Although the yaoi genre is also called Boys' Love (commonly abbreviated as BL), the characters may be of any age above puberty, including adults.

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Female authors writing for shōjo (girl's) manga magazines in the early 1970s published stories featuring platonic relationships between young boys, which were known as tanbi (aesthetic) or shōnen ai (boy love).

In the late 1970s going in to 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 wasei-eigo term Boys' Love or BL was invented and eventually became the dominant term used for the genre in Japan.

In the late 1970s, shōjo magazines devoted to the new genre began to appear; and, in the 1990s, the wasei-eigo term Boys' Love or BL was invented for the genre, which replaced earlier terms such as tanbi, shōnen ai and Juné in Japanese usage.

In Japan, the term yaoi continues to refer mainly to parody dōjinshi; among Western fans, however, yaoi is used as a generic term for female-oriented manga, anime, dating sims, novels and fan fiction works featuring idealized gay male relationships.

The genre has spread beyond Japan, and both translated and original yaoi works are now available in many countries and languages.

The genre currently known as Boy's Love, BL, or yaoi derives from two sources.

), also known as Boys' Love (BL), is a Japanese genre of fictional media focusing on romantic or sexual relationships between male characters, typically aimed at a female audience and usually created by female authors.

Although yaoi is typically aimed at a female audience, the genre also attracts male readers; however, manga aimed at a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre.