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In the early 1990s, however, these terms were largely eclipsed with the commercialization of male-male homoerotic media under the label of boys love. Yaoi works are available across the continents in various languages both through international licensing and distribution and through circulation by fans.

Yaoi works, culture, and fandom have also been studied and discussed by scholars and journalists worldwide.

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.

A gay male who asks out another male can initiate the relationship but also enjoy the sensation of being a bottom in anal sex.

Anal sex is a prevalent theme in yaoi, as nearly all stories feature it in some way.

This archetypal pairing is referenced more often in older yaoi volumes – in modern yaoi, this pairing is often seen as already encompassed by seme and uke or simply unnecessary to address.

The word was originally used to describe an author's distinctive style, for example, the styles of Yukio Mishima and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.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.Another way the seme and uke characters are shown is through who is dominant in the relationship – a character can take the uke role even if he is not presented as feminine, simply by being juxtaposed against and pursued by a more dominant, more masculine, character.Although not the same, a yaoi construct similar to seme and uke is the concept of tachi and neko.

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