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Why is Yuri Anime So Popular Now?

by Kim Morrissy,


Chris asked:

We've got a lot of new Yuri/ Shoujo Ai anime coming out in 2023 and others, like Birdie Wing and G Witch, are getting continuations. I'm wondering why it's happening now. I've read the source novels/manga for about 80% of the new anime, so I know that the series is pretty good. Is it because of the popularity of those particular series, or is there a concerted push by members of the industry to have more LGBTQ+ series animated? Note, I'm not complaining. It's just a little surprising because of how conservative Japan is about the LGBTQ+ community.

It's hard to say whether there's a “concerted push by members of the industry,” but it's undeniable that yuri anime has been experiencing a renaissance lately. This season alone we have Birdie Wing, G-Witch, and Yuri Is My Job!, and this is without considering yuri-adjacent idol shows like Kizuna no Allele and The IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls U149. Notably, last year's Lycoris Recoil was a massive seller on Blu-Ray, indicating its resonance with the Japanese otaku audience.

Prominent yuri researcher Erica Friedman told me that the global yuri fandom has been growing steadily since the turn of the century. "When people ask, 'Why now?' they are often unaware of the history that brought the fandom to this point," she observed. Her book By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga explores the diverse range of influences behind the genre, from historical queer novels to "moe" anime subculture, which can help explain its marketability in anime form.

Because of that diverse path of evolution, "yuri" is a vague and inclusive category which can include explicit LGBTQ+ themes, but isn't exclusively defined by it. The narratives don't even need to be romantic; there are plenty of yuri fans and creators who would argue that yuri also encompasses any strong feelings like friendship, affection, respect, or jealousy. This vagueness is what allows non-romance titles like Puella Magi Madoka Magica to top yuri anime popularity polls. In other words, despite having a niche core audience, it may be relatively easy to sell yuri anime to people who do not necessarily call themselves yuri fans.

What's interesting to note is that, for all the popularity of yuri anime lately, the yuri manga market is actually considerably smaller than the BL market—one estimate puts it at one-quarter the size of the BL manga market. The manga and anime markets are not the same thing; manga is cheaper to produce and can serve devoted niche audiences with little risk. Yet considering the relative sparseness of BL anime, it would be very difficult to say that rising awareness of the LGBTQ+ community is the sole or even the main factor behind the popularity of yuri anime. The differences between BL, a genre that is mainly defined by romance narratives, and yuri, which is vaguer (and therefore more adaptable to different audiences), may help explain the discrepancy, although it is worth keeping in mind that anime aimed at female audiences tend to get the short end of the stick in general.

On the other hand, I would not downplay LGBTQ+ awareness entirely as a factor. Anecdotal evidence from both the BL and yuri manga communities in Japan indicates that it is much more socially acceptable these days to consume those media, regardless of one's gender identity. The growing tolerance has in turn expanded the range of stories that are told within those categories, broadening their appeal. While the individual popularity and marketability of a series are likely the biggest factors behind getting an anime, it's certainly an important piece of context for any modern work of media that touches on those themes.

So the simplest answer to this question is that yuri has always had the potential to appeal to many different kinds of people, and cultural momentum is on its side.

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