Intersections: Home-grown <i>Shōjo Manga</i> and the Rise of Boys' Love among Germany's 'Forty-Niners'
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

Home-grown Shōjo Manga and the Rise of Boys' Love
among Germany's 'Forty-Niners'

Paul M. Malone

  1. Unlike the US, England and France, Germany failed to develop an indigenous comics industry in the early twentieth century. Despite the pioneering work of Wilhelm Busch, who in the 1800s had created a number of enduringly popular illustrated stories—most famously Max and Moritz (1865)—and notwithstanding a healthy tradition of editorial cartooning through the periods of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, German newspapers never took up the habit of publishing comic strips: there was thus no German equivalent to the American Katzenjammer Kids (created by German emigré Rudolph Dirks in 1897, and themselves inspired by Max and Moritz), to the British Weary Willie and Tired Tim (Tom Browne, 1896), or to Australia's Ginger Meggs (Jimmy Bancks, 1921).[1] The relative lack of comic strips was a significant obstacle to the evolution of German comic books, and the rise to power in 1932 of Adolf Hitler's Nazis, with their desire to control all media, actively discouraged such a development.[2] One of the few notable continuing inter-war German comics is Erich Ohser's pantomime gag strip Vater und Sohn (Father and Son), now regarded as a classic, which appeared from 1934 to 1937 in the tabloid Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung; Ohser had been a liberal political cartoonist during the Weimar Republic, however, and faced with being banned from working by the Nazis, he was forced to publish under the pseudonym E.O. Plauen. From 1940 on Ohser returned to political cartooning; as a result, he was eventually arrested for sedition, and in April 1944 he forestalled his almost certain execution by committing suicide in jail.[3]
  2. Post-war West Germany had little interest in a medium associated so closely with American culture, and comic books were seen as clear evidence that America the occupier was culturally impoverished; like many cultural critics in America at the time, German parents and teachers felt that comics fostered illiteracy and delinquency.[4] Children, of course, particularly boys, found them irresistible; and small publishers arose in response, printing comics in styles and genres closely based on existing American and European models, generally being sure to convey non-threatening social messages. The work of such artists as Hansrudi Wäscher and Rolf Kauka escaped censure—though not always censorship—during the 1950s because their products were suitably conservative, indeed reactionary, and set either in remote history (such as Wäscher's medieval Sigurd) or Disneyesque funny-animal fantasy worlds (like Kauka's Fix and Foxi).[5]
  3. In the 1960s, however, a popular counterculture arose, and comics attracted rebellious young male adults interested in the Franco-Belgian tradition (particularly René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's Astérix and Hergé's Tintin), Disney (above all Donald Duck), and US underground comics such as Robert Crumb's Fritz the Cat.[6] Except in the last case, the publishers catering to this interest were large foreign firms such as the Danish publishers Egmont and Carlsen, whose German branches licensed foreign product; these were the companies that came to dominate comics' production in Germany. These developments, however, did finally create a comics consumer culture strong enough that by the early 1980s, indigenous comics artists began to make names for themselves, most especially humorous cartoonists such as Brösel (Rötger Feldmann), Walter Moers, and Ralf König, to whom we will return later.[7]
  4. By this time, Japanese manga had also made their first appearance in Germany—although they made little impression until 1991, when Carlsen Verlag issued the first volume of Ōtomo Katsuhiro's series Akira, prompting smaller presses to import other manga series. Finally, in 1998, the German manga wave began in earnest, thanks to the TV broadcasts of the anime series Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball, when Carlsen and its main rival Egmont licensed and published the respective original manga: Carlsen issued Takeuchi Naoko's shōjo (girls' romance-based) manga Sailor Moon, while Egmont published Toriyama Akira's shōnen (boys' adventure-oriented) manga Dragon Ball.[8] The popularity of these two series opened the floodgates, and German publishers lost no time cashing in. This manga boom, however, only emphasised the German comics industry's weakness. The publishers had oversaturated the market just as recession hit the newly reunified Germany.[9] By 2001, classics like Mickey Mouse and Astérix were selling poorly, and sales of German artists' work suffered even more, with some long-established titles ceasing publication. This crisis sank many of Germany's smaller comics publishers, and only accelerated the major firms' expansion into manga, which had begun outselling Western-style comics in 2000.[10] Although it would have been a simple enough matter merely to license and import Japanese manga, however, the two major publishers, Egmont and Carlsen—followed in 2004 by the newly-founded German branch of Tokyopop—have chosen to develop local German talent by taking advantage of the strongly participatory nature of manga fandom. By means of contests and internships, they began fostering German manga artists, or mangaka, and offering them opportunities to publish their work professionally.
  5. The first home-grown German manga were created by men: Jürgen Seebeck's two-volume manga Bloody Circus (published by Carlsen in 2001), however, was too European in style to attract German manga readers[11]; while the promising Robert Labs found both of his series, the fantasy Dragic Master (2001, 2005) and the science-fiction adventure Crewman 3 (2003–4), prematurely cancelled by Carlsen after two volumes each. Egmont's first German manga, Naglayas Herz (Naglaya's Heart; 2002), written by Stefan Voss and drawn by Sascha Nils Marx, lasted only one volume. Like Labs, Marx had difficulties keeping up quality and meeting deadlines.[12]
