Sparkles, cute girls, and epic transformations that appear in every episode; these are the popular “mahou shoujo”, or magical girl genre of anime. Gaining popularity in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, magical girl anime quickly became some of the favorite parts of our childhoods, featuring empowering female leads that look cute and kick butt all in a day’s work. It’s not all easy though, as many of these shows, especially the darker ones, depict the struggles of a magical girl in everyday life.
Here are the top 10 best magical girl anime, judged based on quality, popularity among fans, and long-lasting appeal.
1. Sailor Moon
When thinking of magical girls, usually the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is Sailor Moon. This series is known being a major influence on the genre and is part of nearly everyone’s childhood memories. The story follows Usagi, a high school girl who is thrown into a life of magical powers and new responsibilities as she becomes the leader of a group of girls called the Sailor Soldiers (Guardians) with the goal of finding the Legendary Silver Crystal.
Sailor Moon is one of the most popular manga and anime in the entire world, and is considered one of the major influencers of anime in the Western world. However, how does it stack up when it comes to mahou shoujo? Quite simply, it is mahou shoujo – the definition of the genre.
Sailor Moon depicts magical girls at their finest. The characters are strong, relatable, and must navigate day-to-day school life while saving the world from destruction. It is also noted for redefining the genre itself back when it premiered. Although it wasn’t the first story about magical girls, it found a place in many fans’ hearts, and everyone has their favorite Sailor Scout. Although a new retelling of the anime premiered, many fans still prefer the original – whether it’s due to nostalgia, the story, or both.
2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
When thinking of magical girls, it is easy to depict them as happy, cheerful and eventually conquering evil and everything being absolutely okay and resolved afterwards. Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes this idea, makes viewers believe it will follow this formula, then dives into a deep, twisted, dark world that is nearly the opposite of what is expected.
After forming a contract with the apparently innocent Kyubey, an animal-like character with cute features, five girls find themselves struggling with their positions as magical girls, which is full of despair and sadness. Upon forming a contract, the girls are granted any wish they desire, but in turn must fight against creatures known as witches. However, death is inevitable, as well as violence and the cruel fate of magical girls and witches. What really makes this series shine are the characters, who out of naiveté decide their fate and develop tremendously from the first episode.
Although their appearances are cute, Madoka will make you vow to never wish to become a magical girl again, as it depicts an alternative, unique world that redefines the genre and meaning of “Mahou Shoujo”.
3. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Critically praised as one of the most revolutionary classic anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena definitely deserves a spot on this list. The story follows Utena, a girl who is inspired to become a prince after encountering one as a child. She meets a girl named Anthy when attending Ohtori Academy, and vows to protect her. However, she must duel members of the student council in the tournament. Each time someone wins, Anthy is the prize, as she is considered “the Rose Bride”.
Utena breaks a lot of barriers as both a magical girl anime and with the lead characters. One of the most talked about part of the series is the relationship between Anthy and Utena, which blossoms into a relationship in the series. This anime is noted as one of the major anime classics and one of the best of its time.
4. Cardcaptor Sakura
As stated before, many magical girl anime were parts of our childhoods, and Cardcaptor Sakura is no exception. In this series, elementary schooler Sakura Kinomoto accidentally unleashes magical cards called Clow Cards. After a guardian sets her out to collect them, this begins her journey as a magical girl. Sakura must find each card and battle them , which allows her to retrieve it afterwards.
Many have praised this series due to the focus on characterization and emotions the protagonist and her friends experience. Although it was made for a younger demographic, it appealed to everyone from children to adults, which is a very impressive and often hard-to-find feat in media aimed towards a particular audience. Many still love Cardcaptor Sakura, from cosplayers to long time fans.
5. Shugo Chara!
Not all magical girl anime have the traditional cutesy outfits and transformation sequences. Some have really weird, unique concepts. Shugo Chara! is a prime example of a weird magical girl anime that works really well. Amu, known as the “cool and spicy” girl in her elementary school, has a reputation but in reality is shy and afraid to show her true emotions. However, everything changes one day when she finds three eggs that happen to form into guardian characters, aka “Shugo Charas”. They are there to help Amu discover her true self.
