Fudanshi: Men and the Consumption of Gay Themes in Manga and Anime

Art is anything that a person applies the skill to, to accomplish something, and/or to evoke an emotion in someone else. Many people underestimate the power of art. Not just art in a traditional sense such as oil paintings, but art in the sense of stories, televisions shows, and movies. Once a story, in its complete and well-illustrated form, captures the heart of its beholder, it has touched his/her life forever, sparking an inspiration or connection with that person that could motivate him/her to make a change some way, or somehow.

An Introduction to Fandoms

There are people out there who are totally dedicated to some artforms, letting it consume their emotions and thoughts daily. Almost every media form has its group of fanatics, which are called fandoms. The word “fandom” comes from the combination of the words “kingdom” and “fans”. Whether it's enjoying romance novels, feature films, television shows, or in this case – anime and manga – you will surely find droves of people who are in love with (what is deemed to be) a form of good art.

It All Began with the Rise in Consumption of Japanese Media

The Japanese are very proud of their products in terms of media, and citizens from all levels of society happily consume this. This is because they have very high-quality content and, in terms of entertainment, great storylines. Since the public’s interest in Japanese productions never waned, manga and anime have boomed in the literary world, forming their own industries.

With such a soaring industry comes more content. With more content comes more subgenres – and the more subgenres, the more hyper-specific fandoms you get. An example of a hyper-specific fandom is the fudanshi.

Understanding Terms: What is Yaoi?

Before properly explaining what a fudanshi is, you must first understand a few subgenres within anime and manga. Because many consumers of media from Japan are adults, they would also want to consume adult material. This is where themes such as explicit content, as well as homosexuality,  come in. The genres that portray these topics in both media forms have names.

“Yaoi” is the Japanese term for a show that portrays a homosexual relationship between two men. It’s sometimes referred to as “BL”, short for “Boy’s Love”. It is called “boizu rabu” in romaji.

The expressions between the two men can be either sexual, romantic, or both. It’s important to note that yaoi shows don’t try to target gay men as their audience; they specifically go for a female demographic and are usually penned by authors who are women. “Bara” is what is referred to material that is written specifically to satisfy the market of gay men.

There is a female-on-female version of this genres as well, and it is called “yuri”, or “Girl’s Love”, which in romaji is “garuzu rabu”. This is created sometimes for a male audience, but also catches the attention of the female audience as well.

The Meaning of Fudanshi

A “fudanshi” is a slang term to refer to a man who enjoys reading yaoi manga, or watching yaoi anime. It literally means “rotten boy”, to connote that his ideals are not so favorable for enjoying a supposed guilty pleasure. The term is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. A fudanshi does not have to exclusively like yaoi (though it is automatically assumed they do); they will still be referred to as fudanshi even if they read or watch yuri material.

The Meaning of Fujoshi

The female version of someone who likes watching yaoi or yuri is called a fujoshi. Fujoshi are far more common than fudanshi are, perhaps because females feel comfortable in admitting that they enjoy stories of homosexual relationships. Men may be deemed as perverted or judged for what they like, so they have less of a crowd that would proudly call itself fudanshi. Fujoshi would still proudly call themselves such and are so rampant in anime fandoms that there are now even subtypes of fujoshi.

The Etymology of Fudanshi and Fujoshi

Here’s a guide to help you out if you’re a little confused. The kanji for Fujoshi is “腐女子”. The word “joshi” means girl in Japanese, especially as it is the combination of two kanji which represent 女 for female, and 子 for a child. When these two are combined, you get the idea of “girl”. The first kanji in the word Fujoshi is “腐”, which indicates the action “to rot”. Kanji can indicate many different pronunciations depending on the other kanji it is combined with, thus the representation of it with the malleable word “fu”.

The same idea goes for fudanshi. Instead of the kanji of 女 for female, it is replaced with the kanji 男, which indicates a male.

In Terms of History – Fujoshi Came First

The way fujoshi came to existence is because it’s a pun on the way its kanji is written. Because “fu” could mean a variety of different things, one can twist the same word to indicate a lady who is decent and respectable using the exact same kanji and pronunciation. Because somebody who enjoys yaoi wouldn’t exactly be perceived as decent and respectable by the public, the “fu” was changed to mean rotten. At the same time, this makes an ironic and homophobic reference to the idea of someone liking yaoi as not being respectable.

The term started into coming to common use around the early 00’s, especially with the rise of otaku culture and the booming world of online groups, forums, and discussions on anime, such as 2channel. It initially meant to define female otaku or any girl who was very involved in the anime and manga scene. The term fudanshi would follow later on, as they ended up enjoying yaoi material that really was supposed to cater only to the female market.

Subtypes Pertaining to Fujoshi

Though it isn’t clear if these subtypes go for the concept of fudanshi too, they are still ideas to be considered when it comes to the specific “type” that the yaoi or yuri fan is into. See, fujoshi may like the entire homosexual relationship in front of them, but some fujoshi have very particular desires when it comes to their favorite fictional couple.

