The popularity of BL dramas have been growing exponentially since 2020, and it’s set to grow even more this year. These dramas feature love stories between two men – hence ‘boys’ love’ – and are more than just suggestive ‘bromance’ tropes.
We’re midway through 2021, and the BL genre is not just growing – the topic/story and quality of these productions have also improved immensely since last year. Perhaps most telling is that Thai BL stories in 2021 have gone beyond portraying high school or university students (particularly in the Engineering department).
Among the many titles that were released, We Best Love, A Tale of a Thousand Stars, Lovely Writer, and Manner of Death stood out over the rest. Here’s a short review of these very popular series (links to watch are at the end of the reviews):
We Best Love | Taiwan
Taiwan’s first BL drama of the year was actually split into 2 ‘seasons’ titled No. 1 For You which aired from Jan 8 to Feb 5, and continued in Fighting Mr. 2nd on Mar 5. The story focuses on Zhou Shu Yi (Yang Yu Teng) and Gao Shi De (Sam Lin), middle schoolmates who ended up in the same university.
No. 1 For You focuses on their university life, where Shu Yi is a star swimmer and enjoys a top ranking in academics. However, Shi De suddenly shows up at a swimming competition in their senior year, bringing back unpleasant memories for Shu Yi. During their formative years, Shi De had always outperformed Shu Yi, to the latter’s dismay (the flashbacks are comedic!).
However, Shi De hasn’t been ranking #1 for himself – he did it just to get Shu Yi’s attention, even if Shu Yi thinks of Shi De as the enemy. And so begins the quest for Shi De to break down Shu Yi’s cold exterior, sometimes with cunning – and hilarious – tactics. And while they do end up together, the season ends with Shi De leaving for the US ‘for a few months’ with his mother.
Fighting for Mr. 2nd skips straight to their lives as working professionals in tailored suits – 5 years after graduation, with no contact between the two lovers during that period. As the series unfolds, the mystery of how they became estranged unfolds – it’s a complicated story involving an unplanned baby, a disapproving father, a lie, and a stupid promise. All these leave Shu Yi feeling abandoned and betrayed, so once again, we see Shi De trying to (re)win Shu Yi’s heart. This time, there’s more drama and tears as they deal with very adult issues.
No. 1 For You is a light-hearted approach that tells the story of how they first fell in love, and Fighting Mr. 2nd explores if young love can conquer distance, pride, and misunderstandings in order to find forgiveness and acceptance. Throughout their journey, they’ve learned to have a mature relationship, with Shi De learning to let go of control and allowing Shu Yi to fight for the both of them too. While some elements may feel rushed, it’s undeniable that there’s amazing chemistry between Shi De and Shu Yi.
[6 episodes/season, 30 mins | Available on WeTV (VIP)]
A Tale of a Thousand Stars (1,000 Stars) | Thailand
After a year of waiting, fans finally managed to get A Tale of a Thousand Stars (or ATOTS to fans) on Jan 29. Set in the gorgeous mountains in northern Thailand, the story takes place in a very rural village (the production team had a lot of difficulty lugging their equipment up the rugged terrain) and features breathtaking landscapes of Thailand rarely seen on screen, from rolling tea fields to secluded waterfalls and spectacular mountains.
The story centres around rich city kid, Tian (Mix Sahaphap), who travels to the remote village of Pha Pan Dao to volunteer as a teacher. There, he meets Phupha (Earth Pirapat), a forest ranger who’s in charge of protecting him. Unbeknownst to Phupha and everyone in the village, Tian had just undergone a heart transplant, and the donor was a beloved ex-teacher in the village named Torfun who was killed in a traffic accident. Turns out that Tian simply wanted to finish what Torfun wanted to do in the village (according to her diary): count 1,000 stars from Pha Pan Dao cliff.
The series is more than just a simple boy meets boy story: it highlights the contrast among social classes. Tian is a rich, privileged kid who – upon receiving Torfun’s heart – departs on an adventure into unknown territory to truly discover what he’s capable of on his own. Flashbacks of his previous life hammer home the difference between social classes.
In the village, Tian was responsible for teaching schoolchildren, and also had to learn to cook, make his own bed, and basically be independent. Throughout the series, he’s experienced success and setbacks in equal portions – but he’s always had support from Phupha, Nam (the village doctor), and Longtae (the village chief’s son). The drama truly brings you through a range of emotions from happiness (from the villagers’ acceptance) to sadness (from the betrayals), and even includes an element of mystery and action involving gunfights. When Tian returns home, he returns as a new man with purpose.
The romance between Tian and Phupha is a slow burn (sorry, no saucy scenes here) – their attraction to each other is told through their awkward actions, flirtatious words, and long eye contacts. Neither has had experience with romance, and it’s heartwarming to see their development, nudged along by their friends.
