What is Boys love called in Japan?

Boys’ love, also known as BL, is a genre of fictional media originating in Japan that features homoerotic relationships between male characters. The term “boys’ love,” as well as the abbreviation BL, are the terms typically used for this genre in Japan. Boys’ love media often explores themes of forbidden romance, and relationships that face social disapproval or rejection due to cultural norms.

Origins of the genre

The origins of boys’ love can be traced back to the 1970s in Japan, when female manga artists first began creating stories and artwork featuring romantic relationships between male characters. These early boys’ love works were known by the term “June”, referring to the time of year they were released. Many of the themes and character dynamics that became standard in BL were established during this early period.

Popularizing of the genre

In the 1980s and 90s, boys’ love gained wider popularity and recognition within Japanese media. During this time, terms like “yaoi” and “shounen-ai” emerged to describe the genre. Several influential manga series such as Kaze to Ki no Uta and Zetsuai 1989 established character tropes and storytelling styles that would become staples of BL. As distribution expanded through anime, magazines, and commercial publishing, boys’ love secured a devoted female fanbase in Japan.

Common conventions in boys’ love

Boys’ love stories utilize a set of recognizable narrative elements and character archetypes. Some notable conventions include:

Seme and uke roles

Most BL features a pairing between a “seme” – meaning the dominant, assertive partner, and “uke” – the more submissive partner. The seme is usually an older, stronger, more masculine character, while the uke takes on a more delicate, feminine role. This creates romantic and sexual tension between opposite personality types.

Forbidden relationships

Social taboos are a common BL plot device. Many stories involve romances that are forbidden, face disapproval, or must be hidden from others. Secret relationships add melodramatic tension and stakes to the couples’ interactions. Teacher-student, age gap, and incestuous relationships are common forbidden romance motifs.

Focus on intimacy

While explicit sexual content is restricted in commercially published BL due to legal regulations in Japan, there is a strong focus on emotional and physical intimacy between the characters. Symbolic acts like meaningful eye contact, caretaking, or shared tears often denote the characters’ growing bonds.

Distinct terminology used in Japan

In Japanese, distinct terms are used to denote boys’ love and distinguish it from other genres. Some major BL classifications include:


“Yaoi” is an acronym for “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” meaning “no climax, no resolution, no meaning.” It refers to stories focused purely on the sexual relationship between characters, without plot progression. Yaoi works often feature erotic scenes and heightened drama. This term is not used as often today.


Meaning “boy love,” shounen-ai describes BL with romantic themes and little to no explicit content. It focuses on the innocent, sentimental aspects of the relationship, sometimes ending at the couple’s first kiss. The tone is more chaste compared to other BL.


“June” is the traditional term for boys’ love from its origins in the 1970s. It refers to the formerly common practice of releasing BL anthologies in June. While not used as commonly today, “June” denotes the genre’s classics and foundations.

Boys’ love manga demographics and readership

While largely created by women, the primary readership of BL manga is also female. Reports estimate the female readership to be between 70-80%. In recent years, it has gained traction with some male and LGBTQ readers as well. The typical age range of BL manga readers is wide, from teenagers to women in their 30s.

Appeal to female readers

For female readers, BL is thought to enable freedom in safely exploring romance, sexuality, and gender removed from societal pressures or self-inserts. The idealized masculine aesthetics and emotional vulnerability of the uke characters also appeal to female preferences. The reversed gender dynamics provide a perspective differing from traditional heterosexual tropes.

Recent demographic shifts

While female readers make up the majority, boys’ love has seen a notable increase in popularity among male fans, as well as wider LGBTQ readership, in recent years. Advocacy and analysis of BL from male manga critics has also grown. Wider accessibility through anime adaptations and the internet has expanded the readership demographics.

Boys’ Love manga magazines and publications

There are a multitude of Japanese magazines and imprints dedicated to BL-centered content. Here are some major publications:


The magazine that pioneered the genre, June specializes in showcasing new BL manga anthologies and stories every month. Originally founded in 1978, it maintains a strong reputation for introducing new BL artists.


First published in 1997, Chara is a popular monthly BL magazine that features full serialization of ongoing manga series. Some renowned BL like Hybrid Child have run in Chara. It prints high-quality illustrations and content.

Comic Pot

From the publishing company Libre, Comic Pot prints both original stories and licensed manga. It has a bi-monthly release schedule, with a mix of racy and dramatic BL content appealing to a wide readership.

