Why is Boys’ Love manga so popular and why do fans become obsessed with it?

As a reader who is currently a Boys’ Love manga fanatic, and so obsessed with love stories between gay men I can’t even…, I was thinking about why I like this Japanese genre so much, and why reading a BL or yaoi manga makes me happier than reading many of the others I’ve read in the past.

After all, I’m not a gay guy, I’m a straight woman as, apparently, are also a huge percentage of Boys’ Love and yaoi manga fans around the world.

So, why is Boys’ Love manga so popular, and why do people like me end up becoming a fujoshi (aka ‘rotten girl’ or 腐女子 in Japanese) or fudanshi (‘rotten boy’ or (腐男子)?

Why is Boys’ Love manga so popular?

The Boys’ Love genre was created in Japan in the 1970s by a group of female artists.

Not long after, other women were self-publishing homoerotic manga about their favorite singers, TV stars and movie actors, as well as popular male characters in manga.

While social scientists who have studied BL or yaoi manga have opinions about why the genre is so popular, and have even interviewed fujoshi/fudanshi to find out why they like this specific genre of manga, like with anything everyone is different.

Some people like Boys’ Love manga for the guys, others love it for the explicit sex scenes (if it’s yaoi), the stories, the art style, the comedy and on and on.


Given manga series Volume 1 via SubLime

So, all I can do with this article really, is say why I specifically like the Boys’ Love manga genre (and it’s adapted anime), and why I think millions of others are into the genre as well.

The Boys’ Love genre is a small niche part of the Japanese manga business

While it does seem BL manga is becoming more popular in recent years, it is still only about 1% of the total manga market worldwide.

But fans who love BL and yaoi manga tend to be quite obsessed with it and, in some cases, only read that specific genre.


Tie Me Down Open Me Up via Renta

And just so you don’t get confused, by the way, Boys’ Love manga tends to depict relationships between men in a romanticized way, while yaoi manga also depicts similar relationships but with graphic sex scenes, and sometimes pages and pages and pages of them.

Interestingly too, most BL and yaoi manga is written by women, and a large percentage of its fan base is heterosexual women with a much smaller number of gay men, bisexual women or straight guys.


Sasaki and Miyano published by Yen Press

Why is Boys’ Love manga so popular and why do readers become fanatical about it?

The Boys’ Love stories

I actually got into BL and yaoi manga after watching the Junjou Romantica anime series, being so touched by the relationships in it, then moving onto every other BL anime I could get my hands on.

Considering there are very few BL anime made, the natural progression from that then was to read the Junjou Romantica manga series.

This was followed by Sekaiichi Hatsukoi by the same author, then the far more graphic Twittering Birds Never Fly, the sweeter Sasaki and Miyano and Twilight out of Focus, the titillating (and quite funny) Tie Me Down and Open Me Up and, my current favorite two-book series The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese, and its follow up The Carp on the Chopping Block Jumps Twice.

What I love the most about all of them are the stories, which take place everywhere from incredibly glamorous surroundings, to mundane surroundings like offices.

Even if so many of those stories are clichéd or feature ridiculous coincidences, I still love them. Particularly as most end up with a happy ending of some sort or another.


The Boys’ Love characters

Unlike manga in other genres, I quickly discovered male characters in the Boys’ Love genre I adored.

Mostly because, while being strong characters with definite personalities, when it comes down to being in love, they are just as hopeless and destructable as women. In many cases, much more so.

Men like Junjou Romantica‘s Usagi-san, and Twittering Birds Never Fly‘s severely emotionally damaged yakuza boss Yashiro. A man so broken, it’s unlikely he will ever be fixed.

And don’t get me started on The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese‘s Kyoichi, who just allows himself to be pulled into relationships by both men and women because he is too afraid to let his own desires out into the open.

Even when he’s in love, he’s unable to allow himself to fight for it.

Boys’ Love characters are beautifully written by the best writers in the genre and are men who, as often broken as they are, you would fall in love with yourself.

If, of course, they weren’t gay and not remotely interested.


aka Sekaiichi Hatsukoi available via SubLime

The Boys’ Love art style

From the beautifully designed manga book covers, often with two gorgeous men entwined around each other, to the art style in BL manga panels — including the art that is drawn in yaoi when two men are having sex — the art is often stunning.

So much so, I find myself dissecting every part of a manga panel, or sometimes even being unable to turn the page as I love a specific drawing so much.

Few women in Boys’ Love manga

I have rarely been that interested in reading about other women in either manga or in literature, as I usually prefer to read about men. Especially if that book really gets deep down into the psyche of a man, and helps me understand how he feels.

With Boys’ Love and yaoi manga, it is rare to find female characters who show up for more than a few panels, as the stories always center around the men.

I like that.


via SubLime

Men break emotionally much easier and much more permanently than women

One thing I have learned from my own relationships over the years is the men are often more emotionally damaged when the relationship breaks up than I am. Particularly if I was the one that broke it.

I find that fascinating.

Especially as I have often thought most women are stronger emotionally than most men. Maybe because we talk about our feelings with our friends, and so process through them, whereas men tend to bottle them up?

When feelings aren’t processed, they tend to fester, and what comes afterwards is rarely good. Maybe that’s why?

Or maybe I’m just a hard-hearted bitch that walks away without looking back when it’s truly over?

Whatever it is, I love finding a Boys’ Love manga where one of the guys is so broken he cannot allow himself to love again.

Because, when he finally does, it is the most satisfying moment being able to watch someone who had hardened his heart to suddenly let another person capture it.

And when it’s a big burly guy burrowing his way behind that facade, it’s even more satisfying.

These are just a few of my thoughts about why Boys’ Love manga and yaoi manga are so popular.

All I know is every time I head online to order more manga, my basket currently seems to be more full of the BL and yaoi genre than any other, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

About Michelle Topham

I'm a Brit-American journalist who spent a decade covering the anime and manga industries while living in Asia. Now based in Vienna, Austria and currently obsessed with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu, KONOSUBA, The Archdemon's Dilemma, Kaiju No. 8, and the Boys' Love danmei Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation.