And kanji with manga
Monday, September 18, 2017

BL

In Japanese, BL is a genre of gay fiction, specially manga, anime, and doujinshi 同人誌 that focus on a gay romantic or sexual relationship and targets a female audience (e.g. shoujo 少女), as opposed to bara 薔薇, that targets a male, gay audience. An erotic, plot-less sub-genre is yaoi やおい. Rarely, it means "to be gay" instead. BL is an acronym standing for "Boys' Love," booizu rabu ボーイズラブ. It's pronounced bii-eru びーえる.

Example of BL shipping Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom.
Left: Neville Longbottom
Right: Harry Potter
Anime: Asobi Asobase あそびあそばせ (Episode 4)

Definition

In the narrow sense, BL is a genre that focuses on gay romance. You'll have a male protagonist, and another male protagonist, and they're in gay love with each other. That's BL.

Although BL is an abbreviation of "Boys' Love," the term is a Japanese word made from an English phrase, a wasei-eigo 和製英語. This means that nobody calls BL "Boys' Love" in America. In particular, "boy" implies young characters, but there isn't any actual age restriction in this genre.

The medium also doesn't matter. There is:

  • BL manga
    BL漫画
    BL comics.
  • BL anime
    BLアニメ
    BL animated cartoons.
  • BL doujinshi
    BL同人誌
    BL indie comics, fanzines.
  • BL geemu
    BLゲーム
    BL games.
  • BL shousetsu
    BL小説
    BL stories. BL novels.

And so on.

Jack Barbarossa Bancoran ジャック・バルバロッサ・バンコラン, resting on a "lap pillow," hizamakura 膝枕.
Head: Jack Barbarossa Bancoran ジャック・バルバロッサ・バンコラン
Anime: Patalliro!, パタリロ! (Episode 4)

Typically, BL targets a female, heterosexual audience, not a male, homosexual one.

  • josei-muke
    女性向け
    Targeted at women.
    • BL is typically labelled as this.

You have girls who, being heterosexual, like "hot guys," ikemen イケメン, or "beautiful boys," bishounen 美少年, and the more hot guys the merrier.

If you have one female protagonist surrounded by hot guys, that's a reverse-harem, and such work targets a female audience.

  • Ouran High School Host Club, Ouran Koukou Host-bu 桜蘭高校ホスト部刃, was serialized in LaLa, a shoujo magazine, which means it targets an underage female audience.

Straight girls want to see hot guys, not other girls, so the female protagonist is unnecessary, thus, we remove the girl, and now we have only guys, and if they kiss anyone, they'll have to kiss another guy because there simply are no girls left. That's how you get BL.

  • Patalliro! パタリロ!, a BL manga, was serialized in the shoujo magazine Hana to Yume 花とゆめ, which also serialized the famous shoujo drama "Glass Mask, " Garasu no Kamen ガラスの仮面.

A BL is basically a shoujo romance, which are known for drawing every character beautifully, the girls are all drawn like princesses, the guys are all drawn like princes, except that instead of the prince falling in love with the princess, he falls in love with another prince.

Since BL is mostly made by and for heterosexual women, sometimes the way it depicts gay relationships is considered homophobic, specially the heteronormative way in which the seme and uke 攻め受け (top and bottom) of a gay couple in a BL series.

  • The more feminine character is typically the bottom, the "girl" in the gay couple, i.e. the shorter, weaker, more timid one.
  • If a character is drawn like a girl, i.e. he's a "trap" (otokonoko 男の娘), he's assumed to be the uke.
  • If a character wears "female clothes," josou 女装, he's assumed to be the uke.
    • A subversion of this is specifically called josou seme 女装責め, "crossdressing top." See types of seme and uke for details.

BL is generally associated with the fujoshi 腐女子, "rotten girls," the fan-girls who ship male characters with other male characters.

Koganuma Minori 古賀沼美埜里 holding a BL manga.
Character: Koganuma Minori 古賀沼美埜里
Anime: Outbreak Company (Episode 4)
  • Context: a fujoshi holds a BL manga.
  • The text behind her reads sou-uke 総受け, "total (as in sum) bottom," referring to a character who is the uke no matter whom he's shipped with.

