With Japan's comic book industry accounting for more than 35 percent of all printed matter in the country you can bet there are tons of filthy manga (Japanese for comic books) to enjoy. The filthiest, prettiest, most intense gay porn on the printed page? It's called yaoi... and it's entirely for women.
Japan has a long tradition of romance and relationship-oriented manga for girls and women, and yaoi (rhymes with wowee) grew out of that. In the late 1970s and '80s girls' romance comics began to include stories where male/female romances were supplanted by a sort of idealized, platonic male/male friendship and then later a male/male romance. Although the work was created entirely by women and was serialized in women's magazines, the male/male relationships became a hit with the readership and the audience demanded more.
Why? Well the males in question were about as effeminate and nonsexualized (and therefore nonthreatening) as possible and many manga fans argue that this created a perfectly safe and balanced — although incredibly unlikely — template onto which female fans could project themselves. Relationships in yaoi break down along hard lines of submissive ("uke") and dominant ("seme") and with women officially removed from the proceedings the female reader could project herself into either role (apparently none of these people has ever heard of a power-bottom). While the work has gotten considerably smuttier since its platonic origins the reality of gay male romance still has more-or-less nothing to do with most of the relationships depicted in these pages. The men in yaoi have often been compared to the "lesbians" in porn for straight men, there for the titillation but about as realistic as unicorns. The thing is that while this material is intended for a nominally heterosexual female audience, gay men find plenty to enjoy as well.
There are plenty of gay comics on this side of the Pacific with anthologies including Gay Comix and Meatmen breaking down the doors for gay comics artists in the 1980s and '90s — like Joe Phillips and Canada's own Patrick Fillion — providing devoted fans with slickly rendered images of impossibly hot men in action. Many gay readers, however, prefer to stick to the strictly-PG world of superheroes and let their imaginations do all the work.
But just as manga has taken over the shelves at chain bookstores across Canada and the US, yaoi, translated into English for an ostensibly female North American audience, is flooding the market with thousands of pages of these male/male trysts groping their way to store shelves every month. The entire spectrum of relationships can be found in these pages though, perhaps surprisingly, all of the character types still tend to swing to the effeminate, svelte and maybe even twinky end of the spectrum. The work ranges from innocent high-school crushes to conflicted adult relationships in the workplace, ancient ninja training to hard-boiled crime dramas, in flavours like innocent, naughty and outright smutty. There's something for every one of the ladies being targeted by the more than 10 publishers producing yaoi in North America and, thanks to the variety, depth and volume of the output, there's plenty to find for gay readers as well.
The key to finding the material that might float your boat comes from the origins of the genre and the word "yaoi" itself. Yaoi is derived from the first syllables of each word in the Japanese expression, "yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi," which means "no peak, no point, no meaning" or, rather, short stories with no specific purpose (other than perhaps to get off). Today yaoi is used in Japan in combination with the slightly icky term "boy's love" to cover the gamut of manga and anime stories from light romance to mature and more sexually-explicit material to hard-core porn.
The first official yaoi title to be published in North America was Fake, published by the then-largest manga publisher Tokyopop in 2002. Fake's story focuses on two closeted gay cops on the prissiest police force you'll ever have the pleasure to spend time with, fighting crime and finding love. Ryo has had his heart broken and is reluctant to fall in love. Dee will fuck anything that moves. But is what he feels for Ryo true love at last? Throw in some kidnappings and a few murders and a frustrating will-they-won't-they relationship that develops over six volumes and you've got a recipe for a fairly uninteresting story for gay readers, with only an occasional kiss or innuendo to keep you going. I tell you, if it weren't for the hot sex scene in the seventh and final volume (the book had to be sealed shut to be sold on store shelves) Fake would've gone down as one of the biggest teases of all time. Luckily the... climax... was... worth it.
The Fake manga succeeded in North America far beyond anyone's expectations to the point where there are now approximately 300 yaoi books translated into English with an average of 20 new titles a month hitting store shelves. The books are getting racier too: Three or four years ago even the most hard-core yaoi releases were almost "decent" thanks to Japan's censorship laws which prohibit displaying the actual sex act (or, somewhat bizarrely, pubic hair). Most of these early manga suffered from points of insertion that were tastefully obscured with frustratingly placed pixilation to hide the naughty bits. Much of the material coming out of Japan was like soft-core porn, lots of rubbing around with nothing to show for it.
