Girls’ Love or GL, referred to by fans as “yuri,” is a literary genre or media that showcases romantic relationships between female characters. GL covers a wide variety of creative platforms like literary works, fan fiction, manga, anime, and even video games. Like Boys’ Love (BL) or Yaoi, the majority of GL writers are women authors. GL promotes ideal friendships or romances between women via flowery imagery. There are also a few GL works that target male fans to expand the target audience. Some of the most popular GL works over the decades are The Rose of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Maria Watches Over Us, Strawberry Panic!, Kannazuki no Miko, Sakura Trick, and Citrus.
The word Girls’ Love or ガールズラブ is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese term that appropriates English words into Japanese terms for the usage of Japanese audiences.
The term yuri meanwhile came from the flower yuri no hana (百合の花) or “lily flower.” It is also associated with female homosexuality in Japan. Yuri is very idealistic about meaningful romance, deep friendship, and platonic love. The word yuri appeared in a 1976 magazine article called Yuri (百合) or “Lily.” The magazine article by female readers catered to gay and lesbian readers. At first, yuri was attributed to pornographic materials since novels and manga used the term yuri for sexual interaction between female characters.
Another possible origin of the term yuri came from the 1970s gay men’s magazine Barazoku (薔薇族) or “rose tribe.” The magazine’s editor Itou Bungaku referred to the female audience as yurizoku (百合族) or “lily tribe.”
A Brief History
The first GL literature appeared during the Taisho period in the 1910s. Yoshiya Nobuko was the first Japanese writer to publish GL literature. She refused to conform to society’s norms and instead joined the Japanese feminist magazine Seitou in Tokyo. Unlike her peers, Yoshiya wore a bob haircut and dressed in masculine Western clothing. One of her earlier works was the literary series Hana Monogatari (花物語) or “Flower Tales” in 1915. Hana Monogatari was popular among female readers at that time. Some of the common themes found in the series were the dormitory settings, the romanticized and dreamy writings, Western flowers, unrequited love, the sempai-kohai relationships, and bitter endings. Her next literary work in 1919 was Yaneura no Nishojo (屋根裏の二處女) or “Two Virgins in the Attic.” Yaneura no Nishojo was about two female dormmates falling in love with each other. Yoshiya’s personal experiences and relationship with her lifetime partner contributed to her novel. Her novel would also influence contemporary yuri novels and manga, as well as the shojo genre.
Japanese society developed the concept of S Kankei (エス関係), Class S (クラスS), or simply S (エス) at the turn of the 20th century. S was a Japanese concept of same-sex relationships between females, and was named after the letter “S” – the first letter in the word “sister.” Works of western literature such as Little Women influenced the S culture, and fostered ideals like sisterhood, idealized romance, and sentimentalism. S declined in the public conscience during World War II when the government policies at the time attempted to prohibit non-gender-conforming materials, including literature.
The 1960s saw the minor revival of GL. Shojo manga artists would take inspiration from Yoshiya’s literary works. The female mangaka group Hana no Nijūyo-nen Gumi (花の24年組) or “Year 24 Group” were prominent at the golden age of shojo manga in the 1970s. The first proto-yuri manga created by Year 24 Group member Yamagishi Ryoko was Shiroi Heya no Futari (白い部屋のふたり) or “The Couple of the White Room.” The manga was about a forbidden romance between two lady students in France. It has the melodramatic tones and tragic endings of Yoshiya’s Hana Monogatari. Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon was one of the shojo manga that depicted yuri relationships in a positive light. In late 1990, S later gained revival in the form of the yuri light novel Maria-sama ga Miteru (マリア様がみてる) or “Maria Watches Over Us.” Shoujo Kakumei Utena (少女革命ウテナ) or “Revolutionary Girl Utena” was a series in the 90s that culminated everything about girls’ love while decorated with surreal visuals.
When GL reached the West, North American publishers mistakenly co-related yuri with the term shoujo-ai. For the Japanese audience, shoujo-ai is as explicit as the term lolicon. North American publishers then adapted the Japanese term yuri in their manga publications.
Girls’ Love was once a niche literary work or culture. It challenged the traditional roles of women while nurturing sisterhood. As technology progresses, girls’ love regains its presence to popular culture. Media also helped propagate girls’ love stories through television, film, electronic platforms, and the internet. Creators nowadays can share their Girls’ Love stories in the form of manga and light novels.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/百合の花, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/百合, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/伊藤文學, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
GOODANIMELIFE, Learn Japanese with Anime https://learnjapaneseanime.com/culture-custom/people/yuri-lilies-signify-lesbian-love/, 05 February, 2018, Retrieved 17 August, 2020
Friedman, Erica, “What are Yuri and Shoujo-ai, anyway?”, Yuricon, web.archive.org/web/20050406035511/www.yuricon.org/essays/whatisyuri.html, 6 April 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Tsuchiya, Hiromi, Tsuchiya, Hiromi. “Abstracts of the 2000 AAS Annual Meeting.” Purdue University, “Yoshiya Nobuko’s Yaneura No Nishojo (Two Virgins in the Attic): Female-Female Desire and Feminism”, Homosexual/Homosocial Subtexts in Early 20th-Century Japanese Culture, 9 – 12 March 2000, https://web.archive.org/web/20010221054254/http://www.aasianst.org/absts/2000abst/Japan/J-12.htm, 21 February 2001, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Imbler, Sabrina, The Beloved Japanese Novelist Who Became a Queer Manga Icon, Atlas Obscura, https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/yoshiya-nobuko-queer-manga, 04 April 2019, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Shamoon, Deborah, The Second Coming of Shôjo, Heso Magazine, http://hesomagazine.com/japan/the-second-coming-of-shojo/, 01 January 2009, Retrieved 16 August 2020.
Dollase, Hiromi, “Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Girls’ Magazine Stories: Examining Shōjo Voice in Hanamonogatari (Flower Tales)”, The Journal of Popular Culture, 36 (4): 724–755., https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5931.00043, 29 April 2003, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
エスという関係, 美少女がいっぱい！ 若者がハマる「マリみて」ワールドの秘密, Excite, https://web.archive.org/web/20080221062938/http://media.excite.co.jp/book/news/topics/012/p02.html, 21 February 2008, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
Brown, Rebecca “An Introduction to Yuri Manga and Anime”, AfterEllen.com, https://archive.vn/20120719025729/http://www.afterellen.com/archive/ellen/Print/2005/8/yuri.html, 08 August 2005, Retrieved 17 August 2020.
About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists
In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.
Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. By the end of 2020, subscribers will have unlimited access to at least 500 titles. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account. More information is in our Guide.