In Which I Take A Good Look at My Appreciation for The Yaoi and Yuri Genres

**I’m not implying Black Butler is Yaoi, I just liked the gif**

It’s no secret that I enjoy both a good Yaoi and a good Yuri story. In fact, I enjoy both genres equally. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. However, it is a little odd in my specific case. Because you see, I don’t like romance as a genre. Or rather, I’m not that interested in traditional romance anime.

From time to time, I tell myself that if I’m enjoying these Yuri and Yaoi stories, many of which are sweet fluffy tales of love (I still don’t enjoy melodrama), I should give romance another try. And yet, every time I do, it just doesn’t click for me. C’mon Irina, I tell myself, you’re not just fetishizing homosexual relationships… tell me you’re not…. But am I?

embarassed anime boy

I’m not….

There are certainly worse things you can do than romanticize non-traditional orientations. Still, it’s not the best look. However, I have hope that there may be a bit more to it than that. And this is because I really prefer Yaoi and Yuri.

What I mean is that I’ve read a number of books (and western comics) and watched both movies and tv shows, that center around gay couples (of every gender). Some I like, some less. But in any case, I don’t prefer them to traditional romantic novels. The Master and Margarita remains one of my very favourite books and it has a traditional romance at its core. Well ok, traditional is probably not the right word for it, but it is heterosexual.

Same thing with non-anime movies. The fact that the focus is on same gender relationships is neither more nor less likely to make me want to see it or enjoy the narrative. What I’m saying is that there is something in the Yaoi and Yuri genres specifically that attracts me, that has nothing to do with orientation. What’s more, it’s present in both genres, yet not that common in general romance. But what is it?

This is where I need to take a step away from anime again. Although I have stated time and again that I am not a fan of the romance genre (according to my AniList it’s one of the genres I consistently ranks lowest, only two points above Ecchi being the actual lowest. Both of which are above 60% so it’s not like I openly hate them either), I do in fact enjoy the genre in other media.

unimpressed

that was a very long sentence

Like I said, one of my all-time favourite novels is essentially a love story. I enjoy romantic poetry and quite a few movies that fall in that category as well. Although it’s difficult to really put Survive Style 5+ in any clear box (I love that movie so much), one of the main themes is the evolution of a relationship between two people that fall in and out and back in love.

This said, please bear in mind that I’m no expert on the matter. I can really only draw on my personal experiences and since I’m not a huge fan of the anime romance genre (Steins Gate and Nozaki being glaring exceptions), I haven’t gone out of my way to watch that many anime romances. I’m about to make some sweeping assumptions that may not be quite in line with reality but do represent my personal experience.

After thinking about it carefully, I believe my preferences are being influenced by three main elements. Namely, predictability and power dynamics and relatability.

I’ve never been one to crave originality above all. I often find familiarity comforting in fact. So why would predictability be a turnoff? Romance is one of the oldest and most established genres, and its tropes are well worn. Yet, in my experience, it also happens to be one of the genres with the least variability. As if the formula has been perfected and there’s little need for change. I often find the heroes and heroines of such stories more or less interchangeable and the course of events rather obvious from the get-go. But Irina, I tell myself, you could say the exact same thing about sports anime, and you LURVE sports anime! Good point me. But you see, in the case of sports anime, I like those tropes.

Yur on Ice

weirdly, I’m not into Yuri on Ice

This is just a matter of personal preference, but I tend to identify much better with sports protagonists than romantic leading ladies, as such I have a much easier time to relate to and care about what happens to said sports protagonists than romantic leading ladies. It’s as simple as that.

However, Yaoi and Yuri are newer genres. And certainly, much more recent in the general public awareness. They are still establishing their tropes and perfecting their narratives. Sure, there are a few unpleasant trends, such as an unsettling frequency of abuse in the narratives, but nothing is yet so set in stone as to be unavoidable. I often don’t quite know what I’m getting into when I start one of these stories and I like that. I’ll admit, I have hated my share of both Yuri and Yaoi, but I’ve also stayed up until 2h30 am (I get up at 5) to finish one that has absolutely caught my heart.

If you’re familiar with the examples of romance in other mediums that I listed above, then you know that they are also very unusual depictions of relationships. I guess I just like a bit of surprise in my romance. Who knew?

