The magical girl genre is an extremely important and popular genre of Anime. Starting with the shows like Sally the Witch (1966) and Himitsu no Akko-chan (1962), the magical girl genre continues to this day to be one of the most influential and widely used genre’s. Involving young or teenage girls with special powers and/or abilities, the magical girl genre encompasses a variety of themes and continues to grow and develop from its roots as a genre aimed at young girls. In this list I hope to highlight some shows that cover the rich history, growth and development the genre has had.
- Princess Knight: While not entirely fitting the traditional definition of a magical girl series, Tezuka’s Princess Knight laid out much of the ground work that magical girl shows would follow. Staring a Princess born with the heart of both a Princess and Prince, the Princess Knight introduced a strong heroine enhanced by magic battling the forces of evil. A major landmark in girl’s animation, Princess Knight set the stage for many magical girl shows to come.
- Cutie Honey: Cutie Honey is a magical girl show by creator Go Nagai that changed many of the perceptions of magical girl shows and paved the way for magical girl series aimed at older audiences. Despite being released in the 1970’s where most magical shows where most shows were aimed strictly towards young girls, Cutie Honey went with a much more adult approach and was designed to appeal to both men and women. While toned down significantly from the manga source material the anime series still involved more violence and nudity than any other magical girl series of it’s time. This more adult tone paved the way for magical girl shows to be less restricted in audience and to incorporate elements from other types of shows.
- Magical Emi, the Magic Star: It’s important when looking at the history of magical girl series to look at the shows of the 1980’s. While many of these shows are often forgotten or unreleased, the 80’s were a golden age of magical girl programs largely due to the work of Studio Pierrot and Toei Animation. Magical Emi is one of the best examples I could find of 1980’s style magical girl programs. The series stars the young girl Mai who finds a magical mirror transforming her into the teenage magical magician Magical Emi. With her new found powers and appearance she helps her grandparent’s magical show and a hansom high school boxer. Magical Emi contains many of the major staples of magical girl shows of the time with a show aimed at young girl viewers featuring young girls granted magical powers, transformations into a teenager, and helping others using magical powers.
- Sailor Moon: Perhaps the most famous magical girl anime of all time, Sailor Moon had a huge impact on the industry both in the United States and Japan. Sailor Moon combines magical girl series elements with the color coded Sentai action. This combination has the lead characters fighting against creative and compelling villains, while also focusing on character development, romance and world building. Sailor Moon helped shape magical girl series in a way that had not been done before and expand the genre’s scope and themes. Sailor Moon also had a huge impact on girl’s programming in the United States, proving that girl’s shows and anime could be highly successful.
- Magic Knight Rayearth: Another very ground breaking series of the 90’s was the show Magic Knight Rayearth. Created by the famous all female Shojo creator group CLAMP. Much like Sailor Moon and Cutie Honey, Magic Knight Rayearth also borrowed elements from many other genres such as mech and fantasy works. This series revolves around three girls from different schools on a field trip who are summoned into a fantasy world in order to save it as the destined magical knights. Magic Knight Rayearth is also known for doing a great job varying the three characters, including complex and interesting allies and villains on their quest, and having surprising twists.
- Card Captor Sakura: Card Captor Sakura is another wonderful and important magical girl series by CLAMP. After accidentally unleashing magical cards once owned by a powerful sorcerer, elementary schooler Sakura is tasked by a small winged lion mascot with recovering them and preventing magical disaster. Card Captor Sakura stands out and excels because of its diverse and deep cast, and it’s sweet and silly depictions of love. Card Captor Sakura was also well known for taking common magical girl elements and breathing new life into them. Lauded by many as one of the best magical girl shows, this show was incredibly important in creating something new with an old genre. This series is so important in fact that as of this blogs publication date (04/06/18) a continuation of the series is currently airing.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: The creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena Kunihiko Ikuhara is known for his unusual shows, and his break out series Revolutionary Girl Utena is no exception. Staring Utena a teen who models her appearance after a prince she met as a child, the show focuses on her battles in in a surreal environment in order to protect Anthy who is known as the “Rose Bride.” Utena is famous for using surrealist, apocalyptic, it’s balancing of comedy and serious episodes, and Yuri (lesbian) themes. These odd elements are supported by great writing, strong visuals, and powerful music making Utena an important and essential magical girl series.
- Princess Tutu: Princess Tutu draws inspiration from the unusual source of dance. Taking its elements from classical ballet, Fairy tale stories, and tragedy; Princess Tutu provides a great deal of depth and complexity for a show aimed at children. This hidden gem has a duck named Duck who admires the emotionless Mytho prince from afar. One day she is transformed by the ghost of a sinister author into a girl with the power to become the magical ballerina girl Princess Tutu. Her power though comes with the condition that she can never tell the prince about her secret and who she really is. Throughout the series she collects aspects of the prince’s heart and emotions, while facing the evil Raven’s king’s daughter Princess Kraehe. She also must deal with challenge while not being a magical girl such as clumsiness at her ballet school, working with the school’s idol Rue, and the prince’s concerned and overly protective knight Fakir.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Lauded by many as one of the biggest deconstructions of the magical girl genre, Madoka Magica is famous for taking magical girl shows in a new dark direction. This work surrounds the life of young girl Madoka who is cryptically warned by the stoic new transfer student Homura to avoid being involved with magical girls. Despite Homura’s warnings though Madoka ends up becoming connected to magical girl Mami as she and her best friend accidentally runs into evil beings magical girl fight known as witches. They also stumble upon the mysterious cute, but also creepy alien Kyubey who offers to make Madoka and her best friend magical girls in exchange for a wish. Things are not always what they initially seem though, and as the series progresses it continues to have a more dark mysterious and menacing quality to it. This darkness combined with surreal and stunning animation details, as well as an amazing soundtrack by composed by famed composer Yuki Kajiura helps to create a sophisticated show aimed at older viewers. This is one of the best and most important more recent magical girl shows and one of the few magical girl shows designed specifically for older viewers.
- Magical Girl Raising Project: Magical Girl Raising Project takes the dark feel of the Madoka Magica to the next level. Combining magical girl elements with those of a Game of Thrones or Battle Royal style plot, Magical Girl Raising Project goes out of its way to emphasize dark suspense and battles for survival as characters are pit against one another. Based upon a long running light novel (a Japanese novel or novella designed to be an easy read) series of the same name, this anime clearly draws a lot of its dark influences from Madoka. Many other magical girl shows have started to include more foreboding elements as well, but Raising Project emphasizes this in a way no previous magical girl show has. This work signifies a new darker direction the genre is taking in order to attract older viewers. With future anime adaptions such as Magical Girl Site on there way, it’s clear how much influence shows like Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Raising Project are having on the genre.