South Korea is relatively new to the BL scene compared to others. While Japan remains number one in manga/anime production, others have started to catch up. South Korea has released so many manhwas – the Korean term for graphic novels – over the past couple of years that even I am having trouble following them all, and I’m a massive consumer of yaoi. Yet, even with such a large production of yaoi manhwa and novels, I confess I did not expect South Korea to join the BL series bandwagon so soon. After all, South Korea is still very conservative. Then again, society in general is still quite conservative, isn’t it?
The first BL from South Korea to win the hearts and minds of fans was Long Time No See, which started as a five-episode series but turned into a movie later. What is so ground-breaking about Long Time No See is that not only does it tell the story of two gangsters in love, but it shows actual kissing and sex scenes – though nothing graphic, don’t fret. That was in 2017! Following the Thai trend (probably), the country turned into a BL production machine in 2020. After all, BL is profitable even if it caters for a specific audience – which by the way is a lot more diverse than people are led to believe. There are currently 25 Korean BL series in total, and many more are to be expected as 2022 has no more and no less than 11 BL TV series released from South Korea alone so far. The numbers have been growing exponentially every year.
With that being said, here is my TOP 5 Korean BL at the moment.
Shall we begin?
1) Semantic Error
From the get-go, Semantic Error had my heart. On the outside, it seems like just another silly love story with opposites who eventually attract. In plot terms, the enemies-to-lovers story is not original in the least, but it is certainly entertaining. Sang Woo is a newbie college student who lives for studying. He follows a very strict routine and hates anything – or anyone – that disturbs it. Jae Young, on the other hand, is almost graduating, so all he wants to do now is enjoy his last days at college partying with his friends. Unfortunately for Jae Young, he is held back another semester because of Sang Woo. As a result, Jae Young’s plans for studying abroad go down the drain. Obviously, he blames it all on Sang Woo and seeks revenge. He concocts a plan to drive Sang Woo crazy. What he doesn’t expect is to get more and more engrossed in their old couple’s bickering until he is completely smitten by Sang Woo’s unyielding personality – which crumbles bit by bit as they spend more time together.
Personally, I love the enemy-to-lovers dynamic, and Semantic Error follows the script to a T. What really makes it so incredible and gripping, though, are the actors. Park Jae Chan, who plays Sang Woo and is also in a kpop group named DKZ, has captured his character’s mannerisms and quirks perfectly. Park Seo Ham is just as brilliant and charismatic as Jae Young. And hot. If you don’t fall in love with Park Seo Ham after watching this, there’s something wrong with you. Jae Chan and Seo Ham made the story theirs. It is thanks to both of them and their sizzling chemistry that it all works so well. As a bonus, their kissing scenes are also among my top BL kissing scenes of all time. What makes their kissing scenes all the more special is how the actors made sure they were included in the series to make it more realistic. In fact, Jae Chan was the one who suggested that the series ended with a kiss because it was much more romantic! That’s why Semantic Error has my heart. It is a series I will watch again and again and have fun every single time I do. It is fun, captivating, light-hearted, and unforgettable.
2) Light on Me
When I saw that Light on Me would be yet another high school drama, I confess I felt a bit disheartened. There’s nothing wrong with high school dramas. It’s just that most BL series revolves around high school or university drama. If you are in your 40s like I am, this gets a bit boring and tiresome over time. Yet, Light on Me was a delightful surprise. This coming-of-age story gives a bit of an insight into what is like to accept who you are despite the harsh judgment of others. The story follows the lives of four boys: Tae Kyung, Shin Woo, Da On, and Shiwoon. Tae Kyung is a new student who has trouble making friends thanks to his aloof personality. To remediate that, he joins the student council, where he meets Shin Woo, Da On and Shiwoon. From the get-go, Tae Kyung is attracted to Da On’s kindness and popularity. He gets along well with Shiwoon – everyone gets along well with carefree Shiwoon – but Shin Woo treats him coldly, almost as if he hates Tae Kyung. The truth is not always what it seems to be, though. Tae Kyung is caught in a love triangle, torn between the happy-go-lucky Da On and the broody Shin Woo.
