5 Decent Yaoi Anime

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Ah, yaoi. The bishounen. The angst. The creepy I-love-you, rape-as-romance themes. While still considered a niche genre in comparison to more mainstream anime, yaoi has gained a significantly larger following than yuri and has an extremely passionate fanbase. There are also copious amounts of anime titles that don’t specifically fit into the yaoi genre, but which nonetheless either imply or leave the possibility open for male/male pairings – often as a kind of female-orientated fanservice. Every now and then though, a yaoi title comes along that manages to break the mold and present a genuinely thoughtful, creative, or (somebody pinch me) realistic love story.

As with last week’s article on yuri anime, I’ve chosen not to include titles in this list that are not explicitly canon, as well as those that don’t include at least one male/male pairing as a main couple of the show. Regardless of how popular they may be, anime such as Antique Bakery, Cardcaptor Sakura, Kuroshitsuji, Kyou Kara Maou, and Ouran High School Host Club have therefore not been considered here.

Hyakujitsu no Bara/Maiden Rose

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The first thing you should know about Maiden Rose is that it’s not your typical drama/comedy/romance yaoi fare – it’s actually quite a serious title set in an alternative universe against a backdrop of war. While the anime never tries to explain exactly why there’s a war going on or how these characters ended up on their side of it, this is in my opinion a very wise move; at only two episodes, the production would no doubt have felt extremely rushed and slap-dash had they tried to cram that all in. Instead, what we’re left with is a snapshot of the lives of two men and their relationship with each other, as well as how they deal with that relationship in the midst of their chaotic surroundings. The fact that said relationship isn’t a particularly healthy one (to say the least) adds to the drama – and because the anime makes no attempt at either justifying it or presenting it in a positive light, I don’t feel that sexual abuse is being glorified or romanticised as it is in so many other yaoi titles. It’s not a pornographic work and there’s nothing here that will shock anyone even remotely familiar with the yaoi genre, but at the same time, the fact that Taki is being raped is no secret. Essentially, the audience is shown this extremely complex connection between Klaus and Taki and is then left to decide what to make of it on their own. For this, I can only applaud the title. As far as the technical details in Maiden Rose go, I also have no complaints. Both the animation and artwork quality are safely above average, and I personally felt the character designs were very good. This anime would absolutely not make a good entry point into the genre, but it’s easily one of the best yaoi anime out there.

Ai no Kusabi

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Ai no Kusabi is one of those titles that manage to stand out from most other yaoi anime in nearly every way possible. The setting is alternate-universe science-fiction, and quite an intricate one at that. There are no big sparkly eyes or overly dramatic facial expressions, and the sex scenes most certainly don’t come with perfectly tousled hair or declarations of undying love. You won’t see the traditional seme/uke pattern here either. Iason’s a sadistic arsehole, and Riki spends most of his time chained up, but since Riki is just as proud a man as Iason, and since Iason is obsessed with Riki to the point where he’s willing to bend the rules of his own social system, it’s far from your conventional yaoi relationship. I feel like with this title, the less you know about it before watching the better, but I will say that it’s considered a classic and the “magnum opus” of the yaoi genre for a reason. Don’t be too put off by the animation and artwork – while a little clunky at times given it’s age, there’s nothing here that should detract from the title as an overall piece. Despite its short length, Ai no Kusabi is a high-quality production with plenty of intelligent things to say. The 2012 remake, while not a complete story, is also worth checking out; obviously its artwork is much more pleasing to the eye, and the narrative remains very true to the original.

Loveless

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It’s a shame that Loveless never got another season or at least a more conclusive wrap-up (clearly this is a running theme with yaoi anime), but even so there’s quite a lot here for fans to appreciate. This series is probably one of the most compelling and intelligent yaoi anime I’ve seen – not only is there an extremely interesting and creative fantasy-orientated story, featuring several psychologically fascinating characters of both genders, this is also a title that delves into some dark themes including memory loss, self-worth, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and a whole host of other very real social issues. The age gap between main couple Soubi and Ritsuka is one that I feel is dealt with tastefully, and it certainly helps that their relationship is more a tense undercurrent than anything the audience sees on screen. I also like that these characters, while obviously attracted to each other for various reasons, are not necessarily good for each other. Loveless isn’t and doesn’t try to be about idyllic romance or healthy relationships – it’s about loss of innocence and the pain of adulthood. While there are a few funnier scenes, most of what’s presented here is complex drama with a lot of very raw edges. Making the series even better is the truly lovely artwork, which is fluid and somehow reminiscent of watercolour – easily some of the loveliest I’ve seen from any yaoi title. The music is gorgeous too, with some moody piano pieces and a catchy opening theme song composed by none other than goddess Kajiura Yuki.

