There's Bara Manga... Why Isn't There Bara Anime?
by Justin Sevakis,
I confess that I really like bara manga because of its incredible art style, sexy situations (depending on the subject), and most certainly its appeal to gay male readers such as myself. Given the fact that hentai and yaoi titles are often adapted into anime shows and OVAs, why don't we often see anime adaptations of bara? It might not be the most profitable genre, but it does have a small, yet growing, audience.
Hey! You're a gay dude that likes bara manga? I'm a gay dude that likes (some) bara manga! It's almost like we're the target demographic or something! Since bara manga is written mostly by gay men for other gay men, it doesn't have a lot of the same issues that yaoi manga has -- namely that the boys don't act like boys, and that everything is super melodramatic and dripping with angst. There's still some angst, of course, but from the ones I've read, the sex tends to be more on the fun (or, at least, the inconsequential) side.
Bara manga is also becoming popular among fujoshi who would like to see some guys with more meat on their bones than your typical willowy teenagers that populate most yaoi aimed at them. There are now bara visual novels, bara illustration collections, and other bara media. But no bara anime.
Bara is still very niche in Japan. There are no magazines dedicated to it (when it is published it's in general gay magazines like ADONIS), and most are published as doujinshi. Most sales are digital, and the content is HEAVILY pirated. Since, unfortunately, many gay men are still closeted, too many bara fans are still embarrassed to be seen walking out of a store or comic market carrying bara manga. Both the manga and the artwork tend to have a bigger life online, but that's hard to measure. In terms of the "classic" manga market, bara is a small category and practically invisible to publishers with the resources to finance anime adaptations.
In general, porn is not the cash cow it once was, thanks to the never-ending wank-fest that is the internet, and the finances of making adult anime barely even work anymore. There are still hentai OVAs, but much fewer than their used to be (and the production values for most new ones are pretty poor). If straight hentai has trouble getting made, gay hentai doesn't have a prayer.
That said, R-rated-and-edited yaoi TV series have become fairly common, and it's quite possible that we may see a show like that with more bara-style artwork before long. It would simply have to be a property that both gay men and straight women can enjoy for that to work financially, however.
What I hope to see, and what I THINK actually is happening, is that we're starting to see a more diverse array of "sexy" male body types in anime. Free! was a watershed moment in that way: it held up as desirable a much more muscular male form, and it was wildly successful. Since then we've had more explorations in that direction from shows like All Out!!, Yowamushi Pedal and other sports anime with hot guys. That said, nearly all of these shows take place in high school, so it's not like we're going to see the giant burly dudes like Gengoroh Tagame or Takeshi Matsu draw.
With the recent premiere of the live action drama version of My Brother’s Husband, I would hope that the continued push to mainstream bara body types and realistic gay male characters continues in Japanese media. It can only lead to wider acceptance. (As for the porn... well, it's porn. People know what to search for already.)
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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