Every one has already linked to this story by Eliza Strickland, which is the best written and researched piece we’ve yet seen on just why girls like comics about 12-year-old Japanese boys shagging one another. Strickland goes to Yaoi-Con for a first hand look and examines the psychology and history of the genre as well as looking at the potential dangers of censorship:

Meanwhile, in the United States, women were playing with slash fiction — that is, stories in which male pop culture characters hooked up (for example, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock). Yet yaoi and slash involve little casual sex. When couples couple, it’s an emotional maelstrom; even after a rape scene, the two men lie tenderly in each other’s arms and profess their love. It’s a visual treat with an emotional payoff, a dynamite combination for the ladies.

Untranslated Japanese comics began to arrive in the U.S. in the 1980s and ’90s. With the arrival of the Internet came a new labor of love — the “scanlation,” for which die-hard fans scanned each page of a comic and painstakingly added translations. To avoid such toil, Americans began writing English-language slash based on their favorite characters from anime (Japan’s animated TV shows and films) and manga.

“Then Gundam Wing happened,” explains Eliza Cameron, whose manuscript on the history of yaoi is being considered by a Berkeley publisher. In 2000, the sci-fi anime series about a team of teenage fighter pilots began airing on the Cartoon Network, and thousands of new fans ventured online to look for pictures of the cute heroes. What they often found instead was a slash universe that dedicated yaoi fans had already created around the Gundam Wing characters. “It was the ‘gateway yaoi’ of my generation,” Cameron says.

All interested observers really need to read this article. Even some of the yaoi publishers we’ve spoken to have only vague notions of the genre’s appeal, and we’re still not entirely clear on it ourselves.
Personally speaking, we always get a laugh out of a mild bit of slash that shows Kirk mooning for Spock or Legolas and Aragorn revealing how they really feel because in the original source material, there was so much boys-own-adventure posturing (a world few women were allowed into) that highlighting the absurdity of the world via making it a gay love story seemed highly appropriate. For The Beat it was a way of introducing some kind of feminine principle — that we could relate to — into a fairly male-dominated structure.

Strickland say yaoi has some of the same function, allowing female readers to break out of the often submissive and ninnyish roles played by the girls in traditional shojo manga. Psychologists also have their say:

If one does feel the need to psychoanalyze the phenomenon, however, academics have arrived at a standard interpretation. “It’s a way for young women and girls to explore sexuality without it being too intimately connected to them,” says Susan Napier, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Without a female character in the book, readers can choose which male character to identify with, instead of feeling forced into one role. “They can enjoy seeing sexual situations with handsome young men, and can play out different sexual scenarios without having to put themselves into it, so it’s less intimidating or threatening,” Napier says.

Somehow we doubt the religious right will have the same open-minded attitude when they finally get hold of yaoi — although they seem to be having their own gay problems today.


  1. Er, yaoi is not necessarily about 12-year-olds. In fact, MOST yaoi involves characters at or above the age of 16. 12 would, in my mind, delve into the “shota” subgenre. Just FYI. ;)

    I don’t see why people fuss so much about WHY girls like yaoi. Of course girls like yaoi– it’s a subgenre that is tailored to female fantasies. Created by and for women. (Not to say that there aren’t some guys who like yaoi, too). It’s rare for someone to question the appeal of lesbian hentai to guys; why is yaoi’s appeal so perplexing?

  2. Not only is yaoi quite fascinating, the stories in yaoi are at times very complex. Some of them have a soap opera feel to them. These are several reasons why yaoi is interesting. Not to mention that it’s vey unique. :)

  3. I always have the nagging feeling that much of the effort put into finding a psycho/socio answer for yaoi is due to a desire to legitimize it beyond what is necessary. Not that I’m against any academic pursuit of the subject, but a lot of it seems to stem from an overbearing guilt complex that renders some unable to accept a simple explanation: that watching beautiful people making out is gratifying in and of itself.

  4. There’s another recent Yaoi/Shonen Ai anime/manga article at fps: The Magazine of Animation:

    > http://www.fpsmagazine.com/newsletters/flicker/20061009.html
    > Do you, uh, yaoi? Cynthia Ward explores this phenomenon as part of our upcoming issue on sex in animation. Anime and manga have long had subgenres featuring male-male relationships, ranging from platonic to sexually explicit. In Japan, the main consumers (and producers) of this subgenre have been women-and it turns out that the same has been true since the appearance of various titles in the West.
    > http://www.fpsmagazine.com/mag/200606.php

  5. “They can enjoy seeing sexual situations with handsome young men, and can play out different sexual scenarios without having to put themselves into it, so it’s less intimidating or threatening,â€? Napier says.

