Top 5 Yaoi Anime and Manga

Yaoi anime and manga are not for everyone, but I think it’s important to examine all kinds of love stories when searching for the best romances. However, it can be hard to weed through the smut and less serious works to find the stories that really have something great to tell. Below are my top five picks for best yaoi anime and manga, starting at number one. I will admit that this specific area is one that I need to experience more, so in the next couple years this list will most likely be changing. But so far, the series below are ones that I find myself coming back to or have displayed a unique art or story that has managed to stick in my memory. Before we get into it, I want to preface this review by saying that I will not be making a top five yuri list, more for the fact that I have not found many I like than an overall dislike of the series. This is also something that will change in the future. But enough of that, almost all of the series below have full reviews of their own, so be sure to visit those if you find a series interesting.

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Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi

From the creator of Junjou Romantica, this anime follows the love lives of three sets of men: Ritsu Onodera and Masamune Takano, Chiaki Yoshino and Yoshiyuki Hatori, and Shouta Kisa and Kou Yukina. The main overarching story follows the relationship of Onodera and Takano who meet when Onodera is hired as an editor at a shoujo manga publishing company. Over time, he finds out that Takano may actually be his first love from high school, and begins struggling with the feelings he’s tried to shove into the background for 10 years while trying to learn about this industry. The second storyline revolves around manga artist Chiaki and his editor Hatori who have been friends since childhood. When Chiaki starts to misunderstand Hatori and his friend Yuu’s relationship, Hatori has to set it straight, but that means admitting feelings he’s been hiding for years. The last arc looks at the jaded character of Shouta, a manga editor who is in his thirties and is attracted to people with pretty faces but never falls in love. When he meets a handsome book seller with a passion for shoujo manga, that all might change.

Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi is one of the few yaoi animes that I return to again and again, and with good reason. While I am not a huge fan of its sister work, Junjou Romantica, I find this story takes a more mature route through the relationships with the added benefit of a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry. One of the best things about Shungiku Nakamura is that she always includes three separate stories in all of her series, taking the time to iron out those characters while also tying their individual stories together. Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi deviates somewhat from the tone of her previous Junjou Romantica in that it seems for focus a lot more on the life troubles and work of the main characters rather than their romance. Don’t get me wrong, there is quite a lot of romance, but I got a more concrete feeling of the characters lives and personalities in this series.

You can read my full review of this series here, but I also want to make a point to mention whether you choose to watch the anime or read the manga, I think both are equally good. Each medium adds something different to the series and I highly encourage you to check out both. Perhaps my love of this series comes from my own work within the publishing industry and my love of shoujo manga, but I don’t think that’s what keeps pulling me back. For something to hold my interest, it must have strong characters who are unique from each other and unique from their partners. It also needs to have a story that can balance many tones, from romance to drama to comedy, it needs to do those well without one overshadowing another. I think Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi manages to accomplish this quite well, especially in the anime.

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Doukyuusei

Rihito Sajou is an honor student who got perfect scores in every subject on his high school entrance exam. Hikaru Kusakabe plays guitar in his band that performs at live events and is popular among the girls. These boys would have never crossed paths. But one day Hikaru offers to help Rihito prepare for their upcoming chorus festival and the two begin to talk. As the two meet after school, they feel one another’s sound, listen to each other’s voice, and begin to harmonize as their hearts beat together.

Doukyuusei is a short film that captured my attention with its light and fluid animation and held me with its sweet story and characters. Usually I wouldn’t consider something so short to be in my top list, but I think I can give this one a pass purely because of the artistry behind it. A-1 pictures pulled out all the stops in making this hour-long movie memorable. The backgrounds are simple but carry kind of nostalgia that is made all the more prevalent through the use of watercolors. But it is in moments of action that we see the true skill of this studio, with fluid animation that adds excitement and emotion just through the characters movements. However, they know just when to up the detail of a scene to conjure the best emotions they can.

The story itself is sweet, focusing on the budding relationship of two people who are very different from one another. No drama is prolonged, no misunderstanding are used to keep them apart, they come together fairly soon after the movie starts. The true drama and conflict comes from their learning to work together and how best they can support each other. Relationships are built off of compromise and mutual respect, and it is through these learning experiences that they come to form a stronger relationship. It is also through these moments that we get a better idea of who these characters are as people, their wants, hopes, and dreams and how those relate — or don’t — to the other person.

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Saezuru Tori wa Habatakana

Yakuza boss Yashiro was broken from an early age by the abuse of his stepfather. While he finds solace in masochism, he also finds that he cannot forget his love for his childhood friend Kageyama. But the appearance of a new bodyguard might change that. Doumeki Chikara is silent, clumsy, and also impotent, but nevertheless he finds himself strangely attracted to the beautiful and lewd Yashiro. Both are scarred by the sins of their fathers and find themselves drawn together as men who have both never known happiness in a world of guns, money, and sex.

