I am compiling this list with a ridiculous level of reservation. Most historical fiction reviews I see tend to ponder and dwell on historical accuracy and I admit , quite bluntly, that this is NOT why I read historical novels. Hell, it isn’t why I read ANY fiction – full stop!
I read stories set in the past because I want to remove myself from the present and be transported to “the olden days” for a short time. I am addicted to escapism so I shun accuracy like the plague. Speaking of plague, if it appears in a novel I like it to be a device for character building, adventure setting, angst infusion. A narrative obstacle rather than an accurate account of the time. I have history books for that and I read them on times when I am curious about the reality of those time.
Fiction REMOVES me from reality, personal preference but a rather strong trend with me. I swallow stupid romance novels by the buckets and not ashamed to admit it.
And this is how I came to yaoi. I am worried that I would have to justify myself. My fantasies, my indulgences, my *gasp* FETISHES. I don’t want to do that and I rather not get drawn into defending the genre. It is what it is. Riddled with faults, vastly misunderstood and in my opinion, utterly brilliant because it is nothing more than what it is. It doesn’t TRY to be high literature.
I am not going to divide it into definitions and sub genres and I am going to CHEAT. I added some titles that aren’t labelled YAOI but they feature gay romance as central or part of the plot.
1) Avalon Eien no Ai no Shima (Avalon – Island of Eternal Love)(2 volumes) Akai Toreno
Akai Toreno is largely unpopular with western yaoi fans. Her Semes are too beefy, her Ukes too effeminate. She overdoes the angst factor and her sex scenes can be uncomfortably brutal. She also very rooted in the narrative aspect of the story rather than the smut. I confess that everything about her work appeals to me despite and maybe due to its faults. In this case the angst is well placed. A romance between an SS officer and his Jewish butler in Nazi Germany can hardly be a cheerful easy going affair.
This has been swiftly written off by people who never read the manga as fetishist. I fail to see how since Aloise is forced into his position in the SS having the life of his childhood friend (David – a boy from the Jewish serving family in his family’s estate) dangled as a threat before his eyes. He doesn’t spend too much panel time in uniform and is the UKE.
The premise of their affair (and this is quite an intricate relationship and story) is that Aloise feels responsible for the death of David entire family and as a sacrifice he offers himself to nightly humiliating series of brutal sexual encounters in which David takes out his frustrations upon his body.
It is a love-hate relationship, soaking in more angst than the law should permit and when the love finally creeps up gently into their encounters – it jerks the tears and dishes out some melodrama that is probably a lot to swallow for some fans.
It is perfect for me. It also hits a personal note. Similar story in my family’s past… without the gay angle😄 It wins top spot without contest.
2) Gerrard and Jacques (2 volumes) Fumi Yoshinaga (mention lovers in the night)
This is one that a lot of fans will point to as the hight of historical yaoi. Rightfully so. It is witty, smart, sexy and romantic in all the right places. The art is very different. There is none of the big sparkling eyes, the lush hair and the willowy grace of the majority of yaoi out there. Once you get used to the style, though , it is just as highly detailed and eye-candy as the best. (the image is from LOVERS IN THE NIGHT though… same time period and I liked how you spotted the anachronistic glasses which illustrate the Yaoi Rule of “Historically correct? FEH! It looks good! It goes on the bishie bridge of his nose!”)
At the cusp of the French Revolution Jacques is a sold into prostitution as a child. Gerard, a successful novelist (we later learn he writes Lesbian smut for a living) hires his favors for the night at the brothel were he is forced to work. The child arrogance intrigues him and after he does what a gentleman does with a young boy at a house of disrepute, he buys his freedom… just to see if young Jacques wouldn’t be back whoring soon enough.
Of course he doesn’t. Few years later, teenage Jacques finds employment at Gerrard house, where he finds the novelist bed filled with young male whores and his own loins behaving completely against his will… dragging him in the direction of the same bed.
The story of THIS love affair stretches throughout the turbulent times as Jacques grows from boy to man and the two banter and bicker and have lots of lovely-lovely filthy sex. Laced with humor which just adds to the eroticism of the tale and a typical Fumi Yoshinaga clever dialog – this one is NOT typical to the genre. It is highly recommended and – JOY – available in English.
you already know how the anachronisms creep it… switch the historical accuracy goggles off – in my opinion it is worth ignoring them for this bit of fun. (anything by Fumi Yoshinaga is gold, even when not historical and even when not gay – try ANTIQUE BAKERY – it is … just… *swoons*).
3) Romance (3 volumes) Moka Azumni
Not one for the plot. This is complete eye-candy. Antwan a beautiful man in stunning clothes who never ties his lush hair and escapes marriage is pursued by an artist who asks to paint his portrait and ends up teaching him the art of man loving. Throw in a cousin who also expresses a romantic interest in him and you have thousands of excuses to show off beautiful men in hundreds of 18th century frilly attire… and take them out of it just as frequently.
Moka Azumi story telling never caught me but her art style and attention to detail takes my breath away. I find myself leafing through her books as one would do with an art book, pausing to take in favorite panels and shamelessly drooling over how pretty it all is.
Anachronistically speaking – there is probably enough to make a historian explode. I don’t think the mangaka cares… I certainly don’t. ^^;;
4) Song of the winds and trees (13 volumes) Keiko Takemiya
This would not be considered yaoi but it is the mostly undisputed work that sprung the genre of Boys Love. about to be born when slowly other mangakas picked up their pens and ventured into far more gratuitous Keiko Takamiya was a Shoujo mangaka who got very bored with her genre. So when it came a time to write a historical tragic love story … she simply changed the girl into a boy and the concept of Uke and Seme was territory (not always explicitly sexual but still a lot less plot based than this).
