Boys Love

Kuro’s Guide to BL, Yaoi and Shounen Ai – Where to Start!

After running my poll on Twitter, it seemed pretty clear that y’all wanted to see more Boys Love posts. So without further ado, I present my Kuro’s Guide to BL, Shounen Ai and Yaoi. I’ll be writing about the different areas of Boys Love as well as giving heaps of recommendations. Between these posts I’ll also be reviewing heaps of manga, webcomics and anime. I hope you all enjoy it

Intro to Boys Love

So BL essentially stands for Boys Love, it refers to any form of media which depicts male homosexual relationships. The BL world is filled with diverse characters and forms of media. To get us started I’d like to explain a few terms.

Uke & Seme: These terms are typically used to describe essentially the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the sexual relationship. Think ‘Uke’ means Butt and ‘Seme’ means stick it in 😛

Shounen Ai: Shounen Ai media are boys love stories without much of a sexual component. Shounen Ai media has a huge range, stories can either be incredibly ‘light’ with only hints of BL to completely revolved around a couple, with lots of kissing ^_^. My next post will be on ‘light’ shounen ai stories.

Yaoi: Yaoi is probably the most popular media of BL. It features gay couples, mostly with a sexual component. Yaoi is incredibly diverse as well, from the characters design to the

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Mangakau, Ootsuki Miu often draws feminine character like this

stories. Character designs can range from incredibly feminine to macho masculine. Most masculine characters are found in ‘Bara’ manga, which is usually targeted towards gay men, whereas yaoi is focused on a female audience (but anyone can read either one!).

Other areas of yaoi include shota- which features young boys (which i really dislike and find immoral), omega verse (where male omega characters can be impreganated by male alpha characters) and cross-dressing (note: this rarely includes stories of trans characters, it just features gay characters dressing in female clothes like a maid outfit), just to name a few.

Different Genres and Preferences – Find your fit!

As I mentioned about the entire BL world is filled with so many stories – you’ll be sure to find something that you enjoy. There’s stories about royalty and dukes, yakuza and the military. You can even go for something a bit more ‘everyday’ a read stories about teachers, college students and business men. My recommendation is to read often and read widely, it’s only then that you’ll find your ‘niche’.

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A masculine seme and uke in ‘Ore-tachi no kijou jitai’

It’s also how you find out what kind of ‘couple’ you prefer. Some readers love both seme and uke to be ‘feminine’, others just like the uke to be ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’, or both to be ‘masculine’. It’s really up to you, and what kind of style and stories you like! That’s the beauty of BL it gives you the freedom to express and find yourself.

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‘Honto Yajuu’ one of my favourite BL about a yakuza and policeman

For example, my personal favourite stories are ones that involve business men, delivery men, people with mismatched jobs and I absolutely LOVE stories with characters who start off as rivals. I personally don’t really

My BL Journey

To be honest, my introduction to BL wasn’t the greatest. I was 15 years old and in maths class and the two girls in front of me were watching ‘Papa to Kiss in the Dark’, on our government issued laptops. So I couldn’t really read the subtitles from where I was at, so I figured it was just a regular anime. I asked her what it was about and she said “a father and son” anyway fast forward about 20 minutes and father and son start getting it on…sexually. Poor 15 year old me wanted nothing to do with it.

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About a year later I started watching an anime called ‘Gravitation’, and I was beginning to be interested in the idea of two male characters in love.  So I began looking into shounen ai, and from there went on to yaoi. I can’t remember what my first yaoi was but I remember reading Junjou Romantic quite early on as well as some Suzuki Tsuta works. Surprisingly I actually spent a lot of time trying to find BL films and anime, rather than manga. I remember one particular film I watched with a friend where as the end one of the lovers just walked into the ocean to kill himself and I was like NO! WHAT!?

