Gay Manga: More Than Just Pretty Buttholes

Trigger Warning: This article includes a discussion on the topic of rape and sexual violence


A gruff, cigarette smoking detective meets up with a young, muscular stud. They trade a few words and get right down to business. This detective has a murder to solve, and there’s only one way for him to do it. This detective gets visions, crucial clues to terrible crimes, but only when he gets fucked in the ass.
 

If you’re on the internet, you’ve probably seen it. Maybe you saw a big, beefy guy illustrated on a sweatshirt worn by someone you follow on Instagram. Maybe you were browsing some sexy pinups of Street Fighter’s Zangief on DeviantArt. Maybe you stumbled onto a message board with some roughly translated scanlations of muscle daddies fucking aggressively.

Manga, Japanese comics, is a huge industry, both in Japan and internationally. In the West, manga has been growing and flourishing for the past two decades, thanks to publishers like Viz, Kodansha, and Tokyopop. Many of us are familiar with some of the most popular manga series (which have subsequently been turned into anime), such as Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and Naruto. Manga is often targeted specifically toward boys or girls, but is meant for all ages, encompassing action, science fiction, and romance. On the outside borders of mainstream manga lies a niche of erotic content, including erotic manga catering to tons of different audiences: straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender. While each genre deserves its own in-depth exploration, this article’s focus is on male homoerotic or boy love (BL) content.

To start understanding BL manga, we should start with some terminology.
 

YAOI

Yaoi is the sub-genre of BL that is probably most available in the West. Featuring tall, thin, feminine men, yaoi typically depicts male/male love in a very tender, romantic way, with clear masculine and feminine and top/bottom (seme/uke)1 roles. For example, Kazuma Kodaka’s Kizuna follows childhood loves Ranmaru and Kei as they navigate college life together. It’s heavy on romance, there’s a lot of kissing, and tons of drama. Yaoi often reads like a soap opera. But while many gay men are consumers of yaoi, it isn’t usually actually meant for gay men; yaoi is erotica created primarily by women and for the female market.

 

BARA

When we talk about BL for gay men in the West, we’re most familiar with the term bara, which refers to gay manga created by men and for men, featuring hyper-masculine characters. Despite the term’s popularity outside of Japan, it’s actually not used in Japanese culture. Bara is slang, a gay slur most closely associated with “pansy.” In fact, the translation of bara is “rose.”2 Though it’s not uncommon to try and reclaim words of hate and negativity (Wussy itself being an example of that reclamation), that’s not what they intended. In fact, many mangaka (manga creators) would prefer we not use the term at all.

So where did the term bara come from? Most likely it originated from Bara-Komi (Rose Comics), an early publication featuring BL manga.3 Since these were somewhat niche publications, they typically only ended up in Western hands via the Internet, through the medium of pirated pages with poor translation and no context, save for the word bara popping up now and then. And since bara sounds like bear, which is the Western equivalent to the body types often depicted in the content, we end up with a brand new name for a genre of manga, that is disparaging to the creators, the content, and the consumer.

 

GEI

Instead of bara, it may be best to categorize gay content created by gay men and for gay men as gei (gay) manga.4 Gei manga isn’t always about bears and chubs and daddies, but it often is. Gei manga is as broad and individual as our society, but is centered around ideas of power and masculinity.

 

There was a time in Japan, like most of the world, where homosexuality was a common and acceptable practice. In the early Eleventh century, Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji (often considered the world’s first novel) contains multiple instances of Genji appreciating the beauty of other men. “Genji pulled the boy down beside him . . . Genji, for his part, or so one is informed, found the boy more attractive than his chilly sister.”5

In 1687, Ihara Saikaku published Nanshoku Okagami (The Great Mirror of Male Love), a collection of short stories about homosexuality in Japan. At that time, homosexuality was mostly practiced between samurai and young boys, or between kabuki performers and their patrons.

