Bara, Yaoi, BL - what are the genre/subgenre differences?

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Bara, Yaoi, BL - what are the genre/subgenre differences?

#1 Post by Lesleigh63 » Fri Apr 20, 2018 7:34 pm

Something I've been curious about for some time particulary how they apply today to the west and how they may be changing.

I found some nice short definitions of BL, Yaoi and Shōnen’ai in this article...
Article by Emma Hanashiro (2015) “What is BL/Yaoi [Definition, Meaning]

First, it is important to note that the definitions of Boys Love, yaoi, and shōnen’ai outside of Japan are different than their meanings within Japan. In countries outside of Japan, the following is a breakdown of the meaning of these terms:

Boys Love (often shortened to BL):
A relatively new term used to indicate broadly manga, anime, or fan works depicting love between men for a presumed female audience. These relationships between men are often sexual and have determined and visually codified “top” and “bottom” positions. The “top,” also called the seme, “attacks” or rather gives love to the “bottom,” or in other words the uke. Throughout this article, I will mainly use Boys Love as an all-inclusive term for media depicting male/male couplings.

While yaoi is used like Boys Love to describe a genre with works focused on men loving men for a female audience, it has the additional connotation of depicting graphic sexual scenes. In typical advanced search options for anime and manga online, yaoi appears far more often than Boys Love, and is used in conjunction with shōnen’ai.

When used in opposition to yaoi, shōnen’ai means a boy/boy manga or anime without any explicit sexual scenes. It is often viewed as focusing more on story rather than hot and heavy action between two men.

In Japan, however, there are slightly different meanings to these words. This has much to due with the history of the Boys Love industry and the gradual development of the genre over the past forty years.
I had to go to Wikipedia for the Bara related explanations, so it's more influenced by the Japanese history and development of the genre and is longer.
Although sometimes conflated with yaoi by Western commentators, gay men's manga or gei comi, also called Men's Love (ML) in English and bara in Japan, caters to a gay male audience rather than a female one and tends to be produced primarily by gay and bisexual male artists (such as Gengoroh Tagame) and serialized in gay men's magazines.[47] Bara is an even smaller niche genre in Japan than yaoi manga.[48] Considered a subgenre of seijin (men's erotica) for gay males, bara more closely resembles comics for men (seinen) rather than comics written for female readers (shōjo/josei).[citation needed] Few titles have been licensed or scanlated for English-language markets.[48]

Yaoi has been criticized for stereotypical and homophobic portrayals of its characters,[17][37][38][39] and for failing to address gay issues.[33][37] Homophobia, when it is presented as an issue at all,[40] is often used as a plot device to "heighten the drama",[41] or to show the purity of the leads’ love.[37] Matt Thorn has suggested that as yaoi is a romance narrative, strong political themes may be a "turn off" to the readers.[42] Critics state that the genre challenges heteronormativity via the "odd" bishōnen ("beautiful boys"),[43][44] and Andrew Grossman has written that the Japanese are more comfortable with writing about LGBT themes in a manga setting, in which gender is often blurred, even in "straight" manga.[45]

Bara is more true to actual gay male relationships, and not the heteronormative relationships between the masculine seme and feminine uke types that are the most common romantic fantasy in women's yaoi manga. In comparison to yaoi, gay men's manga is unlikely to contain scenes of "uncontrollable weeping or long introspective pauses", and more likely to show characters who are "hairy, very muscular, or have a few excess pounds".[46] Compared to gay men's manga, yaoi is "more careful to build up a strong sense of character" before sex scenes occur.[18] The men in bara comics are more likely to be stereotypically masculine in behaviour and are illustrated as "hairy, very muscular, or [having] a few excess pounds"[49] akin to beefcakes or bears in gay culture.[citation needed] While bara usually features gay romanticism and adult content, sometimes of a violent or exploitative nature, it often explores real-world or autobiographical themes and acknowledges the taboo nature of homosexuality in Japan.[citation needed]

Gachi muchi
The gachi muchi ("muscley-chubby") subgenre of boys' love, also termed bara among English-speaking fans,[51] represents a crossover between bara and yaoi, with considerable overlap of writers, artists and art styles. This emergent boys' love subgenre, while still marketed primarily to women, depicts more masculine body types and is more likely to be written by gay male authors and artists; it is also thought to attract a large crossover gay male audience.[52] Prior to the development of gachi muchi, the greatest overlap between yaoi and bara authors was in BDSM-themed publications[51] such as Zettai Reido, a yaoi anthology magazine which had a number of openly male contributors.[13] Several female yaoi authors who have done BDSM-themed yaoi have been recruited to contribute stories to BDSM-themed bara anthologies or special issues.[51]
So what's you're opinion? How do these genres/subgenres apply to the west today? If you're a developer what are you trying to incorporate. If you're a player or reader what are you hoping to see and/or expecting to see?