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So thanks to these two I’m a single Fujoshi with two cats

Anyway fast forward about 6 years and I’m still 100% in love with BL. Not many people know that I enjoy it, to be honest it’s just my mum. And I’m not suggesting that you go an tell your mum you love BL. I got this virus on my laptop where it said the police had locked it and were coming to arrest me. I ran crying to my mum, and sobbed for 2 hours as we researched on the virus together. Of course after we unlocked my laptop it opened onto a BL site. If you want to tell your friends and family you love BL, do it! It’s up to you. I’m not suggesting either way, I just personally keep mine a secret.

Issues with BL

I always believe that to truly love and enjoy something, you have to be willing to look at its faults. You don’t really love something, if you just love it blindly. In BL, particularly yaoi, I find there are two areas that need improvement.

*trigger warning* My first point on this topic deals with rape and sexual assault. If you’d like to skip it, please scroll down past the picture to get to my second point 🙂  

Yaoi and Rape Culture

My biggest concern with yaoi – not other forms  of BL – is the normalisation of rape. The typical ‘rape’ narrative in yaoi is that a uke is assaulted and then sees the assault as a form of affection, and eventually falls in love with the seme. Another form of rape narrative is that the uke is blackmailed into having sex with or performing sexual acts on, the seme. In both ‘narratives’, there is no consent.

Very rarely is focus placed on the trauma of the attack, or the emotional and physical repercussions. In most cases the seme rarely admits any wrong doing, it’s incredibly common for the seme to say that they were seduced by the uke, or that the uke was into it. One incredibly common phrase is that “if you really didn’t want it, you’d fight harder”, “If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t be so aroused”. One recent manga I read called ’12-ji Kara Hajimaru’ is the story of a uke and seme 12 years after the attack. The first few chapters start with the Uke’s trauma, especially after the seme accused the uke of seducing him and then blaming him for attacking him. But the last few chapters there’s a complete switch around. The uke falls back in love with the seme, despite there being no apology, and similar behaviour being perpetuated. The uke says “all I ever wanted was for you to touch me” – completely underscoring and dismissing his traumatic experiences.

One reader defended the use of rape in yaoi, you can read her article here. Essentially in her article she said that yaoi was a safe space for women to express their sexuality. And that the ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ is an expression of ‘tension’ that ultimately produces affection. I’m not going to go in depth here why I find her opinion disturbing and disagree, I may write my own article in response, but just to summarise.

1. Women should NOT create ‘safe spaces’ for themselves at the expense of other minority groups. Sure it’s great that women can use yaoi to sexually express themselves. I completely support that, but it is completely improper for us to the normalisation of the violation of another human being to do so. Furthermore, while yaoi is often read by women, many other individuals engage in it too. Furthermore why is it so difficult to create stories that feature consensual love?

2. Rape is never an expression of affection. This honestly doesn’t need to be expanded upon. Rape is the sexual violation of another person.

3. Other forms of Yaoi media. As I mentioned before, shota is a form of BL media that features underaged boys. Most shota actually features these young boys being raped or sexually assaulted by older men. How can this be a reflection of affection? How can women  express their sexuality at the expense of a child?

I know that some people may argue that, well it’s just characters, they’re not real. They’re literally just drawings. But why should drawings be expressing such a terrible violation? Why should drawings be limiting and diminishing the trauma that rape victims experience and instead turn it into a normalised fantasy.

Tips on avoiding manga that may have sexual assault or rape:  My main tip on this, it may sound odd, is avoid manga where the characters on the front are either not smiling and/ or not standing next to each other. If one character is frowning, avoid it. If one character is holding one from behind, avoid it. If there are ropes and the character looks upset, DEFINITELY AVOID. Most of these scenes tend to happen in the first chapter or so, so you’ll know pretty quickly when to stop reading. I hope my 6 years of madly closing tabs and freaking out at some stories helps. You can check out another short interesting article on this topic hereAll my recommendations and BL posts will feature manga that DOES NOT have rape or sexual assault in it. 

