How Did I End up Having Sad Thoughts About the Poor Treatment of Employees in 2021 After Reading a Smutty Boys’ Love Manga?!

You mean the owner of this male brothel treats his employees with... respect?!

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When I saw the cover of the boys’ love manga Birds of Shangri-La, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

Birds Vol 1

“A straight man takes a job at a gay brothel that has a firm rule of no falling in love. What could go wrong?”

A paradise of sensuality, Shangri-La is a male brothel celebrating the glories of gay sex. Newly hired Apollo is in charge of getting the men ready for clients, but as a straight man, he’s a bit naive. Phi, one of the brothel’s most sought-after prostitutes, is tasked with getting him up to speed, but not before toying with him a bit. Too bad the rules of the brothel are clear—no orgasms, no penetration, and no falling in love!

As a seasoned boys’ love reader, I already knew that Apollo and Phi were gonna spank those rules into oblivion. That’s just how these stories go when characters are told that they can’t fall in love. Granted, the love part will take some time (this is just the first volume of the story), but I knew no orgasms and no penetration would, at least, be called into question. A lot. Even if Apollo is, gasp, straight.

I expected a lot of sexually charged energy with Birds of Shangri-La, and trust me, it’s all there. The brothel is full of attractive gay men (or rather birds, as they’re called) who are prepped by “teasers” before hooking up with a client (or clients—sometimes, multiple at once). Their orgasms are saved for paying customers along with any sort of penetration, the customers benefitting from the birds being stimulated by their teasers.

All of this “book firmly wrapped in plastic” steamy boys’ love action, yet the only thing I could focus on was the fact that the brothel owner … puts the wellbeing of his employees above everything else.


Excuse me?!

You mean you aren’t an HR nightmare of a boss who only cares about how much money you can make?!


My surprise about this wasn’t because of the kind of manga Birds of Shangri-La is, it was because we’re currently watching a rise of employees demanding better for themselves in the workforce. Jobs not giving a shit about their employees isn’t anything new, but with us being in the middle of a pandemic, it became painfully clear just how little certain employers cared about their staff. Practically every place you can think of is hiring at the moment, and for a myriad of reasons that boil down to, “There’s no way in hell I’m risking my life for a company that pays the bare minimum wage/offers zero benefits in the middle of a pandemic/etc.

Ever since the pandemic, there’s been a rise of stories that talk about just how bad work conditions have been for a lot of employees. Those conditions have only gotten worse because, you know, COVID is a thing, and some companies were doing very little (or nothing at all) to try and keep their employees safe. Arguing against folks having a livable wage has always been a bad look, but it feels particularly heartless when taking the pandemic into account.

And don’t get me started on the discourse about unemployment benefits.

So yeah, taking all of that into account, I was taken aback when I met the owner of Shangri-La, a man who PRIDES himself in taking such good care of his “birds” that they actually don’t have to work with a client if they don’t want to—which doesn’t happen much since clients are heavily vetted before being granted access to the brothel. Shangri-La doesn’t let just anyone in, no matter how much money they offer to be given access.


People can just … do that? To make sure their staff doesn’t have to deal with an asshole? And if an asshole slips past their defenses they can … remove the asshole to protect the employee?


As Shangri-La’s owner shows Apollo around he says, “If any of my little birds find fault with a customer because of their behavior, that customer is promptly shown the door and forbidden from ever returning.”

Just like that, huh?

Even Apollo is surprised, but it’s true. The owner is so set on making sure the men are taken care of that they can not only have a client removed, they can choose to not work if they aren’t feeling up for it.

So unlimited sick days? No questions asked?!

I … WHAT?!


I should point out that the owner is treating this more like a hobby and says that money doesn’t mean much to him. But look. Even if he does see this as a hobby, this is very much a business with a lot of moving parts. It’s not like the clients are getting access to these men for free, and honestly, this is a lot of effort for something that this man is doing for funsies. Keeping the sex workers happy, the teasers happy, checking the client list to make sure no creeps get in, hell, maintaining the resort everyone stays at, it’s a lot of work, yet this man does it with zero complaints because, at the end of the day, if his birds are happy, his customers are happy.

“Treated well, my little birds shine. And the more beautiful the bird, the more love and care the customers show them. A lovely little loop, don’t you agree?”

I mean …


Why can’t more workspaces realize that if their employees are happy then the customers will also be happy?

If employees didn’t have to stress so much about how to make ends meet (and be gaslit into thinking they have to struggle for the sake of the business), they’d be able to focus more on doing a good job—and would be happy to do it. If employees are stressed while they work, it becomes a detriment to their performance and it trickles through the entire company, but hey, if they actually like what they do and are treated with care while they do it, it benefits everyone.

How does this smutty-ass boys’ love manga have a more ideal work environment than real life does?!

I’ve been hearing folks complaining about something as basic as “pay your employees for their time” for SO long, yet this manga is out here like, “Yes, our men are ho t… and they stay that way because they got them good employee benefits.” I can’t believe I’m wanting to print out passages from this manga just to send to politicians and other folks who are appalled at the idea of employees making a living wage.

It has come to this.

I’m taking comfort from an 18+ boys’ love manga, not because of the porn, but because it has a businessman who actually cares about his staff.


(Please let this man keep this vibe in this next volume)

You can check out the first volume of Birds of Shangri-La right here!

(image: Ranmaru Zariya)

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Image of Briana Lawrence
Briana Lawrence
Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)