I think it should be fairly clear to everyone at this point that yuri is a genre I know a lot about and have a great interest in. In many ways, I see my role as being an ambassador to yuri. It’s a part of the community which has been historically underrepresented in the discussion of anime and manga, particularly on YouTube.
In the time I’ve spent in the yuri community and the wider anime community, I’ve come across a startling number of misconceptions and straight up incorrect statements about the genre. I doubt anyone else is going to clear these up, so I’ve taken it upon myself to do so.
The first misconception, and perhaps the most dangerous, is the idea that yuri is made primarily by or for men. It’s easy to see how an idea like this would arise. It’s true that the majority of lesbian porn is aimed at straight male viewers, so to an uninformed viewer, it would seem that yuri is the same way.
Additionally, to those who haven’t done much research, yuri simply seems like a gender-swapped version of BL. This is an especially big problem because BL is generally called yaoi in the west, a term which seems vaguely similar to the ears of English speakers even though there’s no connection between the two. BL is well known for the fact that its primary audience is fujoshi. While there are certainly male fans and creators in the genre, it’s true that it’s dominated by female mangaka and female readers.
However, yuri is not a parallel of BL. Rather, it’s a totally different genre with a different history, not merely a gender-swapped version. As I covered in my video on the very early days of the genre, yuri spawned from female shoujo mangaka in the 70s, the same place BL was born. Since then, the two genres have gone through totally different paths of development, but it’s important to recognize that rather than a parallel birth, they were born as twins of a sort.
In regards to modern demographics, things get a bit shakier, though we do have some data which definitely dismisses the idea that yuri is dominated by men.
Back in November, I wrote a larger piece on this with all my sources, so you can check that out in the description if you’re interested. This’ll merely be a summary of that data, though I think that should be enough.
Starting with the mangaka, it’s just an empirical fact that most yuri is written and drawn by female creators. That’s not to say that men don’t exist, or that all of those women are queer themselves. Such a thing would be hard to prove in the first place given the understandable hesitance of mangaka to state their sexualities. But it is true that a vast majority of yuri is written by women. My study of 150 mangaka showed that somewhere between 60% and 87% were female. Granted, this was a list of mangaka I gathered myself, and thus was subject to mistakes and personal bias, but given the relatively small size of the genre, I highly doubt there’s some hidden group of male yuri mangaka that I managed to miss.
Fans aren’t nearly as lopsided in their gender makeup, but there’s still no reason to believe men are in any way dominant. Most data on the subject, from Comic Yuri Hime’s 2007 readership surveys, to a survey conducted among Japanese fans by a researcher, to my own survey of English-speaking fans showed women to be the largest gender demographic among yuri fans. All of this data is extremely subject to bias and obviously does not properly represent everyone who reads yuri. And new info, like a December 2017 interview with Yuri Hime’s editor-in-chief, reveals that the magazine has shifted to having a roughly 60% male readership. But there’s reason to believe these men are generally less invested in the genre. I believe most of this data at least shows that the communities where yuri fans spend their time are not nearly as male-dominated as some would lead you to believe.
Misconception number 2 is the idea that all yuri is “pure” schoolgirl stories. This has never fully been the case. Even going back to the 70s, you can see some yuri manga with adult characters. But it’s certainly true that, until recently, Class-S inspired yuri manga set at all-girls’ schools with little beyond kisses was the norm. For a time, this was the only type of story that yuri magazines like Comic Yuri Hime would print, and it’s still a popular setting for modern yuri manga.
But its dominance has been challenged, in multiple ways. First, there’s the fact that mangaka still use many of the trappings and tropes of that style while being far more willing to display sex and intimacy. Manga like Girl Friends, Kase-san, and Aoi Hana are all certainly ‘schoolgirl yuri’ but they make it pretty clear that the main characters are sexually-interested teenagers, sometimes even displaying sex scenes.
In many ways, this has become the new norm, and sex is hardly a taboo in modern yuri manga. Gone are the days when it was pretended that kisses were as far as anyone wanted to go as are the days where everything is constrained to their school, never leaving the so-called “secret garden”. The most popular yuri manga right now, and possibly ever, is Bloom into You, and while that’s not a deeply sexual series, it’s serious and engages with the yuri tradition while throwing away its more annoying elements.
Additionally, the genre has become much more free in setting lately. While there’s always been yuri with adult characters or more out there premises, that has increased to a significant degree. Yuri Hime went from mostly printing transience based schoolgirl manga to running an adult-based series as one of their most popular works. Artists like Takemiya Jin and Morishima Akiko have only continued to focus on adult women. Manga like Cheerful Amnesia and LesRepo see great success. And new magazines like Galette give yuri mangaka the freedom to work as they wish, and in many cases, that means focusing on adults, even from mangaka like Milk Morinaga who previously focused entirely on schoolgirls.
Of course, schoolgirl stories still make up the majority of yuri manga. But the fact is that most romance anime and manga, hell, most anime and manga in general, are focused on students. We’re moving to a point where yuri simply reflects that broader trend and I wouldn’t be shocked if the genre soon has a proportionally higher number of adult-focused stories than straight romance.
Misconception number 3 is the idea that all yuri we get is subtext. In some ways, this ties into number 2, though the major difference is that this complaint is focused on anime, while the schoolgirl complaint is generally focused on manga.