Stories are often the same

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A unique take on school friends in  ‘Kurayami ni Strobe’

A smaller issue within BL is that pretty much there are 2 main  stories which are regurgitated again and again. I know I said above that Yaoi is incredibly diverse, I probably should have said in comparison to other forms of gay media. From what I’ve found;

  • 35% of BL has a story about 2 school friends, one is in love with the other but doesn’t want to ruin the friendship.
  • 35% of BL has a story about 2 salarymen, one is incredibly handsome and perfect, the other views the perfect one as a rival
  • 30% of BL is something random and unique

But even within the 35% there is quite a lot of diversity and room for development. Some characters in regular stories stick to you more than the ones in unique stories. It all depends on how well the author can create these narratives.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this intro to my new project, I really do hope to continue writing BL posts on my blog as it is something important to me. Please hit subscribe with either your wordpress account or email address to keep up to date with all my posts. If you have any comments or suggestions, I always love reading them! You can also contact me on my twitter and tumblr accounts!

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38 thoughts on “Kuro’s Guide to BL, Yaoi and Shounen Ai – Where to Start!

  1. This is an awesome post! This is by far one of the most comprehensive BL guides I have ever read! Not only fo you cover the positive aspects of BL, but you also take the time to acknowledge the not so great aspects of the genre as well! Plus, I’m always glad to see more BL posts!

    Gravitation was my first BL anime series followed by Descendents of Darkness. Omg was the film called Boys Love? I saw that movie and oddly enough I loved it, the sequel not so much though!

    Girl, I love this post!😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 I had a lot of fun writing it up and reflecting back on my BL journey.

      OH MY GOSH I LOVED DESCENDANTS OF DARKNESS. I actually found the entire series at a second hand bookshop and almost cried with joy. YES IT WAS! Haha! I watched it so long ago, I can’t remember if I liked but I just remember being so upset at the ending. WHAT HAPPENED!?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Really!? Oh my gosh that is so awesome!! I have been looking for that series for years!

        As for Boys Love, if I remember correctly the actor guy’s friend stabbed him in a jealous rage (with the smallest knife ever) and he dies. So the reporter dude takes him to the beach to fulfill a promise they made earlier in the movie. He sits with the body on the shore until the sun rises and then he pulls an “I can’t live without you” and walks into the sea to die… I remember crying like a baby lol

        I was so confused when I first saw it, I went out and found the manga…. but it has the same ending 😢

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh gosh that sounds so tragic. That’s probably why I can’t remember it, I repressed it so much ;_; I remember watching it at my friend’s house and we were so nervous that her mum would come in, and then at the end we just rage quit.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. lol, I know what you mean! When I finally realized that Gravitation was a BL anime, I was so worried my mom was gonna find out (since I had to use her TV to watch it)! And after my brother walked in on me watching it, I was even more on guard.

        Yeah for some reason most of the earlier BL works have tragic endings… I just wanted them to be happy 😥

        I also saw Papa to Kiss too and let’s just say I was a little too innocent for that one back then… I was like O.O when I realized they were father/uncle and son/nephew!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post!
    My first experience with BL was a lot like yours. I don’t remember much (thanks goodness), but it was one of the biggest reasons I’ve never really got invested in BL. (Well, that, and BL manga wasn’t stocked often at local stores, and if it was, it was often more expensive.) I have a few in my collection, but some like Gravitation I wish I would have tracked down years ago… Or start off with something like that instead of something so… extreme.

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    1. Thank you :)! Haha its a shame some of us have such traumatic intros to BL. I’m planning my next few posts to be recommendations posts, so the next one will be ‘light’ shonen ai, then shonene ai and then ‘light’ yaoi, etc. – I hope you find something you’ll like ^_^ I really wish I had got the manga for gravitation, unfortunately I just watched the anime 😥 The really old series are so iconic