I was hesitant to add this manga to the list as it is definitely for the more mature readers of the group. However, I can’t deny that I do enjoy it, so I’m going to preface this review by saying that please be aware this manga has very mature content that is not appropriate for everyone. Although this manga relies a lot on sex, I think it is balanced enough in story that it has not reached the level of smut that so many yaoi manga do. For one, I think the character of Yashiro is complicated enough to not fall into the traps of many stories that focus on masochism. As the series progresses we learn that while Yashiro is viewed by everyone in the Yakuza family as only a pretty face, he is able to use his wits to outsmart almost everyone and holds a fierce loyalty to his boss.

With the arrival of Doumeki, we get a nice counterpoint to Yashiro’s brashness in his quiet loyalty. But we also see behind his facade someone who is struggling with his own demons, someone who is pushing away family out of shame of his actions. He sees Yashiro as someone unique among the rest of the Yakuza who he feels inexplicably drawn to, and while he tries to close off his emotions, we see them slowly come through and make a subtle impact on Yashiro. Together they begin to heal each other’s wounds and puzzle together the treachery that is building against their Yakuza family. Still, the story is not all that keeps me reading, as the art is able to capture the small moments of emotional turmoil that Yashiro faces, creating pages full of deep values and great panel design. I wouldn’t have added this series to my list if it was just great smut.

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Love Stage

Izumi comes from a long line of entertainers, and his parents would love nothing more than to see him get into show biz. The problem? He’s a closeted otaku who’s only interested in making a name for himself as a manga artist while at the same time being terrible at drawing. His lack of interest in entertainment can be traced back to his childhood when he was forced to crossdress in a commercial and thoroughly embarrassed himself. But when he is forced to star in the 10th anniversary edition of the commercial that scarred him, he will have to come face-to-face with potential embarrassment once again. To make matters worse, his childhood costar Ryouma — who has become one of the most popular television stars in all of Japan — still believes he is a girl and confesses his love for him. Now Ryouma and Izumi will have to decide if being a man really matters to either of them when it comes to love.

Love Stage is a light and fun yaoi about two otherwise straight men coming to appreciate their love for one another. It’s also another series where both the anime and the manga provide equally great experiences for the story. While the anime may be only 10 episodes in length, you can easily continue where it left off through the manga with no loss of art quality or story. And that is one of the main things I like about this series: the art style that illustrator Taishi Zao employs is very unique when compared to that of other yaoi and boys love manga and animes. The colors are very vibrant, and the character designs devoid of the somewhat usual proportion issues I have seen in many other series. Overall, though, Love Stage is fun with energetic characters and a sweet story.

The story itself is sweet and centers around the conflict of natural talent versus hard work that puts Izumi and Ryouma’s relationship to the test. On the surface, their story centers around their emotional conflict as they both come to realize they love another man. However, their relationship began as one of mutual support, with Izumi supporting Ryouma through his rise to stardom if only in spirit and Ryouma now supporting Izumi as he struggles to become a mangaka. Interspersed with gags and pot-shots at otaku culture, both the manga and anime are a great light-hearted experience if that is more your speed. Be sure to check out my longer review here.

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Yuri on Ice

Yuri is 23, on the older end for pro-figure skating, and has just lost his chance at winning a major competition. Filled with self-doubt and fear of losing once again, he decides to take a year off and journeys back home to Japan, seeking comfort with his family and friends. But being on the ice is a comfort as well, and Yuri finds himself skating to a routine perfected by one of the most famous ice skaters, Victor Nikiforov. Little does he know that his interpretation of that routine was shared throughout social media and eventually reached the eyes of none other than Victor. He then became so interested in Yuri that he dropped his pro-skating career and flew to Japan to be his coach. With Victor’s support, Yuri reenters the competitive scene, facing off against experienced contenders including one hot-headed Russian dead-set on making Victor his coach.

This was another series I struggled with on whether or not to add, but not for the same reasons as number three on my list. It was more that I couldn’t decide it it deserved a spot. Yuri on Ice is one of the most popular animes to come out of this past year, gaining what I would say was an almost undeserved amount of hype. However, the love for this series is also understandable considering the content, characters, and animation that went into it. This anime has its faults, but if there is one thing to love about it it’s the animation. Ice skating relies on fluid motion to capture the feel of a song and create striking routines, normal animation methods would not have worked. Studio Mappa decided to employ rotoscoping to try and capture this motion, making the movements of each routine appear more natural.

While the largest flaw of this anime is how much time it devotes to skating routines rather than story, I did find that the story presented was sweet. Yuri is a man plagued by insecurity, on his last rope and ready to give up. Victor is a almost the opposite, though struggling with indecision over where he wants to go next with his career. By coming together, they find a way to inspire one another into doing great things. Yuri undoubtedly becomes a better skater and person by coming to know Victor and vice versa. We see through his moments with Victor and his skating routines just how much he comes into his own and grows as a character. If you’d like to read my full review, you can find it here.

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