The second point is slightly more important to me, that is power dynamics. This is where my lack of experience with the traditional romance genre will probably affect my point of view the most. In the majority of romance anime and manga I’ve consumed, there is a clear power dynamic. One person is pining and longing for the other who is aloof. One person is if you will “in charge” of the relationship. And it’s not necessarily a question of gender. I think it’s often pretty well spread out.

maid sama

I wasn’t going to google spread out

However, beyond the clear and simple power layout in the story itself, is the way the narrative is constructed. Very often, one person is the object of another’s affection, rather than the subject. The narrative inequality is what I don’t care for at all. Whether they are presented as meek and subservient or as a self-assured tsundere, when the story is dissected, you see that the events are guided by the feelings, needs and decisions of only one of the partners. The narrative is experienced through their eyes and if I don’t happen to relate in any way (or at times even understand what drives them) , then I have a very difficult time engaging in any way.

I will freely acknowledge that this is most likely a short-sighted analysis. I was unlucky and fell on a few romances in a row that happen to have tropes I don’t care for and a narrative construct I dislike, so I attributed them to the genre at large. And I’m happy to watch romance anime that does not follow that narrative layout.

This said, I have found that both the in-story power dynamic and the narrative one tends to be more balanced in the Yaoi/Yuri that I have come across. Of course, there are no traditional gender roles to conform to so that already free up the characters to take turns being dominant or share in the decision making without it being odd or forced in any way. Again that’S the lesser point. As for the narrative, the relationship itself tends to be the focus rather than the individual feelings of the partners in it.

mmo junkie

actually, I liked MMO junkie…

This is my completely unfounded hypothesis, but since the genre is generally marketed to members of the opposite sex (i.e. Yaoi for women and Yuri for men), the stories don’t assume that the readers (watchers…that sounds creepy) know what it is like to be in one of those relationships. So, they concentrate on the whole instead of trying to create a specific character to empathize and identify with. That’s not the idea here. These stories don’t have self insert leads because they are written to be more of a voyeuristic rather than a vicarious experience.

This brings on a natural shift in focus that I personally appreciate. Maybe because, as I mentioned above, I really don’t identify with most romantic heroines. So for me to enjoy a love story, it has to be written in a way that doesn’t require that empathy.

So while I’m sure that the novelty of Yaoi and Yuri as genres do bring something exciting for me, I also think that it’s not purely the LGBTQ+ angle that attracts me to these genres. What about you. Do you like either Yuri or Yaoi? And if so, do you know why?

anime confused girl

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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31 Responses

  1. 7mononoke says:

    Speaking only in terms of anime, I do like hetero seeing romance, but I like yaoi and yuri even more. I don’t really know why I like yaoi, other than seeing guy characters be vulnerable and real more than in other anime? I like yuri mostly because I’m a woman who prefers women, so (some) yuri turns me on. Also, (some) yuri is an idealized fantasy depiction of girls’ romance, which is a nice break from complex, difficult reality without all the hearts and flowers. You can take an escape too far, but I try not to. Also, putting sexuality aside, there are a lot of characters whose personalities I really like who are into other girl characters.

    • Irina says:

      I do identify more frequently with Yuri heroines. My problem is that I’ve played so many yuri VNs that are obviously male fantasies that it’s skewed my perception a bit.

  2. Alicia says:

    I like them too and wondered why I found them more realistic and relatable than new romance series (old ones had more depth, now they feel like building blocks, same plot mixed and remixed). I still dunno, but I’m tempted to review a book that just came out about this subject.

  3. Dewbond says:

    I dont; know much about yaoi or yuri, but I have watched some shows with some of those overtones and i’ve enjoyed them, mostly because they are stories first, and ideological signalling second. I mean, I adore Cardcaptor Sakura because of all that shit.

    Anime is like half yaoi/yuri shit anyway, it’s part of the genre.

    • Irina says:

      ?

      • Dewbond says:

        I meant that Yuri and Yaoi is part of the bedrock foundation of the anime/manga industry, so people have grown up with it being a constant presence, which is why there is a welcoming attitude to it compared to other art forms.

        • Irina says:

          That has not been my experience

          • Dewbond says:

            I suppose we have had different views then. I’ve always felt that it was a strong and important part of the artform, in equal standing to the shonen. harem and now isekai genres, but I admit I only have an ankle deep view of it.

            I’d be keen to see another perspective.

            • Irina says:

              I’m generally not a person who “ships” as such if romantic relationships aren’t an actual part of the storyline I don’t tend to insert them. As such I wouldn’t consider anime to be 50% Yuri and 50% Yaoi or even to necesarily include romantic storylines all the time. I do know a lot of fans like to add in romance though.
              I’ve also noticed quite a few comments on my blog that are not very open to the BL at all, even hen posts have nothing to do with the subject. I’m happy it didn’t come up this time! Maybe things are getting a bit more inclusive.

            • Dewbond says:

              Perhaps it is.

              I probably shouldn’t have said that it is always present, but I’ve always felt that Yuri/Yaoi is a well defined subgenre of the artform, not somethng people are trying to introduce, and that I think helps with people getting on board or with, or at the very least having a respectful tolerance to.