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  3. I have no idea what my first BL was (though it was probably something fairly tame and then I got interested in male romance stories and the rest was history). Great introductory post and thanks for sharing your own experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Girl…I give huge accolades to you! I forgot to comment, I’m sorry so don’t whip me too hard /bares back, but I loveeeee it~
    It’s funny you say that, because I’m pretty sure Papa to Kiss in the Dark was one of the yaois I ever saw alongside Ai no Kusabi. What an experience!
    Strangely enough, I’m not against the whole shota sex, rape, or incest, it depends on the approach. They’re not what I usually read, and tbh I find mostly it’s that rape is just used to make the dudes go to the next round in their relationship, which sucks. I don’t condone rape or pedophilia in real life, but in 2D I’m like “if that’s what floats your boat, go ahead”, as long as we all agree and understand we can’t be into the same things! In that regard, I like stories the best when there’s consent from the get go, and they take the relationship slower, like in Elektel Delusion~
    I think it’s because of BL being a bit samey that the ones that aren’t really stand out, like Sex/Love Pistols, Ze, Descendants of Darkness, Crimson Spell, and others. Tho I don’t think it’s a flaw per se, I mean look at shoujo and how many of the same plot happens. It just makes me really wish there was more variety tho!
    In that regard, Gravitation, Princess Princess, Loveless, Kyou Kara Maoh and Gakuen Heaven were good series to start with back then, which I did watch~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 Haha, well at least Papa kind of did the job getting us into BL 😛

      Yeah, I just had a real issue with how that author presented the argument. It was very much like “it’s fine to see rape in BL because this is for women, and it’s OUR safe space so we can do whatever” Ooh yes I love Elektel Delusion, the student council president was so cute with his love for the Judo captain.

      Oh I definitely agree with Shojo manga, I think it’s an issue with manga in general. In each genre, there’s always a one size fits all mould that each series uses. It’s kind of how the series expands upon it that makes it stand out ^_^

      Ooh I never watched Princess Princess, one of my friends was obsessed with it and kept trying to get me into it. But I was too focused on Gravitation 😛 I should go back to the old series and watch them, I miss them ;_;

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      1. Indeed, Papa did its job hehehe
        Ugh, why should BL be a safe space for women? BL is a medium, what you make of it is your own choice. There’s a reason books come with warnings, etc, so the person is aware of them -.-
        Elektel is sooo good, I’m super sad it finished already T_T
        YOU NEED TO WATCH THE OLD SERIES, GIIIRL
        I’LL RABBIT THEM WITH YOU IF YOU WANT, cause I haven’t watched them in like 10 years :’D

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post! I devour not only quite a bit of yaoi manga but also “gay erotica/romance novels” (usually involving werewolves/shifters/demons/younameit) so seeing this post which is informative as well as a friendly introduction to something other people might balk at (but which I love) was really nice.

    On the topic of the rape as plot device, it’s really sucky when you can clearly see the author included it as a weak way to get the characters to meet and start sexing right away. And most of the time it’s done horribly with an even worse follow-up and characters behaving in a nonsensical way to something like rape. In my opinion there’s a time and place for those types of stories, especially when you consider the whole rape fantasy thing – which I feel as long as it remains in the fantasy zone and/or you play it out safely with a trusted partner in a bdsm scene, then it’s fine. But seeing it thrown in as a lazy plot device and then having characters act like it’s no big deal is annoying. And I agree that the woman’s article you mentioned worded things in a way that sounds problematic lol. Anyway, nice post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’ve actually been meaning to start reading more gay erotica novels, I was really into Anne Rice’s series (Lestat is such a babe) but really want to expand a bit more ^^

      I definitely agree, there’s heaps of other ways that author can bring characters together in a way that doesn’t include violating one of them. Yeah, I really took an issue with the way the author wrote her article. I definitely don’t mean to fantasy shame anyone but wanted to point out some issues that people need to be aware of. But also show that not all BL is like that – you’d be shocked at how many people I know think that that’s all there is to BL >_<!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This was a hugely enlightening piece.

    Despite being both bi-sexual and fascinated by anime, I’ve always found the idea of overt BL off-putting for one reason or another. Despite that, I do enjoy gay and homoerotic themes and motifs in the anime I regular watch and seek out.

