Lolicon (ロリコン, rorikon), also romanized as lolikon or rorikon, is Japanese discourse or media focusing on the attraction to young or prepubescent girls. The term lolicon is a portmanteau of the phrase "Lolita complex";[1] it describes an attraction to young or prepubescent girls, an individual with such an attraction, or lolicon manga or lolicon anime, a genre of manga and anime wherein childlike female characters are often depicted in an "erotic-cute" manner (also known as ero kawaii), in an art style reminiscent of the shōjo manga (girls' comics) style.[2][3][4][5]

Outside Japan, lolicon is in less common usage and usually refers to the genre. The term loli usually refers to characters that comply with the lolicon asthetic. The term is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov's book Lolita, in which a middle-aged man becomes sexually obsessed with a twelve-year-old girl. It was first used in Japan in the 1970s and quickly became used to describe erotic dojinshi (amateur comics) portrayals of young girls.

Laws have been enacted in various countries, including in Japan, which regulate explicit content featuring children or childlike characters. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have made it illegal to possess lolicon.[6] Parent and citizens groups in Japan have organized to work toward stronger controls and stricter laws governing lolicon manga and other similar media. Studies of lolicon fans state that they are attracted to an aesthetic of cuteness rather than the age of the characters,[7] and that collecting lolicon represents a disconnect from society.[8][9][10]

Definition and scope

Generally, manga and anime featuring lolicon include sexual attraction to younger girls or to girls with youthful characteristics. Individuals in each group respond sexually to visual images of children and young people in distinct and narrow age ranges.[11] Manga and anime featuring lolicon contain images and narratives involving romantic and erotic interactions between typically an adult man and a girl in the age range desired by such men.[3]

Strictly speaking, Lolita complex in Japanese refers to the paraphilia itself, but the abbreviation lolicon can also refer to an individual who has the paraphilia.[4] Lolicon is widespread in Japan, where it is a frequent subject of scholarly articles and criticism.[12] Lolicon anime and manga are typically consumed by young men.[13] Many general bookstores and newsstands openly offer illustrated lolicon material, but there has also been police action against lolicon manga.[12]

The kawaii (cute) and ero kawaii (erotic-cute) style is extremely popular in Japan, where it is present in many of the manga/anime styles.[14] The school-age girl in a school uniform is also an erotic symbol in Japan.[15] Burusera shops cater to men with lolicon complexes by selling unwashed panties, men can make dates with teenagers through terekura (telephone clubs),[16] and some schoolgirls moonlight as prostitutes.[17] Sharon Kinsella observed an increase in unsubstantiated accounts of schoolgirl prostitution in the media in the late 1990s, and speculated that these unproven reports developed in counterpoint to the increased reporting on comfort women. She speculated that, "It may be that the image of happy girls selling themselves voluntarily cancels out the other guilty image".[18]

Genre and meaning outside Japan

Lolicon manga are usually short stories, published as dōjinshi (fan works) or in magazines specializing in the genre such as Lemon People,[19] Manga Burikko[20][21] and Comic LO (where "LO" is an abbreviation for "Lolita Only").[22] Common focuses of these stories include taboo relationships, such as between a teacher and student or brother and sister, while others feature sexual experimentation between children. Some lolicon manga cross over with other erotic genres, such as crossdressing and futanari.[12] Plot devices are often used to explain the young appearance for many of the characters.[23] Schoolgirls accidentally showing their underwear are common characters in the lolicon genre.[2]

Akira Akagi believes that during the 1980s, the lolicon genre changed from being tales of a young girl having sex with an older man to being about "girl-ness" and "cuteness".[19] Akagi identifies subgenres within lolicon of sadomasochism, "groping objects" (tentacles and robots in the role of the penis), "mecha fetishes" (a combination of a machine, usually a weapon, and a girl), parodies of mainstream anime and manga, and "simply indecent or perverted stuff". Additionally, lolicon can include themes of lesbianism and masturbation.[7]

