Manga — Happy 801 Day!

It’s August 1st, Yaoi Day (8/01: Japanese eight can be read “ya”, then zero as “o”, then one read like “i”). My friend Anne has a really good short breakdown of the genre if you’re unfamiliar with it.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the list of BL (boys love) manga recommendations that I’ve been planning. For a while friends have been asking me to recommend BL manga that I enjoy and that would be good for beginners. I’ve also been asked by other friends for recommendations that deviate from the typical 90s-esque CLAMP-Shoulders Yaoi-Hands styles that are most prevalent. There are a lot of artists working in the genre so styles can range significantly.

If you want a BL history lesson I can’t recommend more Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas printed in a nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics. It’s a shoujo series from 1974 and one of the earliest examples of mainstream women manga artists exploring themes of same-sex relationships. While BL media can be fraught and filled with problematic portrayals that in no way reflect realistic homosexual relationships between men, it is an interesting space to explore because it’s one where women have a lot of creative power in, as far as the Japanese market is concerned.

My tastes in BL manga tends to lean towards odd-couples with some domesticity, humor, and a bit of smut, so that will be present in my following recommendations. I definitely have a longer list and I plan to do a follow-up post outlining some series that would totally be on this list if only they were officially localized. It’s also safe to assume that these books are rated 18+.

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His Favorite – Suzuki Tanaka (free preview)
I wasn’t sure what to think of His Favorite at first and grabbed it out of boredom, but it charmed me pretty quickly. This one is about an unattractive boy, Yoshida, and his popular classmate who takes a liking to him, Satou. At first Satou can come off as pretty pushy, but I enjoy how their relationship ends up in later volumes and the silly backstories. The Rumic-style humor and stylistic weighted lines of the art kept me coming back for all 7 volumes. Also I should note this one is very tame as far as any sexual content goes, so it’s a good start for those not feeling ready to take that plunge yet. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Awkward Silence – Hinako Takanaga (free preview)
Enthusiastic and consensual relationship from the get-go! Yes! So unfortunately rare (and lamentably doesn’t remain true for the second pairing in the same series). Satoru is an introvert who has trouble making his expressions apparent on his face (which for the reader is supplemented by thought bubble exuberance and small expressive avatars). So this leads to communication issues with his new boyfriend to work out. Lots of misunderstandings that thankfully get resolved quickly and end up being more cute than irritating. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).


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Apple and Honey – Hideyoshico
I am a big fan of artist Hideyoshico! She captures very cute interactions between her characters and draws such expressive faces. Apple and Honey is actually side stories intersected with a different couple’s short story in the middle. The other volume, His Rose Colored Life, is the main couple set in a college and is a bit more melodramatic than the other books on this list. I recommend getting these ones in print instead of digital, the transfer quality leaves much to be desired.


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Crimson Spell – Ayano Yamane (free preview)
Crimson Spell has got that corny fantasy romance novel aesthetic going for its covers and I love it. It’s about a prince getting cursed by a heirloom sword and traveling with a sorcerer in order to find out how to remove his demonic affliction. Artist Ayano Yamane’s books regularly top the New York Times Bestsellers list for manga when they are released (Crimson Spell volumes as well as Finder) and she is surprisingly popular here. One thing I didn’t expect from Crimson Spell was the humor. It reminds me of Bastard!! but with way more actual sex. This one is only available in print.

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Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.

TCAF Trip Report!

Last Friday morning I boarded a propeller-driven puddle jumper from Boston’s Logan airport and then one complimentary glass of wine later I was in Toronto. This would be my second visit to the city and my second TCAF. After landing I felt it was already a much better experience because my new phone plan allowed for unlimited, albeit slow, data roaming services, so I was able to better navigate the city’s public transportation system by myself without feeling a constant, desperate, anxious tether to Starbucks’ free wifi.

Fresh off the plane I headed uptown to have lunch with my friend Miguel, who runs the Comics vs Games event that happens in tandem with TCAF weekend activities. I would be giving a microtalk during a session later that weekend so it was a good time to discuss expectations. Then he showed me to a bunch of nearby comic book stores and to the world-famous The Beguiling. It was an amazing shop that I wished I had more time to poke around in. There I found an incredibly out-of-print copy of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, which I snagged with the hopes of getting it signed by The Master himself while he was attending TCAF.

That evening I got to go to a mixer put on by Toronto’s local Japan Foundation and there I briefly met Ken Niimura. I had bought his amazing collection Henshin a couple of days prior and was loving it but wasn’t able to lug it up to Canada to get signed. Later that night my friends and I went to Momofuku, where I had the most decadent Korean fried chicken I have ever eaten, capped off by a dessert of yummy Cereal Milk ice cream with corn flakes on top.

Saturday morning and afternoon was frantic. I scurried into where the artists were selling and grabbed a couple of items, particularly a book from Leslie Hung’s table, before heading over to the Aya Kanno spotlight. She spoke of her start as a manga artist and how originally she was more interested in shounen (boy’s) manga but after a bad experience working with a particular editor she decided to go into shoujo (girl’s) instead.

Immediately after that was the Gengoroh Tagame panel. This session was absolutely amazing! They even had a member from Viz Media’s SuBLime imprint present to provide insight into Western perceptions of geikomi compared to BL/yaoi and publishing realities involved. Tagame even talked about when getting his start initially submitting his works to BL magazines like June because outlets for comics aimed at gay men didn’t exist yet. It was a super fascinating discussion that the wonderful people at Massive recorded, so I hope that becomes available online at some point.

Later I waited in line to get my copy of Requiem of the Rose King signed by Aya Kanno, then waited in a different line to get my Passion collection signed by Gengoroh Tagame. That man is so sweet and bright! He even was taking pictures with guests upon request, which is quite uncommon for manga authors.

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Then I synced up with my friends Christine and Sophia to head down to the Bit Bazaar, which is sort of a game demo exhibit and crafts fair at Toronto’s Bento Miso coworking space. It ended up being a bit too hot and crowded for me to stick around too long but I got to say hi to some pals and bought a cute zine from Kelly K’s table. Then I scurried off to the Queer Mixer and saw some great micro-interviews on stage with a lot of amazing looking artists I was unfamiliar with before.

Sunday was pretty chill for the most part but I was stressed about getting my Comics vs Games talk right. You really can’t underestimate timed microtalks! We were going off the GDC model where it’s 20 slides with each one being displayed for 16 seconds before automatically proceeding. You have to practice and time your words! And of course when you’re actually doing the talk it goes all off script. Hopefully a recording will be posted soon!

And at the end of my section, which was about dating sims and development tools, I announced that in June I’ll be running a dating sim game jam! You can visit the International Love Ultimatum #iluJam Tumblr here where all the announcements and useful posts will be made.

If you ever find yourself able to make it to Toronto for TCAF I highly recommend it! It’s one of my favorite conferences I’ve attended and definitely the top comics one. Admission is totally free too so you can spend all your money a the artists’ tables instead! And Toronto is a great city.