There are 3 types of fujoshi, supposedly. The kainoshi, the yunoshi, and the pandajoshi. The kainoshi fujoshi finds more of an appeal in the “bottom”, or in Japanese, “uke” personality of the couple; the character who is a little more submissive and femme among them both.

The yunoshi is the kind of fujoshi whose favorite in the couple is the dominant personality, also known as the top, or in Japanese – “seme”. This is not to say they don’t like the “bottom” personality, they support them too.

The pandajoshi equally supports both personas in the relationship, but would prefer not to be called a fujoshi – perhaps due to personal reasons, or not.  

Who Comprise Fudanshi and Fujoshi?

Just because a man enjoys stories about men loving other men or women loving other women, that does not automatically make him gay, or even bisexual. The same goes for women. Surprisingly, it is said that a notable percentage of the consumers of yaoi and yuri who identify as fudanshi are heterosexual, and enjoy the content for the story and humor found in it.

If you are still unconvinced that not all men who are fudanshi are gay, there have been actual surveys conducted, where 99 men who identified themselves as fudanshi answered. Out of those 99, 30 men considered themselves to be homosexual, 27 of them said they were of the bisexual orientation, yet leaning towards men, 21 of them, bisexual also, but leaning towards women, and 15 of them referred to themselves as straight. The last 6 who answered indicated that they felt asexual.

People do automatically jump to the conclusion that all fudanshi are gay, but are more lenient with this idea among fujoshi. This is starting to change, as increasingly, men are feeling more comfortable with admitting they enjoy reading yaoi. Thus, they feel okay with labeling themselves fudanshi. It is expected that as the years pass, and homosexual relationships slowly become less taboo, Japanese culture, literature, media, and art are expected to see a rise in more men who admit to enjoying gay entertainment.

Discourses on Fudanshi

There has been researching published in the past on why men would enjoy reading yaoi. While this is self-explanatory for fudanshi who are indeed gay, there are also men who identify as heterosexual and yet still enjoy the ideals the characters in yaoi portray. Several arguments state that this is perhaps due to their fantasies to be free from the strict imposition strength and masculinity that are heavily placed on men.

Fudanshi then sees yaoi as a means of escape. It is a self-feminizing relief from what they’re used to being taught to think, act, and speak every day; dominantly, aggressively, and overall, just “manly”.

Archetypes within Anime and Manga

Aside from being labels in the outside world, fudanshi and fujoshi can also be considered archetypes within manga and anime itself, rendering the whole concept meta. Think about it – animes about an anime character who enjoys reading about anime characters.

This is because there are, in fact, anime shows and manga series that contain characters who are fudanshi and fujoshi themselves. Just as in real life, there are more fujoshi depicted in these forms of media than there are fudanshi.

The High School Life of a Fudanshi, A Manga and Anime Series

An example of a manga series that speaks about the life of a fudanshi is one called “The High School Life of a Fudanshi”. It is a comedy, written by Atami Michinoku, published by Ichijinsha, and is being distributed overseas in North America, with a license from Seven Seas Entertainment. It has 3 volumes comprising 12 episodes so far and kicked off last September 25, 2015. It is still currently ongoing. It has already had short anime adaptations that run four minutes long each episode aired in Japan.

The story revolves around the main character, Ryu Sakaguchi, who is a fudanshi himself. The problem is, he keeps this a secret from all his friends, as they (as well as he) are straight. He takes a lot of pleasure in reading about these BL stories and replenishes his fix by going to the part of the manga stores that sell them – much to his embarrassment. He’s dead scared of finding out what his friends will think about him once they realize that he’s a fudanshi. The manga continues to explore whether he keeps the secret to himself, or finally discloses his love for yaoi to his friends.

Fujobait – Anime and Manga that Are Made Just for Fudanshi and Fujoshi

Because of the steadily increasing population of fudanshi, businesses have been finding ways to milk it or turn it into a lucrative profit. Thus, fujobait was born. Though it stems from the word fujoshi, it can also mean anything that’s made to entice fudanshi to buy their products, just because it caters to their very specific and rare niche. They fulfill all the wishes and desires of their fans just to make a lot of money. Heaps of manga and season after season of shows are born out of the sheer will to pull money out of people’s pockets, so if you are a fujoshi or fudanshi, beware of these kinds of shows. They are self-serving and only want to use you instead of portraying an artform or express a story.

Fudanshi is a byproduct of a morphing entertainment and media industry; a niche market that exists, and will continue to exist for the coming years. If you consider yourself a fujoshi or fudanshi, don’t be afraid to be out and loud about it. Go on and collect any relevant item, merchandise, and collectibles, and have no shame in talking about it or displaying your love for it. You are part of a dynamic and modern civilization that’s burgeoning the acceptance of homosexuality.