In the dynamic landscape of cultural shifts over the past decade, certain subcultures have emerged as influential drivers of the trends that capture widespread attention. At the forefront of this cultural wave is the “yaoi culture,” which has gained remarkable prominence, particularly in Thailand. However, its impact extends far beyond geographical boundaries, resonating across Asia. What adds an intriguing layer to this phenomenon is the concept of “soft power” embedded within the yaoi culture.
As we navigate through this evolving cultural tide, it becomes apparent that the soft power from the yaoi culture has resulted in the surge of Thai BL series. These series not only elevate Thailand's cultural profile but also wield significant economic influence through their compelling narratives. In this article, we’ll explore how these once niche trends have blossomed into a cultural force with global impact and how the subtle influence of soft power is reshaping both economies and societies.
Tracing the Origin of Thai BL Series: Where the 'Y Culture' Began
The “Y culture” has its origins in the yaoi genre, often misconstrued as focusing solely on male-male love stories. In reality, the word “yaoi” derives from the Japanese term signifying male-male love. This genre, commonly referred to as “BL” (“boy’s love”), centers on romantic relationships between male character who may not initially identify as gay, but the magnetic pull between them resonates, even if their sexual identity isn’t certain.
Within the yaoi landscape, love stories are depicted with intense passion, transforming the traditional notion of “forever love” into narratives tailored for modern audiences. It’s like vintage wine in a new bottle – the essence remains, but the presentation is contemporary.
Meanwhile, the culture surrounding BL series has flourished, encompassing sharing imaginative stories within small communities with members crafting and circulating handcrafted fiction among themselves. It has expanded into online communities and forums like Lao Ped and Dek Dee. Writers have risen to prominence, gathering fanbases that eagerly follow and read their stories. What was once niche interest has evolved into a robust subculture.
The arrival of “Love Sick the Series” in 2014 marked a turning point. Based on the novel “Love Sick: The Chaotic Lives of Blue Shorts Guys,” the series aired on television and online platforms. Its easily accessible storyline and favorable reception catalyzed the growth of the Thai BL series during recent years. This surge in popularity and positive response from viewers have propelled the Thai BL series forward.
What is the impact of BL series on society?
Following the immense popularity of “Love Sick the Series,” BL series started gaining recognition among larger audiences. It skyrocketed when “SOTUS the Series” aired and became an overnight hit in 2016. The series even caught the attention of Asuka Comics CL-DX, a prominent manga publisher, which secured the rights to create a comic book adaptation. This was due to the series’ popularity within the “fujoshi” community (a Japanese term referred to female fans of BL).
Furthermore, the series introduced a drink named “pink milk,” which quickly gained widespread attention, emerging as a trend that garnered interest from fans across various countries, all eager to try it out.
The influence of BL series has been steadily growing, especially among international fan communities. It reached its peak in the early months of 2020 with the release of the series “2gether: The Series.” It all started with Japanese fans posting on social media about how much they enjoyed “2gether,” which led to a surge of interest, creating a significant wave in the entertainment industry. This momentum led to the series being translated into various languages and broadcasted on television. The show gained a massive following in Japan, prompting TV Asahi, a major television station, to collaborate with GMMTV for the GMMTV EXHIBITION in JAPAN 2021. This exhibition was divided into zones dedicated to different BL series, including “Sarawat-Win (2gether)” and “Aof-Korn (Theory of Love).” The event showcased video clips, photos, and even costumes worn by the actors from the various series. Of course, merchandise sales also contributed significantly to the revenue, as devoted Japanese fan clubs are known for firmly supporting their favorite idols.
With BL series becoming popular among international audiences, particularly in the Asian region, the entertainment trend has had a fascinating ripple effect: an increasing number of people are learning the Thai language. A tweet, likely from a Thai language teacher in Japan, revealed that in the past, there were fewer than 50 individuals enrolled in Thai language classes. This year (2022), however, some 270 people have signed up for the classes. It’s safe to assume that this surge is largely attributed to the influence of BL series, which has sparked a considerable interest in learning the Thai language among the Japanese population.
As the pandemic situation improves, it’s quite likely that Japanese yen will start flowing into Thailand effortlessly. Many people could be drawn to visit the locations featured in these series, like Phuket, the stunning backdrop of the popular BL series “I Told Sunset About You.” This desire isn’t limited to international viewers alone; even Thai fans are eager to explore these captivating places in person.
Not only in Japan, but Thai BL series have also managed to penetrate and attract a large fan base in other countries. Fans in Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Latin America, and beyond have embraced Thai BL series, not unlike how many Thais have done so with Korean dramas. Recently, GMMTV organized a live session where fans could interact with Bright and Win, the actors from the series “2gether: The Series.” Once the live stream began, the hashtag #GlobalLiveFMxBrightwin quickly made Twitter’s trending list before generating over 2 million tweets, spanning various languages. The live session on the VLive application also garnered over 1.165 billion likes, making these actors the first group to achieve such remarkable numbers in terms of likes, excluding Korean artists’ live sessions.
With a consistent stream of domestically-produced content that resonates both at home and abroad, the Thai BL phenomenon has translated into substantial economic gains for the country, estimated to be over 1 trillion baht as of 2021. Notably, the interest from major markets like Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam highlights the international appetite for these unique narratives.
What’s particularly remarkable is that the Thai BL industry has achieved this success independently, without significant governmental backing. The question that looms is how far this industry could reach with earnest support and promotion. As Thai BL series continue to captivate audiences and generate substantial revenues, there’s undoubtedly a promising trajectory for this genre, positioning it as a remarkable cultural and economic export for Thailand on the global stage.