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The genre has spread beyond Japan, and both translated and original yaoi works are now available in many countries and languages.

In the 1980s, the genre was presented in an anime format for the first time, including the works Patalliro!

(1982) which showed a romance between two supporting characters, an adaptation of Kaze to Ki no Uta (1987) and Earthian (1989), released in the original video animation (home video) format.

Female authors writing for shōjo (girl's) manga magazines in the early 1970s published stories featuring platonic relationships between young boys, which were known as tanbi (aesthetic) or shōnen ai (boy love).

In the late 1970s going into the 1980s, women and girls in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan started to produce sexualized parodies of popular shōnen (boy's) anime and manga stories in which the male characters were recast as gay lovers.

By the end of the 1970s, magazines devoted to the nascent genre started to appear, and in the 1990s the term boys' love or BL would be invented and would become the dominant term used for the genre in Japan.

Although yaoi derives from girl's and women's manga and still targets the shōjo and josei demographics, it is currently considered a separate category.Shōnen-ai challenged young readers, who were often only able to understand the references and deeper themes as they grew older and instead were initially drawn to the figure of the male protagonist.The terms yaoi and shōnen-ai are sometimes used by Western fans to differentiate between two variants of the genre.The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (the "top", or dominant figure) who pursues the uke (the "bottom", or passive figure).Material classified as yaoi typically depicts gay relationships between male characters and may include homoerotic content.The use of yaoi to denote those works with explicit scenes sometimes clashes with use of the word to describe the genre as a whole, creating confusion between Japanese and Western writers or between Western fans who insist on proper usage of the Japanese terms and those who use the Westernized versions.Yaoi can also be used by Western fans as a label for anime or manga-based slash fiction.The term shōnen-ai (boy love) originally connoted ephebophilia or pederasty in Japan, but from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, was used to describe a new genre of shōjo manga, primarily produced by the Year 24 Group of women authors, about beautiful boys in love.Characteristics of shōnen-ai include exoticism, often taking place in Europe, Jeffrey Angles particularly notes Moto Hagio's The Heart of Thomas (1974) and Keiko Takemiya's Kaze to Ki no Uta (1976–1984) as being groundbreaking, noting their portrayal of intense friendship between males, including jealousy and desire.in Japan, is a Japanese genre of fictional media focusing on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically marketed for a female audience and usually created by female authors.Yaoi also attracts male readers, but manga specifically marketed for a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre.

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