What’s Yaoi?

The YaYCon is a Dutch fan convention based largely on yaoi, a Japanese genre that depicts erotic, homosexual fiction in popular culture (e.g. anime, manga, games). This section will explain the scope of the genre briefly.

In Western countries, yaoi is an umbrella term which includes various sub-genres. Shounen-ai, for instance, refers to the more emotional, romantic homosexual content. In Japan, these genres are often called boy’s love. As an erotic genre, yaoi largely appeals to women and is often distinguished from the more recent gay-oriented genre bara. The largest portion of yaoi is made by women and read by them. Yaoi offers women a safe, accepted platform that allows them to experience (light) pornographic fiction. In this sense it is comparable to slash fanfiction, a type of fanfiction celebrating gay love and coming-out stories. Yaoi as a term is an acronym for Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, or ‘no climax, no point, no meaning’.

Historically, both yaoi and slash have their roots in the seventies and in female fan cultures. While slash finds its origins in the Star Trek fandom (Jenkins, 1992), the first yaoi content stems from doujinshi (fan manga) based on Saint Seiya and Captain Tsubasa, a popular football anime in the eighties. The correlation between Western and Japanese fandoms is seen as coincidental, though (Kinsella, 1998, pp. 307). Note that before yaoi as a fan genre was grounded, original shounen-ai manga had already been written, such as Kaze to Ki no Uta (1976) and From Eroica with Love (1976).

In the late eighties, yaoi as an original genre became more and more popular. Throughout the years, yaoi has made its own narrative tropes. Commonly they make use of a more ‘heterosexual’ framework, for instance characterized by the uke and seme or bottom and top. The uke is more feminine in appearance and character and stands in stark contrast with his more masculine partner, the seme. This type of characterization can also be recognized in Western slash fiction to some degree and one may claim that it’s even inevitable in gay fiction which is derived from the imagery of a normative, heterosexual society (see also Pugh, 2005).

Nowadays, original yaoi flourishes in Japan and the amateur manga scene is very active in the genre as well. Most titles are not translated in Western countries, and indeed, official Anglo-American translations seem scarce compared to for instance German and Spanish ones. Luckily, certain fan translators (e.g. Aarinfantasy) specialize in acquiring original and fan-based yaoi.

In Japan, yaoi is read by a wide demography from teenage girls to housewives to gay men. Western audiences seem to be much younger, though slash fanfiction is also highly popular among older fans. Yaoi is often included in more mainstream series in Japan as a kind of ‘fan service’ – typical narrative concepts or modes of performing by fans themselves aimed at other (yaoi) fans. This kind of inclusion – even if it’s only subtle – is often aimed at attracting other (female) audiences as well. For instance, producers commonly incorporate it in series aimed at younger girls, who might later start reading actual yaoi.

Yaoi can be read and explained in many ways. Importantly, we can see it as a plea to incorporate full-fletched gay characters that are not as stereotypical as Western popular culture mostly depicts them. Moreover, yaoi captures men in dynamic, sensitive ways, just as its sister-genre yuri provides strong, female characters as characters for readers to identify with. Fans make their wishes public more and more now that access to media producers is becoming easier online. YaYCon is a fan initiative that stems largely from communities of yaoi aficionado that met online and at fan conventions. As an organization, we hope to motivate the diverse depiction of gay characters and love affairs. We also provide a platform that enables the exchange of worldwide (queer) fiction, both online and offline. Lastly, since anime and manga are popular among youth in Western countries, we hope to inform teenagers and adolescents about gender and sexual identity.

Special thanks to Nicolle Lamerichs for contributing this text.
Also special thanks to Ealynn for permitting to use her artwork.