The BL Manga Starter Kit

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I’d like to think of this BL Starter Kit as Pandora’s Box. When Airin raised the idea to me, I was obscenely curious over what she had to say. In fact, I’ve been very curious what titles people suggested because getting someone started on BL is like opening Pandora’s Box. The entire world thinks that it has nothing but evil — homosexuality, misrepresentation of homosexuality/masculinity, sexual aggression, yaoi hands, etc. Before you even grab your first BL book, people would have told you 9000 reasons why it suck and why you should not read it. It’s reached a point where any person who likes BL will openly tell you “Yeah, it’s TRASH,” as if acknowledging that nothing good comes out of it. And yet, a recent book about BL has earned an Eisner nomination. Amazing artists such as Yoshinaga Fumi and Shimura Takako started their careers as BL writers. And then the people who considered BL also trash also openly admitted that they genuinely love the genre. Doesn’t that make you want to open this Pandora’s Box?

As I have said to Airin and Maija during our podcast about the BL Starter Kit, I find it difficult to throw a couple of titles to people. Other friends I’ve raised this question to also found it difficult to answer. For example, one friend reasoned that if this BL Starter Kit was written with #triggers in mind, then the list might be filled with bland and boring titles. 
 
People have different notions of entertainment. Readers who can’t handle the sight of two men being intimate won’t be entertained by BL. Readers who enjoy queer texts might find gender and sexual representations in BL problematic. They might even consider the authors inauthentic. Readers who just want the schmex might be disappointed if they get a rec with no schmex. It’s tough to find recommendations that would please everyone. But recommending a title to an open and curious mind might be manageable.
 
Hence, in our podcast, Airin, Maija and myself were coming from places that hopes to lure curious readers to the genre in hopes that they can open the Pandora’s Box that is BL. I’ve raised this question to other people too and I find their answers quite interesting and amusing. Hence, I’ve compiled this list and thematically grouped the recommendations of folks together in hopes that some might trigger your curiosity for BL. This list is also mildly influenced by titles commercially available in English or are easily accessible digitally through ebookjapan or Amazon Japan.  
 

The Fundamentals of BL

Boys Love is about boys or men falling in love with each other. The male character who dominates the relationship is the seme and the receiver of his affection is the uke. BL, at its core, tries to bring these two characters together in hopes of convincing readers that love between two men or boys is possible. BL stories try to show the love between these two characters either through heartwarming romances or heart-wrenching affairs. I think neither is better than the other. It really depends on your mood and your preference. Some enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings of heartwarming romances while others love drama and tension. This list also highlights the various tropes, characters, and settings commonly used in BL. From hot-blooded school boys to quiet salarymen, I think this list has a great selection of what BL is trying to offer. 
 

Heartwarming Romance

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Doukyuusei (Classmate) Series by Nakamura Asumiko (JP| ENG
A quiet studious boy learns to love their school’s wild child. This story of polar opposites is beautifully innocent and wonderfully drawn. As Eurydice noted, “The pureness of youth and first love is strong here.” Considered by many as the title that reinvigorated the genre in the last decade, Doukyuusei’s clean storytelling offers a fresh modern take on boys love. If you enjoyed this story, feel free to read stories by Ichikawa Kei, Aniya Yuiji, and Hideyoshico. 
 
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Chuchun ga Chun (Tweeting Love Birds) by Yamamoto Kotetsuko (JP | ENG
No sport is safe from boys love. In this story, Yamamoto Kotetsuko shows a hilarious love triangle between two baseball rivals who are trying to win the heart of an adorable boy. This title shows the lighter and comedic side of BL with Yamamoto Kotetsuko as one of the leading authors behind this brand of BL comedy. If you enjoyed this, you can read all her works which are just as hilarious and amazing. And then, why don’t you try Natsume Isaku’s works? She’s also amazing. 
 