Fuyu no Semi/Winter Cicada

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Getting to something more lighthearted in just a moment, I promise. Fuyu no Semi, however, is most definitely not your average lighthearted yaoi anime. It’s not even the fact that it’s serious or dark – it’s a flat-out tragedy in the traditional sense of the word. Now that I’ve completely ruined the ending for you, here’s why you should still watch it if you’re into yaoi: it’s a complete story with a definite conclusion, it’s the only yaoi anime I can think of that’s set in the 1800s (1862–1869 to be exact), and it features the most realistic male/male couple I’ve seen in any yaoi anime to date. Kusaka and Akizuki don’t act like overly dramatic bishounen – they act like two men in their social positions would be expected to, despite being very much in love with one another. Needless to say, their sexual actions have consequences and just as the audience can predict, their romance is doomed to failure from the beginning; much like a Shakespearean tragedy, you know exactly where this story is heading from the start. This predictability doesn’t stop Fuyu no Semi from being an excellent drama though, and better yet, one that’s based on mutual friendship and respect as well as love. Also a big point in its favour is that the drama isn’t exaggerated to the point where things get silly – in fact, it’s actually one of the more understated yaoi titles out there. It might be depressing as hell, but the story is also touchingly and respectfully told, with none of the usual theatrical fanfare but all of the emotional impact.

Seito Kaichou ni Chuukoku/Hey Class President

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Even though this story is obviously incomplete, it still manages to make this list because it’s without doubt the funniest yaoi anime I’ve seen. The story might not be particularly original – two high school boys who become friends (and later, friends with benefits) via their association with the school kendo club – but the awkward hilarity as both characters try to figure each other out is actually quite refreshing, especially since the seme character is just as unsure of himself as our resident uke for a change. The humor is definitely the highlight of this title, with some of the facial expressions, the internal monologuing, and the way a few scenes are timed making me laugh at loud more than the once. I tend to dislike anime with regular slice-of-life settings that attempt to take themselves too seriously, and I’m really glad that this one doesn’t. It’s simple, mostly high-spirited, and at times endearingly stupid. I’m also happy to report that the artwork fits the general tone of the piece fairly well; it’s clean, bright, and easy on the eyes. If you want some effortlessly digestible yaoi drama, something different from all the doom and gloom in those first four anime on this list, then this is the title you should be watching.

Question of the post: What’s the best and/or worst yaoi anime you’ve ever watched? Are there any guys reading this that have watched yaoi anime and still enjoyed the story, even if the guy/guy romance itself isn’t something that appealed?

22 thoughts on “5 Decent Yaoi Anime

  1. The only yaoi anime I’ve ever seen is Gravitation and I thought it was so painful I never even got passed the first episode. Most of my exposure to yaoi is through fanfiction rather than through anime. I’m tolerant of it in general, except when it gets, erm, physical. Then I just look away and pretend I saw nothing.

    On another note, seeing as the only yaoi anime I actually know of are Gravitation and Junjou Romantica, what were your thoughts on them if you watched them?

    • For many people, Gravitation was the gateway anime into the genre, so it’s importance to yaoi overall really can’t be overlooked. That said, I also think it’s a fairly bad anime, with production values that are subpar at best and a story that’s neither original nor intelligent. I can’t say I’d ever recommend it to anyone. Junjou Romantica is a lot better I think, but still uses pretty much every cliché in the yaoi book to tell its story. It’s saving grace though is that it does actually manage to be funny a lot of the time, so it functions as a genuinely amusing comedy title as well as a your typical drama-filled yaoi anime.

  2. Interesting. I have a starting point now. Though I’m a little worried if Loveless is one of the better entries because I took a peek at that show when it first aired and it creeped me the hell out. Though I did say I wanted to give this genre a shot, so I guess I’m gonna have to swallow my pride (and homophobia) and give one of these a shot.

    Just not Loveless. *shudders*

    • Honestly, I think Loveless is at least in some respects intentionally creepy. I view that anime as more of a psychological drama than a romance, and since many of the themes it deals with are fairly dark, the atmosphere seems purposefully designed to be distinctly unsettling.