What makes Light on Me so interesting? First of all, the actors. They are so sweet and brilliant. Yoo Seok, who plays Shin Woo, was a delight to watch. Another great thing about Light on Me is that it keeps you on your toes until the very end. It was really hard to tell who Tae Kyung would choose as both Da On and Shin Woo had their positive and negative sides. This was nerve-wracking but also fun to watch. All in all, a great series to watch on a rainy day curled up in bed with a cup of hot chocolate.
3) To My Star Season 1 / 2
To My Star is an opposite-attracts story. Seo Joon is a famous actor who’s been caught in a scandal. The matter of that scandal will only be known to us towards the end. While trying to avoid the press, Seo Joon ends up in a small restaurant where he meets the dashing chef Ji Woo. They couldn’t be more different. Seo Joon is all sunshine and rainbows while Ji Woo is taciturn and moody. Somehow they end up living together and falling in love, but the path is not without its obstacles. Eventually, they decide to stay together. Happy ending, right?! That’s what I believed until season 2 happened. Season 2 has a completely different feel from Season 1. To begin with, Ji Woo and Seo Joon are not together anymore. In fact, the beginning of the new season shows Seo Joon desperately looking for answers to why Ji Woo suddenly left without telling him why. Even worse, Ji Woo just ghosted Seo Joon, who is again having a hard time with his career and basically falling apart without Ji Woo. It is heartbreaking to watch.
Personally, season 2 is not my cup of tea. I like to pretend the story ended in season 1 with the boys happily in love. Season 2 is not bad per se. It’s just that it’s a completely different take on their love story. While season 1 just brushed on their issues, season 2 brought them all to light in a very painful way. Season 1 is light and feels more like a romantic comedy. Season 2 went full k-drama on us showing us that life and love are tougher and require hard work. Seasons 1 and 2 are as different as Ji Woo and Seo Joon. Perhaps that was the intention? I don’t know. As I said before, season 2 is not bad. It’s just… different. It has more of an indie vibe than anything else. Some say season 2 is more realistic, and perhaps it is. It just wasn’t my vibe.
Season 1: ☆☆☆☆
Season 2: ☆☆ (yeah, Ji Woo ghosting Seo Joon like that really got me mad).
Blueming definitely has indie undertones. Contrary to To My Star 2, though, it was a joy to watch. This enemy-to-lovers story is about a college boy, Si Won, who wants to become popular and loved after a lifetime of disappointments and an inferiority complex. He is ready to conquer the world when he meets Da On, who is everything he would like to be: intelligent, rich, handsome, and beloved by all. It seems to Si Won that Da On just has it all without any effort, so he begrudges Da On for that. There is more to Da On than meets the eye, though. For all his perfection, Da On is quite lonely. The more Si Won tries to push Da On away, the more Da On feels drawn to him. Despite their differences, they share the same passion for cinema. This is what makes all the difference in Blueming. It’s not just about two boys falling in love. It’s about growing as a person, facing their inner demons, and moving on. But most of all, it is an ode to those who enjoy the art of movie-making. That’s where Blueming stands out brilliantly. The photography is superb. Every little detail, every frame, every lighting effect helps bring Blueming to life. It is bittersweet, romantic, and melancholic. In other words, it is definitely worth watching.
5) Where your Eyes Linger
Where your Eyes Linger marks the actual beginning of the Korean BL series trend in South Korea. It took everyone by surprise, and it was even better than expected. It tells the story of two boys who grew up together but couldn’t be more different. Tae Joo is rich, popular and without a care in the world. Kang Gook is quiet, disciplined, and of lower social status. Although the boys are childhood friends, Kang Gook actually works for Tae Joo as his jack-of-all-trades and protector. There is a clear line between them that gets blurry when a girl comes along. Kang Gook’s feelings are all over the place, especially because he feels inferior to Tae Joo. Tae Joo being the heir of a rich and powerful family just adds fuel to the fire. Will they be able to put their differences aside and be together? That’s the question.
Although the series is rather short, the plot is well developed. The actors are a joy to watch, and their chemistry is fantastic. They were so great in fact that many wished for a sequel that unfortunately never came. If you enjoy friends-to-lovers plots, this one is for you.
(Picture Credit- Original Sources)