Review : 2021’s Most Popular BL Dramas |

BL drama 2021

While 2020 was a good year for Boys Love (BL) dramas, 2021 followed up with a very strong year despite the pandemic restrictions. There were plenty of releases this year, mainly from Thailand, followed by South Korea and Taiwan. We’ve reviewed the most popular BL dramas in the first quarter of 2021 here, and here are some of the most popular ones that came out later.

There were so many titles released in the latter half of 2021 that it can be hard to select just a few titles. Here’s a short review of these very popular series (links to watch are at the end of the reviews):

Y Destiny | Thailand

One of the biggest surprise hits was Y Destiny, which is actually an anthology of stories based on a group of university friends who are named according to the days of the week, so you have Mon, Tue, Puth, Thu, Masuk, Sat, and Sun. The series is split into 15 episodes, with 2 episodes dedicated to each student’s story, and a finale with all of them present.

The only frustration for international viewers was that the episodes were only aired on Youtube during a very short 2-hour window every Tuesday when it premiered in March. Still, the series became popular due to the interesting and varied stories contained within, from a friends-with-benefits tales to ghost stories and more.

Episode 1 is about Tue (Chap Supacheep) who’s an aspiring coach who ends up rooming with an aloof new boxer Ake (Tae Chayapat). Sun (Max Saran) is a tutor to rich kid Nuea (Nat Natasitt) who has designs on Sun. Thur (Pee Peerawich) is a sham shaman who meets a friendly ghost named Pao (Au Nititorn) who he eventually falls for. Sat’s (Jaab Phumisit) story is a fantasy involving a toy robot and a childhood wish that results in an alternate universe with his childhood bestie, Choke (Ton Saran).

Some episodes stood out for their chemistry. For instance, Mon (Korn Kornnarat) falls for known playboy, Team (Gung Kunpong), and gets his heart broken – but it seems Team is also conflicted. Their chemistry is worth watching, from the flirtations to the kisses and the confession scene.

However, the highest-rated episode thanks to the sizzling chemistry – and bedroom scenes – belongs to Puth (Toru Takizawa) and his flirty friend-with-benefits Kaeng (First Piyangkull). Their arrangement is tested when Payu comes in the picture – because Kaeng was already in love with Puth from the beginning. Despite being a rookie actor, First really gave us a depth of expressions, from flirty to smug and really emotional teary scenes. This episode is also one of the most developed stories in the series.

The most-anticipated episode was Masuk’s (Lay Talay) because it involves Perth Nakhun and Yoon Phusanu – both actors have been shipped with Lay in previous dramas. Masuk’s episode is an odd throuple involving his dead boyfriend Tir (Perth) who appears in his dreams, and Jian (Yoon) who’s in love with Masuk.

Each episode runs for an hour, so in essence, each couple gets a full 2-hour story which is equivalent to a whole movie. In addition, each couple also feature in a very short “special” episode – fans got to vote which scene they wanted, which was then aired on social media.

All in all, Y Destiny was enjoyable because of its variety – you could watch any couple in isolation, but also know that they’re all part of the same group of friends. Each pairing brings with it a unique feel – with a different soundtrack and wardrobe (each main character is dressed in the Thai colours of the week) – so there’s definitely something for everyone. [15 episodes, 1 hr | Available on AIS Play]

I Promised You The Moon | Thailand

I Promised You The Moon (IPTYM) is a continuation of I Told Sunset About You (2020), which is about the budding romance between Teh and Oh-aew, two students in a Chinese class. Set in Phuket, their tumultuous relationship story is less “BL” and more in line with LGBT stories like Your Name Engraved Herein. What stood out about the series was not just its realism, but also its gorgeous cinematography.

Their story continues in IPTYM, which is set after the events of Last Twilight in Phuket (watch here), a 14-minute short film where they bid farewell to Phuket before they embark on university life in Bangkok. After over a year of blissful relationship, their relationship is tested in Bangkok when Teh starts to feel differently towards Oh-aew as he spends more time with his university friends.

