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Yaoi vs Shounen Ai: What's the difference?

Haebon eating cream bread with Taesung on the other end
Cherry Blossoms After Winter Tappytoon Cover

Have you ever dived into the glorious world of Yaoi, only to be confused when you look at the tags? You have "Shounen ai," "BL," and "Yaoi separated into different categories. It's confusing!

But fear not, because your friendly neighborhood weeb is here to break it all down for you!

So, grab your fave body pillow and settle in because we're about to untangle the difference between Yaoi and Shounen ai!

Yaoi vs. Shounen Ai: What Is It?

Yaoi is the genre where things can get pretty darn explicit. We're talking about intimate scenes that leave little to the imagination. Sometimes, the artists even draw them in detail!

Here are a few examples of Yaoi manga or manhwa: Therapy Game, Dakaretai Otoko, Jinx, Hyperventilation, etc.

Myongi Lying down on the bed with Sunho on top of him
Hyperventilation Animation Release Poster

Shounen ai, which means "boys' love" in Japanese, is all about romantic relationships between male characters. But unlike Yaoi, it tends to focus more on the emotional side and keeps things pretty tame in the spice department.

Examples of Shounen ai manga or manhua: Salad Days, Here U Are, Ganbare! Nakamura-kun, Until I Meet My Husband.

Nakamura Okuto blushing while being surrounded by pictures of his crush, Hirose Aiki
Cover of Ganbare! Nakamura-kun

What is a Seme?

A seme (攻め, seme) is the partner who typically takes on a more dominant and assertive role in the relationship.

He's often portrayed as confident, assertive, and sometimes even possessive. Think strong jawlines, sharp suits (or maybe ripped muscles if the story gets spicy!), and a gaze that could melt steel. Just like this man here:

Ahjuicy with an unlit cigarette while wearing a suit
Dangerous Convenience Store Volume 2 Cover

But here's the twist: despite the dominant exterior, the seme can also be incredibly protective and caring towards his uke. He might put on a tough guy act, but deep down, he harbors a soft spot for the one he loves.

And if you're thinking that's a bit of a change, then you're right. There has been a shift in how semes are portrayed in Yaoi. Traditionally, semes were the undisputed kings of dominance. Their assertiveness often bordered on aggression or even obsession.

However, semes have changed throughout the years. Soft tops, also known as soft semes, have become increasingly popular. A good example of these semes are the ones from Unromantic Romance or Boss B*tch Baby:

Hyeon-oh lying down on top of Chu Gain
The seme is lying down on top of the uke

They’re often portrayed as shy and affectionate, and sometimes their partner takes the lead instead of them. These men are lovable teddy bears that make your heart go “uwu.” If classic tops were red or orange flags, these semes are green all throughout!

This entire story, however, changes in bed. Soft top or not, semes will perpetually be beasts whenever they’re intimate with their ukes!

Plenty of stories still feature the classic dominant seme, though, so it hasn't disappeared entirely. But lately, there's been a boom in these "soft top" guys, you know, the sweeter ones. It's pretty cool because you can enjoy a manhwa without any of that drama where everyone's toxic.

This shift lets us explore more interesting relationships between the guys, making the whole story more fun and meaningful. Plus, you get to see a wider range of emotions and stuff, which keeps things fresh, right?

What is a Uke?

The uke might seem like the more submissive partner, often depicted as gentle, emotional, and sometimes even feminine.

Nakyum winking in his traditional Korean clothing
Nakyum from Painter of the Night

Back in the day, Yaoi leaned into the whole "damsel in distress" thing for the uke. Think a blushing cutie with a heart of gold who needed his boyfriend, the seme, to take care of everything. Soft features, big eyes – the whole package. They weren't exactly known for being complex characters, you know?

But these days, things are way different. Ukes come in different shapes and sizes. We’re talking power bottoms galore! A few good examples of these ukes are the ones from Red Candy, Passion, and Codename Anastasia. I mean, look at Taekjoo:

Codename Anastasia - Taekjoo getting out of a bath naked
Taekjoo from Codename Anastasia

It's not just about who's dominant and who's submissive anymore; it's about how these two unique people have their preferences in partners. Kind of how it is in real life, right?

Do these Roles Matter?

In the good year of 2024, there's a ton of room for variation!

It's not just about the bossy top and the chill bottom anymore. Sometimes, the uke takes charge, and the seme might have a softer side, which he only shows to his special someone.

It's all about how these two personalities play off each other, pushing and pulling in a hot and interesting.

Why Do a Lot of Women Like Yaoi or Shounen Ai?

Yiyoung and Daddy Kang sitting on a couch
On or Off Manhwa Cover by Tappytoon

Reason #1: Ditching the Drama of Gender Roles

Women can just relax and enjoy the story without worrying if they're acting the right way for their gender. Plus, they can kind of self-insert themselves as one of the guys, which is pretty cool because then you're not stuck following all those expectations.

Reason #2: Seeing Yourself Represented (Maybe Not Literally)

Yaoi can be a cool escape for LGBTQ+ folks, including women because it offers a different kind of love story.

You don't always see healthy, happy relationships between guys in mainstream media, you know?

In Yaoi or Shounen ai, there can be all kinds of love stories, and some folks might find characters they can relate to, even if it's not a perfect one-to-one match. It's about seeing a kind of love and connection that might feel more true to their own experiences.

Reason #3: The “Plot”

By plot, we mean men with pretty faces or hot bodies. Where else can we find beautifully drawn guys?

Let's be honest: a big part of Yaoi's appeal is the amazing art. And when you get amazing art, you get hot men. We're talking about perfect hair, chiseled features, and the whole package!

It's like a feast for the eyes. No wonder some folks love getting lost in Yaoi when all the men are so beautiful!

What's your reason for liking Yaoi/Shounen ai? You could share your thoughts here at the Otaku Community! Join us now and talk to many other fujoshis like you!

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