It’s easy to see where this idea comes from. First, it originates in the fact that yes, yuri subtext is pretty common in anime, in a way that outright yuri shows aren’t. Any given cute girls doing cute things show in a season will have at least a little gay subtext, and you’ll find it in other shows as well.
However, I think the term ‘subtext’ is being misused a lot of the time because many examples people point to of it are really just ‘text without kissing’. When one character actively confesses their love to another with romantic framing, that is not subtext. When one character calls another their “turtledove”, that is not subtext. When the show actively questions the main character’s sexuality in one episode, before reuniting her with her partner, that is not subtext.
I certainly understand the urge to see a somewhat more explicit representation of queer girls and women in anime. Trust me, I really do. It would be great if many of these shows were willing to display on-screen kisses. HinaLogi actually doing that is part of why I liked it so much last year. But that doesn’t mean the validity of the series we have shouldn’t count. I’m not saying that ‘yuri-bait’ is a thing which totally doesn’t exist. But when you have a Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show where one character explicitly has a crush on another, that simply isn’t subtext. Complain that representation as it stands isn’t good enough, and I’ll be right behind you. But we have more than subtext, and that’s a fact.
Misconception number 4 is a pretty big one. This is the idea that non-sexual romance doesn’t count as yuri. Generally, this misconception is marked by the use of the term shoujo-ai.
Now, yuri is not the only valid term for the genre. Girls’ Love is another, fairly popular term, with lots of points in its favor. But the term shoujo-ai really needs to die, for a number of reasons. First, it simply doesn’t exist in Japan and is even more arbitrary than genre terms are in the first place.
Here, shoujo-ai is used to mean works which focus on love between girls while avoiding sexuality. It’s easy to see why it sprung up. It’s naturally a parallel to shounen-ai, a term which, while not used as much anymore, started out as the name for BL. As time went on, the pedophilic connotations of the term caused it slowly fade out.
However, what’s interesting is that shoujo-ai was never used by Japanese yuri fans in the first place. It’s entirely a Western phrase, taking shounen-ai and simply swapping the gender for it. In Japan, it still carries its pedophilic connotations, generally referring to the attraction to young girls by adult men.
But that could be forgiven. I’m not up here railing against the term hentai, even though it’s used differently in the west than in Japan. The real problem is that it creates an artificial separation between forms of yuri, which helps to contribute to some of the other misconceptions I’ve been talking about.
Certainly, there is a reason to talk about how sexual a series gets, if only for judging what audiences it’s suitable to. But that can be done without the false division. Yuri in Japan gets age ratings as well, and it’s still all called yuri. At what point the line between yuri and shoujo-ai should be drawn is an open question with no real answer. Unfortunately, the fact that websites like MAL continue to prop up this division means it won’t be going away anytime soon, though I hope the wider audience can stop using it, as yuri fandom mostly has.
And last is misconception number 5: the idea that yuri is a dwindling or stagnant genre. This is possibly the least common of misconceptions but it’s one which is particularly harmful and very easy to disprove, so I figure I’ll cover it anyway.
First, it’s important to note that there are multiple ways in which a genre could be ‘dying’. Primarily, this comes down to a question of quality and a question of popularity.
Obviously, I can’t convince anyone that yuri is of a higher quality than it used to be. The greater scope of yuri stories and expansion beyond chaste schoolgirl narratives really demonstrably shows it to be in a better place from my perspective, but some would disagree with that. If you’re one of those people, there’s not much I can say.
What I can contest is the popularity of the genre. Yuri is currently growing at unprecedented rates, both in Japan and the West, both of which I’ll be addressing.
In Japan, yuri has seen consistent growth over the last decade, but now it’s finally penetrating the mainstream. New volumes of Bloom into You make it onto the weekly Oricon trackers which display the sales of top-selling manga in a given week. This is basically unheard of for yuri manga and demonstrates a level of popularity never before seen. At just 5 volumes, Bloom into You has already seen over 500,000 printed copies, which is really quite amazing, especially given the increased rates of digital manga sales which often aren’t included in these figures.
Not every series is as popular and well-promoted as Bloom into You, but almost all yuri is seeing an uptick. Comic Yuri Hime went monthly last year, becoming the first yuri manga to do so. The quarterly crowdfunded magazine Galette is providing a space for many of yuri’s most talented mangaka. And yuri is seeing more and more series show up in magazines targeted at general audiences, getting published in magazines aimed at all 4 major demographics. Pixiv and other online sites are allowing amateurs to get more and more attention. Yuri shelves are beginning to show up in bookstores, where previously they took up a small part of the BL shelves. Yuri is simply on a massive rise.
And the same applies in the West. Where previously we’d maybe get a yuri manga licensed once a year at most, things have changed drastically. Seven Seas’ long-time bid to publish popular yuri finally paid off with Girl Friends, soon allowing them to expand with manga like Citrus and now they’re a reliable publisher for a great many yuri manga. Other companies like Yen Press and Viz are also getting into the yuri business and based on the fact that they continue to license series, they seem to be enjoying success.
Suffice it to say, yuri is more alive than ever and is on the verge of becoming a truly mainstream genre. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few more yuri magazines pop up in the next couple years because we’ve finally reached the point where multiple can be reliably maintained at the same time.
All of these misconceptions contribute to an image of the yuri genre which is vastly distorted from its real form. I can’t pretend that this video is somehow going to fix all of these issues, but I hope you can take the information I provided here and spread it beyond the reach of this piece. If we all do our part, we can contribute to making yuri a better-understood genre.