Boys’ love manga (BL manga), like other romance manga, is an all-encompassing genre. You will find anything from fantasy to your standard slice of life stories. As the name suggests, the stories in Boys’ Love manga are always about a romantic relationship between two boys (or men). These manga often also often have a larger than usual cast of characters that are boys and men.
In addition, similarly to shoujo manga, BL manga is a genre that is written primarily by women and for women (and to a slightly lesser degree gay men). These stories can contain sexual content or be fairly vanilla. This depends entirely on the story and the mangaka in question.
In the past, many of these stories arguably leaned more towards a kind of fantastical and slightly unrealistic portrayal of love between two men. However, as awareness of LGBTQ+ issues continues to increase, the nature of boys’ love stories continues to involve.
Read More: Essential Yuri Manga (Girls’ Love)
The Sweetest BL Manga (Boys’ Love)
This list of BL manga includes seven more contemporary works in the boys’ love genre. While generally short, they focus more on real issues — including bullying and other forms of harassment. Some of the manga also contain sexual content, though stories containing rape troupes have been avoided for obvious reasons. Such volumes will be indicated when introduced when possible.
Translated by Amber Tamosaitis
Not all BL manga contains sexual content and Our Dining Table (Bokura no shokutaku) is one such manga. Only a singular volume, this is the perfect story for anybody who appreciates the more subtle parts of building a relationship and doesn’t mind only getting a glimpse of where the relationship could go.
This manga follows the life of a salaryman named Yutaka. Even though he’s an excellent cook, he has trouble eating around other people due to childhood trauma.
However, his life changes when he meets Minoru and his little brother Tane at the park near his workplace. After eating his delicious food, the brothers ask him to teach them how to make it. He starts going to their house and slowly begins to be able to eat around and open up to other people again. He also manages to find love on the way.
Though short, Our Dining Table is sweet and honest in its portrayal of romance and relationships between two adults. If you are a beginner in boys’ love or would like a palate cleanser (pun intended) from some of the more explicit stories available, this is definitely the right manga for you.
Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani
Translated by Jocelyn Allen
Much like Our Dining Table, Our Dreams at Dusk (Shimanami Tasogare) is a queer BL manga without a focus on sexual content. Instead, this is a quiet, beautiful, sombre manga about identity, honesty, self-realisation, and blossoming.
Set in the coastal city of Onomichi, Our Dreams at Dusk follows Tasuku, a gay teenager who, in the manga’s first chapter, is being tormented by classmates who found gay porn on Tasuku’s phone. As he stands looking at the sea, contemplating suicide, he sees a girl in the distance do just that.
Except he doesn’t. After rushing over to where she was, he sees that she’s fine, and that she is the proprietor of a strange “drop-in center”, a place for anyone to come and talk and be safe.
In the following chapters, Tasuku gets to know the people of the drop-in centre, including a young lesbian named Haruko who works for a nonprofit that rebuilds dilapidated local houses. It’s through his blossoming relationships with other queer and misfit people that Tasuku is able to come out to himself and to them.
Our Dreams at Dusk excels at visual storytelling. Mangaka Yuhki Kamatani uses strong visual imagery, such as a character breaking down walls with a crowbar, to demonstrate inner turmoil and awakenings. This is a beautiful BL manga, both in its art and its character writing. If you’ve ever struggled with your identity in any way, or know someone who has, you’ll find comfort and warmth in Our Dreams at Dusk.
Dick Fight Island by Reibun Ike
Translated by Adrienne Beck
Your instincts might tell you that a BL manga titled Dick Fight Island can’t be wholesome. Hold that thought.
The premise of Dick Fight Island is a simple one: on an archipelago of eight islands, a tournament is held every four years to determine the new ruler. The contestants are chosen combatants from each of the eight islands. All combatants are pretty bishounen boys, and each island has its own distinct culture, style, and aesthetics.
The tournament is structured as a series of one-on-one arena fights, and the loser of each fight is the one who ejaculates first. The men wear armour to protect their crotches, and must do what they must to expose, arouse, and satisfy their opponent. This is an extremely camp, silly, funny, sexy, erotic, and explicit BL manga. But it is also very wholesome.
Beyond the silliness, humour, and intense eroticism is a very wholesome message: that victory can be decided through love, pleasure, intimacy, and fun, rather than through bloodshed, propaganda, manipulation, and deceit.
