Everyone who follows manga in Japan is familiar with the four demographic-based “genres” of Japanese manga – Shounen, Shoujo, Seinen and Josei, that is for boys, for girls, for men, for women. There are other demographic-based genres and subgenres that are less well-known; things like manga for children, and various subgenres of erotica/porn for both adult men and women, but those are four basic categories into which most manga is divided.
Western fans of Japanese manga tend to be of the opinion that these demographics serve no real function when it comes to the western market. So what if Death Note is “for boys” when clearly, loads of girls love it? Or so what if Hetalia is “for girls,” when all the smart guys know cosplaying as /fillinyourfavecharacter/ will make them instantly hot? ^_^
My argument for the understanding of these demographically aligned genres is merely as a gateway to one’s own personal enlightenment. In a story that is in every other way sexless, like One Piece, it just makes sense to understand that the audience is still presumed to be teen, male and…well, let’s be honest, horny. Hence Nami and Robin’s inexplicably ever-largening breasts. It’s a Shounen series. QED. It sounds aggressively ignorant to my ears when people hate an element of a manga that is a common trope of the demographic/genre for which that manga is written. Often the answer to these kind of complaints is “it’s a manga for girls, that’s why.” Or, “it’s a manga for men, that’s why.” That *is* the answer, whether you like that or not. Each of these demographic/genres has specific tropes of its own, just as scifi in America has specific tropes, or action, or mystery, or romance.
In recent years there has been a slow growth of a fifth “genre” – manga for people who like manga. Jokingly, we refer to this around here as the Fifth Column of manga and I’ve written about it at length elsewhere. The most interesting thing about this fifth “genre” is that it is largely genre-less. Manga Erotics F is as likely to appeal to an adult woman as it is to an adult man. This is so breathtakingly different in Japan that it’s really worth mentioning. The Japanese Magazine Publishers Association puts out sales numbers for manga magazines…all of which are categorized into those four demographic categories. There is no “Other” category. Publishers there are still thinking inside this box. So it’s important when something, anything, breaks through the wall of this self-imposed limitation.
Okay, so it’s pretty well known that BL/Yaoi is a subset of Shoujo and Josei. But there’s enough of it – and the tropes of the genre have become so ingrained (and in fact have a nickname – the Royal Road) – that it warrants its own section in Japanese manga stores. Nonetheless, it’s still “for females” and so far, nothing that BL has done has changed that. I’d love to see this shift…I think there’s some room for growth there, but a lot of things have to happen before we’ll see any movement in that area.
Well, okay, BL is “for females,” so GL is “for males,” right? And here is where Yuri is and always has been the dark horse, the red-headed child of manga. Because the answer is…no, not really. Let’s turn to the history of Yuri briefly. Conceived in the 1920s as part of ‘S’ class literature, what we now call Yuri was mostly drawn and written by women. There are early proto-Yuri ‘S’ manga as far back as the 60’s, manga that exposed the intense platonic love of girls – the same exact kind of thing that made Maria-sama ga Miteru so popular. These were manga meant for girls. By my reckoning, the first truly Yuri manga is Shiroi Heya no Futari, also a Shoujo manga, published in the early 70s. Yuri was not, of course a genre name then, although lillies as visual imagery was already common.
Of course lesbian porn manga for guys existed. Frankly, I think that has about as much to do with Yuri as Playboy magazine has to do with literature and art. ^_^ In the 70s, Yuri was primarily a feature in girls’ manga. After Sailor Moon in the 1990s we started to see more and more manga/anime-based lesbian porn. In the way of such things, this was when the term “Yuri” started to become more commonly used and, in the way of such things, the things men did completely overwrote the things women did. Yuri now equaled explicit lesbian porn….even if it didn’t.
The 2000s saw the birth of Yuri as a sub-genre. Sure, Maria-sama ga Miteru was an insanely popular girl’s Light Novel series, but Kannazuki no Miko was an insanely popular anime series based on a comic for men that used Yuri as a fetish…Yuri was firmly fixed as a subset of Seinen. Yuri was for men…women need not apply. Girls could read love between girls in girl’s manga, but that wasn’t “Yuri.”
In the 2000s, there were warring factions, Yuri for men had the “Girls Keep Out” sign affixed on their door, the Yuri is for anyone faction lived at Yuricon. (We still do. Heck, the party has barely started!) A third party – women drawing women in love for other women were quietly changing the world in Japan, but no one noticed for a long time, and then it was like, “Yeah, we’ve been here all along.” ^_^
The 2010s have born Yuricon out. Yuri is drawn by and for men and women. If I ask you to name your top three Yuri artists, you’re just as likely to come up with male or female names.
But this isn’t the end of this story, it’s really just the beginning. Shoujo, Shounen, Josei and Seinen each have specific tropes associated with them. And, as Yuri moved into each of these demographic/genres, it took on some of those tropes. The boyish hottie from Shoujo, the sexy femme fatale from Shounen, the young professional woman from Josei, the badass from Seinen and the hyper cute girl from all of them…Yuri now includes all these things side by side.
JManga today listed Yuri as a separate genre page. Shounen, Shoujo, Josei, Seinen, BL…Yuri.
What does this mean for us? It means that finally, freed of being associated with any one specific demographic, one set of tropes, one audience, Yuri stands on its own, with its own styles and messages.
Yuri is the very first genre that belongs to everyone.
How fucking awesome is that? ^_^