LGBT themes in anime and manga

In anime and manga, the term "LGBT themes" includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender material. Outside Japan, anime generally refers to a specific Japanese-style of animation, but the word anime is used by the Japanese themselves to broadly describe all forms of animated media there.[1][2] According to Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, the fluid state of animation allows flexibility of animated characters to perform multiple roles at once.[3] Manga genres that focus on same-sex intimacy and relationships resulted from fan work that depicted relationships between two same-sex characters.[4] This includes characters who express their gender and sexuality outside of hetero-normative boundaries. There are also multiple sub genres that target specific consumers and themes: yaoi, yuri, shoujo-ai, shonen-ai, bara, etc.[5] LGBT-related manga found its origins from fans who created an "alternative universe" in which they paired their favorite characters together. Many of the earliest works that contained LGBT themes were found in works by dōjinshi who has specifically written content outside the regular industry.[6] The rise of yaoi and yuri was also slowed due to censorship laws in Japan that make it extremely hard for Japanese manga artists ("mangakas")[7] and others to create work that is LGBT themed. Anime that contained adult-only content was changed to meet international standards. However, publishing companies continued to expand their repertoire to include yuri and yaoi, and conventions were created to form a community and culture for fans of this work.[8]



Scholars and manga artists generally agree that Osamu Tezuka greatly influenced manga.[9][10][11][12] Yukari Fujimoto mentioned how in Tezuka's work, Princess Knight, the main character fluctuated between feminine and masculine identities.[10] Sapphire, the main character of Princess Knight, was born female but was raised as a male to prevent the antagonist, Duke Durlamin, from inheriting the throne.[13] Tezuka was inspired by Takarazuka Revue, a Japanese all-female musical troupe that performs both feminine and masculine roles.[14][15] Osamu Tezuka grew up in Takarazuka where the troupe is based.[16][10]


Media and related materials depicting young men in same-sex relationships started to materialize in the 1970s.[17][18] These stories were primarily created and consumed by adolescent girls and women reading shoujo genre tales.[8][17] Over time work that focused primarily on male to male intimacy was referred to as "shonen ai", "yaoi" and "boy's love" (BL).[17]

In the 1960s, a group of women mangaka called the Magnificent 24 or the Year 24 group heavily influenced the genre of shoujo manga by introducing philosophical and radical ideas, including themes focusing on gender and sexuality.[6] The Magnificent 24 group referred to women mangaka who were born in the Year 24 Shōwa (1949) according to numerous scholars, and the exact membership is not defined.[19][20][21] A few artists who were associated this group were Moto Hagio, Yumiko Oshima and Keiko Takemiya.[6] The mangaka in this period transformed the writing and drawing style within the genre, thereby creating a space for women artists in manga.[19] The artists broadened the content of shoujo manga, adding science fiction, historical, and dramatic elements that changed how readers consumed the genre.[19] Works from these groups contained the earliest examples of same-sex intimacy and relationships found in manga. Ryoko Yamagishi’s Shiroi Heya no Futari (白い部屋のふたり) was credited as the first manga to portray a lesbian couple. Conversely, Keiko Takemiya's work, In the Sunroom (サンルームにて) is said to depict the first male-to-male kiss in shojo manga. The popularity of Year 24's works spurred interest in male-male romance narratives from the 1960s onward.[17]

Amateurs as well as professional manga artists shared their works in a public hall called Comic Market (コミックマーケット Komikku Māketto), a channel for distributing and sharing work outside publisher restrictions.[17][22] The market primarily focused on buying and selling of doujinshi (self-published works), and in its early years some artists from the shoujo circle displayed work containing fictionalized same-sex relationships between their favorite musicians.[17]

In the 1980s the term yaoi was primarily used to describe homoerotic works.[18] The word is a shortening of "yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi,” or “no climax, no ending, no meaning” and was primarily focused on male-to-male relationships between two favorite characters.[4] It is now an umbrella term in Japan that describes male to male homoeroticism.[4]

Conversely, the term yuri described Japanese works featuring female-to-female intimacy.[23] The actual term yuri is translated to "lily" which was symbolized as spiritual beauty and sexual purity.[24][25] Yuri was first used to describe female-to-female intimacy by one of Japan's first gay magazines, Barazoku. The magazine featured a regular column called Yurizoku no heya (Room for the lily tribe) to address lesbian readership.[25] Within the artist circles, the term Yurizoku was shortened to yuri to describe female to female intimacy.[23]

Anime distribution, censorship and changesEdit

The Japanese government uses censorship laws to regulate published content in the country.[26] Article 175 of the Criminal Code (1907) prohibits the distribution, sale, or possession of materials that contain "obscene" (waisetsu) content.[27] This included any depiction of pubic hair, adult genitalia, and sexual acts. However, manga creators developed ways to depict naked bodies and sex without showing pubic hair. Works that contained erotic content obscured character's genitals with blurring or black dots.[28] The law was only sparingly applied and the number of creators and publishers fined were minimal.[29] Sharon Kinsella states, "In general pornography has not been strongly compartmentalized in post-war Japan" and pornographic content has appeared throughout Japanese media and in pornographic productions.[30] BL (Boy's Love) comics can often be found in large bookstores in Japan, and there is a large commercial market for same-sex intimacy.[31]

In 1998, manga and anime received negative attention following the arrest of Tsutomu Miyazaki the so-called “Otaku Serial Killer.” Miyazaki possessed large amounts of sexually explicit anime and was a frequent participant of Comic Market.[26][32] In the aftermath of the killings thousands of doujinshis were confiscated and several shop owners were arrested.[26]

