Why the West Can’t Get Enough of the Southeast Asian BL Craze
Why the Asian BL craze is causing a frenzy in the west
A year ago, if you asked people in the US or UK to describe what a BL show was, very few would be able to answer you compared to today. In fact, today you’d be much likelier to come across Asian BL fans on social media, specifically TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, with posts from fans of these TV shows racking up hundreds of thousands of views and interactions.
Produced in southeast Asia, BL shows have taken the west by storm. BL tv shows, or Boys Love shows, deal with boys who fall in love with other boys. This trope has its roots in Japanese yaoi culture, a genre of fictional media originating in 1970s Japan. While yaoi was usually written by women, for women, its modern BL interpretation sees contributors of all genders and orientations. There’s no escaping the fact that modern BL shows remain heavily influenced by yaoi culture, particularly yaoi manga. This is evident by the many yaoi manga being translated into TV screens across Asia.
However, today’s slickly produced dramas are attracting audiences from all ages and walks of life. First taking off in 2020, when people around the world were confined to their homes due to the lockdowns and yearning for fresh content to consume, BL shows answered that call. Today, thousands of hours of BL content are consumed weekly, with shows racking up millions of views on YouTube.
What’s the appeal of Asian BL shows?
A lot can be said about the appeal that these shows hold, but the most obvious aspects of its appeal could perhaps be gleaned by taking a look at one of the leaders in BL content – Thai BL dramas. Thailand has grown to become a leading exporter of BL television dramas, with die-hard fans spread across the world. It’s often said that Thai BL shows are steeped in fantasy, in the sense that these characters are open, unfazed and unrepressed about their sexuality, unlike the inner turmoil that often wracks LGBT characters in western television series.
This is often cited as one of the reasons behind the popularity and key defining features of the BL drama trope. Instead of dealing with homophobia and resistance to their choice of partner, the characters are free to explore the complexities of love and life that their heterosexual love counterparts also do. This is quite jarring for western audiences when they first dive into BL shows, especially Thai BLs, because we expect there to be this level of tumult that characters have to go through when they finally admit to themselves, and their close circle that they do in fact prefer boys over the opposite sex.
Instead, we’re mostly greeted with a shrug from those key characters, with the revelation often not even necessary. Now we can focus on the story, focus on the characters figuring out this thing called love, with all the angst and anxiety that go along with it. We’re in for a fun, often humorous and always heart-filled story where the boy always ends up with the boy.
There are many other southeast Asian countries getting in on the BL series action, with particular acclaim going to Taiwanese and South Korean BL dramas. Each country’s specific interpretation of BL comes with its own approach and tropes, and some fans prefer only BLs from particular countries, while others prefer to enjoy all of it that comes their way. Whatever you prefer, you’re guaranteed to find gleeful escape in stories filled with love, hope and a lot of heart.
Diving into your first BL series?
Want to know what all the fuss is about? You can dive into your first BL from your phone’s browser. There are dozens and dozens of full season BL shows available on YouTube, or you can subscribe to any number of streaming services that specialise in Asian BL dramas like GagaOOLala, available in countries like the U.K., U.S. and Canada, among others.
As an introduction to great BLs sure to get you hooked, check out these titles: