The anime featuring "beautiful boys" is more often referred to as "bishonen anime," despite the fact that some classifications differentiate between the two genres based on androgyny. Their devotion to a particular genre has been abandoned as pretty boys anime have also come to be linked with action and sports storylines, although originally consisting of shojo and josei titles. These anime, as the name implies, frequently feature a group of attractive young men and center on their relationships.

Many gorgeous guys anime, including some of the classics, have more to offer than attractive males and "yaoi baiting," despite the fact that they are sometimes criticized for their propensity to wager on aesthetics rather than plot. While it's true that they typically draw a nearly entirely female audience eager to be seduced into'shipping' the majority of the characters together, they also give room for the exploration of themes related to LGBTQ+ issues, friendship, and freedom of expression. Thanks to their exploitation of other genres, particularly sports, many recent works have been able to appeal to a wider audience. Here are some of the top ones.


The "Pretty Boys" Anime Archetype that Endures: Ouran High School Host Club

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Any discussion about bishonen anime needs to begin with Ouran. While it is not the earliest example, it is the oldest and most valuable. Haruhi Fujioka, a young female protagonist in Ouran High School Host Club, is forced to join a club where a group of handsome boys amuse their classmates for fun. As the anime proceeds, a great emphasis is placed on the ties between Haruhi and the guys, and how she helps each of them grow in different ways.

In addition to outstanding examples of brilliant character writing, Ouran included one of the first examples of a gender-fluid or non-binary protagonist. While it is never stated explicitly, Haruhi's refusal to identify as male or female says volumes. Similarly, the other characters in the program have no qualms about looking like women or interfering with their right to express themselves. The beauty of Ouran stems from the young people's openness about gender, expression, and sexuality. Not to mention how amazing it is because the anime debuted in 2006 and the manga debuted in 2002.


Bungo Stray Dogs Demonstrates That 'Pretty Boys' Doesn't Have to Mean 'Slice of Life'

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Bungo Stray Dogs shines for many reasons, including Studio Bones’ impeccable animation and the show’s peculiar premise. In modern-day Tokyo, characters with superpowers called ‘gifts’ work for an Armed Detective Agency tasked with fighting criminals. What makes it unique, however, is that each character bears the name of a famous writer, whose life or works serve as inspiration for their superpower. The anime is an action-packed, literary fantasy, where Dazai Osamu fights against Dostoevsky and Edogawa Ranpo is himself a brilliant detective.

Every character's design is used to its full potential: haircuts, uniforms, and attitudes are trendy, outrageous, or sweet, but always appealing. Aside from the attractive males, what distinguishes Bungo Stray Dogs is the attention paid to the complexities of its plotlines, the depth of its character backgrounds and personal histories, and the literary flavor, which never fails to amaze. With the introduction of each new figure, the audience is asked to discover the link between their opus and their 'gift,' as well as their story. Of course, the fact that the anime is a fast-paced, action-packed visual feast helps.


Where Beautiful Boys Shine: Free!, Sk8 the Infinity, and Yuri!!! on Ice Are All Sports Anime

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However, sports anime has virtually become associated with pretty boys anime. From Haikyuu!! to Blue Lock, it appears that these nearly entirely male-dominated dramas can't resist the desire to make their protagonists into Adonises. Kyoto Animation's 2013 swimming anime Free! is an excellent example of this. When the studio decided to produce a sports anime featuring swimmers, who are obviously half-naked most of the time, it had to know what it was doing. Remarkably, the show's popularity does not stop there.

For an anime about a sport that exalts the individual, Free! overcame a nearly unsurmountable hurdle when it succeeded in becoming a show about friendship. And yet, that’s exactly what this series is -- through practicing together and forming a relay team, Haru, Makoto, Nagisa and Rei overcome past trauma, grow as people and as friends, and support one another through it all. While retaining all the excitement of competition, Free! has a certain soft quality about it. There's a gentleness when dealing with characters and their relationships, and taking time to explore and develop them. It’s a heartwarming watch with the added benefit of sublime animation.


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A more recent work, 2021’s Sk8 the Infinity shares some of Free!’s gentleness while exploring other themes as well, with evident LGBTQ+ undertones. In Sk8, high-schooler Langa moves to Japan from Canada and becomes friends with Reki, a boy his age who teaches him how to skateboard in dreamy, sun-kissed Okinawa. While the underground skating races offer a major source of entertainment, the show is really about Reki and Langa’s blossoming bond. In addition to exploring a journey of self-discovery for Langa, who seems to be falling in love with Reki, the show isn’t shy about supporting free self-expression. Everyone in the anime is an outcast of some kind or is living a double life. Skating, therefore, becomes the place for freedom, self-discovery, joy and youth.

Finally, perhaps the show that managed to conjugate all elements to include an explicit same-sex romance, Yuri!!! on Ice released in 2016 and instantly earned cult status. With its moving story about a young skater on his way to redeeming himself from past failure, the show exploits ice skating to talk about passions, relationships, life-changing choices and reaching adulthood. Arguably, it’s one of a few sports anime that really pay homage to the sport as it is, accurate to a fault. But it’s also a romance and a story about choosing the kind of person one wants to be and the life one wants to lead, values and all. Given its LGBTQ+ main characters, beautiful animation and emotional character journey, it's little surprise that Yuri!!! became a classic so quickly.

There are many series, old and new, worthy of a list of pretty lads anime, but it's evident that these shows are much more than just eye candy. Whether they're about friendship or independence, mixing action and history or making groundbreaking choices, they have something to offer the genre – so much so that the pretty boys' part is sometimes just an added bonus.