LGBTQ+ Representation in Anime and Manga

-N. Pushpamithra, II B.A. English

-Anjali G, II Visual Arts

-Keerthana R, III B.A. History and Tourism

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When we think of anime, mainstream ones like ‘Naruto’ and ‘Dragon Ball Z’ with lots of fighting and screaming or ‘Maid-sama’ and ‘Fruits Basket’ with their romance come to our minds, but there is actually a whole lot more to anime than that. Two amongst the numerous genres of anime and manga deal with a topic that’s considered ‘taboo’- love between people of the same sex: yaoi– love between men and yuri– love between women. There is an estimated amount of 1600 yaoi manga and 400 yuri manga excluding doujinshis (yaoi/yuri manga which are drawn by fans and are mostly fanfiction of an existing work). In a world where majority consider sex, especially homosexual sex as ‘taboo’, how does Japan boast of this incredible feat? We might find the answers in its history.

Shintoism, the oldest religion of Japan does not oppose homosexuality. Later when Buddhism was introduced, people who were leaning towards it relinquished everything they had (including sexual desires) but the majority of the population still followed Shintoism. In fact, Shintoism actually approves of people having sex by saying “all sexual love is unconditionally good”. We see a lot of examples of homosexuality in its history. For example, most of the famous samurais of the sengoku jidai or warring states (1467- 1615) were said to have had ‘retainers’ with whom they had sexual relationships. Some of these samurais are TokugawaIeyasu, OdaNobunaga, Uesugi Kenshin, etc. There are also texts like Denbu Monogatari and Iro Monogatari which deal with the discussions between men to see whether male-male relationship or male-female relationship is better but neither was said to be ‘more acceptable’. The change from acceptance to condemnation occurred when they started becoming ‘modern’ due to the influence from the West.

In the present day scenario, people in Japan do not condemn and ostracise people of the LGBTQ+ community but they don’t completely accept them either. In fact, their understanding of the community is so limited that many cannot distinguish between a transgender person and a homosexual person.

An interesting fact is that yaoi manga are drawn for women by women and yuri manga are drawn by men for men which might provide a shallow understanding and fetishize homosexual couples. Although misguided, they did spark a debate about the LGBTQ+ community in Japan and other countries. In 2016, a revolution was brought forth in the genre with the premiere of Yuri!!! On Ice which refused to be categorized under the yaoi genre. The author stated that she did not intend for it to be about gay relationships but it was open for interpretation. Hidden in the shadows of yaoi and yuri is another genre- a gem called Bara. Bara is a genre of manga created by gay men for gay men. It is one of the few genres which give accurate details of gay relationships. A popular example is ‘My Brother’s Husband’, which is soon to be released as a live action, has created quite a stir in the community.

Previously restricted to a niche group of people, the genre of yaoi and yuri now aims for a larger and diverse demographic. In its quest to reach for mainstream audience, the genre is redefining itself to a more accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community.



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