The polarised “dangerous” boys love manga of 2018

2017 came like a hurricane and I have not left. Just when I thought I’d have a little break to write something for this blog, I’m swept away by strong currents of school work, papers, and other things. I’ve been working hard to find time to settle and for some magical reason, after sleepless nights pouring through papers, I found myself some free time to write. Because you know what, I HAVE BEEN DYING TO WRITE ABOUT THE CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED AND AWARD-WINNING BL LISTS OF KONO BL GA YABAI AND CHIL-CHIL!

For those who have been following these lists, OMG AREN’T THESE LISTS CRAY!?! And for those who haven’t, LET ME TELL YOU, THE LIST OF BEST BL TITLES LAST YEAR ARE CRAY! LIKE MAD FLUFFY SPICY CRAY! 

If there’s anything I can say about the selection of this year’s best titles, the voters and critiques behind them must be tripping on some crazy craft beer or wine. At least, I’d like to imagine that they were crazy drunk (if they were of legal age) or was trippin’ on feels (if they were not of legal age) when they casted their votes because never have I seen such a polarised selection of titles.

Of course, the burden is hardly on the voters, to be honest. If anything, this deeply polarised set of BL titles just highlights the diverse array of BL works that took readers to new places and experiences of boys love. As I told a good friend, some of these titles were selected not because they were great or that they necessarily ascribe to common notions of boys love. More than anything, these titles were selected because they were interesting. 

Best BL Titles of 2018 via Kono BL ga Yabai and Chil-Chil BL Awards 2017

  Kono BL ga Yabai 2018 Chil-Chil BL Awards 2018
1 Momo to Manji by Sakura Sawa Life senjō na bokura by Tokukura Miya
2 Saezuru tori wa habatakunai by Yoneda Kou Niichan by Harada
3 Kashikomarimashita Destiny ~ Answer by Sachimo Bokura no shokutaku by Mita Ori
4 Life senjō na bokura by Tokukura Miya Sayonara, Alpha by Ichinashi Kimi
5 Yatamomo by Harada Yoidore koi wo sezu by Hashimoto Aoi
6 Young Good Boyfriend by Dayoo Gelateria supernova royal vanilla by Kitahara Rii
7 ROMEO by Watanabe Asia Boku no omawari-san by Nyama
8 Kimagura na Jaguar by Unohana Ai to Makoto by Moriyo
9 Niichan by Harada Young Good Boyfriend by Dayoo
10 Blue Morning (Yuutsu na Asa) by Hidaka Shoko Kazoku ni narou by Kurahashi Tomo
11 Canis the Speaker by ZAKK Kimagura na Jaguar by Unohana
12 Coyote by Ranmaru Zariya Me o tojite mo hikari ha mieru yo by Marukido Maki
13 Tōrō no Ori by Psychedelico Jealousy by Scarlet Berico
14 Jealousy by Scarlet Berico Indigo no kibun by Marukido Maki
15 Sabi no yume by Kuma Yoyoyo Supernatural/Jam by Etsuko
16 Haru wa kimi ni sasayaku by Kinoshita Keiko Rikaidekinai kare to no koto by Wan Shimako
17 Sayonara, Alpha by Ichinashi Kimi Aka no teatre by Ogawa Chise
18 Aka no teatre by Ogawa Chise Kimi wa natsu na no ka by Furuya Nagisa
19 Bokura no shokutaku by Mita Ori Eto Irokoizōshi by Matsuo Isami
20 Eto Irokoizōshi by Matsuo Isami Bokura ga koi o ushinau riyū by itz

Polarised BL of 2017: Reimagining ōdō

Momo to Manji by Sakura Sawa
In this year’s list, I’ve come to realise that capturing the interests of BL fans has become a gargantuan task. Last year, I mentioned that readers were looking for complex, at times problematic, narratives that break the typical boys love formula. What Japanese scholars refer to as ōdō (noble path), the “holy” formula of BL (seme x uke), is seen as the foundation of every BL story in Japan. You can think of straightforward, cute, vanilla romances such as Dōkyūsei by Nakamura Asumiko as one of the recent and purest representations of this ōdō. That said, BL has a history that spans forty years and I think BL has reached a new point of saturation. BL fans are thirsty for a new reimagining of BL’s ōdō
 
The polarized selection of BL’s best in 2017 highlights fans’ thirst for “interesting” BL titles. And readers’ definition of interesting this year is quite exceptional. From lifelong romances to childhood obsessions, the selections this year highlight the extremes of the genre. Nothing is too safe, too boring, or too sweet as the selected stories are mired with twists and turns that whets the fantasies of fervent boys love fans.
 
At this point, I’ll be using my friend’s rating system of “spice” in order to describe some of the titles in this list, because seriously, some are sickeningly sweet while others burn your tongue that you lose your sense of taste. Don’t be surprised if comfy favourites that ended last year did not even make the top twenty. Again, we’re looking at a market who needs to be constantly intrigued and excited. This is an audience hungry for new flavours. 
 
The top selections of Kono BL ga Yabai and Chil-Chil’s BL Awards highlight this polarity. Kono BL ga Yabai selected Momo to Manji, a romance between a dateotoko (the Tokugawa version of a ‘dandy’) and a wandering kagema (a male prostitute), by Sakura Sawa as its best BL of the year. Meanwhile, Chil-Chil’s BL Awards selected Life senjō no bokura, a story about a lifelong romance between best friends, by Tokokura Miya. These two titles bear similarities but stand at the opposite ends of BL’s ōdō.
 
Momo to Manji captures the hedonism of Edo culture which unearths the harsh realities of love and affection in a deeply commodified society. While Sakura Sawa’s opulent illustrations of Edo life is extraordinarily beautiful, her story is bittersweet, especially when she explores the kagema’s narrative. She draws deeply sexual scenes in an effort to imitate nanshoku depicted in ukiyo-e. While Edo romances are nothing new in BL, Sakura Sawa’s detailed illustration of this period and the poetry she weaves into the narrative was highly appreciated by Kono BL ga Yabai readers. One fan would even note the title’s “authenticity” since it captures Japanese “homosexual” traditions.
 
While I don’t necessarily agree to this authenticity, especially when it’s used in the argument of LGBT histories in Japan, I do agree that Momo to Manji manages to capture the complex eroticism of nanshoku, at least with how it was commercialised and romanticised during the Edo period. Still, while the visuals and romance of Momo to Manji make it a lovely read, it is a hard bitter pill to swallow. This is not the case for Life senjō no bokura
 
 
Chil-chil’s selection for Best BL, Life senjō no bokura, is unlike their previous selections such as Ten Count and Saezuru tori wa habatakunai. Tokokura Miya’s love story is BL envisioned like the Game of Life. It follows the usual narrative of friends finding love in their youth, reality coming in the way of their love, and time healing all wounds. This life-long love affair banks on readers’ familiarity with the genre. Perhaps what made it appealing to readers is how it gave them closure—literally. Unlike the mad romance of Momo to Manji, this title is sickeningly romantic and perhaps readers needed this at a time when new genres are challenging notions of romance.

“Dangerous” BL Trends

In a recent lecture I gave at BlushCon in Manila, I noted how fascinating it is to be a BL reader right now because of the diverse works emerging from the genre. And while there are pockets of the internet that still abhor BL since they feel the genre is still defined by World’s Greatest First Love, WELL, you may or may not like what BL has to offer altogether last year. 
 
 
The most prominent trends of 2017 are historical/retro romances, happy endings, omegaverse, and pornographic BL. All these themes bear similarities to fanworks. For one, Sakura Sawa, Harada, and Ogeretsu Tanaka come from the dōjinshi tradition and they carried with them the qualities that made their work known in fandom. To a certain extent, even the popularity of omegaverse in global fandom has transformed Japan’s BL landscape. 
 
Looking back, it’s apparent that fans are enjoying the retro aesthetic that was popularised in all forms of media in the last year. From the 80s shōjo look of Ganbare, Nakamura-kun by Syundei and Gakuen Tengoku by Hideyoshico, to the Edo-aesthetics of Sakura Sawa, and the more popular Taisho or early Showa aesthetics seen in works such as Blue Morning and Tōrō no Ori by Psychedlico, readers are enjoying stories that take them to a different time and place.
 
While I too love immersing in some historical fantasy, I take issue in how some people read more into these titles and take them as representative of historical Japanese gayness when it is not. I think some are reading into this as an opportunity to validate BL as part of Japan’s queer history but for all the wrong reasons. This merits a longer entry but for now, know that this retro aesthetic was appreciated last year. 
 
 
 
Based on the top twenty list, omegaverse is now a formidable theme in boys love. Fusion Product’s Omegaverse Project anthologies played an important role in bringing this trope to a wider audience in Japan. Two years after their anthology’s launch, their works are now recognised by fans with series such as Kashikomarimashita Destiny~Answer by Sachimo and Ai to Makoto by Moriyo voted as some of the best BL from last year.
 
Perhaps what people would find troublesome is the popularity of another omegaverse title, Sayonara Alpha, the story of a high-school omega who realised that his destined alpha is an elementary school child. NOW, BEFORE YOU CALL CHILD SERVICES, know that the title was done with some restraint but nonetheless, I can imagine that fans appreciated the new BL dynamics that omegaverse offers. 
 