In anime, a fujoshi often has wild delusions, "fantasies," mousou 妄想, about two characters being gay.

Konoe Subaru 近衛スバル and Sakamachi Kinjirou 坂町近次郎 looking at each other romantically, as fantasized by a fujoshi 腐女子.
Left: Konoe Subaru 近衛スバル
Right: Sakamachi Kinjirou 坂町近次郎
Anime: Mayo Chiki! まよチキ! (Episode 2)
  • Context: a fujoshi mousou'ing about the guy in front of her being gay.

Often, BL refers to doujin 同人, indie works and fan-made parodies that feature gay pairings, specially ships made out by fans such as the fujoshi.

The fujoshi will watch a series and ship the two best friends together, because they have such a good relationship with each other, or two rivals together, because of all that rivalry and sexual tension, or just basically anybody with anybody else, for whatever reason.

If you don't know what shipping is, please watch this documentary:

A ship in Japanese is called a "coupling," kappuringu カップリング, abbreviated CP. The CP is normally written as seme kakeru uke 攻め×受け, i.e. the seme comes first, the uke comes last. Often, a CP will have its own abbreviation.

For example, NaruSasu ナルサス and SasuNaru サスナル would refer to Naruto kakeru Sasuke ナルト×サスケ with Naruto as seme, and the reverse with Sasuke as seme.

This same ship name culture exists in the west.(fanlore.org: Pairing Name)

In the west, a fanfic featuring a ship like this would be called a slash fanfic, as in Naruto "slash" Sasuke, Naruto/Sasuke. The mathematics got inverted in the translation. In Japanese it's multiplication, in English it's division.

Some guys like BL, too. A male fujoshi is called a fudanshi 腐男子.

マンガ・・・ 12人の美少女よりもお前が好きなんだ!! 友田!!! そんな・・・!!! 俺は・・・見守っるだけで・・・良かったのに・・・ ポロ・・・
Manga: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun 月刊少女野崎くん (Chapter 8, Page 115, 深夜のテンション)
  • Context: Nozaki played a dating sim, in which the player's best friend, Tomoda 友田, kept helping the player in his romantic conquests in various ways, with hints, and free movie tickets. Moved by this, Nozaki decides to spend the night drawing a fan comic featuring Tomoda with a romantic partner, arriving to the conclusion he's more interesting in the player than in any of the girls. In the next day, a girl finds the comic drawn.
  • manga...
    マンガ・・・
    A comic...
  • juuni-nin no bishoujo yori mo omae ga suki nanda!!
    12人の美少女よりもお前が好きなんだ!!
    [I] like you more than the twelve bishoujo!!
    • Each "beautiful girl" you can conquest in a dating sim is a bishoujo.
  • Tomoda!!!
    友田!!!
    (character name.)
  • sonna...!!!
    そんな・・・!!!
    (interjection used when shocked by something told.)
  • ore wa... mi-mamotteru dake de... yokatta noni...
    俺は・・・見守っるだけで・・・良かったのに・・・
    I'd be [happy] with just watching over [you]...
  • poro...
    ポロ・・・
    *tear falling*

vs. Gay

The word BL doesn't mean "gay." It means a genre of gay fiction. To say "gay" in Japanese, you would say:

  • gei
    ゲイ
    Gay.
    (katakanization.)
  • homo
    ホモ
    Homo. (may be considered offensive.)
  • douseiaisha
    同性愛者
    Same-sex-love-person.
    Homosexual person.

Sometimes, however, BL is used to call someone gay. Since this is an anime slang, this probably only happens in anime.

真尋さんは この私が先にツバ つけたんですからね まして彼は BLタイプじゃないんです 彼のご立派な サムライソードに 貫かれるのはこの 私なんですぅ!! そんなのずるい はやいもの勝ちとか ないもん 恋愛にルールなんて ないんだよ ぼ ぼくだって ま まひろくんと ・・・その・・・がっ・・・ がったいしたいんだ もん・・・・・・!!
Manga: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san 這いよれ!ニャル子さん (Chapter 9, 進んで囚われの身)
  • Context: Nyaruko ニャル子 and Hasuta ハスタ fight over the protagonist's love.
  • Mahiro-san wa
    kono watashi ga saki ni tsuba
    tsuketa-n-desu-kara ne