Men began reading shōjo manga in the 1970s, including the works of the Year 24 Group and the "girly" works of Mutsu A-ko.[19] According to Dinah Zank, lolicon is "rooted in the glorification of girls culture in Japan", and therefore uses shōjo manga vocabulary.[24] The lolicon style borrows from shōjo manga designs and has also been influenced by women creating pornographic materials for men.[25]

According to Michael Darling, female manga artists who draw lolicon material include Chiho Aoshima (The red-eyed tribe billboard),[26] Aya Takano (Universe Dream wall painting).,[27] and Kaworu Watashiya (who created Kodomo no Jikan; was interpreted as a lolicon work by Jason DeAngelis.[28]) According to Darling, male artists include Henmaru Machino (untitled, aka Green Caterpillar's Girl), Hitoshi Tomizawa (Alien 9, Milk Closet), and Bome (sculptures).[2] Weekly Dearest My Brother is a manga and figurine series which, according to Takashi Murakami, women find cute and "an innocent fantasy", but which arouses "pedophiliac desires" among men.[29]

The meaning of lolicon has evolved much in the Western world, as have words like anime, otaku and hentai.[30] "Lolicon" is also used to refer directly to the products, anime or manga that contains explicitly sexual or erotic portrayals of prepubescent girls. However, there is disagreement if this definition also applies to childlike characters who are not clearly prepubescent and if it applies to material lacking explicit sexual content.[18][30][31]



The phrase is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov's book Lolita, in which a middle-age man becomes sexually obsessed with a twelve-year-old girl.[32] The term "Lolita complex" was first used in the early 1970s with the translation of Russell Trainer's The Lolita Complex and may have entered Japanese nomenclature at that time.[23] Shinji Wada used the word in his Stumbling upon a Cabbage Field (キャベツ畑でつまずいて, Kyabetsu-batake de Tsumazuite), an Alice in Wonderland manga parody in 1974.[33] The shortening of the term to "lolicon" came later.[23] Early lolicon idols were Clarisse from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979) and the shōjo heroine Minky Momo (1982) as female characters in shōnen series at that point were largely mothers or older-sister characters.[23][34] Although Clarisse was depicted as 16, older than most "lolicon" images today, she inspired "fairytale-esque" or "girly" fanworks. Patrick Galbraith asserts that Minky Momo was an attempt to court lolicon fans. This is denied by Satō Toshihiko, who planned the original Minky Momo.[19] Helen McCarthy suggests that the roots of 'lolikon' anime lie in the magical girl genre, where the lines between young girls and adult women become blurred.[3]


The lolicon manga genre began in the 1980s with Hideo Azuma's works, such as The Machine Which Came from the Sea (海から来た機械, Umi kara Kita Kikai). In 1979, Azuma had previously published the first "blatantly lolicon" manga in his own self-published Dōjinishi magazine Cybele.[23][35] Azuma's works became popular among schoolboy readers because most of the pornographic manga up until then had featured mature women influenced by gekiga. Other dōjinshi magazines began featuring "underage or barely pubescent virgins" in erotic contexts and by the late 1980s this "fantasy genre" had spread to some mass market magazines.[36] Frederik L. Schodt and Dinah Zank both suggest that Japanese laws prohibiting the depiction of pubic hair may have encouraged the spread of "erotic manga with a rorikon flavor".[15][24] Throughout the 1980s, notable lolicon manga artists who published in these magazines include Miki Hayasaka, Kamui Fujiwara, Kyoko Okazaki, Narumi Kakinouchi, and Yoshiki Takaya peaking in the mid-1980s.[23][37]

Frederik L. Schodt has suggested that one reason lolicon manga is popular with some fans is because the female characters portrayed are "younger, slightly softer, [and] rarely possessing an in-your-face aggressive feminism" which is often found in female characters in American comics.[38]

