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What does Yaoi or BL mean?

Boy's Love or Yaoi have been exciting manga fans in Japan for several decades. Western manga fans have also jumped on the bandwagon, and are enjoying this forward moving genre. It breaks down taboos and challenges our own perceptions of manga. Let's delve deeper into the exciting world of Yaoi!

by MisterD98
Mar 6, 2017 1:00 AM | 12,627 views

What Is The Deal With Yaoi?

BL/Yaoi, Tsukishima gives flowers to Hazuki, Hybrid Child
Yaoi commonly known as Boy’s Love (BL), is a genre that emerged from Japan’s doujinshi manga scene during the 70’s. It challenges heteronormativity because it focuses primarily on intimate relationships between male characters. Interestingly enough, it is a genre consumed predominantly by a female audience. But it would be wrong to assume that only females are drawn to Yaoi, as there are a growing number of male fans of the genre.

Let's delve deeper into the genre to see what makes it so compelling. We’ll cover some genre tropes and look into a few notable works.

Women Play A Diminished Role

BL/Yaoi, Kimiwada Ryou with 3 split personalities, Love Stage!!
Anime and manga are both progressive mediums, which often depict women in empowered roles. Moreover, many recent successful series have female characters in lead roles, whereas male characters play the supporting act. Though this is evidently not the case with Boy’s Love, the predominantly female readership is nonetheless still being catered to by allowing them a voyeuristic, stylized view of male-to-male romances.

The majority of Boy’s Love creators are women, and thus, the worldview is one from a feminine perspective. Many of the characters are also given characteristics that make them more seductive, sexy, and mysterious. Thus, allowing the core female audience to enjoy a vivid representation of male homoerotic relationships.

Gay Equality

BL/Yaoi, Ryouma Ichijou hugging Izumi Sena, Love Stage!!
Yaoi not only brings gay lead characters to the forefront, but also elevates them. They are the heroes of this genre. The wider society in these stories also tend to be more gay-friendly than its real life counterpart.

Will society actually catch up to some of the ideals represented in Yaoi? Well, we have to give credit that many Western and Westernized societies have become more accepting of gay people over the years. Hopefully, progress will continue and perhaps future generations will find themselves living in a Yaoi world, after all!

Rape Fantasy

BL/Yaoi, Ryouma Ichijou and Izumi Sena in shower having sex, Love Stage!!
Another common theme in BL/Yaoi is the rape fantasy. The genre is chock-full of deeply erotic scenes, which are rather graphic. In the context of BL/Yaoi, a violent rape often depicts the level of passion the rapist has for his younger victim. This also depicts the sexual hierarchy of the top and bottom participants in a gay relationship. The top is the more masculine participant, while the bottom is the more feminine.

Sometimes the more dominant character tends to play a patriarchal role, in which he looks out for and guides his younger lover. This sounds rather jarring when there's a certain degree of sexual abuse in the relationship, which sets the tone for a suspense-filled ride. Ultimately, this will leave readers either intrigued, shocked, emotional, cringing or a bit of everything.

Now, this doesn’t mean that these rape fantasies are an integral part of every BL/Yaoi manga. In fact, there are many other stories in the genre, which are quite tame with few or no sexual scenes.

Tragic and Happy Endings

Shouta Kisa and Yoshiyuki Hatori drinking, Sekaiichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai
Tragic endings were, and still are popular with Boy’s Love sagas. Abusive scenes where the lead characters suffer are a way for the readers to identify with them. The characters have to deal with the fallout of their romantic encounters and other unexpected scenarios. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as happy conclusions are depicted as well.

Yaoi Publishers

Shougo Sena holding microphone and singing, Love Stage!!
Yaoi does not share the same level of mainstream appeal, as shounen, seinen or shoujo manga. Therefore, there are only a handful of publishers that localize yaoi in English. But the few that do have done an excellent job of releasing quality series and increasing the genre’s stature. Digital Manga Publishing, June, and Viz Media are the three publishers that have published many notable works.

'Digital Manga' in particular has played a major role in publishing yaoi, josei, romance, shoujo and even tutorial books on drawing manga. And while Viz Media publish a wide variety of the most popular manga in the West - including Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach, they are also known for releasing Yaoi and adult-oriented manga.

Many fans may have initially experienced boy’s love manga through scanlations. However, these publishers have made yaoi more accessible than ever before, by going through great lengths to license, translate, market, and print yaoi to a passionate fan base. If you're still sitting on the fence and unsure whether to get into yaoi, then there's no better time than now!

A Few Notable Yaoi Manga

Hybrid Child

Hazuki and Kotarou Izumi hugging, Hybrid Child
Hybrid Child is a shounen ai yaoi manga that is both entertaining and thought provoking. After all, it doesn’t just deal with your typical male romantic situations, but takes things further with android - human love relationships. This is a popular theme in shounen or shoujo manga, where cute android girls are portrayed as the main love interest. Therefore, it’s refreshing to see this theme revisited and given a boy’s love twist.

The artwork, story and well-conceived characters should keep any manga fan enthralled - not just Yaoi fans.

Love Stage!!

Ryouma Ichijou kissing Izumi Sena, Love Stage!!
Slice of life series have been enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity lately. That’s a good thing, as this genre tends to delve deeper into the everyday lives of characters. Ultimately, this also forces authors to focus on characterization and the relationships formed between characters.

When Yaoi and slice of life are combined with a dash of comedy… then that is the right formula for a good time! Love Stage!! doesn’t disappoint one bit as a romantic comedy, which gives us a taste of what life would be like when one’s family is made up of talented entertainers. While this scenario might not blow minds, it’s still a great premise that develops beautifully with each chapter.

Sekaiichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai (The World's Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera)

Shouta Kisa looking perplexed while Yoshiyuki Hatori reading, Sekaiichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai
It’s always cool when a manga series delves into the world of the manga industry. This gives manga fans a little extra insight into how the manga industry works, while some drama unfolds between the main characters.

The World's Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera introduces us to Onodera Ritsu who’s assigned to a shoujo manga division. Here, he encounters someone that he’d least expect… which will only exacerbate his emotional dilemmas.

Junjou Romantica

Nowaki Kusama patting Misaki Takahashi, Junjo Romantica
Junjou Romantica is one of the more popular Yaoi series, which is notable for its 3 distinct stories that introduce new characters and couples. The 3 stories are titled as follows: Junjou Romantica, Junjou Egoist and Junjou Terrorist. It may seem a little difficult to keep tabs on all the characters, which are introduced randomly. Nonetheless, with a little patience one comes to discover that there’s indeed order to the chaos, and the reader is rewarded to an amazing and deep Yaoi series.

All 3 stories may be different, but they’re all excellently executed. The couples in each story experience their own unique love interests, jealousies, obstacles and emotional upheavals. All this just makes us appreciate how deeply intricate Yaoi can be.

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