    真尋さんは
    この私が先にツバ
    つけたんですからね
    I called dibs on Mahiro-san first, you see.
    • tsuba wo tsukeru
      ツバを付ける
      To put spit on [something.] (literally.)
      To call dibs on. (because other people won't eat something you already put your spit on.)
  • mashite kare wa
    Bi-Eru-taipu janai-n-desu

    まして彼は
    BLタイプじゃないんです
    Plus he's not a BL-type. (i.e. he's not gay.)
  • kare no go-rippa-na
    samurai-soodo ni
    tsuranukareru nowa
    kono watashi nan-desuu

    彼のご立派な
    サムライソードに
    貫かれるのはこの
    私なんですぅ!!
    The one to be pierced by his incredible samurai sword will be me.
    • I'm not even joking, this is literally what's written there.
  • sonna no zurui
    そんなのずるい
    That's unfair.
  • hayai mono kachi toka
    nai mon

    はやいもの勝ちとか
    ないもん
    It's not something like the fastest one wins.
  • ren'ai ni ruuru nante
    nai-n-da yo

    恋愛にルールなんて
    ないんだよ
    There's no such thing as rules when it comes to romance.
  • bo boku datte
    ma Mahiro-kun to
    ... sono... ga'...
    gattai shitai-n-da
    mon......!!

    ぼ ぼくだって
    ま まひろくんと
    ・・・その・・・がっ・・・
    がったいしたいんだ
    もん・・・・・・!!
    With M-Mahiro-kun
    e-even I want to...
    ...erm... co...
    combine......!!
    • gattai
      合体
      To combine and become one. (e.g. giant robots.)
      To have sex with. (innuendo in anime.)

vs. Bara

The difference between BL and bara is that BL targets a female, heterosexual audience, while bara targets a male, gay audience.

In practice, this means that characters in BL look like the romantic interest of a shoujo manga, like a prince charming, a male super model, a boy band guitarist, etc. They're generally slender, have no body hair, and are stylish. By contrast, characters of a bara manga look fatter, more muscular, and hairier.

The term bara as a genre is more used in the west. In Japanese, bara comics are called "gay comics," gei komikku ゲイコミック, which makes it pretty clear that gay comics for gays and BL for women are different genres.

It's worth noting that bara is called bara 薔薇, "rose," most likely because of a gay magazine called Bara-zoku 薔薇族, "rose tribe," in which some gay comics were published, like that one from the yaranaika やらないか meme.

You may see roses in the background when a fujoshi character fantasizes about a male character being gay because of this.

Marie, マリー, fantasizes about Lloyd Belladonna, ロイド・ベラドンナ, having a gay relationship.
Right: Marie, マリー
Left: Lloyd Belladonna, ロイド・ベラドンナ
Anime: Tatoeba Last Dungeon Mae no Mura no Shounen ga Joban no Machi de Kurasu You na Monogatari, たとえばラストダンジョン前の村の少年が序盤の街で暮らすような物語 (Episode 9)
  • Context: Marie imagines Lloyd on bed with a man.

vs. Yaoi

There are a few differences between BL and yaoi.

In the west, yaoi refers to sexually explicit gay manga and anime, and the term BL is rarely used. Sometimes, yaoi just means gay scenarios in general.

In Japanese, BL refers to gay fiction targeted at a female audience in general, including both for general and for adult audiences, so what's called yaoi in the west would be called BL in Japanese.

In Japanese, yaoi in its broadest sense means stories without plot, but normally it specifically refers to BL featuring ship from a series the author likes. In other words, if gay fiction is called slash fiction, yaoi is a PWP slash.

  • PWP
    Plot? What Plot?

vs. Shounen-ai

There are a few differences between BL and shounen-ai.

In the west, explicit gay fiction is called yaoi, and non-explicit is called shounen-ai. In Japanese, both are called BL, so what's called shounen-ai in the west would usually be called BL in Japanese, except not always, for reasons we'll see further below.

Furthermore, shounen-ai 少年愛 in Japanese means literally "boy love," typically in the sense of pedophilia. It seems that the term was used for gay fiction featuring underage characters in the past, which is probably how it got loaned into English.