While ITSAY was more about a sexual awakening and the blooming of youth, IPTYM is more about the coming of age and adulting, as they live away from the comfort of home. Teh is steadfast in his ambitions, while Oh-aew is constantly wavering, which makes for an interesting dynamic. This brings us to the subject of infidelity, as Teh begins to develop feelings for Jai, a senior in the drama club. Things come to a head when Oh-aew discovers what they did – actions and consequences.

Viewers are split in their reaction to Teh’s infidelity – some saying it’s only normal since it’s their very first experience in a new setting, while others chastised him for not knowing any better. Throughout the whole series – even since ITSAY – Oh-aew has never quite wavered in his feelings for Teh, so what he did after he found out about Jai jolts Teh into introspection.

Like ITSAY, IPTYM is a very short series at only 5 episodes. But within these, not only do we see the development of the two boys, we also see how their friends deal with their own different sets of problems.

Not all relationships are smooth sailing or have a happy ending, but this series (or season) see the two boys learning the hard way about what to expect of each other. Will Teh and Oh-aew cross these challenges and come out stronger? Only if they keep to the adage: “Love when you are ready and not when you are lonely”

IPTYM aired on LineTV, which as of 31 Dec 2021 ceased to exist, so fans will have to wait till February to see where it’ll air. [5 episodes, 1 hr]

Light On Me | South Korea

South Korea has been releasing a slew of BL dramas in 2021, and most of them tend to follow the same formula of short 15-minute episodes that are later compiled into a full-length movie. However, Light On Me breaks this formula, as this series stretches into 16 episodes at over 20 minutes each.

Originally based on the game Saebit Boys High School Council, this light series is set in a boys’ high school that follows the journey of Tae Kyung, an 18-year-old student who’s a lifelong loner. One day, he decides that he no longer wishes to be alone, but he has no idea how to make new friends. So his teacher advises him to join the school’s student council.

In the school council, he meets President Da On, an all-star student who appears to take an instant shine to him, and Vice President Shin Woo who is somewhat reluctant to accept Tae Kyung into the council. So Tae Kyung tries his best to get accepted into the council – but things get complicated with the presence of So Hee, a female student from the neighbouring school who’s in love with Da On.

Light On Me is a series of comedic moments where Tae Kyung learns something new about making friends every day (he’s always blunt when communicating his thoughts). While Da On spends a lot of time with him (tutoring him), So Hee often tries to separate them. Then there’s Shin Woo who seems to hate Tae Kyung from the start, until it’s revealed halfway into the series why he wants to distance himself. Turns out Tae Kyung and Shin Woo have known each other for much longer.

Throughout the whole series, we see how Tae Kyung falls for Da On who keeps showering him with attention. But then again, Da On is nice to everyone, including So Hee who’s constantly jealous of Tae Kyung. Shin Woo, on the other hand, seems sour on the outside, but actually cares for Tae Kyung, who’s oblivious to his feelings. And what role will So Hee play in all this? Let’s not forget the comedic sidekick Nam Goong who remains neutral throughout the whole drama.

Light On Me quickly became a question of “who will Tae Kyung pick?” – will it be Da On who dotes on him but is reluctant to be more than a friend, or will it be Shin Woo who isn’t shy? The story does touch a bit on social commentary in South Korea regarding social responsibility, privilege, and homophobia.

The drama at times seems like it stretches a bit long as fans pondered whether it’d be Da On or Shin Woo, but we do get a resolution in the end. [16 episodes, 24 mins | Available on WeTV (free)]

Golden Blood | Thailand

Many BL fans were disappointed to hear that the release of the much-anticipated mafia-themed KinnPorsche The Series was postponed. However, Golden Blood came in to fill in that void. While not a big budget production as teased in KinnPorsche, the short 8-episode Golden Blood showed us a glimpse of what a mafia story would contain. The crams in romance, assassination, and rival mafia gangs on a low budget.

Golden Blood focuses on the relationship between Sky, the son of a mafia boss, and his bodyguard Sun who was sent by his father to protect him from a rival gang. Sky doesn’t like the idea of living with a bodyguard, but he doesn’t have a choice. His father even enrolled Sun as a student at Sky’s university! You can imagine the types of comedic situations this brings: there’s a funny shower scene moment involving soap, and also a funny art class session that showed off Sun’s “skills.”

