Magic Girl anime are usually whimsical and positive in nature, often falling under the shoujo demographic, although there have been a number of more mature works that completely deconstruct the genre. In no particular order, here’s a list of the best magical girl anime you should be watching:
Since the 90s, it’s virtually impossible to talk about the magical girl subgenre without referring to Sailor Moon.
The story of Usagi Tsukino and her friends – normal teenage girls by day, powerful magical girls by night, hardly needs an introduction.
The 1992 anime that spans five seasons and got a remake in the 2010s might not be where the magical girl genre started, but it’s most definitely one of the shows that established the genre.
Sailor Moon demonstrates that action-packed, fantasy adventures don’t need to have male protagonists and that shoujo anime do not only appeal to a female demographic.
Magical Princess Minky Momo
As we’ve already established, Sailor Moon might be the archetypal magical girl anime, but it’s not the first.
If you dig a little more deeply you’ll certainly find plenty of older titles that have also been influential to modern magical girl works, and just as enjoyable, such as Magical Princess Minky Momo.
Momo is the princess of Fenarinarsa, the dwelling place of fairytale characters, who ends up on Earth when the hopelessness and despair of the people there affects her own planet.
Now posing as the daughter of a childless couple, Momo is determined to help people on Earth achieve their hopes and dreams no matter what.
Cardcaptor Sakura is another great shoujo anime whereby characteristics typically associated with shonen are incorporated to create an adventure that appeals to everyone.
10-year-old Sakura is a regular primary school student who, one day, comes across a book of cards known as “The Clow.”
As a result, powerful cards with a will of their own are unleashed. Sakura must now become a Cardcaptor, find, and recapture the Clow cards.
If you enjoy magical girl anime whereby the main character balances supernatural responsibilities with an ordinary life, this is an anime you will likely enjoy. It’s considered a true magical girl classic that nevertheless defied some conventions back in the day.
Plus, the plot is much more complex than initially suspected!
Shugo Chara is a colorful and fun anime that reminds us how the existence of magical eggs in fantasy anime dates some decades back!
The main character Amu is a teenage girl who grows frustrated by her inability to show her true self to classmates and make friends.
This is about to change when she wakes up with three eggs, each of which is associated with a Guardian – a manifestation of one’s would-be self.
But having three eggs is revealed to be quite irregular, and draws the attention of the Seiyo Elementary Guardians, who employ Amu to help them find X eggs – corrupted version of eggs like her own.
Shugo Chara! is quite light-hearted and comedic, but it already seems to tease the cost of being a magical girl that will be much more of a concern in future anime.
Pretear: The New Legend of Snow White
If you like magical girls and fairy tale elements, Pretear might be your next watch, as it includes both!
Like the fairy tale heroine, Himeno Awayuki suffers in a dysfunctional family situation, due to her father’s remarriage.
But Awayuki doesn’t duel on her family problems for long. Soon, she joins a group of seven magical boys known as Leafe Knights, becoming their magical princess, who can borrow their powers.
While the concept doesn’t sound groundbreaking, Pretear has memorable, emotional moments, and it deals with the heroine’s issues and self-doubts quite well.
Yuki Yuna Is a Hero
Yuki Yuna Is a Hero is one of the most successful contemporary magical girl anime, and one you will love if you like well-developed characters.
Yuki Yuna and her friends are everyday heroes in a world of deities and destructive forces who threaten all that the girls hold dear. To save their world, they have to become magical girls – but this doesn’t mean they no longer have homework.
This is another anime in which the magical girls must balance their heroic duties with an ordinary life, so expect both conflict and character development.
Black Rock Shooter
Black Rock Shooter gets a bad rap due to its animation, which could have been much better. If you’d like to try something a little bit different though, the show deserves a chance due to its complex storyline.
Two schoolgirls, Mato and Yomi, become friends over their shared interests. Unbeknownst to them, the two exist in another universe as magical parallel entities, known as Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master.
But what will happen when the universes start influencing each other?
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Revolutionary Girl Utena takes the transformation trope of the magical girl subgenre to weave a surreal school anime that bends both gender and genre.
As a little girl, Utena lost her parents and was then consoled by a prince who gave her a ring to remember him. Growing up, Utena swears to become a prince and help people in distress.
Years later, Utena – now a gender-fluid high school student – attends Ootori Academy, whose emblem is the same as that of the prince’s ring. A misunderstanding leads her to a series of surreal battles for Anthy Himemiya, the “rose bride” who is said to possess great power.
This is a highly symbolic coming of age tale that still features some of the core magical girl anime elements, such as battles that are resolved within the episode.
Utena is one of the first shows who truly captured the transformative potential of the magical girl genre – but definitely not the last.
If you don’t like the most over the top aspects of the magical girl genre, Princess Tutu is an intriguing, dark fairytale that might steal your heart.
The main character of the show is a magical girl in the most unconventional sense; once a duck, she’s now transformed into a girl named Ahiru, who uses her egg-shaped pendant to transform into the titular Princess Tutu – a talented dancer who can relieve people’s emotional anguish.
Don’t be misled by the princess’s funny name or the fairy-tale-like premise – this is still a dark (but not hopeless) story, ideal even for those who don’t normally enjoy magical girl anime.
Puella Magi Madoka Magika
The bright colors and cute art might tempt you to think that this is a regular magical girl anime. At least, this is the impression you get when two schoolgirls meet an innocent-looking supernatural being who offers to make their wishes come true if they become magical girls and fight against evil witches.
Only a few episodes into the anime, you’ll realize it’s unlike the original magical girl works in every imaginable way. At that point, Puella Magi Madoka Magica turns into a dark journey that explores the cost of becoming a magical girl.
How far will the girls go to have their wishes granted? And when they do, will they even be the same wishes? The answer might surprise you.
Related: Best Psychological Anime to Watch
Magical Girl Site
If you find traditional magical girl anime a bit too whimsical, you might want to try Magical Girl Site for a change.
This is a very dark premise that predates Wonder Egg Priority. Main character Aya Asagiri is suffering from bullying and domestic abuse and can’t find the will to keep living. When she comes across the Magical Girl Site online, she obtains a magical girl weapon.
But this isn’t a show about a girl magically transcending her problems. When her involvement with the website results in the death of her bullies, Aya must work with Tsuyuno Yatsumura, a classmate who can stop time, not only to uncover the sinister truth about the website but also to stop an apocalyptic event before it occurs.
Wonder Egg Priority
Like Puella Magi Madoka Magica before it, Wonder Egg Priority is a dark magical girl anime with a shocking premise.
Ai Ooto is a middle school girl who has become reclusive following the death of her friend, Koito. When she purchases eggs from a mysterious supernatural entity, however, she finds a new reason to live.
Using the wonder eggs, Ai and her friends are transported into a horrifying world where they fight monsters that are essentially exaggerated versions of the horrors that led other teenagers to suicide. The girls must defeat the monster to hopefully give these people a new chance at life.
The aesthetics of Wonder Egg Priority are among the most modern in this list, but there are several magical girl elements that pay homage to earlier works, such as the existence of levels and animal companions.
Don’t take anything for granted though, as this anime explores triggering topics, often in violent ways.
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