    I hate, hate, HATE this explanation. I find it so incredibly patronising – the assumption that only naive virgins like yaoi, and only because the fragile little women are so naturally frightened of sex.

    I am a married mother, and currently in a ployamorous relationship as well. I read yaoi because I love sex, and it is one of the few genres in which the beauty of the male body is exploited.

  6. Ghost_of_Freud, I don’t think it’s fair to completely discount the less-intimidating explanation– it most certainly could be true for SOME people.

    But of course it’s not the only explanation– there IS no one explanation. Yaoi appeals to different people for different reasons.

    For example, there are many girls who say they like yaoi for the same reason many guys like lesbian porn– the idea that two is better than one. That’s not the case for me; for me the hotness has to do with the relationship, not necessarily the gender. But that doesn’t make it an invalid reason to like yaoi.

  7. As an anthropologist I can’t help but wonder why people love BL (and a number of other things). I love BL and I’m not quite sure why. Although I find the explainations the article gave rather unsatisfactory, I do think it has to do with gender roles in some way. But there is never one universal reason people like something. There’s also plenty of personal reasons.

  8. I think I’m pretty yaoi-positive, but here’s one thing that’s always bothered me about it — why doesn’t more of it at least ATTEMPT to show some actual depiction of how actual gay people are treated in society? Maybe some people like to keep their pr0n completely separate from real-world issues, but I, personally, don’t.

    Yes, I am male; yes, I do like lesbian sex fantasies; but I *ALSO* prefer them if they at least have some vague acknowledgment of social realism and homophobia and stuff like that. The only real counter-argument, for either yaoi or unrealistic lesbian sex, seems to be “Forget that boring stuff and SHOW ME THE PR0N!!!” which is an argument that I can’t really get behind. ;)

  9. the thing is that yaoi is fantasy. if you mix too much reality into your fantasy, well it becomes to real and a lot less fun.
    of course i think everyone should be aware that in reality people can get hurt if they were to “come out of the closet” and that this is serious buisness for those who actually live their daily lives as homosexuals.
    we read fantasy so we can get out of reality, that would be the purpose so it makes sense that we leave out the stupidity of society, if only for a half hour. we have to beleive that somewhere (real or not) their is going to be a happy ending…and maybe a nice steamy love scene just for kicks ^_^

  10. Those last three comments should be deleted. They have nothing to do with the topic. *sigh* Anyway, I disagree with the general definition of yaoi being “a way for young women and girls to explore sexuality without it being too intimately connected to them.” It can be for some, I’ll agree with that, but for older women like myself, yaoi/shounen-ai is about more than just the sex involved. While I love gay genres in general, I’m a realist who enjoys great storylines. I have read/seen yaoi series/movies that are terrible. “…even after a rape scene, the two men lie tenderly in each other’s arms and profess their love.” I don’t know what series she’s reading, but most yaoi series I have seen and/or read that involve rape usually do NOT end up all lovey-dovey. =/ Enzai is a perfect example. I really dislike that series. I do NOT like rape, incest, or pedophile situations of any kind… unless I have to squeeze past it to enjoy the storyline surrounding it.

    As for what Jason Thompson said: there are a number of yaoi series in which real life situations surrounding gays are present and accounted for. Examples would be: Kizuna (my personal #1 fave yaoi series of all),Yellow, Fake, Kissing, Our Everlasting, Antique Bakery, A’A Prime, etc. There are others, but I don’t want to ramble on too much. ^^;

    In conclusion (I apologize for this being so long), I’d like to point out that liking/loving yaoi all depends on who you are talking to. Everyone is different. I love involved story lines with realistic situations. Others just enjoy the sex. I have met a few who will love ANYTHING that involves yaoi (of which I find kinda disturbing). Basically, we all share one thing in common: we all think man/man situations are appealing. ^_^

  11. I am a gay male myself with more female friends than I can count who adore Yaoi and everything about it. The one thing I’ve seen in common with them all is that women love to see two men going at it and delving into the depths of relationship and sex that they cannot, or some will not , attempt to reach in the real world. To my female friends at least, it appears that Yaoi is as hot as Yuri is to straight males.

    Personally I like it not because of the sex but because of the levels of relationship that the characters develop in any really good Yaoi story. I just purchased a new Romance Manga called Menkui today that is a Yaoi story of sorts and in the first three chapters there is not a hint of sex but the relationship between the main characters is developed. I already cannot wait to get the next volume. I’m ranting now so I’ll stop, but my point is, simply put, Females find the attraction between two males as appealing as the attraction between two females is to straight males. at least from what I’ve seen.