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Re: Bara, Yaoi, BL - what are the genre/subgenre differences?

#2 Post by arcadeparty » Sun Apr 22, 2018 9:00 am

This is actually a super interesting question (at least to me) and the answer, especially when it comes to the question of "yaoi VS bara" for an audience of gay men, is just this:

It genuinely varies from work to work and from person to person!

I can say that although I've generally had a few love interests in different things that wouldn't be out of place in either the yaoi or bara genres, I typically don't call my own personal work either one* in marketing or conversations about it, but I do feel comfortable generally lumping what I make into the larger category of "BL" if it seems like "MxM" or "BxB" doesn't the point across to someone.

(* - This doesn't mean that I don't tag my stuff as those things if I think it could genuinely apply or that I don't get hits from categories/games in those genres, though! Tomai actually gets its highest and second-highest number of hits from an Itchio category called "Yaoi/BL Games", while AWOO gets the biggest amount of traffic from a "furry bara dating sim" that Itchio categorizes as similar, and Love and Formaldehyde has an astonishing number of people who find it specifically through the "Free -> Tagged Yaoi" section that's only beat out by the traffic it gets from the general visual novel category. I just don't openly invoke those two terms for marketing and lean more strongly on "gay/LGBTQ" or "MxM/BxB".)

As someone who has enjoyed playing and reading stuff in all of those categories, too, my rough understanding has always been that bara/gachi muchi/gei comi are three different shades of portrayal of fat or heavily muscular gay men. According to the conversation on a 2015 TCAF panel called ”Gay Comics Art Japan”, the transcription and discussion of which seems to be offline right now, popular gei comi author and openly gay man Gengoroh Tagame personally doesn't appreciate his work being labelled as bara and has only recently softened on it as a term. So my own distinctions there tend to be whether or not the creator wants their work to be labeled like that, which gets hazy when it comes to authors I'm not familiar with -- I typically stick to saying "MxM/BxB" for those reasons. (Even "M/M" isn't totally free of conversation about it as a term, though, like this romance novelist's post from 2011 might indicate!)

When it comes to Western things calling themselves "yaoi", I think of a very specific art style inspired by a very constrained type of Japanese art, with character designs that typically stick within a distinctly similar kind of framing, which I would be willing to guess is something marketing/sales for "Western yaoi" leans on? (I can't name a Western visual novel that's marketed itself as yaoi above all else that's had a fat man as a love interest in it, and black men with natural hair are generally just as rare, for example.) I also think of BL as more of a universal term to refer to any MxM/BxB content, given that it's easy to comprehend once you know what it means, so -- unless it's clear that someone doesn't want their work called that, or unless I can just call a spade a spade and call a gay man's work a gay piece of work, haha -- I usually have less issues with calling stuff BL specifically. Again, plenty of guys disagree with me on that (including ones I'm close friends with) just like I know plenty of people who aren't remotely gay men at all that consume MxM stuff and absolutely hate the term "BL"!

That's a lot of words to basically just say that I don't think even people who frequent those communities really have a 100% solidified working definition, whoops, but I didn't want to just pop into your thread and say one sentence before leaving. Seeing that you're working on a BL VN in your info there, I'd recommend that you look into what gets marketed in what way on places like Itchio (in tags like yaoi, bara, gay, or LGBT) or Kickstarter, then think about your art style and target demographic as compared to the works that tend to pop up in those categories to design some kind of framing that you think reflects the visual novel best! If you've only got muscular/fat men as love interests, lean on bara, if all your characters are reasonably lean, you might be better off in yaoi, if you've got a combination of both or a wide swath of body types, I might recommend leaning on the gay(/LGBT) angle, etc. You've got a lot of cross-pollination, though, and I honestly can say that at least I personally will probably try most things out if they're MxM, regardless of what it's designated as otherwise.

(Seriously sorry for the long post, though. But hopefully it helped!)

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