Comics / Manga Reviews / Yaoi Manga

Are Yaoi Manga The Future of Gay Comics?

By Hervé St-Louis
Jul 11, 2008 - 23:40

A few years ago, one could not go a message boards without reading about gay comic book readers asking for comic book publishers to provide them with more representation in their comic books. The process was quite similar to the process of affirmation of blacks and women in comic books and other sectors of life. A few years back, specialized comic book publishers importing and translating material from Japanese mangas seem to have come to the rescue of gay comic book readers. But are yaoi mangas really what gay North American comic book readers have been asking for?


Two things were demanded from the message boards I used to follow. One was more representation of gay characters in comic books. For example, there were lots of lists and petitions about revealing that some characters were homosexuals. Often, these would become speculations and of course run into trouble with other readers who did not want to see specific comic book characters suddenly ousted. For example, on the message boards of comic book publisher, DC Comics, there was a lot of discussions about what character were gay or not. In the Justice Society of America, for example, the names of Sand and the Golden Age Doctor Mid-nite were often named by posters as characters with gay features that gay comic book readers recognized. One must remember that such speculations were limited to the readers and forum participants and often not something comic book publishers and their staff engaged in publicly.

In response to those demands, comic book publishers such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics have revealed that many of their characters were gays. Most revelations did not come from established characters but new ones introduced or new versions of characters created for alternative universes. For example, the revised Batwoman has been revealed as a lesbian character. Similarly, the Ultimate version of the X-Men Colossus, created for the Ultimate imprint of comic book publisher Marvel Comics, has been revealed as a gay.


This process was similar to the way more women and ethnic minorities have been introduced previously. For example, often, newer versions of super heroes often tend to be women or members of visual and ethnic minorities such as blacks, Latinos and Asians. For the Ultimate Universe, both Nick Fury and the Avengers' Wasp appeared in the Ultimate imprint as a black man and an Asian woman. The fourth Blue Beetle character is now a Latino kid. The new Question is a woman and a lesbian instead of a heterosexual man.

But the second thing that gay comic book readers seem to have been asking is more portrayal of homosexual lives in the comic books they read. While there has always been comic books that have portrayed the various lives and sexual orientations of characters, like Stranger in Paradise, and specifically gay material, like Stuck Rubber Baby, the average comic book, even when portraying gays, has stayed far away from showing details of gay lives beyond brief kisses and hugs. Just by doing a random search on Google, one can see that there are some gay comic books which are clearly of pornographic nature, that seem to find an audience but are not publicized in the same circuits as most North American comic books. Is their audience the same that has asked for more portrayal of gays in their comic books or just people looking for pornography?

Ultimate Colossus

The answer is simple. People looking for pornography are looking for pornography. But people who read comic books are more interested about comic books that go beyond pornography. They want the experience and perhaps some brief tantalizing moments, but if they seek, more, they will not expect to find it in their regular comic books.

While this makes sense from a logical perspective, yaoi mangas throw that thinking off. First, yaois are branded as comic books about men in romantic situations read primarily by a female audience, at least in Japan. The extent to which women read yaois outside Japan, compared to gays, is unknown to me.


I’ve never read a yaoi comic book, but it seems that they are equally Harlequin-like romance and soft porn from the reviews Comic Book Bin editor, Leroy Douresseau writes. If this is true, they do incorporate the life experience aspects of gays that so many readers seek with a good dose of sex. Could this be a winning formula that best satisfies the needs of many gay readers?

But if yaois fulfil the needs of gay comic book readers in North America, does that mean that North American comic books, whether written for a gay audience or not are failing to reach this target market? The only answer to this question of course, is to look at precedent from other groups that have demanded comic books closer to their realities, like women and various ethnic groups, such as blacks. For one thing, there clearly is not a body of work in North American comic books written specifically for women. For ethnic groups, such as Arabs, blacks and Latinos, there have been more specific efforts to publish material of interest to these markets with mixed successes.


Within established comic book series, there has also been more places given to female and ethnic characters, but just like homosexuals, there has not been specific and detailed exploration of what it means to be a Latino or a woman in most works. Still, one could not say that the portrayal of women and blacks and other groups have been lacking or poor. Specific elements related to characters’ origins are integrated in the main narrative more as a back story than the ground for a detailed exploration on the condition of the subject.

