The boys’ love—also known as “BL” or “yaoi”—has a problematic history. While the representation of LGBTQ+ romances is invaluable, BL has propagated various toxic tropes over the decades. Given this, much of the criticism BL—specifically yaoi—receives is warranted. Many of the relationships depicted in manga and anime damage the LGBTQ+ community. Fortunately, the BL genre has evolved along with the anime industry as a whole.
Positive LGBT+ representation has become more normalized; newcomers can find anime that depict healthy queer romances. Older, more problematic titles have gradually been overshadowed by more wholesome and beautifully-written stories such as Given and Sasaki and Miyano. A good BL anime should showcase healthy, loving, and consensual relationships regardless of the storyline.
Updated on August 19th, 2022 by Olivia Subero: The boys’ love genre has gained more traction in recent years. Anime fans are demanding better representation of male-on-male relationships, possibly to replace the infamous, more problematic titles that came before. Thankfully, anime studios have delivered more positive depictions of healthy and wholesome queer romances.
11 Sasaki And Miyano Is A Newly-Released Slice-Of-Life BL
Miyano and Sasaki’s first meeting develops into an awkward but sweet first love. After a bullying incident, they start to see each other more often at school. Miyano, a closeted BL manga enthusiast, accidentally reveals his secret to Sasaki. But instead of repulsion towards his underclassman, he quickly becomes hooked.
Now with a shared interest, the two begin to hang out more frequently, and their relationship deepens. Miyano finds himself enticed by Sasaki’s straightforwardness and sudden interest in him, despite showing annoyance initially. Sasaki and Miyano is a recent addition to the BL genre, but it’s a cute, fluffy series worth watching.
10 Gravitation Is A BL Classic
Gravitation certainly had its flaws, but there’s no denying it was a trailblazer for queer representation in anime. The anime follows Shuichi, a teenager who sets out to be the best singer in Japan. Yuki, a novelist, scrutinized his work. However, this doesn’t stop Shuichi’s attraction, and Yuki eventually shows his softer side.
If fans want to watch Gravitation, they should watch with an open mind and understand that it’s a product of its time. Certain elements—such as Shuichi and Yuki’s on-and-off romance—didn’t age well. However, there’s no denying its impact on BL anime during the early 2000s. It inspired later musical romance titles—notably Given—to improve upon its flaws.
9 Little Mermaid Fans Will Enjoy The First This Boy… Anime
Unfortunately, the Kono Danshi…, or This Boy…, series is underrated; even with a US release through Sentai Filmworks, not many anime fans know about this BL anthology. The first entry, This Boy Caught A Merman, centers around a human boy and a handsome merman. It’s a perfect introductory BL for new fans.
Shima was taken in by his kind grandfather after his neglectful parents’ messy divorce. However, his grandfather passes away shortly after, leaving Shima alone. He grieves by the ocean but almost drowns before he’s saved by a mysterious merman, Isaki. Isaki suggests keeping Shima company until he recovers, and a sweet romance begins to blossom between the two.
8 Spiritpact Is Flawed But Proves Queer Characters Can Occupy Other Genres
Tanmoku Ki is a renowned and powerful exorcist; Keika is a young, foolish boy who dies in a freak accident. Tanmoku offers Keika a deal: to become his spirit shadow, allowing Keika to maintain his bond with the human world even in his spirit form. The two strong-headed, stubborn men constantly bicker, but their bond gradually develops between them under these unusual circumstances.
Spiritpact is far from a perfect series—many viewers will tell newcomers to read the manhua instead. However, Tanmoku and Keika’s unpredictable relationship earned its unique place as a BL, leaning more on the shonen-ai side than yaoi. Spiritpact is an example of anime studios’ slow but necessary progress toward incorporating queer characters into other genres.
7 Grandmaster Of Demonic Cultivation Is An Amazing “Rivals To Lovers” Story
Published in 2016, Mo Dao Zu Shi, also known as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, is based on a popular webtoon series of the same name. The story reached worldwide fame almost overnight, winning multiple awards and even receiving a live-action drama.
In his past life, Wuxian Wei was a powerful cultivator. Rumors about his prowess spread throughout the land even after his death. Now he can’t have a peaceful death, as he’s been reincarnated into a new body. He reunites with an old acquaintance, Wangji Lan, embarking on a journey to learn more about the cultivators’ deepest secrets.
