Magical girl

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Wikipe-tan as a majokko, the original magical girl archetype

Magical girl (Japanese: 魔法少女, Hepburn: mahō shōjo) is a subgenre of Japanese fantasy media (including anime, manga, light novels, and live-action television) that features young girls endowed with magical powers. Magical girls use their powers to solve problems, often through an alter ego into which they can transform.[1][2]

The genre emerged in 1966 with the anime series Sally the Witch,[3] produced by Toei Animation. A wave of similar anime produced by the studio in the 1970s led to majokko (魔女っ子, lit. "little witch") being used as a common term for the genre. In the 1980s, the term was largely replaced by "magical girl", reflecting the new popularity of shows produced by other studios, including Magical Princess Minky Momo and Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel.

In the 1990s, Sailor Moon introduced the concept of a "transforming heroine" who fights against forces of evil, a synthesis of elements from tokusatsu hero shows that became a staple for magical girl series that followed. The growth of late-night anime in the early 2000s led to a demographic shift for the genre, where series with more mature themes were created and marketed towards an older male audience.

Genre history[edit]

1953–1971: Early magical girl works[edit]

Despite lacking magic, the manga series Princess Knight (1953) is seen as a prototype for the magical girl genre,[4] as it set forth the appeal of girls who transform to do things they normally cannot perform.[2] Sally the Witch, a 1966 anime television series produced by Toei Animation, is regarded as the first magical girl anime.[4]:78[5][6] The show's concept was inspired by the American sitcom Bewitched.[1][2] Himitsu no Akko-chan (1962), serialized earlier in the shōjo manga magazine Ribon, is credited as the earliest magical girl manga series.[7] The manga's 1969 anime adaptation introduced the idea of using a compact to transform, a characteristic that is still present in modern series in the genre.[8]

1972–1979: Majokko series[edit]

Toei Animation produced most of the magical girl series of the 1970s,[1] collectively known as the Majokko Series [ja].[1] This popularized the term majokko (魔女っ子, lit. "little witch") for the genre, especially with Mahōtsukai Chappy (1972) and Majokko Megu-chan (1974). Megu-chan has been noted in particular for its portrayal of multiple magical girls and the friendship between girls.[1] Coinciding with the influence of the women's lib movement in Japan, magical girls began displaying a "certain coquettishness" in the 1970s.[1]

1980–1989: Transition from majokko to magical girl[edit]

In 1980, Toei released Lalabel, the Magical Girl, the first instance of the term "mahō shōjo (magical girl)" being used.[9]:6 In the following years, other studios besides Toei began producing magical girl anime series, such as Magical Princess Minky Momo (1982) and Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel (1983), the latter of which was the first installment of Studio Pierrot's Magic Girl Series [ja].[9]:7 A characteristic of Minky Momo and Creamy Mami showed girls transforming into grown-up images of themselves, which has been linked to the increasing prominence of women at this time including politician Takako Doi, the all-female band Princess Princess, and pop idol Seiko Matsuda, as well as the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in 1985.[1] Yuji Nunokawa, the producer of both Minky Momo and Creamy Mami, noted that male fans of the magical girl genre increased after Creamy Mami due to the shows' use of transformations and enjoyed watching girls using magic to solve their problems in ways men traditionally could not.[10] Due to the popularity of Minky Momo and Studio Pierrot's shows, the term "majokko" had largely fell out of use in favor of "magical girl."[citation needed]

1990–1999: Transforming heroine and diversification[edit]

Sailor Moon (1991), whose anime adaptation was broadcast from 1992 to 1997, revolutionized the magical girl genre by combining "transforming hero" elements from live-action tokusatsu hero shows like Super Sentai with feminine interests, such as romance and child-rearing.[1][9]:8 Up until then, magical girl series were comedic and the characters' use of magic only exacerbated social conflict.[2] A key attribute of the transformations in Sailor Moon is that they focused on exaggerating the characters' beauty through make-up and fashion, negating the link between cuteness and weakness traditionally seen in women.[1] The format of using transforming heroines who fight quickly became popular and were used in other magical girl series following Sailor Moon.[11][12] One example of which was Akazukin Chacha, whose anime adaptation created an original arc featuring "transforming heroine" characteristics due Sailor Moon's positive reception.[9]:106