Public attention was brought to bear on lolicon when Tsutomu Miyazaki kidnapped and murdered four girls between the ages of 4 and 7 in 1988 and 1989, committing acts of necrophilia with their corpses.[39] He was found to be a "withdrawn and obsessive" otaku and in particular he enjoyed lolicon. The Tokyo High Court ruled Miyazaki sane, stating that "the murders were premeditated and stemmed from Miyazaki's sexual fantasies"[40] and he was executed by hanging for his crimes on June 17, 2008.[41]

The case caused a moral panic about "harmful manga", and "sparked a crackdown by local authorities on retailers and publishers, including the larger companies, and the arrests of dojinshi creators".[36] In the aftermath, the Japanese non-profit organization CASPAR was founded with the goal of campaigning for regulation of lolicon.[23][42]

Public sentiment against sexual cartoon depictions of minors was revived in 2005 when a convicted sex offender, who was arrested for the murder of a seven-year-old girl in Nara, was suspected as a lolicon.[42] Despite media speculation, it was found that the murderer, Kaoru Kobayashi, seldom had interest in manga, games, or dolls.[43] He claimed, however, that he had become interested in small girls after watching an animated pornographic video as a high school student.[44] He was sentenced to death by hanging.


In February 2010, a proposal to amend the Tokyo law on what material could be sold to minors included a ban on sexualised depictions of "nonexistent youths" under the age of 18.[45][46] This proposal was criticised by many manga artists,[47] and opposed by the Democratic Party of Japan.[48] The bill was put on hold until June of that year,[49][50] where after some amendments, including changing the text for "nonexistent youths" to "depicted youths".[51][52] However, in spite of the changes, the bill was rejected by the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June.[53]

A revised edition was presented in November that year to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, which would require self-regulation of "'manga, anime and other images' ... that 'unjustifiably glorify or emphasize' certain sexual or pseudo sexual acts...depictions of 'sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life'".[54] However, the bill no longer uses the term "nonexistent youth" and applies to all characters and to material that is not necessarily meant to be sexually stimulating.[55] It was approved in December and took full effect in July 2011;[56][57][58][59] however, the bill does not regulate mobile sites or downloaded content and is only intended for publications such as books and DVDs.[60] On April 14, 2011, the title Oku-sama wa Shōgakusei ("My Wife Is an Elementary Student") was listed as a title to be considered for restriction due to "child rape".[61] It was later published online by J-Comi.[62] On August 25, 2011, Japan's Liberal Democratic Party submitted a petition requesting stricter laws on child pornography, which included animated child pornography; however, no action took place as a result of the petition.[63][64] On May 27, 2013, a revised child pornography law was introduced by the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komei Party and the Japan Restoration Party that would make possession of sexual images of individuals under 18 illegal with a fine of 1 million yen (about US$10,437) and less than a year in jail.[65] The Japanese Democratic Party,[66] along with several industry associations involved in anime and manga, had protested against the bill saying "while they appreciate that the bill protects children, it will also restrict freedom of expression".[67][68] Manga creator and artist Ken Akamatsu has gone on to say that "There is also no scientific evidence to prove that so-called 'harmful media' increases crime".[69] The bill was not rejected and remained in a stalemate situation until June 2014, when it went forward with the removal of lolicon anime/manga from the bill.[70][71] The law was put into full effect the following year banning real life child pornography.[72]


The legal status of lolicon manga and anime that portray children involved erotically with adults has changed with time and is currently under intensive debate in Japan.[12][73] A Japanese non-profit organization called CASPAR has claimed that lolicon and other anime magazines and games encourage sex crimes.[42] According to Galbraith, Yasushi Takatsuki has noted that sexual abuse of minors in Japan has declined since the 1960s and 1970s, which "roughly coincides with the increasing presence of fictional lolicon". Galbraith feels that this is not an argument that lolicon "compensates for or relieves real desires", but instead that lolicon imagery does not "reflect the desires" of readers, or inspire them to commit crimes.[19] It has been suggested that restricting sexual expression in drawings or animated games and videos might actually increase the rate of sexual crime by eliminating a harmless outlet for desires that could motivate crime.[74]