While Sky rejects Sun’s presence at first, he gets more accustomed to Sun (and his macho body), and begins to fall for his bodyguard. And being the very protective and loyal adopted son of Sky’s dad, he resists at first, but soon finds himself hopelessly swept along. There’s even half an episode dedicated to a date scene.

There is also a side couple: Bank (Tenon Teachapat), who’s Sky’s best friend, and Pitch (Sugus Buntawit), a schoolmate who starts out as an antagoniser but eventually becomes part of their gang and falls for Bank. A pair of female classmates add to the odd chemistry of the group, because one of them is in love with Sun (and the other with Sky).

Because this is billed as a mafia series, the pair are also attacked by an assassin from a rival gang a few times, but he never quite manages to kill Sky thanks to Sun. The series does a decent job of adding fight scenes (what mafia show would this be without a good fight scene?) and even has a cute scene where Sun tries to “train” Sky. The finale battle scene between two rival gangs is part serious, and yet part hilarious thanks to the crazy antics of Bank and Pitch.

Towards the end, Pitch declares that Bank is his boyfriend, but Sky and Sun will need to get past the huge hurdle that is Sky’s dad. The solution? Sky is sent abroad for several years – just to see if he’ll still feel the same about Sun upon his return. (It sounds silly but it’s been used by other BLs too.)

The series is called Golden Blood because (surprise) both Sun and Sky have this rare “golden” blood, and Sky’s father adopted Sun – as the protector of Sky – because of his rare blood. [8 episodes, 1 hr | Available on Youtube]

Don’t Say No | Thailand

Don’t Say No is actually a spin-off of TharnType 2, focusing on the side characters Leo (Ja Pachara) and Fiat (First Chalongrat).

Don’t Say No begins unlike any other BL drama out there: Leo and Fiat officially become boyfriends right from Episode 1. It helps that prior to its release, a LeoFiat Special Episode came out to tease the development of the pair from close friends to lovers (with a steamy scene at the end).

The rest of Don’t Say No is about relationship challenges – starting with the usual bedroom issue: while both Leo and Fiat want to get intimate, neither want to be seen as using the other just for sex. They also seemed to forgive Fiat’s past as a guy who’s known to sleep around.

Don’t Say No also showcases issues not often seen in BLs: Fiat’s birth mother is revealed to have developed some kind of post-partum mental issue that’s resulted in her banishment from Fiat’s life. This issue then sprouted into a strained relationship between Fiat and his father, as well as his stepmother and stepsister. The episodes that dealt with trust and love between a parent and child is tested, and it’s interesting to see a topic like this explored in a BL drama.

Throughout the series, we keep seeing Fiat’s issues – from family strife to blackmail – threatening to shake his relationship with Leo. But throughout all the troubles, Leo brings Fiat out of his funk every time. They seem to be able to talk through their troubles, which is refreshing since many BLs often use the silent treatment to bring the drama.

The only issue with continuity is in Episode 11 – the “dreaded” episode in BLs – where we see the normally calm Leo actually break down, and everything they’ve built together crumbles in one episode because of one bad move.

Special acknowledgement goes to the buddies that Leo and Fiat have though – they’re all super protective of their relationship, and were the couple’s pillar after the events of Episode 11 and into Episode 12. It’s also amusing that Leo’s entire family is very supportive of their relationship (right down to their maid who’s their shipper!). Fiat’s father also literally gave Fiat to Leo’s family (lol).

While focus is on Leo and Fiat, there’s a side couple story with Leo’s younger brother Leon (Smart Chisanupong) and Pob (James Pongsapak). They meet and bond over a stray cat, and their development is more typical of your average BL story. LeonPob shippers would be feeling sad towards the end, but it seems that there may be a new series with them in the lead.

If it’s one thing that makes Don’t Say No stand out from other BL dramas this year, it’s that it isn’t shy with its intimate scenes. In addition to three bedroom scenes, there’s countless makeout scenes, including one in the university shower stall! Kudos to Ja and First for going all out with their very realistic, passionate scenes – it’s a far cry from the days of fake/stiff kisses seen in other BLs. The same goes for Leon and Pob with their bedroom scene.