What this suggests, is that with time, the back story of gay characters will play more prominent roles in larger stories, just like it has happened with women and ethnic characters. But for readers who desire more outright gay storytelling, yaois and gay pornographic material will probably fulfil specific needs not addressed in other comic books published for a more heterogeneous readership.

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2015 - 11:46

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I really enjoyed reading your article, but you shouldn't have mentioned that you never read Yaoi before (since your article is about Yaoi). You said you read the Yaoi reviews, but I think you should read a couple Yaoi mangas, too.

As for being the answer to what gay fans have always wanted, I have mixed reactions about Yaoi. On the one hand, it's great for a lot of homosexual material to be published. On the other hand, just how real are the gay relationships being represented in these mangas? Yaoi is primarily read by women for a reason, because it's about the romantic qualities rather than the realistic qualities. In most Yaoi, the male characters take on either a female (uke), or a male (seme) role. These are all stories from a straight female's perspective, not a gay man's.
#1 - Oliver - 07/12/2008 - 09:47
I'm sorry, but if you've never read any yaoi, your opinions about it really don't count for much. This analysis is really no better informed than all the western-comics fanboys who dismiss manga as a whole without reading any of it, basing their opinions on what they've heard or read about it. That's prejudging.

As it turns out, yaoi - like manga in general - can't all be painted with the same brush. Much of it does consist of unrealistic Harlequin romances with the genders reassigned, but some of it really is - in this gay man's opinion - good "gay comics". Try doing a little research.
#2 - Todd VerBeek - 07/14/2008 - 06:31
I have done my research. There's three types of research. One using primary sources, one using secondary sources and meta analysis, using other researches. What you are suggesting is that without primary research, that my analysis is useless. I disagree with that. If that were true, much of the research in the world would be deemed useless too.

Also, this article was not about the literary structure of yaois. It was about how they relate to North American gay comics and readers.

Having said that, both you and Oliver bring up some valuable first person experiences which are interesting because although both of you are gay, your opinions are different.
#3 - Hervé St-Louis - 07/14/2008 - 07:07
I know there are a few gay men (and straight and bi) who like yaoi, since I run a community devoted to a yaoi series. They're a silent minority though, 5% at most. Polls at sites like aarinfantasy (a huge general yaoi BBS) gives about the same percentages.

I think it's important for publishers to realize that the prevalence of yaoi manga shouldn't mean the niche is being filled, but rather there's a lot of room for different sexualities in graphic novels and money to be made from it. The more the merrier. :)

Yaoi men are female fantasies and as such have no need to behave realistically, though of course some do. But there are a lot of prose MxM readers out there (female and male) that I talk to who want realistic gay manga and wouldn't touch yaoi if they were paid to.
#4 - Jan - 07/14/2008 - 11:46
As a gay man who reads yaoi... answer is no, yaoi is not for gay men. My (oversimplified) explanation is that yaoi is heterosexual romance that attempts to take gender inequality out of the equation. You'll notice that, for the most part, an uke (bottom) will often have characteristics that are traditionally associated with women, and often appear very feminine, and I suspect that most women identify with the uke. The idea is that, when the uke submits to the seme (top), it's a choice made out of love or desire, not a cultural imperative.

Gay men (in Japan and otherwise) tend not to go for yaoi because of the femininity of the uke. It's just not sexy. That's a gross generalization of course, but if you look at the icons of gay desire, they tend born out of exaggerated masculinity (Tom of Finland). Ukes tend to be so feminine that it's hard for a gay man to identify with them--it's actually much easier to identify with a woman.

I do love to read yaoi. It's a fascinating genre, and I think that it will have a significant influence on the romance genre in general. But most of it does not turn me on, and I don't go to it for that. (There are exceptions, such as Under Grand Hotel and some Akira Honma titles...)

