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13 Mar 2023

Boys Love is big business in China

Danmei is reportedly the most popular genre of fiction for women in China.


A new report into content consumption patterns by premium video users in ten Asia-Pacific countries shows that content from Asia accounts for 75% of viewership. Local and regional programming is key to attracting and retaining subscribers to premium streaming platforms.
The study, “The Rise of Asian Content” produced by Media Partners Asia and its AMPD sub-unit, leans on passively collected data from January-to mid-December 2022, from 40,000 video users in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.
The top reaching categories in 2022 in terms of monthly reach were Korean dramas and romance; Japanese anime; U.S. science fiction and fantasy; Korean crime and thriller; U.S. crime and thriller; and U.S. comedy.
Korean dramas garnered 30% of total measured premium online video viewership in 2022. Four of the top 15 Korean dramas of 2022 were Netflix originals. All other top titles were also distributed on Netflix, though shared with networks and streamers in Korea. Disney and Amazon are emerging as large distributors of Korean dramas, with a rise in exclusive titles and originals. Disney+’s “Big Mouth,” produced by Studio Dragon, was the top non-Netflix distributed Korean title in 2022,” the report shows.
Japanese content is a major demand driver in its home market, while also drawing a consistent 10-15% of total viewership in Southeast Asia and Taiwan. In 2022, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ started licensing Japanese titles with exclusivity, a strategy that is will build platform differentiation and is expected to build subscriber appeal. The top three anime titles in Asia are also major international hits (“Spy X Family,” “Attack On Titan” and “Demon Slayer”). The three titles were non-exclusive and distributed on multiple platforms, driving an aggregate 10% of total viewership of Japanese content.
In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest OTT video market, demand for local content scores particularly strongly among new users and across multiple platforms. Originals from Vidio, WeTV & Disney+ Hotstar led local demand. In other parts of the Southeast Asia sub-region, top genres from greater Southeast Asia include horror (Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam), LGBT and ‘Boys Love’ (aka BL) dramas (Thailand) and kids’ animation (Malaysia). Thai and Taiwanese content, particularly on Netflix, have demonstrated travelability and impact across the region.
“Indonesian drama and romance is the top reaching Southeast Asian category. It enjoys a significant local audience, but has yet to prove sustained regional travelability and impact,” said MPA analyst Dhivya T.
South Korea’s CJ ENM (including its Studio Dragon unit) is the leading content producer in the region, driving 17% of measured Asian content viewership, according to the report. Korean broadcasters SBS, JTBC, KBS and MBC also contribute significantly and are maneuvering to control their content in markets outside the region.
Southeast Asian studios with material viewership share include Thai GMM Studios and Indonesia’s Screenplay Productions (SCMA).
The report is able to identify winning onscreen talent. Among the top Korean talent by share of content demand (based on total viewership) in 2022 were Park Eun-bin (“Extraordinary Attorney Woo, “The King’s Affection”) Song Joong Ki (“Vincenzo,” “Reborn Rich”) and Park Min-young (“Love in Contract”). In greater Southeast Asia (six SEA markets and Taiwan), Indonesia’s Aurora Ribero and Reza Rahadian led, along with Thailand’s Kay Lertsittichai and Nichaphat Chatchaipholrat (aka Pearwah) (“P.S. I Hate You,” “Friend Zone 2”).


Reporting by the Guardian has found that danmei - Boys Love - is the most popular genre of fiction for women in China.

In the 1990s, Japan’s boys love subculture crossed over to Hong Kong and Taiwan, before spreading in China.

Danmei is romantic fiction about relationships between men. Sometimes the men are gods or supernatural beings, but they are always masculine.

Most danmei authors use pen-names to conceal their identity. It's believed that a number of authors have been jailed for writing danmei stories - China's strict anti-pornography and censorship laws are increasingly being used against popular fiction that is seen as too homoerotic. As a result, danmei stories are often published without any sex scenes or suggestions of intimacy - these are then posted in online forums for fans to enjoy. 

Industry experts believe that danmei fiction is popular with women because it offers an escape from daily life and also provides an outlet for exploring taboo desires.

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