  6. Rather than giving up the idea of producing German manga, however, the publishers turned to primarily cultivating women artists instead, in a calculated move to take advantage of a growing female readership: one important economic aspect of the rise of manga in Germany (as elsewhere), and a contributing factor to its phenomenal growth, has been its appeal to girls and young women, who had seldom been addressed by traditional comics culture in the West.[13] The German publishers have capitalised upon this demographic, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of German mangaka is now women, either just finishing high school or recently graduated, mostly working within the conventions of popular shōjo manga, while young German male readers are well served with the large number of imported shōnen manga on offer.[14] The publishers' strategy has led to a home-grown shōjo boom which, though it may be tiny relative to the amount of imported Japanese manga, certainly means that there are now more female German comics artists in print than ever before.[15]
  7. Thus, it might not be inappropriate to compare this wave of young German women artists with Japan's famous 'Forty-Niners' (nijūyon'nen-gumi, or Year 24 Group), the generation of female mangaka—usually considered to include such figures as Hagio Moto, Ikeda Riyoko and Takemiya Keiko—who in the 1970s pioneered many of the features and subgenres of modern shōjo >manga.[16] In one respect, the young Germans are even more important than their Japanese forerunners. As Martin Jurgeit, curator of the Hannover Museum (where a recent exhibition dealt with German comics history), has put it, the future of German comics is manga: 'These artists, with their sales and the chord they've struck among readers, have the best economic conditions that the coming generation of comics in Germany have ever had.'[17] This comparison is hardly tenable in terms of artistic innovation, however; the Japanese 'Forty-Niners' were trailblazers in the field of shōjo manga, while the German artists' works are characterised by an extremely problematic ideal of 'authenticity,' which forces them to function derivatively rather than innovatively, as if they were translations of non-existent Japanese texts.[18]
  8. Among the signs of this apparent 'authenticity' is a conformity to many of the visual and generic conventions of established manga styles. Such conventions include the single giant sweat-drop that indicates characters' anxiety; the X-shaped throbbing forehead vein that represents anger; and the so-called 'super-deformed' simplification and distortion of facial features, or of the entire body, to show any extreme emotion.[19] Likewise, German manga generally tend to be set in Japan, or at least in Asia (unless they are outright fantasy stories taking place in imaginary worlds), and characters are very frequently given Japanese (or Japanese-sounding) names. Many German manga are also marked by direct address from author to reader in sidebars within the story, footnotes, or afterwords, where the artists give background information about the genesis of the story or of particular scenes or characters, as well as autobiographical information. This address, as Heike Jüngst points out, is also typical of Japanese shōjo manga, where the artists thank their readers for their attention and apologise for their work's shortcomings. The primary marker of this false authenticity, however, is the reversed, right-to-left reading direction; introduced to German manga readers with Carlsen's edition of Dragon Ball (at the insistence of creator Toriyama Akira), 'backwards' reading direction was rapidly enshrined as a gold standard for translated manga, and hence for these home-grown pseudo-translations as well.[20]
  9. There is another respect, however, in which the rising generation of German mangaka is comparable to their Japanese counterparts: the 'Forty-Niners' also pioneered the inclusion of male homoerotic themes in girls' manga. There had been precedents going back to the 1920s for representing female same-sex romance, or dōseiai, in magazines aimed at Japanese girls[21]; but fifty years later the 'Forty-Niners' began depicting homoerotic relationships between androgynous bishōnen, 'beautiful boys' whose feminine appearance did not deprive them of traditionally male prerogatives of freedom and agency. While same-sex eroticism, whether between females or males, could be seen as 'non-threatening' to Japanese society in so far as it was 'free from the dangers for girls inherent in heterosexual sex,' the new 'boys' love' genre allowed both female creators and young female readers to participate in a fantasy of 'perfect romance,' marked by the social equality of the partners.[22] Given the pervasive lack of such equality in real society, the immediate popularity of shōnen ai, or boys' love themes, reflected 'Japanese girls' rejection of their sexuality as a commodity in the patriarchal structure' as they projected themselves into the roles of the male protagonists of the stories.[23]
  10. Moreover, by the late 1980s, when the novelty and popularity of boys' love had waned, an even more confrontational form was created by the development of explicitly pornographic homoerotic manga among creators of dōjinshi (amateur-produced comics largely focussing on parodies of established series). Dubbed yaoi, a name derived by abbreviating the Japanese phrase 'Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi,' ('No climax, no resolution, no meaning'), this new form generally dispensed with both romance and plot to focus on the actual sexual activity, in vignettes that often starred well-known characters.[24] Generally, the 'homosexual' relationships depicted in yaoi mimicked traditional heterosexual dynamics, making one partner older and more aggressive (the seme, or 'attacker'), and the other younger and submissive (the uke, or 'receiver').[25] The similarities between yaoi in this form and the Western style of amateur fan-fiction usually termed 'slash,' in which characters from established film and television series give expression to homoerotic desires not sanctioned within the original series, are obvious[26]; particularly striking is the sense that many young Western and Japanese women have in common a sense of 'discontent with the standards of femininity to which they are expected to adhere'[27] and even 'despair of ever achieving equal relationships with men in a sexist society and their quest for ideal human relationships,' which motivate them to produce and consume homoerotic material featuring idealised men.[28]