There is so much wholesomeness to Dick Fight Island; a manga that teaches peace and the power of sexual pleasure. It being very funny and sexy only serves to reinforce that simple and wholesome message. On top of all of that, Reibun Ike’s art is exquisite. The way she has designed the characters, clothing, and environments is a joy to behold.
See you later, Mermaid by Dento Hayane
Translated by Anonymous (Amimaru)
Another sweet and innocent boys’ love manga that can be enjoyed in a single volume, See you later, Mermaid (same title in Japanese) can be found only on boys’ love manga monthly subscription site futekiya.
Yours truly did the proofreading for the volume and may be a bit biased, but the purity of this volume is not to be ignored. See you later, Mermaid starts in a rural seaside town where the characters Tatsumi and Kazushi find themselves on the same beach and eventually learn that they are staying at the same inn.
Tatsumi is quiet and melancholy for reasons that are unknown, but is invited to drink at the inn by Kazushi after he assists him with some sand that has gotten into his eye. After the two begin drinking together, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to both of their pasts than meets the eye.
Between flashbacks and drunken conversations, readers will quickly find themselves drawn into their tragic pasts before being thrown into a much brighter future. This is a lovely BL manga and, like Our Dining Table, a very easy read without any explicit content.
However, before diving in, it should be made clear that there is brief mention of domestic violence in the manga. If this is something that would bother you, See you later, Mermaid may be best left for another time.
Translated by Melissa Goldberg
Yet another one-volume BL manga, Mr. Mini-Mart (Konbini-kun) ups the ante when it comes to having a firm message and in that it is the first volume and only on our list that deals with sex explicitly.
It’s been released for several years now, but it avoids a lot of the classic troupes and touches more directly on very real aspects of the gay experience that a lot of boys’ love manga tends to lack.
The main character of Mr. Mini-Mart, Nakaba, has dropped out of school after being outed and taunted for his gayness. As a result, he has become somewhat of a NEET and never leaves the house. In an effort to help him, his mother gets him a job at a local convenience store.
She hopes that this will bring him out of his shell and let him return to society despite his trauma. However, when Nakaba starts working, he is shocked to meet the more abrasive Yamai, with dyed hair and a harsh expression.
That being said, the two soon become close despite their differences and the unconfident Nakaba starts to regain himself through Yamai’s support. As Nakaba continues to gain confidence, his relationship with Yamai only continues to grow stronger.
This volume of manga is compelling for a lot of reasons. The artwork of Junko is excellent, but the fact that the story really focuses on real life issues is where Mr. Mini-Mart really shines. Abuse related to sexuality continues to be a problem and it is always refreshing to see when a boys’ love story can tackle such an important topic without being too heavy and in such a short volume. Definitely recommend it.
Translated by Junko Goda
Definitely the heavy lifter of the list, Given is a BL manga that has gained quite the following, with an excellent anime and movie as well. Unlike the previous titles, we get to see what boys’ love can look like in a high school setting in this series.
While only two of the main characters are in high school, the story really dives head first into what it means to discover your sexuality and deal with the loss of loved ones. Given is the story of two high school students, Uenoyama and Mafuyu, and two university students, Kaji and Haruki, who are all in love with music.
Uenoyama and Mafuyu meet in the stairwell of their school while skipping class. Mafuyu has a mysterious guitar that he can’t play and asks Uenoyama, a music prodigy, to teach him.
At first Uenoyama refuses, but is soon begging Mafuyu to join his band with Haruki and Kaji because of his beautiful yet melancholic vocals. With permission from Haruki and Kaji, Mafuyu joins the band. However, there is more to Mafuyu than meets the eye. He has experienced a terrible loss that he is unable to put into words.
He has a very difficult time voicing how he feels, but has an uncanny awareness of the situations of others. Through the band, Mafuyu finds his voice again and helps the other members deal with their own pasts.
While the series is ongoing at the time of writing, it is undoubtedly a story about growth. It shows clearly many of the issues people face and really focuses on showing that these issues can happen regardless of age. It’s a passionate story that any lover of music or boys’ love, or even heartwarming stories in general, is sure to enjoy.
Be warned, though — there is mention of suicide in the story and it is pertinent to the plotline and cannot be avoided. Given would be best avoided if this would be triggering for you.
Translated by Adrienne Beck
Seven Days: Monday–Sunday is the only other high school story on this BL manga list. Also another older work, the story is simple in nature and has a really strong “growing up” vibe.
However, unlike given, the story is published in a single volume (depending on published edition) and has a narrower focus that largely concentrates on the two romantic interests.