In the following years, the magical girl genre became diversified. Slayers became the first magical girl series adapted from a light novel.[9]:9 While Sailor Moon drew in male fans, Cardcaptor Sakura, was extremely popular among men in spite of its target demographic for including themes such as cosplay, boys' love, otokonoko, and yuri.[13] Cardcaptor Sakura was also one of the series that influenced the idea of moe, which was integrated into later magical girl series aimed at an adult male audience.[13]

2000–present: Expanding demographic and parody works[edit]

After the end of Ojamajo Doremi (1999), Toei Animation's first original magical girl anime series since 1985,[9]:9 Pretty Cure was broadcast in 2004, with new installments broadcast yearly.[1] Similar to Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure drew influences from tokusatsu hero shows, but unlike the former, it was heavily focused on action and used the same talents who worked on Kamen Rider and the Super Sentai.[14] This helped the series achieve widespread demographic appeal outside of young girls,[14] and Pretty Cure has since become Japan's fifth highest grossing franchise as of 2010.[15]

At the same time, the target demographic of magical girl shows expanded. With more late-night anime being produced in the early 2000s, magical girl shows aimed at an older male demographic were produced, a notable one being Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (2004), a spin-off originating from the adult game series Triangle Heart.[13] As the series were targeted towards older audiences, this allowed for dark and mature themes to be explored, including death and the price of magical power.[1] One notable example is Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011), which popularized existential themes and "dark magical girl" narratives.[16][17] Other examples of late-night magical girl anime include Day Break Illusion (2013), and Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya (2013).[1] Though transforming heroine shows remain popular, traditional magical girl series featuring witches demonstrating the importance of hopes and dreams, such as Tweeny Witches (2003) and Little Witch Academia (2013) were still produced.[1]

In addition to late-night magical girl series, media exploring the idea of male characters as magical girls (colloquially known as "magical boys"[18]) were introduced, most of them as comedic parodies. Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! features a cast of male characters parodying the magical girl concepts combined with growing interest in bishōnen shows aimed at a fujoshi audience.[19] Other magical boy parodies include Is This a Zombie? (2011)[20] and Magical Girl Ore (2018).[21]

Concepts and themes[edit]


A staple of magical girl works is that the main female characters use items to transform into ideal versions of themselves who are better equipped to handle their problems. Unlike hero shows, these items are often "cute" accessories associated with femininity and beauty.[1] The first example of this in a magical girl series is the anime adaptation of Himitsu no Akko-chan, in which Akko uses a compact to transform; since the broadcast of the series, compacts are commonly used as a transformation item.[8]

Heroine elements[edit]

The "transforming heroine" (変身ヒロイン, henshin hiroin) is a concept adapted from tokusatsu hero shows that was first popularized by Sailor Moon in the early 1990s; it has been a staple of magical girl series since.[1][9]:9 The transforming heroine features an ordinary schoolgirl who changes into an "adorable" costume with "cute" accessories; she then uses a weapon to channel magical energy in order to fight against the forces of evil.[1] This format has allowed magical girl series to be compared with Western superheroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Wonder Woman, but unlike the former, "transforming heroine" series use femininity to weaponize in comparison.[1]


While heterosexual romance was present and received focus in magical girl series, post-Sailor Moon works saw a diminished presence in male characters in favor of focusing on the friendships between the main female characters.[2] Akiko Sugawa suggests that the future of magical girl shows may include rebellion against sexual norms, using Puella Magi Madoka Magica as an example of yuri relationships favored over heterosexual relationships.[1]


Live-action television series[edit]

