*Updated January 20, 2020. I’ll keep this as a sticky post on me.shirasade.net.
As you might have noticed, I’ve been on a kick for Asian gay-themed movies and tv shows (aka Boys Love) recently and figured some of you might appreciate a recs list. Here are some of my requirements:
- happy ending
- good chemistry between the leads
- no rape-y vibes
The latter is unfortunately incredibly wide-spread, making many of the most popular shows unwatchable for me (looking at you, Addicted…). Even in some of the shows I mention below there are side-pairings that squick me out, but that’s what the fast-forward button is for. Luckily more and more shows seem to avoid the painful clichés.
With all shows, the subtitles often leave a lot to be desired, but I’m just grateful people go to the trouble to translate. Also, don’t watch especially Thai BL shows if you want high quality filming and acting – very often the actors are inexperienced and the sound quality is horrible (although it’s been getting decidedly better). For me, a show lives and dies with its main couple – I usually go back and only rewatch their storyline, ignoring everything else.
If you have any recommendations for similar movies/shows, please don’t hesitate to share, as my obsession doesn’t seem to want to end any time soon… 🙂
Warning: There will be mild spoilers below.
- Seven Days (Monday-Thursday / Friday-Sunday):
A two-part Japanese movie that takes what could be a very random premise and turn it into something lyrical and touching. Also, the premise could be straight from a fanfic: Seryou agrees to date any girl who asks him – but only for one week. Shino gets the idea to try and see whether going out with him might help him figure out what makes relationships work. Obviously they both catch feelings. Bonus point: Both of them do Japanese archery, which is lovely to look at and fits the movie’s atmosphere perfectly.
- Ai no kotodama (Words of Devotion): Unusually this Japanese movie focuses on an established couple that goes through a crisis when a girl from their past appears. Refreshingly, the girl isn’t villified, and the two guys work incredibly well together despite being pretty much opposites. I would 100% watch a movie/series about Ootani and Tachibana getting together in highschool (and might have ordered the prequel manga because of this).
- +Antique: Korean adaptation of a Japanese manga about a guy who starts a bakery despite hating cake, this movie is quirky, funny and has a weirdly dark edge. It’s also technically not BL: the pastry chef is a “gay of demonic charm” (and is shown with several guys) but the owner is the one man who’s immune to his charm, and officially that doesn’t change even as their friendship grows. However, at the very least they’re platonic lifepartners, and I absolutely headcanon them as ending up as a romantic couple eventually. 😉
- Eternal Summer: This Taiwanese movie is about Jonathan, Shane and new arrival Carrie (names according to the English subs), and the way their relationships change and evolve. It has a somewhat melancholy open end, but that leaves me free to imagine either the boys eventually ending up together (because friends-to-lovers, baby!) or an OT3 ending (because why does it always have to be either/or?). Polyamory – the solution for boring old love triangles! 🙂 There’s also a very nice love scene between the boys, which is always a plus in my book.
- +Formula 17: Another Taiwanese movie, this one’s all frothy and light – it’s nice to watch a rather typical romantic comedy about two guys, including a sappy happy ending. I’ve actually owned the DVD for years. 🙂
- Just Friends?: A Korean short film about a gay couple that has to deal with the mother of one suddenly popping up when the other is visiting him during his military service. Has a scorching make-out scene that apparently upset some people and a surprising musical number that really touched me.
- +Long Time No See: Another Korean movie (or rather, 3 short episodes), about two hitmen falling in love, which feels as if it could easily have ended in tragedy but very delightfully doesn’t. My only complaint is that it isn’t longer, because I would have loved more of Chisoo and Gitae (especially how the latter ended up working for the mob). I’m definitely glad I spent the money and watched it all legal and shit on Vimeo on Demand. 🙂
- Gray: Cute Thai short film about two guys reuniting and working through their unresolved feelings. The actors are very good-looking and have good chemistry, even if the kisses need some work (as is often the case in BL), and it’s just overall enjoyable. Can be watched officially on Youtube.
- Step for You: Matchbox is a Korean production company that seems to specialise in gay short films. Seeing that this one was about a dancer I couldn’t resist – and I don’t regret buying it on Vimeo, it’s such a sweet, sweet movie and definitely worth the price of a cup of coffee.
- *+Some More: By the same company as Long Time No See (Strongberry, not sure if they’re related to Matchbox), but they make similarly lovely LGBTQ short films. This one feels like summer and serendipity. Buy on Vimeo.
- *My Pistachio: Another short by Strongberry, this one about a student theatre production. So cute. Buy it on Vimeo.
- +Guardian: Sci-fi fantasy. Not technically BL, since it falls under Chinese censorship (which also affected other aspects, like the original supernatural background), but it’s based on a BL novel and the love story is undeniable between the two male leads. Seriously, Shen Wei (a seemingly mild-mannered professor with a secret identity) and Zhao Yunlan (a police man in charge of a special division in charge of arresting “Dixingren”, who have special powers) own my heart! Show can be found on Youtube. (Warning for a rather sad ending, though.)
