The Rise of Taiwan’s “Boys’ Love” Genre (I)
By Miyako Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
Nov 14, 2022

The concept of popular romance stories between two male protagonists spread from Japan to Taiwan in around 1986 with the emergence of derivative works (note: in Chinese these are often known as “secondary creations” or “re-creations”) and fanfiction published for non-commercial purposes by individual writers and fan groups. These derivative works originate from people consuming novels, manga, TV shows, movies, or anime, and feeling dissatisfied or unconvinced by the author’s interpretation and choosing to spontaneously interpret (or misread) the text in their own way, using the work’s existing worldview, settings, or characters to create their own stories.

At the time, Japan was experiencing a second wave of female creative pioneers with the rise of popular works such as Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac (聖鬥士星矢) by Masami Kurumada, and a lot of female fanfiction writers were keen to use these works to create love stories, with most of the content crafting romances between male characters. Then, in 1987 Taiwan lifted martial law after 38 years and there was a huge influx of Japanese culture in various forms, although foreign works weren’t protected by copyright law until 1992 which meant unauthorised translations were a significant part of the market. During this period, a lot of fan-written male romance stories were also able to reach Taiwanese readers via various methods. Thanks to the rapid progress of printing technology that eventually became ubiquitous, there was now a much lower threshold to printing your own creative works. At the same time, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement was also gaining momentum. These circumstances converged, giving rise to a creative concept that is known as Boys’ Love, or BL, which gradually became accepted by Taiwanese readers. Initially, these were male love stories written by women for women, although the genre has since expanded so that the creators and audiences are now no longer limited to women.

Initially, most of the Taiwanese derivative works were based on Japanese texts. However, in 1990 the hit Taiwanese glove puppet TV series Pili (霹靂布袋戲, also translated as Thunderbolt) aired its “Thunderbolt Anomaly” (霹靂異數) episode which gave local female creators the chance to write texts set in their homeland and ushered in the first wave of Taiwanese fanfiction writers. They established their own unique, self-styled literary identities and created works that were purely based on their homeland. Thunderbolt has had a vast impact on fanfiction in a way that spread overseas and continues to this day.  This was also when people increasingly started to use the term “Boys’ Love” as the idea gradually spread to Taiwan and locally-created original works began to emerge. Original BL works include Cavan and Clay (卡文與克萊) by Wang Yi-wen (王宜文) and Cut Sleeves (斷袖)  by Ai Mi-erh (愛彌兒), the latter of which explores a euphemism for homosexuality (“cut sleeve”) that originated in the Han Dynasty and demonstrates how BL can be used to interpret the history of homosexuality in China. Other similar works include The Transformation of Nirvana (梵天變) by Kao Yung (高永) and Tricking a Beautiful Woman (佳人接招) by Wu Si-hsuan (吳思璇) and so on. Even the classic female manga creator Yu Su-lan (游素蘭) created a male romance plot in her masterpiece The King of Blaze (火王) which was one of the most well-known BL stories at the time.


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