  12. Personally, I like yaoi. Have since I found it. My theory is that if guys can see two girls in a show/book/whatever and say something about how hot they are and wouldn’t it be great if… why can’t a woman look at two guys in the same way and do the same. If two girls getting it on is ‘hot’ to a guy then what is so hard to beleive if its two guys and a one girl?

    However not all yaoi is all about sex or even a mushy love thing. Some of the best yaoi can be found in a tension filled manga or anime/etc. that has two good looking guys who have a working or nonworking relationship where they hate each others guts. The actions and the tension provide the yaoi. Then there is a show like Gravitation where the yaoi is simply incorporated into a great show that could easily stand on its own without the yaoi.

    In short, to me at least, yaoi is the spice to the mix. Afterall, eating plain potatoes is well….blah, put some butter on top and wahla! Life without yaoi is very bland. So many gender roles and so many walls and regulations. Screw the roles and regulations and let loose, tis much more fun. Besides, if you don’t like something, nobody is holding you in place to see/read/hear it is there?

  13. I’m sure why I like Yaoi. But in most cases the storyline is really good. I always feel reminded of Romeo and Juliet. Two people loving each other, even though they are not supposed to. But stories that have this Romeo and Juliet theme with a girl and a boy are to me not realistic anymore. In these times girls can meet whatever boy they want. In contrast to that gay-love is still a taboo. So there are more obstacles for the characters. The development of the relationship is more complicated. Because of that Yaoi-stories are a lot more interesting to me than other stories.

  14. I’m 55, and the widow of a wonderful, 25-year, emotionally satisfying and complex relationship. I’ve recently discovered yaoi and consider it beautiful and breathless. I’ve wondered myself what, exactly, appeals to me about it, and have mostly failed to come up with the words. I think, perhaps, there is something about seeing a man so completely overcome that he responds directly to the person, regardless of anything (including gender!). So many men, at least in this culture, seem so very divorced from their emotions that it’s a delight to see (once again, for me) the sweep and power of male passion: I can imagine myself as one of the participants, the object of all that desire.

  15. I love yaoi, so why do so many people judge it. Boys like seeing the yuri (lesbian) stuff and girls like yaoi. In many different yaoi mangas I have read, the stories have their own complicated situations. I sometimes dream of yaoi characters in different circumstances, but that’s for my own delight. Some girls think that boy on boy is the best thing, while guys think bout girl on girl is the best thing.

  16. Ok, I don’t know what’s with the t-mobile and hair stuff. Back to Yaoi. Its not unreal as you kind ladys would believe. I’m a 17 year old male teen and I’m living a yaio dream with my*blush* mate. He and I are really close and both of us are really good artists. We draw and post alot of (you quessed it) yaio. Its not unreal and its not just for girls. thank you

  17. Nowadays a man and woman’s relationship to me seems predictable and boring. But two guys together just does something for me. It’s as simple as that. It’s hot and it entertains me and I love it. It’s almost like a drug because once I realize I liked it, I had to find more more more more!

    And I love my boyfriend because he completely understands my love of all things slash. Before I was 18 and him being of age, he would buy me certain yaoi movies that I was just DYING to watch. My other friends thought yaoi was weird (even my best gay guy friend!), but my boyfriend just shrugged and said to each his own. Whatever got me going. It all just depends on what kind of person you are, I suppose.

    Now if only everyone else could be that understanding and just get over the fact that two guys toghether is utterly appealing to some of us.

  18. I see yaoi, in part, as a reaction to modern women’s revulsion to romance. Personily I love the idea of romance despite my distaste for it. A lot of straight romances that are available I find hard to swallow but because I find it easier to disconnect myself from it I feel I get into it more, and its often explicit nature just keeps my cynical side in check when the romance gets to heavy, if as nothing more than as a distraction.

    Yaoi means so much to me it’s a romance I can handle, though not everyone I know would believe that.

  19. One thing i’d like to ask the girls that loves Yaoi, is that ??
    How would they feel when at some night they go to the bedroom and sees their husband having sex with another man ??
    they’d probably get hot and sit bakc and watch them ehh ??

    i like yuri pretty much especialy the part where ya see the girls squeezes eath others’s tits and lift up to their short skirts exposing their tight thong’d! ass
    but i don’t like it when they ingage in dildo sex. seriously i’d prefer a man humping the girl
    as for Yaoi ?? i think its completely disgusting!! disturbing and since most girls complains whenever their man turn into queers why do they enjoy watching two men humping each other ?? its sick
    and i pressume since some men in here loves Yaoi, they pretty much would love ingaging in some gay sex ehh ??
    please i would like to get some replies

  20. the comment above is seriously stupid and in poor taste. “ehh??”

