A Genre of One’s Own – Yuri Comes of Age

August 28th, 2012

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? ^_^

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14 Responses

  1. Ichigo69 says:

    “How fucking awesome is that?”
    It’s so fucking awesome it needs a category all to itself. \(^o^)/

  2. simona.com says:

    it’s BGMWBLY awesome!!! XD

  3. JRBrown says:

    “Or so what if Hetalia is “for girls,””

    I don’t think this is true. The original webcomics seem to have been “whatever the author feels like doing today”; I haven’t ever been able to decide if the BL jokes were a blatant bid for fujoshi eyeballs or if Himaruya just thinks it’s hilarious. The print-published material runs in a seinen magazine, and has so far omitted all of the more BL-centric humor (although I am given to understand that the anime puts some of it back).

    In regards the major point of this post, my admittedly limited experience with Yuri suggests to me that most Yuri is still significantly influenced by the visual and narrative tropes associated with the major demographics; shoujo-Yuri is recognizably shoujo, seinen-Yuri is recognizably seinen, josei-Yuri is recognizably josei, especially when it comes to the more sexually themed material. Personally, I am much more likely to enjoy female-targeted Yuri than male-targeted, so I’m not that enthused by mashing it all together under the Yuri label. (And I’m kind of mystified as to why JManga has Love My Life categorized as seinen. Since when isFeel Young a seinen magazine? I’m hoping this is an oversight and not a marketing decision.)

    As to BL becoming a gender-neutral category: that’s like asking when shoujo is going to ditch the femmy stuff and start catering to a male readership. Not gonna happen, until the moe virus hits 100% saturation and all Japanese men prefer manga full of pink and sparkles and flowers and blushing. BL is overtly feminine (which is one of the things I like best about it), and male readers are considerably less likely to find that appealing than female readers are. There is material that presents male femininity for a specifically male audience (mostly in the form of male crossdressers), and that material does have a certain limited overlap with BL, but it’s quite niche.

    (Whhhy does the comment system on Blogger make it so hard to preview before posting? Does that really need three extra steps, guys?)

  4. @Simona ^_^!! When I next see you, I have every intention of making you say that out loud.

  5. AMEN!

    I TOTALLY AGREE!!

    <3<3<3<3

    *\(^_^)/*

    But then… I write an even more SUB subgenre: Futa-Yuri, and I have a growing following as well as there is, just in general, a growing following with young ladies [and a few older ones, as well as males of all ages] world wide.

    I have noticed very strange phenomenon within said sub-subgenre however…

    Boys like Futa-Shota/Shounen [please forgive my ignorance on some words, I’m going by definitions, not speaking Japanese my self] while girls like Futa-Yuri to such an extreme point that many will reject the other vehemently as a violation of an imagined exclusive domain.

    I have never seen such a fierce territorial war with Yuri, even if one exists.

  6. Erica…

    I can’t even READ what simona wrote there! [GIGGLE]

  7. JRBrown says:

    @ Delicious Vodka DeBlair

    “Boys like Futa-Shota/Shounen while girls like Futa-Yuri”

    If I’m parsing this correctly, you’re saying that you find that male readers prefer a futanari/guy pairing whereas women prefer a futanari/woman pairing? Huh. In the porn-centric areas I’ve hung out in, the male posters are all over futanari/woman and futanari/futanari, and futanari/guy has a much smaller interest pool. I get the impression there’s also a lot less futanari/guy material out there.

    The futa / Yuri overlap isn’t surprising, since most authors tend to treat futanari as “woman with a strap-on de luxe“, which fits well into the male-oriented-Yuri topos; I’m not sure I’ve noticed a preference among women for any particular type of futa material, but then I haven’t been looking.

  8. Felix says:

    Very awesome indeed.

  9. Lady_Rufus says:

    Quite awesome indeedy. Yuri really seems to be gaining momentum this year, huh?
    Liking the Woolf reference, just read that book a few weeks ago. ^-^

  10. I was really amazed that there are certain categories for each audience. But just like you, I don’t think its being followed diligently because of the different mixed up of characters with sensual exhibition.

  11. Ayana Mudou says:

    It is indeed pretty awesome. Having seen the Yuri scene change has been great, cannot say that I have been there since the beginning, but I can speak from the 90s till today and I am really glad that it has been rising as a genre of its own, gradually getting rid off the porn stereotype.

    Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed it.

  12. I say it’s about time something transcended the four-demographic box, and I for one think it’s awesome that Yuri is the genre to do it.

    My own personal style of writing and drawing has always been as much gender-bending (especially in the Japanese manga demographic sense) as genre-bending, ever since Clamp imprinted me back in 1998.

    @simona: As someone who makes a practice of pronouncing “wb” and “bmp” as words, I’m going to attempt to say “bgmwbly” till my tongue ties into a knot. ;)

  13. simona.com says:

    Erica, you ドS XD

    Everybody, thanks for the comments! (^^)/ it actually means [manga for] Boys Girls Men Women Boys Love Yuri – a holistic naming for certain ‘global’ manga that I came up on FB the other day while talking about Hanjuku Joshi with Erica. In my heart it was like: it’s more than LGBT manga, it’s… [unpronounceable XDDDD]

  14. @simona – You got me. I am *totally* ドS.

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