Third year student Yuzuru Shino is well-known for only dating people for one week. He will start dating someone on Monday and inevitably break up with them on Sunday. This is because Shino has determined that he will know if he has fallen in love or not within only seven days.
The story begins on a Monday, where he asks out fellow archery club and first year student Toji Seryo on a whim. Seryo says yes. Until this point, Shino has never dated a fellow boy (man?) before. However, as Tuesday arrives, the two begin to feel attracted to each other.
In a mix of joke and seriousness, they begin to develop their relationship and through the process, understand what it means to connect to another human being on a deeper level. As Sunday approaches, tensions are high and we are left wondering what Shino will decide to do at the end of the week. This story is a sex-free and honest love story between two high school students.
Love is for all ages and even those that have long since left high school are sure to enjoy and maybe even relive the excitement that was their first high school romance. It’s a bit older now, but an absolute must-read for boys’ love manga.
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
No Touching At All is yet another precious and essential BL manga that is compiled into a single volume. It’s a story that is really based in the trauma and shame of being gay that many people still feel.
Being unable to be open about sexuality and the shame associated with that is unfortunately still a really common occurrence. While being both a debut work and written in the mid-2000’s, the mangaka manages to create a poignant story that doesn’t diminish this problem.
The story starts with Shima, who is on his way to a new job. We quickly find out that he quit his last job because of the shame he felt when the man there who was dating him broke up with him – the reason being his own shame for dating and being attracted to a man.
As such, Shima has resolved himself to keep his distance from his new colleagues. However, his cigarette smoking boss, Togawa, who is apparently straight, can’t seem to leave him alone.
Though Shima remains reserved, Togawa is unrelenting in his advances to understand what makes Shima tick. Soon, their relationship develops into something only sexual (portrayed, but not explicitly so) – at least that is what it appears to be on the surface.
There is so much to say about this volume, but doing so would likely ruin the experience. It’s a story that really thrives on its simplicity and does an excellent job of showing how past traumas can affect relationships. It is also an exceptional example of the importance of communication.
This story makes the list as the personal favourite and is not recommended lightly. There are moments where it shows its age, but the overall theme is timeless and deserves to be enjoyed.
Translated by Anonymous/Stephen Kohler
Yet another debut piece, this BL manga is still ongoing at the time of writing. It also happens to be the first and only story on the list that has a main character that has a physical disability. In this way, it adds an extra layer of complexity to the already complex nature of self-discovery that is prevalent through the manga.
The pure and delicate approach that has been taken by the author to ensure that all parties are properly represented should not be discounted or underplayed when reading this story. Taichi is an outspoken and spunky university student that often finds himself fired for getting into fights – thus he is often hungry and without lunch.
On one such day, he finds himself tripping and falling in front of fellow student Kohei, who happens to have a delicious looking lunch. Upon realizing how hungry is, Kohei gives Taichi his lunch.
We quickly find out that Kohei has reduced hearing due to an illness that he had as a child. This has resulted in him becoming withdrawn from others because he has trouble hearing them. However, he can hear Taichi’s voice clearly and they quickly become friends due to their differences in personality.
However, they are not without their struggles. Taichi is initially unaware of the problems associated with Kohei’s hearing loss. It’s just as much a journey of his learning about Kohei’s disability as it is a journey about Kohei learning again how to open up to the people around him.
Honestly, this series is great. It deals with representation extremely well and also has engaging characters. It’s also a really slow burn. Taichi and Kohei are more than friends, but not lovers. However, that in-between space is comfortable and a place that surely many people find themselves in.
These types of multifaceted stories are becoming more common, but it’s always refreshing to see this kind of story in boys’ love, too. At the time of writing, the story has yet to become sexual, but it absolutely explores the idea and does so in a healthy way. It’s a great series to add to your list if you are looking for increased representation and healthy relationship goals.
This is a short but sweet list on some of the sweetest BL manga out there. While some deal with themes that are more sexual in nature, none are extremely explicit. Mr. Mini-Mart is probably the most explicit and even then does not make sex the main plot point of the story — which was the focus of this list.
These manga are not only sweet and heartwarming stories, but they also display themes and have plotlines that are done with purpose. They are not merely for entertainment, or to show sex between two men. This is important in a genre that has a lot of such content.
Representation matters and hopefully this list of BL manga offers a view into some of the wonderful boys’ love stories that have been translated into English that do as such. Hopefully you enjoy them as much as I have.