A Guide to Yaoi Manga: The Basics [1]

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We’ve been sharing yaoi manga reviews on this blog for a while now. However, not everybody is yaoi savvy. For that reason, we thought that creating a guide to yaoi would be a great way to understand all about it. This adventure will last during several posts, and it aims to cover almost everything: from words to yaoi’s history.

Some of the jargon that we’ll explore in this series belongs exclusively to the world of yaoi manga. However, we’ve also included some other words that come from anime or even only used in the West. The yaoi manga fans community exists worldwide with its quirks. This makes it rich and enduring.

So, before we go further. What is Yaoi anyway? Yaoi or 801 is an acronym for 「ヤマなし、オチなし、イミなし」(Yama nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi). It means “no climax, no punch line, no sense.” It’s a general word for the genre of Boys Love, or BL. While yaoi might be used as a general word for all types of stories, within the yaoi fandom community, there are distinctions. Yaoi, or 801 (written with numbers taking the sounds of them in Japanese), is for works with lots of sex. However, BL is more centered in love stories.

Beware, because both words are interchangeable. BL is about love and bonds between two men. There are no limits on how the world they inhabit or the experiences they have. BL is broad so you might find compelling works with thick and rich content and mediocre manga.

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(C) Meguru Hinohara (C) Dear+ Comics

So, yaoi or BL are umbrella terms for the genre. If you want to be picky, you can use yaoi only for sex-centered stories, and BL for story-centered manga. And if you’re going to be even pickier, go to the depths of the words.

Yaoi: acronym that comes from マなし、チなし、ミなし」(yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi), or “no climax, no punch line, no sense.” It kind of refers to stories that without sex wouldn’t have any meaning. Some fans, however, have re-interpreted the acronym. Instead, they argue it comes from 「めて、尻がい!」(yamete, oshiri ga itai!), or “stop, my butt hurts!” This ironic statement might be connected to one of the most prevalent tropes in the genre: romantiziced non-consesual sex. You’ll find out that many stories depict non-consensual sex as precursor of a loving relationship.

801: is yaoi written with numbers. In Japanese, you can write words with numbers by taking into consideration the pronunciation of the numbers. Eight is “ya” or “hachi,” zero can be also an “o” and read as an “o,” and one can be “i” or “ichi.” It feels like a code, but since you can find this type of word-number play virtually everywhere, anyone can read it.

Bara: 「バラ」, or rose, refers to hyper-sexualized and very graphic yaoi stories. These usually aren’t directed to a female audience but to a gay male one. Beware, because “bara” is also used by the gay subculture. Thus, “bara” might only mean “gay culture” as a whole.

Shonen-Ai: 「少年愛」is basically BL. However, stories are more focussed on romance and not sex. Hence, there’s a great focus on the feelings and the story. And even if sex is happening in closed doors, the manga will show little of it.

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Now that we’re savvy about the most essential words regarding the genre. Let’s take a look at the readers. Fans use different words to point at themselves. Usually, these type of words are sweet and cute. However, in BL fans decided to take irony (and maybe also shame) into account when choosing what to use as a word for themselves.

Fujoshi/ Fudanshi: it’s the general word for the girls/boys that love BL. Fujoshi or 「腐女子」 is used for girls, while fudanshi「腐男子」is used for boys. It literally means rotten girl/boy. The terms were born as a form of self-deprecation. Admiring or liking BL is a type of rotting thing, hence the use of 「腐す」 “kusasu,” to rot, to speak ill of something. That kanji is also the one for Tofu, that yummy Japanese delicatessen that vegetarians and vegans love. So, it isn’t that bad after all.

Because of the rotting composition of the word, some fans like to call themselves “Fenix.” Others prefer 「貴腐人」 “gifujin,” because it’s more agendered, but that one isn’t less deprecating. And some male fans also use 「腐兄」 “fukei,” which is also quite ironic. As long as you have the rotting kanji somewhere, the irony and self-deprecation are present.

So, now that we know the essential words for the genre and the fans what about the characters? Broadly speaking there are three: the dominant, the submissive, and the switch. And yes, it does sound a lot like entering the arena of BDSM.

Seme: 「攻め」is the dominant one in a BL couple. It’s a quite graphic way to point at the dominant homosexual partner since the verb “semeru” means to attack. However, this is one of the many words that we can use for the dominant guy. Others include “Tachi” 「タチ」 and “hidarigawa” 「左側」(literally, “left side.”)

To call someone seme is just using a general term. Some characters have others quirks. In that case, we can find words like “souseme” 「総攻め」perfect dominant, “tachisen” 「タチ専」or complete dominant (as a fetish, basically), and “dakisen” 「抱き専」 or clingy seme (he likes to embrace a lot.) But wait, there’re more sub-types of seme!

Super Seme-Sama: 「スーパー攻め様」is the quintessential type of seme. He’s stylish, good-looking, confident, and super manly. But it’s also serious and wants to do his way all the time, even if it means doing it by force.