  11. Despite yaoi's underground origins, however, thanks to its popularity it soon became a popular mainstream form as well, to be commercialised and integrated into the manga industry in Japan; the more explicit yaoi thus came to exist beside the older, more romantic conventions of shōnen ai.[29] In what follows, I therefore treat 'boys' love' as an overarching category, containing both shōnen ai and yaoi. Although these terms and this relationship between them are outdated in current Japanese usage, there are precedents for adopting them in English-language scholarship; moreover, they appear to have been taken up to a great extent among Western consumers of manga, and reflect usage among German publishers and fans.[30] In the German context, the increasing integration of boys' love themes into German artists' work is certainly part of the wholesale, and thus largely ahistorical, adoption of manga aesthetics, as well as reflecting a genuine interest in these themes among (primarily) female artists and readers—although it remains a marginal subgenre.
  12. The rise of German boys' love manga has very likely also been facilitated by the fact that erotic comics are fairly commonplace in Europe compared to the Anglo-American scene, and homosexuality itself is far from unknown in German comics. In fact, the single most popular German comics artist over the last decades has been gay icon Ralf König, a longtime acerbic chronicler of Germany's homosexual milieu in the comics medium.
  13. Since his 'coming out' as both a gay man and a comics artist in 1979, König's long period of creative success, with publishers from gay niche presses to comics firm Carlsen to mainstream book publisher Rowohlt, has solidified his status as 'best-known German comics artist' bar none.[31] Influenced by Charles M. Schultz, Robert Crumb and Albert Uderzo, König draws in a loose version of the so-called 'big-foot' style: his lumpy characters have large, bulbous noses and protruding upper lips, and both of their round eyes are usually visible even in profile; clearly, König's work is a far cry from the 'beautiful boys' of shōjo manga. This deliberately non-realistic style acts as a sort of distancing device, allowing König's cartoony figures to indulge in quite graphically depicted sexual antics with little discomfort for a straight reader; as he has said, 'In a comic I can get away with an awful lot more, because they're little tuber-nosed people, and you can even show a gay man with sperm stuck to his nose' (although König's work for mass-market publishers such as Carlsen and Rowohlt is generally much less frank than his books for gay and alternative presses).[32] König's biting, satiric wit, which targets both the pretensions of the gay scene and 'straight' inhibitions and neuroses, is also made much more accessible by his drawing style.
  14. In addition to his commercial popularity, throughout the early 1990s König won several of Europe's major cartooning prizes: in 1990 he was awarded 'Best German-Language Cartoonist' at the International Comics Salon at Grenoble; in 1992, he won the Max und Moritz Prize for best German-language comics artist in Erlangen; and in that same year, he was voted 'Best International Cartoonist' at the Barcelona Salon. At about the same time, he won an important battle against censorship when, in Bavaria, a high court refused to prosecute one of his more provocative works, Dicke Dödel I: Bullenklöten! (Thick Willies I: Bull's Balls!; 1987), officially declaring it '"art" in the sense of the German Basic Law.'[33] At forty-seven, König is now one of the grand old men of German comics, and when a volume of cartoons based on Wilhelm Busch's work recently appeared on the hundredth anniversary of the pioneer's death, König was naturally the lead and cover artist; in addition to other artists of König's generation, however, no less than three manga artists, the team called 'DuO' and Anike Hage, were also represented. This volume thus bridges the apparent gap between König's work and German manga.[34] Thanks to Ralf König, there is nothing especially shocking or alternative about the idea of 'gay comics' in Germany, and this constructs a rather different cultural context from the comics scene in North America, for example.
  15. This should not be taken to imply that homophobia does not exist in Germany; on the contrary, gay Germans have long been faced with an essentially conservative culture, as expressed by Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code of 1871, which outlawed sodomy. The Nazis broadened the law in 1935 to include all 'lewd acts' between men, and enforced it with draconian measures; post-war West German courts upheld the law in this form, and accordingly well into the 1970s German homosexuals remained liable to legal prosecution and blackmail. Thousands were convicted, and many committed suicide.[35] Nonetheless, there has also been a strong parallel tradition of relative social tolerance—already in 1871 there were protests against Paragraph 175. There was a brief heyday of relative freedom for homosexuals during the Weimar Republic, and more liberal attitudes have also set in since the late 1960s. Even Paragraph 175 began to be loosened: in 1969, it was reformulated to establish twenty-one as the age of consent for homosexual activity, and four years later this age was lowered to eighteen. In 1994, the paragraph was finally abolished. However, as the attempt to censor König's work demonstrates, more conservative attitudes still prevail in some quarters, particularly when it comes to media whose primary consumers are seen (rightly or wrongly) as likely to be children.
  16. Thus, for example, the popularity of manga among young women drew the attention of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel as early as July 2002, when its cultural supplement Kulturspiegel published an arch but slightly alarmist description of the frank portrayal of both sex and violence, and particularly of male homoerotic themes, in many imported manga. Despite an attempt within the article itself to depict the breadth of manga themes and genres fairly and in a historical and cultural context, the issue's cover bore the sensationalistic blurb 'Liebesgruss aus Tokio: Deutsche Mädchen sind ganz wild auf japanische Sex-Comics' ('From Tokyo with love: German girls are totally wild for Japanese sex comics').[36]
