Fantastic Gay Men and the Women who Write Them: An Examination of the Boys’ Love Genre of Manga


The Japanese word ‘manga’ literally means ‘whimsical pictures’ and is the term used to describe the body of comic books and graphic novels produced in Japan and following a distinctively Japanese style. They are also classified into categories corresponding to age and gender groups. Shounen manga are for boys and shoujo manga for girls, seinen for adult men and so on. Owing to the varying themes and target audiences, manga is different from Western comics in its depiction of violence and sexuality, given freer rein than the child-oriented comic books of the West.
My research examines one sub-genre of shoujo manga, a hugely popular genre currently referred to as Boys’ Love: comic books depicting male homosexual relationships, drawn primarily by women and targeted almost exclusively at a female readership. There are two sub-genres under the Boys’ Love phenomenon, shounen-ai (from the words for young boy and love) which are soft romances with little or no explicit content and yaoi, which is, in fan lingo, ‘porn without plot’. Boys’ Love (commonly referred to by the abbreviated form BL) distinguishes itself from slash fiction not only in the fact that it uses images, not words on a page, to tell stories, but also in that it lacks the ‘underground’ nature of slash. BL manga are sold alongside other manga titles in convenience stores, there is no element of secrecy involved in their production. . It is easy enough to note that there is a great potential for subversion in the Boys’ Love genre, where women not only take over male narrative voices and through that control over male spaces, but also in that they take the idea of romantic relationships outside the heterosexual paradigm. The object of desire in Boys’ Love manga is not a woman but a man, the gaze that looks upon him that of the desiring female.
I will examine Boys’ Love manga, how they shape, subvert and question norms related to gender and sexuality in envisioning and idealising male homosexuality. In this paper I will primarily answer the question of how, in depicting male homosexual relationships in which the female body, and indeed any female presence at all is negated,  how do BL manga allow women a space to examine their own sexuality?

Speaker: Laxmi Menon, PhD Scholar, CES, SLL & CS
 Venue: Committee Room, JNU Central Library
Date and Time: 10th November 2012 (Saturday), 4:00 pm