The Boys Love genre has seen a renaissance recently, with many new titles in the limelight and several older titles receiving renewed attention. The Boys Love genre has a fascinating and unique history, evolving over the years to become the genre it is today. In fact, the story of Boys Love shows how the manga and anime industry has grown, evolved, and changed over the years.
The first roots of Boys Love go back quite far, drawing on the trend of Bishōnen art. This art often shows androgynous males, often with smooth skin and long, fluffy hair. The art of illustrator Kashō Takabatake is often cited as one of the ancestors of this style in the early 1900s. His illustrations often showed effeminate and pretty boys and were often thought to have a homosexual subtext. This art was popular with women and girls and was often used in magazines aimed at this demographic, with Shōjo no tomo magazine being one of the most popular.
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This has also been combined with a massive change in the manga industry with the growth of the Gekiga genre. Gekiga first appeared in the 1950s and aimed to show more mature, realistic stories aimed at an older audience. However, the term quickly became synonymous with manga with a shock factor, including stories featuring violence, erotica, or other adult material. This movement totally redefined what was possible with manga and created a whole new aesthetic and form of storytelling within the medium.
This would massively inspire the independent scene and eventually be assimilated into the mainstream. Two works are considered the first prototypes of Boys Love: the 1961 novel by Mari Mori, Forest of lovers and that of Hideko Mizuno Fire!. Forest of lovers told the story of a teacher and her young lover, while Fire! was a shōjo manga series by Hideko Mizuno about American rock star Aaron. The story follows him as he goes through the ups and downs of life as a musician, including getting involved in some sexually explicit storylines.
In the early 1970s, a whole new generation of manga creators entered the shōjo manga scene. This has led to a massive expansion of the genre, covering new topics, themes and inspirations. Much of this expansion is due to a group retroactively called the Year 24 Group. This group contains legends like Yasuko Aoike, Moto Hagio and Rose of Versailles creator Riyoko Ikeda. This expansion led to the formation of a new genre called shōnen-ai.
Shōnen-ai, while being a sub-genre of the shojo manga, tends to feature emotional romances between androgynous boys. However, despite the masculine nature of these romances, the stories still cater to a female audience. Two of the first titles to be considered part of this then new genre were In the veranda by Keiko Takemiya and The November Gymnasium by Moto Hagio.
At the same time, the self-publishing subculture called dōjinshi gained momentum. Many of the creators of this scene were heavily influenced by both Shōnen-ai and Gekiga. Due to their self-publishing, these creators could be much more explicit in their portrayals of adult behavior. Many dōjinshi were based on existing works. This subculture contained another subculture focused on erotic stories, many of which saw the love blossom between the men found in popular anime and manga franchises. 1975 saw the first Comiket dōjinshi fair and meeting of creators, showing the size and scope of the dōjinshi culture.
At that time, the term “yaoi “ first appearance. Yasuko Sakata and Akiko Hatsu are both credited for creating it. Yaoi is a self-deprecating Japanese phrase coat rack “yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi,” which translates to “no climax, no point, no sense”, making fun of the purely erotic nature of many of these early works.
However, despite this mocking origin, yaoi quickly overtook Shōnen-ai as a genre, becoming the go-to term for romantic and male sexual romance as dōjinshi became more popular and available. In the late 1980s, animated adaptations of Shōnen-ai works such as Patalliro! were shown both on television and at home.
This popularity meant that mainstream companies quickly started hiring yaoi dōjinshi creators for their magazines, which led to many fan works turning into original titles and bands like CLAMP leaving the dshijinshi scene. to reach the general public. In 1990, many magazines had dedicated Yaoi sections to directly attract this new market. Indeed, between 1990 and 1995, 30 magazines dedicated solely to Yaoi were created.
However, by the mid-90s complaints started to mount against the genre. The so-called “Yaoi Debate” argued that gender was harmful due to its unrealistic portrayal of gay men and reinforced the misogyny of Japanese society. This debate has led many artists to leave the stage altogether or to change their representations of male lovers to be more sensitive to the homosexual audience.
In America, yaoi took off in the early 2000s due to dōjinshi work becoming more accessible with the Internet. In 2001, California hosted the first American Yaoi-Con, and the first officially translated yaoi manga was released in the United States in 2003. Soon the genre was in full swing, with over 100 titles released in the United States in 2006, a figure that continues to grow with online downloads making the genre more accessible than ever.
Boys Love has a fascinating history, encompassing many different art movements and social events. It shows that while some themes have been around for a long time, the world of manga is constantly changing and changing, with each new generation building on what came before it and creating something new. It also shows how small subcultures can quickly integrate into the mainstream, redefining the medium.
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