Okay, it’s not quite pronounced the same. It’s pronounced ya-oh-ee. But if you say it fast it’s close. What is it you ask? Yaoi is a Japanese graphic form of m/m romance, often referred to as Boy Love or BL. Think comic books with more nekkidness.
I’m certainly no expert in the genre, I only discovered it about a year ago myself thanks to Kris who offered to send me a book and I was totally hooked. I thought I’d share my thoughts as a relative newbie to the medium with you and maybe someone will give it a try or some of the “experts” in the house can share their recommendations with us.
Format: Generally yaoi is read back to front and in the shape of an S, you start in the upper right hand corner and end up in the lower left. It took me a couple of books to get into the groove but now it’s “normal”. Some books are also a collection of 3 or 4 shorts rather than one longer story but there are also many series out there.
Artwork: There are numerous styles like any art form, some I adore such as that by artist Ayano Yamane above or Košen (on the right). Unfortunately the books are mostly black and white. I would kill for a full-color version of Crimson Spell or Saihoshi.
Characters: Yaoi heroes fall into two categories – the alpha male (seme) who is ALWAYS the top and the beta male (uke) who ALWAYS the bottom. There are no switches in yaoi. A seme would never take it up the butt. He’s usually taller, stronger, more aggressive and sexually experienced than the smaller, prettier, virginal uke.
Themes: I haven’t read that many books but the over arching theme tends to be opposites attract or power imbalance. The poor orphan and the rich benefactor, the boss and employee, the popular boy at school and the quiet artist/nerd, the teacher and student, older man and younger boy, the warrior/wizard and prince, etc. etc. Rarely are the couples of equal social status or socioeconomic status. Of course there are variations on the theme, but I’ve seen these ones come up over and over again. Gay for You (GFY) or straight (bi?) guys who suddenly decide to have gay sex are also common. In a few books the characters identify as gay, but I find that less often.
Sex: Oh yes, there is smexin’, plenty of it and in some books it’s VERY graphic, in others it’s more discretely drawn. However much of it starts off with dubious consent or “dub-con” which may border on rape and go on for several scenes or an entire book/series. There is also plenty of underage sex, by North American standards. Teenagers in high school or younger (14 or 15) are often the protags and adults with younger teens is not uncommon, be sure you check the blurbs if that’s an issue for you. (The little brownhaired boy on the left looks about 12 but he’s 18. They are often drawn to appear younger.)
Lube & Condoms: Lube is like a yaoi version of a blue diamond. RARE! You rarely see lube in yaoi and from time to time the self-lubing ass crops up. No, not in a paranormal sense. 0_0 If lube is rare, condoms are non-existent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in anything I’ve read.
Anime: Yaoi anime that can be found on-line and Junjo Romantica is a great one which is not very explicit but follows the books really well. Hey, I learned to say “I love you” in Japanese thanks to that show. Sensitive Pornograph is another one that is very faithful to the book but is definitely NSFW.
Fantasy: I am not a huge fan of epic fantasy, swords and sorcery type books. I’ve never read Lord of the Rings (fast forwarded through to the battle scenes in the movies to get to the elf – yes, I’m shallow). However in yaoi form I adore it. Who knew? Maybe because it moves quickly. The first book I read was Saihoshi by Košen and I fell in love with the artwork and the story. Another amazing series is Crimson Spell by Ayano Yamane. Here’s an example of finding the appeal of a sub-genre in another format.
3 Dislikes: 1) I find the over-reluctant seme annoying and some authors draaaag it out. I don’t mind “no, don’t” a couple of times, but after 6 months, either stop having sex with the guy or just go for it . 2) Sometimes I don’t “get” the Japanese cultural mindset that can be part of the books. Doing anything, including having sex with someone, to protect your honour is difficult for me to understand. I find this more in yaoi novels than manga. 3) It’s not cheap, in a $ for minutes entertainment sense it’s overpriced compared to a novel.
3 Likes: 1) Part of the appeal is I know exactly what I”ll get. The seme always behaves the same way more or less as does the uke. 2) Some of the artwork is beautiful, and some of the smexin’ is pretty hot for a graphic novel. 3) It’s a fast read, great for carrying in your purse to appointments. (People shouldn’t be reading over your shoulder anyway. Give them the evil eye or let them get an eye full.)
Please share some of your favourite books and websites in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. I think Ingrid is a bit of an on-line yaoi guru. Perhaps she’ll share some of her secrets with us. I know some people have given yaoi a try and just don’t find it works for them. I never would have guessed it’s my thing but I really do enjoy it.
Where can you get it? Book Depository is an amazing source, of course there is Amazon and other on-line retailers and I’ve found larger comic book stores in my city carry a fair bit but it’s more expensive than BD. If you’re a newbie I’d start with some of the recommendations I’ve listed below and I hope others will add to the list. ETA: Ingrid had kindly volunteered to compile a list based on the comments left which we will then publish in the site. Thanks so much Ingrid for taking that on. Mwah!
Yaoi that I enjoyed
Crimson Spell 1 & 2 – Ayano Yamane (3 not yet translated to our dismay)
Saihoshi: The Guardian - Košen
U Don’t Know Me – Rakun (this is actually a Korean version of yaoi and this book is hard to find or expensive)
Junjo Romantica Vol 1-10 – Shungiku Nakamura
Love/Knot – Hiroko Ishimaru
Love a la Carte – Haruka Minami
Chocolate Surprise & Mr. Flower Bride – Lily Hoshino
Black Knight Vol. 1-4 – Kai Tsuragi
Junjo Romantica Season 1 & 2 (Covers most of the series)
Sensitive Pornograph (NSFW)
Veoh has a gazillion links if you search “yaoi” but unfortunately I don’t recognize any of the titles, but some are short clips if you just want to try it out.
YouTube you’ll also get a lot of yaoi videos, but again, it’s a bit hit and miss.