When you’ve read so many shounen ai manga, sometimes everything begins to blur together you could barely remember what a manga is about, much less the couples are in it. But are all shounen ai manga couples really the same and unmemorable? Just a blur of cute adorable couples and fluffy stories that makes your heart feel warm and then proceeds to forget about it?
We’ll be contesting that! We’re giving you a list of top ten shounen ai manga couples, ones that are so memorable that people still remember and recommend them even years after they were first published. Try to spot your favorites!
10. Meiji Haruhito x Misaki (Kanemochi-kun to Binbou-kun)
- Author/Mangaka: Hideyoshico
- Year Published: 2012
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Historical, School life, Romance, Shounen-ai, Slice-of-life
- Volumes: 1
Out of all the series Hideyoshico had done, Kanemochi-kun to Binbou-kun is probably the most hilarious one to read. Literally translated to the Rich Guy and the Poor Guy, the manga tells the story of how Meiji Haruhito, the rich prince of the school and the grandson of the Principal, slowly falls in love with Misaki, the guy who’s so poor he’s had to start selling wild mountain vegetables or bottled water at school. And anyway, how was Haruhito supposed to react when he finds out that his love rival might just be—his own grandfather?!
The whole manga is delivered in such a dreamy, fluffy way that keeps making you giggle every single time Haruhito flounders on how to woo Misaki. Even though Haruhito began everything by scolding Misaki and telling him that he shouldn’t be selling things at school, it’s apparent that Misaki’s nonchalant and almost too laid back attitude about his own economic strife has made him curious to know more about Misaki’s life and family. It’s really heartwarming how Haruhito tries his best to understand Misaki despite his many failed attempts (and watching him bond with Misaki’s younger siblings is simultaneously adorable and hilarious!), but above all, Misaki’s acceptance and understanding of how Haruhito is really drives home how much they really care for one another. Their relationship isn’t about a blatant romance with sweet talks or physical display of affections—it’s more about acceptance and understanding that oftentimes leads to hilarious but unforgettable moments between Haruhito and Misaki.
9. Miyamoto Shoutarou x Sakaki Arata (Kurayami ni Strobe)
- Author/Mangaka: Hayakawa Nojiko
- Year Published: 2011
- Genre: Drama, Romance, School life, Shounen-ai, Slice-of-life
- Volumes: 1
Sakaki Arata loves photography—his house is a photo studio and he’s in the photography club—but he also secretly loves his best friend, Miyamoto Shoutarou, and secretly always eavesdrops whenever Shoutarou gets called out by a girl for a love confession. On the other hand, Shoutarou always rejects all confessions because he’s always been in love with Arata. When they both are finally aware of each other’s feelings, it doesn’t mean the road to their relationship is smooth—instead, it’s quite a bumpy road ahead because Arata has to learn to accept their relationship, all the while being aware that society and the people surrounding them wouldn’t just simply accept and not be disgusted about them dating.
Kurayami ni Strobe is that one rare manga that deals not only with boys getting together and accepting their feelings, but also looks into internalized homophobia and the fear of being looked at with disgust by everyone else. Hayakawa Nojiko delivered it in a light-hearted, if a bit simplified way, and in Arata and Shoutarou’s relationship, we get to see the legit worry of hiding a relationship being presented along with the more silly insecurities. While Shoutarou looks more easygoing about how he expresses his affection and thinks of simpler things, Arata overthinks everything and worries about their surroundings and himself and where their relationship is going. This makes for a good balance where Shoutarou’s easy simplicity comforts Arata in so many unexpected ways. Everything about them is thoughtful but not in a heavy way, and yet still so fluffy you’d feel like being bundled up in blankets.
8. Eiri Yuki x Shindou Shuuichi (Gravitation)
- Author/Mangaka: Murakami Maki
- Year Published: 1995
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Shounen ai, Shoujo
- Volumes: 12
Let’s take a peek at the classic: Gravitation is a manga by Murakami Maki that tells the story of Shindou Shuuichi, the lead vocalist and lyricist of the band Bad Luck. A chance meeting at the park with the popular novelist Eiri Yuki throws him into a whirlwind of frustrating (but oftentimes hilarious) romance. Inviting himself into Yuki’s house and life, Shuuichi begins to deal not only with his uncertain love life, but also his band’s career, Yuki’s tragic past, and the people around them who tend to complicate everything in life.
