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Utena and Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena, a popular shōjo-ai couple. Utena and Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena, a popular shōjo-ai couple.

Yuri (百合?) and shōjo-ai (処女愛?) are jargon terms amongst otaku for lesbian content, possibly sexually explicit, in anime, manga, and related fan fiction. In Western media, the term femmeslash is used instead.

Girl-love (or GL) is a similar term used to refer to lesbian content, used primarily by commercial publishers, as an analog of the "Boy Love" genre.


Definition and semantic drift

Much like the term otaku, yuri, although originally a Japanese loanword, has undergone significant semantic drift. The precise difference between "yuri" and "shōjo-ai"' ranges from large to none, depending on the speaker.

In Japanese, the term is typically used to mean any attraction between girls in entertainment media, whether sexual or romantic, explicit or implied. For example, Futaba Channel's "yuri" board includes both hentai and non-hentai content rather than separating them. The term shōjo-ai is not usually found in this context outside of Western fandom. Neither term is generally used by Japanese lesbians describing themselves.

American use of yuri has broadened in recent years, picking up connotations from the Japanese use, but the historical usage differed: in America, yuri has typically been used to denote only the most explicit end of the spectrum, being effectively a variety of hentai; while shōjo-ai an independently-coined term, following the logical connection to shōnen-ai described anything without explicit sex. The term likely stayed popular because many fans wanted to remove the direct connotation of pure pornography, which is still often associated with anime as a whole in some circles.

On the Internet, "shōjo-ai" is sometimes used instead of "yuri" solely because the latter produces too much unrelated material in search engines.


The word yuri literally means "lily", and is (like many flower names) a relatively common Japanese feminine name. In 1971, Itou Bungaku, as editor of Barazoku, a magazine geared primarily towards gay men, named gay men the "Barazoku," ie., "rose tribe" and lesbians "Yurizoku," the "lily tribe." From this, many doujinshi circles incorporated the name "Yuri" or "Yuriko" into yuri hentai dōjinshi. The "-zoku" or "tribe" portion of this word was subsequently dropped. (Variants of this theory may name specific characters, often Yuri of the Dirty Pair.)

In 2005 at Yuricon in Tokyo, Itou Bungaku spoke about the creation of the term "yuri". He, and the mangaka and writers who attended as guests spoke of reclaiming the term from a primarily hentai connotation to once again describing all media that represent love, desire, attraction and intimate emotional connections between women.

Yuri as story

Many fans enjoy yuri for its skewing of the classic gender roles in anime, which are often quite stereotyped in nature and sometimes have a female character take a slightly more 'submissive' role if a significant other is introduced or appears. Conversely, yuri content is often criticized as never going anywhere, with the majority of the more dramatic stories ending tragically (even by comparison with the melodrama of romance in manga in general).

Young same-sex affection is considered natural in real-life Japan to a much later age than in the West. The relationships may extend to infatuation complete with gift-giving, kissing (among girls) and other touches many Westerners would consider overtly romantic/sexual. That said, sociological studies conclude that this does not lead to widespread youthful sexual experimentation (especially compared with the US/UK). Homosexuality in Japan still faces social disapproval despite the relative abundance of representations of same sex relationships in mainstream media. Marrying someone of the opposite gender and having children is seen in Japan as the proof that you have become a responsible adult; unmarried adults, homosexual or not, are seen as having character problems and face job discrimination. (The level of social conformity in general in Japan is considered very high as well.) On the other hand, homosexuals who do marry, even if they are out, even if they have same sex lovers, are not officially discriminated in any way. It is noteworthy that sexual identity in anime and manga often has less to do with a character's sexual tastes and more to do with the current interactions with other characters. (Shōjo in particular is known for frequently featuring bisexual characters without explicitly specifying their orientation.)

Other yuri stories may involve characters with no previous romantic experience or who are otherwise depicted as straight, but are attracted to a single particular female, such as Yoshida Chizuru from HEN or Utena Tenjou from Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Many archetypical stories exist, such as the schoolyard not-quite-romances between sempai and kouhai (senior and junior), where the former is an older looking, more sophisticated woman and the latter is her younger, more awkward admirer. This is famously depicted in Marimite, which has a large yuri fandom. In other stories, some characters have bishonen characteristics and are considered handsome rather than beautiful. Lady Oscar from The Rose of Versailles and Asaka Rei from Oniisama e are famous examples, though the most famous is Haruka Tenoh from Sailor Moon.

Yuri in shōnen is stereotyped as more blunt or explicitly sexual in depiction than it is in shōjo, although some argue this is more according to males' tastes in relationships in general than to simple fanservice. Many critics of the sometimes evasive nature of shōjo in regard to sex suggest that yuri is more easily found in shōnen because it is depicted in a healthy, sexual manner. Generally, relationships are still depicted as between a junior and a senior, but these roles are often related to the age or maturity of a character rather than the appearance of the character. However, many of the design archetypes as in shōjo are used; most often, one character appeals to the bijin aspect, and the other to the mo aspect. This sometimes causes couplings from different series to strongly resemble each other. In recent times, the most notable example of this is the stunning similarities between Himemiya Chikane and Kurusugawa Himeko of Kannazuki no Miko and Azuma Hatsumi (adopted) and Azuma Hazuki of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito; Chikane and Hazuki in particular look and act almost exactly alike, and would very likely be identical if both series had the same artist.