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Itoshi no Nekokke (My Darling Kitten Hair) by Kumota Haruko (JP
Some BL stories tend to bask in the beauty of finding love everyday. This is one of the best series that tackles domestic romance. This story features the romance between two childhood friends who find love in each other as they grow older. As adults, they decide to move together and the story captures their sweet domestic life. This story is crazy adorable and erotic. It is also one of the rare gems in BL where the main couple easily switch seme and uke roles, showcasing a refreshing deviation from the genre’s usual relationship trope. A similar gem to this is Ohayo to Oyasumi to Sono Ato ni
 

Heart-wrenching Romances

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Seven Days by Takarai Rihito (JP|ENG
Two boys find themselves playing with love for a week. What initially meant nothing eventually grows into something important. This is a bite-sized version of what Takarai Rihito has offered her BL readers — romance through unusual circumstances. The drama in this story is like a mild tremor that eventually seizes your heart in seismic proportions. 
 
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Sekaiichi Hatsukoi (The World’s Greatest First Love) by Nakamura Shungiku (JP | ENG
If BL had a soap opera, then Sekaiichi Hatsukoi is like their Bold and the Beautiful. Marukawa Publishing is just like the Forrester Fashion House where every one’s involved in some BL drama while trying to run a successful shojo magazine/publishing house. Just like soaps, people may find this annoying yet surprisingly entertaining and addictive.
 
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Soredemo yasashii koi wo suru (Even so I will love you tenderly) by Yoneda Kou (JP|ENG
Written by one of BL’s most renowned authors, this story is one of the few BL stories that attempts to capture a modern-day melodrama between two men. A gay man keeps his affection for his drinking buddy for three years only to find his love falling for another man. While most stories take the leap of faith, this story was not shy in sharing the characters’ anxieties as they change their relationship from friendship to love. No love is ever easy. While this has a happy ending, it’s comforting to know that the genre’s not lost in fantasy. 
 

BL as an erotic text  

Boys Love also means boys schmex. For those who had access to BL during its early years, a lot of those stories made no sense and were more concerned with getting boys done in the bedroom than knowing how assholes and penises functioned. In many ways, it rightfully deserved the label yaoi. You can blame some authors’ sexual/gender ignorance and censorship laws behind those glowing dicks and self-lubricating assholes. But it has been more than 30 years since BL started. BL authors have learned their lessons and have been doing their homework. At best, authors have tried their best to capture healthy homosexual relationships.1 Authors are also showing creative ways to heat up sex scenes so much so that many of us find it very difficult to browse our books in public spaces. Some authors have made us dirty voyeurs and they continue to push men’s sexual desires to the limit. ave also
 
 
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Minori no te (Minori’s Hand) by Scarlet Beriko (JP| ENG
Consider this level 3 of BL schmexy times. Who knew that having your chiropractor help you unwind sexually is crazy sexy? This title was deceptively erotic with panels that bring you down the dirty business. What is most crazy about this story is how Scarlet Beriko draws you in as if you are part of the schmex. It’ll definitely raise your temperature to a degree and it’s a technique that’s widely used by her contemporaries such as Ogeretsu Tanaka. 
 
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Hidoku shinaide (Don’t be Cruel) by Yonezou Nekota (JP | ENG)
I’ll place this story in the level 4 of BL schmexy hell. This story begins with BL’s highly problematic trope of sexual aggression. If you can’t deal with this, stick to level three as BL has lots of good stories where sex is really just the icing on the cake. Yonezou Nekota uses this classic BL trope to highlight intense sexual desires. In this case, through horny teenagers. At one point, you won’t know who is using whom but as a reader, you’ll learn through this story that there’s something sexy by being just a bit “cruel.” When you learn this, you can never go back. Nakamura Shungiku’s works takes you to this same place. 
 
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Hen’ai by Harada (JP
I initially wanted to place Zariya’s Nemuri Otoko Koi no Otoko but then I realised that this is much a nastier devil than that. This story merits the 8th level of BL schmex hell for being unashamedly obscene yet be so convincingly appealing at the same time. This collection of shorts (some of which are extended in Yajirushi) is crazy sexy that it’s impossible to read this without knowing that your soul might be burning in hell. From roleplay to sexual harm to crazy toys you did not know fit in places. Harada’s the author who loved drawing dicks and enjoyed playing with it, IN ALL KINDS OF SCENARIOS. If you enjoyed Harada, you might as well read Zariya Ranmaru’s Pet Keiyaku and Ogeretsu Tanaca’s Yarichin Bitch series. 
 