6 Classmates Gives Queer Fans A Pure, School-Life Love Story
Classmates’ central premise isn’t incredibly unique, but that’s precisely the point. For too long, queer fans have been denied the essential joy of watching a simple love story unfold. There are no persistent romantic rivals or over-the-top drama, elements commonly seen in BL anime.
A reserved, introverted honor student, Rihito Sajou, meets Hikaru Kusakabe, an outgoing student who struggles with his studies. Both are attending a chorus class, and Hikaru decides to help Rihito with his vocals. So begins an endearing and pure tale of first love between two teenage boys. The movie is a thoughtful, subtle piece, and the art is beautiful in its simplicity. On the whole, Classmates is a charming, affecting story.
5 Dakaichi Pits Two Handsome Actors Against Each Other
Dakaichi is a more mature BL, but it’s nonetheless a hilariously dramatic “enemies to lovers” type of romance. Despite having only 13 episodes, there’s more than enough story material to keep viewers entertained. It’s also a good recommendation for fans looking for an anime with a primarily adult cast.
“Sexiest Man of the Year” Takato Saijo has to share the spotlight with the up-and-coming Junya Azumaya. But things get worse for him after Junya obtains some career-ending evidence. Their dynamic is delightful to watch, even when they bicker or attempt to one-up each other. The story gradually begins pushing their relationship in a more sensual direction, something adult anime fans will appreciate.
4 Stranger By The Shore Is Perfectly Realistic
Long before Stranger by the Shore hit Japanese theaters, the hype surrounding this queer romance film began online. The premise is nothing remarkable, which is precisely the film’s charm. Queer fans have missed out on even the most straightforward, sweetest depictions of young romance, the joy of seeing representation as a theatergoer.
Shun Hashimoto hopes to be an author, but things become harder after his parents abandon him for coming out. When he meets Mio Chibana, an orphaned high schooler, by the sea in Okinawa, the two grow close. But summer ends—Mio leaves, and Shun is alone once again. By the time he returns to Okinawa, things aren’t what they were, but perhaps these two still have a chance at finding happiness together.
3 Yuri!!! On Ice Deserves All Of Its Accolades
Even now, Yuri!!! On Ice is still a well-loved sports and BL romance anime; it deserves all of its success. It was a mainstream commercial success, a sports anime that never denied its queer elements and allowed its characters to develop with nuance. The show has a female director, Sayo Yamamoto, features a central romance between two male leads, and is still an ode to the professional sport of figure skating.
Most importantly, Yuri!!! On Ice is a pure joy to watch—sometimes tense and suspenseful, at times hilarious, and at times heartbreaking. Fans demanding a sequel won’t be satiated by MAPPA’s prequel film that’s yet to be released, but every moment with these characters has been welcomed with open arms by a universal community.
2 Given Addresses Heartbreaking Truths
Released in 2019, Given was the first BL anime to air in a primetime slot on Japanese television. Beyond this, it’s the cream of the crop regarding BL anime—a realistic story about coping with trauma and grief. The series’ final episode is genuinely cathartic and perfectly captures the ways loss can forever alter one’s world.
High schooler Mafuyu Sato is approached by his classmate, Ritsuka Uenoyama, who helps him tune and play his guitar. In truth, the guitar belonged to Mafuyu’s first love, who committed suicide. When Ritsuka hears him sing, he begs him to join his band. Through music, these frustrated, lost young men gradually find a way forward again. Ritsuka and Mafuyu became one of anime’s best LGBTQ+ couples, and their bandmates Haruki and Akihiko soon became a couple.
1 Banana Fish Deserves Its Cult Classic Status
Banana Fish isn’t easy to watch, and that’s half of why it’s so brilliant. Based on a hugely popular 80s manga by Akimi Yoshida, the story centers on Ash Lynx, a young gang leader in New York City seeking answers about a mysterious drug that led to his brother’s murder. Along the way, he meets Eiji Nakamura, a Japanese college student and assistant journalist.
While Banana Fish was written before BL was defined as its own genre, its central characters are clearly in love and support each other beautifully. The original manga quickly gained a diverse mainstream audience as an action series more than a love story. These days, the manga is credited as a forefather to positive BL representation. It took three decades for Banana Fish to receive an anime adaptation, and the final product, sad as it is, is a masterpiece.
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