Yuri (百合?, "lily"), also known by the wasei-eigo construction Girls' Love (ガールズラブ gāruzu rabu?), is a Japanese jargon term for content and a genre involving love between women in manga, anime, and related Japanese media. Yuri focuses on the sexual orientation or the romantic orientation aspects of the relationship, or both, the latter of which sometimes being called shōjo-ai by Western fandom.
The themes yuri deals with have their roots in the Japanese lesbian fiction of the early twentieth century, with pieces such as Yaneura no Nishojo by Nobuko Yoshiya. Nevertheless, it is not until the 1970s that lesbian-themed works began to appear in manga, by the hand of artists such as Ryoko Yamagishi and Riyoko Ikeda. The 1990s brought new trends in manga and anime, as well as in dōjinshi productions, along with more acceptance for this kind of content. In 2003, the first manga magazine specifically dedicated to yuri, Yuri Shimai, was launched, and this was followed by its revival Comic Yuri Hime, which was launched after the former was discontinued in 2004.
Although yuri originated in female-targeted (shōjo, josei) works, today it is featured in male-targeted (shōnen, seinen) ones as well. Yuri manga from male-targeted magazines include titles such as Kannazuki no Miko and Strawberry Panic!, as well as those from Comic Yuri Hime's male-targeted sister magazine, Comic Yuri Hime S, which was launched in 2007.
Definition and semantic drift
The word yuri (百合?) literally means "lily", and is a relatively common Japanese feminine name. In 1976, Bungaku Itō, editor of Barazoku (薔薇族?, lit. rose tribe), a magazine geared primarily towards gay men, first used the term yurizoku (百合族?, lit. lily tribe) in reference to female readers in the title of a column of letters called Yurizoku no heya (百合族の部屋?, lit. lily tribe's room). It is unclear whether this was the first instance of this usage of the term. Not all women whose letters appeared in this short-lived column were necessarily lesbians, but some were and gradually an association developed. For example, the tanbi magazine Allan (アラン Aran?) began running a Yuri Tsūshin (百合通信?, "Lily Communication") personal ad column in July 1983 for "lesbiennes" to communicate. Along the way, many dōjinshi circles incorporated the name "Yuri" or "Yuriko" into lesbian-themed hentai (pornographic) dōjinshi, and the "zoku" or "tribe" portion of this word was subsequently dropped. Since then, the meaning has drifted from its mostly pornographic connotation to describe the portrayal of intimate love, sex, or the intimate emotional connections between women.
Japanese vs. Western usage
As of 2009, the term yuri is used in Japan to mean the depiction of attraction between women (whether sexual or romantic; explicit or implied) in manga, anime, and related entertainment media, as well as the genre of stories primarily dealing with this content. The wasei-eigo construction "Girls Love" (ガールズラブ gāruzu rabu?), occasionally spelled "Girl's Love" or "Girls' Love", or abbreviated as "GL", is also used with this meaning. Yuri is generally a form of fanspeak amongst fans, but its usage by authors and publishers has increased since 2005. The term "Girls Love", on the other hand, is primarily used by the publishers.
In North America, yuri has initially been used to denote only the most explicit end of the spectrum, deemed primarily as a variety of hentai. Following the pattern of shōnen-ai, a term already in use in North America to describe content involving non-sexual relationships between men, Western fans coined the term shōjo-ai to describe yuri without explicit sex. In Japan, the term shōjo-ai (少女愛?, lit. girl love) is not used with this meaning, and instead tends to denote pedophilia (actual or perceived), with a similar meaning to the term lolicon (Lolita complex). The Western use of yuri has broadened in the 2000s, picking up connotations from the Japanese use. American publishing companies such as ALC Publishing and Seven Seas Entertainment have also adopted the Japanese usage of the term to classify their yuri manga publications.
Among the first Japanese authors to produce works about love between women was Nobuko Yoshiya, a novelist active in the Taishō and Shōwa periods of Japan. Yoshiya was a pioneer in Japanese lesbian literature, including the early twentieth century Class S genre. These kinds of stories depict lesbian attachments as emotionally intense yet platonic relationships, destined to be curtailed by graduation from school, marriage, or death. The root of this genre is in part the contemporary belief that same-sex love was a transitory and normal part of female development leading into heterosexuality and motherhood. Class S stories in particular tell of strong emotional bonds between schoolgirls, a mutual crush between an upperclassman and an underclassman.
Around the 1970s, yuri began to appear in shōjo manga, presenting some of the characteristics found in the lesbian literature of the early twentieth century. This early yuri generally features an older looking, more sophisticated woman, and a younger, more awkward admirer. The two deal with some sort of unfortunate schism between their families, and when rumors of their lesbian relationship spread, they are received as a scandal. The outcome is a tragedy, with the more sophisticated girl somehow dying at the end. In general, the yuri manga of this time could not avoid a tragic ending. Ryoko Yamagishi's Shiroi Heya no Futari, the first manga involving a lesbian relationship, is a prime example, as it was "prototypical" for many yuri stories of the 1970s and 1980s. It is also in the 1970s that shōjo manga began to deal with transsexualism and transvestism, sometimes depicting female characters as manly looking, which was inspired by the women playing male roles in the Takarazuka Revue. These traits are most prominent in Riyoko Ikeda's works, including The Rose of Versailles, Oniisama e..., and Claudine...! Some shōnen works of this period feature lesbian characters too, but these are mostly depicted as fanservice and comic relief.