One should note that much of what is presented as "subtext" is subjective. For example, younger girls who seem to adore older girl characters may not have any romantic notions whatsoever, and are simply behaving as the author has observed young girls in his or her environment. Many of the suggestions of relationships in anime and manga between characters is often wishful thinking on the part of fans.

Famous yuri pairings

While many series have had implied yuri, the most famous "out" yuri pairing appeared in Sailor Moon. Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) and Michiru Kaioh (Sailor Neptune) first appear in the third season, and it is almost immediately obvious that they are a couple. Haruka makes it a point to dress and act in a masculine manner in the anime; she has short sandy blonde hair and wears the boys' uniform at her school. By contrast, in the manga Haruka was more gender-ambiguous, wearing the clothes of both sexes and even seeming to change appearance slightly depending on what she wore. At first glance this pairing appears to be the traditional dom-butch/sub-femme dynamic, but closer inspection shows that neither one can be considered "dominant" and that they are perfect complements to one another. It may even seem that Michiru is the one who "holds the whip" at times but truthfully neither dominates the other. In the English dub, their relationship was changed to that of "cousins". One example of a scene that was changed to fit this new relationship is when Serena and her friend Elizabeth were discussing their first kiss, Amara and Michelle say that the first kiss was Adam and Eve. A short scene with two figures, one with short hair and the other with long hair are supposed to be Adam and Eve in the English dub, but in the original version, these figures were Haruka and Michiru. In the fifth season of the show, it is hinted that Michiru may be bisexual, as she shows interest in Seiya Kou (Sailor StarFighter), who is male in his non-senshi form.

Seiya (an alien who switches between male and female when transforming) has a stated romantic interest in both Usagi Tsukino and the leader of his people, Princess Kakyuu. Seiya's relationships are complicated because of his dual gender. However, his form as Sailor StarFighter is his true self, making her a female at her core. Therefore, Seiya's love is another canon example of yuri in the show. True to stereotype, Seiya's love for Usagi is one-sided and ends with a parting. Sailor Moon as a series has large helpings of yuri overtones among the other characters as well, particularly in the anime.

Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya from Revolutionary Girl Utena are most likely the second most famous yuri couple. Similarly to Haruka and Michiru, Utena appears to be the more "masculine" of the two, also insisting on wearing the boys' uniform and participating in the surrealist duels at Ohtori Academy. However, she is naive and overly pure-hearted at times; Anthy's jaded, cynical worldview stands in sharp contrast to Utena, and, like Michiru to Haruka, serves as a moderating and calming influence over her. It can be argued that Utena/Anthy shows more of the dominant/submissive pattern, since it is in Anthy's character (superficially, at least) to be submissive.

Unrequited love also features heavily in shōjo-ai and yuri. One of the most well-known (and controversial) examples is Sakura Kinomoto and Tomoyo Daidouji from Cardcaptor Sakura. In this case, there is what appears to be a one-sided love, that of Tomoyo for Sakura. What makes this controversial with Westerners is that the characters are still in grade school.

In recent years, the trend has been toward yuri being more out in the open. Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito (2003), or "YamiBou", was the most notable example of this; the main characters, Hazuki and Hatsumi, were quite obviously in love, and the story centers on Hazuki's journey through time and space to find Hatsumi after the latter departs her world on the midnight of her sixteenth birthday. The series can be thought of as an attempt to bridge the gap between shōjo and shōnen anime; its story is very deep and nearly entirely character-driven, yet it contains large amounts of fanservice and is based on an H-game.

Despite some flaws, Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito's influence can be keenly felt in what many consider to be its spiritual successor, Kannazuki no Miko ("Shrine Maidens of the Godless Moon"). This is another attempt to cross genres, featuring a plot-driven storyline. It makes heavy use of mecha (giant robots), but these and even the plot itself (saving the planet from the Orochi) is just a backdrop to the real story: the love between Himemiya Chikane and Kurusagawa Himeko, reincarnations of the Lunar Miko and Solar Miko, respectively, whose job it is to combat the Orochi. Chikane and Himeko resemble Hazuki and Hatsumi extremely closely, though Himeko is much more outgoing than the spooky, selectively-mute Hatsumi. Kannazuki no Miko is considered difficult to watch by many shōjo-ai fans; the show features brutally melodramatic twists and turns, and no concrete conclusion is reached until after the end credits of the last episode. Though exceedingly brief, that final snippet is interpreted by many fans as confirmation of a happy ending for the pair, albeit a vague one.

Another important example of shōjo-ai and yuri is Maria-sama ga Miteru, or "Marimite". Unlike Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito and Kannazuki no Miko, Marimite is an entirely character-driven shōjo anime with little to no action or drama in the plot. Marimite follows the students at Lillian Jogakuen, an all-girls Catholic school somewhere in Japan. It focuses on the relationships between the girls, set against the backdrop of the Student Council, known as the Yamayurikai. While most of the shōjo-ai is subtext, Satō Sei (Rosa Gigantea) is quite obviously a lesbian and two entire episodes of the first season are devoted to the story of her and a former lover, Kubō Shiori. Shimazu Yoshino and Hasekura Rei act in many ways as if they are already married, having known one another since early childhood and being distant cousins. Tōdō Shimako, mysterious and aloof, seems to be growing a relationship with the small but fiery new first-year Noriko in the second season as well. As of 2005, the most popular pairing in the fandom (Sachiko/Yumi) is still at the subtext level, and some fans believe it may never progress beyond that.


  • Friedman, Erica. What is Yuri?. What are Yuri and Shoujoai, anyway?. Yuricon and ALC Publishing. Retrieved on May 20, 2005.

External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.