You may be more familiar with telenovelas and Kdramas, but a new genre of romantic dramas is spreading like wildfire across Asia – in particular, Thailand. It’s called ‘BL’ – short for ‘boys love’. You may not have heard of this genre, but it’s one that’s quietly been around for over a decade since its debut as a manga genre.
While BL dramas, on the surface, focus on male-male relationships, they’re usually targeted at the female audience, and are generally different from the ‘gay drama’ label which deals with real struggles of the LGBTQ community. However, that doesn’t mean that BL titles don’t portray some of the stigma they face, whether it’s ridicule, rejection, condemnation or more.
The BL genre is growing fast, and many new production companies specialising in BL content have sprung up across conservative Asia. Here are some of the most popular BL titles to come out of Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Japan.
Most popular Thai BL dramas are available as web series, and adapted from novels or comics and tend to focus on university life. They’re generally light-hearted drama-comedies with sappy romantic lines (ie. “you’re my earth” and “there’s only one you in the world” or “what I want to do most with you is to grow old as a couple”) and tell the tale of more than one ‘couple’.
Now on Netflix and a runaway hit of 2020, 2Gether explores an age-old theme of ‘pretend lovers becoming real lovers’. Tine (Win Metawin), a handsome college cheerleader pretends to be lovers with gorgeous Sarawat (Bright Vachirawit) in order to deflect attention from another guy who likes him. This is probably one of the ‘tamer’ BL dramas out there, as many viewers have commented that their relationship seemed more ‘brotherly’. This was followed up with Still 2Gether which isn’t really a sequel, but filled the gaps of the original series.
TharnType puts two opposite types together: the gorgeous and openly gay Tharn (Mew Suppasit) and the hot-headed homophobic Type (Gulf Kanawut). The series starts of with a lot of hate and aggression on the part of Type, but as it progresses, we see how Tharn’s patience and gentle nature slowly overcomes Type’s aggression and objection. The chemistry between the two is electric and there’s also an interesting plot twist towards the end. Season 2 is in the making!
Theory of Love (2019)
Unlike many BL dramas, Theory of Love has a well-defined plot between two film students – playboy Khai (Off Jumpol) and long-time friend Third (Gun Atthaphan) who’s been secretly in love with him. This emotional series will tug at your heartstrings, as Khai behaves like a jerk to Third by using him as an emotional crutch while he’s in between his female conquests. When Third has had enough of Khai, the roles suddenly reverse – Khai finally realises his feelings for Third, but how can he win over the person he hurt so badly?
Together With Me (2017)
A classic friends-to-lovers story, Together With Me focuses on two childhood besties – who happen to have super ripped bods – who meet again at university. Korn (Max Nattapol) has been crushing on his friend Knock (Tul Pakorn) for a long time, and after a drunken one-night stand, their friendship is tested. To complicate things, Knock also has a girlfriend. The sequel, The Next Chapter, focuses on Korn and Knock post-graduation as they navigate the complexities of adulthood.
Thailand is a prolific producer of BL dramas, especially during 2019, with popular titles including Until We Meet Again which is a pretty intense story of forbidden love, reincarnation, and your fated one, 2Moons2 which is a fluffy series that follows the development of 3 couples with very different dynamics, and so many more.
One can say that the popularity of Thai BL kicked off with SOTUS (2016), which is about a slow burn couple who turned from enemies to lovers against the setting of a university hazing ritual. Some BL titles are side stories of hetero romantic dramas which are then developed into a BL series – like Dark Blue Kiss (2019) and its prequel Kiss Me Again (2018) which follow the development of Pete (Tay Tawan) and Kao (New Thitipoom) from enemies to lovers.
Taiwan has a slew of BL drama titles that cover a wider range of scenarios, from high school romances to gangster-cop relationships, covering light-hearted stories to more complex issues.
Because Of You (2020)
Because Of You centres around three privileged and good looking Yuan brothers – Jun Cheng (Lee Shi Kang – the only Korean cast member), Jun Dao (Will Chang), and Jun Ping (Jerom Huang) – who have different mothers. When poor samaritan Lin Xun (Muji Hsu) saves Jun Chen from a situation, something develops between them – it’s hilariously cheesy, but fun to watch. The other two brothers also develop relationships with their respective best friends.
Dark Blue and Moonlight (2019)
Dark Blue and Moonlight is not technically a BL story in that it is quite complicated: what happens when you meet the one, but are in a relationship with someone else? Aspiring artist Hai Qing (Chen Yan Ming) meets his dream guy Yan Fei (Wang Ting Yun) at a pool one day, and sparks fly, but a mishap with his phone – and Yan Fei’s number – means that they can’t contact each other. Both then went on to forge relationships with other men – Hai Qing with the doting Ping Jun and Yan Fei with Jimmy – until fate makes them cross paths once again.
HIStory 2 (2018) & HIStory 3 (2019)
HIStory is Taiwan’s version of web-based BL drama series – each HIStory (there’s been 3 so far) has about 2-3 miniseries. The two fan favourites are HIStory 2: Boundary Crossing (4 episodes) and HIStory 3: Trapped (10 episodes).