      I think it’s admirable that you’re going a little (or possibly a lot) outside of your comfort zone. Of course, at the end of the day people simply like what they like and dislike what they don’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If I may make a suggestion – assuming you’re serious about traversing into yaoi territory but have real problems dealing with the on-screen depiction of two males in a sexual relationship, I’d be more inclined to start off with something that’s yaoi-friendly but not specifically yaoi material before starting to wade deeper. You might find it incredibly dull if you naturally lean towards more action orientated anime, but if you don’t mind plain slice-of-life or drama then I’d recommend something like Antique Bakery first, which has one outwardly gay main character but isn’t actually a yaoi anime.

  3. Out of the few yaoi anime I’ve watched, Fuju no semi is my favourite. Loveless comes second, even though I found it creepy it’s good for the reasons you describe. I did try Ai no kusabi but I only watched about 20 minutes before I dropped it. You make want to give it another chance.

    I have one more yaoi anime left by my ex on my computer, I tried watching it last week, but I didn’t like it. I have already forgotten it’s title, it’s about two actors – I think one is supposed to be a “serious” actor while the other is a porn actor – who are lovers in a movie but don’t like each other that much in real life, or maybe they do. Well… I get that they are sort of rivals as actors and that there’s a lot of prestige involved (who gets to play the main character, who has the better future as an actor, things like that) but I think the plot sounded more interesting in theory. During the first 30 minutes, I found the characters boring and the plot predictable, and the sex scenes completely uninteresting, so I dropped it. (There was also a ridicilous scene where the director of the movie wanted to do research for a novel by switching partners, but changed his mind when he saw one of the actors on top of his young lover. For some reason this scene made me laugh, I don’t think that was the intention.) But as far as I saw before I dropped it, there was no actual rape involved, which is a good thing.

    • Hmm… maybe the one you’re talking about is Haru wo Daiteita (Embracing Love)? I only have really vague memories of that, but from what I recall I didn’t like it much either. Fuyu no Semi (Winter Cicada), which is very loosely based on that manga series, is far better.

    • if u love fuyu no semi, i guess u’ll know haru wo daiteita since they were from the same mangaka nitta youka. if you check the characters’ detailed figures they were almost look alike. blonde man and black hair man and the black hair man is always uke no matter his shoulder broader than the blonde one. i read once that this author chose not to determine seme or uke from their figures.

  4. Well Gravitation was my first light-hearted romp into yaoi (incidentally, have you ever heard anyone Japanese say that out loud? I speak Japanese but I’m always reluctant to say yaoi because it just sounds ridiculous…). Anyway, Ai no Kusabi was the first time I really dived in. I even bought the book in Book Off! One of many waiting to be read ><

    Oh, and there was a pretty graphic one called Legend of the Blue Wolves and a messed up one called Fujimi Orchestra that my friend practically smuggled to me when I was a teenager. Seem to recall a grainy, arty France-based shonen-ai too. The worst I've ever seen was called Papa To Kiss in the Dark with just about the most incestuous relationship ever which turns out not to be QUITE SO incestuous which is somehow a negative thing for one of the characters.

    • I’ve heard both ‘BL’ and ‘yaoi’ used by Japanese people, but ‘BL’ seems to be the much more common term – at least these days.
      I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with yaoi manga, mostly just because my main interest is in anime. I sometimes read the odd light novel though.

  5. Apologies for the lack of timeliness on my part. A very interesting post. Not all highlights I’d agree with, but well thought out and explained nonetheless. They’ve all still got their problematic aspects, but at least it’s a step in the right direction for a genre laden with unfortunate implications.

    I personally would highlight No. 6. While it’s in desperate need of a twelfth episode to iron out the curveballs of its completely bonkers plot, it’s one of the first BL anime that achieves what I’ve always been looking for. The romance is an important part of both main characters’ arcs, but there’s also a science fiction plot going on that doesn’t hinge on some pained confession. Nor is there the eyerolling ‘oh dear manlust’ internal monologue or the fetishization of the forbidden love aspect. It’s presented as a valid romance in the same way that a heterosexual romance would be, and it’s so refreshing that I could kiss the development team across their bewildered mouths, plot oddities be damned.
    A second special nod to From the New World, which also attempted normalized queer relationships (m/m and f/f) if with the unconfortable subtext that they would normally be expected to ‘grow out of it’ (what with the sci fi post apocalyptic population being rather alarmingly low).

    • Not at all – late comments are just as welcome as any other. And I couldn’t agree more, the yaoi genre really does have its work cut out for it just to get past its (seemingly inherent) problems, let alone actually produce any outstanding titles. I have yet to see any yaoi-specific title that I’d rate as being truly excellent.

