THIS ARTICLE FROM GGY-META IS DATED FROM NOVEMBER 2006 and does not reflect the current state of the gei-comi market in Japan.
I want to talk about gay manga, specifically what is known as ‘muscle love,’ a style of erotic romance manga for men that some call ‘Bara*’.
Bara has a quiet and sporadic history in Japan. I only the stuff made in the mid-90’s when I took interest in erotic Japanese manga. In 1996, a small comics magazine sprang up called, P-NUTS. It was cute, and it was erotic manga made for men by men; but sales and distribution were poor and so P-NUTS didn’t last past 1997. Of course, it didn’t help that in the mid-90’s ladies only BL/Yaoi conquered Comiket, and soon caught the hearts of the publishers. BL, erotic male/male manga made for women by women, carved a profitable niche for itself within the shoujo market, leaving other smaller micro-genre such as Yuri, Kemano, Gay, and even the muscle BL (often called Bara*), to seed in obscurity.
[going to call muscle/BL, “bara”, for the remainder of this article–though there is no marketed genre called ‘bara’ in Japan and gay male readers aren’t too fond of the term.]
In 2003 Kousai Shobou catered to female fans of ‘muscle BL’ by kick-starting an anthology published every three months called Kinniku-Otoko [ISBN 4-87775-171-8]. With gorgeous covers by mangaka Matstake, K-oT was filled with stories from men and women creating ‘muscle yaoi’. It was clear from the start that many of the male creators on board for K-oT leaned heavily toward their Bara ways, even though the titles were obviously being marketed to female fans; single titles got collected into tankoban under an imprint line called BOYS-L and many muscle/BL hybrid manga like Matsuzaki Tsukasa’s Bespoke [ISBN4-86093-013-4] and Matsu Takeshi’s Itsuka wa Kuma Goroshi [ISBN4-86093-128-9] floundered in BOYS-L.
According to an editor friend, the very name of the imprint failed to rouse the male BL fan the line hoped to garnish.
By late 2003, a happy medium of the muscle style and the ‘BL’ came from Furukawa Shobou. While BOYS-L did lukewarm business with female readers, many male creators [and their editors] jumped ship to Furukawa Shobou, who not only seemed willing to market muscle-love to men but were eager to hire male mangaka. In September of 2004, over at Furukawa Shobou, BAKUDAN COMICS was born.
BAKUDAN COMICS released two types of anthologies: the seasonal BAKUDAN [above left], featuring the best stories from the new crop of Bara*/BL creators. The other was the bi-monthly GEKIDAN [below right], featuring well-knowns like Matsuzaki Tsukasa, Matsu Takeshi, Hibakichi, and Matsumoto Inaki, with stories centered around a specific theme. From these anthologies, each creator got their own manga in the BAKUDAN COMICS imprint, many of which did quite well.
Side-Note: Furukawa Shobou also did something for fans of the strict gay comic style, they produced a 3-volume collection of gay mangaka Tagame Gengorou’s works called PRIDE [ISBN 4-89236-306-5].
By the end of 2005, Furukawa Shobou saw modest success in a small but growing market. That December Kousai Shobou, hoping to capitalize on the creations of their ex-mangaka, released an Anthology called Pride [ISBN 4-86093-179-3]. It was a day late and a dollar short, but it did seem to get some shelf space, and so Ookura Shuppan got in on the act and started their own anthology called Nikutaiha Tokushuu Gekokujou [ISBN 4-7755-0658-7] [pictured left] and made it part of their ‘Aqua Comics’ division. They even sweetened the pot by having the popular Matstake on their debut cover. Aqua Comics created their own line of ‘menslove’ for gay fans called the Nikutaiha Series Imprint, which released Matsuzaki Tsukasa’s Heavy Duty [ISBN 4-7755-0673-0] manga, in January of 2006.
If you’re an ero publisher out there, I’d like to suggest something: don’t be afraid of this new Bara*. The present Japanese gay-manga [what we western fans call ‘Bara’] is not the same as it was less than ten years ago. It’s no longer heavy bondage and dark fetish; its audience in Japan are gay male fans of yaoi and BL; and they’re finally getting male creators that write and illustrate works, to suit the gender-diverse buying market. Stateside, this audience is already here, but don’t point them out, they’re sensitive. If you’re going to license some of the new Bara*/BL hybrids from Kousai Shobou, Ookura Shuppan, or Furukawa Shobou, you can call your imprint BaraTone. Isn’t that clever? And if you need a line-editor, call me; I’ve plenty of free time. Just don’t send me to Japan…I can’t speak Japanese and there’s nothing to eat over there—none of the food is kosher. 0_0
UPDATED-UPDATE: I was just hipped to something interesting…but it’s hearsay: G-Unit [the site that collects the artists involved in Bakudan anthologies] is named for… possibly…Gengorou-sensei…because he’s been a moving force behind all of this.
Hmmmm I wonder…
Linkage: G-Project’s Bakudan Page [officially unofficial LOL!]
Eternal Rose Mag [now defunct]
Furukawa Shobou’s Bakudan Page
Rainbow Shoppers Catalogue
Prime Selections Japan