- +Love by Chance: Shy and adorable Pete meets small but fiercely protective Ae, starting a love story that makes me melt. This Thai series is my favourite BL by far, especially the first half, because Ae and Pete’s relationship is like a breath of fresh air. (In the second half, other ships get more screentime, one of which includes stalking/rape, so I skip extensively.) They skip the usual misunderstandings in favour of actual communication, and their story isn’t just about them getting together but also about the development of their sexual relationship (with some scorching scenes). Speaking of which, I totally headcanon Ae as demisexual. (Btw, a lot of people prefer secondary pairing of Tin/Can – and finally, a season 2 with a focus on them has been announced. Sadly, Pete’s actor – and therfore, Pete’s character – won’t be part of it.) Has official subs on Youtube.
- Cause You Are My Boy / My Tee: This Thai series got some rather bad reviews, which I find entirely undeserved. Many much more popular shows make me cringe and wonder at people’s preferences, while this one nicely shows adorable scamp Mork and “good boy” Tee go from apparent antagonists (a state that luckily doesn’t last long and gets an entirely different dimension as we learn more about their backstory) to adorable couple who have to deal with very relatable problems. Especially their family situations are very interesting. There’s a scene with Mork and Tee’s mom that hit me right where it hurts, and I almost cried when they had to say goodbye. The season ends with them in a good place, but there’s enough left open that I would have loved to see resolved in a second season. (I would especially have liked to explore Tee, whose serious troubles are only alluded to. Also, there was a very low-key lesbian storyline, the first one I’ve ever seen in a BL, that deserved more time.) Instead we got a special episode as part of the Our Skyy series, in which Mork and Tee could have been any other BL couple with a completely boring and predictable storyline (albeit with a cute musical number and kiss).
- +He’s Coming to Me: I’m absolutely in love with this story about a ghost who falls in love with the only person who can see him. The actors are adorable (together and separately) and I was actually invested in the plot, namely in their quest to find out about Met’s life and death as well as Thun coming to terms with his sexuality. This is an incredibly well-done series, avoiding pretty much all the usual pitfalls of BL and left me with a huge smile on my face and in my heart. Probably the best BL series I’ve ever seen.
- Love Sick: I very much recommend you track down the Phun/Noh BL cut of this Thai teen soap, as the show is stuffed with superfluous storylines. Main couple Phun and Noh, however, are very sweet, and they start with my one of my favourite tropes: fake dating. 🙂 However, a warning for cheating, because Phun has a serious girlfriend (who unfortunately gets kind of villified in season 2) and Noh is seeing someone, too. Season 2 was extended to a crazy 36 episodes, with even more skippable storylines, and there’s a few too many misunderstandings for Phun and Noh before their happy ending, but overall they just have lovely chemistry and their story has high rewatch value. This series has a special place in many a fan’s heart, since it was the first such show focusing on a gay couple.
- Together With Me: Main couple Korn and Knock easily have the most explosive chemistry of any of the BL couples I’ve seen. As a rule, BL suffers from Bad Kissing Syndrome, no matter how well the couple works otherwise, but Thai series Together With Me starts out with one of the hottest sex scenes and continues from there. (Doesn’t hurt that it’s not set in highschool and Max & Tul, the actors, are smoking hot and show a refreshing lack personal space for two -supposedly- straight guys.) It’s also best friends-to-lovers, which is my total catnip, and I can forgive Knock’s indecisiveness. (Also, his gf is the devil.) The show is actually a prequel to Bad Romance (which aired first and has Korn/Knock as secondary pairing with much less chemistry), but that one didn’t work for me at all, and the characterisations are entirely different anyhow. There’s also a follow-up called Together With Me: The Next Chapter, which unfortunately plain sucks. I recommend just looking up the Korn/Knock scenes from both of these shows.
- HIStory 2: Crossing the Line: This is the one that started my current obsession after seeing a fanvid for the main couple. HIStory is a Taiwanese BL series that focuses on different story arcs and is unusual in that they always have a happy ending. The second season works much better for me than the first – this arc is set in highschool and revolves around a volleyball team. It’s seriously sweet, and I like both the main couple (a “rebel” who’s too adorable for words and who joins the volleyball team, becoming involved with their manager) and the secondary one (step-brothers trying to hide their decidedly unbrotherly feelings for each other). No problematic content to be found here! (The “brothers” only started living together when they were already in their teens, if I understood the timeline correctly.) Can be watched legally on Youtube.
- HIStory 2: Right or Wrong: This one’s a bit more controversial, because it focuses on a college student becoming the nanny of his professor and falling in love with him. For me the relationship works, though. I especially like how we can see Shi Yi Jie (the professor) changing, becoming a better father, a better man – and once he’s realized what his feelings are, he doesn’t hesitate, there’s no gay panic. And while his ex-wife pops up, the real obstacle are Fei Sheng Zhe’s fears and internalised homophobia, not misunderstandings. Also, the daughter is incredibly adorable, which is rather rare for child characters, and I love the scenes with all three of them. Another nice thing is that both of them have a support system – and Shi Yi Jie even asks Fei Sheng Zhe’s mom for permission to date her son. Also has an official Youtube playlist.
