So you like your boys to like boys… and to be violent.
I feel a little weird doing a post like this so close to Christmas – not because of the homosexual aspect, but because of the violence and lack of happiness in this subset of the BL genre.
The fact is, as I’ve gotten older, I find myself less satisfied with the usual stuff BL gives us – the waifish high school boys, the drama over who is dating whom, the high school-style misunderstandings… you get the picture. Sure, it was all well and good, and I didn’t suddenly dislike it, I just was beginning to want something new and not so retread. And I tend to doubt that I’m alone in this.
Which brings me to those glorious, blood-soaked, drug-covered urban tales of BL often heavily involving the yakuza. These are the ones where you’ll see prostitutes in the proceedings, but, at the end of the day, the boys have each other. The BL element often takes a backseat in these manga, as it is the violence and yakuza business which figures most prominently, but it nevertheless is there. And even when the boys involved are, in fact, boys and not men, they aren’t your usual anemic fops. No, they, too, perform mob hits, perform drug deals, and protect the gang’s territory.
Unfortunately, though, its hard to find really good manga like this; most of them seem to forget that they’re about organized crime, presenting a neat, tidy, and glamorized portrait of the yakuza. Here, the boys are usually in rival gangs and catch eachother’s eye across a distance, and then find themselves strangely, maddeningly in love. And there’s a happy ending! Blech, that’s not a yakuza story, that’s Romeo and Juliet-style crap. Give me the gore! Give me the drugs! If I’m reading about the yakuza, they better act like them!
So, here are a few recommendations
I tend to think of Banana Fish as being the prototype for the subgenre, having first appeared in 1985. Banana Fish, like many other in this niche, might be better described as a yakuza story with BL as opposed to a BL story with yakuza. Its set in New York City (lulz), and follows a boy named Ash, who is a gang leader. He’s given a vial of this mysterious drug by a dying man, and thus the story launches, as he finds himself quickly pulled into the violent struggle surrounding the drug.
Ash is gay. But his involvement with gangs is more important to the story than his homosexuality is. However, this isn’t to say it never surfaces, just that it isn’t the primary focus of the story.
Banana Fish is extremely graphic. Which it should be! But it is something to keep in mind; this isn’t the New York City of something like FAKE (actually, FAKE is kind of weird, because there is a lot of violence in it, but the overall camp tone tends to tamp down the impact of the violence itself; a lot of FAKE is ridiculous, so even when we’re shown bullet-ridden corpses or people who’ve been hacked to death with axes, its hard to really take it seriously).
The intro image is from Wild Adapter, and I’m lazy, so I didn’t bother fetch another one.
Wild Adapter is the drug that gives the series its title.
Kobuto is a largely unemotional young man who has a talent for mahjong, and as a result he finds himself as the head of the Izumo youth gang. But after the death of a friend, he leaves the gang, and takes in a mysterious young man, Tokito, who has a paw for his right hand and no memory. Meanwhile, Yokohama finds itself embroiled in rumors of a weird drug known as ‘W.A.’ which turns people into beasts and destroys their internal organs. Kobuto begins to get sucked back into the underworld, bringing Tokito along, when they realized that this drug may have something to do with Tokito’s paw.
Yeah, I’m thinking that the manga-ka read Banana Fish, how about you? Even so, though, Wild Adapter stands on its own. Theoretically, Kobuto is less appealing as a lead than Ash is, but Kobuto and Tokito’s relatonship is one of the draws here. Its a relationship that has a lot of subtext, though, so don’t expect any love confessions or something. However, this did run in a BL magazine, so you’re supposed to be reading a BL-vibe in it. If a lack of explicit confirmation of BL disappoints you, you shouldn’t worry, because there are other characters who do things that are more obviously BL in nature.
Despite being about a decade newer than Banana Fish, Wild Adapter isn’t quite as violent, so it might be an easier thing to read first for the genre.
Alright, I’m cheating a little – Let Dai is a manhwa. But it absolutely falls into this categorization otherwise, as it is incredibly violent and has boys macking on boys.
Let Dai is about a high school boy named Jaehee. Jaehee lives a normal life, worrying about schoolwork and doing chores in his house, but a brief encounter with the youth gang, the Furies, changes his life forever. He breaks up the attempted mugging of an older girl, and manages to catch the eye of Dai, the cruel and amoral leader of the group. In later encounters, Jaehee finds himself weirdly drawn to Dai, despite his obvious lack of conscience.
Let Dai is really and truly a title which you know as you read it cannot end happily ever after. Dai himself is unbelievably horrible, much more of a monster than you’ll find in either Wild Adapter or Banana Fish or any of the other violent BL manga on the market, perhaps if only because of how intimately the reader gets to know him. While stories like this usually take the fluffy route – gangster in love with a normal boy, oh star-crossed lovers! – Soo-yeon Won was totally unflinching in penning this tale. Not for the faint of heart.
If you can think of any others of similar good quality, let me know! I like my BL with some violence, y’know?