The Queer Fudanshi’s Starter Guide to BL Manga

By: Devin Randall November 28, 20180 Comments

Boys’ love comics. To some, they’re gay romance and gay representation. To others, they’re an exploitation of gay male love for the pleasure of women. In that way, they’re synonymous to lesbian porn for straight men.

That said, BL really exists somewhere in the middle. BL stories depict gay romance as a way to celebrate female sexuality, and that’s okay. In addition, there are plenty of gay and even straight men who enjoy these often erotic gay comics. I am one of them.

And as a fan of this genre for over a decade now, I have read many stories of varying styles, topics, and subgenres. Now, I’d like to share some with all of you.

Like most romance-leaning genres, BL can be sweet, spicy, or somewhere in between, so I’ve categorized my recommendations based on the amount of sexual content (mild, medium, or heavy) to help readers find titles that appeal to their preferences. Want to know where to find legally translated BL manga that’s sexy, compelling, and approved by a gay fudanshi (male reader)? Check out the list below.

Mild/No Sexual Content

The cover of the Classmates manga and a sample panel of the two main characters meeting

Classmates by Nakamura Asumiko

First, we’ll start off with a light,  romance-based story.

Classmates follows two students who fall in love near the end of their high school careers. More specifically, Licht Sajou is an honor student who’s preparing for collegiate life. Meanwhile, the popular musician Hikaru is more into band performances than his studies.

When Licht realizes that he’ll need help to pull off the upcoming chorus festival, he begrudgingly asks Hikaru for support. The two then get to know each other and eventually fall in love.

This story is a beautiful romance between a passionate yet irresponsible boy and an intelligent yet emotionally stunted classmate. Plus, the conversation of falling in love just in time to move on to the next stage in life is enlightening. If you like romance stories based in real life issues, you’ll like this story.

To buy a digital copy, head over to Juné Manga—or, if you’d prefer a physical copy, Seven Seas is re-releasing it with a new translation in 2019. In addition, there was a movie adaptation of the series. You can purchase the Blu-ray on the official English website, and you can find my  review of the film here (warning: contains spoilers).

three pages from the manga where the two love interests fight over who gets to share an umbrella with the protagonist

19 Days by Old Xian

It’s important to know that BL comics don’t come from just Japan. The BL genre is thriving in Thailand, China, Korea, and even in the USA. And what’s arguably the most popular non-Japanese BL comic? 19 Days.

19 Days started out as a short series of comedic, unconnected vignettes from online influencer Old Xian. Then as the series became more popular, Old Xian decided to create a story around her two hilarious characters.

19 Days follows childhood best friends Jian Yi and Zhan Zheng Xi. Jian Yi is impulsive and energetic while Zheng Xi is responsible and stoic. These two friends enjoy school life together, but Jian Yi’s mysterious family ties eventually lead to his disappearance. Where did Jian Yi go?

This webcomic is the type of be hilariously funny one second and gut-wrenchingly sad the next. Though, it typically veers more towards the funny. If you’re into slow-burning romance, depictions of youthful friendships, and lots of laughs, you’ll love this series. It’s a gem among the BL genre.

Old Xian regularly updates the webcomic for free on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), but English-speaking BL fans continue to translate the series elsewhere. You can find an archive of the series so far here.

Medium Sexual Content

The manga cover of the love interest carrying the protagonist, and a page of the protagonist thinking about his flustered emotions

Mad Cinderella by Kotetsuko Yamamoto

On the the slightly less adult side list of BL, we have Mad Cinderella.

Despite billionaire Teijin Sakuichi and serviceman Kishi Ryota coming from two different worlds, they grew up as close friends. After a kidnapping attempt on Sakuichi that leads to Ryota becoming the victim, Sakuichi starts to see Ryota as both a hero and a love interest in his life. This leads to a confession and promise to marry after college. A few years later, guess who shows up at Ryota’s door?

What’s so great about Kotetsuko Yamamoto’s stories is that she often starts them with a confession instead of dragging out that part of the story. We then get to jump right into the budding romance.

In a genre that’s full of misunderstandings and miscommunication, it’s refreshing to read about a couple that is honest and upfront with their love for each other. In fact, their love is rarely the source for drama in the series, a trait that is fairly rare in BL comics.

If you want to jump in with us, you can purchase the first volume in the series through Juné Manga.

