Thai Boys-Love Series: What You Should Know (The “Y” Chronicle Part II)
What might spring to your mind, when you hear someone mention Thailand? — Beautiful beaches, muay Thai, one of the world’s most famous cuisine? How about boys-love (BL) series? In recent years, Thailand is, arguably, becoming one of the leading players in the production of boys-love series, with productions attracting a rapidly rising number of fans across the globe. Some of you reading this might even belong to the said fanbase, while others, despite not having watched any Thai boys-love dramas, may have heard of the genre in passing, thanks to its ubiquity on social media. In this article, we will take a deep dive together into this intriguing rising star within the realm of Thai popular phenomenon, exploring what constitutes such series, how it came to be, and how it gained popularity. Whether you are already a die-hard fan, or whether you are new to the genre, there will certainly be tidbits of interesting information waiting for you!
This article is the second in a three-part article series, aiming to investigate Thai boys-love genre, starting from Thai boys-love literature in the first and concluding with the boys-love fandom in the last.
What is Boys-Love Drama?
As the name of the genre suggests, boys-love (BL) series are series that depict a romantic relationship between two male protagonists, usually in the foreground of the main narrative. In spite of this, the boys-love genre is not synonymous with the western LGBTQ+ genre, whose main focus is usually on the portrayal of issues, prejudices, or hardships faced by people in the community. On the contrary, boys-love dramas typically depict an idealized romance between the main characters, providing a more escapist tone to the main narrative, although this is not to say (as we will later see) that the genre completely lacks any attempts to bring about a more realistic representation of same-sex couples. Nonetheless, one of the key characteristics of boys-love genre, is the depiction of relationship dynamic between the main characters in terms of a dominant and submissive trope, or as it is commonly known by the Japanese terms seme and uke. This is often reflected in the characterizations of the protagonists, with the dominant character possessing more masculine physical attributes, and the submissive character appearing more effeminate or androgynous. Traditionally, Thai boys-love series commonly tell a story of budding love between male high-schoolers, or university students, but, as we will later see, the core narrative has, in recent time, become far more varied.
Although the term boys-love, or its abbreviation “BL”, is more prevalently used internationally to denote the genre, it is more commonly referred to as waai (วาย) or “Y” in Thai. This term is derived from the first letter of the Romanized spelling of the Japanese expression for the genre yaoi. The term waai functions as an adjective and can be added, according to Thai grammar, after any media formats, such as siirii waai (“Y” series), niyaai waai (“Y” novels), kaatuun waai (“Y” comics). So, the next time you encounter “Y” alongside any Thai series, you will now be able to recognize it as belonging to the BL genre.
How Thai Boys-Love Drama Came to Be
Although Thai boys-love genre rose to the current international prominence through television and internet dramas, the first incarnation of the genre in Thailand was the translated Japanese yaoi mangas, which began to enter the market during the 1990s. Initially, the genre was not as widespread and was only circulated among niche groups, consisting mostly of female readers. During this era, boys-love mangas could only be bought or rented from a small number of bookstores, especially those in the vicinity of Siam Square. Nonetheless, the rise of the Internet in the mid to late 2000s contributed substantially to the growth of the genre, as it allowed for the establishment of various online forums and web-boards, where communities of fans of the genre, as well as aspiring authors can create, publish, and share their work with others. One prime example of such platform is Dek-D.com, where numerous of the original boys-love novels that were later adapted into series, such as Love Sick can still be found. As a result, the genre started to expand from mangas into other literary formats, such as novelizations of the translated mangas, fan arts, fan fictions, etc. This growing repository of boys-love literatures in Thailand served as a solid foundation for the soon-to-come series industry, a lot of which were adapted from the novels. Nevertheless, support for the genre were still limited.
Major attention was first drawn onto the genre through the screening of the critically acclaimed blockbuster Rak haeng Siam or Love of Siam in 2007. The movie tells a story of two estranged, following a familial tragedy, childhood best friends, portrayed by Mario Maurer and Witwisit Hiranyawongkul, who, after their reunion in their late teenage years, discovered a budding romantic feeling between each other. Consequently, the motion picture has been regarded by some as “the first yaoi piece in Thai film cycle” and has paved ways for various productions companies for prime-time television, such as GMMTV, to consider adapting boys-love novels into series, including those on the aforementioned online platforms. For those interested in the movie, it is currently available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime and AppleTV.
