Yaoi, is a Japanese popular term for gay and also female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male androphilic sexual relationships, usually created by female authors. An article in The Guide magazine describes it as having begun as homegrown fan fiction between male anime characters. As these depict males, there is an androphilic male audience as well; however,manga aimed at a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (top or attacker) who pursues the uke (bottom or receiver). The material that would be classified into this genre primarily involves gay relationships between the handsome or cute (male) characters, usually erotic.
Although the genre is called Boys’ Love (commonly abbreviated as “BL“), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.
Yaoi began in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of shōnen-ai, also known as “Juné” or “tanbi” (which contain platonic relationships between pubescent or pre-pubescent boys), but whereas shōnen-ai were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular shōnen anime and manga. Yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented manga, anime, dating sims, novels and fan fiction works featuring idealized homosexual male relationships.
Most yaoi fans are either teenage girls or young women. The female readership in Thailand is estimated at 80%, and the membership of Yaoi-Con, a yaoi convention in San Francisco, is 85% female. It is usually assumed that all female fans are heterosexual, but in Japan there is a presence of lesbian manga authors and lesbian, bisexual or questioning female readers. Recent online surveys of English-speaking readers of yaoi indicate that 50-60% of female readers self-identify as heterosexual.
Yaoi is an acronym created in the dōjinshi market of the late 1970s by Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu and coined in the 1980s standing for Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi (山[場]なし、落ちなし、意味なし) “No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning”. This phrase was first used as a “euphemism for the content” and refers to how yaoi, as opposed to the “difficult to understand” shōnen-ai of the Year 24 Group, focused on “the yummy parts”. The phrase also parodies a classical style of plot structure. Kubota Mitsuyoshi says that Osamu Tezuka used yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi to dismiss poor quality manga, and this was appropriated by the early yaoi authors. As of 1998, the term yaoi was considered “common knowledge to manga fans”. A joking alternative acronym among fujoshi(female yaoi fans) for yaoi is Yamete, oshiri ga itai (やめて お尻が 痛い, “Stop, my ass hurts!”).
Originally in Japan, much BL material was called june (ジュネ), a name derived from June, a magazine that published male/male tanbi (耽美 “aesthetic”) romances,Kaoru Kurimoto had also written shōnen ai mono stories in the late 1970s that have been described as “the precursors of yaoi”. The term “bishōnen manga” was used in the 1970s, but became depreciated in the 1990s when the manga featured a broader range of protagonists than adolescent boys.Junemagazine was named after the French author Jean Genet, with “june” being a play on the Japanese pronunciation of his name. Eventually the term “june” died out in favour of “BL”, which remains the most common name. Mizoguchi suggests that publishers wishing to get a foothold in the June market coined the term BL to disassociate the genre with the publisher of June.
Another term for yaoi is 801. “801″ can be read as “yaoi” in the following form: the “short” reading of the number 8 is “ya”, 0 can be read as “o” – a western influence, while the short reading for 1 is “i” (see Japanese wordplay). For example, an Internet manga called Tonari no 801-chan, about a male otaku who dates a fujoshi, has been adapted into a serialized shōjo manga and a live-action film. 801-chan, the mascot of a Japanese shopping centre, is used in the manga.
Yaoi has become an umbrella term in the West for women’s manga or Japanese-influenced comics with male-male relationships, and it is the term preferentially used by American manga publishers. The actual name of the genre aimed toward women in Japan is called ‘BL’ or ‘Boy’s Love’. BL is aimed at the shōjo and josei demographics, but is considered a separate category. Yaoi is used in Japan to include dōjinshi and sex scenes, and does not include gei comi, which is by and for gay men.
Sometimes the word hentai is used as an additional modifier with yaoi – “hentai yaoi” – to denote the most explicit titles. However, Kaze to Ki no Uta was groundbreaking in its depictions of “openly sexual relationships”, spurring the development of the Boys’ Love genre in shōjo manga, and the development of sexually explicit amateur comics. The use of yaoi to denote those works with explicit scenes sometimes clashes with use of the word to describe the genre as a whole. Yaoi can be used by fans as a label for anime or manga-based slash fiction.