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NYAF '10: Gay for You? Yaoi and Yuri Manga for GBLTQ Readers

Reading and Recommending Boys Love/Girls Love Manga for Queer Readers

By

Leyla Aker and Erica Friedman

Leyla Aker and Erica Friedman

© Deb Aoki

As part of the New York Anime Festival 2010, Robin Brenner gathered a group of gay, lesbian and straight manga experts and readers to talk about yaoi and yuri manga from a queer point of view. "Gay for You? Yaoi and Yuri Manga for GBLTQ (gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender and queer) Readers" attracted a fair amount of fans, and generated some lively discussion.

Here's a transcript of the panel, and the list of 20 yaoi and yuri manga titles recommended by the panelists.

NOTE: here's a brief vocabulary primer:

  • Yaoi – Stories about boys/ men loving other boys/men that are primarily created by and for female readers. Also known as "boys love" or "BL" manga.
  • Yuri – Stories about girls loving other girls. "Yuri" means "lily" in Japanese.
  • Bara – Stories about men loving other men, primarily created by and for gay male readers. "Bara" means "rose" in Japanese.

INTRODUCTIONS AND EXPLANATIONS: WHAT IS YAOI AND YURI?

Robin Brenner: I'd like to start things off by letting our panelists introduce themselves.

Erica Friedman: I'm the founder of Yuricon / ALC publishing. I'm here because basically, I'm the English language expert on yuri. I'm also a lesbian, so that helps too. I'm here to explain that whatever you think yuri is, it isn’t.

Leyla Aker: I'm editorial director at VIZ Media, but I'm mostly here in a civilian capacity as a yaoi fangirl. I'm also going to be Erica's straight-woman. (laughs).

Alex Woolfson: I have a blog called Yaoi911.com, which has yaoi manga reviews. I also create yaoi comics. I consider myself to be more of a casual reader of yaoi than an expert, but I hope that I can share my perspective as a gay man too.

Scott Robins: I'm a newly-minted librarian. I worked in children's publishing for the last eight years. I'm kind of a new reader to yaoi, so I'm the voice of reason (laughs). I'm also gay, so that also helps.

Chris Butcher: I run a blog called Comics212.net. I've written a bunch about yaoi, and bara and gay issues in yaoi manga in Japan, which has put me at odds with some of you! (laughs, gestures toward the other panelists) We're going to talk a lot about yaoi, issues of gender, and who gets to read what and why.

I think it's great that people read whatever they want to read, regardless of whether they are gay or straight; regardless of whether these books are intended for them. So I hope that when I say any criticism along those lines, realize that it's not aimed at you, the reader. It's more about how the work is marketed, and how it's presented. That's just my little disclaimer in case I say something awful! (applause)

Robin Brenner: I want to give you a brief history of why I'm standing up here. I was asked at library conference to speak about yaoi and yuri manga for queer readers. I'm using "queer" as an all-inclusive term, not as offensive term, just to be clear.

The question raised was how do you talk about this manga that's mostly geared toward a straight female audience? We were asked to talk about it, and I didn't think I knew enough about queer readers in the United States of this subgenre.

So Snow Wildsmith and I did a survey. We were trying to figure out what queer readers liked about (yaoi and yuri manga), what did they not like about it, reasons why they might read it, and we asked, 'Does it bother you that you're not the intended audience?'

This was in 2008. I've written about the results of this survey as a chapter in a book called Mangatopia: Essays on manga and Anime in the Modern World. This will be coming out soon from Libraries Unlimited. So if you're interested in the statistics and all of the information we gathered, that's where that will be published. Anyway, that's where the germ of this panel came from.

I wanted to talk to people about what Chris mentioned: What happens when you're outside the intended audience? Does it make it better or worse? How do readers really feel about it? And what can you get out of different kinds of books? Chris, I think you're correct. Everyone reads what they read for different reasons, none of them are bad. Our intention here is only to discuss how the appeal works.

So to start off, I wanted Erica and Leyla to explain where these subgenres come from in Japan, how they're created and how they are marketed there.

Leyla Aker: In any general discussion of manga, I find it helps to give some context about the creation process in Japan. In Japan, manga comes out in the form of weekly or monthly or quarterly omnibus magazines. Each magazine has a very, very defined identity, even within their genres.

Generally speaking, you can split them into 4 major genres: there's shonen, which is aimed at boys; shojo, which is aimed at girls; josei, which is aimed at adult women and seinen, which is primarily aimed at adult men.

We have two more genres that we are discussing today. One is yaoi, which is called boys love or BL in Japan. The word "yaoi" isn't actually used there. And we have yuri, which Erica will be discussing.

The BL genre in Japan right now is represented by a couple of major companies. There's about three major magazines there: Be-Boy and Be-Boy Gold, which are published by Libre; Reijin, which is published by Takeshobo; and Ciel by Kadokawa Shoten.

Each one of these magazines has very, very defined identity, as far as what kind of stories and art they are providing to their audience. The audience or all of these are straight women who are technically age 18 and above, but the reality is that these series also have a substantial teen audience. It's created by adult women for older teens and young adults. That's who it's made for.

When BL comes to the U.S., it comes some cognitive dissonance among the readers here, because people see two guys having sex, so people think it's gay... but it's not.

Now, irrespective of how the genre is received in the United States, in Japan, it's created to be read by straight women, primarily. That, as a conceptual basis, is how it comes to us from Japan. Now, what it does here is a different thing.

Erica Friedman: As complicated as the BL issue is, the yuri issue is about 800% more complicated. It's just as old as BL as a genre. It started in late 1960s — what you have is a parallel path.

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