There are a lot of reasons why Yuki and Shuuichi stay as many people’s favorite couple of shounen ai manga despite it being quite old. Not only does it represents several popular tropes (celebrity couples and age difference, for example), Yuki and Shuuichi’s love life isn’t just about sappy, fluffy romantic tenderness. They butt heads in almost everything (sometimes literally), and both have walked out on the other several times, but at the end of the day, they somehow find a way to come back to each other’s arms. At the end of the day, it is with Yuki’s support and blatant honesty that Shuuichi brings Bad Luck to the peak of the careers, and it is with Shuuichi’s endless patience and persistence that Yuki learns once again how to let himself love people and deal with his past. Their relationship changes them for the better, and perhaps it’s because of this that Yuki and Shuuichi remains one of those couples we always remember fondly years down the road.
7. Kuroda x Tsukishima (Hybrid Child)
- Author/Mangaka: Nakamura Shungiku
- Year Published: 2003
- Genre: Drama, Historical, Romance, Sci-fi, Shounen-ai, Tragedy
- Volumes: 1
Written by the ever-popular Nakamura Shungiku, Hybrid Child is a manga that brings us to historical Japan setting with a twist: the existence of hybrid children—dolls who aren’t exactly dolls but also aren’t exactly human, and could only grow when they’re given love by their masters. The manga revolves around three different couples, but let us direct you to the very last one depicted in the manga: the tragic love story between Kuroda, the creator of hybrid child itself, and Tsukishima, his childhood friend who had had to take his own life in the place of their Master.
Kuroda and Tsukishima’s story stands out simply because, unlike the two previous couples, who are both stories between humans and hybrid children, Kuroda and Tsukishima are both human. Readers are only given a fleeting look of Kuroda and Tsukishima’s childhood, enough to realize that Kuroda has been watching Tsukishima for a very long time, but never actually acted on his feelings. When he finally does, it’s really only in hopes of making Tsukishima change his mind: Tsukishima has been ordered to take his own life in place of their Master to save their group from the responsibility of shame. Kuroda and Tsukishima’s story is a painful one, about how sometimes love crumbles in the face of unforgiving reality. And yet, Tsukishima’s presence remains with Kuroda at all times, and it is exactly because of that that Kuroda could bring into life the hybrid children and bring happiness to a lot of people.
6. Kashiba Ryou x Kutsuna Satoru (Canis Series: Dear Mr. Rain)
- Author/Mangaka: ZAKK
- Year Published: 2013
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Slice-of-life, Shounen ai, Yaoi
- Volumes: 1
A hatmaker, Kutsuna Satoru, has a habit: he can’t overlook broken things. It’s that habit that made him bring home the stranger he found collapsed under the rain—a man named Kashiba Ryou who doesn’t tell him anything, except that he had come from New York. Satoru has a more pressing matter though: he needs another helper for his store, which is going to have a fair in competition with his friend’s newly opened store, and that is tomorrow. So he ends up recruiting Ryou as a ‘live mannequin’ at the store, parading his hats. As Ryou gives him only glimpses of his dark past, in the short span of time they’re together, Satoru finds out that he could, actually, fall in love at the first sight. But now that they’ve said their goodbyes, would Ryou actually come back? Would they be able to start a proper romance, then?
The Canis series itself is a very interesting and intriguing universe, and Satoru and Ryou’s story is just one part of it. What makes them stand out is that their relationship begins simply as a broken thing and its caretaker: Ryou, who has been told again and again that he is not needed, and Satoru, who could never abandon broken things and would always pick up the broken pieces Ryou leaves in the rain. It’s exactly because Satoru knows how it feels to be broken in the past that he could help piece Ryou back up, and help him to not be afraid of living anymore. Their relationship is really about kindness, about the happiness of being needed and being treasured, and how in order to love someone and to treasure them, one doesn’t necessarily have to know about the other’s past.