The cover with the two leads beside the counter at their job and a page of the protagonist describing the cold, jerkish guy he works with

Mr. Mini Mart by Junko

If you want simple and sweet but still memorable, this is the manga for you.

Endou Nakaba’s social life and self-esteem were destroyed by a past situation involving his sexuality. Upon obtaining a new job at a convenience store/mini-mart, Nakaba meets co-worker Yamai Kouhei. Kouhei’s confidence and attitude makes up for Nakaba’s lack of both, but Nakaba also finds him unapproachable.

As the two boys spend more time together, they learn from each other and also start to grow closer.

While this, of course, eventually ends in a romance, the manga’s friendship angle is beautiful and wholesome. In addition, the topic of growth and self-acceptance is simple and sweet—which is also a perfect description of this story. It’s a great read for someone looking for a light romance and not an all-out smutty book.

If that sounds like you, you can buy Mr. Mini Mart through Juné Manga.

The cover of the main character in pantyhose and two pages of the couple fooling around only for someone else to walk in on them

Jackass by Scarlet Beriko

Full disclosure: I am completely biased towards this next manga. In fact, it’s my favorite BL comic.

Jackass follows high school student Hara Keisuke and his two best friends. One, Katsumi, is an out and proud gay man who’s dealing with an older lover wanting to end things due to their age difference. Meanwhile, a bully, who’s clearly got a crush, has set his eyes on Katsumi. Keisuke’s other friend Masayuki, who’s handsome and rich, develops an interest in Keisuke after the latter dresses up in pantyhose.

With the drama around his two best friends, his newfound feelings towards one of them, and his desire to not burden his older sister/guardian, Keisuke’s got a lot on his mind. Will he be able to cope?

Again, this coming-of-age story is my favorite BL manga, so I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It has the sexy bits, but that’s not the focus. The focus is a bunch of fully realized characters with complex perspectives, stories, and developments.

In addition, the manga’s acknowledgement of actual gay life instead of focusing on straight men who happen to fall in love with each other is refreshing.

If you want to check out this wonderful series, you can buy it through SuBLime Manga.

The cover with the love interest bound and face pressed against a bare foot, and a page of the protagonist introducing his new bodyguard

Twittering Birds Never Fly by Kou Yoneda

CONTENT WARNING: Child sexual abuse (CSA)

This story is both a political drama and a slow-burn romance, but there’s plenty of sexually charged scenes to hold readers over.

Rising yakuza leader Yashiro meets former policeman Chikara Doumeki and hires him to work as a bodyguard. Despite his personal rule to never touch his underlings, Yashiro finds himself interested in Doumeki. Even further, Yashiro is amused by Doumeki’s rejection of his advances. But why would a cop join the yakuza?

This story is a long-game romance that takes place at the center of a great yakuza turf war. As such, readers who like more meat to their stories than kisses and confessions will love this series.

That said, the large cast of rough yakuza characters do not outshine our two main characters. In fact, they help to flesh out the world while also leaving space for Yashiro and Doumeki to explore themselves, their relationships, and their personal stakes in the turf war.

If you’re interested in political drama with a little romance on the side, you can buy the first three volumes of Twittering Birds Never Fly through Juné Manga.

Heavy Sexual Content

The cover with a close-up of a man in armor and two pages of sexually-charged face-touching

Lost in The Snow by Velvet Toucher

Lost in the Snow is a beautifully written story about an unexpected love that crosses social classes. It follows a young lord who’s wounded in a large battle during winter. He’s helped by a subordinate soldier and led into an abandoned cottage. There, the stranded couple, locked in by a blizzard, grow closer and become intimate.

To the many fans of manga and anime, this first recommendation might look a little off. The art style differs from typical manga/anime fashion, and the story focuses on a European setting. But don’t let that bother you.

Between beautiful artwork, intense sex scenes, and a story by a Japanese mangaka who loves producing Western themed stories from an Eastern perspective, this manga offers something unique and different for BL fans.

If you’re interested in purchasing this comic, you can buy it in volume form at Yaoi Revolution’s site or over at Juné Manga’s site. Otherwise, you can read it for free on Velvet Toucher’s website.