    Your own journey into BL was funny and thoughtful, and your advice is sage. I also agree that being truly appreciative of something means being able to identify and accept its flaws and your arguments of BL’s flaws or more unsavoury aspects was valid and very well argued.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m hoping to write up some recommendation posts on really light shounen ai manga, so I hope you enjoy those recommendations ^^ yeah definitely, I know that when people love something, it’s really easy to overlook some of its flaws and blindly love it. But by looking at the flaws, you can find ways to fix it and make it even better 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome post. Recently, I’ve been really into BL. I agree with you about the issues regarding that a lot of series have the same stories and about the rape culture one. I also want to write more BL posts for my blog, but I feel that I’m not that knowlegeable enough about the genre so in the meantime, I’ll immerse myself with more BL series. Great post. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’ll be really interesting to read posts by someone who is new to BL. I find a lot of BL veterans get used to the same stories again and again, so if something isn’t crazy unique we don’t bother or just gloss over it. So you may find heaps of hidden gems that people like me pass on by accident 😛 I’ll be looking forward to your posts on it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I’m not sure about that. Ahahaha! When I have enough material to write about the genre, I’ll start posting about it. I always enjoy reading BL posts by other bloggers like you, so I’m not hurrying myself up to write informative posts about the genre. Aaaw. Thank you very much.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. this is such a great post!! I actually just started into the BL genre recently through doujinshi’s. I find myself torn between the more innocent mutual growing love stories and the yaoi-type stories. I enjoy them both which I find hard to accept about myself sometimes because.. I definitely won’t defend the “safe zone” idea because it indeed it is wrong to have the normalization of rape culture as a way to progress a story. I don’t condone rape IRL either. I can’t help read all aspects of BL and enjoy all of it. I haven’t really found a “niche” because of that. Although I really have no tolerance for the incest/shota yaoi type…that’s where my personal line is drawn.

    Can’t wait to see more of your recommendations .. BL is indeed eye opening for me and glad to have found a group of people that enjoys it as well! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you and welcome to BL! It takes a while to find your ‘niche’, but reading widely is definitely the way to go. One of my BL friends in high school only ever read Doujinshis, and never read anything other type of BL, while others avoid them. I love DJs – it brings life to ships :3!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. iv read soo many manga’s that iv lost count ,im such a fujoshi(sighs). in the begging i thought yaoi was only for gay people and i was so scared of being found out. later i came to know that its completely normal(for abnormal girls like me ) to read yaoi, it makes me happy to know that there r people like me. sometimes when im feeling down i read yaoi manga and it makes my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same,well actually I’m still the same, in that I do keep my Fujoshi life secret (kind of like a superhero double life 😛 ). But that’s the best thing about blogging, you can find people who share your interests ^^ ooh yes, reading a good yaoi after a shit day is honestly the best thing, I always read Suzuki Tsuta’s works. Who’s your favourite author?

      Like

  10. I am a black gay man who gas who has just really just got into Yaoi and I am really leaning towards Bara. But Yaoi is definitely filled with misconceptions and the over sexualization of gay men through non-empathetic eyes. I hope Bara is a lot healthier….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree with you, one thing I really dislike about yaoi (which I didn’t mention in my post), is that some of the manga really separates itself from LGBT. For example some characters will be like “I’m not gay, I only like this one guy, I’d never fall in love with another guy”. Since it’s written (mostly) by straight females, it doesn’t give an accurate representation of what it’s like to live as a gay man nor does it reflect the diversity in the gay community.

      I haven’t had a chance to look at much bara (something I’m hoping to change, if you have any recommendations!) but from what I’ve heard most of the authors identify as being gay, and as such the characters are far more diverse. I have recently read a series called ‘Otouto no Otto’ ( My Brother’s Husband) which was fantastic. It’s about this guy whose twin brother’s husband comes to live with him. The manga is a really interesting discussion on what it is to be a gay man as well as tackles misconceptions 🙂

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