Part 1: Introduction
Through my time in the anime community, I’ve come to realize that yuri is an incredibly misunderstood genre. Many think of it as a parallel to BL, being made by men for men, while others see it as a field almost exclusively made up of women. Confused about this myself, I made an attempt to find serious, detailed information on the subject. Unfortunately, said information does not exist. While there is some data on the demographics of the yuri manga industry and on yuri fandom, said data is hard to find and deeply lacking. As such, I have done my best to summarize all of the information I have been able to find here, in an attempt to seriously look at the genre.
To begin with, my methodologies must be laid out. Much of the data found in this analysis was collected by myself, as the lack of publicly available info forced me to do my own research and studies. I, like all people, am biased, and that likely reflects in my data. Truly random samples of yuri fans and yuri mangaka are nigh-impossible to perform, and as such, I have not made any attempt to do so. Because of this, my data will be skewed towards mangaka I know of and communities I’m more likely to take part in. This is not to say that my data is absolutely useless. Some of it was not gathered by me, and I made all attempts to be as thorough and fair as possible with the data I did personally gather. But this can only go so far. None of the data presented here comes from a scientific survey, and thus it can not be generalized to the yuri genre as a whole. Instead, this is merely a summary of the most accurate data on the genre right now, while we lack any further scientific research into the topic. Without further ado, let us begin.
Part 2: A Definition for Yuri and a Brief History of the Genre
When studying any subject it’s important to have a workable definition. While all definitions are descriptive and thus hard to precisely pin down, this is particularly true for yuri, as its diverse following leads to different definitions from different individuals. For the sake of this piece, I’ll be defining yuri as “a Japanese genre focused on romantic and/or sexual relationships between girls or women. It can be seen as a synonym for the term, Girls’ Love.” There will inevitably be exceptions to this definition, but I believe that it functions well enough to use.
In order to understand the demographics, I believe a brief history of the genre is necessary. The yuri genre can be most directly tied back to Class S stories in the early 20th century. Class S stories focused on feelings of passion between girls, though they were usually non-romantic, at least from an official standpoint. These stories were popular in the girls’ magazines of the time. Particularly popular was author Yoshiya Nobuko, herself a queer woman, who wrote the famous Hana Monogatari.
Over time the Class S genre withered with the decline of girls’ magazines, but they had significant influence with the arrival of shoujo manga. Shoujo manga is where yuri was truly born, particularly in the 70s. The first widely available yuri manga was Shiroi Heya no Futari, which takes from Class S stories while ramping up the melodrama and the romance. Shiroi Heya no Futari was written by Ryoko Yamagishi, a popular shoujo artist at the time. This origin of yuri in shoujo magazines is important, as it’s a key difference from BL. BL is made by women almost entirely for women, and its origins reflect that. Yuri is not the mirror image of BL; it was not initially written by men, nor did it appear early on in male-targeted magazines. The genre has changed, but the recognition of this history is important to understanding the modern demographics of yuri. Now without further ado, let us begin.
Part 3: Yuri Mangaka
I began my research into the demographics of the yuri genre by looking at yuri mangaka. This was not the easiest task. Getting a list of the most popular yuri mangaka is nigh-impossible, and any list like that is guaranteed to be biased. In addition, it’s not uncommon for the gender of a given mangaka to be unknown, and while names are often gendered, pseudonyms are common, and assuming gender based on names would lead to incorrect results. As such I personally chose 150 yuri mangaka myself. By choosing this many I hope to have balanced out any problems with my personal favorites influencing the results. This full list can be found here.
For the sake of this section, I used Baka-Updates for researching the gender of mangaka. For the purpose of this study, I classified yuri mangaka as “creators who made 2 or more stories tagged ‘yuri’ or ‘shoujo-ai’, or creators who wrote 1 or more volumes tagged ‘yuri’ or ‘shoujo-ai’.” This is subject to dispute, and many may believe that some of the mangaka on this list aren’t yuri creators, but in absence of a better definition it is what I have chosen.
In this research I found that out of the 150 mangaka, 91 were female, 20 were male, and 39 did not have a listed gender. This means that 60.66% of mangaka were female, 13.33% were male, and 26% were unknown. Of those with known genders, 81.98% were female and 18.01% were male. This means that at least 60% of these mangaka were female as a whole, and at most 87% of these mangaka were female as a whole, depending on the genders of those not listed.
Information on the sexuality of yuri mangaka is much harder to find. A number of yuri mangaka have openly stated that they’re queer, including Morishima Akiko, Amano Shuninta, Takemiya Jin, Nagata Kabi, and others. The afterwords written by many other yuri mangaka also indicate that some may be attracted to women. But for understandable reasons, this sort of information is usually not publically available, so getting accurate data on it is hard. Suffice it to say that at least a sizable number of female yuri mangaka are queer, though there’s no way to judge how many that is at this point.