Luckily censors have been turning considerably blinder eyes to yaoi production as of late, and most of the mature-rated material making its way to North America has all the hard cocks and spurting cum we've come to expect from our pornography... and the female fans are eating it up, so to speak.
But how do we separate the wheat from the chaff, the hot dudes fucking from the creepy androgynous dudes talking about their feelings for 200 pages and ending in an unsatisfying embrace? Here are the hottest yaoi available on better store shelves everywhere. (And if you do happen to want to read hundreds of pages of weepy relationship drama, more power to you! You won't lack for reading material.)
Arguably publishers of the dirtiest material available in North America today, 801 Media (801media.com) was founded specifically to publish manga too hot for their parent company's main yaoi publishing outlet, June Manga. All of these books come straight from the publisher sealed shut. Titles like Bond(z) with their two protagonists fucking in a restaurant washroom while their oblivious girlfriends are back at the table will get your engines going. Another strong title from this publisher is the coming out/relationship drama Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law. Though the first volume is fairly tame the story will draw you right in, just in time for the second volume to bring the filthy.
Much like 801 Media, Blu (Blumanga.com) is the hard-core arm of an existing manga publisher, in this case the folks who got yaoi rolling in North America, Tokyopop. Many of their best titles, at least from a story point of view, come courtesy of Ichigenme author Fumi Yoshinaga, like the French Revolution period-piece series Gerard and Jacques (nobleman buys hot young prostitute) or the anthology Truly Deeply.
But if you're looking for something a little more to the point the ninja fantasy teacher/student relationship in Shinobu Kokoro might be what you're looking for.
In the most unique category Man's Best Friend features a hot young man who finds out that the stray dog he took in can magically transform into an even hotter young man, though he keeps the ears and the tail. Like I said, the Japanese can be very creative with their fetishes.
Just looking at their name you know relatively new outfit Dramaqueen (Onedramaqueen.com) has something up their sleeves for gay readers. Two of their launch titles, Brother and Rising Storm, are amongst the filthiest yaoi I've ever read, with character designs and sex scenes owing more to Tom of Finland than anything I've seen in a girls' manga. This publisher's comics can be a little difficult to find thanks to their small, start-up nature but they're worth tracking down thanks to their excellent production values.
Yaoi Press (Yaoipress.com) is an enterprising group of North American yaoi fans who decided to start publishing their own yaoi. Clearly influenced by the Japanese material, these works have the benefit of coming from a background that doesn't encourage little black bars covering all the naughty bits. Their line of Yaoi Hentai books (now on their fourth volume) feature the smuttiest material they produce but the scenarios of their other titles will pique the curiosity of enterprising readers. Pinned! features romance set in the corrupt world of professional wrestling, and pirates, cowboys, and insane aristocracy make their respective appearances in Treasure, Stallion and Dark Prince. Yaoi Press have even started their own yaoi convention in Phoenix, Arizona so if any of these recommendations turn you into a die-hard fan, you'll be able to meet up with others who share your passion — just be prepared to be outnumbered by the female fans 100 to 1.
If all of these effete and impossibly beautiful young (often very young) men aren't your bag, the Japanese have got you covered there too. The next big porn trend coming out of Japan is bears, cubs and daddies. Call them what you will but the big hairy Japanese men of comics and anime (and the less-hairy men who love them) are coming out of the comics closets with manga, calendars and expensive, hard-to-find artbooks actually designed for real gay readers. As with any underground or emerging culture you're going to have to look a little harder than the shelves of your local book or comic book store for this material (try Yaoisuki.net for news, info, reviews and more). For a few pointers check out the erotic grotesque bear works of Gengoroh Tagame, the touching and tough guys of Go Fujimoto and the online shop for all things gay in Japan, Rainbow Shoppers (Rainbow-shoppers.com).
So now you know enough to get you poking around online, your local bookstore or (for the exceptionally brave) the closest well-stocked comic book store for your choice of yaoi titles. There's plenty more to know and more than a little bit of institutionalized homophobia to navigate as certain yaoi fans try and keep their perfectly normal and safe interests for normal women to themselves. But there's plenty of fun, well-written, beautifully illustrated and, most importantly, hot work out there for you to discover... smutty enough for a woman but made with men.
Christopher Butcher is a writer and manager of The Beguiling in Toronto who stocked up on some fantastic gay manga on a recent trip to Japan.