Love of Siam (2017)
The first major breakthrough for the industry came in 2014 when the series adaptation of the boys-love novel on Dek-D.com Love Sick: The Chaotic Lives of Blue Shorts Guys, considered by many academics as “the first complete Thai yaoi television series”, was aired on Channel 9 (MCOT), one of the biggest and widely viewed channels in the country. The series follows a story of an entangled web of romance among high-schoolers. The light-hearted plot coupled with the exposure gained from being aired on national television led to the series’ success. Following this, the genre began to garner a much wider recognition in the country, leading to the gradual growth of the industry, prompting many productions companies to adapt more existing boys-love novels into series or to create their own originals.
The genre saw its massive surge in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, where people were subjected to lockdowns. One of the things people were doing at the time was indulging themselves with streaming services. Seeking for more new contents, many began to get hooked to the boys-love series, which provided them with light-hearted, escapist narratives during the dire time. One of the most popular streaming platforms for boys-love series at the time was, unfortunately, now defunct LINE TV; however, a lot of productions companies as well as television channels also uploaded their series onto other streaming platforms, such as YouTube and Netflix, while many studios also opted to publish their dramas as web-series, hosted on the aforementioned platforms.
The Recipe for Success
The present day massive success of Thai boys-love series can be attributed to several factors. Among the most important is the open-minded environment that provides the genre with a space to grow and reach its potential. Stemming from the openness of Thais to let people be themselves, many stigmatized groups are usually tolerated in Thai culture, including, of course, same-sex couples. As can be seen from several records, non-binary people have existed and have been recognized within Thai society for ages, without being actively prosecuted by the authority for the most part. This, naturally, continues on to today, where Thailand, for example, is well-known for its prominent transgender community. Unsurprisingly, this open-mindedness allows for the boys-love series to flourish, without suffering major conservative backlash or prohibitions from the authority. Nonetheless, it should also be acknowledged that, as open-minded as Thais are, there are still some imperfections regarding the treatments of the LGBTQ+ community in Thailand. Despite this, great efforts have been made, especially in the recent time, to alleviate such injustice and pave ways for Thai society to fully embrace diversity.
KinnPorsche the Series (2022)
Also contributing tremendously to the massive boom of the series, are the light-hearted and escapist storylines. Markedly, the main romantic narratives within the genre are usually idealized, ostensibly, putting more emphasis on the flourishing of the relationship and providing the audiences with a rose-tinted view into the budding romance. In addition to that, the story typically concludes on a happy ending, with the relationship being successful. Anecdotally, this lighthearted narrative and beautiful depiction of love are often what captivate both the current and prospective fans.
Furthermore, the high and constantly improving quality of productions of Thai boys-love series can also be considered as another key ingredient for their success. Not only does the cinematography typically complement the aforementioned romantic storyline very well, the onscreen tracks accompanying the drama are often praised for how well they can contribute to the general uplifting atmosphere and ambience, both through the well-written lyrics and well-composed scores. An example of this can be seen through the song Wish This Love or ไม่ว่าอะไร from the series Love by Chance (2018). The series tells a story of a budding romance between a shy guy and an outgoing athletic guy studying at the same university, who meet each other through a coincidence. Likewise, the song sings of how being together with you always brings me joy and how we will be together through thick and thin, echoing the connection between the two protagonists.
Love by Chance (2018)
Credits should also be given to the actors in the boys-love series, who can enthrall the audiences through the charms and personalities manifested through the characters they portrayed. The aforesaid talent of the actors coupled with the ingenuity of production crews, hence, culminate in the overall appealing quality of Thai boys-love drama, which, in turn, constitutes the component for the series’ success.
Internationally, the genre owes its success to the plethora of online streaming platforms, which have recently seen a spike in usage following the pandemic. This, naturally, allows for the series to reach worldwide audiences, forming an ever-growing community of international fans and sparking wider interest in Thai culture and language. If you would like to enrich your Thai boys-love series experience, we really recommend you to consider learning Thai! Not only will you be able to better immerse yourself into the series, you will also be able to connect with over 30 million native speakers and delve into elegant and rich culture and history.