    But to answer his question above a woman finding her husband in bed with another, it depends.
    I would probably get mad that my husband kept his attraction to men a secret from me, but to make up for it, he should let me watch. It’s the least he can do.
    If the other dude is really hot, he can move in and we can hopefully engage in threesomes. It would be so great to come home and see them going at it!

    (of course, that is just my opinion. Some people don’t like sharing….but I don’t think I would have a problem sharing my man with another sexy man, as long as I was included somehow as well.)

    And I think this goes for the majority of straight guys. They would be outright lying if they said they had something against having their girlfriend be with another woman, as long as they all had a threesome.
    In the same way, I enjoy watching good looking males together, and if it happened in real life I would probably thank my lucky stars.

    In conclusion, I think yaoi is awesome and I am so greatful it exsists.

  21. The main difference between yaoi/yuri drawn by women and yuri drawn by men/ het is the people involved in it; yaoi tends to be a lot more tender and (comparatively) more story driven. Yes, its smut plain and simple, but its smut with atleast a bit of drive. Yuri drawn by men/het usually involves a few mangled sentences before people start having sex.

    Also; the argument that it it takes out gender roles is complete crap; give me characters that arent just an uke and a seme, if they were interc hangeable and actually changed their rolls in bed it would add the the psychological realism and (hopefully) end the damn super uke syndrome that seems to have come from gravitation.

    Another thing; please stop the doujinshi. All it does is hurt.

    (sorry for the bad grammar, not proof reading and im writing this during some turds box stepping speach class)

  22. I must say that I have a preference for yaoi manga or Anime although I do not go towards the shows depicting real men. I find some of the story lines to be very creative and sometimes dramatic. I also admire the art rendered in the historical types. Being an (older married woman) without any type of marital problems. I do not tend to like porn, or depictions of “real” people. I don’t think that I watch yaoi specifically for any type of specific sexual fantasy. I must say I mostly enjoy something that I do not have or need to relate to reality. I find the Japanese manga and anime to be the most beautifully rendered. I think the yaoi written by women to be especially moving emotionally.

  23. weeeeellll……..I am a pansexual girl.in other words “gender blind”.
    I love yaoi and I do not know what makes me like it.
    and when I search for answers I never get them.
    I like both of them because I think the power of love is great and if you love someone (regardless of gender) you should love them no matter what!
    I hate people who like women because… well they’re women. god and when A boy discovers the girl they liked is a boy the go all like…you’re a boy?! eeww!
    dammit if you liked her that means you like her no matter whet gender she/he has.
    I don’t watch yuri but I’m not against it u.u
    I’d also would like to see yaoi or yuri anime who has real troubles of homosexual couples who are afraid of “coming out of the closet” because people are soo mean! I mean…they love eachother why are you critizising them?….in my case I’d say: “you know what? I’m pansexual deal with it!” I coulden’t care less about their opinions. unfortunately some homosexuals aren’t like me and they do care about the opinions of other people.
    I hate people who don’t understand homos.they make fun of them withought thinking about their feelings. ……Peaople are just soo mean to others it makes me want to cry for them T_T

  24. I’m only 14, but I have read a yaoi or two… or three. I have a few reasons why I like it. One, beacause they really go into detail about their relationship. Two, because I do think that some guy on guy things are cute. Third, the ukes in the story are always so adorable! To me it’s not about a “sexual fantasy” at all. Personally, I kind of find yaoi put in those terms discusting. I mean I read it for the story, not the gender.

    I don’t understand why you see so many articles about why girls like yaoi. I mean, if a guy says that he likes girl on girl it’s okay because he’s a guy. But if a girl says she likes yaoi people go off writing articles about why. People think it’s strange when a girl likes yaoi, but not when a guy like yuri. I personally think it’s idiotic and sexcist, but hey, that’s just me.

    To me, when I think of sexuality I try not to think about it as gay or straight, but as “in love”. That would be one reason I don’t have a problem with yaoi, or yuri really. I don’t understand why some people don’t seem to get that. I mean, if your someone’s friend and they turn out to be gay, why would you reject them? I’m not saying everyone would do that, but I know some homophobics and it just makes me sad to see that someone would be judged based on their sexuality.

    Ok, so I realize I totally went off the original subject (and ranted a little), but I thought that a few points should be brought out.

    Just a note to Lucas: Don’t bash Gravitation! It’s awesome =P