June is LGBTQ Pride Month. That means it's a great time for all members and allies of the LGBTQ community to pull out colorful flags and uplift the wonderful gifts queer culture has to offer. While June may be coming to a close now, that doesn’t mean it’s time for the love to stop. And what better way to finish off Pride Month than binging some of the best Boys Love anime out there?
Boys Love anime (often shortened to BL) explores romantic relationships that blossom between boys, as the genre title suggests. While some BL shows out there can be problematic at times (especially dated yaoi), many are perfectly wholesome with excellent humor, drama and intrigue. From popular classics to hidden gems, here are our top five BL anime picks.
Based on the nine-volume novel series by Atsuko Asano, No.6 features a passionate relationship between two boys navigating an extraordinarily unique dystopian setting. The story starts when Shion, an elite member of the No.6 society, shelters the fugitive prisoner Nezumi from a terrible storm raging outside. The wry and enigmatic stranger forever changes Shion’s life; their interaction occupying his thoughts long after Nezumi leaves.
Many years later when the image of the “utopian” city of No. 6 starts to shatter, revealing harrowing truths, Shion is thrust beyond the walls of the city, with Nezumi reappearing to act as his rescuer and guide. The two brave the harsh world side by side and eventually form a poignantly romantic attachment.
With marvelous world-building and complex characters, No. 6 is a hidden gem that deserves more recognition. That being said, fans of the anime may be compelled to delve beyond the anime into the manga or novel series. While No.6 is filled with adorable and rewarding BL moments, the anime also goes by way too fast, the tear-jerking finale coming long before anyone is ready for it.
Following the story of teenage gang leader Ash Lynx and ex-athlete Eiji Okumura, Banana Fish is an emotional crime thriller filled with chaos and danger. Working as a photographer’s assistant reporting on street gangs, Eiji finds himself thrown into the New York gang scene where he meets Ash. The brilliant sharp shooter has a dark past and Eiji’s kind and compassionate nature is the perfect counterbalance. One of the only rocks in his lawless life, Eiji is dear to Ash, and he’ll stop at nothing to ensure his safety.
While there’s some debate about whether Banana Fish officially qualifies as a Boy Love anime due to technical discrepancies, the plot is undoubtedly drawn to the deep-rooted connection between the two boy protagonists. There’s plenty of powerful evidence to suggest their love is quite obviously romantic, but, in an effort to avoid spoilers, viewers will have to witness their story and judge it for themselves.
Yuri!!! On Ice
Unlike many sports anime, Yuri!!! on Ice is tethered to the heart-pounding romance that develops between the two adult leads, Yuri and Victor. When Victor decides to coach Yuri in the next championship, their bond only becomes more pronounced and passionate.
Yuri!!! on Ice is not only a blush-inducing boy love anime but also a stunning example of award-winning animation. The figure skating routines were expertly choreographed by professional figure skater Kenji Miyamoto, and the animated execution beautifully captures the artistry. Luckily, fans can look forward to a continuation of the Yuri!!! on Ice story as a movie called Ice Adolescence is in the works.
Given is about grappling with loss, whether that be through music or newfound friendship. After losing his first love, high school student Mafuyu Sato becomes very closed-off to the world but clings to the one thing he left: his old guitar. When Mafuyu meets Ritsuka at school, he ends up joining his band, and the two strike up a strong connection.
While romantic feelings spring up for other boys throughout the series, Given stands as a wonderful BL due to the strong relationship of the main couple. Additionally, the story takes on some difficult subject matter -- handling a lot of raw emotions and focusing on ways to heal and move forward in the wake of great tragedy.
Though Given has only one season, it manages to take the characters through deep hardships while also making them come out stronger at the end. If the short anime series leaves you wanting more, there’s also a Given movie and manga as well.
Stranger By the Beach
Based on Kanna Kii's BL manga Umibe no Étranger, or Stranger by the Beach, this anime film follows the love story of the tired novelist Shun and ocean lover Mio. When the two meet on an Okinawa beach, they form a fast and fervent bond that sticks with them even as they part ways.
While Stranger by the Beach is largely a slice of life drama with a light and fluffy tone, the story does dive into the challenges of internalized homophobia, which stands as a central conflict between the couple. After coming out as gay to his parents and being rejected by them, Shun struggles to accept Mio’s advances. However, (fair warning) the romance does build up to a rather steamy scene by the end...
Stranger by the Beach debuted in Japan in September 2020, but it’ll be available to stream subbed and dubbed on Funimation come July 9.