The Germans gave so many useful things to the world - movable type, the gramophone, the diesel engine. That long list also includes Bildungsroman, which strictly translates as 'formation novel', but is more commonly known as coming-of-age novels - a somewhat looser form of classification.
Bildungsroman is generally considered to have been created by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the 18th century with his novels Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and The Sorrows of Young Werther. The main theme of this genre is seeing the protagonist mature from childhood into adulthood, and usually endure a series of challenges and obstacles along the way.
Today coming-of-age novels and films are a common staple of popular culture - The Kite Runner was a huge hit in bookshops and movie theaters. Bildungsroman themes are believed to have originated in European folklore handed down through the generations. A young boy leaves home and endures adventures before reaching maturity - Harry Potter anyone?
Semi-autobiographical novels, featuring classic themes of Bildungsroman, are common. Authors often write about what they know and childhood often influences everything that comes later.
Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye are the classic American novels that are most often labeled as Bildungsroman. Jane Eyre and Sons and Lovers are notable examples from the other side of the pond.
Bildungroman even has a sub-genre called Künstlerroman - novels that describe the progression of an artist from youth to maturity - such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and Sophie's Choice by William Styron.