Defining Genre Within Anime: Yaoi, Boys Love, and Shonen-ai

While many anime fans out there may have a passing knowledge with the term Yaoi. More and more there seems to be somewhat of a confusion over what the term really means which leads to a big misconception. Did you think Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was yaoi? Well, let me say your wrong or at the very least have been led astray by friends or information out on the web over the series.

Looking around to find the distinctions around there seems to be a very real mix between those in the fandom be it anime or manga with regards to Yaoi, Boys Love (BL), and Shonen-ai. Still despite that came up with a neat classification that manages to bridge the differing terms probably as neatly as possible.

Research went something like this….it took a while to sort a lot of the content and what others agreed from reading notes 

Yaoi: It is hardcore romance between two guys in anime or manga. Yaoi usually has those two male characters acting on their romantic feelings in full. More of in a sexual nature.

Boys Love (BL): Boys Love encompasses the genre as a whole: Yaoi or Shonen-ai. Boys Love is basically suggestive or implied but not in reality romance between 2 guys or even anything on which is actually acted on. Sometimes it can also just be really close relationships between guys as in strong bonds but not in any gay| -I hate the way this sounds kind of negative/deragotary, so I will say in an amorous way. Boys Love is almost a gateway in a way it seems. While it is not certifying anything at all the way a series portrays things could lead one to believe something is going on. Boys Love then appears to be weakest within the guy on guy genre but still the favorite of female anime fans looking for guy on guy romance since its suggestive but never actually acted on nor is it ever too consuming. Think bromance. Makes sense: bromance=guys with close bonds.

*Seriously gay is such a negative word. It doesn’t sound nice at all. I mean people are just people. So men can love men. It is as simple as that. So from now on when blogging will abstain from using annoying labels. After all, whoever, invented this word likely did it on purpose. For shame!*

Shonen-ai: From various sources there seems to be a real consensus or connections that shonen-ai is just a softer version of yaoi. Soft yaoi=Shonen-ai. It is softer becuase it relies on an actual plot and no actual existing sexual relationship between two guys. It basically keeps things between guys on platonic romantic levels and the characters involved usually assert they might have feelings for one another. Still since it is considered a softer version it stands to reason a sexual nature in a relationship might pop-up but with existing romantic emotional feelings involved as well. The term is being less and less used apparently, so Yaoi and Boys Love seems to be more on most anime fans’ radar than Shonen-ai.

The distinctions that came too with the existing three terms required me to borrow pre-existing ideas and try to come to the best usage and definition from various sources. With the guidelines established it was easy now to see that many people may be wrong to many of the references they were making to an anime series.

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club then should not at all be labeled as yaoi. That’s right some of you out there might have had it all wrong and now may have passed it on and now some people have the wrong idea of the series. In Free! there is never sexual anything going on between the characters, ever. If you were put off from seeing Free! before because of this then you may want to consider watching and judging for yourself. Yeah, anime recommendations are good to point you to watching anime but sometimes you should make your own decision since we are all different and thus me might like something which another anime fan happens to hate.

Another title that comes to mind is Black Butler. It is not yaoi either. Maybe and I say maybe boys love but it is a wrong to say so because for any who have watched the series the characters are always serious and if anything the blame should be in the created setting and characters created situations. All this leads some enthusiastic female fans of the series to pair Ciel and Sebastian and as some of you have guessed out on the web there is a lot of actual yaoi material but set apart from the series. It is all fan generated. No connection at all to the original creators to the franchise.

So, Free! (merely friendships |FREE! – IWATOBI SWIM CLUB (2013) ANIME SERIES REVIEW) and Black Butler (merely demon contracts) even possibly fitting into these categories actually is preposterous. At best it would be boys love but only because female anime fans into guy on guy pairing have gigantic imaginations! Not that it is exactly bad. It just causes a bit of confusion when the genre is involved and in anime this is very important especially if you’re trying out a series expecting a certain genre demographic.

Other anime series also in risk of mix-up: Karneval (Boys Love hints but hard to officially say), Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist (shonen-ai from what saw in the anime series. Definitely have to be honest some major shounen-ai vibes)

By the way, recently edited my Summer 2014 Anime Preview- Of Interest. Love Stage!! had written off as boys love (BL) for the genre but on closer inspection the story premise suggests there is real love between two guys who are the main characters, so obviously its yaoi or shonen-ai and not merely BL. Anime News Network pins it as yaoi. There might be some hardcore stuff when the series begins airing then but still too early to say.

UPDATE: Love Stage!! is more shonen-ai than yaoi. Still shonen-ai/yaoi=Boys Love. This is a series have also just completed a full series review on the blog. You can now take a look at the review.

Sources

1. Shonen-ai-Urban Dictionary

2. Shonen-ai-Anime News Network

3. Differences between Yaoi, Shonen-ai, and Boys Love-Yahoo Answers Community

LAST UPDATED: March 17. 2015

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3 thoughts on “Defining Genre Within Anime: Yaoi, Boys Love, and Shonen-ai

  1. Pingback: Amazon.com (US) Anime Deals-Karneval: Complete Series Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo | The Huge Anime Fan

  2. From my experience, boys love and shonen-ai are basically the same thing. Japan uses the term Boys Love to describe basically anything that features maleXmale but it is different from Yaoi in that there is no explicit sex. Because what it comes down to is that Yaoi is hentai but with guys. Yaoi is always sexually explicit while shonen-ai/boys love is not. People in America use these terms interchangeably even though they aren’t meant to be.

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    • Good observations! Yeah. Shonen-ai and Boys Love as even I see more and more could be used interchangeably. Boys Love encompasses the genre as a whole. Though I like to differentiate with Shonen-ai as a softer version over Yaoi being the hardcore version. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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