Censorship in the United StatesEdit

Anime reached the United States in the 1960s on the back of strong interest from fans and college students.[33] Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy (1963) and Speed Racer were the earliest anime series shown to American audiences.[33] Accordingly collaborations among American and Japanese companies to market titles to American consumers increased.[33] In order to broadcast anime on American television, production companies had to cut scenes that were deemed too "violent." Plot lines and direct translations of dubbing were also modified for Western audiences.[34]

Scholars have noted several anime that were edited specifically to fit Western sensibilities.[5][35] When Sailor Moon was released in the United States, elements of the story were removed because Optimum Productions, the Canadian company in charge of the English language product, claimed that some of the content “is not suitable for children.”[35] Under standards set by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, Sailor Moon was altered to fit within those guidelines. Following are examples of material censored to fit North American requisites.[35]

  • Zoisite, a homosexual man finds himself in a homosexual relationship with Kunzite in the series.[35] In the English dubbed version, Zoisite is made into a woman, thereby making the relationship heterosexual.[35]
  • The relationship between Sailor Uranus/Haruka Tenoh and Neptune/Michiru Kaioh was depicted as ‘cousins’ who are simply ‘very close.’ In the original Japanese version, they are lovers.[35]
  • Fisheye who presented femininely is changed into a woman in the English version of the anime. Scenes that highlighted Fisheye's masculinity were deleted.[35]

When Cardcaptor Sakura broadcast in North America, many scenes featuring same-sex intimacy and/or relationships were removed or altered.[36] Rejected material included Tomoya's crush on Sakura and same-sex intimacy between Touyo, Sakura's older brother, and Yukito.[37]

Mainstream anime and mangaEdit

Revolutionary Girl UtenaEdit

The approach to gender in the Revolutionary Girl Utena series is flexible, and according to Catherine Bailey, "The categorical definition of masculinity and femininity are limiting and unnecessary."[5] Utena is a character who subverts assumptions about her sex. She should be "jumping" at the chance of marrying a prince, but she looks up to him as a role model. At school, she wears a quasi male uniform and competes alongside male peers in a variety of athletic activities.

According to Bailey,[5] Utena does not want to "become" a prince literally, and when she claims that she wants to become a prince she is actually referring to princely qualities like courage, compassion, and strength.[5]

Sailor MoonEdit

Lesbian characters are introduced halfway through the series Sailor Moon, and their relationships are treated the same way as other heterosexual relationships. Haruka and Michiru, who are Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, are a couple who live with each other. The author has confirmed that they are a couple.[1]

The character Haruka displays masculine characteristics and she is portrayed in the video wearing the male version of her school's uniform.[5] She is often mistaken for a man, but she does not mind. However, Haruka becomes more feminized when she transforms into her Sailor Uranus character. Her partner, Michiru, is meant to be the more feminine of the two and they are often seen with each other.[5]


Numerous works of CLAMP, a Japanese manga artists group, explore relationships with no regard for gender or sex.[38] Many of their manga consequently explore same-sex relationships. Works such as Miyuki-chan in Wonderland and Tokyo Babylon feature same-sex intimacy as central themes.[38] In Cardcaptor Sakura, the main protagonist Sakura and Syaoran share a mutual infatuation with androgynous-looking Yukito.[39] Tomoyo, who is best friends with Sakura, is also shown to hold sexual feelings for Sakura.[40] Cardcaptor also depicts same-sex intimacy between Touyo, Sakura's older brother and Yukito. In episode 65, when Yukito's health is weakening due to a weakening in Yue's power (his alter-form), Touyo decides to give up his power to save Yukito from disappearing.[40]

Fandom culture and demographicsEdit

Motivations for consuming Yaoi and Yuri animeEdit

Pagliassotti[4] conducted the first research Anglophone readers' motivations for consuming yaoi. According to her research, she found 10 distinct motivations: “Pure” love without gender focus, pro-gay attitude/ forbidden and transgressive love, identification (self-analysis), melodramatic (emotional elements), dislike for standard shoujo romances, a female-oriented romantic/erotic genre, pure escapism/lack of reality, art/ aesthetics, pure entertainment, and arousing, sexually titillating content.[4] However, there are other motivations for consuming yaoi manga complicated by cultural and legal differences. For instance, yaoi manga is media that challenges patriarchal norms and gender binarism.[4]

Accessibility to yaoi and yuri material is also dependent on international laws.[4] For example, introduction of BL (Boy's Love) to the United States market was less likely to happen because depictions of male-to-male eroticism and sex would be considered contrary to children's material there.[41]

Many yaoi readers are teenage girls or young women.[42] Fujoshi is a term often used to describe fans of works depicting romantic relationships among men. In Japanese, the term translates to "rotten girls."[43] Japanese women who read yaoi manga are most often heterosexual, and they consume the content for entertainment rather than for political or social reasons. Women also form the majority of yaoi readers in the West, accounting for 89% of total readership, with 55% of those falling into the 18-24 age range.[44] Among yuri readers in the West, about 46% identify themselves as heterosexual women.[44] Among yuri readers, there is a divide between men and women according to intended target audience.[42]

In 2010, the yaoi industry had an estimated annual value of 21.3 billion yen (over 180 million USD).[45]

See alsoEdit


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  3. ^ Benshoff, Harry M., 1963– (2006). Queer images : a history of gay and lesbian film in America. Griffin, Sean. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Pub. ISBN 978-0-7425-6857-0. OCLC 276105911.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Zsila, Ágnes; Pagliassotti, Dru; Urbán, Róbert; Orosz, Gábor; Király, Orsolya; Demetrovics, Zsolt (2018). "Loving the love of boys: Motives for consuming yaoi media". PLOS ONE. 13 (6): e0198895. Bibcode:2018PLoSO..1398895Z. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0198895. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6002055. PMID 29902228.
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