5. Nezumi x Shion (No. 6)
- Author/Mangaka: Asano Atsuko/Kino Hinoki
- Year Published: 2011
- Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Shoujo
- Volumes: 9
Originally based on a novel with the same title written by Asano Atsuko, No. 6 has been adapted both into anime and manga. It’s set in a dystopic setting where mankind lives in six different city-states surrounded with tall walls, which are supposed to be peaceful and perfect. The story follows Shion, a resident of one of the city-states called No. 6, who once helped a fugitive called Nezumi when they were both kids, resulting in him and his mother being relocated and losing their ‘elite resident’ status. When he grew up, an incident brought Shion to meet Nezumi again, this time with Nezumi saving his life. Through their journey and growing relationship, the darker secrets and parts of No. 6 is slowly unveiled.
While the entire series really focuses on the sci-fi elements and world building, Shion and Nezumi’s relationship is also the highlight of the series; they are not lovers, but they are each other’s most important person. Having saved each other’s lives several times, and needing to stick around the other in the seemingly hopeless world—Shion learns more about the world Nezumi comes from and on the other hand, Nezumi learns more about the things Shion hides behind his soft, gentle demeanor and smile. Watching the two of them simply spending time together really only brings one word to mind: beautiful. Their relationship seems to progress so naturally at their own pace, in contrast to the dramatic and almost violent reveals of their world. At the same time though, their relationship is also rough and filled with adrenaline—whether it’s trying to escape No. 6, or Shion trying to survive the night as Nezumi operated on him, or Shion berserk switch flipping on and Nezumi trying to restrain him. For the good and the bad, they have stuck together, challenging the dystopia that is their world, and how could that sort of relationship not leave us breathless in the end?
4. Kasuga Jin x Souma Mitsuya (Golden Days)
- Author/Mangaka: Takao Shigeru
- Year Published: 2005
- Genre: Drama, Historical, Mystery, Romance, Shoujo, Shounen-ai, Slice-of-life, Tragedy
- Volumes: 8
Golden Days brings their readers over to the Taisho era as the main protagonist, Souma Mitsuya, somehow experienced time-slip and is now stranded in 1921 Tokyo where everyone thinks he’s his grandfather. This is where he meets Kasuga Jin, whose family had taken in his great-grandfather and his sister after their parents’ death. In the midst of all the confusion, Mitsuya realizes that the reason he was sent back in time was to fulfill his great-grandfather wish to ‘save’ Jin. In his attempt to discover what exactly he needs to protect Jin from, Mitsuya finds not only a place to belong, but also the mystery of his great-grandfather’s family’s death and, with Jin’s help, learns how to fall in love all over again with the world.
Jin and Mitsuya’s relationship is beautiful in the sense of watching the cherry blossoms: you know it’s not going to last and it will be sad when everything has to be over, but it’s beautiful and you love it anyway. Despite everyone thinking that he is his great-grandfather Yoshimitsu, Mitsuya never bothered to act like Yoshimitsu (who is really different from him), and it is exactly because of this that Jin is saved. That Jin could fall in love without being burdened by anything. On the other hand, spending time with Jin also makes Mitsuya realize that this world is beautiful, that it is something he could love because there are people like Jin in it. In the end, even after Mitsuya finished his ‘mission’ to save Jin and has to go back to the future, Jin is able to continue living happily. Jin and Mitsuya are both saved by the relationship and love they have between them, and even long after they no longer have each other, they’re able to still love the world and themselves.
3. Nakajou Shinobu x Sadou Takaaki (Links)
- Author/Mangaka: Kizu Natsuki
- Year Published: 2013
- Genre: Comedy, Romance, Shounen-ai, Tragedy
- Volumes: 1
Links is a manga about several different couples, all connected to one another in many ways. Written by Kizu Natsuki—widely known also by her doujin penname Gusari—the manga is a compilation of love stories: a shop manager who falls in love with a radio personality, a metal engraver who accidentally found a ‘pet’ in the form of a sales representative, the successor of a yakuza group who’s been in a relationship limbo with the guy whose older brother he’d accidentally killed, and a café owner who learns to accept love from a yakuza bodyguard after losing his previous boyfriend in an accident. While each and every couple of this manga is good in their own way, it’s Nakajou Shinobu and Sadou Takaaki’s relationship that really gets to your heart once you read them.