Now pornographic, what my friend refers to as “too spicy for me,” BL works has really reached mainstream in BL. I think women are becoming increasingly comfortable with these voyeuristic reading experiences but they also demand good narrative to come along with it. In fact, these pornographic BL operates quite differently from the senseless mayo-lubricated yaoi titles that existed in the early 2000s. These pornographic titles are quite informed in terms of techniques that really whets readers’ desires. I’ll have to explain this with greater detail someday but for now, let’s just say that these BL works are hotter than ever. ALSO, the amount of nipples on the covers of these titles are insane. Beyond favourites such as Yatamomo by Harada and Jealousy by Scarlet Berico, fans also loved Marukido Maki with her works Me o tojite hikari wa mieru yo and Indigo no kibun
 
 
What I find particularly fascinating in BL is how readers voted for different iterations of happiness in BL. Sure, titles such as Bokura no shokutaku by Mita Ori and Kazoku ni narou yo by Kurahashi Tomo redefines happiness by giving some sense of “family” in many of these BL relationships. Lonely ojisans? Hell yeah! Young Good Boyfriend by Dayoo and Boku no Omawari-san certainly know how love between younger semes and ojisans take more than ten years. While there’s so much love and happiness going on in these titles, I am just as fascinated by stories that offer a twisted sense of happiness. 
 
Harada’s Niichan is problematic title that showcases “happiness” that stems from trauma. It is the most unnerving title I read last year but I actually love the question Harada raises in this title. What kind of “happiness” can satisfy a BL reader’s fantasy? Would a “ruined” sense of happiness give her readers satisfaction? Is this cruel end where BL’s ōdō should go? This title actually made me reflect on my expectations as a BL reader. It’s batshit insane and I think, looking at how it was highly regarded by both Kono BL ga Yabai and Chil-chil, I am certain that other also read this title in between the lines. 
 

Best Newcomer

 
The best newcomer for Kono BL ga Yabai is Syundei’s Ganbare, Nakamura-kun (which is now licensed by Seven Seas as Go for it, Nakamura). This school romance reminds me of Ranma1/2 due to its aesthetic and comedy. The other winners included CTK’s On Doorstep, Omoimi’s Ahoero, Kouda En’s Ore to atashi to shinsekai, and Akira Hino’s Teikoku no kangan.
 
What do these titles represent in terms of BL’s future? I honestly don’t know. Beyond Syundei’s works, I haven’t read any of them but I guess they’re quite interesting and refreshing too. At the very least, Ganbare, Nakamura-kun brings back that pure comedic romance that’s almost shōjoesque
 

Favourites and recommendations

 
Now, this list, I did say, is quite fascinating. To be honest, I have not read a lot but those that I did read make me reflect on my tastes as a BL reader. I did personally enjoy Kashikomarimashita Destiny, Yatamomo, and Sayonara Alpha but I wouldn’t recommend them in a heartbeat to people. Young Good Boyfriend and Boku no Omawari-san has A++ oyajis so if that’s your thing, go ahead! Kimagure na Jaguar by Unohana is always interesting. In fact, I think Unohana’s quite an underrated author and I think people should consider reading her work. 
 
While not all the titles may have been my cup of tea, it’s fascinating to see how BL is evolving as a genre. Will there come a time when Toranoana will have a private room where I have to buy my Harada? I’ll never know! Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to what BL has to offer next time! My only concern is over time, most BL titles won’t make it to English.

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4 thoughts on “The polarised “dangerous” boys love manga of 2018”

  • I was delighted to see some of my favorites are on rather high ranks this year. Boku no Omawarisan is definitely a square 10 to me, what with all the age difference and pining-to-requited-love plotline combined with a clean, well-executed drawing style (oh and the cat too!). I seriously cannot wait for volume 2 to be published in hard copies, since only the renta digital version is available and for various reasons I couldn’t lay my hands on it yet. Speaking of oyajis, CTK is hands down among the most skilled authors at drawing those. Her on-going series Midnight Rain is totally worth a read.
    The Speaker by ZAKK has had me intrigued for almost two years now. Their style, according to my friends, is a mix between modern Japanese and that of Western comics. Many newly discovered BL mangas of mine includes Pornographer by Marukido Maki- in which that hybrid drawing style can also be seen on display, though to me I think Marukido’s leans more to the Japanese side.

  • I’m surprised that Niichan is included in the list! I skimmed through its pages before and was traumatized www. One part of me screams “stay away from this series”. But the other, makes me want to find out the twist.

    • Well, be warned. Do read it with an open mind because it will unnerve you and strip all your preconceived notions of BL. The sad thing is the twist is not a twist that solves the mystery. ^^;;

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