Boys’ Love or BL is a literary genre or media depicting the romance between male characters. Commonly referred to as “yaoi” (やおい) by overseas fans, from books to fan fiction, manga, anime, and video games. BL stories tend to be written mostly by women. The majority of BL readers are female and referred to as “fujoshi” (腐女子) or “rotten girl.” On the other hand, BL literature also attracts male readers called “fudanshi” (腐男子) or “rotten boy.”
There are several factors that entice audiences to consume BL media. These include good-looking male characters, idealized “pure love” and dynamic relationships that aren’t bound by societal norms. The genre also allows readers to explore themselves and their sexuality. The male characters in Boys’ Love stories may or may not identify themselves as homosexuals; more often than not, they find themselves attracted to the other male character regardless of gender. There are often little to no female characters in Boys’ Love stories.characters.
There are two essential “roles” within relationships in Boys’ Love works; the “seme” (攻め) or “the dominant”, and the “uke” (受け) or “the receptive”. The seme is the domineering masculine character, while the uke is the more submissive and feminine character of the two. Interestingly enough, heteronormative gender roles are retained within this dynamic.
Not all homoerotic romance works feature effeminate characters, slender gentlemen or youthful lads. Another related genre catering to gay male readers is called “bara” (薔薇) or “rose”. It has more masculine characters, lacks the seme/uke dynamics, may contain sadomasochistic fetishes, and romantic situations that are grounded in reality.
Some of the most popular BL works over the years include Gravitation, Loveless, Love Stage!!, Banana Fish, Junjou Romantica, and DRAMAtical Murder.
The word ”Boys’ Love” (ボーイズ ラブ) is a wasei-eigo or a Japanese term. Wasei-eigo utilizes English words to create terminologies for Japanese consumers. The other terms associated with boys’ love are “shonen-ai” (少年愛) or “boy love”, and “tanbi” (耽美) or “aesthetic.” The word “tanbi” is often used to describe flowery literature or any works praising beauty.
According to the journal article “Loving the love of boys: Motives for consuming yaoi media”, yaoi is a self-referential portmanteau of the phrase “yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” (ヤマなし、オチなし、意味なし) or “no climax, no ending, no meaning.” The term was prominent on fan works where female fans depict male heterosexual characters in a romantic relationship despite not being canon in the original story.
A Brief History
Boys’ Love began as fan works by female fans. The female mangaka group Hana no Nijūyo-nen Gumi (花の24年組) was one of the contributing factors for the creation of homoerotic fan fictions. Early fan works showcase platonic relationships between male characters in the form of parodies. One of the members of Hana no Nijūyo-nen Gumi was Keiko Takemiya, the author of the first shonen-ai manga Kaze to Ki no Uta (風と木の詩). It took 9 years before her manga was approved for publishing due to its explicit themes involving rape, drug abuse, homophobia, and violence. The other known origins of boys’ love possibly came from the magazine June in 1978. June was one of the first magazines publishing male-on-male tanbi literature.
Later in the 1980s, yaoi manga expanded from fan groups to mainstream media via anime or OVA (original video animation) adaptations. Some of the adapted manga series were Patalliro!, Kaze to Ki no Uta and Earthian. Since then, Japan has produced yaoi media through various platforms.
The internet propelled the global growth and popularity of Boys’ Love, as non-Japanese fans were finally able to read translated BL manga. Fans also wrote their fan fiction in forums, online journals or self-publishing websites. They are now able to discover new materials and share them with everyone at the same time. Fans and readers are able to enjoy beautifully-rendered artworks and themes while learning more about themselves.
For officially licensed Boys Love (BL) manga, please visit our sibling website, futekiya!
Chiesi, Francesca, “Loving the love of boys: Motives for consuming yaoi media”, PubMed Central, National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6002055/, Retrieved 26 February 2020.
Kincaid, Chris, “Yaoi: History, Appeal, and Misconceptions”, Japan Powered – Learn about Japan, Anime and Culture, https://www.japanpowered.com/anime-articles/a-brief-history-of-yaoi, 24 March 2013, Retrieved 27 February 2020.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/BL, Retrieved 27 February 2020.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/やおい, Retrieved 27 February 2020.
Nagaike, Kazumi, “Do Heterosexual Men Dream of Homosexual Men?: BL Fudanshi and Discourse on Male Feminization”, Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi; 2015. p. 189–209.
Olsen, Caroline, “The History of BL (Boys’ Love)”, Yatta-Tachi, https://yattatachi.com/history-of-boys-love, Retrieved 27 February 2020.
Bollmann, Tuuli, “He-Romance for Her – Yaoi, BL and Shounen-ai”, 19 March 2015, Imaginary Japan: Japanese Fantasy in Contemporary Popular Culture (pp.42-46). Turku: International Institute for Popular Culture, 2010, http://iipc.utu.fi/imaginaryjapan/Bollman.pdf, Retrieved 27 February 2020.
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