From time to time, we’ve all noticed the presence in anime and manga of the hybrid characters known as nekomimi. Nekomimi is Japanese for “cat ears” and refers to the young girls who possess the same characteristics of a cat, such as a cat ears, a cat tail, and the same personality as a feline. They’re extremely common in Japan and America. They can pop up anywhere! You might find them in a comic book, in a movie on your shelf, or in an anime you watch everyday. But just did where did the nekomimi originate from and how did they end up in present day Japan? Let’s find out!
Cat Girl Origins in Ancient Egypt
First, let’s take a few steps back into history for some education. For a better understanding we’ll need to go all the way back to 2890 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. Surprising, isn’t it? The original “catgirl” was known as Bastet, formally known as the lioness warrior goddess of the sun. She is now more widely known as the cat goddess of Ancient Egypt. She was depicted as a lioness or also as a woman who possessed the head of a strong female feline. During this era in Egypt, cats were considered to be sacred and incredibly special. They rid the land of rats and unwanted critters and served quite useful to the people. Because of this, cats in Egypt who belonged to royalty were often dressed in jewelry and gold, and even given the luxury of eating from the food plates of their owners.
However, chasing rats wasn’t the only talent of the cat goddess. She also took on the role of a loving and gentle mother, so women who wished to become pregnant would often wear jewelry or amulets with Bastet’s picture. The goddess was worshipped for many generations and highly regarded in Egypt during this time. Not only was she highly regarded for these reasons, but she also was known as the keeper of the hearth and home, the guard for women’s secret, the protector against spirits and of sickness, and of course, the goddess of cats. Who knew that cats had such an influence over an entire culture so long ago?
Cat Girls Appear Japan
Now let’s fast forward a little bit. In the 1950s, the nekomimi started emerging in Japan in different forms of entertainment. The manga series Hakaba Kitarō featured a cute and charismatic girl (Neko-Musume) who would seemingly transform into part cat whenever she was hungry, upset, or frustrated. This was one of the first appearances of a cat girl, although there wasn’t an official name for them yet. Little did we know that this would be the start of a worldwide phenomenon.
Note: At the time there was also quite a bit of lore surrounding cat spirits that roamed modern day Japan known as Bakeneko which is suspected to be where the idea of nekomimi originated, although this isn’t confirmed.
Cat Girls Arrive in America
Around the same time in history, the catgirl phenomenon started to pop up around the world. Around the 1940s in America, Catwoman was featured as a villain in the earliest version of Batman. We are often used to hearing about Batman’s enemies as being the Joker or the Riddler. Some movies portray Catwoman as being a heroine when her actual beginning was much different. She was actually a villain and one of Batman’s enemies in his universe.
This appearance was followed by the band Josie and the Pussycats, along with the Cats Musical. However, all of these examples featured women wearing cat costumes, whereas Japan’s anime scene featured more women who were actually a physical hybrid of the animal. The trend seemed to start spreading like wildfire and the number appearances of the nekomimi only began to increase over the years!
Cat Girls in Manga
If you aren’t familiar with the concept, chances are you’ve come across nekomimi in some sort of comic, TV series, or manga and you just don’t realize it! In the mid 1990s, people began to cosplay as the nekomimi. But what kind of characters were they cosplaying as? Let’s start off with comics.
Catgirls were featured in an endless number of comics. The number one and original comic catgirl would be Hellcat. Hellcat was also known as Patsy Walke and is one of Marvel’s oldest and most classic superheroes. Patsy Walker was created in 1944 by the lovely Ruth Atkinson. The character Hellcat is a young woman living in the Suburbia of America when she meets Hank McCoy, a superhero who is part of the X-Men group. Due to her desire to become a superhero herself, Patsy joins the Avengers and then acquires a special suit that enhances her already athletic abilities to become more cat-like. The suit gave Patsy the catlike imagine with pointy ears at the top of the mask. She then adopted the name Hellcat and was featured in several other comics throughout the years.
Another very famous catgirl featured in the comics is the very recognizable and famous Catwoman, she has been portrayed by Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Pfeiffer, and, most famously, Julie Newmar. While most of us might recognize Halle Berry as Catwoman from the modern day American movie, there is very rich history to the character! Catwoman was first featured in the 1940 Batman comic #1. She was originally portrayed as a villain to Batman who was also known as Selina Kyle. She had the reflexes and behavior of a cat and was often seen wearing a tight black suit and carrying a whip. Over the years, Catwoman’s identity has shifted from villian to antiheroine and is widely known for having a complicated relationship with Batman throughout the rest of the series.
