As mentioned in this answer, the terms seme and uke are used in yaoi to describe a duality:

Yaoi fans have adapted these terms to describe the roles in a male/male relationship: the seme is the one who takes the traditional male role: initiates the relationship, "pursues" the uke and is usually "on top" during sex. This can get ridiculously codified and outright heteronormative, e.g. the seme has to be taller and stronger, not show their emotions, etc. The "uke ends up winning" aspect may or may not be relevant.

If there is an equivalent to this kind of relationship in yuri manga and animation, what is it called?


3 Answers 3


If you use "uke" and "seme" to describe particpants in yuri relationships, I imagine you'll be understood, but it'd be very weird - male homosexual relationships and female homosexual relationships are conceptualized quite differently from one another in Japan, and uke/seme is only an element of the former. I don't think Memor-X's answer quite gets at this.

Here is a basic (and oversimplified) sketch of how homosexuality is conceptualized: in a relationship between two men, one of them needs to "be the woman". Hence, we have this deep dichotomy between "uke" ("the woman") and "seme" ("the man"). On the other hand, in a relationship between two women, there is no need for one of them to "be the man" - and so the uke/seme distinction does not arise as obviously. Indeed, there's this notion called リバ (~"riba", from "reversible") to describe a lesbian who is fluid with respect to her role in a sexual situation; I'm not aware of an equivalent term for men.

Why is there this asymmetry? The reasons are probably myriad; one obvious one derives from how penetrative sex works - one party must "attack" ("seme") and the other party must "receive" ("uke") - and penetrative sex is obviously more commonly an element of male homosexual relationships than female ones. In this respect, Euro-American and Japanese notions of male homosexuality are not entirely dissimilar.

But anyway, whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that uke/seme terminology is by far more entrenched in the male homosexual community than the female homosexual community. And this distinction percolates from actual homosexual communities to the communities of people who consume media about homosexuality (yaoi/yuri). The Japanese-proficient reader may like to note the following:

  • The Japanese Wikipedia article on yuri does not reference the notion of "uke" or "seme".
  • dic.pixiv's article on yuri has explicit commentary about the ordering of names in a pairing (consider "MadoHomu" vs. "HomuMado") having nothing to do with uke/seme. (dic.pixiv is obviously not a "reliable source" in the WP:IRS sense, but I'd say it is reflective of the views and concerns of the community of people who consume yuri media.)
  • The glossary on the website of the "Lesbian Girls Club" in Osaka (with the wonderful domain name "lesbian.jp") only uses "uke" and "seme" as part of comparisons to related notions specific to lesbianism, like "tachi" and "neko" (as noted in makihige's answer).
  • But, things like dic.pixiv and other websites for fans of yuri media generally do not use the terms "tachi" and "neko". For reasons that are unclear to me, these terms, unlike "uke" and "seme", do not seem to have percolated from the lesbian community to fans of yuri media.

The basic takeaways are these:

  • Using "uke" and "seme" for female-female relationships is weird and not generally done.
  • That particular dichotomy is not really even a thing in the Japanese conception of lesbianism, though other dichotomies, like "tachi"/"neko", are things.
  • Consequently, in yuri media, "uke" and "seme" are, again, not really used.
  • However, "tachi" and "neko" are not really used by fans of yuri media either.

And so, the answer to OP's title question is basically this: not only is there not a one-to-one equivalent to "uke"/"seme"; there isn't even really any terminology at all that's used to dichotomize relationships in yuri media. Them's the breaks.

  • I would like to affirm your statement regarding リバ (~"riba", from "reversible") by saying that this here is one of the wonders of yuri. Although you could say that there is 'a man' in a yuri relationship, this roles can be easily reversed when 'the woman' takes the lead. I've seen this happen many times before. And then that reversal could happen anytime.
    – Keale
    Jan 21, 2016 at 8:15
  • Terms arise from the need to describe something. And so that's why the term uke and seme arose from yaoi, However there is no need for that term in yuri because yuri is easily reversible.
    – Keale
    Jan 21, 2016 at 8:16

On Wikipedia disambiguation page for "Seme" one of the suggested usages of the term is:

Seme, a manga/anime term for a dominant partner in a homosexual relationship

The first paragraph of that "seme" link says:

The two participants in a yaoi relationship (and to a lesser extent in yuri) are often referred to as seme ("top") and uke ("bottom").

Now given that the first page only says homosexsual and according to Wikipedia

Homosexuality (from Ancient Greek ὁμός, meaning "same", and Latin sexus, meaning "sex") is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender.

Since, shoujo ai/yuri involves lesbian relationships which are romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between two females, the terms probably are the same in shoujo ai/yuri.

Funny enough if we look at the "Yuri" page on Wikipedia, it's a disambiguation page unlike the "Yaoi" page that I linked to and the yuri genre pages are nowhere nearly as fleshed out as the yaoi page (and there is no yaoi (genre) page either). Given that seme and uke are fan terms one might assume that yaoi fans wanted clear terms to describe who the dominant partner in the relationship is. This is something yuri fans do not have much need for: in my view, there is no set dominant partner in shoujo ai/yuri. Rather that role can switch very easily between the members of the relationship.


The female equivalent term for seme/butch/top/dominant is "tachi", while the one for uke/femme/bottom/submissive is "neko". (Reference: Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan.)

I'm not sure if the usage is as prevalent among fans and makers of the yuri genre as "seme" and "uke" are for yaoi fans, since I neither socialize with them nor read any fandom meta.

  • +1 I have read 'tachi' in academic literature at least, although not in common usage Jan 10, 2016 at 22:53

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