Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Boys Love Manga and Beyond

Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan

Mark McLelland
Kazumi Nagaike
Katsuhiko Suganuma
James Welker
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Boys Love Manga and Beyond
    Book Description:

    Boys Love Manga and Beyondlooks at a range of literary, artistic and other cultural products that celebrate the beauty of adolescent boys and young men. In Japan, depiction of the "beautiful boy" has long been a romantic and sexualized trope for both sexes and commands a high degree of cultural visibility today across a range of genres from pop music to animation.

    In recent decades, "Boys Love" (or simply BL) has emerged as a mainstream genre in manga, anime, and games for girls and young women. This genre was first developed in Japan in the early 1970s by a group of female artists who went on to establish themselves as major figures in Japan's manga industry. By the late 1970s many amateur women fans were getting involved in the BL phenomenon by creating and self-publishing homoerotic parodies of established male manga characters and popular media figures. The popularity of these fan-made products, sold and circulated at huge conventions, has led to an increase in the number of commercial titles available. Today, a wide range of products produced both by professionals and amateurs are brought together under the general rubric of "boys love," and are rapidly gaining an audience throughout Asia and globally.

    This collection provides the first comprehensive overview in English of the BL phenomenon in Japan, its history and various subgenres and introduces translations of some key Japanese scholarship not otherwise available. Some chapters detail the historical and cultural contexts that helped BL emerge as a significant part of girls' culture in Japan. Others offer important case studies of BL production, consumption, and circulation and explain why BL has become a controversial topic in contemporary Japan.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-066-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    If you walk into a typical bookstore in Japan today, somewhere on the shelves you are likely to find various books depicting romantic and sexual relations between beautiful, stylish male characters. These male homoerotic stories might be found in the form of manga—the name for Japan’s globally known narrative comics—or in the form of “light novels” (raito noberu)—a local label for lowbrow, highly disposable prose fiction. If the store you’re wandering around is large enough, you might find these texts occupying an entire shelf, floor to ceiling, or even multiple shelves. In fact, it’s quite possible that...

  6. A GENEALOGY OF BOYS LOVE: The Gaze of the Girl and the Bishōnen Body in the Prewar Images of Takabatake Kashō
    (pp. 21-41)

    As Teresa de Lauretis observes, “the cultural conceptions of male and female as two complementary yet mutually exclusive categories” is a common denominator that applies across cultures.¹ These categories are the basis of “a gender system … that correlates sex to cultural contexts according to social values.”² While often construed as a categorical imperative, “gender” is, to borrow de Lauretis’s term, a “representation” only, which, while having “real implications … for the material life of individuals,” is ultimately no more than a fantasy construct.³ While mutually exclusive gender categories often serve the interests of hegemonic social elements, the very need...

    (pp. 42-75)

    Originating in Japan, manga, anime, “light novels,” video games, live-action films, and related media and goods depicting beautiful adolescent boys or young men in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships have become an increasingly global phenomenon over the past two decades or so. Created for and, largely, by adolescent girls and women, this visual and narrative phenomenon first began to materialize in Japan around 1970 within the rapidly transforming sphere ofshōjo(girls’) manga, an expansive category of manga targeting readers from preadolescence to not quite adulthood.¹ Over time, this phenomenon has been referred to by a number of terms I...

  8. THE EVOLUTION OF BL AS “PLAYING WITH GENDER”: Viewing the Genesis and Development of BL from a Contemporary Perspective
    (pp. 76-92)

    It was about twenty years ago that I wrote the critical essay “Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites and Male Androgynes,” in which I traced the genealogy of gender-bending inshōjomanga.¹ The article takes up the subversive use of “girls dressed as boys,” “boys dressed as girls,” “shōnen’ai” (boys love), “lesbians,” and “polymorphous perversity” inshōjomanga, and goes on to compare the structure of such representation with what appeared in manga for boys and young men. The essay is included in my 1998 bookWhere Do I Belong? The Shape of the Heart Reflected in Shōjo Manga(Watashi no ibasho wa...

  9. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM JAPANESE PROFESSIONAL BL WRITERS?: A Sociological Analysis of Yaoi/BL Terminology and Classifications
    (pp. 93-118)

    In English, “boys love” (abbreviated as “BL”) is often explained as a Japanese term for female-oriented fictional media created by female authors that depict male homoerotic desire and romance.¹ Although the genre is called boys love, it deals with relationships involving men who are pubescent or older.² In Japan, there is currently also a clear distinction made between female-oriented male–male love fiction written by female authors and gay or queer literature (gei bungaku) in terms of their themes, writing styles, narrative structures, and readership.³ Empirically speaking, Japanese BL does not primarily aim to depict male homosexuals (that is,dansei)...

