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For the uninitiated, BL anime or Yaio are explicit. BL fans used to watching edited and censored stuff are fairly warned. From a list of 55 Japanese BL anime titles, I’m narrowing it down to my favorite 12.

Ranking guide: Basically entertainment value is tops, character development, storyline (of course), the animation itself and technical stuff including music. Some controversial issues may be part of certain series included on this list.

—Edited by TheFNGee

#12 – The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window – さんかく窓の外側は夜 (2021)

Hiyakawa on top Mikado featured in a scene for anime series The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window | Copyright 2021 Zero-G

The Story:

Shy bookstore clerk Kosuke Mikado has the ability to see ghosts and spirits, an ability he wishes he didn’t have since what he sees usually terrifies him. Rihito Hiyakawa, an exorcist whose supernatural powers are as strong as his social graces are weak, doesn’t seem to fear anything, mortal or otherwise. When this odd couple gets together to solve the bizarre cases that come their way, their work methods may not be entirely safe for work!

My Take:

Murder mystery, suspense, supernatural and some romantic interludes! This is not your usual BL anime due to its plot, yet very intriguing and quite suspenseful as well. Lovers of suspense-mystery series will appreciate its many moods – dark and foreboding!

#11 – Hitorijime, My Hero – ひとりじめマイヒーロー (2017)

Kousuke and Setagawa in a scene from Hitorijime, My Hero | Copyright 2017 Encourage Films

The Story:

Masahiro Setagawa, a hopeless teenager, has been coerced into joining a gang and is often bullied and used as a gopher boy. However, soon an infamous street fighter named Kousuke Ooshiba, or the “Bear Killer,” saves him. This man happens to be the older brother of his best friend Kensuke Ooshiba and his current homeroom teacher. Now Kousuke has claimed Masahiro as his “underling” and promises to protect him, but the feelings seem to run far deeper for both. Meanwhile, Kensuke is reunited with an old friend Asaya Hasekura, a popular pretty boy who declares his love for Kensuke and leaves Kensuke confused and unsure.

My Take:

Even after 5 years, I can still recall a few favorite scenes of this BL anime. The school, slice-of-life, romance mix is perfect! The interaction between Masahiro (the student) and his teacher, Kousuke, is both endearing and fun. Kensuke and the pretty boy Hasekura’s romantic interactions are not bad either. Plenty of humorous and intense situations will make viewers sympathetic to their relationships.

This anime is controversial because it explores the teacher-student dynamics.

#10 – Dakaichi: I’m Being Harassed By the Sexiest Man of the Year – 抱かれたい男1位に脅されています。(2018)

Trailer courtesy of Aniplex USA

The Story:

Takato Saijō, an actor since childhood, has been recognized as the “sexiest man of the year” in the entertainment industry for five consecutive years. However, his first-place position has been usurped by Junta Azumaya, a young newcomer actor. While Takato sees Junta as a rival, on the other hand, Junta admires Takato greatly and is in love with him.

My Take:

High level of engagement and entertainment value await viewers. Very versatile approach since the two leads are actors – they get to play diverse characters. The insider view on the Japanese showbiz scene is on point. I was smiling because it reminds me of news/gossip related to Thai casting and how this ‘news’ reflects on a real-life situation. Lots of sex scenes that may be too much for ‘conservative’ BL viewers, but quite done in good taste!

#9 – Yes, No, or Maybe? – イエスかノーか半分か (2020)

A pivotal scene from Yes, No, or Maybe? | Copyright 2020 Lesprit

The Story:

Kei Kunieda, a popular TV host, is known for his professional behavior, but his behavior is the opposite in private. One day, Ushio Tsuzuki, a stop-motion animator, discovers his off-camera personality when they run into each other at the grocery store, where a bicycle accident causes Ushio to injure his wrist. Kei is forced to help Ushio while he recovers, and in an attempt to prevent him from discovering his secret, he gives his name as “Owari.” However, Ushio comes to love him for who he truly is, and Kei struggles with his own feelings and hides the truth from him.