              Shipping meanwhile is another kettle of fish completely, don’t get me started on that.

            • Irina says:

              See I remember when Utena was hugely contraversial because it had yuri elements to it. The mangaka was very angry that such weird elements had been added to her story. I think I noticed the rise of those as established subgenres maybe in the last 15ish years or so. I should look it up

  4. I’m not an expert on yaoi or yuri (heck, one reason I no longer have an Anime News Network account is because I once confused Strawberry Panic – a yuri – with Strawberry 100% – a harem – in the forums and have never lived it down since). Despite that mishap, I have slowly been exploring yaoi and shonen ai/BL a bit in recent years. I don’t identify as a fujoshi, but why that is requires some further explaining…

    As a fan of bishonen, yaoi should be something I’m really into, but I think it’s because I’m not really into romance for sexual relationships as a narrative device, or sex in stories in general – the pure het romances (e.g. Ore Monogatari!!) I like because they’re fluffy and the tragic het romances (e.g. SGRS) I like because they tend to speak about the human condition as well as the story at hand. I already know there’s yaoi and BL of both of these kinds, but it takes a lot of my mental fortitude to watch something I know people watch for the sexual element.

    BL I’m faring better with because it’s devoid of said sexual element, so it ends up looking a lot like what I normally deal with (which I think Marth once termed “BL-adjacent” when I was talking about this topic with him).

    • Irina says:

      You Confused Strawberry Panic with Strawberry 100% ??!!!??? Joking.
      I tend to enjoy “wholesome Yaoi myself. They do have sexual elements but those are not given more weight than the other elements. It’s actually the same for Yuri. But I like slightly older casts.

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    I’m hardly an expert on yaoi, but it seems to me that it stands out among most romances for making the hook most openly sexual attraction. From what I’ve seen there’s often a sense of a manly guy openly pursuing (to the point of harrassment) a more feminine and timid guy, whose discomfort is often interpreted as the growing pains of love. That sort of relationship is something I downright hate, and maybe I was unlucky, but the first few yaoi romances I’ve tried fell into this pattern, so I’ve avoided them. Practically the only one I remember liking was Love Stage, which sort of subverted the pattern a little, but I still wish it hadn’t been there to begin with.

    When that sort of relationship pattern appears in a hetero romance it tends to be framed more romantically than sexually, with a possessive streak often being framed as I’ll protect you, or you’ve got a problem with opening up and I’ll help you solve it. (I dislike romances like Sukitte Ii na yo, Ao Haru Ride, or Your Lie in April, for falling into this.) There’s often one route in reverse harems that falls into this (such as the Amnesia cage; if you don’t know what I’m talking about consider yourself lucky).

    Most yuri falls either into the non-commital tease pattern, or into the class-S-just-a-phase pattern (Maria-sama ga Miteru has a canon lesbian couple to lampshade this, for example). For this reason, I do think yuri has the greates tendency towards power equality among romances, but it’s also on average the least committed to the romance aspect.

    Now, if I read you right, none of this is what you were addressing when you said “power dynamics”. What you’re talking about is more emotional dependency, where one party is able to weaponise love and the other isn’t. And there’s definitely something to this; I mean that’s basically the hook of last season’s Kaguya-sama – Love is War, where in a prospective coupe each one tries to engineer situations where the other confesses, because the one who asks shows weakness. The above power dynamics tend to cut across this, though: in romances target at a female readersip, the boy tends to be unphased by rejection often to the point of abuse. A real man conquers. And they tend to import this into yaoi through the uke/seme distinction, and it’s more obviously sexualised. There are romances who are based around this, though, like Itazura na Kiss, where the girl is “his” no matter how much of a jerk he is. (I sort of liked that show, but it sometimes tested my patience.)

    As for the story being driven by only one character’s needs, yeah, that happens a lot in romance. For example, I love Kimi ni Todoke, but I find the first season a lot better than the second, and that’s partly because it’s easier to watch that as a coming of age story; season 2 is more obviously a romance and suffers for it, IMO. It probably doesn’t help you that anime where this is not the case often easily fall into the melodrama slot (like True Tears, which I love, too). Romances which do develope both parties often deal with jealousy in a way which turns me off (e.g. Lovely Complex), so there’s that, too. I think the way serious romance treats jealousy turns me off, because I’m aromantic, and I actually don’t find romance by itself very… appealing.

    Since I’m aromantic, I have a strange relationship with romances. I really enjoy watching them, but there’s an erosive effect, too: boys and girls can’t have intimate relationships without them developing into romance; and with the onset of yaoi/yuri shipping that expands into nobody can have intimate relationships without evolving into romance. So while individual romances tend to lift my spirit by showing me people finding happiness, the cumulative effect of it can get oppressive, by suggesting that the only way to any meaningful relationship is romance.

