイズラブ).  Another even older term that is still in circulation in some places is shounen ai (少年愛), which quite literally means boy love.  In the US, these terms are used interchangeably in fan communities so they’re all pretty much indispensible.

Bara (薔薇): In parallel to the current fashionable term, Boys’ Love, bara media in Japan is now often called Men’s Love (メンズラブ).  While yaoi is primarily produced by and for women, bara generally originates more directly from gay male communities.  It also has a particular meaning in terms of the kinds of men being shown.  They tend to be bigger, more full-figured, hairier, and all-around “manlier.”  This is, of course, not unproblematic as femme boys get coded as women and masculine guys become legitimized as gay.

Uke () and Seme (): Another major difference between yaoi and bara production is the assignation of unchanging sexual roles, which is far more likely in yaoi.  In a romantic pair, one is often assigned the position of uke, which literally means recipient, and one seme, or attacker.  These are roughly correspondent to our terms, top and bottom.  The problem comes when these tend to be mapped onto characters by way of gender expression so that femme boys are always bottoms with few exceptions.  To be fair, though, it should be stated that in response to this criticism, these categories have become somewhat less fixed.  Especially noteworthy is the introduction of the category of the Riba (リバ), for reverse, meaning versatile or switch.

X:  In the US, we usually write fan-paired characters with a slash (/), but the Japanese convention is to note it with an x so one thinks of Shinji x Kaworu rather than Shinji/Kaworu for Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオ), for example.

Doujinshi (同人誌): Like the tradition of fan-fiction in the United States (and elsewhere), the most common form of fan-produced media in Japan are comic books called doujinshi that are printed by small presses and sold at conventions and in stores for a small amount of money that covers their creation costs.  They are typically created by groups of collaborators called doujin circles (サークル).  The content ranges from humorous to adventuresome and even pornographic.  A doujinshi is considered yaoi (or other related term) if it highlights a romantic or sexual relationship between two male characters from a source work usually whose relationship did not appear in the original.  For manga like Fake or XXXHolic where male-male relationships are already present or heavily implied, fan works may simply make them more explicit or bring them into focus.  Doujinshi is not just produced taking Japanese anime, manga, and video games as points of departure.  I have also seen doujinshi of foreign media including Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, Power Puff Girls, House M.D., Torchwood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Prison Break, CSI, Master and Commander, 300, Teen Titans, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Supernatural, Dexter, Chronicles of Narnia, Numbers, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and, of course, Harry Potter.  Part of the fun of doujinshi is the opportunity to play with many different possible pairings and art styles.  The example covers from Harry Potter doujinshi below show the diversity.


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6 Comments »

  • J. Clarence said:

    I remember my days reading Gravitation and other Yaoi manga classics. I think I still have a box of them in my apartment somewhere collecting dust. Some of them were actually really nice stories, but others were just a pure excuse for smut. Guess which was my favorite.

    In some instances I think Yaoi carries a better story than Bara, as a lot of Bara is just really shallow writing, almost comparable to the proverbial Pizza Boy with his penis in the pizza box kind of writing. Then again I remember Golden Cain, I think it was, and that was just bad.

    I think it is particularly interesting that women in Japan have taken this route to explore sexuality, by removing the female sex, much like how men in the West do respectively. It is very different than Western women who have these Fabio like hyper-masculine men in the novels, or for the younger generation very emotional men like that Edward dude from Twilight. At the same time though I also know a lot of straight women that really got into Queer As Folk, probably for the same reason as their Eastern counterparts.

    Jack, we will have to exchange our favorites Yaoi and Bara titles sometime.

  • Susan said:

    The main difference between yaoi and bara production is the assignation of unchanging sexual roles, which is far more likely in yaoi. For my opinion God created man and woman. It is no good to be sex change. a lot will encounter complications. Gays and lesbians are just influence by people surrounding us. like for instance if your the only girl in the family alot of them are boys. thiers a possibility you will inherit the action of a man. In this case i am not agree of Japaneses Yaoi
    more power to your site God bless ;-)

  • sam clam said:

    Can I read m/m manga in any manga cafe? Or, put better, are there manga cafes aimed at gay patrons? (and care to recommend one in Tokyo?)

  • Gavin Wright said:

    Prison Break is definitely one of the best action suspense TV series. I love the story line, i like T-bag too.”–

  • Charlotte said:

    I like to read manga, but I can’t find any good ones to read. The current one I’m on is Kyo Kara Maaoh! and Gravitation. I need to know if u have any suggestions on really good manga (regular and yaoi). I’m almost done reading Kyo Kara Maoh! and looking for good manga to read. I need some help. Can u help me, please?

  • δονητές said:

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