Welcome to the Teahouse, where beautiful men and women attend to the sexual needs of the lords and ladies of Ivore. But even transactional sex isn't uncomplicated when some of the clients and their favorite courtesans fall in love.
Last year, I compiled a list of sexy science fiction and fantasy webcomics and heard one major complaint: I left out Teahouse. I hadn't read Teahouse at the time and wasn't sure if it was a fantasy comic, but it's obviously a piece of erotica that a lot of people connect with, so I finally dove in.
There's a term "fantasy of manners" that is used to describe stories that are framed as comedies of manners but are set in vaguely fantasy-ish locales. They may not contain magic or dragons or elves, but they contain certain trappings of what we think of when we think of fantasy stories: ahistorical castles and castes and courtly manners.
Teahouse is a sex fantasy in a similar vein. It's not supernatural, but it's set in a world that clearly isn't our own, allowing the creators (credited collectively as Emirain) to indulge in elaborate costuming, working vibrators, ahistorical political drama, and, of course, plenty of sex for pay, without risk of the real world creeping in. Instead of telling a supernatural story, the creators are employing elements of the fantasy genre to give themselves room to play. And play they do.
The Teahouse is an upscale brothel housed in a former teahouse owned by the young gentleman Xanthe Atros. It was Atros' father who converted the teahouse, on the eve of the legalization of prostitution, and so Atros' childhood home became as a sexual playground. He maintains a high-end house, serving the lords and ladies of Ivore with his mostly male sex worker staff.
Axis has long been the highest earning male courtesan in the Teahouse, servicing ladies exclusively with a single exception: Rhys D'Ivore, the prince who patronizes Axis not only for his sexual services, but also his honest disdain for the royal. However, as their pay-for-play affair continues, it seems that each man finds an equal in the other that he hasn't found elsewhere. But things can only get more complicated with Rhys' impending coronation and marriage to a noblewoman who can't stand him.
The Teahouse houses two female prostitutes, but by far its prettiest staffer is Linnaeus, a young man who grew up alongside Atros as a servant in the house. Pink-haired with a fondness for fine clothes and jewelry, the gentle Linnaeus attracts the most macho of men to his boudoir. But even as he finds a new patron in a sweet, battle-scarred adventurer, he still nurses his childhood love for Atros, the first person who ever showed him kindness. But Atros has a bride, and a steady love affair with one of his female employees.
That's all before we get to Rory Dubois, the resident virgin who attracts the eye of a handsome, germaphobic nobleman—and Rory's considerably less bashful twin sister.
Teahouse is frequently—and appropriately—classed as a yaoi webcomic. There are plenty of women stomping and sashaying through the comic (a few of them quite badass), but the focus is on male-male romance. There's plenty of sex in the comic (although they save the 18+ artwork for their print volumes), but it's linked to the emotions that draw each pair together, be they electric moments of competitive machismo or the tender but awkward moments share by two childhood friends.