  17. Such reactions may explain why, among the major publishers, boys' love initially entered home-grown German manga more tentatively, transforming potentially homoerotic situations into platonic friendships or red herrings. Korean-German artist Judith Park's Y Square, for example, concerns two Japanese students at a Korean high school: handsome Yoshitaka Kogirei can't attract a girlfriend because he is socially awkward and boorish, while his personable friend Yagate Sotogawa is surrounded by women.[37] Yagate is gay, however; he admits to being attracted to Yoshitaka, but as a footnote from the author asserts, 'Nonetheless, Y Square isn't going to become a shonen-ai [sic]!'[38] Yagate sublimates his attraction by helping Yoshitaka learn the social graces necessary to appeal to the beautiful Ju-Jin. In the sequel two years later, Yoshitaka and Ju-Jin finally pair off, while Yagate ends up gently rebuffed by Ju-Jin's handsome brother Ra-Myun with a chaste, out-of-panel kiss.[39] Fun as it is, and despite being stylishly drawn, the entire narrative ends up as exactly the kind of heteronormative story that Ralf König despises, with the straight characters pairing off, while the gay character remains safely single and inactive for the collective good.
  18. Other early examples play boy's love for laughs: Lenka Buschová's Freaky Angel describes the adventures of Hikari, an eccentric neotenshi or angel of love, in three unconnected episodes. In the first, Hikari comes to the aid of Satoshi, who appears to be in love with the broom he uses to clean his school classroom, and which he has named 'Mister Schrubber' (in English, 'Mr. Scrubber'); he even uses it as a bat during baseball practice.[40] It turns out that Satoshi is really smitten with his female classmate Ren—who turns out to be a boy wearing his sister's hand-me-downs in order not to give up the sensitivity that his father has derided as effeminate.[41] This revelation does not bother Satoshi much at all—he ought to have seen it coming, since they are at a boys' school—and as he and Ren embrace, a super-deformed version of Hikari vomits into an airsick bag, asking, 'Does this have to be so kitschy?'[42] Freaky Angel thus assumes its readers will be well enough acquainted with the conventions of boys' love to regard this conclusion as comically trite, rather than shocking.
  19. The first serious boys' love tale in German manga appears to have been published the same year as Y Square and Freaky Angel. One of the few early German manga to bear an 'adult' designation on its cover, Ying Zhou Cheng's Shanghai Passion is set in 1930s China, where young German Vincent Sebastian von Kretsch is attempting on his father's behalf to make business connections with a leader of the local Chinese crime syndicate before his marriage back home. However, Vincent is oddly ambivalent about his engagement, and feels a strong fascination for his host's son, the long-haired and traditional Bai Lei. After many machinations on the part of Lei's Westernised and amoral half-brother Bai Li (note both brothers' initials), the story comes to a tragic end, with Lei shot by Li and dying in Vincent's arms. There is nothing unusual about a tragic ending in manga of any genre, of course, though in this case it unfortunately conforms all too neatly to typical Western moralistic and heteronormative conventions. One of Cheng's explicit goals with this story, however, was to reverse orientalist stereotypes by making the Westerner the uke (although older than average) and the Asian character the seme. Again, Cheng uses these terms without further explanation, expecting her readers to be familiar with them—although she does gloss shota, 'under-age,' which Vincent deliberately is not.[43] Both the interracial romance and the homosexual relationship nonetheless get short shrift: although Cheng admits to being obsessed with bishōnen in her notes, and even the story's characters anachronistically refer to their own narrative as a 'shonen-ai [sic] manga,' Shanghai Passion's florid visual style and purple metaphors of bamboo being caressed by the wind stop just short of depicting the leads actually kissing, even as Lei is dying.
  20. Mark McLelland has observed that Japanese shōnen ai stories are 'usually set in an ill-defined "other" place (often Europe or America), [and] in another historical period (more often the past but sometimes the future).'[44] German manga, as we have seen, tends to reverse this equation geographically, if to the same end, because for Westerners, it is the East, rather than the West, that provides the distance of a fantasy world; this is particularly true of the boys' love subgenre, since German readers have evidently come to associate this kind of treatment of homoerotic themes with Japan. Even Cheng's Shanghai Passion underpins its claim to authenticity as a shōnen ai manga by including one half-Japanese character. As an exception to this general tendency, however, Diana Liesaus's Musouka takes place in Cambridge, England—arguably a location with its own exotic mystique and homosexual associations—where student Hiroshi Takizawa is fascinated by his classmate Kei Johnson, who seems to have two personalities. Kei copes with the death of his parents by retreating into a fantasy world; however, Hiroshi's remarkable resemblance to the pirate captain in Kei's fantasies leads to an attraction which begins to draw Kei back into reality, and the first volume ends with their first kiss—this time, notably, unmistakably depicted as such.[45] Equally exceptionally, Kei is not Japanese, despite his name (his given name is actually Charles), and almost nothing is made of Hiroshi's obvious Japanese ethnicity—to Kei's question, 'You're not from around here, are you?' Hiroshi ingenuously replies, 'No, from Northampton.'[46] One jarring note is the fact that Hiroshi and Kei spend much of their time making field trips and the like in their matching crested uniforms; apparently, this is Cambridge High School rather than the eponymous university. Since German manga generally function as pseudo-translations, however, this clearly reflects and reverses the tendency to 'age up' young characters in Japanese boys' love manga for Western readers[47]; here, oddly, the characters are the 'right' age, but their milieu has been slightly infantilised to recreate the experience of reading a translated manga.
