What is Yaoi?

What is this yaoi thing anyway?  We begin with an overview.

The Yaoi Section!
The yaoi manga section. Though these are in Japanese, there are plenty in English too.

Yaoi, or boys love, is a sub-genre of manga (Japanese comic book) that features guy-on-guy action and romance.  And when I say guy-on-guy action, I mean sex.  Yaoi manga was originally written for women by women but we are now seeing all kinds of people of various orientations enjoying yaoi. Manga featuring girl-on-girl action and romance is called yuri.

This website features yaoi fiction, that is, a story but no comic book style images.  These kind of images are found in manga, of course, but also in many yaoi webcomics. A few favorites:  Teahouse by Emirain, Starfighter by HamletMachine, and Artifice and The Young Protectors by Alex Woolfson.

There are different varieties of yaoi ranging from yearning and longing between two men but no touching to making out but no sex to full on pornographic sex. Yaoi usually refers to stories featuring sex between two men that may or may not be explicit. Anything leading up to that (longing and yearning to just making out but no sex) we sometimes call shonen-ai but most of the time we lump everything under the yaoi umbrella.

Yaoi is all about fantasy. The men are very idealized, of course, and certain conventions are followed.

First, the pairings.  In each story there’s the seme and the uke. The seme corresponds to the “top” and the uke corresponds to the “bottom” in the relationship.  Seme and uke are terms from martial arts. Seme roughly translates to “the attacker” and uke roughly translates to “the catcher.” We denote a pairing with an “x” between the names, as in semexuke. The seme is always first.

The seme is usually taller, often has shorter hair, larger build, and narrower eyes. The uke is usually shorter, sometimes has longer hair, a smaller build, and has large eyes (those lovely anime eyes).  Of course, I’ve read stories where this isn’t true but many stories follow these conventions.

The seme is usually less emotional, can sometimes be cold, even cruel, but is also very protective and possessive.  He is almost always the pursuer.  Most ukes are emotional and can be difficult to deal with. The uke is always resisting the seme which provides good push-pull in the stories.

Seme and uke are merely common conventions. There are plenty stories which don’t follow these conventions or turn these ideas on their head.

The Sex. Because the uke is usually resisting, the sex can veer into dubious consent (we call it dub-con) which refers to forcible seduction or non-consensual (we call it non-con) which is another term for rape. People have differing opinions about these tropes. There are plenty of people don’t have a problem with it and people who will only read stories which feature clearly consensual sex.

Many yaoi stories are angsty. The goal of the story is to bring our couple together and getting there can be an emotional roller coaster ride.

Lest you think yaoi is full of dark, sado-masochistic storylines, nothing can be further from the truth. While it’s true that some stories are dark, many are light and funny. Yaoi can range from pure fluff to just plain porn to funny stories/dark stories with great character development and complex plots.

We hope this explanation was able to shed some light on yaoi. Thanks for reading.