“Fujoshi” is a term used to describe female fans manga, novels, anime, movies and computer games that feature male characters in romantic/sexual relationships. But before we continue, we’ll have to introduce a few more new terms.
The actual content that fujoshi enjoy has gone by many names over the years. It can probably trace its roots to the queer bishonen (beautiful boy) imagery from the 1920s. Actual comics featuring homosexual stories or undertones were initially classified as shojo (young girl) then shonen-ai (young boy’s love) manga, though the two didn’t always feature erotic scenes. That was primarily the domain of the self-published strictly-pornographic yaoi. Finally, around the 1990s, a new umbrella term emerged that would encompass all male-on-male stories in manga and anime, from the romantic to the explicit: Boys’ Love (BL).
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Sadly, despite there being so much “love” in the story of fujoshi, the fans themselves often have to deal with a lot of hate.
Fujoshi started as a misogynistic insult on a Japanese message board aimed at women fantasizing about romantic pairings of fictional male characters. In modern internet parlance, they’d be called “shippers.” But back then, they were called “rotten girls” (腐女子), the literal meaning of “fujoshi,” which was coined to insinuate that these manga and anime fans were “spoiled” and no longer suitable for marriage. Fujoshi eventually took that insult and reclaimed it for themselves, and now, they’re free to assign it as much or as little meaning as they please.
“I find the term important because it’s short, specific, and useful for finding other fans I can talk to, as well as creators,” says Laura, an American fujoshi. “I’d say fujoshi are distinct from the more general group of anime/manga lovers, maybe like a subset thereof.” Rachel, another fujoshi, takes it a step further, seeing the word as one of the first steps towards building a safe, communal fan space: “I think ‘fujoshi’ (and its derivatives) is such a useful term to identify like-minded people. I see or hear that descriptor, and I know I don’t have to hold back. I don’t have to dance around liking BL, I don’t have to rein in my joy for it, I don’t have to worry that they’ll think I’m a weirdo for liking queer romance, and I don’t expect to encounter misogynist or homophobic attitudes. I really think it helps create a community in that way.”
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On the other hand, Emma Hanashiro, Editor-In-Chief of futekiya (a Boys’ Love manga subscription service), has a more nuanced view of the term:
“When I am among fellow BL fans in Japan or Japanese people, I am more comfortable calling myself a fujoshi. In Japan, fujoshi is a very cohesive concept and widely recognized at this point. In contexts where I am speaking with fans outside of Japan, I am more comfortable only calling myself a fan of BL manga since it is a Japanese word and can be a point of confusion for those unfamiliar with Japan.”
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According to Mako, a Japanese fan of BL, the term can also be confusing to Japanese people:
“To be honest, I don’t really feel that I’m a ‘fujoshi.’ If you define it as a person who likes BL, then I’m not opposed to being called that, but personally I see myself more as a manga fan who also happens to really like BL. I think that there is more to being a ‘fujoshi,’ like you have to be a little obsessed with pairing fictional male characters even from non-BL movies and comics. I don’t do that. So, in that sense, maybe I’m not a fujoshi?”
What all of this points to isn’t some shallow, quotable “truth” about fujoshi being a culture of contrast but rather something much simpler. Fujoshi are people, as diverse as any group of humans could be. They are not a monolith, and thinking like that has caused some problems for them before. Laura explains that “the stereotype is that fujoshi are straight women that otherwise don’t care about gay people.” Indeed, there are frictions between fujoshi and parts of the LGBT community who sometimes accuse them of fetishizing homosexual relationships or imposing “heteronormative codes” on them (with one character often playing the submissive “female” role in BL relationships.)
“It’s all so different from me, which makes it less vivid. It helps me enjoy it from a safe distance.”
But people like Rachel don’t agree with that. Rachel is queer and credits BL with helping her realize that by first drawing her in with something different from the “Being gay can be hard, but you’re valid” theme she kept finding in other genres. “I want as much variety as straight people get in their fiction. I want the same types of stories every other genre of manga gets, but with queer characters. With BL, I can pretty much get that.”
Boys’ Love really means something different to different people. Mako was drawn to BL because, to her, it was a safe space for exploring her interest in romantic and erotic content. “In shojo romance manga, the main female character was always cute, slim, with big breasts and big eyes, and that is what made her the heroine. That is what made her special and worthy of love. And that just wasn’t me. But when I read BL, because it’s about two men, their relationship feels more equal and I don’t feel this kind of pressure. It’s all so different from me, which makes it less vivid. It helps me enjoy it from a safe distance.”
In the end, those are all personal accounts because, again, every fujoshi is different, though together they make up one unified group. By all accounts, it’s a very accepting group, as it welcomes not only fujoshi but also fudanshi (their male equivalent) as well as fujin: non-binary fans of male-on-male romances in manga and anime. So, if you’re looking for some people to share your love of BL with, the rotten community might be just the place for you.