Wanko is a word in Japanese generally used to refer to a dog or a puppy. In popular culture and fan community, it is also widely used to refer to characters whose personality traits are similar to that of a dog: sweet, friendly, and obedient if a bit spoiled. Within the Boys’ Love (BL) genre, wanko is widely used for characters who enthusiastically love their partner, like how a dog loves its master.
“Wanko” is a word that can both be written entirely in hiragana or katakana (わんこ or ワンコ). Originally, it is only a baby talk word referring to dogs by using the onomatopeia for a dog bark, “wanwan” (ワンワン). Other baby talk words for dogs commonly include “wanchan” (ワンちゃん). Popular culture and fan communities typically use the term to simultaneously both refer to a character with dog-like traits and evoke the cuteness of those traits in a single word.
As baby talk, “wanko” has been used for centuries. Some sources believe that the usage began during the Edo period. It has also always been used figuratively to refer to people’s personality traits. As an already common word, “wanko” is a convenient way for fans to summarize the characters they like to read. This convenience later extends to the term wanko being used for character categorizations. Rather than describing how a character can be sweet, friendly, and loyal at the same time, it’s easier to summarize those traits by saying the character is a wanko character.
Within the BL genre, the common traits that make a character a wanko type would be his devotion and loyalty to his partner. However, other highlighted features of a wanko character can be quite varied. Wanko might be used to refer to characters who are bubbly, friendly, and enthusiastically loyal, and obedient to the point you can probably see them manifesting a wagging tail. However, variations can include an overprotective streak, characters who warms up only to one specific person, or even characters who are playfully mean or cat-type characters. The wide variety of meanings for this term works very well with the BL genre, as it covers multiple sub-genres and makes it handy for marketing. The terms wanko-seme and wanko-uke became commonly used within the BL genre, both by publishers’ marketing and BL fans.
Wanko: Modern Usage in BL
The figurative use of the term wanko within the BL genre certainly encompasses a vast type of traits and characteristics, even though the most recognized attribute is the enthusiastic loyalty and devotion to one’s partner. A wanko-seme or a wanko-uke who shows their appreciation and love of their partner in an unabashedly sweet but often demanding way is a good recipe proven successful multiple times. But the protective streak of a wanko-seme or a playfully mean wanko-uke undeniably provides additional spices that make the result even more delightful. After all, BL creators explore moe factors and experiment with the vast subgenres of BL.
Don’t forget to read akebino’s The Puppy Dog Student Can’t Ignore The Two-Faced Waiter available in the futekiya Library!
Who is your favorite wanko character in BL? Tell us on Twitter!
About futekiya: BL manga subscription
In 2018, futekiya began as a Boys’ Love manga news and culture website operated by FANTASISTA, INC., a CG/VR production studio based in Tokyo, Japan. futekiya transformed into a budding global distributor of officially licensed BL manga in 2019.
futekiya launched as an online subscription service for officially licensed BL manga on July 8, 2019. Determined to connect fans around the world with English-translated BL legally and conveniently, futekiya empowers readers to support creators and the manga industry.
Readers who subscribe to futekiya and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.futekiya.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.