Next on the list is Tigra. Tigra was originally a crime fighter in comics, but in 1972 she became more cat like. She is a member of the avengers and she possesses all the qualities of a cat. She has excellent speed, all of a cat’s senses, speed, retractable claws, and she is covered from head to toe in fur that makes her resemble a tiger, hence the name Tigra. She was known for being the historical defender of the Cat People which was a race from the Dark Ages. Tigra, being wild and untamed, defended the Cat People and tried to restore the community as best she could. Tigra had striped fur that covered her entire body. She had razor-sharp claws on both her hands and feet and her teeth were quite pointed like a cat’s. Her eyes had become much like a tiger and her senses were incredibly heightened. During her story, she had become stuck in this form of her cat self but she is then given an amulet that allows her to change back and forth between her car form and her human form at will.
Tigra’s abilities were a combination of energy, science, and magic. She had orange and black stripes that covered her body and a long list of capabilities. She had full control over her tail which isn’t always the case in these comics. She was also able to heal much faster than a regular everyday human. Something that is not always mentioned in comics featuring a catgirl is heightened hearing. Tigra was able to hear a wider range of frequencies and could clearly hear things that were far away. This is a quality that cats have that is seldom mentioned.
Kitty Pryde (Shadow Cat)
The fourth on our list is Kitty Pryde, also known as Shadow Cat. So what’s Kitty’s story? She was born in Illinois and began having intense headaches at age 13. This was a signal that her powers were coming to the surface. Kitty learned she had mutant powers and was able to move through solid materials as if she was a ghost or a shadow. She was able to do this very quiet and skillfully, very much in the manner that a cat would move about a difficult situation. Kitty then joined the X-Men Group and was known to advocate for the peaceful coexistence of humans and mutants in the world. Although she was very feisty, she had a good heart. She went through several name changes that included Sprite, Ariel, and eventually ended up with Shadowcat. Kitty, despite the name, actually did not present any physical cat-like features.
Black Panther & Shuri
Black Panther most certainly has to take a spot on our list! The Black Panther is a superhero that once again appears in the Marvel Universe. His character was known as the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics in America. Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, was meant to be the next chief of the Panther Tribe in the African city, Wakanda. In order to obtain this title, he had to eat a special herb that granted him heightened senses, speed, agility, strength, durability, better reflexes and healing, much like a black panther itself. This also allowed him to contact the Panther god. Through these powers, T’Challa is eventually able to form a connection with the panther god and take hold of his powers.. This character dressed in black and included a mask with two pointy black ears similar to a panther’s.
Although T’Challa was the original Black Panther, later on in the series he was injured and fell into a coma. His sister, Shuri, took over his role as the Black Panther and was able acquire his powers, including the heightened senses and strength. She had taken on the same costume, a full black outfit with two black pointed ears at the top. Although T’Challa later on healed and went back to taking care of his duties, Shuri still continued on fighting crime as his female counterpart.
Cheetah (Priscilla Rich)
We can’t forget a few classics and Cheetah is definitely one. All of us recognize Wonder Woman, but do you know about her adversary, Cheetah? She first appeared in the comic books in 1943. Although there were many different versions of Cheetah through the years, the first and most classic version was Priscilla Rich. Priscilla was a debutante from a wealthy family and suffered from a split personality disorder. After being upstaged by Wonder Woman and failing to kill her herself, Priscilla finds that her reflection is that of a cheetah. She then begins to have a conversation with her reflection in which the cheetah-like girl tells her that she is Priscilla’s true self and that she should do everything she is told to do. This is the beginning of a long running battle between good and evil. Her powers included the appearance of a cheetah complete with spots, superhuman speed and superhuman strength.
Catgirl (Kitrina Falcone)
Speaking of classics, everyone’s heard of Batman, right? Well, one of Batman’s enemies was Kitrina Falcone or also known as Catgirl. Kitrina was known for being very unique and her story starts off portraying her in an abusive friendship with her uncle. She was first known as “kittyhawk” and this later evolved into Catgirl. Catgirl’s first appearance was in Batman #692. She was known to have befriended Catwoman and was an excellent escape artist.
She Cat (Jessica Hunt)
Last on our list for comic cat girls is She Cat. She Cat appeared in the Femforce comic book by AC Comics. She Cat’s real name is Jessica Hunt and was the daughter of Dr. Thaddeus Hunt. The doctor brought a statue of a cat-demon to America and the spirit of the statue made an attempt to possess Jessica. She luckily was able to stop the demon from fully possessing her, but somehow kept the powers of the demon. She now had cat-like powers such as strength and agility. Like most other characters in this genre, she also had cat-like reflexes and senses. She often donned a revealing red costume that also had a facemask with two pointed ends resembling cat ears.
Cat Girls in Anime
The concept of the catgirl then began to leak over into TV series and movies. A big source of the diversity in nekomimi in TV is anime.