The “battle” part of Shugo Chara is really unique too, as Amu is tasked with finding eggs, which take the form of people’s dreams and nightmares.
Many loved this magical girl anime, even with it’s complicated and unusual premise and take on the mahou shoujo genre, and it well deserves the praise.
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6. Tokyo Mew Mew
Some may claim that Tokyo Mew Mew is just a lesser version of Sailor Moon, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Tokyo Mew Mew was a charming anime with an awesome way to obtain powers. Ichigo, the main character, finds herself acting like a cat one day after going to a zoo exhibit. She later discovers that her DNA fused together with a cat’s DNA, making her a magical cat girl. Her role in this world is to defeat aliens who take over animals and make them into monsters.
Throughout her journey, Mew Ichigo gains an entire squad, each with their own unique powers and role in the story. They make base in a maid cafe, working there and connecting with workers who send them off on missions. Tokyo Mew Mew is fun, hilarious, and deals with everyday life as well as the fantasy part that the Mew Mews must face head-on. Tokyo Mew Mew Power was also considered one of the most successful anime dubs by 4kids, which says a lot.
7. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
Some magical girl anime start off the typical way. Girl lives her life, an otherworldly being comes down from the sky, and she gets powers. Although Nanoha starts this way, it develops into a story with interesting characters, plot twists, and a change of pace halfway through that keeps the audience wanting more.
Third grader Nanoha finds an injured ferret one day after school, who is an archaeologist from another world and has scattered several jewels throughout Earth. Nanoha is given powers to help fight those also seeking jewels, especially a rival named Fate. They then face off against each other in battles, coming toe-to-toe with one another frequently. The story gets really deep past the setup, which had fans coming back for more.
It’s also worth noting that this series is geared towards an older audience, with a story that appeals to this demographic. However, it can be enjoyed by any fan of mahou shoujo, as it features those elements and likable characters.
8. Yuki Yuna is a Hero
The Brave Hero Club, run by ordinary middle schoolers, strives to help the students at their school by taking requests to help around the school. However, one day, they are transported into a forest and are asked to perform the hardest task they’ve ever had: to defeat monsters called “Vertex”. A guardian deity gives the girls magical powers via a phone application in order to save the world.
Like Madoka, the show turns dark towards the climax, depicting a brutal world. However, the girls stick together to band against evil and live up to their club’s name. Each girl experiences a loss at some point in the story, learning to cope and deal with their newfound responsibilities.
Many label Yuki Yuna as one of the most underrated magical girl shows out there, as it did not get much press with its release back in 2014. However, it is a joy to watch and a must for magical girl fans.
9. Princess Tutu
Following a similar fairy tale reminiscent of the ugly duckling and beautiful swan, Princess Tutu puts a literary spin on the magical girl genre.
Ahiru is a clumsy girl who may appear human but is actually a duck. However, she has the capability to transform into a ballet dancer named Princess Tutu. The dances of Princess Tutu help people with their struggles, making her power both unique and touching. Ahiru must also collect the missing pieces of her prince’s heart that have been missing since she sealed away a creature long ago.
Many love Princess Tutu due to the spin on both fairy tales and the genre, as well as the brilliant writing in the show. It successfully manages to blend comedy, action, romance, and more to create a well balanced narrative. It is considered one of the best magical girl shows out there, and is definitely a classic anime to enjoy.
10. Pretty Cure
Over 600 episodes, Pretty Cure is considered one of the longest magical girl series of all time, with several seasons, story arcs, new shows, and spinoffs to its name.
The premise is simple: Japanese schoolgirls (many of them middle schoolers) are given the power to transform into warriors known as PreCure. Fairies assist the warriors in taking down threats from organizations who long to destroy the world. The concept sounds generic, but the series is far from it, having become one of the most influential magical girl series of all time. The series started in 2004 and has had ongoing series ever since.
Other great magical girl shows: Symphogear, Magical Doremi, Panty and Stocking (For an adult audience, unlike most magical girl shows, but one of the best anime out there), Kill la Kill (a stretch to include but features magical girls nonetheless)