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Magical Girl Anime: The Most Influential of the Genre

By Terrell
October 28, 2021

The magical girl anime genre has a long history dating all the way back to the 1960s. In that time, so many series have come and gone, leaving their mark on viewers. That being said, some series don’t just disappear without making an impression. Some classics impact the world of mahou shoujo (magical girls) and leave a kind of legacy behind. 

So today, let’s take a look at six influential magical girl series that left their mark on the genre itself.

Magical Princess Minky Momo

Let’s start with one of the genre’s pioneers. Magical Princess Minky Momo follows Momo, the princess of a magical kingdom, as she helps people on Earth to get their hopes and dreams back. Although she appears as a child normally, she transforms into a beautiful adult to suit any situation she is in. 

Despite this show being simple and targeted to a very young audience, Magical Princess Minky Momo is one of two anime that turned magical girl into a genre. In the late 1960s, a few shows like Sally the Witch featured girls with magical powers, and in the 1970s, a new show introduced the idea of the magical girl (then called majokko).

At that point, it was more of a franchise because one series used the name “majokko” exclusively. However, in 1983 and 1984, Momo and one other magical girl character graced TV screens, and the magical girl genre was born.

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Sailor Moon

A fanart drawing of magical girl anime character Sailor Moon, or Usagi Tsukino on a tan paper
Any list about magical girls isn’t complete without the trail-blazing Sailor Moon. Image via Shutterstock

We can’t talk about magical girls without talking about the star of the genre: Sailor Moon. Blessed with magical power as a moon princess, Usagi Tsukino goes from an underachieving middle school student to a wielder of great magical power who has to save the world. As she goes along, she meets her friends, the Sailor Soldiers, and the smooth Tuxedo Mask. 

Sailor Moon may be an international phenomenon now, but it was actually only planned to run for 6 months. And although the manga only targeted young girls, the anime ended up being popular with a wide audience by combining magical girls with Power Ranger-esque fighting teams. 

The show blazed the way for many magical girl anime series with its focus on strong friendships, deep female characters, iconic romance, and LGBT representation (in the original Japanese version). Shows like Tokyo Mew Mew, Little Witch Academia, and Pretty Cure might not have enjoyed so much success overseas if it weren’t for Usagi’s trailblazing. Sailor Moon also has some of the cutest anime plushies.

Cardcaptor Sakura

Cardcaptor Sakura follows the titular Sakura Kinomoto as she uses her magic staff to find and convert the magical Clow Cards to her side. She is surrounded by an interesting cast of characters including the adorable Kero-chan, her best friend Tomoyo, and her rival turned friend Syaoran.

The average viewer may not know this, but Cardcaptor Sakura is often credited with establishing the structure of the “Neo-classical” magical girl. In other words, this anime introduced the framework of magical girl coming-of-age stories. Sure, there is action, but the main focus is how Sakura and her friends grow into themselves as they get older. 

This show influenced series like Ojamajo Doremi, Pretty Cure, and Shugo Chara!. It also influenced magical girl fashion in a major way across many of the series that followed. Almost every episode featured a new and super cute battle costume fit for a true mahou shoujo or an anime fashion fan. We also have to mention the subtle but great representation of LGBT characters.

Cardcaptor Sakura also has one of the cutest anime songs!

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

A display of magical anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica with the characters Madoka and Homura holding balloons at a bookstore
Don’t let the cute appearance fool you. This anime is full of twists and turns. Image via Shutterstock

An anime must-see, Puella Magi Madoka Magica follows a group of girls who fight “witches” after gaining magical powers from supernatural contracts that grant one wish. The show was advertised as a typical magical girl anime where the power of friendship always wins. In reality, it is an emotional roller coaster. 

This show’s masterfully delivered story set many of the rules for the “deconstructive” category of magical girl anime. Whereas shows like Cardcaptor Sakura look at how characters grow with age, deconstructive shows look at the psychology of its characters as they confront evil. 

It also helped to make “dark” magical girl series more popular in general. Due to its dark tone and religious imagery, it’s often compared to shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Berserk. It also set the stage for shows like Yuki Yuna is a Hero and Princess Tutu (to an extent).

Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena is another classic of the mahou shoujo genre, following Utena who decided to become a prince after a life-changing experience with one herself. Dressed in a boy’s uniform, she attends Ohtori Academy and competes in a tournament of duels to win the “prize” of the Rose Bride, Anthy. 

This show really is revolutionary in many ways. It is considered to be one of the most important anime of the 1990s and is often compared to Neon Genesis Evangelion for its themes, style, and imagery. It also manages to stay relevant with its exploration of both feminist and queer topics. 

It managed to challenge gender norms, while also showing a relationship between two female characters. Unknown to many, this show actually influenced some very popular Western cartoons. Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and She-Ra and the Princess of Power are all examples of works influenced by Revolutionary Girl Utena after animator and producer Rebecca Sugar watched the show. 

A girl dressed in cosplay of the magical girl anime Revolutionary Girl Utena in front of a gray background
Revolutionary Girl Utena is not just an iconic magical girl anime. It’s an iconic anime in general. Image via Shutterstock

Pretty Cure

Pretty Cure, also known as its shortened name PreCure, is a true powerhouse in the magical girl genre. Although only three seasons were adapted into English, the series actually has a total of 17 series within the PreCure universe with one more coming out this year. Actually, a new series comes out every year for this franchise, which already has 836 episodes. 

Each season follows a group of Japanese schoolgirls, mostly junior high school students, as they fight evil forces like monsters and shadowy organizations with magical powers, items, and allies. 

Part of its influence is the fact that it has so many series and such a long history. It’s really the first in the magical girl genre to have the longevity and consistent popularity of longer anime series such as One Piece, Dragonball, or Naruto. Many anime aficionados credit the first few seasons of PreCure for popularizing the “action hero” magical girl category in Japan (with help from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha). Shows like Kill la Kill also fall into this genre.

Did you learn anything new from our list? Did you know the impact some of these shows had? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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