Danmei (耽美) is a genre of modern Chinese literature that is the equivalent of Boy’s Love or BL in Japanese media. It roughly translates to “indulging beauty,” and as the idea suggests, the stories revolve around romantic relationships between the male characters, often taking place in a xianxia or wuxia setting. Due to China’s strict censorship of the LGBT+ community, the legality of Danmei has always been ambiguous. However, this did not stop it from amassing millions of fans. In fact, the genre has become so popular that it inspired successful live-action adaptations such as Guardian (2018), The Untamed (2019), and Word of Honor (2021).
Over the years, Danmei has also attracted international fans, who often have to comb through bootleg websites to read versions that have been roughly translated into English. However, thanks to US publisher Seven Seas Entertainment, many of these Danmei series can now be found at your local bookstores, so here are some recommendations to add to your reading list:
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation or 魔道祖师 (Mó Dào Zǔ Shī) is probably the most well-known Danmei because of the 2019 adaptation The Untamed. The story follows Wei Wuxian’s rise and fall, as his righteous intentions and unorthodox methods lead him to become the most feared man in the cultivation world. It is told in two parallel timelines, with the one half focusing on the events leading up to Wei Wuxian’s death (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler because it literally happens on the first page), and the other half focusing on his resurrection. At the center of it all is Wei Wuxian’s developing relationship with his former classmate Lan Wangji, who went from being someone who barely tolerated Wei Wuxian’s presence to a soulmate whose love transcends the bounds of death.
Heaven Official’s Blessing by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu
Heaven Official’s Blessing or 天官赐福 (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) currently has a donghua adaptation as well as an upcoming live-action adaptation called Eternal Faith. It follows Crown Prince Xie Lian, who was beloved by his people and ascended to the Heavens at a young age. However, he was later banished back to the mortal realm due to unfortunate circumstances. He managed to get a second chance to ascend, but the same pattern ensued and he was promptly banished again after a few minutes. By the time he ascended again 800 years later, he had become a laughing stock among the heavenly deities, so Xie Lian decided that the best course of action to earn respect is to befriend the Ghost King Hua Cheng, who happens to be the most feared entity in the heavens. Let’s just say Xie Lian did more than just befriend the Ghost King.
Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu
In Scum Villain’s Self Saving System 人渣反派自救系统 (Rén Zhā Fǎnpài Zìjiù Xìtǒng), the main character Shen Yuan is an avid reader of a trashy web novel about Luo Binghe, a half-demon whose tortured past led him to rule both the human and demonic realm and brutally murder everyone who has wronged him. However, Shen Yuan was so enraged by the ending (which is honestly relatable) that he died while cursing the it, activating a talisman that transported him into the world of the novel. Shen Yuan finds that he is reborn into the body of Shen Qingqiu, Luo Binghe’s beautiful yet cruel teacher, who had contributed to Luo Binghe’s descent into evil. Now Shen Qingqiu must work to get in Luo Binghe’s good graces before he ends up in the same fate as his character in the novel.
The Husky and His White Cat Shizun by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou
The Husky and His White Cat Shizun 二哈和他的白猫师尊 (Èr Hā Hé Tā De Bái Māo Shī Zūn), shortened as 2HA, also has an live-action adaptation coming soon called Immortality. It is a time travel story about Mo Ran, an evil emperor who killed his way to obtain the throne. However, becoming the first emperor of the mortal realm isn’t as satisfying as it seems, and with no friends or family left, Mo Ran takes his own life and finds himself transmigrated into the body of his 15 year old self. He uses this second chance to stop himself from becoming evil, but he still vows revenge against those who defied him. His particular target is Chu Wanning, his cold and aloof mentor who had betrayed him several times when he was the emperor. However, it turns out Chu Wanning might have acted out of love, and there might be more to Mo Ran’s feelings towards his mentor than he originally thought.
Remnants of Filth by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou
Remnants of Filth 余污 (Yúwū) takes place in the same universe as 2HA, set in the backdrop of war between the Empire of Chonghua, which cultivates in the orthodox path, and the Kingdom of Liao, which uses demonic cultivation. The story follows Gu Mang, once a general of Chonghua who defected to Liao and was returned to his homeland as a prisoner of war. It is said that Gu Mang’s former best friend Mo Xi detested him the most and has prepared various methods of torture to interrogate Gu Mang upon his return. However, the truth was Gu Mang and Mo Xi were former lovers, and Mo Xi only wanted to know if Gu Mang had ever loved him before he defected to Liao.
Thousand Autumns by Meng Xi Shi
In Thousand Autumns 千秋 (Qiān Qiū), the two main characters are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Shen Qiao is a Daoist priest who dedicated his life honing his skills and leading his sect in the path of righteousness, while Yan Wushi, on the other hand, is the leader of the most powerful demonic cultivation sect. When Shen Qiao is severely injured during a fight, Yan Wushi takes him in with the ulterior motive of testing the limits of his faith and luring him to the demonic path. However, the story quickly becomes a case of an unstoppable bastard meets an immovable idiot.
As of now, all of the series except for The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation are still ongoing, which gives you something to look forward to, so which ones will you add to your reading list?