  21. An interesting and unusual example of a manga in this field by two male authors is In the End, by the team known as Pink Psycho, individually named Heath and (Keshyr) Nheira. Supposedly based on real testimony from online chat rooms, according to the book's back cover, In the End is a story of doomed, obsessive love, as married high school teacher Ren Ando becomes obsessed with his sullen pupil Kaito Niikura, finally committing suicide before Kaito realises that the attraction is mutual.[48] Both Heath and Nheira are also musicians, and the art of In the End is heavily influenced by the fashionable and androgynous visual style of the Japanese popular music known as visual kei, derived in part from Western 'glam rock,' which began attracting fans in Germany, particularly among young women, in about 2002[49]; but the story is so dark, and the characters so unlikeable, morbid and manipulative that the book almost comes off as homophobic, a cautionary tale enacted by David Bowie impersonators. However, the beautifully drawn story is set in a milieu where homosexuality is taken for granted, the Japanese atmosphere is lovingly reproduced—since the multi-racial, Hamburg-born Nheira lives in Japan full-time—and the most unsympathetic depictions are reserved for Kaito's conservative, homophobic father and Ren's vengeful wife Megumi. In the End's rather problematic positioning in the context of the other German manga discussed here stems in part from the fact that Nheira claims never to have considered his story to be a yaoi manga, though it continues to be perceived as such because of both its visual style and its content.[50] Despite this perception, In the End is not particularly explicit visually, again falling just short of depicting actual kissing—although much more is hinted at—so that in general Western usage, yaoi would indeed be an inappropriate label.[51]
  22. In addition to the major firms that publish German manga as a sideline to their licensed imported manga, there are a few smaller publishers that have also taken up producing German manga exclusively; Schwarzer Turm Verlag, for example, not only publishes Paper Theatre, a regular anthology of serialised manga gleaned from German artists who publish online dōjinshi, but occasional special themed anthologies such as Hungry Hearts, an erotic collection which features vignettes of both heterosexual and homosexual love that sometimes become much more graphically explicit than works by the larger publishers.[52] Nonetheless, artists who first appear in Schwarzer Turm's publications are now going on to publish with the majors as well.
  23. One example of these artists is Anna Hollmann, whose innocuous shōnen ai comedy Stupid Story began as a serial in Paper Theatre and is now being collected by Tokyopop. Here the setting is neither Asian nor German, but rather vaguely American: diminutive high school student Yanik is starting at a new school and hopes finally to be part of the in crowd. Sadly for Yanik, Alan, the egotistic local heartthrob, is sick of being chased by all the girls, and he tries to discourage them by claiming that he is gay and kissing the new boy. As if Yanik weren't humiliated enough, he next meets Alan at a party where Yanik has lost a bet and has to appear in drag. Since he really is stunning, Alan falls in love with him without recognising him, leading to a brief comedy of errors before Yanik confesses that he is a boy. After the initial shock—'For the first time I fall in love with the girl of my dreams...An angel...Who's suddenly a boy...What a nightmare!'[53]—Alan decides to make friends with Yanik. In doing so, he conquers his own egotism, and very soon both of them are trying to come to terms with their feelings and sharing lingering looks over ice cream cones, once again stopping just short of a first kiss at the end of the first volume. Interestingly, Tokyopop classifies Stupid Story simply as a 'Romance,' although recommended for ages fifteen and over; this designation reflects the fact that unlike their American counterparts, the major German manga publishers have made no effort to cultivate boys' love readership by setting up separate imprints or marking categories that cater to such an audience, such as Central Park Media's 'Be Beautiful' line in the US.[54]
  24. Finally, even smaller niche publishers are now also being founded in Germany exclusively devoted not merely to boys' love, but openly to more sexually explicit yaoi material. Since 2004, for example, Fireangels Verlag has been licensing American and French yaoi manga in translation, and also publishes home-grown material, such as Martina Peters's science-fiction mystery series K-A-E 29th Secret, about Kae and Inori, an amnesiac teenager and his lover, on the run from the 'Center,' a mysterious organisation that conducts genetic experiments on people presumed dead. K-A-E becomes increasingly explicit in its sex scenes, and the artwork becomes increasingly assured, toward the end of the second and final volume.[55] Fireangels also puts out the mixed manga and short fiction anthologies Lime Law and Lemon Law, both of which come shrink-wrapped, as is common for manga with overly sexual content in both Germany and America. Warning stickers on the wrapping proclaim that Lime Law is meant for readers sixteen and above, while the more graphic Lemon Law is for eighteen and up; the latter has the word 'YAOI' clearly marked on its spine. A glance at the contents of either dispels any notion that the German manga scene's commitment to boys' love is tentative: where Lime Law discreetly but clearly suggests masturbation, fellatio and anal sex in a manner that no publication from one of the major manga publishers has yet dared, Lemon Law goes further and depicts these activities outright—though without resorting to pornographically detailed close-ups and angles, thus rendering it still much tamer than a good deal of material available in Japan.[56] In addition, Fireangels produces original yaoi novels, stickers, bookmarks and posters based on its series, obviously predicated on the assumption that an enthusiastic fan base exists to consume not only the manga, but also collateral merchandise.
