Yaoi (やおい, also known as “Boys’ Love” or BL) is another Japanese genre incorporating “gay male romance” themes across various media. The genre emerged in the 1970s in a branch of manga aimed at girls, and is still marketed exclusively at women and girls despite some male readership. BL creators and fans are careful to distinguish the genre from bara, which is created by and for gay men. Yaoi has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi are now available in many countries and languages. The characters in yaoi manga do not tend to self-identify as gay or bisexual.
Yaoi has been criticized for stereotypical and homophobic portrayals of its characters, and for failing to address gay issues. Homophobia, when it is presented as an issue at all, is often used as a plot device to “heighten the drama”, or to show the purity of the leads’ love. Matt Thorn has suggested that as yaoi is a romance narrative, strong political themes may be a “turn off” to the readers. Critics state that the genre challenges heteronormativity via the “odd” bishōnen (“beautiful boys”), 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.
Bara is more true to actual gay male relationships, and not the heterosexual-esque 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”. Compared to gay men’s manga, yaoi is “more careful to build up a strong sense of character” before sex scenes occur.