Japanese term literally meaning "beautiful youth (boy)" and describes an aesthetic that can be found in disparate areas in East Asia: a young man of androgynous beauty. This word originated from the Tang dynasty poem Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup by Du Fu. Japanese literature, the androsocial and androerotic ideals of the medieval Chinese imperial court and intellectuals, and Indian aesthetic concepts carried over from Hinduism, imported with Buddhism to China. Today, bishōnen are very popular among girls and women in Japan. Reasons for this social phenomenon may include the unique male and female social relationships found within the genre. Some have theorized that bishōnen provide a non-traditional outlet for gender relations. Moreover, it breaks down stereotypes surrounding feminine male characters. These are often depicted with very strong martial arts abilities, sports talent, high intelligence, dandy fashion, or comedic flair, traits that are usually assigned to the hero/protagonist. The prefix bi (美) more often than not refers to feminine beauty, and Bijin, literally "beautiful person", is usually, though not always, used to refer to beautiful women. Bichūnen (美中年) means "beautiful middle-aged man". Biseinen is to be distinguished from biseinen as seinen (青年) is used to describe men who are of age, including those who have entered or completed tertiary education.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Amakusa Shirō have been identified as historical bishōnen.
The term shnen is used to describe boys of middle and high school age. Last, bishota can be used to refer to a beautiful, pre-pubescent male child or a childlike male. Outside Japan, bishōnen is the most well-known of the three terms, and has become a generic term for all beautiful boys and young men. The aesthetic of the bishōnen began as an ideal of a young lover, originally embodied in the wakashū (若衆, literally "young person", although only used for boys), or adolescent boy, and was influenced by the effeminate male actors who played female characters in kabuki theatre. The term arose in the Meiji era, in part to replace the by then obsolete erotic meaning of the older term wakashū, whose general meaning of "adolescent boy" had by this point been supplanted by the new term shnen. The bishōnen is typically slender, with clear skin, stylish hair, and distinctly feminine facial features (such as high cheekbones), but simultaneously retains a male body. This androgynous appearance is akin to the depiction of angels in Western renaissance art, with similar social roots for this aesthetic. Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Amakusa Shirō have been identified as historical bishōnen. Ian Buruma notes that Yoshitsune was considered by contemporaries to be not physically prepossessing, but that his legend later grew and due to this, he became depicted with good looks. Abe no Seimei was depicted according to the standards of a Heian-era middle-aged man, but since 1989 he has been depicted as a modern-style bishōnen.
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1848 he used the term bishōnen in the title of a work about the younger wakashu partner in the nanshoku relationship. The bishōnen aesthetic is continued today in anime and manga, especially shōjo and yaoi. Some non-Japanese, especially American, anime and manga fans use the term to refer to any handsome male character regardless of age, or any homosexual character. In the original Japanese, however, bishōnen applies only to boys under 18. For those older, the word midwife (美男子, literally "handsome man") is used. In the place of bishōnen, some fans prefer to use the slightly more sexually neutral Bijin (美人) or the Anglicized slang term "bishie" (also spelled "bishi"), but these terms remain less common. Scottish pop singer Momus notably used the term in his song "Bishonen" from the Tender Pervert album (released on Creation Records). Almost 8 minutes long, the song is an epic tale of a young boy raised to die young by an eccentric stepfather. The enduring preference for bishōnen males can clearly be seen in Japan and throughout parts of East Asia to this day. In particular, Japan's largest male talent agency, Johnny & Associates Entertainment Company, specializes only in producing male Tarento idols. Accepted into Johnny & Associates in their early teens, these boys, collectively known as 'Johnnys', are trained and promoted to become the next leading singing-acting-commercially successful hit sensations. Almost all can be classified as bishōnen, exhibiting the same physically feminine features combined with a sometimes deliberately ambivalent sexuality or at the very least, a lack of any hint of a relationship to maintain their popular availability.
Current bishōnen examples from the same agency include Tomohisa Yamashita of J-pop group NEWS, Jin Akanishi and Kazuya Kamenashi of KAT-TUN, Takuya Kimura of SMAP, Ryosuke Yamada and Kei Inoo of Hey! Say! JUMP and Jun Matsumoto of Arashi, all of whom are phenomenally successful throughout East Asia by appealing to both younger and older women and whose widely praised, gender-incongruous physical beauty is often deliberately manipulated in terms of role-playing and, most commonly, fanservice. Besides being a character type, bishōnen is also a distinct art style not usually forgotten in books about drawing manga. The character's "sex appeal" is highlighted through introducing the character by using an "eroticized" full page spread. Characters with "bulging muscles" are rarely considered bishōnen, as they are too masculine. It is said that Björn Andrésen's appearance as Tadzio in the film Death in Venice inspired many Japanese anime artists, such as Keiko Takemiya, who became known for their depictions of young, effeminate men. Bishōnen characters are fairly common in shjo manga and anime. Many of the male characters show subtle signs of the bishōnen style, such as slender eyes or a feminine face. Some manga are completely drawn in the bishōnen style, such as Saint Seiya.