Cultural critic Hiroki Azuma said that very few readers of lolicon manga commit crimes. He states that in the otaku culture, lolicon is the "most convenient [form of rebellion]" against society. Azuma says that some otaku feel so "excluded from society" that they "feel as if they are the sort of 'no good' person who should be attracted to little girls".[18] Sarah Goode describes the accumulation of lolicon materials as being "a medium through which disaffected men may choose to express their sense of anomie and disconnection with society". When questioning the relationship of lolicon to "finding children in real life sexually attractive", Goode presents the argument of a lolicon fan "that even if I could be classified as a kind of anime lolicon, it'd NEVER translate into RL pedophilia. This is predicated on the belief that the anime lolis I like DO NOT EXIST in RL".[10]

Setsu Shigematsu believes that lolicon manga should not be equated to photographic or adult video lolicon materials which involve real children; instead she argues that lolicon represents an artificial sexuality, turning away from "three dimensional reality" and redirecting sexual energies towards "two dimensional figures of desire".[9] Akira Akagi writes that in lolicon manga, the girl represents cuteness, and that it is not her age which makes her attractive,[7] and furthermore, that lolicon fans project themselves onto lolicon characters, identifying themselves with the girl.[19]

Lolicon manga has been and is marketed to both boys and men.[25] Sharon Kinsella wrote that lolicon manga was a late 1980s outgrowth of girls' manga,[32] which included yaoi and parodies of boys' and adult manga.[75] This occurred as more men attended amateur manga conventions and as new boys' amateur manga genres appeared at Comiket. Kinsella distinguished between the attitudes toward gender of amateur lolicon manga and that of male fans of girls' manga.[32] While parody manga created by women ridicule male stereotypes and appeal to both male and female fans, lolicon manga "usually features a girl heroine with large eyes and a body that is both voluptuous and child-like, scantily clad in an outfit that approximates a cross between a 1970s bikini and a space-age suit of armour".[32] Kinsella noted dominant British and American genres and imports of animation video in the 1990s derived from lolicon manga, suggesting women, and therefore also men, in all of these countries have gone through similar social and cultural experiences.[76]

Ito characterises otaku as having more affection towards the anime and manga world than for a realistic world, saying that to the otaku, the two-dimensional world portrayed becomes "more real". Ito views the preference for young girls as sex objects in manga and anime to be due to a change in Japanese society in the 1970s and 1980s. Ito says that at that time, boys felt that girls were "surpassing them in terms of willpower and action". However, as the boys believed girls to be the weaker sex, the boys began focusing on young girls "who were 'easy to control'". Additionally, the young girls of lolicon exist in the media, which Ito points out is a place where one can control things however they want.[8]

Responding to the portrayal of Clarisse from Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki criticized the lolicon artists and fans who idolize her in what he considers a demeaning manner. He differentiates his female protagonists, labeling those the aforementioned idolized, according to The Otaku Encyclopedia, "as pets".[23]

See also



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  • Darling, Michael (Autumn 2001). "Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness". Art Journal. Art Journal, Vol. 60, No. 3. 60 (3): 76–89. doi:10.2307/778139. ISSN 0004-3249. JSTOR 778139. Lolicon imagery is well-documented in Superflat, and relies on the angelic stare of the young girl for its erotic charge. ... Kinsella writes, 'The little girl heroines of Lolicon manga simultaneously reflect an awareness of the increasing power and centrality of young women ...'
  • Kinsella, Sharon (Summer 1998). "Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement". Journal of Japanese Studies. The Society for Japanese Studies. 24 (2): 289–316. doi:10.2307/133236. JSTOR 133236. Titled "Amateur Manga Subculture and the Otaku Panic" by Kinsella on her website. Retrieved on January 14, 2008.
  • Shigematsu, Setsu (1999). "Dimensions of Desire: Sex, Fantasy and Fetish in Japanese Comics". In Lent, J.A. (ed.). Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning: Cute, Cheap, Mad and Sexy. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. pp. 127–163. ISBN 978-0-87972-779-6.

Further reading

  • Media related to Lolicon at Wikimedia Commons
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