With the recent boom of the Boys’ Love (BL) genre, this small niche of a fandom is slowly growing. Now, BL is gunning for a mainstream audience, giving Asian creators opportunities to create queer stories of different dimensions and caliber.
Although not as established as its hetero-centric counterparts, BL dramas have held their ground and amassed quite the following these past few years.
One of the shows that catapulted the genre into what it is now is 2gether The Series, a show many Filipinos tuned into last year during the heightened lockdown. Even though it wasn’t the first in the industry, it still helped push for more BL stories to be created and produced in the market. It even influenced Filipino creatives to create local BL series that Filipinos could watch and relate to, like Gameboys, Gaya sa Pelikula, and Hello Stranger.
However, the genre by itself is complicated. There are a lot of issues still being discussed within the community. Debates are still present on whether the so-called “BL” genre should be an entirely separate entity from queer stories and shows. Furthermore, some LGBTQIA+ individuals feel as though some companies are simply using the genre as a marketing ploy which at times could lead to queer baiting.
Nevertheless, current BL shows are setting the standard and are finally considering the voices of their queer audiences. Unlike some of its predecessors, BL series these days have more substance and are of great quality.
2021 is jam-packed with new BL releases that, as an avid viewer, keeping up can be taxing. So to save potential viewers some time, here are five of some of the best recently aired releases.
All recommended shows have aired throughout the first half of 2021 and are already complete for viewers to binge-watch.
Lovely Writer (Thailand)
Right off the bat, we start with a series that addresses how the Thai BL industry works behind the scenes, how fandom “shipping” can affect actors’ private lives, and the impact it has on the queer community.
Gene, a novelist, is one day tasked by his publisher to try his hands with the Boys’ Love genre. Taking it on as a new challenge, he accepts. Later, his BL novel becomes commercially successful and a television series is in the works.
Now, as a popular author, Gene is requested by his publisher to oversee the series’s production. Unbeknownst to him, a certain young actor, tasked to play the male lead from his beloved novel, has set his eyes on him and will do everything he can to win the writer’s affection.
The show stars Up Poompat Iam-Sang, who is known for his small role in the acclaimed Netflix Thai psychological mystery series, Girl From Nowhere, and the acclaimed 2015 thesis film, The Gifted. He is joined by Kao Noppakao Dechaphatthanakun who plays Gene’s love interest, Nubsib. Kao can be recognized for playing Korn in another hit BL series, Until We Meet Again.
Lovely Writer is available for free streaming on WeTV and YouTube.
We Best Love: No. 1 For You & Fighting Mr. Second (Taiwan)
If you’re into the enemies-to-lovers trope, college settings, and slice-of-life, then We Best Love is for you. It is jam-packed with a stellar cast and an amazing storyline. The story is simple enough yet gripping, it latches onto the viewer’s emotions and reminds them that love works both ways.
No. 1 For You follows the story of Zhou Shu Yi who was always in second place, right behind Gao Shi De, his childhood rival. However, when both entered university, they were separated, much to Zhou Shu Yi’s delight. But fate has other plans when Zhou Shu Yi and Gao Shi De’s paths cross once again at a swimming competition during their senior year. This leads Zhou Shu Yi to question Gao Shi De’s motives, which then makes him realize that there is more to Gao Shi De than he thinks.
A month after the final episode was released, the series was immediately followed by a second season called Fighting Mr. Second. The sequel takes place five years after the events of season one and explores how Zhou Shu Yi and Gao Shi De juggle adulthood, work, and their private lives.
We Best Love stars Sam Lin as Gao Shi De, and Japanese-Taiwanese singer YU portrays Zhou Shu Yi.
You can catch We Best Love on WeTV for free. Currently, the special version of the first season is airing, and a third season seems to be in the works.
A Tale of Thousand Stars (Thailand)
Unlike Thailand’s typical university-themed BL stories, ATOTS or A Tale of Thousand Stars switches things up a bit. If you’re a K-Drama fan and have watched Crash Landing on You—although both plots are very different—you should still give ATOTS a try, since it has the same sentimental feel to it. The series, not only portrays a nice queer story but also tackles classicism and valuing one’s life.
After Torfun, a volunteer teacher, dies in an accident, Tian receives her heart after a transplant. By reading through her diary, Tian learns more about his donor like her secrets, interests, and her final wish—to fulfill her promise to count a thousand stars with Chief Forest Officer Phupha. Tian then sets out to follow Torfun’s footsteps and meets Phupha.
The newbie actor Mix Sahaphap Wongratch plays Tian, while Earth Pirapat Watthanasetsiri, a senior in the BL industry, portrays Phupha.
