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Yaoi fandom refers to readers of yaoi (also called Boys' Love, BL), a genre of male-male romance narratives aimed at a female audience, and more specifically those who participate in communal activities organized around yaoi, such as attending conventions, maintaining or posting to fansites, creating fanfiction or fanart, etc. Most fans are teenage girls or young women. In the mid-1990s, estimates of the size of the Japanese yaoi fandom were at 100,000-500,000 people, but in 2008, despite increased knowledge of the genre among the general public, readership remains limited. In Japan, female fans are called fujoshi, a pun which denotes their way of seeing homosexual relationships in media as being "rotten". English-language fan translations of From Eroica with Love circulated through the slash fiction community in the 1980s, forging a link between slash fiction fandom and Yaoi fandom.
Yaoi fans have been characters in manga aimed at both female otaku and larger audiences (such as the seinen manga Fujoshi Rumi), and in a TV series. At least one butler cafe has opened with a schoolboy theme in order to appeal to the Boy's Love aesthetic. In one study on visual kei, 37% of Japanese fan respondents reported having "yaoi or sexual fantasies" about the visual kei stars.
Most yaoi fans are either teenage girls or young women. The female readership in Thailand is estimated at 80%, and the membership of Yaoi-Con, a yaoi convention in San Francisco, is 85% female. It is usually assumed that all female fans are heterosexual, but in Japan there is a presence of lesbian manga authors and lesbian, bisexual or questioning female readers. Recent online surveys of English-speaking readers of yaoi indicate that 50-60% of female readers self-identify as heterosexual. It has been suggested that Western fans may be more diverse in their sexual orientation than Japanese fans and that Western fans are "more likely to link" BL ("Boy's Love") to supporting gay rights.
Although the genre is marketed at women and girls, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual males also form part of the readership. In one library-based survey of U.S. yaoi fans, about one quarter of respondents were male; online surveys of Anglophone readers place this percentage at about 10%. Lunsing suggests that younger Japanese gay men who are offended by gay men's magazines' "pornographic" content may prefer to read yaoi instead. That is not to say that the majority of homosexual men are fans of the genre, as some are put off by the feminine art style or unrealistic depictions of homosexual life and instead seek "Gei comi" (Gay comics), manga written by and for homosexual men, as gei comi is perceived to be more realistic. Lunsing notes that some of the narrative annoyances that homosexual men express about yaoi manga, such as rape, misogyny, and an absence of a Western-style gay identity, are also present in gei comi. Some male manga artists have produced yaoi works, using their successes in yaoi to then go on to publish gei comi.
Authors of BL present themselves as "fellow fans" by using dust jacket notes and postscripts to chat to the readers "as if they were her girlfriends" and talk about the creative process in making the manga, and what she discovered she liked about the story she wrote.
In the mid-1990s, estimates of the size of the Japanese yaoi fandom were at 100,000-500,000 people; at around that time, the long-running yaoi anthology June had a circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000, twice the circulation of the "best-selling" gay lifestyle magazine Badi. Most Western yaoi fansites "appeared some years later than pages and lists devoted to mainstream anime and manga". As of 1995, they "revolved around the most famous series", such as Ai no Kusabi and Zetsuai 1989; and by the late 1990s, English-speaking websites mentioning yaoi "reached the hundreds". As of 2003, on Japanese-language internet sites, there were roughly equal proportions of sites dedicated to yaoi as there were sites by and for gay men about homosexuality. On 16 November 2003 there were 770,000 yaoi websites. As of April 2005, a search for non-Japanese sites resulted in 785,000 English, 49,000 Spanish, 22,400 Korean, 11,900 Italian and 6,900 Chinese sites. In January 2007, there were approximately five million hits for 'yaoi'. Hisako Miyoshi, the Vice Editor-in-Chief for Libre Publishing's manga division, said in a 2008 interview that although Boys Love is more well known to the general public, the numbers of readers remains limited, which she attributes to the codified nature of the genre.
Thorn noted that fans tend to prefer BL to non-BL shōjo manga, and Suzuki noted a preference for BL over other forms of pornography, for example heterosexual love stories in ladies' comics. Jessica Bawens-Sugimoto feels that in general, "slash and yaoi fans are dismissive of mainstream hetero-sexual romance", such as "the notorious pulp Harlequin romances". Deborah Shamoon said that "the borders between yaoi, shōjo manga and ladies' comics are quite permeable", suggesting that fans of BL probably enjoyed both homosexual and heterosexual tales. Kazuma Kodaka, in an interview with Giant Robot suggested that the Japanese yaoi fandom includes married women who had been her fans since they were in college. Dru Pagliassotti's survey indicates that loyalty to an author is a common factor in readers' purchase decisions. Yōka Nitta has noted a split in what her readers want - her younger readers prefer seeing explicit material, and her older readers prefer seeing romance. There is a perception that the English-speaking yaoi fandom is demanding increasingly explicit content, but that this poses problems for retailers. In 2004, ICv2 noted that fans seemed to prefer buying yaoi online. Andrea Wood suggests that due to restrictions placed on the sale of yaoi, many Western teenage fans seek more explicit titles via scanlations. Dru Pagliassotti notes that the majority of respondents to her survey say that they first encountered BL online, which she links to half of her respondents reporting that they get most of their BL from scanlations. In 2003, there were at least five BL scanlation groups. Japanese fan practices in the mid to late 2000s included the concept of the feeling of moe, which was typically used by male otaku about young female characters prior to this.