HIStory 2: Boundary Crossing (aka Crossing the Line) is about a romance that develops between 2 high school students with opposite personalities. One is a studious guy obsessed with volleyball, and the other is a devil-may-care new recruit who’s a rising star for the school team. With great chemistry between the leads – the way Yu Hao (Fandy Fan) stares at Zi Xuan (Zach Lu) can make you blush – it’s also got an eyebrow-raising locker room scene.
HIStory 3: Trapped is probably the most developed, well-written story in terms of plot – it centres on a stoic gang leader and a carefree police officer, both of whom are weaved into a tale of gangster betrayals and the cops who try to catch them. The development of the handsome gang leader Tang Yi (Chris Wu) and adorkable cop Shao Fei (Jake Hsu) from enemies to lovers is fun to watch, and the chemistry between them is sizzling.
While the Koreans haven’t made as many BL titles as Thailand or Taiwan, they seem to have jumped on the bandwagon in a big way in recent years, with more production companies creating BL content, from dramas to short films.
Where Your Eyes Linger (2020)
Having just released in May, Where Your Eyes Linger explores the complex master/servant relationship between a pair of high school kids: Tae Joo (Han Gi Chan), the successor of a chaebol, and his bodyguard Kang Gook (Jang Eui Soo). Gook likes Tae, but things get complicated when a girl is interested in Gook, and a jealous Tae Joo has to take a deep look into his own feelings for Gook.
Long Time No See (2017)
Long Time No See revolves around two hitmen who met by chance and became attracted to each other before realising they both work for opposing gangs. Despite being a low-budget production, the drama delivers in terms of visuals, action sequence, and especially in the quality of the two leads, Chisoo (Tak Woo Suk) and Gitae (Yeon Sung Ho) – watch out for their funny/awkward couch scene.
China has had a slew of interesting BL titles, but most of them seem to have toned down by the end of 2016 due to new media directives. However, this doesn’t seem to have taken away the popularity of BL, as can be seen in the latest BL hit, The Untamed (2019).
Kinematics Theory (2018)
Kinematics Theory is essentially a bromance between a popular high school swimmer hunk Zhang Nan and genius loner student Zhang Zhe. As the two polar opposites help each other – Nan helps Zhe overcome his social fears and Zhe helps Nan find the meaning of being an athlete – their relationship grows stronger by the day.
Its sequel The Ambiguous Focus (2018) is a more mature, realistic gay drama that details their struggles after they’ve been living together for 10 years.
Advance Bravely (2017)
Advance Bravely tells the tale of two gorgeous men: rich cop Xia Yao and Yuan Zong, an ex-solider who’s the owner of a bodyguard company. When Yuan Zong’s beloved sister falls for Xia Yao, it’s up to Yuan Zong to woo him for her, but things don’t go quite as planned. As the two men get closer together, it’s clear that sparks fly. The story also includes two of Xia Yao’s handsome buddies, Da Yu and Peng Ze, each with their own BL relationship woes (with equally gorgeous men). The story is engaging and fast-paced, although it’s worth watching solely for the unrealistically gorgeous cast.
Addiction – aka Heroin/Addicted Heroin (2016)
Probably the most famous BL title from China, Addiction is about family relations. High school student Gu Hai gets shacked up with his half brother and schoolmate Luo Yin after his father remarries. While Gu Hai is constantly trying to get into a reluctant Luo Yin’s pants, they grow closer together when Gu Hai proves that he’s willing to do anything for Luo Yin, including making his family happy.
You can’t not mention BL titles from Japan, where the whole genre was born. Most of the BL live-action produced in Japan focus on deep, complex storylines rather than fluffy schoolboy tales, and a number of them feature age gaps, as can be seen in Doushitemo Furetakunai (2014), Does the Flower Bloom? (2018), and the two titles below:
Ossan’s Love (2018)
BL dramas were once only popular among the BL fandom until this huge commercial BL comedy hit, which features a bizarre office love triangle involving Haruta (Tanaka Kei), his colleague Maki (Hayashi Kento), and his boss Kurosawa (Yoshida Kotaro). What made this a hit was how it tackles the issue of gay relationships as it would a romantic hetero comedy, and of course, the star-studded main cast.
The Pornographer aka The Novelist (2018)
Despite its suggestive name, The Pornographer actually refers to the protagonist who is an erotic novel writer, Kijima Rio (Takezai Terunosuke), who gets accidentally hit by Kuzumi Haruhiko’s (Izuki Kenta) bicycle one day. In order to pay for breaking Rio’s hand, Haruhiko, a poor uni student, agrees to be Rio’s assistant. Admiration soon turns to something else as Haruhiko grows dangerously enamored with the seductive sensei who keeps sending mixed messages.
Its prequel and part sequel Mood Indigo (2019) tells the tale – in flashbacks – of the toxic relationship between Rio and his editor. This is a much more mature, masochistic drama of sexual and psychological debasement, and it explains why Rio’s personality is so broken.
The BL genre may be relatively new, but at its heart it’s all about romance. These dramas show that the attachment to another human – male, female, or someone on the spectrum – is not often one we can control, because to love is to be human after all.