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What is Yaoi? - Yaoi History from Boys Love Universe

If you’re here thinking Yaoi is just about spicy romance, melodramatic story arcs, weird sex scenes or just raunchy kinks think again. And if you're one of those who casually throws around "BL" without understanding its profound weight - brace yourself. We’re about to dissect a cultural behemoth that's far more significant than its surface might suggest. And if you throw around the stigma for Yaoi then please don't even bother reading further. Note that this will be more serious than my usual articles since I'm passionate about the subject of "teaching" about Yaoi.


Decades ago, the emergence of Yaoi, or Boys Love (BL), marked a rebellious undertone in the realm of Japanese literature and art. It began modestly, as an avenue for fan-made content exploring male-male relationships, often created by women for women and gay men. Works like "Kaze to Ki no Uta" and "June" were some of the few, offering an exploration of love and intimacy set against societal prejudice. Yaoi was more underground back then, but if you knew you knew. There were hardly any loud fans out there as there are today, and most people had to keep quiet over loving Yaoi, afraid of judgement or worse violence.


As the calendar pages flipped and we transitioned from one decade to another, Yaoi's story became even more intriguing. Series like "Junjou Romantica" and "Sekaiichi Hatsukoi" were hallmarks in Yaoi storytelling. It was a manga many discussed at regular cons and a Yaoi that became a "starter BL" for many. These stories explored power dynamics, age disparities, professional conflicts, and the oft-controversial realm of consent. It wasn't just about who was seme (dominant) or uke (submissive). The dynamics went deeper, delving into psychological elements that often got readers to analyze characters' relationships like they would in Shounen or Shojo manga. Yaoi was somewhat normalized at this time with many knowing what the "Yaoi paddle" meant. AMVs came out, and watching Yaoi fan-subbed by AarinFantasy was our only Yaoi source.


Now, it would be naive not to acknowledge the pitfalls that sometimes plagued the world of Yaoi. The portrayal of consent, in particular, has often been an issue. In many, many older Yaoi stories. Some stories, in their bid to be edgy or raw, occasionally crossed boundaries, romanticizing toxic relationships or dubious consent. We will never and I mean never discuss Boku no Pico here and if you have not been cursed to watch that Yaoi I beg of you to please turn away and erase that from your memory now. These criticisms are valid and honestly a right to be so. Some Yaoi is just fucked up.



Dear Monster Y Press Games
"Dear Monster" from Y Press Games


Then, the digital revolution erupted, transforming how we consumed media and how stories were shared. Yaoi, no longer confined to Japan, found itself on a global stage. Platforms like Lezhin in Korea and the explosion of webcomics internationally meant that Yaoi had transcended borders. Works like "Killing Stalking" shook the global audience, inviting people into its raw storytelling and criticism for its arguably problematic themes. And it is problematic which is why Yaoi has a bad rep for very abusive storylines.


Economically, platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Gumroad democratized Yaoi creation. The domain wasn't just reserved for heavyweight studios or established authors. Independent creators, armed with fresh perspectives, entered the fray. Companies like BLits Games with "Camp Buddy" and "Jock Studio" have made that impact known, along with Y Press Games, Ertal Games, MeYaoi and so many others. They had the freedom to explore deeper issues, or even telling stories that portray everyday life, fantasy, monsters and even self-discovery, often pushing boundaries further than their mainstream counterparts.



Camp Buddy: Scoutmasters' Season
Camp Buddy: Scoutmasters' Season Gameplay


Look at the modern landscape of Yaoi, and you'll realize its evolution. Today, Yaoi doesn't limit itself to traditional gay stories. The genre is embracing the vast spectrum of LGBTQIA+ representation, integrating narratives of trans characters, non-binary relationships, and more. One Yaoi that is my all-time favorite for many reasons is "Given". It's not just a story of music intertwined with love; it's a tale of grief, healing, self-discovery, and above all, the relentless pursuit of identity.



Camp Buddy
"Camp Buddy" Visual Novel


Foreseeing the future of Yaoi, the horizon looks promising. With the global focus on Yaoi, the responsibility on creators has multiplied. Future tales aren't expected to be mere yarns of romance or drama. Take a personal project "I Married a Monster on a Hill", a Yaoi heavily focused story on marriage and "after stories" rather than the chase. The visual novels will focus on intimate scenes and routes, along with dates and including both SFW and NSFW works. But the story heavily focuses on married couples and their lives.


"I Married a Monster on a Hill"
"I Married a Monster on a Hill" Nate and Conrad


Summing up this deep dive into Yaoi, it becomes evident that it’s more than just an escapist fantasy or a horny kink. For someone like me, having seen Yaoi's metamorphosis over two decades, has been exciting. Lots of work to still be done, as Yaoi is far more pushed aside than Yuri or Hentai, but we're getting there.


At Boys Love Universe we cherish the art and stories of Yaoi. We aren’t just fans of the genre our goal is to rid of the stigma against Yaoi, and shine a bright future on creators. And trust me, the journey, with all its highs and lows, is worth every damn moment. Keep the Yaoi coming!

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