My Take:

What makes this BL anime a standout is that it tackles the basic question: Who am I?, but in a light, in-your-face manner that is not preachy or over-the-top. Kuneida and Tsuzuki and Owari give certain vibes that kept me curious and intrigued throughout the movie.

#8 – Yuri on Ice – ユーリ!!! on ICE (2016)

Yuri Katsuki and his competitors and friends on the ice! | Copyright 2016 MAPPA

The Story:

Yūri Katsuki carried all of Japan’s hopes on his shoulders to win at the Gran Prix Finale ice skating competition but suffered a crushing defeat. He returns home to Kyushu, and half feels like he wants to retire, and half feels like he wants to continue ice skating. Suddenly the five-time consecutive world championship ice skater Victor Nikiforov appears before him with Yuri Plisetsky, a young Russian figure skater who is already defeating his seniors. Victor and both Yuris take up the challenge on an unprecedented Gran Prix series.

Plot quote courtesy of Anime News Network

My Take:

Male ice skaters are a passion of mine, aside from male gymnasts, that is! American figure skater John Weir is a personal favorite. During the chaos surrounding the popularity of Yuri on Ice, it was Weir who made this anime even more prestigious – lending credence and believability to the skating scenes. Kenji Miyamoto (the animation’s choreographer) worked with Weir. Nothing much controversial with this anime, so start binged-watching!

#7 – Junjou Romantica – 純情ロマンチカ/ピュア ロマンス (2008, 2015)

Junjou Romantica BL couples | Copyright 2018-2015 Studio Deen

The Story:

Complex characters with separate and distinct stories – the main BL couple and Junjou Egoist, Junjou Terrorist and Junjou Mistake – the Terrorist arc being my favorite.

My Take:

One of the ‘older’ BL animes from Japan, featuring Chiaki Kon as director. Kon is one of the most sought-after anime directors in Japan – with a wide range of projects – not limited to BL. Japanese manga artist Shungiku Nakamura is the creator of Junjou and Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi (the better manga in my opinion).

There are 3 seasons of Junjou Romantica; the last one was made 7 years after the first 2 seasons and is not quite as involving as the first two installments. Yet, the first 2 seasons are good enough to enjoy and with which to get ‘acquainted’ with the world of BL animation. Note the wide age gap between the BL couples, a signature style from the author.

#6 – The Stranger by the Beach – 海辺のエトランゼ (2020)

Relatively new compared to some BL anime on this list, yet it’s quite poignant and powerful in its own way. The advancement in animation technology makes this anime so gorgeous and so fresh – its very details make it a standout. Focusing on a particular BL couple has many advantages.

Trailer courtesy of Studio Hibari | Panap Media

The Story:

Shun Hashimoto is an openly gay aspiring novelist living in Okinawa who was abandoned by his parents after coming out to them. Mio Chibana is a reserved, orphaned high school student, often found spending his time by the sea. One day, the two meet on the beach, and Shun is instantly captivated by Mio. The days fly by as they slowly begin to grow closer until Mio suddenly announces that he has to leave for the mainland. Three years pass before a 20-year-old Mio returns to Okinawa to confess his love to Shun. However, in those three years, Shun’s life has changed. Will he be able to accept Mio’s feelings and make such a commitment?

Plot quote courtesy of Anime News Network

My Take:

Unrequited love (?), familial relationship, rejection, and self-discovery – heavy stuff, right? Yet, Anime director Akiyo Ohashi should be commended for the stylistic and understated treatment of the subjects. One of my favorite BL couples, Shun and Mio has so much going for both! More than halfway through the film, the love scene is a major highlight; however, the “slice-of-life” scenes are just lovely! There is little age gap here – none at all, so the relationship is between two young Japanese who simply fell for each other.

This is my sentimental favorite BL anime!

#5 – Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi – 世界一初恋 〜小野寺律の場合〜 (2011)

Ritsu Onadera as he is about to be kissed by Takano Masamune in Sekaiichi Hatsukoi | Copyright 2011 Studio Deen

My Take:

I ranked Hatsukoi ahead of Romantica because I prefer the Onadera-Masamune dynamics to Misaki-Akihiko of Junjou, but both are BL couples worth a watch. I like Onadera’s character because he’s quite imperfect – he’s insecure and indecisive, yet he can be like a bulldog when it comes to being persistent.

