BL manga, also known as boys’ love or simply BL, is a genre of fictional media that revolves around romantic relationships between male characters. It originated in Japan in the 1970s as a subgenre of shōjo manga, which refers to comics targeted at girls. Unlike bara, a genre of homoerotic media aimed at gay men, BL manga is primarily created by women for women. However, it also attracts a male audience and can be produced by male creators.
Distinction from Bara:
While both BL manga and bara explore male-male relationships, they have distinct characteristics and target different audiences. BL manga focuses on romantic and emotional aspects, often portraying relationships in a softer and more idealized manner. Bara, on the other hand, tends to emphasize adult content and caters to the gay male audience. It is important to recognize these differences and not conflate the two genres.
The Evolution of BL Manga:
From Shōjo Manga to Yaoi:
In the early stages, BL manga was referred to by various terms, including shōnen-ai, tanbi, and June. However, the term Yaoi gained prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s within the context of dōjinshi culture. Dōjinshi refers to self-published works that often parodied mainstream manga and anime.
The term Yaoi originated as a tongue-in-cheek expression, symbolizing amateur fan works that focused heavily on adult content rather than plot and character development. It humorously stood for “no climax, no point, no meaning” and reflected the early nature of Yaoi stories. Eventually, “boys’ love” emerged as the generic term for male-male romance media marketed to women.
Themes and Concepts in BL Manga:
Bishōnen: Androgynous Men
One prominent feature of BL manga is the depiction of androgynous male characters known as bishōnen. These characters possess delicate and aesthetically pleasing features, blurring traditional gender boundaries. Bishōnen characters are often idolized for their beauty and charm, appealing to the readers’ fantasies and desires.
Diminished Female Characters:
In BL manga, female characters are often portrayed in secondary roles or reduced in significance. The narrative focuses primarily on the romantic relationship between male characters. This storytelling choice allows readers to project themselves into the story and immerse themselves in the dynamics of male-male relationships.
Homosociality and Socio-cultural Homophobia:
BL manga often explores themes of homosociality, emphasizing close bonds and friendships among male characters. These narratives downplay socio-cultural homophobia, creating a world where same-gender relationships are accepted and celebrated. By doing so, BL manga offers readers a safe space to explore relationships free from societal constraints.
Character Pairings in BL Manga:
The Roles of Seme and Uke:
A defining characteristic of BL manga is the practice of pairing characters based on their roles in adult relationships. The seme refers to the dominant, assertive partner, often taking the role of the “top.” The uke, on the other hand, represents the submissive, receptive partner, assuming the role of the “bottom.” These dynamics create tension and power play within the relationships depicted in BL manga.
BL manga explores various power dynamics within relationships, and the dynamics between the seme and uke can differ from story to story. Some narratives may challenge traditional gender roles, while others may reinforce them. It is important to approach these narratives with sensitivity, recognizing the complexities and nuances they present.
Media Formats and Adaptations:
Manga and Anime:
BL manga is primarily presented in the form of manga, Japanese comic books, or graphic novels. These stories feature captivating artwork and compelling narratives that bring the characters and their relationships to life. Many popular BL manga series have also been adapted into anime, allowing fans to experience the stories in animated form.
Drama CDs and Novels:
Apart from manga and anime, BL stories are often adapted into drama CDs and novels. Drama CDs provide an audio experience with voice actors bringing the characters to life through dialogue and sound effects. Novels, on the other hand, offer a more detailed and immersive reading experience, allowing authors to explore complex narratives and character development.