19th century tale set mostly in an exclusive boarding school. The very promiscuous Gilbert a student with a bad reputation for wildness, Serge a kind hearted fellow pupil offers him his friendship and receives a lot more in return. Not just a reluctant romance and eventual sex but also the full brunt of Gilbert twisted past.
Very angst ridden, very poetically written, very tear jerking. The style of drawing lies firmly in the 1970s and the characters look even younger than they really are (which is 14) so you have to switch off the political correctness here. There are no sex scenes as such but we are told they happen and we see the aftermath quite often. Scenes of child abuse can be a hard pill to swallow. This one is story all the way through.
5) Seifuku … (1 volume) Akai Toreno
A very early Toreno. I tend to favor these. Set in Roman times. The Seme is a Roman general who brings home a Celtic prisoner of war as spoils of war. The prisoner happen to look just like his mother which opensbrings up a big can of worms as he finds himself attracted to him and faced with the shadows of the past.
The romance is violent to begin with , filled with tears and carries the characteristic “invisible penis” style… all typical Akai Toreno.
We travel from Ancient Britain to Rome to the Holy land. The Uke goes from Chief son to Slave to Whore. All of this in one volume. Cheaply pushes all of my fangirlish buttons. Pulp Romance if I ever came across one – but it works for me… no surprise there😄.
6) The lily and the rose – Dany & Dany
The only GloBL title on my list. I love Dany & Dany. I know the plot is predictable and old but I am forever a sucker for a story that sets a priest against a decadent dandy. Good excuse to play with pretty 18th century and angst. Can a fangirl ask for more? YES SHE CAN! I am not going to – I am quite happy with this.
7) Ludwig II – Higuri Yuu
I am cheating again. This is shoujo. The famous love story between the king and his stable boy. Beautifully handled and apparently actually RESEARCHED!!! I can’t back up the claim but Yuu Higuri fills this 3 volume manga with all the political intrigue and manipulations at the time.
I spotted one huge anachronism (I got this after visiting Ludwig II castles), the king never grows fat and he is a lot less… ahem… eccentric than he was in real life.
Still – this is a proper historical manga (which might not be up to accuracy standards with western historical novel but it makes the effort at least) and the plot follows history. Lots of dialogs and story. Sex scenes are subtle, the love story is central and heart breaking. It plays the romance of the time for all its worth.
8)Wild Rock – Kazusa Takashima
Ah! The stone age as it never was! Two stories of utter fluff and eye candy. Uke is very feminine and young looking. Seme is all muscle and manliness. They wear very little when they wear it at all. Let me try and remember the plot – I am still trying to peak under than loin-cloth!
The uke is made to dress as a girl in order to seduce the handsome son of rival clan for this or that reason. They fall in love and live happily ever after. There is another story that reveals the steamy past of their fathers.
Unlikely to the extreme… but who is going to be able to prove that… who is even going to TRY! WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO???
9) Stolen heart – Maki Kanamaru (writer) and Yukine Honami (illustrator)
It is a simple and pleasant enough Regency story. A spoiled young nobleman hops from party to orgy until he is utterly bored. In comes a mysterious highwayman who brings back the fire into his desire. It isn’t the most surprising theme. The only interesting twist here is that both sides are far from innocent and willing participants in all the bed exploits. It is a shame that for this story there isn’t more explicit depiction of these.
This is the longest of three stories in the book. The other two are not historical. This is quite typical since historical BL romance is far more common in novel form… but that would have to wait for another top 10…
10)Temptation – Maeda Momiji
I am not a big fan of short story anthologies but this one captured my attention. Small installment of old frilly themes. Dandy nobleman and his devout love interest, pirates and noblemen. A nice frolic in fangirl fetishes which I enjoyed very much. A first from Maeda Momiji. I only ever saw illustrations for novels or teaser images in anthologies. These tend to be one-of pictures with no story attached so I was pleased to see her try her hand in manga.
This list turned out to be more problematic than I thought.
To begin with – there is a lot less of it out there than I realized. I compiled a large folder of historical yaoi images through the years of collecting but it is a rather misleading collection (although very beautiful).
To begin with – most of the images are from NOVELS. Then there is the separate genre set in alternative universe in which the setting is historical but it allows mangakas with more conscience to shrug of anachronisms with the excuse : “it isn’t REALLY our history” (think LIONS OF AL RASSAN in Western terms). This is before we even touch upon all the Fantasy stories (in manga form as well) who set magical tales in magical lands where characters get to dress in historical gear for the sheer heck of it. This is before we even start stepping into Gothic vampire territory… it is as overdone in Japan as it is over here and I am no fan of vampire romps whether it comes from here or over seas.
The last problem is that the vast majority of the images I have come from magazines and anthologies. In the good cases these are attached to one shot short stories and SOMETIMES those end up stuffed at the end of a takubon as page filler but not always. The problem is that a lot of these are just cover or insert commissions from illustrators and there is no story attached to any of them.
And when I threw myself happily into this I suddenly found myself having to select from… well… not very much. Since I felt I had to at least LIKE what I listed I bunched it up with some shoujo and had a good go at it.
This is the muddled result.
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