The monthly manga magazine Garo (published by Seirindō 1964–2002) has gained a certain visibility outside of Japan throughout the past few years: more and more of its authors have been translated and recognized, exhibitions are being held  and articles released, even in non-specialized magazines. While Garo authors and their work attract increasing attention outside of Japan, the magazine itself doesn’t seem to be a popular topic within manga studies despite – or precisely because of – its link to the so-called “alternative manga” (Asagawa 2015), the 1960s counterculture, the rise of a new readership and its role as an aesthetic forerunner during its first decade of existence. Bearing this in mind, this column will try to give an overview of the sources currently available on the magazine itself, identify those which can be used as proper academic references and demonstrate the possibilities afforded by studying the magazine itself, going beyond the focus on its authors.
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As with the larger field of manga studies, the earliest attempts at theorizing what we now call Boys’ Love (hereafter BL) manga were made by Japanese critics and authors in the 1980s when the genre itself surfaced. Academic BL studies, however, had to wait until the 2000s, with some key works published after 2005, and these are the main focus of this article.
The first analyses of the roots of BL manga were written by Nakajima Azusa. She traced the genre back to shōnen’ai manga (boy love), stories about romantic and sexual love between boys that were serialized in shōjo [girls] manga magazines. While shōnen’ai has become a popular loanword within non-Japanese manga fandom, in Japan, the most widespread term — not just for graphic narratives, but also novels, audio-dramas, and games — is BL, which overwhelmingly tends to signify the commercially published variant of this cross-media genre as distinct from the fandom-based, and often more sexually explicit yaoi variant. The shōnen’ai stories of the 1970s were revolutionary as they replaced the conventional girl protagonists of shōjo manga with boys, and they appealed to female fans in a way which went beyond the act of reading. In her early essays, Nakajima dissected not only BL narratives as such but also fans’ motivations for consuming and creating them. However, her psychoanalytical focus was often interpreted as fans of the genre being unable to cope with societal gender roles, to the extent of being, at best, escapist, and at worst, pathological. Nakajima herself was an author and editor of BL literature (which is often accompanied by single-image manga-style illustrations), and she played a seminal role in June (1978–2012), the first magazine dedicated to BL manga and fiction. It goes without saying that her creative involvement in the formation of the genre shaped also her stance as a critic.