      I also definitely agree that No. 6′s male/male couple is one of the best I’ve seen in any anime, for the very fact that it generally doesn’t fall into the same cliche traps that are so abundant in yaoi shows. While I concur that the execution of No. 6′s story (particularly in those last few episodes) left a great deal to be desired, the relationship between Shion and Nezumi was wonderfully portrayed. That said, I wouldn’t categorise No. 6 as a yaoi-specific title, in the same way that I also wouldn’t consider From the New World (or Antique Bakery, or any other anime that happens to include male/male romance without it making up the bulk of the story) as being yaoi-specific. Nonetheless, you make some great points, so thank you.

      • That does seem fair enough. I think the first truly necessary step is to pull away far enough that your definition is actually applicable – wherein BL and GL are a subset of romance rather than a pigeonhole. I don’t think it’s yet the case, and most producers seem to find greater lucrative finance by playing coy plausible deniability a la Tiger & Bunny and Madoka (though at least the former has an abundance of creator commentary, including one using the civilian term for ‘partner’ from Barnaby to Kotetsu). I believe I’ve made myself a bit depressed. Look forward to your future posts.

        • *nods* I’d like to see more anime along the same lines of No. 6 and From the New World, where male/male and female/female couples are treated with more realism and genuineness. At the moment, I think that most anime that do only imply same-sex relationships are more likely to be used as a kind of fanservice than out of any actual respect for plot or characterisation. Still, the fact that there are such anime out there, albeit few of them, gives me some hope.
          On a different note, I hope you don’t mind me saying that I also look forward to your future posts as well. You write very well, and I think we may have some similar tastes. :)

  6. I am one of those rare gay men who’s really into shonen ai and yaoi. I got interested back in the late nineties and while my interest has waned a bit I still have a good collection of manga and anime. I have seen a couple you profiled here and will have to check out the others. I think what makes me different is I am attracted to bishonen type guys in real life, you know the long hair pretty boy type. I can’t explain it but I guess you only know that you find someone attractive, not always why. I am convinced that one of my , “inner children,” is a teen fan girl. I know I am a hopeless romantic so that definitely plays into it as I now read many of the gay romance books that have really taken off in the last decade. I am also into the wider anime genre and am an “Asiaphile.” I traveled and lived in Asia while volunteering as a college student and that is what kicked off my interest. Anyway, thanks for the recommendations and for your blog.

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you found the recommendations useful and/or enjoyable – hopefully you find something there that tickles your fancy. :)

  7. I am awfully late here… LOL

    I just read this article and loved it. I’ve watched almost all animes on this list and liked them (some more than other).

    But honestly… I’ve been looking for sometime now for a less romantic and more dark/mature/graphic Yaoi anime. I know there are some, like “Ai No Kusabi”, which is pretty graphic and has a good story… but I don’t know, I still feel it a little “girly” (this is just my opinion).

    I guess I’m looking for something more “Bible Black” style… where we can watch graphic penetration and fit guys having sex… as well as a good, interesting story that catches our attention.

    If anyone has a recommendation… I’d be very thankful.

    • I definitely recommend the remake of Ai no Kusabi if you’re looking for something darker and more graphic. It works a lot better than the original version on that front because of the updated artwork, and I feel that it’s also more sexually explicit.

      I’m afraid I don’t know of any yaoi anime that are in the style of Bible Black – but if I’m hearing you right, I’m assuming you want something that’s more about the sex than the romance, and probably in the pornographic department. That being the case, have you tried Sensitive Pornograph? Unfortunately it’s only a single-episode OVA that’s divided into two separate stories, but it’s probably the most explicit yaoi anime I’ve ever seen.

  8. Hi, nice post. :D
    I am die hard yaoi fan XD.
    The first ever BL anime that I watched is Kyou Kara Maou and I was hooked.
    I will definitely watch the Maiden Rose and Hey Class President(I had already watched the other three though I stopped watching Loveless since it was “weird”).
    I also watched Gravitaion and the story was OK. It is also one of my favorite BL anime. On the other hand Embracing Love is so-so.
    I like it best when one of the main character looks like a female since it’s better.
    I’m really not good with remembering titles but I would suggest you to watch Sekaiichi Hatsukoi. It also has a “crossover” with Junjou Romantica . You might also consider watching Sex Pistol since the plot is cute. :D

    P.S. I will comment again. I will check on the title of this one yaoi anime that I recently watched.

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