Robin Brenner and Snow Wildsmith noted in their survey of American fans that gay and bisexual male fans of yaoi preferred more realistic tales than female fans did.
Shihomi Sakakibara (1998) argued that yaoi fans, including himself, were homosexually oriented female-to-male transsexuals. Akiko Mizoguchi believes there is a "shikou" (translated as taste or orientation), both towards BL/yaoi as a whole, and towards particular patterns within the genre, such as a "feisty bottom (yancha uke)" character type. Her study shows that fans believe that in order to be a "serious" fan, one should know their own preferences, and "consider themselves a sort of sexual minority". She argues that the exchange of sexual fantasies between the predominantly female yaoi fandom can be interpreted that although the participants may be heterosexual in real life, they can also and compatibly be considered "virtual lesbians".
Fujoshi (腐女子, lit. "rotten girl") is a self-mockingly pejorative Japanese term for female fans of manga and novels that feature romantic relationships between men. Fujoshi enjoy imagining what it would be like if male characters from manga and anime, and occasionally real-life male performers as well, loved each other. The label encompasses fans of the boys love genre itself, as well as the related manga, anime, and video game properties that have appeared as the market for such works has developed. The term "fujoshi" is a homophonous pun on fujoshi (婦女子), a term for respectable women, created by replacing the character 婦 (pronounced fu), meaning married woman or lady, with the character 腐 (also pronounced fu), meaning fermented or rotten. The name was coined by mass media, but was reclaimed by yaoi fans. Fans self-deprecatingly refer to their way of thinking, which perceives homosexual relationships between male characters in stories that do not include homosexual themes, as being "rotten". "Fujoshi" carries a connotation of being a "fallen woman".
Older fujoshi use various terms to refer to themselves, including as kifujin (貴腐人, "noble rotten woman"), a pun on a homophonous word meaning "fine lady", and ochōfujin (汚超腐人), which sounds similar to a phrase meaning "Madame Butterfly", possibly taken from a character nicknamed Ochōfujin (お蝶夫人) in the 1972 manga series Ace o Nerae! by Sumika Yamamoto. These labels were coined in the same self-deprecating spirit as fujoshi.
According to a 2005 issue of Eureka, in recent times fujoshi can refer to female otaku in general, although it cautions that not all yaoi fans are otaku, as there are some more casual readers. As fujoshi is the best-known term, it is often used by the Japanese media and by people outside of the otaku subculture to refer to female otaku as a group, regardless of whether they are fans of BL. This usage may be considered offensive by female otaku who are not fans of BL.
Men who, like fujoshi, enjoy imagining relationships between characters in fictional works when that relationship is not part of the author's intent may be called fudanshi (腐男子, "rotten boy") or fukei (腐兄, "rotten older brother"), both of which are puns of similar construction to fujoshi.
Besides commercially-published original material, Japanese yaoi also encompasses fan-made dōjinshi, fanart, computer games, etc.; a large percentage of the dōjinshi offered at Comiket are yaoi stories based on popular anime and manga series. This may be seen as a parallel development to slash fiction in the West. Although shōjo manga stories featuring romances between boys or young men were commercially published in Japan from the mid-1970s, and soon became a genre in their own right, the spread of yaoi though the Western fan community is generally linked to the pre-existing Western slash fiction community. In the mid-1980s, fan translations of the shōjo manga series From Eroica with Love began to circulate through the slash community via amateur press associations, creating a "tenuous link" between slash and yaoi. Although the English-speaking online yaoi fandom is observed to increasingly overlap with online slash fandom, slash fiction has portrayed adult males, whereas yaoi follows the aesthetic of the beautiful boy, often highlighting their youth. Mark McLelland describes this aesthetic as being seen as problematic in recent Western society. Yaoi fans tend to be younger than slash fans, and so are less shocked about depictions of underage sexuality. Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto detects a tendency in both yaoi and slash fandoms to disparage the others' heteronormativity, potential for subversiveness or even the potential for enjoyment.