A book cover for Tagame Gengoroh’s renowned series "My Brother’s Husband" Photo: Twitter@tagagen.
lifestyle

The popularity of gay manga in Japan: What are ‘Bara’ and ‘Yaoi’ and who are its fans?

20 Comments
By Alex Rickert

While the topics covered in Japanese anime and manga are seemingly endless, if recent hits like "Yuri on Ice" (2016), or "My Brother’s Husband" (2014-2017) are any indication, gay and homoerotic relationships fill an extremely popular niche in manga plotlines.

But, "My Brother’s Husband" (which was was remade last year into an NHK drama) and "Yuri on Ice" are only the tip of the iceberg. Get ready to blush, gasp and kyaaa! as we delve into why gay manga is so popular, and how to navigate an already huge international fandom.

Gay manga subgenres: BL and Bara

Gay manga has two major subgenres, not to mention the huge variety of plotlines ranging from futuristic dystopian societies to gay cops fighting crime and finding love. "Yuri on Ice" and "My Brother’s Husband" are good examples of these two subgenres.

"Yuri on Ice," a light-hearted love story between a retired master Russian figure skater and his Japanese apprentice, falls under “BL,” or “Boys’ Love” which is a direct translation of shonen’ai (少年愛—literally, “boy love”) an older term for BL manga that fell out of usage in Japan.

Yuri-On-Ice-Japans-Gay-Manga.jpg
Fun fact: Victor and Yuri never explicitly kiss. Another fun fact: They were still hardcore gay for each other.

Another disappearing term for BL is yaoi. This is said to come from the Japanese expression yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, or “no climax, no fall, no meaning,” to jokingly describe how BL is often critiqued for a lack of actual plot.

Among Western readers, yaoi tends to connote BL works that have more explicit scenes, while shonen’ai is still sometimes used to refer to tamer gay manga series in which you watch an entire series only for the main couple to kiss. Six hours… for a kiss.

If popular BL series like "Gakuen Heaven," Shungiku Nakamura’s "Junjo Romantica," and Maki Murakami’s "Gravitation" are any indicator, BL characters are usually more willowy and traditionally “pretty.” There’s even a word for this style of male beauty: 美少年 (bishonen or “beautiful boy”). Flowers, tearful love confessions and slow-motion hugging scenes abound within the BL subgenre.

"My Brother’s Husband," however, falls under bara manga, also known as “men’s love” or “gei komi (gay comics).” These comics are decidedly more “macho” when compared to BL.

Bara draws its name from the popular 1970s gay magazine Barazoku (薔薇族), or “Rose Tribe.” In a 2006 article by scholar Jonathan D Mackintosh, he explains that Barazoku “pioneered a homo magazine genre and industry” that helped Japanese gay men feel less isolated.

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© GaijinPot

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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What next?

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

As I am not gay, I have zero interest.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

What next?

More stories in this and other genres that may also interest people?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

While I am not a homophobe, I don't particularly enjoy watching stores about gay relationships and watching gay sex. Im sure these comics have great stories but they're not for me.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

While I am not a homophobe, I don't particularly enjoy watching stores about gay relationships and watching gay sex.

Neither do I. But I also don’t feel any particular need to broadcast that to people. Same as I generally don’t say things along the lines of I’m not a heterophobe, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching romantic movies and relationships.

...although I admit I do like watching heterosexual sex. But same as gay sex, you generally need to actively look for it.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

While I am not a homophobe, I don't particularly enjoy watching stores about gay relationships and watching gay sex. Im sure these comics have great stories but they're not for me.

What next? You're not racist,but you don't particularly enjoy looking at black couples and listening to them explaining how they first met and fell in love. Eyes rolling.

There are lots of 'singers' out there I don't like, but I don't go broadcasting it to the whole world. You don't enjoy something , then move onto something you do.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Well, gokai is totally gay, but I also don't have any particular interest in this genre.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

BL = PG13, focuses on romance.

Yaoi = R18, focuses on sex.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

BL has become increasingly popular in South Korea & China. I recommend checking out "Dark Heaven," "Heaven & Hell Roman Company," "19 Days," & "18 Unlimited Bromance."

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

For a goid Bara gag series, check out MusSoap by Com Chen on Facebook.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Books and comics are great.

All human life is there, not to mention galaxies of imagination, adventure and endeavour. Which is why I find the romantic genre a bit limiting. Not always, but I tend to get a bit bogged down when reading out and out romance.

Currently struggling with a Zane Grey book, which was written over a hundred years ago. I thought it would be an old-timey Western (as in frontier) classic but halfway through it's coming across more like a Mills & Boon.

Best romantic novel, I'd say, is Pride and Prejudice. It's just a clever and funny novel about class that still resonates today.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If a Japanese publisher, under the guise of trying to be relevant, is affirming a lifestyle that nature and reason informs us is mentally and physically unhealthy, then said company is not being loving. Rather the opposite of loving...while also being socially irresponsible.

A fully flourishing lifestyle is one that fits the orientation we all share as human beings. Nature and reason inform us that we are all oriented toward a reproductive coupling in a monogamous lifetime relationship. Any lifestyle that rejects this only hinders its members.

Find someone who actually loves you...not your sexual confusion but loves you as much as companies and news websites love loving themselves loving the rainbow flag.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

If a Japanese publisher, under the guise of trying to be relevant, is affirming a lifestyle that nature and reason informs us is mentally and physically unhealthy, then said company is not being loving. Rather the opposite of loving...while also being socially irresponsible.

It’s a business. They are publishing these because people buy them, making profits.

Of course Social Hated Warriors only believe in capitalism when it’s not capitalism in a direction that doesn’t for against the things they hate.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Nice !!.. some "machitos alfa" and conservative pseudo-christian haters complains about this things, but it's just a manga showing part of the human nature..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not for me, but hey, more power to them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

to all those above who wrote that "not for me" and the like.... then why did you come here I wonder.... the title states "gay" after all.

and as for Rolf Anderson (above)..... dear oh dear!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

cant say I will be reading that anytime soon, but to each his own I guess

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

to all those above who wrote that "not for me" and the like.... then why did you come here I wonder.... the title states "gay" after all.

@iji Xx jI guess some people who are fluid feel they can have their say? Some might gravitate towards more traditional fare and some may not.

Find someone who actually loves you...not your sexual confusion

@Rolf Anderson, not sure what you mean? Most people go for someone who loves them. Nothing confusing about that, surely?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

While I am not a homophobe, I don't particularly enjoy watching stores about gay relationships and watching gay sex.

Or even clicking on such stories, right?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

YAOI = Yamete, Atashi no Oshiri ga Itai!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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