Top 10 BL Narratives
BLs With The Best Stories
Until We Meet Again (Thailand) - will probably always top this list. It’s a perfectly executed story and the only BL I want to see adapted or read professionally translated. Adapted from a novel.
Color Rush (Korea) - you all know how much I love this show, I lost my mind over the allegory and the perfection of the story to the point of forgiving it certain other sins in stiffness and low heat. Original screenplay. Adapted from a manhwa.
Seven Days (Japan) - this is a pitch perfect elegant little romance that stays completely true to its yaoi roots but neatly avoids all the flaws of the genre. Adapted from a manga.
1000 Stars (Thailand) - all BL is romantic, but not all BL is a modern romance in the literary sense of the term, but 1k* is just that, an absolutely glorious slow burn romance that nods at BL but isn’t behooven to it. Adapted from a novel.
Cherry Magic (Japan) - just a great fluffy concept that is given gravity by some stellar performances. Adapted from a manga.
He's Coming to Me (Thailand) - such a clever take on both paranormal romance and the cohabitation trope, what I love about this is how closely the story and the supernatural conceits are married to each other. Adapted from a novel.
HIStory 3: Trapped (Taiwan) - Taiwan often struggles with story because their BLs aren’t long enough to really get stuck in (and they don’t adapt). Trapped is different, it has a baby murder investigation that promotes conflict between the leads, so the romantic tension is between plot and character, it’s so smart. Original screenplay (I think).
Nobleman Ryu’s Wedding (Korea) - this has a 12th Night feel to it, plus some great story tricks like a plot that requires a historical setting (I love it when narrative elements are codependent). Original screenplay (I think).
Manner of Death (Thailand) - sure the plot makes no sense but that’s only one small bit of this story, which was a highly absorbing and entertaining mess. Adapted from a novel.
Long Time No See (Korea) - it’s short but still has a pretty great story, the pitch is so clean - two hitmen fall in love not knowing they are on opposing sides, or do they? Original screenplay (I think).
(List is in ranked order of my personal preference.)
Neither of these are strictly BL, but...
3 Will Be Free (Thailand) - such clever storytelling that builds tension with both plot and the balance of suspense and flashbacks and the developing love between both sets of characters (both the 3 being chased and the 2 doing the chasing). Original screenplay (I think).
Great Men Academy (Thailand) - body-swap means this isn’t technically BL but like 3 Will Be Free I have to talk about it because it just such a great story. For body-swap it’s particularly clever. Original screenplay (I think).
A quick word on the nature of story & narrative.
Story is not the same thing as plot, lots of people make this mistake. Plot is one element of story. Here’s a simple way of looking at narrative:
Who is in the narrative - the characters, their interactions & development
What happens - plot, how the characters move through space & time, what actions they take, who they encounter
When does it occur - temporal location but also time frame (over the course of a week, a year?) foreshadow & backstory
Where is it located - setting in time & space
Why we care - core concept, theme & messaging
How it unfolds - motivation, tension, conflict, & consistency
All BL, at its heart, is about two characters falling in love and/or fighting to maintain that love. One of the reasons to study cinematic narrative is to understand how tropes (situations) and archetypes (characterizations) can be used to formulate story under a romance framework.
For me, good storytelling allows me to cleanly comprehend all 6 elements above, as well as the general point of view. I also like it when elements are married to (or dependent on) each other (for example, a plot point that could only occur in a historical setting). I like it when visuals (directing style, wardrobe, etc) as well as tropes and archetypes are used to serve the story (Korea does this) and not be the story (Thai BL pulps do this).
Some of my favorite BLs of all time are not on the above list. E.g To My Star and We Best Love because while I adore them for many reasons story structure is definitely not one of them. This is where visual pop culture can win over literary - in cinema a weak story can be elevated by killer acting, directing, chemistry, visual elements, production etc... (Of course a strong author voice can carry a written work too. Terry Pratchett, for example, is weak on story but hella strong on voice.)
The purpose of these products is entertainment, I happen to be entertained by strong story, so I will often rate BLs higher because of it.
Asian Film Industries & Story Content Mechanics
Original screenplays are more common in BL over all, but my list actually leans towards adaptations. That’s because i think Thailand, the biggest BL producer, tends to do better with adaptations, so far as story is concerned.
Thailand has more y-novels than mangas, which is what they tend to adapt.
Japan has more yaoi mangas than gay novels, so that’s what they turn into BL (AKA live action yaoi).
Korea does not have a robust original written content machine (read: v. small publishing industry that’s not queer friendly). And Korea doesn’t want to spend money to acquire/option adaptation rights from Japan (for good reasons, mostly cultural, political, and historical). So most of their stuff tends to be original screenplays (and rather weak on story structure partly also because of length).