Shinobu and Takaaki has nothing in common, but they’re tied with a tragic accident: a car crash involving Shinobu that killed Takaaki’s brother. Finding out that Shinobu’s family is the head of a yakuza group, Takaaki’s father ran away. Takaaki, torn between regretting everything he never did to his brother and father, tried to figure out what he should do from now on and somehow ended up in Shinobu’s hospital room, getting told by the barely awake Shinobu that he could just redo his life all over again. After all, aren’t they alive? The yakuza branch family then took Takaaki into their family, and both Takaaki and Shinobu fall into an odd relationship where they’re both convinced that the other only stays with them because they’re tied with that accident. Their stubbornness and obliviousness really punches you in the heart, and the moment when Shinobu finally realizes that he really is in love with Takaaki and confesses is so gratifying, you’d probably cry and laugh in relief at the same time!
2. Seryou Touji x Shino Yuzuru (Seven Days)
- Author/Mangaka: Tachibana Venio/Takarai Rihito
- Year Published: 2010
- Genre: Romance, School life, Shounen-ai, Slice-of-life
- Volumes: 2007
We can’t have top ten couples of shounen ai genre without these two, of course! Seven Days, as we all know, is the story of Shino Yuzuru, a high school student who is quite popular thanks to his good looks, who gets dumped a lot because his former girlfriends couldn’t stand his habit of being blunt. On the other hand, there’s Seryou Touji, the popular underclassman who is also Yuzuru’s junior in the Archery Club, known for changing girlfriends every Monday and accepting whoever it is who confessed first to him that day. Curious over the rumor, Yuzuru playfully asked Seryou out when they bumped into one another on a Monday morning, and surprisingly, Seryou took him seriously! Their one-week relationship begins—except then they both realized that one week is enough time to fall deep in love with one another.
The thing about Seryou and Yuzuru’s relationship that really made an impact in readers’ hearts is definitely their almost playful pretend-relationship, which gives every misunderstanding that happened another layer of complicated feelings: are you allowed to be jealous when your relationship is, everything considered, pretty much a play? It’s also exciting because Seryou and Yuzuru are always so self-conscious about their relationship, but also simultaneously easily swept in each other’s pace. Every single time, with them, it’s questioning where is the line and whether or not they are allowed to cross it. It’s the kind of pull-and-push dynamic that is exciting but also frustrating at the same time, making the readers super invested about whether or not these two would get their happy ending in the end. All this is delivered in a light-hearted, day-to-day normalcy way with a touch of angst and a sense of anticipation as the week draws to a close. Tender and yet exciting, seemingly innocent and adorable but at the same time also passionate enough to frustrate—this is the essence of Seryou and Yuzuru’s relationship, which has basically turned into a must-read for all shounen ai manga readers.
1. Kusakabe Hikaru x Sajou Rihito (Doukyuusei)
- Author/Mangaka: Nakamura Asumiko
- Year Published: 2006
- Genre: Drama, Romance, School life, Shounen-ai
- Volumes: 1
Arguably the most adorable couple Nakamura Asumiko has ever written, Kusakabe and Sajou has succeeded in melting its audience completely with its slice-of-life story of two high school boys falling in love and figuring out their future together. Kusakabe Hikaru is a high school student who plays guitar for a band, and Sajou Rihito is the quiet and shy honor student having difficulties in preparing to properly sing for their class’ chorus performance. The simple singing tutorings Kusakabe offered for Sajou slowly made them both realize that they are attracted to one another. Following the whirlwind of their confession and first kiss, Kusakabe and Sajou settle into a quiet, contented and happy relationship and begins to spend their days in high school (and afterwards, too), together.
There’s perhaps almost nothing special in Kusakabe and Sajou’s relationship—it is, after all, a slice-of-life romance that doesn’t focus in dramatic dynamics. But that’s exactly it: their relationship is so normal for high school students, and there’s something so heartwarming in the seamless way Kusakabe steals a kiss under the umbrella he shares with Sajou, or in Sajou’s insecurity about the girls around Kusakabe because they can’t tell anyone about their relationship. It’s a depiction of young love that’s simple and almost too pure. For Kusakabe and Sajou, there’s no dramatic love affairs or rivals, there’s no sweat and blood of youth, there’s just wanting to always be together and wanting to support each other. It’s so simple and fluffy—so sweet you might get cavities—but also really heartwarming because it also makes the audience realize that yes, love could actually be that simple.
So, did you spot your favorites? Even if shounen ai manga is largely about warm relationships and fluffy romance, these ten couples have a different dynamic that makes them more memorable. Have you read all of them, or did the list entice you to read some more? Let us know in the comments!