  25. In support of this assumption, Fireangels already has a rival: The Wild Side Verlag, also founded in 2004, has so far published one relatively tame anthology volume, Yaoi Newcomer, containing winning submissions from 'the 2006 yaoi manga drawing contest,' an attempt to mimic the successful recruiting strategies of the majors which seems not to have been repeated in subsequent years.[57] The Wild Side also licenses French, Italian and American yaoi manga, and has published several dōjinshi by Tokyo-born German-Japanese artist Mikiko Ponczeck, as well as one beautifully drawn manga volume, Lost and Found, also by Ponczeck under her nom de plume Zombiesmile. Lost and Found is one of the few German boys' love manga to depict coming out as problematic within one's peer group: not only does the teenage protagonist, Kurosawa Shunsuke (at last, a name rendered in Japanese order), lose his best male and female friends after confessing his homosexuality, but his male friend Kyohei—with whom Shunsuke is in love—also spreads the word and helps his classmates humiliate and brutalise him. It should not be assumed, however, that Lost and Found represents a turn to realism in the genre. Shunsuke finally has nobody to turn to except the taciturn neighbour, college student Hikami Tatsuya. But Tatsuya is really a hired killer specialising in criminals who have escaped justice, a job he was offered after butchering his own father, who prostituted him to his friends when he found out that Tatsuya too was gay. Honour student Shunsuke finally drops out of school to take up with Tatsuya, and with his help Tatsuya's killing becomes so efficient that the two of them can take time off for romance—a deeply ironic happy ending in the form of a revenge fantasy. The violence done to Shunsuke, and to the young Tatsuya in flashback, is more explicitly depicted in Ponczeck's clean, spare style than the sex, but in those scenes too there is never any doubt as to what is going on; due to the combined violence and sexual content, Lost and Found is recommended for readers eighteen and over on the cover.[58]
  26. Both Fireangels and The Wild Side are very small operations, consisting of three and two women respectively, and they depend heavily upon the same circles of online dōjinshi artists as Schwarzer Turm; as a result, their artists often use their online pseudonyms in addition to or in place of their real names, such as Martina 'Chiron-san' Peters and Zombiesmile, respectively. By contrast, artists whose work appears with the major publishers usually go by their real names alone, as Martina Peters does in her one (non-boys' love) publication for Carlsen so far.[59] Meanwhile, Diana Liesaus produces Musouka for Egmont under her own name, but she is likely to appear in titles by Schwarzer Turm or Fireangels as 'Crow' or 'Crow13.' (Martina Peters and Diana Liesaus are in fact the art directors of Fireangels Verlag, as Mikiko Ponczeck, or Zombiesmile, is art director of The Wild Side.) This tendency to emphasise artists' ties to their online communities only in certain contexts may well change as interaction among the different levels of publishing increases, but for the time being this difference tends to highlight the fact that the boys' love community perceives itself as a tight-knit, almost tribal subgroup within the already supportive and collaborative in-group of German mangaka. There does not seem to be any reason to interpret this as a defensive posture; from all the evidence, the participants feel that boys' love, both in its translated Japanese form and in home-grown manifestations, in officially published manga and in online dōjinshi, and in every legally permissible degree of explicitness, has now put down roots in Germany.
  27. As a final token of this acceptance, it seems that there has been no anti-boys' love backlash from Germany's actual gay community, analogous to what Wim Lunsing has described in Japan as the yaoi ronsō, or 'yaoi debate,' of the early 1990s, in which one Japanese gay activist in particular, Satō Masaki, took issue with yaoi manga (and less explicit boys' love manga) and their creators by accusing them of falsifying actual homosexual experience for the sake of titillation.[60] In fact, the website of Männerschwarm, one of Germany's leading gay and lesbian online bookshops and a fair indication of 'mainstream' gay German culture, demonstrates that manga indeed speak to a broad public: their online shop offers not only all kinds of gay literature and Western comics (including, of course, the works of Ralf König; Männerschwarm is also one of König's publishers), but also a fairly large selection of boys' love manga, including Shimizu Yuki's Love Mode, Kodaka Kazuma's Kizuna and Ozaki Minami's Bronze. Materials from Fireangels Verlag are also available to order, and plain brown wrapping is available upon request.[61] The availability of boys' love manga on such a site suggests that there is considerable acceptance within the German gay scene of the conventions of boy's love as a valid fantasy, despite male readers' awareness that the producers of the fantasy are not gay men. Such an acceptance may, in turn, reflect the relatively apolitical and consumerist nature of German gay culture since the repeal of Paragraph 175[62]; it almost certainly also reflects the fact that manga, like all other comics, remain much less central to Western culture than they are in Japan, and certainly cannot be linked to any kind of 'gay boom' such as Lunsing describes in the Japanese context as being ascribed to the popularity of boys' love manga.[63] If gay Germans feel they have the luxury of being complacent—a complacency that often disturbs older members of the community such as Ralf König, who sees homosexuals continually being misrepresented and stereotyped in the mass media, even in adaptations of his own works[64]—then the relatively late rise of manga cannot be either thanked or blamed.
  28. This is perhaps an appropriate point to end, by placing the development of boys' love manga in Germany into a wider perspective: however fascinating these trends may be in terms of their implications for the intersections both of Asian and Western cultures, and of what may be perceived as 'gay' and 'straight' cultures, the marginal nature of the comics industry in the West—and particularly in Germany—renders even the current manga boom itself, to say nothing of the boys' love subgenre, far more economically precarious than the Japanese equivalent. While boys' love fandom is likely to survive in some form in Germany no matter what, thanks largely to its active online base, manga remains too tenuous and marginal as a medium to exercise the kind of cultural influence routinely associated with cinema or popular music, to say nothing of direct political action.


