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Passionate Friendship

The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan

Deborah Shamoon

Publication Year: 2012

Shojo manga are romance comics for teenage girls. Characterized by a very dense visual style, featuring flowery backgrounds and big-eyed, androgynous boys and girls, it is an extremely popular and prominent genre in Japan. Why is this genre so appealing? Where did it come from? Why do so many of the stories feature androgynous characters and homosexual romance? Passionate Friendship answers these questions by reviewing Japanese girls’ print culture from its origins in 1920s and 1930s girls’ literary magazines to the 1970s “revolution” shojo manga, when young women artists took over the genre. It looks at the narrative and aesthetic features of girls’ literature and illustration across the twentieth century, both pre- and postwar, and discusses how these texts addressed and formed a reading community of girls, even as they were informed by competing political and social ideologies. The author traces the development of girls’ culture in pre–World War II magazines and links it to postwar teenage girls’ comics and popular culture. Within this culture, as private and cloistered as the schools most readers attended, a discourse of girlhood arose that avoided heterosexual romance in favor of “S relationships,” passionate friendships between girls. This preference for homogeneity is echoed in the postwar genre of boys’ love manga written for girls. Both prewar S relationships and postwar boys’ love stories gave girls a protected space to develop and explore their identities and sexuality apart from the pressures of a patriarchal society. Shojo manga offered to a reading community of girls a place to share the difficulties of adolescence as well as an alternative to the image of girls purveyed by the media to boys and men. Passionate Friendship’s close literary and visual analysis of modern Japanese girls’ culture will appeal to a wide range of readers, including scholars and students of Japanese studies, gender studies, and popular culture.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This project was made possible with the help and support of many people and institutions. The Japan Foundation generously funded two research trips to Japan. The Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame, provided support...

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Note on Language

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pp. ix

Japanese names appear in this book with the family name first. Names of scholars who have published in English, however, follow the form given in their publications, in most cases with the family name last. Following Japanese convention, certain artists and writers are designated by their...

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pp. 1-13

In Japan in the early 1970s, a transformation took place in the popular culture consumed by teenage girls. Young women artists, inspired by the atmosphere of youthful rebellion and creative experimentation at the time, took over the genre of shōjo manga, or comic books for girls, and changed it to address the concerns of teenage girls...

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1. The Emergence of the Shōjo and the Discourse of Spiritual Love in Meiji Literature

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pp. 14-28

Representations of the teenage girl as a recurring figure in fiction (and public discourse more generally) begin to appear around the 1880s, or the second decade of the Meiji period. The schoolgirl (joshi gakusei or jogakusei) was one of several new classes of people that emerged in...

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2. Prewar Girls’ Culture (Shōjo Bunka), 1910–1937

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pp. 29-57

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a distinct and separate girls’ culture (shōjo bunka) arose within the homosocial world of single-sex secondary schools and found its public expression in girls’ magazines. Prewar girls’ culture coopted the discourse of spiritual love...

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3. Narrative and Visual Aesthetics of Prewar Girls’ Magazines

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pp. 58-81

In the 1920s and 1930s, readers accepted magazines such as Shōjo no tomo, Shōjo club, and Shōjo gahō as the authentic representation of girls’ culture, a discrete discourse premised on a private, closed world of girls. In demonstrating how those magazines promoted the perception...

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4. The Formation of Postwar Shōjo Manga, 1950–1969

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pp. 82-100

Manga as it exists in Japan today is a postwar phenomenon, and this is true for shōjo manga as well as for other genres.1 The distinctive format and look of what is now the shōjo manga genre emerged in the early 1970s. The key features of shōjo manga are initial publication in...

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5. The Revolution in 1970s Shōjo Manga

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pp. 101-136

Shòjo manga today is not only the primary locus of girls’ culture, but because of its mainstream, widespread popularity, it has become an important site of cultural production, as popular series inspire animation, films, TV shows, music, stage plays, and novels. Manga in general comprise...

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pp. 137-141

When I first began to research shōjo manga over a decade ago, there was little scholarship on manga of any kind written in English, and manga translations had not yet found a foothold in the US marketplace. While translations of shōjo manga have at last become popular with North...


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pp. 143-155


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pp. 157-166


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pp. 167-179

Image Plates

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pp. 181-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861117
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835422

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Teenage girls in popular culture -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- Japan -- History and criticism.
  • Teenage girls -- Books and reading -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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