    • Irina says:

      I also get annoyed at the general idea of shipping for that reason. It gives the impression that any meaningful relationship has to be romantic on some level. It’s a little tiresome

  6. I also like a good Yuri or yaoi from time to time, but I’ve been moving away from it recently. I think the reason is that literally everytime I see one it’s always angsty or never really seen one that’s a romantic comedy, and I’m just not into the angst anymore because it gets to be exhausting as heck. I hope the day comes where yaoi and Yuri are not so angsty. Maybe one if the reasons you like it is because it’s more of a “deep” angsty love story than Shoujo or Josei romances?

  7. Lumi says:

    I’m a big romance fan in general, and I can say that like any other romance, non-hetero romances do tend to get a bit cheesy. Except even moreso, because people have this weird fascination with same sex romance. I’ve seen a LOT of crappy hetero romance, but I’ve also seen a lot of really good ones that are just as much about character development.

    Same sex romance tends to be fetishized a lot more. I ain’t gonna kinkshame nobody for that, but it’s just a fact. Same sex has that “spice” because it wasn’t common in the mainstream until the late 2000s. However, what you did say is true. The vast majority of LGBTQ romances, be they good or bad, put a lot of focus onto the character development. That’s because authors also tend to have a better understanding of that orientation (well, as much as Japan can with this stuff). They want their readers to relate, not just go ‘awww’. Well, they do go “awwww”, but that’s besides the point.

    Bloom Into You is an example of a fantastic portrayal of a lesbian romance. The key difference between that show and yuri fluff is that the yuri part is the LEAST interesting part about it. Think of the yuri aspect as “bait”, and the hook ends up being a wonderful coming of age story. I believe a good romance should rely moreso on an interesting dynamic than any particular gender or quirk.

    What I think separates LQBTQ from hetero is that LGBTQ romances tend to be focused on a couple, as opposed to a harem. The harem genre is problematic if only because it’s 99% heterosexual and 80% wish fulfillment trash. I’d say most romcoms end up being harems or love triangles, which sucks, because you can be a good romcom without that aspect. Not that all harems or love triangles or bad, GoToubun is really good one from this year, but that’s where a lot of the hetero “fatigue” comes from.

    I’m making this my Friday post now,lol.

    • Irina says:

      I look forward to reading it

    • Dewbond says:

      The harem genre is problematic if only because it’s 99% heterosexual and 80% wish fulfillment trash. I’d say most romcoms end up being harems or love triangles, which sucks, because you can be a good romcom without that aspect.

      Some can be, you are right. Harem has more than it’s fair share of clunkers, but I think you should consider looking at the harem genre as more “absurdist comedy” instead of problematic. I mean that’s how I’ve viewed it, but different strokes.

      Now if we are talking about harem aspects in non harem shows, I can see what your saying here, but if we are discussing a harem focused show (Love Ru, Date A Live, DxD, etc) then I think there has to be a bit of “ok this is clearly not suppose to be realistic, let’s just enjoy the absurdity”

      But again, different perspectives are always good.

      • Irina says:

        I can see the wish fulfillment aspect being somewhat a staple of the genre. I haven’t seen Date a Live but the other two you mention have elements of self insert in their protagonists in my opinion.

        • Dewbond says:

          Probably a little bit, actually a lot, but that is in a sense the appeal, because it is showing a version of something that is almost impossible to happen in real life.

          Real talk, any attempt at the RL version of a harem would only end in a absolute catastrophe. The guy would either kill himself, the girls would kill each other, kill the guy or either leave, or hook up with themselves.

      • Irina says:

        Not that it’s a bad thing mind you

  8. I think cishet romance stories can feel overdone or tired because they’re not just limited to specifically romance-focused stories. Practically every genre of anime, film, TV series, book or comic will have romance stories as subplots, so we see those stories even if we’re not seeking them out. They’re practically background noise. Yaoi and Yuri can offer different takes on romance stories, with characters or tropes that you wouldn’t see in most cishet romance stories. Seeking them out for being something new isn’t inherently a problem, as that’s not the same as fetishising those types of relationships or denigrating others.

    I don’t usually seek out cishet romance unless it has something new to offer, like a plus-size character whose size is not the focus of the story. I enjoyed the romantic subplot in the recent remake of The Hustle with Rebel Wilson, because not only did it play around with power dynamics, but it gave us a plus-size woman who was confident and funny but could also be honest about how men had treated her in the past because of her looks. But those stories are still rare, unfortunately.

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