    [1] Andreas Knigge, Comics: Vom Massenblatt ins multimediale Abenteuer, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1996, pp. 22–23, p. 213.

    [2] Christian Gasser, Cuno Affolter, Paul Derouet, Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff, Detlef Hoffmann, Andreas C. Knigge and Peter Lorenz, 'Das große Entenhauser Max-und-Moritz-Symposium: Warum gibt es keine deutschsprachige Comic-Kultur?' in Mutanten: Die deutschsprachige Comic-Avantgarde der 90er Jahre, ed. Christian Gasser, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 1999, pp. 24–28. p. 24.

    [3] Andreas C. Knigge, Alles über Comics: Eine Entdeckungsreise von den Höhlenbildern bis zum Manga, Hamburg: Europa Verlag, 2004, p. 29.

    [4] Luke Springman, 'Poisoned hearts, diseased minds, and American pimps: the language of censorship in the Schund und Schmutz debates,' in The German Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 4 (1995): 408–29, p. 414.

    [5] Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff, Comics: Geschichte einer populären Literaturform in Deutschland seit 1945, Weinheim/Basel: Beltz, 1990, pp. 117–25, pp. 154–57.

    [6] Gasser et al., 'Symposium,' pp. 24, 27.

    [7] Knigge, Comics, pp. 309 –10.

    [8] Heike Jüngst, 'Japanese comics in Germany,' in Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, vol. 12, no. 2 (2004):83–105, pp. 87–91. Note that shōjo and shōnen are terms that describe target audiences, and not generic limitations; a wide range of genres, from sports to science fiction, can be found in both types of manga.

    [9] Gasser et al., 'Symposium,' p. 28; Andreas C. Knigge, Alles, pp. 69–70.

    [10] Marcel Rosenbach, 'Frische Ware aus Fernost,' in Der Spiegel 5 March 2001, pp. 77–78, p. 78.

    [11] Heike Jüngst, 'Manga in Germany – from translation to simulacrum,' in Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, vol. 14, no. 4 (2006):248–59, pp. 251–52.

    [12] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 259. Note that most German manga have English titles, reflecting the fact that Japanese manga and anime are usually exported to America first and achieve name recognition under an English title—which is often the original title in Japan in any case, since English is as 'cool' to Japanese youth audiences as it is to young Germans.

    [13] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 258; Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff, 'The attractions of intercultural exchange: manga market and manga reception in Germany,' in Mobile and Popular Culture in Asia, Asia Culture Forum 2006, 5 September 2007, pp. 4–5, online: Bernd%20Dolle-Weinkauff.pdf, site accessed 21 October 2005; Catherine Hickley, 'Asterix retaliates as Asian comics invade the European market,' in, 26 October 2005, online:, site accessed 14 March 2006.

    [14] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 251.

    [15] A knock-on effect of the publishers' policy has been to promote the work of first- and second-generation immigrants to Germany, often of Asian or Eastern European background, making German manga an even more overtly multicultural product; Paul M. Malone, 'Mangascape Germany: comics as intercultural neutral ground,' in Comics as Nexus of Culture, ed. Mark Berninger and Gideon Haberkorn, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, forthcoming.

    [16] The majority of these artists were born in or around 1949 (Showa 24 in Japanese reckoning), hence the group's name in English and Japanese respectively; Frederick Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Tokyo: Kodansha, 1988, p. 97; Jacqueline Berndt, Phänomen Manga: Comic-Kultur in Japan, Berlin: edition q, 1995, pp. 111, 118–19.

    [17] Quoted in Stefan Pannor, 'Dragon Ball und die Folgen,' in Deutschland online 25 March 2008, URL:, site accessed 15 August 2008. All translations from German are my own.

    [18] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 258.

    [19] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 257.

    [20] Jüngst, 'Manga,' p. 253.

    [21] Deborah Shamoon, 'Revolutionary romance: The Rose of Versailles and the transformation of shojo manga,' in Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2007, pp. 3–17, pp. 4–5.

    [22] Shamoon, 'Romance,' pp. 6–7.

    [23] Midori Matsui, 'Little girls were little boys: displaced femininity in the representation of homosexuality in Japanese girls' comics,' in Feminism and the Politics of Difference, ed. Sneja Gunew and Anna Yeatman, Boulder and San Francisco: Westview Press, 1993, pp. 177–96, p. 179.

    [24] Matthew Thorn, 'Girls and women getting out of hand: the pleasures and politics of Japan's amateur comics community,' in Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan, ed. William W. Kelly, New York: State University of New York Press, 2004, pp. 169–87, pp. 170–71; Kristy L. Valenti, '"Stop, my butt hurts!" The yaoi invasion,' in The Comics Journal, no. 269 (July 2005):121– 25, p. 121.

    [25] Mark McLelland, 'No climax, no point, no meaning? Japanese women's boy-love sites on the internet,' in Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 24, no. 3 (2000):274–91, p. 280.

    [26] McLelland, 'No climax,' pp. 276–77.

    [27] Thorn, 'Girls,' p. 180.

    [28] Kazuko Suzuki [sic], 'Pornography or therapy? Japanese girls creating the yaoi phenomenon,' in Millennium Girls: Today's Girls Around the World, ed. Sherrie A. Innes, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998, pp. 243–67, p. 244. The classic original study of slash, which gains its name from fans' habit of punctuating with a typographical slash their descriptions of erotic interaction depicted between two characters (e.g., 'Kirk/Spock,' or 'K/S'), is Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, London: Routledge, 1992; for fans' motivations, see particularly pp. 185–205.

    [29] Thorn, 'Girls,' p. 173; Suzuki, 'Pornography,' pp. 245, 254.

    [30] McLelland, 'No climax,' p. 277; Valenti, '"Stop,"' p. 122; Andrea Wood, '"Straight" women, queer texts: Boy-love manga and the rise of a global counterpublic,' in WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, nos 1 & 2 (2006):394–414, pp. 394–95.

    [31] Knigge, Comics, p. 309.

    [32] 'Wie die Karnickel: Drehbuchautor Ralf König im Interview,' in Kultur, 11 September 2002, online:, site accessed 10 November 2004.

    [33] Joachim Bartholomae, 'Herr König, Sie sind doch nicht selber schwul, Sie zeichnen so was doch nur, weil es sich gut verkauft?' in Joachim Bartholomae, ed., Mal mir mal 'nen Schwulen: Das Buch zu Ralf König, Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 1996, pp. 4–10, pp. 7–9; Elmar Klages, 'Aber der Arsch: von dem Arsch, wiß ihr…Diese prallen, runden Hinterbacken, mit so einem leichten Flaum überzogen…,' in Bartholomae, ed., Mal mir mal, pp. 56–87, p. 58.