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In these words by Guilt|Pleasure (JPENG
The only truth about the deepest depth of BL hell is how truly beautiful it is in its madness. While considered by many as not!BL, I think this title is a wonderful example of the genre’s global influence and shifting aesthetic. This psychological drama sinks it nails where it hurts. The sex scenes in this book are both hot and uncomfortable. At times, it’s unnerving. Yet somehow, the Guilt|Pleasure team continues to lure us with every page, keeping us addicted to this pleasurable pain. 
 

BL as a space for difference

In reading BL, readers immediately acknowledge that they are reading something different from usual. While some folks believe it’s mainstream, the reality that its readers are still considered “rotten” highlights how society views BL as a deviation from the norm. Fucks that BL folks did not give towards this hate are redirected towards creative works that celebrated this difference. Hence, the last 40 years of BL lead to some of the most amazing, amusing, intelligent, insane, and beautiful works that celebrated people’s interests in boys love. 
 
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Sex Pistols (Love Pistols) by Kotobuki Tarako (JP/ENG)
When you think BL’s all about shenanigans, a simple google online will lead you to scholar Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto analysing the complex context of Kotobuki Tarako’s Love Pistols and its subversive potential. When BL’s read with a critical lens, the stories reveal so much about what the story is not telling. In this case, Bauwens-Sugimoto argues that Love Pistols used mpreg as a tool to raise questions about the insanity of our notions of heteronormative creation. In reading this story, I also thought of how it breaks notions of family. I learned that regardless of how silly a story is, it tells a story of a reality different from ours that we must respect. When we give BL its time to tell its story, the way Jessica did to Sex Pistols, we can learn so much about this genre which has been a space for women’s voices. If you want to read another story with fresh eyes, why not read est em’s Equus and Hatarake Kentaros! Anne Lee shows us how these centaur parodies deconstruct masculinity through parody. 
 
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Smells Like Green Spirit by Saburo Nagai (JP
If there’s a BL story that celebrates love in its truest, honest, and humblest moments, this story best captures it. The story does not shy from painful melodrama but to see love in all its forms — friendship, romance, family, etc. — is something quite unique in this genre. Kudos to this story that celebrates this unique love. Also, this story merits a commercial translation while it’s relevant and not when it’s lost in history. 
 
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Ever After by est em (JP
While this story is not the first to parody fairy tales, est em’s Ever After is a wonderful example of what this genre offers: nothing is impossible. Yes, the genre operates on some fundamental basics but this is also been the same genre where authors have been given liberties to experiment with ideas and play with them to create, share, and teach something new. Est em’s ever after is the culmination of literacies that seeks to break apart texts in order to make them more meaningful to us. Similar texts are doujinshi, yume shousetsu, fanfics, and fanart. All of these things highlight our highly inquisitive and creative minds. 
 

Why we should consider reading BL 

 
What started as a random question eventually turned into an interesting reflection of this manga genre that has beauty in its madness. There are many things problematic about BL but the genre, like everything else in this world, is doing its best to be better. As it has since its inception, BL has provided girls and women spaces to creatively discuss and express their thoughts on gender and sexuality. While BL is considered women’s texts, men (straight and gay) have also expressed appreciation for the genre because it acknowledges masculinities beyond brawn and machismo. Of course, as a fictional genre, BL continues to be a site of creativity, a space where creators can play with all kinds of narrative and comic elements. As a space for fantasy, BL has served generations of fans a healthy escape from sexually-prude heteronormative realities.
 
Boys Love has entertained millions of readers with heartwarming, sometimes insane, stories about boys and men falling in love. It is a genre that takes pride in its difference and it continues to challenge normative notions of narrative, fiction, women’s texts, gender, sexuality, etc.  
 
Just like Pandora’s Box, beyond all of BL’s evils is hope. If you’re curious what I mean, then why not take a chance at our recommendations? For other fujojo out there, let me know what you think about this list! 
 
This list is not without the help of amazing people who have shared with me their insights! To those who participated in the BL Rec Promo, e-mail me at punkednoodle-at-gmail!! 
 
  1. thanks to feministfujoshi for her list []


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