A Tale of Thousand Stars is available on YouTube for free in GMMTV’s channel, and on iWantTFC for the Tagalog dub.
To My Star (South Korea)
If you’re a busy person and want a quick binge-worthy BL series, then you should give To My Star a try. South Korea’s BL series are known for not being extensively long and last around 10 to 15 minutes with 10 to 12 episodes only.
To My Star is sweet and simple. It portrays a healthy growing relationship between two queer men and the struggles they have to face.
They say opposites attract.
Once a popular star in South Korea, Kang Seojoon, whose career is on a decline, meets the dashing chef, Han Jiwoo, and falls in love. Despite having opposite views in life, they start a relationship and go through the ups and downs of it.
Son Woohyun plays as Kang Seojoon and is joined by the rookie actor Kim Kangmin as Han Jiwoo.
To My Star can also be streamed for free on WeTV.
Word of Honor (China)
Now, this is where we switch things up a bit and recommend a censored BL—a.k.a Mainland China’s so-called bromance.
Word of Honor is a costume wuxia drama—a genre in China that centers heavily on martial arts stories during ancient times.
It follows the story of Zhou Zishu, the former leader of an elite assassination group called Window of Heaven, who underwent drastic measures so that he can quit his position out of guilt and regain his freedom. As he traverses the world, he meets the mysterious Wen Kexing, who is secretly the vengeful chief of the evil Ghost Valley. The two end up being entangled in one of the biggest conspiracies in the martial arts world, while realizing along the way that they are soulmates.
The show heavily tackles how a previous generation’s mistakes can affect the next generation’s future while being exciting, hilarious, heartwarming, and with just the right amount of violence and angst.
Although not as explicitly romantic as the others, Word of Honor dares to go beyond what audiences would typically see from a Chinese bromance show. This particular show implied several times that Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing were meant to be more than platonic soulmates. In addition, the constant flirtatious banter between the two characters and excessive amount of hand holding and hugging were definitely a game changer in the industry. Even the chemistry between the two leads was phenomenal. Amusingly, these even made fans question how they got past China’s strict censorship.
Word of Honor stars Zhang Zhehan as Zhou Zishu and Simon Gong as Wen Kexing. For interested viewers, Netflix and Youtube are the best places to watch it since both platforms offer the added special scenes.
Upcoming and current shows to check out
Here are also some BL series to look forward to this year and the next:
Between Us is a spin-off series of the 2019’s Until We Meet Again. This time, the series focuses on the story of Win and Team, how they met in the swim club and how their relationship came to fruition during the events of the main series. Boun Noppanut Guntachai as Win and Prem Warut Chawalitrujiwong as Team are confirmed to reprise their roles.
In the Philippines, hit web series Gameboys dropped its film sequel last July 30. Elijah Canlas and Kokoy De Santos as Gavreel and Cairo, respectively, return—and a season 2 is apparently in the works.
Another Filipino BL series that has been a great success both internationally and locally is Juan Miguel Severo’s Gaya sa Pelikula (GSP). However, a recent sexual harassment allegation has been placed upon Severo by one of the series’s main cast, Paolo Pangilinan, placing the supposed season 2 of the show at a halt.
Nevertheless, fans have immediately shown support towards Pangilinan and have reacted negatively at Severo’s actions. After a cryptic tweet that was posted by Pangilinan last June 20, Severo’s Twitter page has been deactivated. A few days later, GSP producer Quark Henares posted a tweet saying that Pangilinan still wants to do the series. However, he also understands that Pangilinan may have been traumatized. In the end, Henares said that they are considering moving on and finding something else to do together.
As of now, Gaya sa Pelikula is in limbo.
On the other hand, another Chinese bromance drama is on its way called Immortality. It has been the talk online for the past few months due to numerous leaks circulating on social media and the popularity of the novel it was adapted from. However, an air date is yet to be announced. The young actor, Arthur Chen, along with veteran Leo Luo, are cast as the main characters.
For K-Drama enthusiasts, a brand new BL is currently airing every Tuesday and Thursday on WeTV for free called Light on Me. Based on the trailer and the first episode, Light on Me is a cute, heartwarming series about an introverted boy and his high school life after joining the student council. Lee Saeon, from the idol survival show Produce 101 season 2 is cast as the main character, Woo Taekyong. He is accompanied by Kang Yooseok, Choe Chanyi, and Go Woojin.
There are more series that are hitting streaming sites like Thailand’s Kinnporsche and Bad Buddy, and Taiwan’s ongoing series Be Loved in House-I do.
It’s nice to see queer stories being made frequently, giving viewers more choices to experience and witness different struggles in life, specifically that of the LGBTQIA+ community.