For the record, explicit works featuring underage male characters is called shotacon in English. In Japanese, shotakon ショタコン refers mainly to women that like boy characters, who are called shota ショタ characters.

ショタBL本 18禁
Anime: Centaur no Nayami, セントールの悩み (Episode 2, Cropped)
  • Context: a fujoshi holds an adult book.
  • shota bi-eru-bon
    ショタBL本
    Shota BL book.
  • juu-hachi-kin
    18禁
    Eighteen forbidden. (literally.)
    • Not for children, i.e. people under eighteen years old.

vs. 腐向け

Sometimes, a work labelled as shounen-ai in the west isn't labelled BL in Japanese. In this case, the work may be instead called fumuke 腐向け, meaning it's "targeted at fu[joshi]."

The difference between these two things doesn't really make a lot of sense, to be honest.

Some series that are actually categorized as BL include:

  • No.6.
  • Junjou Romantica 純情ロマンチカ
  • Love Stage!!

These series feature two male protagonists, and focus on romance between them.

Series that only feature a gay character in love with a male protagonist don't count as BL, e.g.:

  • Enshuu Ritsu 円修律, from R-15.
  • Hasuta ハス太, from Haiyore! Nyaruko-san 這いよれ!ニャル子さん.

Some fumuke series don't feature romance, simply a lot of hot guys, e.g. Free! In English, the term "fujobait" is sometimes used to describe these.

Sakata Gintoki 坂田銀時 talks about fujobait.
Character: Sakata Gintoki 坂田銀時
Anime: Gintama 銀魂 (Episodes 92, 145, 193)
  • Context: Aniplex (allegedly) baiting fujoshi with suggestive DVD covers.

Series that focus on male characters developing non-romantic bonds are sometimes called bromance ブロマンス instead.

Some series that appear EXTREMELY gay are somehow not BL.

  • Jingai-san no Yome 人外さんの嫁, a series about boys becoming brides for monsters.
  • Sarazanmai さらざんまい, a series about gay frogs.

This could be because the main focus of the series isn't a typical gay relationship, but then again, even YoI isn't classified as BL despite the entire theme of the anime being an obviously gay relationship.

Katsuki Yuuri 勝生勇利 is held by the chin by Victor Nikiforov ヴィクトル・ニキフォロフ.
Left: Katsuki Yuuri 勝生勇利
Right: Victor Nikiforov ヴィクトル・ニキフォロフ
Anime: Yuri!!! on Ice, ユーリ!!! on ICE (Episode 3, Stitch)
  • Context: somehow, this isn't BL.

Lastly, there's the question of whether BL is actually restricted to "love." A doujinshi featuring two male characters from a series as a gay pairing is BL, but what if instead of romance it's one character raping another? Not sure if anyone would call this "love," but would this count as BL? Probably, I guess.

What if the author isn't interested in drawing a pairing, but only the uke character? Is it still BL if it's only about him being penetrated and you have a random nameless, faceless molester for seme, or perhaps some tentacle monster, or something like that?

I mean, it's all obviously fumuke, but does it count as BL? It can't be BL just because there's a guy being penetrated. If that were the case, then futanari ふたなり could count as BL, too, and it definitely does not.

Derived Acronyms

There's a bunch of acronyms based on BL that all end in L. For reference, some examples:

ML

The term ML, pronounced emu-eru えむえる, stands for "Men's Love," menzu rabu メンズラブ. It's a sub-genre of BL with older adult characters. Both genres are targeted at fujoshi, i.e. fu-muke 腐向け.(dic.pixiv.net: メンズラブ)

Since BL stands for "Boys' Love," it has some youth implied in it. Although there isn't any actual age restriction for it to count as BL, in practice BL often features adult characters under 30, "young men," seinen 青年, or "underage boys," shounen 少年.

Mostly because they parody anime targeted at children, with a cast full of high school age characters.

GL

The term GL, pronounced jii-eru じーえる, stands for "Girls' Love," gaaruzu rabu ガールズラブ. This is a lesbian genre. The girl × girl counterpart of BL. In Japanese, it's synonymous with yuri 百合.(yuri-gl.com) In English, yuri refers to pornographic GL, and shoujo-ai to GL for general audiences.

NL

The term NL, pronounced enu-eru えぬえる, is the heterosexual variant of BL, with boy × girl ships. The acronym originally stood for "Normal Love," noomaru rabu ノーマルラブ, but since this sounds homophobic, some prefer the backronym "Nonke Love," nonke rabu ノンケラブ, instead.(dic.pixiv.net: NL)

The word nonke ノンケ is a LGBT slang for "straight." It comes from "not having a feeling [for homosexuality]," sono ki ga nai その気がない, i.e. "not feeling up for it." It's the word "non" plus ki 気, "feeling."

HL

The term HL, pronounced eichi eru えいちえる, stands for "Hetero Love," hetero rabu ヘテロラブ. This term is synonymous with NL.(dic.pixiv.net: HL)

BGL, GBL

The terms BGL and GBL stand for "Boy × Girl Love" and "Girl × Boy Love." They're synonymous with HL, NL.(dic.pixiv.net: HL)

Sometimes BG stands for Boy × Girl, other times it means Business Girl instead.

TL

The term TL, pronounced thii-eru てぃーえる, stands for "Teens' Love," thiinzu rabu ティーンズラブ. Confusingly, it's not the characters who are teens, but the audience: TL is pornography for women that targets the lower age range audience: eighteen, nineteen years old.(dic.pixiv.net: TL)

As such, it's like an adult version of shoujo manga. Instead of being about romance that goes on and on forever, it's more direct and goes straight to sexual relationships. It's not a homosexual genre like BL, GL. The protagonist is always female, and her love interest male, or sometimes trans.

OL

The term OL stands for Office Lady. It has nothing to do with BL.

Ookami 大上, Wolfgang, and Retsuko 烈子, example of a salaryman using a kabedon 壁ドン on an OL.
Left: Ookami 大上; Wolfgang
Right: Retsuko 烈子
Anime: Aggressive Retsuko, アグレッシブ烈子 (2016) (Episode 32)

References

9 comments:

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    5. Okay, I get it. I was stupid enough to think that we could have a dialogue, because despite your attitude, you seemed to have an argument, so I thought maybe there was worth replying and leaving your comments on the blog for others to read, but in the end it seems talking to you two was nothing more than a massive waste of time.

      I don't get many comments you see, I don't know how to deal with people such as you, no experience being a moderator. Lesson learned. Henceforth I'll make it a policy to delete comments such as these. Your words are still welcome so long as they aren't loaded with assumptions and insinuations.

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    6. Chill, dude. I've read most of your comments and reply before it gets deleted, and I couldn't help but agree with the blog-administrartor, seriously. If you've been on Japanese community; talking, interacting directly or simply with twitter (most Japanese prefer Twitter over any other social media, why I assume since it boasts writing over showing off pictures of yourself, Japanese people aren't really keen on sharing such privileged informations online), you'd know that Japanese people are hard to read. Everything about them are subtle; their manners of speaking, behaving, etc, etc. I once accidentally forgot to turn off flash when I took picture in Japan's train, but nobody batted an eye (they did glance at me with that weird look, tho) while I was dying of embarassment (because I know they're actually annoyed by some weird foreigners using too much color on rainy day taking picture in the train which might accidentally have their face in it and that's a huge privacy violation). As I said above, nobody batted eye for my behavior, but it's common sense for them not to be stand out, unlike westerners, or even my country (which is in southeast Asia). My point is, since Japanese are very subtle in every aspects of their life, you can't actually say this is this and that is that, since things works exclusively. You can't help but assume a lot of things since they won't say it straight to your face when you do things wrong or even right. I've been on twitter's community for certain NL pairing I like and they strictly don't allow R-18 contents there (unless posted in other platform such as pixiv, but that's different story by then), so when I once posted an R-15, I don't get retweeted, but there're much likes from other members. One time, when one other senior member posted and R-15, theh got retweetd and I was like, WHAT? What did I do wrong then? Mine was also R-15, why don't I get retweeted? And blah, blah, but of course I didn't ask, that'd be questioning their authority and they knew I was foreigner, so I don't want to dampen our shaky relations by doing that. Same goes for BL/NL/GL or even Gay standards, you can't actually define them just by the term itself, you'll have to see for yourself (the blog admid did say that it's a mess, yes it is. Should've see it for yourself). One thing that keep me bugged is when I shop from Surugaya (secondhand online store (there're offline store too, tho)), they marked NL stuffs as BL (yes, as in Boy's love), added with 'josei muke' (intended for female audiences) tag. Why they did that is still a wonder, maybe because they thought BL and NL are both intended for women, so they kept them as one since NL fan-stuff aren't that much to begin with (No, I'm not kidding.