Taiwan has Korea’s problem of a small publishing industry, but without Korea’s money to spend on production, so they also can’t really afford to buy rights to adapt. What they have is killer talent, chemistry, and plucky enthusiasm, so boy do I wish they would get better story.
Not Talked About
Vietnamese and Pinoy BL are both very young industries still finding their legs, much of their stuff is pretty experimental narratively (read... it waffles). Which is the main reason I don’t follow those two as closely as I do other BL producing countries. I think that it’s just a matter of them coming to terms with the 6 narrative elements in a way that translates more tight and clear on the screen. It’s gonna take some time.
(List is current as of completed BLs end of July 2021. New BLs may change matters.)
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henlo sir m'am uh i wanted to ask if you'd be kind enough to give me a summary on what "2ha" is about? i've seen it around and have wanted to get into it but i'm a wuss and don't like jumping in blindly ; u ;
yeah of course!!
what is 2ha?
so 2HA aka ER HA aka THE DUMB HUSKY AND HIS WHITE CAT SHIZUN is a m/m chinese fantasy novel by meatbun (that’s the author’s handle) clocking in at about 300 chapters. it has lots of warnings associated with it which can be found at the start of various chapters. before i go on, here are links to the google drives where you can read it:
translation from 1-117
mtl from 117-321
it’s going to be made into a live action titled IMMORTALITY and all the art in this post is official concept art from that adaptation. the author also refers to the novel as “this venerable one has been reformed” which would probably make more sense as a title since the novel is not at all what the common title suggests.
what’s it about?
it’s basically a time travel fix-it story. the premise is that the evil emperor of the cultivation world, mo ran, dies and is transported back to his 15 year old body before the events that lead to him becoming the worst person in the world. he realizes he has a chance to stop the death of his friend, shi mei, that lead to his descent into evil the first time, and there’s our story–but don’t be fooled. the person he blames for that death is his shizun, chu wanning, and that is the other half of our main pairing.
in their original life, after mo ran made himself emperor and started terrorizing the world, chu wanning was the only cultivator powerful enough to defy him. he took responsibility for mo ran’s descent as his shizun and thwarted him three times before he finally fell to mo ran, in dramatic fashion. he’s an ascetic in all ways, beautiful and cold, purer than pure and without emotion other than being short-tempered (or so it seems). after he fell in the first life, mo ran made him his prisoner and took out both his anger and his lust on his once-shizun, and that’s where most of the warnings for dark content come into play. i’ll let you fill in the blanks.
of course, nothing is as it seems, and the truths mo ran built his previous life begin to fall apart under fresh examination. the most devastating? chu wanning never hated mo ran, and will give anything to protect him–literally–and those stakes couldn’t be higher. we soon learn this redux life isn’t going the way mo ran’s previous one went at all; someone else is getting a chance at a redo, too, and whatever they want, the danger to the people mo ran cares for is vast. he’ll have to get stronger fast to protect the people he needs to–and he’ll have to figure out who that is before it’s too late.
tl;dr and gentle warnings
tl;dr: take an evil emperor forced to relive his teens and twenties who spent much of his previous life exacting revenge on the world in general and chu wanning in specific, a cold shizun who actually feels 800 emotions a day but is too awkward to show any of them, and then throw in a lot of ghosts and demons, epic love, sacrifice, dire misunderstandings, incredible settings, fun side characters, a big mystery, and you’ve got 2HA.
anyway i would be remiss at this point if i didn’t warn a little bit: mo ran really was horrible in his previous life. nothing about this story is sanitized, but it’s also not gratuitous. this is basically character growth: the novel, and both mo ran and chu wanning have to go through hell first to get there. if you like hurt/comfort, you will love this. i actually really enjoyed reading those vignettes on who mo ran used to be and how compelling and yet deeply screwed up his relationship with chu wanning was then. it makes the payoff even better. also, some may find the initial age gap uncomfy since cwn is of ambiguous immortal-beauty age and mo ran starts as a 30+ year old in a 15 year old’s body. i didn’t care or find it distasteful since nothing happens until mo ran is well out of his teens. honestly, i feel like the only thing that really needs to be warned for is the fucking incredible amount of thirst that the main characters go through from chapter 140 on. i never read pining until i read this.
you will like it if…
you like the trope where one half of the pairing disdains the other half and blames them for something that wasn’t their fault and then the person being blamed does something self-sacrificial and the blamer realizes how wrong they were and tries to fix it, if you like character growth, if you like hurt/comfort and fluff, if you like fantasy, etc.
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