Thanks for your thoughtful question! I named this blog “gay manga” after Anne and I interviewed Gengoroh Tagame in 2012 and he explained to us the complicated history of the term “bara.”
“It’s not a word Japanese people use,” Tagame stated. “The gays don’t use it and it’s definitely a foreigner’s term for us.” He walked us through the term’s many transmutations: its origins as a hetero slur similar to the English “pansy”; its radical re-appropriation by the Japanese gay media in the 1960s and early ’70s, evident in the titles of magazines Bara and Barazoku; its eventual expiration amidst a newly politicized discourse surrounding homosexuality in the ’80s and ’90s; and its recent misappropriation by Western Internet circles as a term for gay manga.
From the interview transcript:
Tagame: […] the word has come back to life, unfortunately, and I have to say personally, I’m sort of against it. I don’t call my own work ‘bara’ and I don’t like it being called ‘bara’ because it’s a very negative word that comes with bad connotations.
Me: So then, do you call it just “gay manga” or is there anything more specific?
Tagame: No, no, no, just “gay manga.”
While many Japanese artists working in this genre tend to eschew any genre label at all, I’ve noticed some artists using "gay manga" (ゲイ漫画) as well as the wasei eigo term “gei comi“ (ゲイコミ), or "gay comics.” I prefer the former label because “manga” immediately communicates the work’s Japanese origins. Gay manga artists can and should be considered gay comics artists, but it’s also important to acknowledge that their work belongs to a unique lineage of Japanese homoerotic art stretching back to the woodblock prints of the Edo period and beyond— a historical trajectory independent from the one Western gay comics have evolved along.
That’s not to say Western gay art hasn’t influenced gay manga— the artwork of Tom of Finland and American artist George Quaintance, for instance, began circulating in Japanese queer magazines more than 50 years ago. But gay manga developed in a context and economic model fairly distinct than the history of gay comics from America and Europe in the 20th century that Justin Hall lays out in his excellent book No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics.
So, “gay manga.”
P.S. Our new anthology, Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It features varying perspectives on the term “bara” from the nine artists included within, and plenty of context on the genealogy of gay manga! Go pre-order! ;)