by Eden Grey (@edenjeangrey)
In this post I would like to explore the differences between portrayals of sex in lesbian and gay manga and heterosexual romance stories in manga. By manga I mean graphic novels originally published in Japan, by Japanese authors and artists. In most libraries, manga is confined to the Young Adult Collection. In some libraries, such as mine, there are manga in both YA and the Adult graphic novel sections. Determining where to shelve particular manga, especially those with LGBT themes, can be confusing and challenging because the ratings given to the books don’t always reflect the explicitness of the content.
In general, heterosexual romance manga is lighthearted, there is rarely on-page sex, and both parties consent to whatever sexual action does happen. Some of the most popular romance manga include Nisekoi: False Love, Ai Ore! Love Me!, and Alice in the Country of Hearts. There are notable exceptions, but I would like to talk about the majority of manga stories. In gay manga, on the other hand, there is frequently on-page sex, frequently questionable consent, and undertones of violence.
In many American-published, adult romance fiction, with both straight and gay characters, there are frequently themes of sexual violence and forced sexual interactions. Pick up any Harlequin romance and it’s likely to have a situation of dubious consent. These novels are intended as a fantasy for readers, and they are enjoyed by a large readership of adult women. However, the biggest audience for LGBT manga, at least in the United States, is young adults.
Should we be sharing these stories with our teens? Is it our place to decide what kind of sex they should and should not have access to? Is the answer as simple as ordering popular and requested manga and placing the explicit ones in the Adult section? These are questions rarely asked or discussed in Libraryland, and that’s really unfortunate. If we’re ordering these manga for our teens we should be discussing the sexual violence in them with readers. We should use this as an opportunity to talk about the issue of consent.
Below I will list several of the most popular manga with LGBT romances, as well as those commonly found in libraries. Ratings for these series can be looked up on the publisher’s website. I personally have most of these in my library’s collection, with everything except Whispered Words in the adult section or only available as an ebook. Most of them were requested by teen patrons.
The story of a single couple thrown together by chance. The gullible Yuuta is forced into oweing the mysterious author Tsubaki a big favor, and he ends up helping him write his romance novels. The men become involved, with Tsubaki taking the initiative in their seemingly one-sided relationship.
Features the story of 2 gay couples, set during the summer season. The characters are ordinary adults, going to college and working day jobs while pursuing their hobbies. The relationships take time to develop, but by the end of the volume the characters are having explicit sex.
The story of 2 high school girls who have been best friends since childhood. Ushio like cute girls (like Sumika!) but Sumika prefers tough, athletic girls. Will they ever be able to confess their feelings?
Rintarou needs a private tutor, but he also gets a lover with Kaede-san, who enjoys punishing Rintarou’s poor academic performance some unique punishment. Kaede’s sexual advances quickly become dominating and Rintarou starts questioning the feelings he has for his tutor.
The story of several gay couples who are connected through their work at a publishing company. The tone of the story is lighthearted and comedic, while the relationships can get unexpectedly serious and intense.
When her mom marries a rich businessman, Yuzu must move to a new home and switch to an all-girls school. Yuzu is a fashionista and frequently gets in trouble with the student council president, Mei, who also happens to be her new step-sister. Yuzu finds herself inexplicably attracted to Mei and jealous of the attention she receives from other girls and boys. Their attraction escalates quickly, despite the potentially taboo nature of it.
The story of a single middle-aged male couple living together in Tokyo. Shiro loves cooking more than anything, and the chapters are organized around their meals together. The chapters also feature delicious and authentic Japanese recipes! A simple yet clever slice-of-life story.
A collection of alternating short stories told in a casual, slice-of-life style about a variety of unlikely gay couples. The writing is clever and the art is well-done. The relationships quickly become serious, due to the stories being very short; they swiftly become sexual and explicit.
Meet Eden Grey
Eden Grey is the Young Adult Programming Librarian at the busiest branch library in Kentucky. Eden is a reviewer for Young Adult Books Central and School Library Journal. When she is not herding cats -ahem, teens- at the library, Eden can be found reading, knitting, sewing, cosplaying, and playing Pokemon. You can always find her on Twitter @edenjeangrey.