When a Subculture Goes Pop: Platforms, Mavericks, and Capital in the Production of “Boys’ Love” Web Series in China

Sheng Zou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


This article examines the rise, demise, and afterlife of “Boys’ Love” (BL) web series—or male/male romantic dramas—in China. Through the production of culture perspective, it examines how the localization and adaptation of BL in China take shape amid tensions and negotiations between state regulation, digital media production, and commercial interests. Foregrounding the roles of oligopolistic video platforms, private capital, and entrepreneurial writers/directors (whom I conceptualize as cultural mavericks), this article looks at the paradoxical development of BL web series in China, where digital technology and capital catapult the subcultural genre into the limelight while subjecting it to the hegemonic incorporation by mainstream commercial culture. This article contributes to the growing body of work on BL subculture through an underexplored approach that underscores the organizational and industrial structures shaping local BL production. My analysis situates BL production within a transmedia ecosystem and approaches it not only as an emergent cultural phenomenon but also as an organic cultural economy. Through the case of Chinese BL web series, this article opens up broader discussions on the ontological dilemma of subcultures as well as the interplays between marginal and mainstream cultural formations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedia Industries
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • subculture
  • capital
  • digital technology
  • video industry
  • web series
  • Boys’ Love


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