The cover with the protagonist being embraced from behind, and a page of the two meeting over a dispute at the protagonist's carpentry job

Punch Up! by Shiuko Kano

CONTENT WARNING: Child sexual abuse (CSA)

Mangaka Shiuko Kano is a popular creator who makes mature stories often involving construction workers. If you like abs, muscular men, and mature comics, this mangaka has your back. One of her most popular titles is the Punch Up! series, following the romance between construction worker Kouta Ohki and architect Motoharu Maki.

Kouta, who is hanging on to a verbally abusive boyfriend, finds a stray cat one day and takes it in. Unfortunately, that leads to Kouta’s eviction. Motoharu, the cat’s owner, then comes across the man and decides to offer him a home as thanks. Of course, a romance—and plenty of sex—follow.

I’ll be honest with you: This story is mostly about the sexual content, so adult readers will have a field day with this one. On top of that, it will give you a better idea of what you’ll get with other Shiuko Kano stories (which is again, abs, sex, and a dashing of romance).

Want to read the first four volumes in this series (in preparation for volume 5’s release next year)? Buy them through SuBLime Manga.

the cover with the two leads both sitting on a bicycle, and a page with the two talking awkwardly about the lead's ex-boyfriend

Escape Journey by Ogeretsu Tanaka

CONTENT WARNING: Depiction of rape

Escape Journey follows the reunion of former couple Naoto and Tachi. On their first day of college, the two reunite and end up in the same circle of friends. At first, they worry that their friendship will go by the wayside (like their former relationship). But as much as they resist, they soon find it impossible to fight their attraction to one another.

Escape Journey follows the couple as they walk the tightrope of jumping back into a relationship, having sex together, and finding out why their first go ended so terribly. This is a wonderful read that is both complex in its conversation around relationships and also spicy with several sex scenes.

However, it is important to note the inclusion of one rape scene in the first volume. While Ogeretsu Tanaka is lauded for her adult stories, both in plot and smut, she tends to perpetuate the worst of BL tropes, rape and abuse being the most abundant. Escape Journey avoids these tropes except for a five-page scene in the middle of the story. Some say it’s poorly executed but earnestly included for plot and not fetish-based. Others say it’s grotesque, unnecessary, and later glossed over. In the end, it’s all of the above.

That said, I think Escape Journey still belongs on this list for the majority of its content. And, if nothing else, its inclusion on this “starter guide” helps to signify common problems within the genre.

If you’re still interested, you can find the first volume (with volumes 2 and 3 set to release in English later) through SuBLime Manga.

Cover with Momo clinging to Yata and a page of the two having a playful argument

Yata & Momo by Harada

CONTENT WARNING: Conversations about sex work and CSA

My final recommendation by Harada is extremely erotic and also extremely endearing. While famous mangaka Harada is known for creating content with dark and adult subject matter, Yata & Momo uses a slightly lighter tone to address its adult theme.

The three-volume series starts off with an illicit situation between the titular couple: Hard-working and earnest Yata goes to visit his boyfriend Momo, who tries to entice Yata into having sex as a way to mooch money. Clearly, this is not a story for the faint of heart or conservative of mind.

That said, this beginning paves the way to an endearing love story between two idiots. Momo is a simple-minded ex-sex worker with a shady past and a troubled heart. As such, the fact that he was found by the big-hearted Yata (who loves to take care of broken things) is a romantic’s dream. Someone who’s only known the feeling of flesh on flesh found someone else to truly love him, and that is beautiful.

On top of that, the story doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex work. Throughout the story, Momo faces the people who forced him into a life of sex, his feelings for them, and his thoughts on the type of person he wants to be now.

While there is no official English print publication of this story yet, you can find the digital version on Renta!.

A cart full of books featuring two young men on the covers. Subtitles read "They're all BL books!"

That’s it for this list of BL comics from this Queer Fudanshi! Let me know if you readers have already checked out any of these series, if you’ve bought any of them, and if you think I missed an essential BL comic from your own list.

And for those new to the BL genre, welcome! Know that this genre is vast and diverse. Boys’ love transcends nationalities, world perspectives, and subgenres. Plus, it’s a genre that celebrates gay/bisexual male sexuality and inherently female sexuality too! I hope you’ll check out at least one story from this list and start your journey down the BL path. You won’t regret it.

Happy reading!

Editor’s Note:This article was updated after publication to include content warnings and elaborate on the sexual assault elements of Escape Journey.

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