As for looking for gay characters in comics, I'll continue to read between the lines in superhero comics and hope we'll get a male version of Ariel Schrag or Alison Bechdel. Or I'll just go jerk off to Tom of Finland.
#5 - Daniel - 07/14/2008 - 21:28
I, personally, LOVE to read yaoi. Yes, I am a girl, but, I have best friend whom is a gay guy and he LOVES yaoi just as much as I do. I mean, we share books. I never knew batwoman was a lesbian. That is so cool. She's hott.
I wonder if there are any gay women comic books?
#6 - Dannie - 07/15/2008 - 02:41
Lesbian characters...
You should check out bubblegum.gayleaguebubblegum - they got an extensive list of all lesbian and gay comicbook characters.
#7 - Andi - 07/27/2008 - 08:04
Yaoi is for women
Hi, Just to mention to you if you didn't know, Yaoi is made for women by women. The concept is to have two attractive men in a situation where drama and love can blossom. It's not meant to be controversal, just a romance story. It can't really be compared to gay comics. Also how can you say that gays aren't being shown in comic, have you read authority? Yes we need to see them doing more then just kissing, but it's still hot! Comics aren't ment to be romance, it's about action! Adventure! Oh and in case you were wondering, I didn't read your full article. If your gonna make a judgement call without doing your research and read an actual yaoi manga, then i'm not gonna do anymore then glance at your drabble. I've been reading yaoi since the first comic came to america, Fake. Thanks and hope you learn something from this.
#8 - India Jackson - 07/31/2008 - 20:17
You didn't read the full article?
The attitude that yaoi are made for women just for women is not something I subscribe to.

Once a creator creates a piece of fiction, like a comic book, it's up to the readers who pick the book to make the call as to whether the book is suitable for their needs.

Once it's released, the piece of fiction is out there - it's free to be read or not by anyone, gay, or straight, female or male.

Sure, from a marketing angle, comics are often made for specific audiences, but I find this attitude about "by women for women" reclusive.

By the same token, the fact that I have never read a yaoi comic book, doesn't mean I can't talk about them. My question to all who keep bringing up the point that I haven't read any yaois is - how many do I need to read, before I have the "right" to write about them?
#9 - Hervé St-Louis - 07/31/2008 - 21:24
A really good question and I think what Daniel #5 said was interesting also...
#10 - Sarah - 08/02/2008 - 16:06
Gay comics in Japan
I think Yaoi is different from gay comic.
#11 - Tom - 11/11/2008 - 02:40
Some thoughts on yaoi
Who yaoi is "for" aside, it is certainly -targeted at- women and predominantly made by women, and my experience, having read it for some time, does bear out the idea that yaoi is largely meant to be romance stripped of the threatening aspects of culturally prescribed gender roles. Whether or not that makes it a desirable read for gay men is a whole separate question, and one I can only answer with these two comments (not being a gay man myself):

-I have read in several places that a separate genre of manga exists that is targeted at gay men. I have never seen such "gay manga" myself, but I would not be surprised if its imagery was more similar to that of Western gay comics and illustration - more Tom of Finland-ish, in short.

-My experience, like that of the above poster, has been that gay men make up a very small minority of the Western yaoi readers I encounter at conventions and other events and on the Internet. Those who do profess interest in yaoi often seem to be guys who are either femme, like guys who are femme, or both. This is consistent with the portrayal of men in yaoi, which is often so femme that unfamiliar readers will mistake male characters as being female.

One further comment:
The use of homosexuality as a romantic comfort mechanism, and fag-haggery towards androgynous gay men and men who regardless of their orientation "read" as gay, is very common in Japanese culture, especially among younger women and girls. Many male pop idols - Gackt is the most prominent example - are quite androgynous, and project self-images that flirt with homosexuality (regardless, again, of their actual orientation). Witness the visual kei genre of Japanese rock, for example, in which androgynous band members wear elaborate, dark, femme costumes which draw on goth, heavy metal, traditional Japanese and Christian mythology, anime and manga, and grotesquery in general. The band members are idolized in much the same way as pop idols or yaoi characters, have their own fandoms, and just like yaoi characters are sometimes mistaken for women. Sometimes, indeed, they dress exactly like women - Toshiya and Shinya from Dir en grey and Mana from Moi dix Mois (ex Malice Mizer) for example - but they are almost invariably male.

None of this is to say that yaoi is or is not "good comics;" like any genre, it contains examples ranging from the sublime to the hideously cliched. One of my favorite comics artists, the fabulous Takaya Miou, elevates her mix of yaoi, general androgyny, mythology, eroticism, circus freaks and flower petals to the level of poetry. It quite simply has to be seen to be believed.

