is a guide to bara manga (aka "muscle yaoi"): Japanese comics about hunky men, written for gay men.

In recent years a genre of manga has become popular in Japan and is increasingly popular in North America and elsewhere. It goes by several names, including "boys love", "shonen-ai", and "yaoi". There are variations between them, but they tend to focus on young men and boys, who fall into fairly predictable, traditional roles. One is usually older and more assertive, and the other is younger and succumbs to the wishes of the one. And they're all improbably effeminate.

It's totally unrealistic, and part of the reason is that there are few gay men (or men of any kind) involved in creating it. Yaoi books are mostly written for women, by women. They're the complement to the all-girl porn created by men (and female actors) for heterosexual men. Not that there's anything wrong with yaoi (this kind of gender-subverting fiction can serve as an empowering fantasy scenario for women who are otherwise constrained by traditional gender roles in their culture), but it's not what a gay man is necessarily looking for in romance and porn about men.

Fortunately, Japan has begun to (slowly) open up to this concept. The result is Bara.

Bara manga is an emerging genre that embraces the idea that male-male relationships can follow models other than the traditional seme and uke of yaoi. It also accepts the idea that men can be... manly, and still engage in the whole range of sexuality.

Bara is sometimes referred to as "muscle yaoi", because the characters are more muscular and masculine than the girlish boys of traditional yaoi. But it's not just a difference in how the characters are drawn; they're also written differently. For example, yaoi tends to focus on anal sex as both the ultimate goal and defining moment of any male-male sexual relationship. Even though some guys just aren't into it. Bara tends to recognize that there are other ways for male sexual partners to get off.

A JAQrabbit production.