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Super Seme-Sama example: Asami. Finder series. (C) Yamano Ayane

Kotoba Seme: 「言葉攻め」is a dominant guy that likes to play with words while doing it with his partner. He usually whispers all types of obscene words and insults to make him hotter than he is at the moment.

Keigo Seme: 「敬語攻め」is a dominant guy that likes to be super polite while doing it and uses honorific words while they’re making love.

Ayamari Seme: 「謝り攻め」is a seme that uses excuses and apologies while they’re at it. It can be that the seme knows that he’s doing the wrong thing and he’s apologizing while he’s forcing his partner.

Uke: 「受け」 is the submissive partner in a homosexual relationship. The word is also pretty descriptive since it comes from the verb “ukeru” or to receive. There are other words to call the uke, for example, “Neko” 「ネコ」 cat, and “migigawa” 「右側」which literally means “right side.”

When the guy is always an uke regardless of the partner, we’re talking about a perfect uke, or “sou uke” 「総受け」. But, as happens with the seme, there’re many other sub-types of ukes.

Inran Uke: 「淫乱受け」 is an uke who is eager to do it at any time. He’s lascivious, wild, and lewd. It can also be that the uke is profoundly affected by the sexual relationship with his current partner.

Joou-sama Uke: 「女王様受け」 means “princess uke.” This type of uke is mean. They’re beautiful, but they show off in a pompous manner because they know they’re like queens for the seme. They have power or authority over the seme. And they can be oppressive and extremely mean. But, the seme are so in love that they let them do whatever they want.

Bitch: 「ビッチ」 is an uke that has a very disordered sex life or one that has many partners. Or it could be a very sad uke that ends up having lots of sex just because he feels very lonely. Please note the word is only used with ukes. And yes, it can come as very deprecating since there’s an equivalent with women. Welcome to the trope world of BL manga.

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Sou-Uke example: Akihito. From the Finder series. (C) Ayane Yamano

Seke: 「セケ」 or switch. A “seke” is someone who will be a seme or an uke depending on the partner, or even with the current partner. They like to do everything.

Now that we have the type of characters, we need to take a look at the words referring to the couples. In yaoi, there’re different types of couples. However, the main word to say couple in Japanese is just “coupling.”

Coupling: 「カップリング」 aka shipping or pairing. This word can be shortened as only CP, or “kapu.” However, couples or ships are best known for saying the names of the characters using an x in the middle. For example, Thor x Loki. But, you can shorten that by using a combination of the names. In this case, we’d call this ship Thorki. It’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

Sub-Cup: 「サブカプ」 aka sub-couple is short for a secondary ship that might appear in the BL manga. While some fans can go crazy with the first couple, others might swoon for the sub-couple.

Riba: 「リバ」 is the short version of “reversible couple.” It’s a ship where both uke and seme exchange roles in their relationship. This is quite an egalitarian coupling.

Yuripple: 「百合ップル」 is a ship where there are two ukes. Both love one another, and both are ukes. “Yuri” comes from the Girls Love arena, where “yuri” means “lily.”

Seme-seme/ kou-kou: 「攻x攻」 is a ship where two semes love each other. They might even take turns to be the uke, but they are in endless competition. Because they’re rivals and they love each other, the problems in the coupling are secured. Hence, the appeal for this type of coupling.

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Yuri Ayato, a Seke (switch) example. Yarichin Bitch Club. (C) Ogeretsu Tanaka

We’re going to also take a look at what the lovebirds might call each other. Although each manga will show different ways, there is a general convention on how semes and ukes might call each other.

Muko: 「婿」 means husband or groom. So, if an uke calls “my husband” to his partner, he’s affectionate. It can also be that fans use the word “muko” to point out who the dominant partner might be in the ship without using the words seme or tachi.

Yome: 「嫁」 means wife or bride. If a seme calls “my wife” to his uke, then he’s affectionate (or ironic, depending on the manga). It can also be that the fans are using “yome” to point out who the passive partner might be in a coupling without using the words uke or neko.

And, finally, here we have some honorable mentions:

Age gap coupling: when the age gap between the seme and uke is substantial.

Bishonen: aka “bishies,” are very good-looking men.

Crack Ship/Pairing: is a type of extreme shipping. It happens when fans ship impossible couples, that most probably kill each other than make sex together. It can also be that the ship is so far away from the official canon that it’s impossible to come true. You have to be on “crack” to believe that it would either happen or that the characters wouldn’t kill each other.

Kagema: are male prostitutes that usually take the role of an uke. You might find this word mostly in historical yaoi.

Rotten talk: is the conversations that fujoshi/fudanshi have when talking about BL. It can be as naive as just naming the ship they like, or as hot as heavy-fangirling on a yaoi manga.

Slash: is shipping characters of the same sex in fanfiction. This word can be used as a way to explain BL, and even as an equivalent. But it’s mainly used in the realm of fanfiction.

Younger Seme: when the dominant in the couple is younger than the submissive partner.


Copyright: Top banner on this post made by dePepi with an official (C) Ayane Ayano image/ Memes & Gifs (C) by their owners.

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A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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