Part 4: Japanese Yuri Fandom
Japanese yuri fandom is the area in which I could not personally gather the data. As the primary audience of yuri anime and manga, Japanese fandom is obviously relevant when looking at the demographic make-up of the genre.
There are two primary sources for this section. The first is the Comic Yuri Hime survey. According to a 2007 poll by the magazine, 70% of Comic Yuri Hime readers were female. This poll has a response bias and it’s worth noting that this was before the magazine merged with the more male-oriented Comic Yuri Hime S, but it is notable. According to The File on Yuri Works, only 62% of Yuri Hime S readers were male in 2008, before the merging of the magazines. This leads credence to the idea that there are more female fans than male fans of yuri manga, at least those published under the Yuri Hime family.
My other information comes from a survey conducted by Verena Maser for her paper, Beautiful and Innocent: Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre. In her unscientific survey of Japanese yuri fans online she found very interesting results. According to this survey of 1352 people, 52.4% identified as female, 46.1% identified as male, and 1.6% identified as other. On its own, this is interesting data that backs up the idea that female fans are more prevalent than male fans in the fandom.
However, what’s most interesting here is the data on sexual identity. According to her survey, 30.0% of respondents were non-heterosexual women, while only 15.2% were heterosexual women(a significant number of people chose ‘don’t know’ for this section.) As a result, we can conclude that roughly 66% of women taking this survey were women who are attracted to other women. In this survey, non-heterosexual women outnumbered every group other than heterosexual men. Non-heterosexual men accounted for around 2-3% of the total survey. This provides powerful evidence towards two claims: the claim that yuri fandom is diverse in its range of genders and sexualities, and the claim that queer women are interested in yuri manga. It is not likely you would find nearly as many queer men in BL fandom.
Part 5: International Yuri Fandom
The data for this section was collected using the survey I conducted, The Yuri Fandom Demographic Survey. This survey was published on the English-speaking internet, and as such anyone capable of speaking English was able to take it. The vast majority of responses came from Western countries, but it is worth noting that this isn’t necessarily a Western survey. As in previous examples, this survey is unscientific, and cannot be generalized onto the English-speaking yuri fandom as a whole.
Beginning with gender, the international survey provides markedly different results to the Japanese one. In this survey of 695 people, 47.19% identified as female, 44.31% identified as male, and 8.49% identified as some other gender. While the ratio of men-to-women here is similar to the Japanese survey, the number of people who selected other is markedly higher. It’s worth investigating how much of this is due to the increased prominence of transgender people on the internet, as well as how that overlaps with communities that already have high rates of queer participation, though that is outside the scope of this piece.
Sexuality is another area that differs significantly from the Japanese survey. A whole 96.04% of women selected a sexuality other than “heterosexual”, and the same is true for 23.38% of men. While the Japanese survey showed a large number of queer people in it, queer people make up well over half of respondents in the international survey. How much of this is due to the survey’s location and other biases and how much is due to innate differences in yuri fandom based on region is worth investigating, though it’s not something I can do myself.
Part 6: Conclusion
All the data here suggests one principal thing: that yuri manga is primarily made by women and primarily consumed by women. This is not to exclude the presence of men in the creation of yuri manga and in its fandom. Men certainly are present. But the claim that yuri isn’t made for women — more specifically the claim that it holds no appeal to queer women — is unequivocally false. There’s simply no evidence to suggest that’s true, and it should be promptly discarded.
To end this off I have to ask that more research is done on this topic. The data I’ve gathered here is, as far as I can tell, the only data on this subject. It’s fully possible that there’s more extensive data on the subject in Japanese, but if it exists in English then I’ve certainly never seen it. Yuri is a rapidly-expanding genre, one which clearly has an influence on a number of queer people. The fact that it’s received so little research is, frankly speaking, an indictment on those who are actually capable of research. I had to do all of this research myself, and half of the data collection was done by me as well. I have no training in this whatsoever, and there are almost certainly those who could do a better job at it than me. I hope that this can serve as a starting point, and I hope that more and better research can be done as this genre and community continue to grow.
Maser, Verena. “Beautiful and Innocent Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre.” Ph.D. diss., Universität Trier (2013).
Zeria. “Report on the Yuri Fandom Demographic Survey.” Floating into Bliss, 14 Oct. 2017, floatingintobliss.wordpress.com/2017/10/14/report-on-the-yuri-fandom-demographic-survey/.
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