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    7. (No, I'm not kidding. Toranoana only has small corners in every anime section in their BL (YAOI)-filled store callled Toranoana josei- muke and on every occasions I go there, there isn't a single male customers (there're male staffs, tho), guess why). On the other side of Tokyo, in other Toranoana store filled with moe-stuffs and even hardcore Yuri, there isn't any female customers, seriously, not even the staffs (I went there several times, and there isn't any, maybe there're others on any other occasion, IDK) and I was like, uh, I guess I just ask the staff to grab what I want and scram). In Osaka tho, Toranoana isn't exclusive like in Tokyo, but seriously, you can't see a girl in moe-section, or boys in BL/Yaoi-section, just like that. Japan has a lot of unspoken rules that only God knows how and when they're being told to other, but I think it's the Japanese habit of conformity that keep them in line with said unspoken rule (they tend not to go against the crowd and not stand out in public, that's just ASSUMPTION, tho, I'm still a foreigner living along them after all :p). I know such system might sound bizzare to you, westerners or any other country that isn't Japan, but that's just how things works there and it's been like that for centuries. You'll get used to it when you live with them for so long. If you do, by any chance , found a Japanese that doesn't fit any of the stereotype I said above, that's like finding a needle in a haystack; almost impossible, but still the tiniest bit possible. Good day for you, and cheers :)

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  2. Most of this comes off as a rant. I can tell that some things that were said in this post have not been researched. It comes off as an outsider propogating hearsay folktales about fujoshi. The term wasn't even properly defined. It originated as a term of ridicule, just like the term "yaoi". I think it is extremely important to keep in mind the sexual bastardization and abuse of women in Japan, to keep in mind *WHY* BL became a thing in the first place.

    I don't like people fear-mongering a fandom, especially when queer females and men (even straight men) enjoy BL. It is a sub-genre of Josei, and can be compared to the American obsession with vampires, bad boys, and other steamy romances. The non-female-ness of the characters is a form of liberation. The homophobia in the fandom stems from ignorance, and has been, from what I've seen, mostly perpetrated by young teens. Aside from that, Japan has never really been the best with sex education, nor has it been the best with women's rights. It is a different world.

    That said, women in America have also been shown all the time that if they are not beautiful, thin, sexual, so on, they are not worth it. There is a reason that women tend to gravitate towards media where the cutesy, hyper-fem, or super tomboyish woman has nothing to do with it. BL mostly has nothing to do with actual people, because they are just stories. Most people into the genre can most likely attest to the fact that the characters are just androgynous, beautiful, boobless women, with dicks.

    That aside, I believe that a lot of BL (Korean) webtoon artists ARE male, and those works do tend to be more accurate (sex education wise, etc.). I would like to say that I am a firm believer that fiction should stay fiction.

    I am queer, myself, and have NEVER expected *fantasy* to portray me perfectly. It is the responsibility of the consumer of said media to not act a damn fool. In simple terms. Believing that a cartoon needs to perfectly describe the queer experience... That is a lot of responsibility for someone who is probably getting groped on the train and not provided certain contraception options, outside of condoms/ abortions. That is just an extreme example, but still.

    I like the information you provide on your blog, but "fujoshi" and "fangirls" get a bad rep bc of misinformation. I have consumed BL for a looooong time, and never thought people being rude to others for the sake of a doodle was sensical. I honestly don't think that, logically, people actually believe that there are hordes of people (in their right minds) going around recreating the "yaoi paddle" incident. Also, people aren't really calling out "yuri" fans (himedanshi), probably because lesbians have just (at large, it seems) let go of the fact that dudes like straight girls getting it on w/ each other. Wait.
    -s

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