Boy’s Love is a prominent subgenre found in the shojo and josei genres. Boys' Love, typically created by female authors for a mostly female audience, is manga that involve romantic and sometimes sexual relationships between men. Early in the history of their production, they were referred to as "shounen ai" - literally meaning "boyish love" or "boys' love." Founding works include Hagio Moto's Toma no Shinzo (1974) and Takemiya Keiko's Kaze to Ki no Uta (1976-1984). Currently, the English translation "Boys' Love", or BL for short, is the name that is generally used to indicate this sub-genre of shojo/josei manga. BL that is more specifically sexual in nature is called yaoi, derived from the phrase "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi" meaning "no climax, no punchline, no meaning," suggesting a lack of plot and an overemphasis on sex. While undeveloped plots are common in amateur works, in the current context yaoi refers to comics depicting male-male sexual relationships, regardless of story complexity.
Romance and love are key elements of BL, even in the case of the more sexually explicit yaoi manga. Readers are drawn to stories in which characters develop romantic feelings for each other, and the stories are rarely just about sex. The men featured are mostly androgynous, have slender, hairless bodies and are perceived as very attractive. Another fundamental feature of BL is that the protagonists play stereotypical - and gendered – roles in relationships: one character is the seme, the masculine, aggressive 'attacker' or penetrator, while the other is the uke, the feminine, passive, and penetrated.
Why are so many Japanese women drawn to homoerotic love stories portraying relationships between men? There may be as many reasons as there are readers. One likely possibility is that women prefer reading about such relationships to escape the rigid gender roles that they encounter when reading about heterosexual relationships or when interacting with men in real life. Another interpretation is that having two male characters can be a nonthreatening way for women to fantasize about men, without having to deal with the presence of any female characters. Yet another possibility is that the male characters, given their bishonen or 'beautiful boy' appearance, are really seen as girls in drag, and allow women to explore same-sex feelings. Overall, Boys' Love manga provide women with a space to explore issues of power, sexuality, love and romance.
BL may have a primary audience of women, but it is read by a male gay audience as well, and often is an inspiration for creators of gei manga, a genre that embodies more action-oriented stories and explicit sexual content. Gei/gay manga departs from BL in an obvious aesthetic sense, as the men featured in these works are often hypermasculine, with large muscular bodies.