Ichigo (Tokyo Mew Mew)
One of the most popular shows featuring a catgirl is an anime known as ‘Tokyo Mew Mew‘ that was serialized from a manga in the early 2000s. The storyline followed five young girls who had been infected with the DNA of five different endangered animals. This DNA gave the girls special abilities that allowed them to form the “Mew Mews”. The leader of the group is a girl named Ichigo. Ichigo takes the form of a cat during her transformations, complete with cat ears, cat-like teeth, and a tail.
Eris (Asobi ni Iku yo!)
Another very popular show that features the adored catgirl is ‘Asobi ni Iku yo!‘. This series appeared in 2010 on television and the story revolves around, once again, a young girl named Eris who meets a gentleman named Kio. Eris possesses cat ears and states that she is an alien not from this world. This particular series took on a more suggestive and sexual nature, unlike other series who portray nekomimi with more cute and innocent qualities. Although the tone of this series was different from others, it did follow the basic detail for what nekomimi is. Eris was in fact a human-cat hybrid who possessed the same characteristics as a cat.
Cat Girls in Fashion
The nekomimi not only influenced TV, movies, and comics, but they also influenced some of the most popular trends that we see today, especially fashion. As the trend grew, the popularity skyrocketed as well. Fashion adapted to the nekomimi fascination and began showing up in some very creative ways.
One of the most unique trends is the use of cat makeup. The eyes are the main focus of this trend when it comes to makeup. The eyeliner is winged up and out from the outer corner of the eye to replicate the image of a cat’s eye. The trend was so popular that in 2012 a popular cosmetics company began to sell a “cat eyeliner,” which was a fine eyeliner pen that made small and precise lines easier to draw on the eye. Some would also style their hair in a way that make them appear as though they had pointy cat ears on top of the head which were just carefully placed bunches of hair that were fixed with hairpins.
This also escalated to the actual wearing of cat ears. They could often be clipped into the hair or come attached to a headband for easier wearing. It wouldn’t be completely absurd to see a young girl walking down the street with cat ears! There are also fascinations with collars even. Some will wear collars similar to a cat’s complete with a bow and bell for added cuteness.
Then Japan founded the idea of the augmented human body. This was a project that used brain wave sensors to gauge emotion. This specific product was a headband that had a sensor attached to the forehead and two cat ears on the top. When the wearer put on what was known as neurowear, they were able to control the ears actions by using their thoughts and emotions. The cat ears would change position based on how you were feeling, much like a cat’s. They could react to fear, curiosity, and much more. The ears were motorized and could be swapped out for dog ears or even devil horns, though cat ears remained the most popular. Surprisingly the ears could run on only four AAA batteries and sold for several hundred dollars. The neurowear premiered in 2011 and proved to be quite popular.
Some of the less extreme fashions include portrayal of cat characteristics in everyday clothes. For example, some clothes can be made to resemble a cat. Gloves were seen sewn or printed with the picture of a pawprint on the hand. There are also a wide array of clothing options when it comes to nekomimi! Some hoodies were made to be very cat-like. Some had the print of a cat’s fur while also having cat ears attached to the hood so that when the hood is worn over the head, it would give the image that the owner did indeed have cat ears. These also includes hats or beanies that also had cat ears knitted into them.
Many nekomimi in anime are portrayed as normally wearing lolita outfits. ‘Lolita’ is normally in reference to a sexually promiscuous girl. The lolita fashion is very popular among the nekomimi community. The outfit normally consists of revealing clothing that could often be mistaken for a maid’s outfit. There are many instances where nekomimi are found to be wearing these outfits and the fascination has leaked out into the real world. Another clothing item that normally accompanies this specific style is the use of knee high socks. These were often adorned with bows or even sometimes resembled cat faces at the top of the stocking. These were to be paired with the short and suggestive skirts of the lolita outfit.
The origination, history, development and growth of Cat girls and nekomimi is not only fascinating, but the trend is continuing to grow. You can find evidence of the fascination in the beginning times of Ancient Egypt all the way into the present day. Cat girls have been around in many different forms in all forms of media and will continue to evolve as time goes on. They continue to charm their way into the hearts of their fans, whether that be through manga, anime, movies, and comics. And who doesn’t love cats?
You can find examples of cat girls and nekomimi practically everywhere. They are in your favorite comics, movies, anime, manga, anywhere you can think of! You might have just not realized it. The number of fans for the nekomimi is always expanding and could always use more! So next time you see a cat-like character in a movie or anime, take some time to appreciate the culture and story behind it! It is an interesting culture full of history and lore. Educating yourself on the subject could open you up to a whole new world you never even know. And who knows, you could grow to love it just like millions of others have!