“When he appeared before the lord, his lordship was smitten immediately with the boy’s unadorned beauty, like a first glimpse of the moon rising above a distant mountain. The boy’s hair gleamed like the feathers of a raven perched silently on a tree, and his eyes were lovely as lotus flowers. One by one, his other qualities became apparent, from his nightingale voice to his gentle disposition, as obedient and true as a plum blossom.”6
 

There was a deep appreciation for beauty, regardless of gender. While it was still largely expected that a man settles down with a woman and bears children, interludes with other men were to be considered a status symbol or a special treat. Saikaku writes of a kabuki actor who finds himself in a tricky situation with a prince and princess:
 

“Who is she?” [The Prince asked.]

“My dance and singing teacher,” the princess said.

“She is unusually attractive for a commoner.”

He decided to make her his own for the night. He did not hesitate to begin love-making immediately. Kichiya, unable to reject his advances, was in a quandary. Having no other recourse, he removed his lady’s wig and showed himself to the nobleman.

“Why, this is even better!”

The gentleman said when he saw him, and proceeded to give Kichiya the full measure of his affection. The boy remained in the gentleman’s bed until dawn the next morning, much to the chagrin (one would suspect) of his younger sister, the princess.7
 


Despite a rich, gay history, modern Japan has responded much more conservatively to homosexuality. There are certainly out LGBT individuals in Japan, and it’s becoming more part of the national conversation, but many prefer to not talk about it at all. This isn’t so surprising, when you consider some of the cultural norms in Japan. Honor, family, and saving face are crucially important; if something could be seen as embarrassing, it’s best to ignore it. But interestingly, Japan is also home to one of the world’s most vibrant fetish communities. There is often a large divide between public and private lives.  The duality creates a dynamic where gei manga finds its home. Gei manga today is a celebration of sexuality, and provides an avenue for gay mangaka to express their sexuality in a way that they can’t always do in their real lives.

The rise of gei manga came mostly through Japanese gay magazines from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, such as G-Men and Barazoku. These magazines published articles, manga, photographs, and personal ads.8 Most consider the father of all gay mangaka to be Gengorah Tagame. Gengorah provided covers and manga content for G-Men.  Publications like G-Men exposed a new generation of aspiring artists to gei manga, inspiring them to create more erotica and make the gei manga movement what it is today.

Like all manga, there’s a great level of diversity in gei manga, with genres ranging from science fiction to historical period pieces. Inu Yoshi’s Kundagawa-Kun, follows a newly single man who receives a robot helper in the mail. Of course, that robot helps him with more than just housework. Some stories are set in the future and some harken back to medieval Japan.
 


These tales take place in schools, urban areas, and battlefields. Seizoh Ebisubash’s Mr. Tokugawa Grade 5 Room 4 Homeroom Teacher finds us spying on Mr. Tokugawa as he gets fucked by the janitor in the hallway while students are in class.  Tagame’s The Country Doctor features a physician whose sexual prowess quickly makes him an integral part of a rural village’s festival. Some stories are serious, but many are comedic, such as Jiraya’s Caveman Guu (which follows a caveman who can’t figure out why intercourse with other men won’t produce him offspring).

Each artist has a unique style and voice, but there is no denying their clear talent for storytelling. While some artists are often hyperrealistic, such as Jiraiya’s pinups, others are more cartoonish or chibi (child-like), like Kumada Poohsuke. There’s a kinetic energy to the storytelling that draws you in to the adventure, that invites both suspense and arousal. It can be difficult to follow any action through static images, but these mangaka are skilled at creating a flow from start to finish. Some artists, such as Tagame, have a style and care for their linework sometimes reminiscent of Edo woodblock printing and other traditional styles. The men in gei manga are often idealized and sexualized, but care is taken to present the best possible visual and emotional experience for the intended viewer. This often results in an exciting, but unreal view of sex. The dicks are huge and throbbing, the cumshots are gushing, and the buttholes are perfectly rendered.

 


Gei manga work is heavily censored in Japan, as is most erotica. Typically, penises and pubic hair need to be obscured in some way. The popularity of tentacle hentai (manga/anime pornography) is one such avenue to get around this censorship. Only recently are companies beginning to publish translations in the west, allowing us to see the work in its original form.

