This talk will focus on the “boys love”—or BL—genre of manga, anime, games, and other media in Japan. Boys love manga, depicting male–male romantic and sexual relationships, were first created by and for adolescent girls and young women in the early 1970s in response to contemporary social norms. But times have changed in the intervening decades and so has BL media, which now occupies a small but significant part of the so-called “otaku market.” Today the BL market, including media produced both inside and outside commercial channels, has an estimated annual size of over ¥21 billion, i.e., over US$200 million.
In my discussion, I will offer an overview of the history of boys love as well as of the people who have been creating and consuming this media, people who remain predominantly, though not exclusively, heterosexual women and girls. I will make detours to refer to other gender-bending and sexually transgressive genres and their fandoms, with an emphasis on the who, what, and why. It is my hope that this talk and follow-up discussion will give everyone a better sense of this media, as well as a richer understanding of some creative reactions to gender and sexual norms since the 1970s and their effects on contemporary Japanese culture and society.