Thailand’s LGBTQ themed “Boys Love” shows are a surprising global phenomenon that shows no signs of abating. Now Thai tourism authorities are hoping this trend will attract visitors to the country.
When 11 Thai actors appeared on stage at an arena in Yokohama in August, nearly 20,000 fans were there to greet them. They were stars of a genre called Thai Boys Love, and their Japanese fans were eagerly awaiting the easing of coronavirus restrictions so they could see their idols in real life.
Boys Love dramas feature love stories between two male characters and have roots in the Japanese manga industry. In Japan, however, it has always been a niche genre that has never entered the mainstream. Thai artists started producing their own lyrics and production companies started translating them for the screen eight years ago. But it wasn’t until 2gether came out with subtitles in multiple languages that the popularity spread beyond the borders of Thailand.
The moment was key. Debuting in 2020, while the pandemic kept people at home enjoying streaming media, the compelling stories and good-looking stars captivated viewers around the world. At the time of writing, 2gether has garnered more than 25 million views online.
The series that fueled the boom
2gether revolves around a main character named “Tine” (played by Metawin “Win” Opas-iamkajorn) who asks Sarawat (Vachirawit “Bright” Chivaaree) to pretend to be his boyfriend to discourage an unwanted suitor. Over time, the fictitious relationship grows into a real one.
Sataporn Panichraksapong, CEO of GMMTV, the company that produces 2gether, says they have always strived to produce content that appeals beyond Thailand’s borders.
“We want to make a show that can bring happiness and entertainment to everyone, regardless of nationality, religion or language,” says Sataporn.
Sataporn says GMMTV is aggressively promoting its actors in the international market.
Reflecting real experiences
Sivaj Savathmaneekul is the director of Love by Chance.
Thailand is considered tolerant of LGBTQ people, but in reality it lags behind in recognizing legal rights.
Siwaj says he hopes his shows help promote understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people. Even in Thailand, generally considered a paradise of tolerance, same-sex marriage remains unrecognized by the government.
Siwaj injects his own experience into his work. When he adapted a novel about Thai boys’ love for the screen, he added a scene where the main character comes out to his mother.
“I hope that with more people watching Boys Love, there will be more understanding, openness and acceptance of LGBTQ people,” he says.
Possibility of tourism
Japan is one of the biggest markets for Thai Boys Love dramas. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Japan, about one million Japanese people have watched some of the series, and about 20,000 are active fans on social media.
Now the agency hopes to capitalize on those numbers by organizing trips for Japanese fans to visit some of the series’ locations in Thailand. They have set themselves the goal of attracting 1,000 Boys Love fans to the country this year. Next year they are aiming for 5,000.
Chanyuth Sawetsuwan, an employee at the travel agency that helped develop the trips, says the popularity of the Thai Boys Love show could be just the shot in the arm the travel industry needs after the devastating pandemic years. “Boys Love is one of the attractions that Japanese tourists like, and this could contribute to the return of tourism to Thailand,” he says.
The global success is a welcome boost for production companies too, of course, and they are quickly expanding their reach into retail, live events and more.