Mainstream shounen and seinen fare also often uses such characters as rivals for a traditional masculine protagonist, with some degree of comic relief, or for the blander everyman, whether as the embodiment of his insecurities in a grittier realism, or as a more lighthearted constant reminder of his less than advantageous social status and the constraints thereof. Comics for younger boys tend to use arrogant bishōnen in the role of the recurring minor rivals readers love to hate, though their effeminate good looks there will often appear older, bigger, stronger, and thus in fact more masculine than the shorter and less mature protagonists. Bishōjo ('beautiful girl') is often mistakenly considered a parallel of bishōnen, because of the similar construction of the terms. There are major differences between the two aesthetics. The bishōjo aesthetic is at a male audience, and is typically centered on young girls, drawn in a cute, pretty style; bishōnen is at a female audience, centered on teenage boys, and drawn elegantly. Another common mistake is assuming that the female characters in bishōnen manga and anime are bishōjo.
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In truth, female characters in bishōnen manga are very different from those in bishōjo; bishōjo females are usually more petite and drawn in a style that is cute rather than beautiful, whereas bishōnen females exhibit the long limbs and elegance of the bishōnen themselves. Several cultural anthropologists and authors have raised the multifaceted aspect of what bishōnen represents and what it is interpreted as, mostly to fit a particular external viewpoint. Ian Buruma noted that although Western comics for girls also included "impossibly beautiful men" who are clearly masculine and always get the girl in the end, the bishōnen are "more ambivalent" and sometimes get each other. James Welker describes the bishōnen as being "queer", as the bishōnen is an androgynous aesthete with a feminine soul "who lives and loves outside of the heteropatriarchal world". Ishida Hitoshi makes the case that the image of the bishōnen is more about a grounding in sexuality than a transcendence of it, drawing on the idea of the image as being a refuge for alternative methods of looking at sexual natures, and sexual realities, at least since the 1960s, rather than the elegiac aesthetics of usages in an earlier era.
Representations of men in manga by and for men show "an idealized man being ultramasculine and phallic", bishōnen are conversely drawn to "emphasize their beauty and sensuality", and female artists have been said to react against the ultramasculine representation by showing androgynous and " aesthetically beautiful" men. Ian Buruma, writing in 1984, considered the "bishonen in distress" to be a recurring motif in popular manga. The bishōnen in distress is always rescued by an older, protective, mentor. This scenario has an "unmistakably homoerotic" atmosphere. He also notes that bishōnen must either grow up, or die beautifully. Orbaugh, Sharalyn (2002). Sandra Buckley (ed.). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Taylor & Francis. pp. Buckley (2002). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture. Taylor & Francis. pp. Pflugfelder, Gregory M. (1999). Cartographies of desire: male-male sexuality in Japanese discourse, 1600-1950. University of California Press. Febriani Sihombing. "On The Iconic Difference between Couple Characters in Boys Love Manga". Pflugfelder, Gregory M. (1999). Cartographies of desire: male-male sexuality in Japanese discourse, 1600-1950. University of California Press. Drazen, Patrick (October 2002). '"A Very Pure Thing": Gay and Pseudo-Gay Themes' in Anime Explosion! The What, Why & Wow of Japanese Animation Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press pp.91-94. A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture. Great Britain: Penguin Books. Miller, Laura (2008). "Extreme Makeover for a Heian-Era Wizard". Mechademia. 3(1): 30-45. doi:10.1353/mec.0.0034. Reichert, James Robert (2006). In the Company of Men: Representations of Male-male Sexuality in Meiji Literature. Stanford University Press. pp.
Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics. A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture. Great Britain: Penguin Books. Wood, Andrea. (Spring 2006). "Straight" Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic. WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, 34 (1/2), pp. Thompson, Jason (2007). Manga: The Complete Guide. Monnet, Livia (1999). "Montage, cinematic subjectivity and feminism in Ozaki Midori's Drifting in the World of the Seventh Sense". Buckley, Sandra (1991) "'Penguin in Bondage': A Graphic Tale of Japanese Comic Books", pp. 163-196, In Technoculture. C. Penley and A. Ross, eds. Welker, James (2006). "Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent: "Boys' Love" as Girls' Love in Shōjo Manga". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 31(3):842. doi:10.1086/498987. The Process of Divergence between 'Men who Love Men' and 'Feminised Men' in Postwar Japanese Media. Ishida Hitoshi and Murakami Takanori. Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context. A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture. Great Britain: Penguin Books.