    [34] Ralf König et al., Wilhelm Busch und die Folgen, Cologne: Egmont, 2007.

    [35] Les Wright, 'From outsider to insider: queer politics in German film, 1970-94,' in European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (1998):97–121, p. 102.

    [36] Jörg Böckem and Christoph Dallach, 'Manga Chutney,' in Kulturspiegel, vol. 7 (July 2002):21–23.

    [37] Japanese personal names in German manga are almost always rendered family name last, in Western fashion, and I have maintained that order when giving fictional characters' names.

    [38] Judith Park, Y Square, Hamburg: Carlsen, 2005, p. 35. Notably, Park feels no need to gloss this term for her readers. Though I refer to the German edition, an English translation is also available: Judith Park, Y Square, New York: Yen Press, 2008.

    [39] Judith Park, Y Square Plus, Hamburg: Carlsen, 2007, p. 179. The sequel is also forthcoming in English translation from Yen Press.

    [40] Lenka Buschová, Freaky Angel, vol. 1, Cologne: Egmont, 2005, p. 56. Buschová further writes, '[Satoshi's] preference for Scrubber symbolises his close attachment to order in his life,' p. 167.

    [41] Buschová, Freaky Angel, p. 61.

    [42] Buschová, Freaky Angel, p. 62.

    [43] Ying Zhou Cheng, Shanghai Passion, Cologne: Egmont, 2005 n. p. Although Cheng casts this as purely an aesthetic choice, German law in any case prohibits the depiction of children under fourteen (or anyone appearing under fourteen, regardless of supposed age) as a sexual object. German artists and publishers are thus well advised to err on the side of caution. New, EU-mandated legislation of November 2008, prohibiting depictions of sexual activity involving persons between fourteen and eighteen as 'youth pornography,' may well impel them to become even more circumspect.

    [44] Mark J. McLelland, 'The love between 'beautiful boys in Japanese women's comics,' in Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 9, no. 1 (2000):13–25, p. 18.

    [45] Diana Liesaus, Musouka, vol. 1, Cologne: Egmont, 2007, n. p. This is one of the few German manga with a Japanese title, glossed on the back cover as 'Tagträumer,' or 'Daydreamer(s)' — the word could be either singular or plural in both Japanese and German.

    [46] Liesaus, Musouka, n. p.

    [47] Valenti, '"Stop,"' p. 124.

    [48] Pink Psycho, In the End, Hamburg: Tokyopop, 2006. Also available in English translation: Pink Psycho, In the End, Los Angeles: Tokyopop, 2008.

    [49] Marco Höhn, 'Visual kei: Eine mädchendominierte Jugendkultur aus Japan etabliert sich in Deutschland,' in Krasse Töchter: Mädchen in Jugendkulturen, ed. Gabriele Rohmann, Berlin: Archiv der Jugendkulturen Verlag, 2007, pp. 45–53, pp. 46, 48.

    [50] In a bilingual English/German Q & A session reproduced on Nheira's blog, 13 June 2008, URL:, site accessed 13 August 2008.

    [51] Given the artists' command of English as a second language, it is likely too much to assume that the title In the End is a conscious pun, recalling an alternate etymology for the term yaoi as an acronym for the Japanese phrase 'yamete, oshiri ga itai,' or 'Stop, my ass hurts.' McLelland, 'No climax,' p. 277.

    [52] Various editors, Paper Theatre, 5 vols, Weimar: Schwarzer Turm, vols 1–4, (2006) and vol. 5 (2007); Beatrice Beckmann (ed.), Hungry Hearts, 2 vols, Weimar: Schwarzer Turm, 2007 and 2008.

    [53] Anna Hollmann, Stupid Story, vol. 1, Hamburg: Tokyopop, 2008, p. 51.

    [54] Wood, '"Straight" women,' p. 407; Valenti, '"Stop,"' p. 122.

    [55] Martina 'Chiron-san' Peters, K-A-E 29th Secret: Blank File, Dachau: Fireangels, 2005; K-A-E 29th Secret: Invisible Sound, Dachau: Fireangels, 2008.

    [56] Myriam Engelbrecht (ed.), Lime Law, 2 vols, Dachau: Fireangels, 2006 and 2007; Lemon Law, Dachau: Fireangels, 2007.

    [57] Simone Neblich-Spang (ed.), Yaoi Newcomer, Amberg: The Wild Side, 2007.

    [58] Zombiesmile, Lost and Found, Amberg: The Wild Side, 2007.

    [59] Martina Peters, E-motional, Hamburg: Carlsen, 2007.

    [60] Wim Lunsing, 'Yaoi ronsō: discussing depictions of male homosexuality in Japanese girls' comics, gay comics and gay pornography,' in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 12 (January 2006), paragraphs 14–15, online:, site accessed 22 November 2007. See also Keith Vincent, 'A Japanese Electra and her queer progeny,' in Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire, ed. Frenchy Lunning, Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2007, pp. 64–79, pp. 69–73.

    [61] MänerschwarmSkript Verlag, 1996, online:, site accessed 13 June 2008.

    [62] Wright, 'From outsider to insider,' pp. 98, 115.

    [63] Lunsing, 'Yaoi ronsō,' paragraph 14.

    [64] Thomas Voigt, 'Manchmal bin ich selbst meine beste Comicfigur,' in Mal mir mal, ed. Bartholomae, Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript Verlag, 1996, pp. 16–41, p. 19; Ralf König, 'Ralf König,' n.d., online:, site accessed 18 June 2004.

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