The last few years have seen a growing interest in LGBTQ manga in the West, with titles like My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and My Brother’s Husband connecting with readers and collecting major awards recognition. Yet there’s a particular category of manga with queer-identified characters that is also quietly increasing in prominence: boys love (BL) manga.
What the heck is BL? Though its primary subjects are often gay men, BL manga, contrary to what the name seems to suggest, is not actually manga written specifically for or by gay men. Rather, it’s a broad category of manga portraying romance between men, primarily written for and by heterosexual women. Think of it as shojo romance wherein both characters happen to be dudes, and there are way more spicy bits.
Though BL manga used to be exclusively published in English by smaller specialty imprints, after a spate of recent licenses from mainstream manga publishers like Kodansha and Seven Seas, BL may be—dare I say it?—becoming respectable. Curious to discover what it’s all about? Here are eight recently released and upcoming BL manga to get started with, from the softly sweet to the downright dirty… caveat lector.
Go For It, Nakamura!, by Syundei
Painfully awkward gay high schooler Nakamura has fallen head over heels for his outgoing classmate Hirose. The only thing standing in the way of true love? Nakamura isn’t actually sure Hirose knows his name . . . or that he exists. Sporting a delightfully retro art style that recalls the work of Rumiko Takahashi, this one-volume BL comedy is as charming as they come, balancing the humor of Nakamura’s uncoordinated attempts to strike up a friendship with his unrequited crush with some genuinely aww-worthy moments. If you like what you see here, good news: Syundei’s Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart, by all accounts much darker fare than this episodic romcom, is set to follow from Seven Seas in March.
I Hear the Sunspot, by Fumino Yuki
Kohei’s hearing disability has always kept him from forming close relationships with others, and given him a reputation around his college campus for being aloof and unapproachable. When classmate Taichi crashes into his life, his straightforward attempts at friendship begin to break down Kohei’s defenses. As the two grow closer, Kohei and Taichi aren’t sure they’re friends, or something more. Both a sensitive treatment of disability and a light college romance, I Hear the Sunspot is a great starting place for those looking to dip their toe in the shallow end of the BL pool. And with two sequel volumes already published in English, you can be sure that Kohei and Taichi’s story will continue.
Classmates: Dou kyu sei, by Asumiko Nakamura
Hikaru Kusakabe, popular guitarist in his high school band, and Rihito Sajou, uptight honor student, never had a reason to cross paths. When Hikaru stumbles across Rihito practicing alone for an upcoming class choir performance, he becomes intrigued and offers to be his music tutor until the recital. But as the two spend more time together, Hikaru realizes his feelings for his classmate are growing beyond interest or even friendship. Asumiko Nakamura’s distinctive loose lines and free-flowing anatomy add striking visual character to this coming of age high school romance. Look out for a newly translated print edition from Seven Seas this June.
10 Dance, by Inouesatou
Shinya Sugiki is the undisputed champion of Standard Ballroom, while Shinya Suzuki rules the passionate world of Latin Dance. With ambitions of becoming 10 Dance champions, a title that requires competing in both five Standard and five Latin dances, the two set aside (some of) their pride and agree to tutor each other in their rival’s specialty. As their dancing heats up, so does their relationship, until both begin to wonder if it’s more than the rumba drawing them together. This upcoming rivals-to-lovers manga from Kodansha is one for those who enjoy romance set to a slow-burn simmer, with heaps of sexual tension between bouts of the Viennese Waltz.
Stray Bullet Baby, by Kei Ichikawa
Murakami has always admired Honna, the stylish and capable editor at a magazine his firm regularly collaborates with, from a distance. When his office goes for after work drinks with Honna’s team, Murakami sees his chance to finally introduce himself. But instead of the genial conversation Murakami imagined, he ends up dragging a barely coherent (and not especially cool) Honna home after three too many drinks. Murakami isn’t sure what to make of his mercurial new acquaintance, but also can’t seem to stay away, and their odd friendship deepens. Kei Ichikawa’s naturalistic pacing, gray tones, and slightly undone lines lend a pleasing softness to this one-volume adult office romance.
Candy Color Paradox, by Isaku Natsume
Reporter Onoe and photographer Kaburagi are worlds apart—Onoe can’t handle Kaburagi’s cockiness and unscrupulous methods, while Kaburagi has nothing but contempt for Onoe’s hesitance and rigidity. The two can barely stand to be in the same room, but when an assignment from their editor throws them together for a celebrity stakeout, a grudging partnership gradually turns into something sweeter. Isaku Natsume’s straightforward storytelling makes this a lighthearted (and a little steamy) opposites-attract workplace romance with a fun reporter/photographer angle. Four volumes of this ongoing series are out in Japan; look out for the first English volume in March.
Jackass!, by Scarlet Beriko
Keisuke’s best friend Masayuki has always seemed frivolous to down-to-earth Keisuke—handsome, popular, and wealthy, Masayuki tends to flit from interest to interest and girl to girl. But when Keisuke accidentally wears his older sister’s pantyhose to school (a mistake that could happen to anyone, I’m sure), he discovers Masayuki has a very particular fetish that leaves both boys questioning their friendship, not to mention their sexuality. With a style characterized by bold, fluid lines and eyelashes a mascara model would kill for, Scarlet Beriko is a world champion at drawing beautiful men in ahem heated situations (note the explicit content warning on the cover of this one). Despite honing in on a racy fetish, this single volume friends-to-lovers story is a surprisingly sweet read with a memorable supporting cast and easy to root for couple.
Escape Journey, by Ogeretsu Tanaka
Naoto has nothing but bitter memories from his turbulent high school relationship with classmate Taichi, and is determined to start college with a clean romantic slate. All goes as planned until he runs into his ex on the same campus. Despite his determination to hate Taichi’s guts, Naoto can’t help getting sucked back into the rhythm of their friendship, and to Taichi’s credit, he’s matured a lot since their acrimonious split—or so it seems. Ogeretsu’s polished and detailed art, dramatic storylines, and spicy sex scenes (again, please note the explicit content warning) have made her a hit in Japan, and now English-speaking audiences can jump on the bandwagon. The first two volumes of this romantic drama are available now, with the third hitting shelves June 2019.
Have you discovered a beloved BL manga we didn’t mention?