"Some mangaka, like Inu Yoshi, don’t necessarily care about making their work sexual, but sex sells. “I don’t really want to put erotic scenes in my stories . . . But it’s what sells magazines, and the magazines say it has to have that. The stark impact of having those scenes in my work is incredible.”9 Creators typically find more success with their work when it is published as erotica, and will find ways to include it, even if the story isn’t meant to be overtly sexual. But just as all of us have a range of fantasies and fetishes, gei manga also runs the spectrum from sweet and romantic, to more hardcore and serious themes.

I recently acquired a copy of the newly reprinted the Passion of Gengorah Tagame and was struck by its use of rape and torture as a device for eroticism. Quite a few stories in gei manga involve forced sexual intercourse, sometimes resulting in the character admitting that he wanted it all along.

These themes connect directly to the aforementioned duality of private lives, as Chip Kidd points out in Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It:

“These tales as a whole involve forbidden desire between men, and succumbing thereto. This has a lot to do with the state of contemporary Japanese gay culture, which seems to say ‘No, I’m not allowed to do this, but I have to. I sure hope nobody is looking. I sure hope nobody finds out.’”10

Edmond White also introduces Passion with a discussion of this device: “In Gengorah Tagame’s world, no man is ever penetrated willingly. It’s always a matter of coercion, defeat, humiliation: rape.”11

 


For his part, Tagame feels committed to his subject matter. “My manga represents a very small minority of the world. In the real world, the large majority of people don’t like torture in their sex lives, invariably. But I’m not writing for them.”12 Tagame believes his work to be for those who are exploring their own lives through kink, and that fantasy allows us to do so in a safe way. Tagame even disclaims on his website to “recognize a distinction between actuality and fantasy.”

I’m not equipped to unpack the nuances and context of Japanese culture in comparison to the West on these themes, and so I won’t. But as a Western reader, I understand that all gei manga isn’t for every reader, and some content may cause discomfort or negative emotional reaction.

Ultimately, we should be careful to not generalize an entire genre by a few artists. Like all erotica, different individuals have varied tastes and desires, and we should take the time to explore the artists that fit the aesthetic that we find desirable.

Gei manga isn’t just erotica, but beautiful artwork flowing with the passion of independent creators. Piracy is a huge problem for gei manga, and some artists have found their entire career posted for free on the Internet. Those artists can’t make profit and it discourages them from producing new content.  As we support legitimate productions of these stories in the West, and appreciate the skill and beauty of these mangaka’s storytelling, it becomes more likely that we’ll discover new talents, new artwork, and new fantasies. We can begin to unlock the world of gei manga as a window in the gay lives of another culture, as well as our own.

Plus, we’ll get to look at more really pretty buttholes.


Sources


Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It (Fantagraphics) and The Passion of Gengorah Tagame (Bruno Gmünder) are available at Massive-Goods.com.

 

 

  1. Wikipedia, Yaoi, Wikipedia, 2016.

  2. Ane Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, Massive: Gay Erotica and the Men Who Make It, Fantagraphics Books, 2015, p. 40.

  3. Ane Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, Massive: Gay Erotica and the Men Who Make It, Fantagraphics Books, 2015, p. 32.

  4. Ane Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, Massive: Gay Erotica and the Men Who Make It, Fantagraphics Books, 2015, p. 34

  5. Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji. Penguin Classics. 1021(c). p. 48.

  6. Ihara Saikaku, The Great Mirror of Male Love, Stanford University Press, 1990. P. 98.

  7. Ihara Saikaku, The Great Mirror of Male Love, Stanford University Press, 1990. P. 240.

  8. Wikipedia, Barazoku, Wikipedia, 2016.

  9. Ane Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, Massive: Gay Erotica and the Men Who Make It, Fantagraphics Books, 2015, p. 68

  10. Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, Massive: Gay Erotica and the Men Who Make It, Fantagraphics Books, 2015, p. 29

  11. Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, The Passion of Gengorah Tagame, Bruno Gmünder, 2016. P. 9.

  12. Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins, The Passion of Gengorah Tagame, Bruno Gmünder, 2016. P. 271.

 


Steven Miller had ice cream with Ben Affleck once. Well, not with him, exactly. Steven stood in line at an ice cream shop in front of Ben Affleck. But that’s basically the same thing, right? I mean, how do you even define having something when you consider that our existence is a socially constructed illusion? Anyway, Ben is really tall and Steven lives in Savannah, GA.