Can ‘The Boyfriend’ lead a revolution for same-sex relationships in Asia?


Can the nine men of the new Japanese reality dating show The Boyfriend help normalize queerness in Asia? It may seem like an overly dramatic task to charge something like this with, but this just might be the perfect (coffee dispensing) vehicle.

Similarly to how shows like Will & Grace and My So Called Life helped regularize gay characters for broader Western audiences, this dating show just might be the type of thing Eastern audiences need.

Courtesy of Netflix

While queer representation exists in various forms in various Asian media (with “BL,” or “Boys Love,” series tending to reign supreme) it is usually still predominantly fictional. The Boyfriend is also not the first reality show to feature an entirely queer cast, though it’s poised to become the most accessible one.

The series follows nine eligible men residing predominantly in Japan. They come together in a dwelling known as “The Green Room” and must work together to run a coffee truck. (You can find more out about the cast here.)

Fans of other Asian reality shows will recognize the commentator format. A panel of five observers help reflect the audience’s journey. What’s important here is they are able to provide the cultural context of a Japanese audience for those residing outside the country. Drag Queen Durian Lollobrigida is a particularly pivotal member of that crew, being the only male member of the queer community on the panel. They’re able to help parse for the other panelists (and the audience) the specific challenges the cast are facing when it comes to their sexuality and cultural constraints.

Courtesy of Netflix

Vibe wise the series is quiet and restrained (though there are moments when the primal thirst peeks through). Think more along the lines of Terrace House and Love on the Spectrum than Love Island or The Ultimatum. Dwellers of “The Green House” are in various stages of life and their coming out journeys. They also come from a variety of backgrounds, which plays an incredibly important part in their respective identities. Not all hail from Japan, several are from other East Asian countries. This means they’re grappling with navigating multiple levels of societal acceptance.

Same-sex marriage is only legal in 36 countries at present, with Taiwan being the only Asian country at present to allow for it. Nepal issued an interim order paving the way for recognized same-sex marriage in 2023. In June of 2024, Thailand voted to ratify those rights, though the law still needs royal endorsement and to adhere to a 120 day waiting period after that.

Unlike the aforementioned dramatic BL shows, these folks are in fact real. By confronting wider audiences with real people seeking romance and representation, it helps destigmatize and demystify. This is not to say the men are all censoring their queerness (pink-haired housemate Alan is a whole vibe). They’re there for love, but also self discovery, and they’re doing it at the pace that is natural to them. Since same-sex relationships still have a long way to go globally, the men’s behavior might feel “tame” to those of us inundated with more boisterous characterizations. Yet this is much closer to the norm in many places. It’s an act of fearlessness to even appear on a program that’s going to be so widely distributed.

Courtesy of Netflix

You’ll find yourself immensely invested in their crushes, their barista skills, and strangely their diets. We will never look at boiled chicken the same way again. The drama is there, just not in a confrontational way that many Western shows tend to lean on.

It may take a moment to adjust to the style and pace, but it’s worth it. We hope The Boyfriend is one massive coffee truck shaped leap forward for moving the needle towards parity.

The Boyfriend premieres globally on July 9 on Netflix, with episodes dropping in batches every week through July 30.



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