I feel like BL (Boys Love) gets a pretty bad rep with anime and manga fans. There was an era where all Yaoi and Shounen Ai content was filled with bad tropes that bordered on questionable behavior and dubious consent. But then came the Otaku Boom of the 2010s and suddenly, we saw a shift happen. Queer representation in manga and anime went from fetishized to genuine stories with plot and nuance. This is what eventually led to relaxed portrayals of the genre in other media forms such as webtoons. One that almost always comes when discussing BL in webtoons is Noblesse.
Noblesse technically doesn’t count as a BL. I know fans have always wanted it to, but it veers into the same limbo category as most sports anime, such as Haikyuu!, Free!, and the like. It’s only homoerotic in the sense that the friendship is so familiar and comfortable, with rivalries that are exaggerated to contrast. And while they might still count as Shounen Ai at best, a full-blown romance between two male characters never truly happens.
Sadly, this is a theme in a lot of anime that try to get the attention of the shipping crowd, where they allude to a budding romance between characters but never really expand on it beyond an ‘intense platonic bond.’ It’s basically how queerbaiting works when characters are shown to be extremely close but never in a romantic way. So, it’s up to the fandom to read ‘between the lines’ and create something from the extremely heavy subtext.
But, in the end, that doesn’t make a show a good representation of general queer experiences. And with anime and manga, they originate from a place that was never truly queer-positive. So, the stories never reflected a true queer person’s experience. But with webtoons, that line gets blurred, and there is way more freedom. So, why didn’t Noblesse utilize that? Let’s discuss.
Table of Contents
History Of Queerbaiting
Manhwa, manga, and manhua all have one thing in common; they originate from countries that have historically never recognized LGBTQ+ communities. This is why so much of early BL and Yaoi content was heavily fetishized or almost indulgent male friendships.
There was never a middle ground between the two up until recently when we started getting more realistic stories in the genre. That’s not to say serious stories with a queer relationship didn’t exist. Banana Fish is one of the grittiest and yet, more heart-wrenching manga ever written, where the mangaka had explicitly said the two main characters, Ash Lynx and Eiji Okumura, were soulmates. And the manga itself was written back in the 80s.
However, that isn’t always the case. Queerbaiting has been prevalent in the media form to make it more palatable to crowds outside of a Fujoshi (someone who enjoys BL and Yaoi). Numerous stories used queerbaiting to sell their story without fully committing – lest they offend anyone. And that was the case for early webtoons as well. A famous example of this was Black Butler.
Line WebToon: The Rise Of True Queer Webtoons?
Thanks to the Line WebToon app and the boom of queer content creators from across the world, webtoons finally had a platform that didn’t restrict or censor the stories they were created to tell. Oftentimes, you’d have to tone down the romance or intent in the manga to make it more mainstream and easily digestible when being sold physically.
But webtoons being a digital format meant there was more freedom to experiment with. And experiment they did. BL has taken off in a good way, with webtoons and manga such as The Doctors Are Out, Cherry Blossoms After Winter, and Sign being good representations of a healthy romance between two male characters. There weren’t any strange stereotypes; some of them were free from explicit content too. Which meant a wider audience could access them.
And the success of queer webtoons trickled down in a huge way, with Japanese manga following suit and creating masterpieces such as Given and Sasaki To Miyano, two BLs that actively subvert tropes. Meanwhile, Chinese manhua wasn’t far behind, with the success of Xianxia novels such as Mo Dao Zu Shi and Heaven Official’s Blessing leading the BL wave there.
Why Noblesse Didn’t Commit To The BL
Noblesse was written at a time when BL was still considered a fetish read and not a serious genre that represented a huge chunk of the consumers reading said webtoons. Despite its gorgeous visuals and writing, it played safe with the characters and their relationships.
In the webtoon, there is no explicit romance. But there are moments that could be interpreted that way. The only confirmed romantic interests are all straight and have little to no impact on the plot. The one or two canonical bonds mentioned are strictly heterosexual, with the odd flirtations between characters being taken as an aesthetic rather than any indication of their sexual orientation.
Noblesse is a lot of things, but a full-fledged BL isn’t one of them.