Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girl's Culture in Japan
208pp. March 2012
Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girl's Culture in Japan
Author: Shamoon, Deborah;
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.

30 illus., 5 in color
Passionate Friendship juxtaposes very different periods and works, but it is provocative in the best sense of the word, sure to explode received notions about shojo manga and encourage productive debate.” —Social Science Japan Journal (16:1, winter 2013)

“A fascinating and valuable piece of work, highly accessible to students and general readers given its short length and its familiar and topical subject matter. . . . I know that I will be referring to this work in my courses on anthropology of gender, and it is equally relevant to courses on popular culture.” —Anthropology Review Database (September 2012)

“In this engaging account, Deborah Shamoon forwards an innovative argument for taking the long view of girls’ culture. Rather than focusing narrowly on prewar or postwar production, she convincingly demonstrates the connections in theme, image, and tone that produce a genealogy of the Japanese girl (shōjo). With a keen eye to the visual representations of the shōjo, she points to the ways graphic artists express interiority, affection, and a frankly charming girlishness. She at the same time guides readers through the debates over readers’ and writers’ intentions, alleged subtexts of repression, and disparities in Western and Japanese critics’ approaches to shōjo display and fandom. Passionate Friendship is a remarkable contribution to the growing field of Girl Studies.”—Jan Bardsley, University of North Carolina

“Shamoon reads brilliantly, dismantling our overly scripted and self-reflexive readings of girl culture in Japan. Not only does Passionate Friendship illuminate the development of girls’ forms and themes from the Meiji schoolgirl to the pre-war ‘S’ relationship to postwar gender-bending , but it also returns vibrant texts and flowery illustrations to the circuits where they once flowed—a private discursive space where girls’ experiences were shaped, tested, celebrated, and shared. Colorfully illustrated and mercifully accessible to both curious reader and scholar alike, Passionate Friendship is that rare find: the scholarly study that one simply cannot put down.”—Eve Zimmerman, Wellesley College
Author: Shamoon, Deborah;
Deborah Shamoon is assistant professor in the Department of Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore.
Read the Introduction (PDF).
Note on Language 

1 The Emergence of the Shojo and the Discourse of Spiritual Love in Meiji Literature 
2 Prewar Girls’ Culture (Shojo Bunka), 1910–1937 
3 Narrative and Visual Aesthetics of Prewar Girls’ Magazines 
4 The Formation of Postwar Shojo Manga, 1950–1969 
5 The Revolution in 1970s Shojo Manga 


Plates follow p. 70