Some of these formulas began to weaken during the 1990s: manga stories such as Jukkai me no Jukkai by Wakuni Akisato, published in 1992, began to move away from the tragic outcomes and stereotyped dynamics. This stood side-by-side with dōjinshi works, which at the time were largely influenced by the immense popularity of Sailor Moon, the first mainstream manga and anime series featuring a "positive" portrayal of an openly lesbian couple. Furthermore, many of the people behind this show went on to make Revolutionary Girl Utena, a shōjo anime series where the main storyline focuses on a yuri relationship, which is widely regarded today as a masterpiece. Male-targeted works such as the Devilman Lady anime series, based on a homonym seinen manga by Go Nagai, began to deal with lesbian themes in a more "mature manner" too. The first magazines specifically targeted towards lesbians appeared around this period, containing sections featuring yuri manga. These stories range from high school crush to lesbian life and love, featuring different degrees of sexual content. It is at this point (the mid-1990s) that lesbian-themed works began to be acceptable.
The later 1990s brought Oyuki Konno's Maria-sama ga Miteru, which by 2004 was a bestseller among yuri novels. This story revisits what was being written at the time of Nobuko Yoshiya: strong emotional bonds between females, mostly revolving around the school upperclassman-underclassman dynamic, like those portrayed in Class S. Another prominent author of this period is Kaho Nakayama, active since the early 1990s, with works involving love stories among lesbians.
Around the early 2000s, the first magazines specifically dedicated to yuri manga were launched, containing stories dealing with a wide range of themes: from intense emotional connections such as that depicted in Voiceful, to more explicit school-girl romances like those portrayed in First Love Sisters, and realistic tales about love between adult women such as those seen in Rakuen no Jōken. Some of these subjects are seen in male-targeted works of this period as well, sometimes in combination with other themes, including mecha and science fiction. Examples include series such as Kannazuki no Miko, Blue Drop, and Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl. In addition, male-targeted stories tend to make extensive use of moe and bishōjo characterizations.
Sun Magazine published the yuri manga anthology magazine Yuri Shimai between June 2003 and November 2004 in quarterly installments, ending with only five issues. After the magazine's discontinuation, Comic Yuri Hime was launched by Ichijinsha in July 2005 as a revival of the magazine, containing manga by many of the authors who had had work serialized in Yuri Shimai. Like its predecessor, Comic Yuri Hime is also published quarterly. A sister magazine to Comic Yuri Hime named Comic Yuri Hime S was launched as a quarterly publication by Ichijinsha in June 2007. Unlike either Yuri Shimai or Comic Yuri Hime, Comic Yuri Hime S is targeted towards a male audience. Ichijinsha will start to publish light novel adaptations from Comic Yuri Hime works and original yuri novels under their shōjo light novel line Ichijinsha Bunko Iris, scheduled to begin on July 19, 2008. Some Japanese lesbian lifestyle magazines contain manga sections, including the now-defunct magazines Anise (1996–97, 2001–03) and Phryné (1995). Carmilla, an erotic lesbian publication, released an anthology of lesbian manga called Girl's Only. Additionally, Mist (1996–99), a ladies' comic manga magazine, contained sexually explicit lesbian-themed manga as part of a section dedicated to lesbian-interest topics.
The first company to release lesbian-themed manga in North America was Yuricon's publishing arm ALC Publishing. Their works include Rica Takashima's Rica 'tte Kanji!?—which in 2006 was course material for Professor Kerridwen Luis' Anthropology 166B course at Brandeis University—and their annual yuri manga anthology Yuri Monogatari; both were first released in 2003. The latter collects stories by American, European, and Japanese creators, including Akiko Morishima, Althea Keaton, Kristina Kolhi, Tomomi Nakasora, and Eriko Tadeno. These works range from fantasy stories to more realistic tales dealing with themes such as coming out and sexual orientation. Besides ALC Publishing, the Los Angeles-based Seven Seas Entertainment has also incurred in the genre, with the English version of well known titles such as the Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl manga and the Strawberry Panic! light novels. On October 24, 2006, Seven Seas announced the launch of their specialized yuri manga line, which includes works such as the Strawberry Panic! manga, The Last Uniform, and Comic Yuri Hime's compilations such as Voiceful and First Love Sisters.
These lists display stories according to the role yuri plays in them. The first list shows series in which interpersonal attraction between females and/or lesbian themes or tropes play a central role in their storylines; most of which are labeled by publishers as yuri. The second list contains stories in which the same subjects are used mostly for comic relief, as fanservice, subtext, or for character development in a larger, sometimes unrelated context; these are generally recognized by the fandom as to contain prevalent elements of yuri (even if the series is not marketed as such).