- Red Balloon: This short web series is angsty, but it’s very well-done and beautiful, playing with different timelines as it shows the main characters falling in love as students and meeting again when grown-up. And there is a happy ending.
- Hanging Out: Another short web series, this one from the Philippines. Technically it isn’t BL because it was made by a gay publication and doesn’t have teenage girls as its audience. I enjoyed it very much, though, because it takes a decidedly more adult approach to gay relationships (even without sex scenes). Found on Youtube.
- History 3: Trapped: As the previous recced HIStory stories, this is a sheer delight – with happy endings for both the primary (enigmatic gangster boss Tang Yi and passionate cop Shao Fei) and secondary couple (confident Jack and adorable Zhao Zi). With 20 episodes it’s much longer than previous stories, but it could easily have been longer, because the characters and their stories need deeper exploration (especially Jack).
- Great Men Academy: Despite the wacky premise (a girl uses a wish from a unicorn to turn herself into a boy in order to stalk her crush), this show warmed my heart – especially as it upended expectations and turned comic relief secondary male lead Tangmo into one of the best characters ever as he finds himself falling for the strange new “boy”, Love .
- 2Moons2: So damn delightful, it needs to be here. There was an original 2Moons series, which has mixed reviews (some love it, some hate it – I read enough things that bothered me not to watch it), but this is a fresh start, with new actors and taking the story further. It’s successfully avoided all of the usual pitfalls, and I find myself really liking all the characters, couples and friendships for a change. 🙂 Official playlist with hardcoded subs on Youtube.)
- Theory of Love: This one is starring one of the Thai BL powerhouse couples, Off and Gun, as best friends Khai and Third. I’ve rarely hated any main character as much as I hated Off’s Khai when he put poor little Third through the wringer of unrequited love – but halfway through the show, there’s a POV switch, and suddenly everything changes! There’s also a surprise secondary ship, which I find myself shipping almost harder than the main one, and a het ship that’s utterly forgettable and luckily dropped. Official playlist on Youtube.
- +The Untamed: This is a fantasy cdrama and hence isn’t explicitly gay, despite (like Guardian) being based on a popular BL novel called “The Grand Master of Demonic Cultivation”. It spans 50 episodes and I’m completely in love, especially of course with the love story between Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. Not being familiar with the tropes and rules of Wuxia (Chinese martial arts fantasy) I was utterly confused after watching episode 1 and by the fact that everyone has multiple names, so I’m simultaneously reading the novel translation – the show follows a different plot order but sticks otherwise quite closely to it. Overall the emotion is very much there, not just between the two mains, but also the big supporting cast, and the whole show is utterly beautiful to boot. And unlike Guardian they managed to not rip our hearts out with the ending. Official playlist on Youtube.
- *HIStory3: Make Our Days Count: I honestly debated whether to put this on here, because (and this is a MAJOR SPOILER) it has an out-of-the-blue gut-wrenching ending for the main couple, which left a lot of fans feeling completely railroaded and betrayed, because until now, the HIStory stories were famous for guaranteeing a happy ending. However, until about 10 minutes before the end of the second-to-last-episode, the show is just really rather wonderful, an adorable and captivating highschool love story (or rather two, although the secondary one starts out a bit stalkery for my taste). You can watch it for free on Viki, but please, do yourself a favour and ignore the last episode, or skim it with the fast-forward button for the secondary pairing.)
- *+Until We Meet Again: Red Thread: Still ongoing, this is possibly the best BL show I’ve ever seen, right up there with HCTM. It tells the story of two couples connected by a “red thread” of fate (following a tradition that basically says soulmates are connected by red threads around their fingers). The first one, Korn and Intouch, shared a tragic love in the 1970s, doomed by homophobic fathers. The show starts with their suicide (!!) and then moves to present day and freshman student Pharm, who finds himself strangely drawn to Dean. Their connection is instant, and they begin to have flashbacks of In and Korn’s lives. Somehow, the show manages to go from complete heartbreak to heartwarming fluff from one minute to the next, yet it never fails to leave me feeling happy. I am completely in love with all four boys, who are very different but intrinsically connected. Some people say the show’s too slow, but it reminds me of nothing so much as my favourite type of fanfic. Also very entertaining are the supporting cast – most notably Pharm’s friends Manaow and Team, the latter of which is part of the half-hidden secondary pairing with Dean’s best friend Win. They’re huge fan favourites, and everyone’s hoping for a second season that will focus on them, mirroring the books the show is based on (“Red Thread” for Korn/In and Dean/Pharm, “Hemp Rope” for Win/Team). Watch the official eps with English subs on Youtube.