What is Danmei? - Art from Heaven Official's Blessing (left) and Dawning (right)
Image sources: Heaven Official’s Blessing (left), Dawning (right)

What does danmei mean?

Danmei is fictional media that centers around romantic and/or sexual relationships between male characters. As a term, it is globally used specifically for works originating in Chinese. It is analogous to the term BL, or Boys’ Love, which is used to represent the same kind of male/male content from Japan and other Asian countries.

What kind of stories are danmei?

Aside from the central focus of homosexual relationships between men, danmei is not otherwise bound by genre and can range from historical to science fiction to campus romance to modern supernatural, and more. Many danmei stories also dabble in traditional Chinese genres such as xianxia and wuxia. In recent years, e-sports and infinite flow—a genre of otherworldly survival games that often include a horror edge—have also joined as popular genres.

Danmei stories come in all sorts of mediums including web novels, manhua (comics), donghua (animation), video games, live-action dramas, and fan works.

Most danmei works originate as web novels, serialized on platforms such as JJWXC, Changpei, and Myrics. Much like its Japanese counterpart (BL), danmei is predominantly created by and for women, making it a significant part of the female-oriented fandom.

While danmei has been influential in the development of LGBTQ+ representation in media, and helped create spaces for discussions around diverse sexualities and relationships, it’s worth mentioning that not all danmei stories depict realistic or accurate portrayals of LGBTQ+ experiences, nor seek to.

Where does the term danmei come from?

Danmei (耽美) means “indulging in beauty” in Chinese.

The word danmei itself was taken from the Japanese word “tanbi,” meaning “the worship and pursuit of beauty,” which is a form of aesthetic high literature adopted by early romantic male/male fiction authors and artists in Japan. Although tanbi’s usage has faded with the evolution of the genre, danmei remains a current term widely used within Chinese circles.

Danmei in the West

While BL from Japan has been a well-known genre in Western cultures for many years, it’s only within the past few years that its Chinese equivalent danmei has seen similar exposure. This stems from many factors including the continued push for Chinese content to overseas markets and vice-versa, and the growing body of fans who utilize their own skills or the aid of evolving machine translations to make more stories available in other languages.

A turning point for danmei in English was the release of the live-action drama series The Untamed, which globally took the internet by storm when it debuted in 2019. Though it achieved significant popularity when streamed on websites like WeTV and YouTube, it gained even more traction with English audiences after debuting on Netflix later that year.

The Untamed
The Untamed is seen as a defining factor in danmei’s current popularity with English audiences.

Other popular examples of danmei include the live-action dramas Guardian and Word of Honor, and the animated series Heaven Official’s Blessing. All of these, including The Untamed, are adaptations of novels that share in their adaptations’ popularity.

A growing number of danmei novels, including those named above, are being released in English from a number of different publishers including Seven Seas Entertainment and Peach Flower House. The former saw huge success by simultaneously releasing three series by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, who is considered one of the most popular danmei authors of all time.

RELATED: Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s Three Series All Debut on New York Times Bestseller List

Dozens of books have been released in English over the past several years, as well as numerous adaptations across a variety of mediums. For more examples, DanmeiNews.com maintains a book catalog of current releases and a category of posts about shows currently available to stream.

Is danmei safe for teens to read?

Like most any kind of fiction, danmei comes in all shapes, sizes, and age-appropriate material. Many of the original novels contain more mature content ranging from violence to social-political commentary to explicit sexual scenes. Others are more light-hearted focusing on softer sides of relationships where physical intimacy may be kept to subtle allusions or a kiss here and there. No one danmei is exactly like another, and when it comes to deciding if the series has content that would be appropriate for you, or a younger fan that you’re researching on behalf of, it’s important to individually research the series itself. Some are appropriate for all ages, some for teens, and others are intended exclusively for adults.

Publishers like Seven Seas Entertainment provide age ratings on the back of their books and on their website, while fan translation archival websites like NovelUpdates provide robust content tags about what sort of things occur in an individual story. For shows and films, platforms like Netflix provide age ratings and content warnings.

Guardian—an example of a live-action series that had many changes from its source material by author priest.

Adaptations of danmei—such as live-action dramas and animated series—are often more sanitized versions of their original stories, stemming from an increasingly strict set of guidelines set upon Chinese production studios, and all creators, by the Chinese government. Crackdowns across all forms of media have seen many danmei authors self-censoring past and current works to adhere to these rules, opting instead for fade-to-black moments, cheeky references to sex, or in some cases outright removal of all overtly gay content.

The Untamed serves as a prime example—the original web novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation contains very mature themes including violence, abuse, suicide, and explicit sexual scenes including underage characters. In English, the book has a “For Readers 17+” age rating. In contrast, The Untamed has a TV-14 rating on Netflix for “fear, language, and self-harm” as several aspects of the original novel were toned down or removed altogether when adapted to live-action. This means that while The Untamed may be considered safe for younger teens—though please mind the remaining intense subject matter—the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation novels on which it was based are intended only for mature audiences.

Where can you find danmei?

Because danmei is part of all kinds of media, there are plenty of places to find it! Many books can now be found translated to English in bookstores and online retailers across North America, and a number of live-action and animated adaptations are available to view on websites like YouTube, Netflix, and WeTV.