A catgirl (猫娘, nekomusume) is a female kemonomimi character with cat traits, such as cat ears (猫耳, nekomimi), a cat tail, or other feline characteristics on an otherwise human body. Catgirls are found in various fiction genres and in particular Japanese anime and manga.
The oldest mention of the term nekomusume comes from a 1700s misemono in which a cat/woman hybrid was displayed. Stories of shape-shifting bakeneko prostitutes were popular during the Edo Period. The popularity of the nekomusume continued throughout the Edo and Shōwa periods, with many tales of cat/woman hybrids appearing in works such as the Ehon Sayoshigure (絵本小夜時雨) and Ansei zakki (安政雑記).
In Kenji Miyazawa's 1924 work, Suisenzuki no Yokka (水仙月の四日, literally The 4th of Narcissus Month) is first modern day example of a beautiful, cat-eared woman. In 1936, the nekomusume experienced a revival in kamishibai. The first anime involving catgirls, titled The King’s Tail (Osama no Shippo), was made in 1949 by Mitsuyo Seo. In America, the DC Comics character Catwoman first appeared in 1940, and Cheetah first appeared in 1943.
Catgirls were further made popular in 1978 series The Star of Cottonland. By the 1990s, catgirls were common in Japanese anime and manga. Catgirls have since been featured in various media worldwide. Enough of a subculture has developed for various themed conventions and events to be held around the world, such as Nekocon.
Japanese philosopher Hiroki Azuma has stated that catgirl characteristics such as cat ears and feline speech patterns are examples of moe-elements. Azuma argued that although some otaku sexual expression involves catgirl imagery, few otaku have the sexual awareness to understand how such imagery can be perceived as perverted. In a 2010 critique of the manga series Loveless, the feminist writer T. A. Noonan argued that, in Japanese culture, catgirl characteristics have a similar role to that of the Playboy bunny in western culture, serving as a fetishization of youthful innocence.
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The first issue of Batman's self-titled comic written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane, represented a milestone in more ways than one. With Robin now a partner to the Caped Crusader, villains needed to rise to the challenge, and this issue introduced two future legends: the Joker and Catwoman.
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- Azuma, Hiroki (2009). Otaku: Japan's database animals. Translated by Abel, Jonathan; Kono, Shion (English ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 47, 89. ISBN 9780816668007. OCLC 527737445.
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- Noonan, T. A. (Fall 2010). ""I Can't Get Excited for a Child, Ritsuka": Intersections of Gender, Identity, and Audience Ambiguity in Yun Kôga's Loveless" (PDF). MP: An Online Feminist Journal. 3 (2). ISSN 1939-330X. Retrieved 10 February 2013.