For those who criticised TharnType for its toxicity, Don’t Say No seems to have strayed from that formula. The series contains a handful of dramatic arcs that deal with depression and blackmail, but it’s also balanced out with comedy and very sexy intimate scenes (who can forget that revealing red jacket Fiat wore to seduce Leo?).

If you can’t get enough of LeoFiat, you can also catch the Special Episode which is available for purchase on Vimeo. Don’t Say No completed airing on LineTV (which ceased to exist on 31 Dec), but the series has since migrated to WeTV and Gagaoolala. [12 episodes, 50 mins]

Bad Buddy | Thailand

Bad Buddy was one of the most anticipated BLs this year thanks to the two leads, Pat (Ohm Pawat) and Pran (Nanon Korapat). As this aired on October 29, we have yet to see the ending since the last episode is scheduled for January 21.

The story is about neighbours and university students Pat and Pran who come from two families who hate each other. The two start off as leaders of rival gangs from two different faculties (Pat in Engineering and Pran in Architecture) – needless to say, they fight a lot. It doesn’t help that their best friends Korn (Pat’s friend) and Wai (Pran’s friend) love to stoke the fires.

Before long, Pat and Pran find themselves drawn to each other – Pran’s been in love with Pat since childhood, but refuses to move forward in the relationship until Pat, with his growing fondness of Pran, starts to break down Pran’s wall slowly. The fact that they live across the hallway from each other – unbeknownst to their buddies – helps.

Pran wants to keep their relationship secret, while Pat wants to tell the world. However, they have to keep their relationship secret from their friends, and especially their parents. So what happens when their relationship is revealed? Pat’s friends reacted differently to Pran’s – but it’s refreshing to see that the issue has nothing to do with homophobia.

But how will the boys reveal their relationship to their parents without starting an all-out war? Hopefully we’ll see it resolved peacefully in the next episodes. Bad Buddy fans have praised the series for bringing up the topic of referring to male couples as “husband and wife” – where Pran dismisses the idea of Pat calling him “wife” and Pat agrees that it was weird. [12 episodes, 45 mins | Available on Youtube]

Not Me | Thailand

Fans were treated to a pleasant surprise on Dec 12 when Not Me was released, because there hasn’t been much fanfare prior to its release. Directed by Nuchie, an award-winning director, the series is definitely not your average BL story.

Not Me follows the exploits of identical twin brothers Black and White (both played by Gun Atthapan) who can literally feel each other’s pain. After their parents’ separation, White goes off with his diplomat father to live in Russia, while Black remains in Thailand with his lawyer mom.

When White returns to Thailand, he discovers that Black is in a coma, and to find out who was responsible, the meek White disguises himself as Black – a tough-as-nails law student who’s also part of a motorcycle gang comprising Sean (Off Jumpol), Gram (Mond Tanutchai), Yok (First Kanaphan), and Gumpa (Papang Phromphiriya). As he infiltrates Black’s gang, he realises he doesn’t know much about his brother as he thought. Who are these motorcycle gang friends? And why does one of them, Sean, seem to be getting under his skin?

The story is more than just about White figuring out who put Black in a coma. Disguised as Black, he learns a lot about the current political climate in Thailand and gets himself unwittingly embroiled in the gang’s activism. Throughout the series, viewers also learn about the issues surrounding human rights, diplomacy, and activism in Thailand, making it a very meta series with serious real-world issues.

In addition, each member of the motorcycle gang seems to have their own unique backgrounds and motivations.

Not Me is only 3 episodes in so far, and already it’s standing out from the rest of the BL titles this year. In addition to the development between Sean and White (an established ship in Thailand’s BL circle), there’s something for everyone, from student activism to political cover-ups and undercover investigation. [14 episodes, 45 mins | Available on Youtube]

While early 2021 saw the birth of a variety of BL series that are set outside the usual university setting, the rest of the year seems to have brought them back with a force. Despite the lack of diverse backgrounds, some of the most popular series this year were actually set in universities (like all of those featured here).