It’s August 1st, Yaoi Day (8/01: Japanese eight can be read “ya”, then zero as “o”, then one read like “i”). My friend Anne has a really good short breakdown of the genre if you’re unfamiliar with it.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to post the list of BL (boys love) manga recommendations that I’ve been planning. For a while friends have been asking me to recommend BL manga that I enjoy and that would be good for beginners. I’ve also been asked by other friends for recommendations that deviate from the typical 90s-esque CLAMP-Shoulders Yaoi-Hands styles that are most prevalent. There are a lot of artists working in the genre so styles can range significantly.
If you want a BL history lesson I can’t recommend more Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas printed in a nice hardcover edition by Fantagraphics. It’s a shoujo series from 1974 and one of the earliest examples of mainstream women manga artists exploring themes of same-sex relationships. While BL media can be fraught and filled with problematic portrayals that in no way reflect realistic homosexual relationships between men, it is an interesting space to explore because it’s one where women have a lot of creative power in, as far as the Japanese market is concerned.
My tastes in BL manga tends to lean towards odd-couples with some domesticity, humor, and a bit of smut, so that will be present in my following recommendations. I definitely have a longer list and I plan to do a follow-up post outlining some series that would totally be on this list if only they were officially localized. It’s also safe to assume that these books are rated 18+.
His Favorite – Suzuki Tanaka (free preview)
I wasn’t sure what to think of His Favorite at first and grabbed it out of boredom, but it charmed me pretty quickly. This one is about an unattractive boy, Yoshida, and his popular classmate who takes a liking to him, Satou. At first Satou can come off as pretty pushy, but I enjoy how their relationship ends up in later volumes and the silly backstories. The Rumic-style humor and stylistic weighted lines of the art kept me coming back for all 7 volumes. Also I should note this one is very tame as far as any sexual content goes, so it’s a good start for those not feeling ready to take that plunge yet. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).
Awkward Silence – Hinako Takanaga (free preview)
Enthusiastic and consensual relationship from the get-go! Yes! So unfortunately rare (and lamentably doesn’t remain true for the second pairing in the same series). Satoru is an introvert who has trouble making his expressions apparent on his face (which for the reader is supplemented by thought bubble exuberance and small expressive avatars). So this leads to communication issues with his new boyfriend to work out. Lots of misunderstandings that thankfully get resolved quickly and end up being more cute than irritating. Can be read in either digital or print (with more options on the SuBLime website).
Apple and Honey – Hideyoshico
I am a big fan of artist Hideyoshico! She captures very cute interactions between her characters and draws such expressive faces. Apple and Honey is actually side stories intersected with a different couple’s short story in the middle. The other volume, His Rose Colored Life, is the main couple set in a college and is a bit more melodramatic than the other books on this list. I recommend getting these ones in print instead of digital, the transfer quality leaves much to be desired.
Crimson Spell – Ayano Yamane (free preview)
Crimson Spell has got that corny fantasy romance novel aesthetic going for its covers and I love it. It’s about a prince getting cursed by a heirloom sword and traveling with a sorcerer in order to find out how to remove his demonic affliction. Artist Ayano Yamane’s books regularly top the New York Times Bestsellers list for manga when they are released (Crimson Spell volumes as well as Finder) and she is surprisingly popular here. One thing I didn’t expect from Crimson Spell was the humor. It reminds me of Bastard!! but with way more actual sex. This one is only available in print.