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Boys love and its abbreviation BL are the generic terms for this kind of media in Japan and have, in recent years, become more commonly used in English as well.

However, yaoi remains more generally prevalent in English.

A defining characteristic of yaoi is the practice of pairing characters in relationships according to the roles of seme, the sexual top or active pursuer, and uke, the sexual bottom or passive pursuant.

Common themes in yaoi include forbidden relationships, depictions of rape, tragedy, and humor.

Seme and uke is similar but not identical to tachi and neko because the former refers primarily to sexual roles, whereas the latter describes personality.

Although seme and uke roles are already used in some manga to describe which member of the relationship is more dominant and which member is more passive, there are just as many manga novels which subtly or overtly differentiate between the two.

(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.

The word was originally used to describe an author's distinctive style, for example, the styles of Yukio Mishima and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.

and is used in Japanese gay slang to mean the receptive partner ("bottom") in anal sex.

Aleardo Zanghellini suggests that the martial arts terms have special significance to a Japanese audience, as an archetype of the gay male relationship in Japan includes same-sex love between samurai and their companions.

Akiko Mizoguchi describes its application to male-male stories as "misleading", but notes "it was the most commonly used term in the early 1990s." and were replete with "philosophical and abstract musings".

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.

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