My experience as a transgender/genderqueer woman and androgynous individual has been that yaoi reading produces young fans who are highly sympathetic to, but not necessarily well-informed about, androgyny, gender deviancy, homosexuality and kinkiness. At conventions, I have often encountered young female yaoi fans who adore me for being tall, dramatically dressed, fluttery and gender-ambiguous, but make assumptions about how I would like to be regarded that would be downright offensive if I thought they knew better.
#12 - Anja Flower - 01/05/2009 - 22:22
i dont even care
hey, it's okay that you've never read yaoi're not missing out...
the problem is...lets face it, a lot of yaoi, well, most WEAK! i dont know what it is, just because the story involves gay men it's -okay- for the art/story to be weak?! I mean, come on, COME ON!
Infact, i was reading some yaoi tonight, and i said to myself, 'this sucks!'
the key make the characters(and the story) badass. then that way even straight guys wont notice the characters gayness. i know this, ofcourse because, i live with my brothers. they watch an anime, exclaiming how 'awesome' the main character is...totally oblivious to the fact that he's impartial towards women(or will look but never persue), but instead has a best friend or 'fighting' partner who's a man or even their enemy. i always ask them, 'you know he's gay right?'...they get upset...heh.
buuut anyway...i cant tell if this is even on the subject precisely(to tell you the truth, i dont really care)..i think i strayed, due to the beer-ness. i guess what i really want to know is...are any of you artists at all. if you were, you could better grasp the situation. i'll repeat myself, as an artist...most yaoi sucks big...well you know...but i'm workin on it.

#13 - lucifer severous - 02/17/2009 - 06:23
sad, but i really agree w/ u on alot of parts. they really always n d end ends up in bed and calls it "love".even when the story is so against it dat it doesn't makes since anymore. however, i can't say i hate it although sometimes it ticks me off, some of the titles r decent *_*
#14 - pk - 03/24/2009 - 15:29
unknown to americans?
YAOI seems to be very popular with young teen girls. some 14 year old girls cannot get enough comics where men have sex with eachother
#15 - Ku - 06/18/2010 - 09:39
Yaoi vs. Bara
I was very intrigued by this article, as I have recently become very interested in the portrayal of homosexuality in manga. It is a relatively new subject for me, so please correct me if I am off, but I believe there is a general distinction between yaoi (target at a female audience) and bara (targeted at gay male audience). This is not to say that cross-over does not exist, but that these are the general distinctions made both by the publishing industry and the mangaka themselves.

One thing that I have noticed repeatedly of late is the prevalence of critical comments towards the way yaoi presents gays and gay lifestyle in general. Often times the plots involve men who profess to be straight but just can't resist the charms of one male in particular. Or, in other cases, the characters are relatively open about their sexuality yet the gay community is portrayed in a very superficial, sexually promiscuous light that tends to support rather than dispel homophobic stereotypes. These are criticisms that I have mostly read in academic articles, and I was wondering what others might think about these claims about yaoi portrayal of gays?

For myself, I have mixed views. I have only read a handful of yaoi at this point but I have found instances both to support the above criticisms and to counter them. This is obviously a complicated topic without any one answer, but what do you think?
#16 - Andrea - 10/28/2010 - 12:55
Hi Andrea. Never heard of bara before, so I can't tell how different they are. What I will say is that it seems that for some gay readers, yaoi, due to its availability has become the de facto outlet for gay comic book literature.
#17 - Herve St-Louis - 10/29/2010 - 07:35
There is space for Yaoi, Bara and Gay comics...
I've read quite a bit of gay Japanese comics, and have to admit that I don't find Yaoi all that appealing. In a way, they fall in the same category as Miles and Boon romantic novels, which are mostly read by women and fishermen (yes, fishermen...I don't know why, but they are). Light and fluffy, and very feminine.

Bara manga is much more interesting to gay men, and fortunately some of these have been translated into English. Though, Bara tend to be quite sexual, so I think there is still plenty of space for comics like Stuck Rubber Baby, that deal with real life situations of gay men in a more realistic way. In fact, I kind of work in that area myself, with my comics over at bubblegum:bubblegumqueertalesbubblegum

That said, the variety of Manga available is very great, and you can find gay characters in places you wouldn't expect. For instance, one of my favorite comics, M.W., by the grandfather of Japanese Manga, Osamu Tezuka, has both a cross-dresser and a homosexual (even though they happen to be the bad guys...sigh).
#18 - Ragnar - 08/12/2011 - 17:52
What's with the bubblegum....
That link should have been queertales (dot) com

Completely relevant in this discussion, but got replaced with bubblegum. :-P
#19 - Ragnar - 08/12/2011 - 17:53

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