Frontier Works

Frontier Works is a major publisher focused on BL. They license manga for republication as tankobon volumes. Frontier Works printed translations of Zetsuai 1989 and Finder which helped gain BL wider international popularity.

Notable influential Boys’ Love manga

Some BL manga series and works that have been highly influential in shaping tropes and readership over the decades include:

Manga Title Author Summary
Kaze to Ki no Uta Keiko Takemiya A tragic romance between a noble boy and his gypsy friend at an elite academy in France. Considered one of the first commercially published BL.
Zetsuai 1989 Ozaki Minami An intense story about a troubled pop idol in an abusive relationship with a rival male singer. Known for melodrama.
Finder Yamane Ayano Erotic crime thriller following the rivalry and romance between a photographer and underworld crime lord. One of the most commercially successful BL.
Gravitation Maki Murakami Comedy series about an aspiring singer pursuing a relationship with an aloof novelist. Adapted into an early mainstream BL anime.
Hybrid Child Shungiku Nakamura Collection of sci-fi themed BL stories about androids bonding with their owners. Praised for emotional depth.

Boys’ Love anime and other media

While originating in manga, boys’ love inspired content in various media forms in Japan including:

Original Video Animation (OVA)

Direct to video anime adaptations were important in establishing BL as a commercial media genre. Yaoi titles like Sensitive Pornograph allowed more explicit content while bypassing television censorship regulations.

Theatrical anime films

Major shounen-ai manga like Sekaiichi Hatsukoi and Love Stage!! have received anime film adaptations reaching wider audiences. DVD sales of these films are strong indicators of popularity.

Drama CDs

Many BL series have drama CDs featuring the anime voice actors performing original audio stories. These let fans experience further adventures with the characters. Events like live voice actor performances are also held.

Video games

Dating sims and visual novels inspired by BL are a popular interactive media. Games like Coming Out On Top and Dramatical Murder allow players to pursue romantic storylines with male characters.

Live action

There are a modest number of live action films and television dramas adapted from BL manga or with BL themes. The tacit restrictions and censorship involved in photographically depicting male homosexuality limit productions.

Global influence of Boys’ Love

While Boys’ Love originated in Japan, it has made an undeniable global impact, from inspiring thriving local BL cultures to wider acceptance of LGBTQ stories worldwide.

Regional BL cultures

In many Asian countries like China, Taiwan, and Thailand, locally produced BL media has seen massive popularity, often influenced by imports of Japanese BL. Chinese danmei novels and Taiwanese BL webcomics have cultivated their own distinct trends.

Wider promotion of LGBTQ stories

BL stories existing in a primarily female space removed from male gaze helped widen notions of what depictions of male intimacy could entail. The popularity of BL undeniably promoted acceptance and visibility for LGBTQ relationships in mainstream media.

Changing perceptions worldwide

As knowledge of and access to BL spreads globally, it challenges preconceived notions in many regions. The enjoyment of BL across diverse demographics works to validate LGBTQ identities and relationships to wider audiences worldwide.

Creation of new subgenres

Japanese BL conventions shaped new genres like yaoi, shounen ai, and slash fiction that spread worldwide. These styles still influence LGBTQ-themed works, like the rise of “Omegaverse” stories in Western fandoms.

Controversies and criticism surrounding Boys’ Love

While achieving global popularity, some aspects and perceptions of BL remain controversial or subject to criticism. These include:

Accusations of fetishization

Some criticize BL as an exploitative genre created by and for women based on fetishizing and overly sexualizing male homosexuality, rather than seeking accurate representation.

Lack of author or character diversity

Since BL primarily caters to a cisgender, heterosexual female audience, there is a perceived lack of stories by or about actual LGBTQ creators or characters. The fantasy portrayed does not resonate with some LGBTQ readers.

Rape or non-consensual tropes

Earlier BL works especially featured troubling themes like rape, coercion, and abuse. Though the genre has evolved, non-consensual narrative tropes still occasionally appear and are rightfully called out.

Concluding Thoughts

While imperfect and still evolving, Boys’ Love manga and the community it inspired undeniably provided progress and visibility for LGBTQ stories and relationships where there was little before in mainstream media. Originating from female artists and readers in Japan, BL grew beyond expectations to have an undeniable impact on global attitudes. And while criticisms remain valid, increased dialogue and understanding between fans and detractors can ultimately enhance the genre’s development. By giving women room to explore male intimacy removed from patriarchal or heteronormative assumptions, BL enables continued perception shifts benefitting marginalized identities worldwide.

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