[10 episodes, 1 hr | Available on Youtube]
Lovely Writer | Thailand
When it premiered on Feb 24, Lovely Writer quickly became a hit, because it’s not just a simple love story about Nubsib (Kao Noppakao) and Gene (Up Poompat) and their challenges. Throughout the series, it subtly and unsubtly calls out the problems and flaws within the BL industry, from toxic tropes and stereotypes in BL stories to the unfair treatment of BL actors by the industry and fans. Another thing it addresses really well is the issue of coming out to the family.
Nubsib is a handsome actor (and uni student) who gets cast in a drama adaptation of Bad Engineer, a BL novel written by Gene. Somehow, the two end up being housemates, but Nubsib has a hidden agenda: he’s been in love with Gene for a while now, and he lied about who he is in order to live with Gene. Unbeknownst to Gene, they were neighbours over a decade ago, back when the two were inseparable. However, they were unwittingly separated and set on different paths by their families. As the adult Gene slowly falls for Nubsib’s charms, they have to face a number of demons before they can find happiness with each other.
First, Gene has to find self-acceptance before he can gain acceptance from others – his friends, his family, and basically everyone else. Throughout his journey he’s always had an unwavering Nubsib by his side, who shows incredible restraint and patience with Gene. The series covered many scenarios emotionally well, especially in the coming-out scenes with their parents.
As popular as it is, Lovely Writer also has its questionable moments. Viewers were divided over the pair’s history, when Gene was a teenage boy who spent a lot of time with a 6-year old Nubsib.
The series also shows us that the toxicity of the BL industry is beyond just artist management who follow the money, but also among toxic fans and fellow artists. The pair fall victim to this toxicity, enduring separation, jealous co-workers, and smear campaigns along their bumpy journey.
Lovely Writer doesn’t just touch on real-life issues – what makes the series so enjoyable is that both leads have great chemistry on-screen which leads to great intimate scenes (and more kisses than any BL series to date!). There’s a lot of comedic moments, and also emotional scenes that capture what it feels like for every party involved.
Ultimately, Lovely Writer is a fiction – but told as a story within a story (within a story), and includes fourth-wall-breaking scenes that make this meta series stand out from other stories out there.
[12 episodes, 1 hr | Available on Youtube]
Manner of Death | Thailand
While it was released in late November last year, it ended its last episode on Feb 22 so it counts in this year’s review! Manner of Death was one of the most popular Thai BL dramas this year, partly due to its two lead actors: Tul Pakorn and Max Nattapol, both an established ship in the BL scene.
What makes this series stand out is that it’s not your average BL story – while there’s undoubtedly a romance brewing throughout the series, the courtship takes a back seat to the story’s main theme: a murder mystery involving corrupt politicians in a rural mountain village called Viangpha Mork.
Dr Bun (Tul Pakorn) is a medical examiner pressured to declare the death of a woman as suicide, even though his investigations point him towards homicide. A death threat and the disappearance of his friend later, he meets Tan (Max Nattapol), a suspicious local man who proposes a collaboration to find the murderer.
With each episode, the series cleverly reveals little information at a time, making viewers suspect one new character after another. Is Tan the killer? Is Inspector M corrupt? Is Rungtiva an innocent sister? Many scenes leave you surprised (thanks to the use of non-linear narrative throughout the series), as you wait in anticipation for the next episode. It’s got the ingredients for a great murder investigation, and slowly unveils a larger crime that involves a human trafficking syndicate.
Amidst the mystery, there’s also a romance simmering: when Bun moved in with Tan, did he inadvertently step into a trap? Or is Tan just being overprotective? Their relationship also goes through ups and downs: there’s betrayal, misunderstanding, and secrets. But there’s also tons of sizzling chemistry, as their relationship turns into something serious by the end.
The series’ success is also thanks in part to the entire cast; just when you think one is the enemy, they prove otherwise – and vice versa. Shot in Chiang Mai, it also showcases some scenic spots and gorgeous interiors. Manner of Death is adapted from a novel by Sammon, who’s a doctor in real life.
[14 episodes, 45 mins | Available on WeTV (free)]
These dramas share one thing in common: their gorgeous lead actors are close friends in real life, and the fact that they’re comfortable with each other translates into great chemistry on-screen. The actors – known by fans by their ‘pair’ names, SamYu, EarthMix, KaoUp, and MaxTul – are established ships in the BL fandom, as they often make public appearances together outside of their professional fan engagements.
In addition, there’s great cinematography rarely seen in BL dramas, from dramatic scenery to aesthetic colour blocking, helping them attract a large following of loyal fans.