Thailand’s Gay-Romance TV Dramas Reviving Tourism Industry

A recent wave of Thai television dramas known as “Boys Love” (BL), or the “Y” series, has grown in popularity in Thailand. The genre of show portrays some sort of gay romance, which has attracted a large audience across Asia in recent months. 

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“Boys Love,” or BL series, have been taking over television screens in Asia. In Thailand specifically, 17 Thai BL series have been released this year, while 43 were released in 2020 and 2021. The series depict gay romance stories, and their rise in popularity has actually contributed to Thailand’s tourism industry. 

As Thailand continues to work on rebuilding their tourism industry, the nation’s tourism authority is capitalizing on the popularity of BL series by hosting “Thai BL” booths at marketing events in Japan, where the series are especially popular. 

Private firms are responding to the trend by offering tours and behind the scenes looks at some of the most popular shows. The romcom drama series 2gether is one of the BL genre’s biggest hits, so HIS, a Japanese company, is offering fans online tours of the locations used during filming.

Monruethai Harada is a Thai language teacher who says that she’s seen a 20-30% increase in students who want to learn Thai after BL dramas initially became popular in 2020.

“Thai language teachers have begun offering lessons that specialize in the slang used in BL dramas. Most of the students are women aged about 30, though one recent student was 75 years old. She really loves to watch the boys’ love dramas. She said it’s the most exciting and thrilling ever.”

Rujirat Ishikawa, an assistant professor at the School of Cultural and Creative Studies in Tokyo, explained that BL series are rooted from Japanese manga comics, which Thai production companies used as inspiration to create this new genre for TV. 

“In the past, I don’t think people believed there was a big market for the boys’ love dramas, but they really boomed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Because of Covid, people had plenty of time to explore the genre,” Ishikawa explained. 

“You can see the internet power here and how it spreads, most fans are drawn to the series by the attractive male actors, the often happy story lines and the music,” said Ishikawa. Thailand’s government has struggled to embrace the genre as a whole, however, the popularity of these programs is creating a lot of online interest in learning more about where they were filmed. 

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“Initially, the Thai state appeared to be in an awkward position about the broadcast of Thai BL drama via traditional mediums like free TV channels. Yet man has to eat. The Thai state needs money. It is as simple as that.”

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A majority of the BL series that are shown in Thailand are broadcast on alternative platforms that link with smartphones, according to Poowin Bunyavejchewin, senior researcher at the Institute of East Asian Studies at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

“The alternative links to view these programs may ease the concerns of Thai conservatives, as sweet erotic love between young men has not been highly visible to them. Nor has it interfered with the traditional soap operas broadcasting on free TV channels,” Bunyavejchewin explained. 

While some viewers think these programs are helping Thailand’s culture surrounding LGBT+ rights progress, others in the community have mixed feelings about the “puppy love” depictions of same sex romance.

“BL offers a happier, more positive portrayal of same-sex relationships than elsewhere in Thai media, where gay love tends to end in tragedy,” said Kangwan Fongkaew, who has studied the representation of LGBT communities in Thai media.

“But while this is in some ways refreshing, BL dramas do not offer true representations of society. They are generally focused on puppy love and omit the realities faced by gay men in Thailand, which still does not have basic rights such as equal marriage. Viewers might misunderstand that Thailand is a gay paradise, which is totally not true,” said Kangwan.

However, the representation in general is still a positive thing, as “the dramas could bring change, especially if their portrayals of same-sex love become more nuanced or political, I am still hopeful,” he concluded.