The Present Day
Although, as mentioned earlier, Thai boys-love series used to be dominated by high-school or college love narratives, nowadays, thanks to its recent massive boom, it has since become tremendously more diverse. Various new creative, more profound, and intriguing storylines are appearing more and more on the scene. A prime example of this is seen in the series Manner of Death (2020), which recounts a story of a medical examiner Bun and his investigation into a death, while also being entwined in a complicated relationship with one of the suspect. The series is guaranteed to provide you with not only romance, but also thrill and suspense (Available on WeTV). Another interesting example is the horror-themed drama Ghost Host Ghost House (2022), which follows the story of a ghost hunting streamer Kevin who unknowingly comes to live under the same roof as the paranormal creatures and, along the way, meets with a mysterious empathetic young man named Pleum. Together, they are forced to confront a difficult truth (Available on VibieGen channel on YouTube). Also worth mentioning is the period boys-love drama To Sir, with Love (2022). The series is arguably among the first to attempt to marry the boys-love genre with the conventional Thai soap opera or lakhon, with various plot points and conflicts found in conventional period melodramas being seamlessly added in. Centered upon Chinese diaspora, the drama features the struggle of a same-sex relationship within the community, amid the struggle for power in an affluent family (Available on One31.net). Of course, these are only just a small set of examples. As a matter of fact, there are many more interesting and captivating boys-love series, with distinct and innovative stories, for you to enjoy!
To Sir, with Love (2022)
In recent time, there have, furthermore, been numerous attempts to bring about a more authentic representation for the LGBTQ+ community in Thai boys-love series. In addition to the aforementioned light-hearted romantic storyline, many series nowadays also depict social issues, as well as the struggles commonly faced by the people in the community. For instance, a coming-of-age series I Told Sunset About You (2020), which follows the story of two high-schoolers in their senior year with conflicted feelings about each other, depicts not only the romantic aspects of the protagonists’ relationship, but also the struggle they have to face, both internal and external. Anecdotally, this makes the main characters much more relatable and appear more humanized and less idealized, promoting the notion of normalcy and validity of same-sex love (available on LINE Today). Also worth mentioning is the recent emerging trend of subtle deviation from the seme-uke trope. This can, for instance, be seen in the action-packed BL series KinnPorsche The Series La Forte (2022), which follows the story of Porsche, a college one-time national martial arts champion, who reluctantly helped Kinn, a son born into mafia crime family, during a carfuffle with a rival gang after Kinn agreed to compensate him. Impressed by his combat skill, Kinn decided to hire Porsche as his personal bodyguard. Soon conflicting feelings began to develop within Porsche, as he encountered several events on his new job that led him to become closer with Kinn (available on iQIYI). In this series, both of the main protagonists are not portrayed in line with the masculine and feminine trope.
I Told Sunset About You (2022)
Modern Thai boys-love series is reported to help “mend” the suffering experienced by the people in LGBTQ+ community by providing a subtle but effective tool, by which groups of conservatives who have misunderstood the community to gain better understandings for those people. Moreover, the proliferation of Thai boys-love series also promotes a sense of normalcy towards same-sex relationships, which, arguably, culminates in the recent push towards the legalization of same-sex marriage in Thailand.
As you can see, there is no time like the present for you to give your first Thai boys-love series a try, as the industry is heading into an ever-brighter direction! But be warned, once you have started, you might not be able to turn away from your screen!
With that being said, Thai boys-love series industry has, since, come a long way. From its early days as a niche market to its rise to prominence in the global market, the success of Thai boys-love series highlights the openness inherent in Thais’ mentality, where compassion is mostly given to diverse groups of people and everyone is respectfully allowed to be who they are, with every kind of love as valid and beautiful as the other. In the next article, we will continue our journey into the boys-love fandom culture in Thailand, so stay tuned! In the meantime, how about we kill some time with high-quality Thai boys-love series? To help you get started, we have hyperlinked all of the series mentioned in this article. So, feel free to click on any that interests you and enjoy!
2gether: the Series (2020)
The story of BL series is another fascinating aspect of Thailand’s popular culture. The Thai characteristic of openness towards people with different ways of life has allowed for the BL genre to thrive within the country and, eventually, reach international popularity. Today, Thai BL media continues to grow, pushing towards new heights and addressing more social needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Join us in exploring more stories of Thailand and the Thai people, as we take you on a journey to discover Thainess.
- Prasannam, N. (2019). The yaoi phenomenon in Thailand and fan/industry interaction. Plaridel, 16(2), 63-89.
A special thank to Phuritat Hongwiwat, a graduate student at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, and a boys-love-serie aficionado, for providing the author with preliminary insights into the genre.
Author: Yodsawin Uaychinda
Editor: Tayud Mongkolrat