March 27, 2007
More baffling questions
Yaoi continues to dominate its niche in the manga and trade paperback markets. 70 percent of Digital Manga's sales come from yaoi products, and
[a]fter meeting with little enthusiasm for their non-yaoi titles, Media Blasters will drop its line of shonen manga and increase the number of yaoi titles on its list.
It's a trend I find quite baffling, my various attempts at analysis notwithstanding. At least I'm not alone. To the question of why yaoi is so popular, even Hikaru Sasahara, CEO of Digital Manga, confesses: "I have no idea. I'm a guy."
But I think yaoi manga-ka Toko Kawai supplies a compelling explanation:
Most yaoi readers are female, so if you write a woman into the story, there's the possibility of jealousy from the reader. With two guys, that doesn't happen.
Or as Paul Reiser explains on an episode of Mad about You to his wife's question about why men get off on lesbian porn: "Because we agree with both of them."
From a broader, market-aware perspective, the success of any popular literature genre targeting women is hardly surprising. Romance fiction still comprises over 50 percent of all mass market novels sold in North America.
What I find equally intriguing is yaoi's popularity not being accompanied by equally growing sales of the more explicit manga-ka like Kayono, whose plots closely mirror those found in "traditional" romance literature.
Or is it that yaoi readers already self-identify as a bit out there on the edge with a genre that is all their own, while traditional Harlequin readers wouldn't be caught dead with illustrated material that men would drool over as well?
Which gets us back to Kawai's theory above. While men readily identify both with larger-than-life action heroes and comic romantic leads like Owen Wilson, do women see themselves as in competition with female protagonists?
Or perhaps like yaoi, is explicit but non-hentai manga another unexplored market waiting to take off?
UPDATE: My sister Kate offers a great counter-argument.