The animation is as good as it gets (esp. in the 2005-2010 era), and the music is superb!

#4 – Given – ギヴン (2019)

Ritsuka and Mafuyu walk together in a scene from Given | Copyright 2019 Lerche

The Story:

Given is roughly divided into two major story arcs. The first arc, which focuses primarily on the relationship between Ritsuka and Mafuyu, follows the formation of the band and the lead-up to their first live performance. The second arc, which focuses primarily on the relationship between Akihiko and Haruki, follows the band as they prepare for their first music festival. After these two arcs, the manga is now going on with a third story arc, based on Hiiragi and Shizusumi’s relationship.

My Take:

I love the boy band concept and had the pleasure to watch Japanese drama with similar themes – making comparisons and enjoying them all. While the Ritsuka-Mafuyu dynamic is the focus of the anime, a follow-up movie centers on Akihiko and Haruki. What we have here are diverse, interesting characters worth the attention of BL lovers all over.

#3 – Banana Fish – バナナフィッシュ (2018)

Eiji Okamura and Ash Lynx enjoying a light moment in Banana Fish | Copyright 2018 MAPPA

The Story:

Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful; nurture made him a cold ruthless killer. A runaway brought up as the adopted heir and sex toy of “Papa” Dino Golzine, Ash, now at the rebellious age of seventeen, forsakes the kingdom held out by the devil who raised him. But the hideous secret that drove Ash’s older brother mad in Vietnam has suddenly fallen into Papa’s insatiably ambitious hands–and it’s exactly the wrong time for Eiji Okamura, a pure-hearted young photographer from Japan, to make Ash Lynx’s acquaintance… 

Plot quote courtesy of Anime News Network

My Take:

The shock value is high. The ‘homosexual relationship’ between Lynx and Okamura is subtle and understated, but with plenty of dynamics to enjoy the characters and their interactions. The anime set in New York City lends a different look and feel compared to the other 11 BL anime on this list.

#2 – Ai no Kusabi (Love Wedge) – 間の楔 (1992-1994, 2012)

Iason and Riki enjoy their last moment together | Copyright 1992-2012 Studio AIC

The Story:

In a future where social class is determined by the color of one’s hair, Iason sits at the top of the pecking order as a “blondie,” favored by everyone. He is given latitude in his daily life, but draws unwanted attention when he chooses to take a “mongrel” named Riki as his pet. Society has no taboos against staking claim to other humans, but the length and nature of this relationship brings unexpected

Plot quote courtesy Anime Planet

My Take:

This is my first Japanese BL anime, way back in 1998. I ranked it 2nd not because it’s my first but because of its emotional impact on me. Being used to standard Japanese anime, the sex scenes were quite a shock, but I was glued to my computer monitor from the start. The ending is one of the most poignant I have seen. Definitely not for everyone, so proceed at your own peril!

#1 – Doukyusei (Classmates) – 同級生 (2016)

The Story:

‘Classmates’ follows the developing relationship between two high school boys, Rihito Sajou and Hikaru Kusakabe. What started out as choir rehearsals turned into something deeper and meaningful. While Kusakabe appears secure about his sexuality, Sajou hesitates to dive deeper.

My Take:

The ‘water-color’ style of animation was what got me hooked. The character development of Sajou and Kusakabe was believable, enjoyable, and captivating. I can’t help myself re-watching scenes just for the sheer pleasure of it!

This anime has both substance and form – making me entirely convinced that it’s the best (for now).

Other Recommendations: Super Lovers, Hybrid Child and Hyperventilation.

Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!

John Ken

Author John Ken

Just a blogger.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Daring to Dream says:

    Since #3,4, 8 and 11 are ones I’ve seen and enjoyed- look forward to seeing some of the ones I’ve never heard of:)

    No 6 is one I’ve liked quite a bit- what is your take?

    • John Ken says:

      Hmmm. No. 6 is highly recommended. It was a satisfying watch for me. I just saw it a few weeks ago, and it was just terrific. The Stranger by the Beach has some very funny scenes to enjoy, plus the interaction between the two leads – excellent!

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