  10. WHAT IS JAPANESE “BL STUDIES?”: A Historical and Analytical Overview
    (pp. 119-140)

    The term “BL” (boys love) has been widely used since the mid-1990s to indicate prose and graphic novels and associated genres such as games, animated works, and films that deal with male–male romance, often including sexually explicit material and usually produced by women for female audiences. The theme of male homosexuality in women’s literary texts, however, has a much longer history. The novelist Mori Mari (1903–1987) is regarded as the pioneer of this innovative theme with her novellas published in the early 1960s. Even though at the time Mori was treated as an eccentric writer with unique aestheticism,...

  11. POLITICS OF UTOPIA: Fantasy, Pornography, and Boys Love
    (pp. 141-152)

    Photographic artworks by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) caused controversy in the United States in the late 1980s. Religious-right activists, calling for censorship, claimed that the explicit homosexuality and nudity presented in the photographs were offensive. They also argued that public funding for the exhibition of such works should be withdrawn. These activists who believed in traditionalist values generally disagreed with feminists on issues such as gender and sexuality. On this occasion, however, they buttressed their own campaign with feminist critiques of the pornographic representation of women, in particular by Andrea Dworkin and Catherine A. MacKinnon. This turn of events exposed a...

  12. MOE TALK: Affective Communication among Female Fans of Yaoi in Japan
    (pp. 153-168)

    In the growing body of literature on boys love (BL) manga in Japan, more attention is paid to texts than readers. Where discussions of BL readers do appear, they tend to be autobiographical or abstract.² This has led to much speculation about the identifications and orientations of BL readers—they are straight women, lesbians, men in women’s bodies, gay men, straight men³—which is fascinating in its own right. However, at a time when erotic manga face public criticism for their possible deleterious effects,⁴ despite academic writing on the complexity of engagement with fiction,⁵ there is an urgent need for...

  13. FUJOSHI EMERGENT: Shifting Popular Representations of Yaoi/BL Fandom in Japan
    (pp. 169-188)

    The neologismfujoshiis playfully derived from a homophone in Japanese referring politely to “women” or “women and girls.” By a wry replacement of the Sino-Japanese character for “woman” with one used in compounds for “putrid,” “corrupt,” or “decayed,” this self-mocking appellation for “a rotten or depraved girl(s)” has been created as an inclusive term for the female fandom ofyaoi/BL. The term is generally regarded as having arisen from theyaoi/BL community itself. It refers both to producers and consumers of amateur manga (dōjinshi) in which the characters are predominantly males poached from mainstream genres of commercial boys’ manga,...

  14. DO HETEROSEXUAL MEN DREAM OF HOMOSEXUAL MEN?: BL Fudanshi and Discourse on Male Feminization
    (pp. 189-209)

    The contemporary understanding in Japan of BL (boys love) media as a female-oriented product is epitomized by the word “fujoshi,” or “rotten girl(s).”¹ These BL media—namely, media focused on male–male romance narratives—have recently received a significant increase in public attention. This is in no small part due to the popularization in the mainstream media of the idea that there actually are in Japanese societyfujoshi—adolescent girls and adult women—who indulge in these female-oriented fantasies concerning male–male romantic and erotic relationships. Because of the association of such women with BL, research to date on BL...

    (pp. 210-232)

    How are we to comprehendyaoiand BL?Yaoiand BL, in essence, represent a range of practices through which intimacies between men can be redrawn and redefined. How shall we interpret the meanings of love, romance, sex, marriage, and childbearing carried out by male couples? The debate over whether the relationships described inyaoiand BL represent either the subversion or reinforcement of gender norms is a familiar one in discourse aboutyaoi/BL. No definitive answer currently exists. Some argue that there is no point in generalizing about the genre, as each work ofyaoior BL needs to...

  16. QUEERING THE COOKING MAN: Food and Gender in Yoshinaga Fumi’s (BL) Manga
    (pp. 233-252)

    No one is perhaps more gender-conscious, and more widely acclaimed as such, among leading contemporary manga artists than Yoshinaga Fumi (1971–). Her ongoing workThe Inner Chambers(Ōoku) has been awarded not only major manga awards but also the Sense of Gender Award (2005) and the James Tiptree, Jr., Award (2009), both of which are given to “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.”¹Ōokuis not a BL work but a historical fantasy, set in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), and because it is serialized in ashōjo(girls) magazine, it is classified as...

    (pp. 253-273)

    For anyone whose only knowledge of how sexuality is variously represented in Japanese popular culture is based on reports in the English-language press, the general impression will probably be one of a sexually very open, even unrestrained society. Certainly this is the impression given in the many hyperbolic reports by Western journalists who have penned endless articles about the supposed sexual depravity of Japanese popular culture, particularly manga and anime. A classic exemplar of this genre isAtlantic Monthlyjournalist James Fallows’s report tellingly entitled “The Japanese Are Different from You and Me,” in which he argues that Japan’s “underlying...

    (pp. 274-292)
  19. About the Contributors
    (pp. 293-296)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 297-303)