In 1989, Shotaro Ishinomori produced the first live-action magical girl series, Mahō Shōjo Chūka na Pai Pai! [ja], as part of the Toei Fushigi Comedy Series.[9]:7 The popularity of the show led to five more installments produced, including La Belle Fille Masquée Poitrine and Yūgen Jikkō Sisters Shushutrian [ja],[22] with all of them categorized as the Bishōjo Series (美少女シリーズ).[9]:7 The shows were viewed as a female counterpart to tokusatsu series aimed at young boys, such as Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Ultraman; however, interest in the genre declined in the early 1990s due to competing toy sales with Sailor Moon and other magical girl anime.[23] Live-action magical girl series were revived with the Girls × Heroine Series, beginning with Idol × Warrior Miracle Tunes! in 2017.[23][24]


Magical girl series aimed at young girls were often marketed with a merchandise line. Himitsu no Akko-chan was the earliest example of having a merchandise line and was a "huge hit."[9]:6 Toys from the 1980s were commonly in bright colors and were mostly compact cases or sticks, with the character's face sometimes printed on it.[9]:11 From 1990 to 1994, toy sets began including pendants as part of transformation items, along with feminine motifs, such as hearts and stars; most of the toys were pink at the time.[9]:56 From 1995 to 1999, the toys became more colorful.[9]:120

Non-Japanese works[edit]


In China, Balala the Fairies is an ongoing franchise originating as a live-action series before transferring to animation, though it was accused of plagiarizing Pretty Cure.[25]

Europe and the United States[edit]

Similar to Japan, the transforming heroine concept coined by Sailor Moon saw popularity when the show was broadcast overseas in the 1990s due to the girl power movement taking place in Europe and the United States at the time.[1] Notable examples include W.I.T.C.H. (2001) and Winx Club (2004) in Italy;[26][27] and Totally Spies! (2001),[28] LoliRock (2014),[29][30] and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (2015) in France.[31][32] Animated series from the United States, including The Powerpuff Girls (1998),[28] Steven Universe (2013),[33] Star vs. the Forces of Evil (2015),[27] She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018),[27] and Magical Girl Friendship Squad (2020),[34] have been influenced by magical girl themes and reference them. Characters in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls are described as "full-time students and part-time magical pony girls".[35]

Critical analysis[edit]

Magical girl series have been linked to female empowerment since the 1970s, from exploring female sexuality to weaponizing femininity.[1] Aside from female gender norms from the genre's defiance against female gender roles, the magical girl genre has also influenced a shift in male gender norms as the stigma between traditional femininity and weakness were removed.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Sugawa, Akiko (February 26, 2015). "Children of Sailor Moon: The Evolution of Magical Girls in Japanese Anime". Nippon Communications Foundation. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Ekens, Gabriella (May 27, 2016). "What Makes Magical Girls So Popular?". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  3. ^ Funimation (February 4, 2020). "A Guide to Magical Girls, From Cute to Grim". Funimation. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Gravett, Paul (2004). Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2nd ed.). London: Laurence King. p. 77. ISBN 1856693910.
  5. ^ "キネマ旬報別冊『動画王 vol.02 スーパー魔女っ子大戦』". Kinema Junpo (in Japanese). Japan: Kinema-Junposha.Co.Ltd. July 1997. p. 25. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  6. ^ Boren, James (September 2003). "The Making of a Magical Girl". Animerica. Viz Media. 11 (9): 31.
  7. ^ Thompson, Jason (2007). Manga: The Complete Guide. New York: Del Rey Books. p. 8. ISBN 0345485904.
  8. ^ a b "女の子が憧れた『ひみつのアッコちゃん』 大ヒットの要は「コンパクトと呪文」だった?". Magmix (in Japanese). October 24, 2020. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Aihara, Ruriko (February 10, 2020). '80s &'90s 魔女っ子おもちゃブック ['80s & '90s Majokko Toy Book] (in Japanese). Japan: Graphicsha. ISBN 978-4766133462.
  10. ^ Galbraith, Patrick W. (June 12, 2019). Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 9781478006299.
  11. ^ Thompson, Jason (2007). Manga: The Complete Guide. New York: Del Rey Books. p. 199. ISBN 0345485904.
  12. ^ Poitras, Gilles (2004). Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know (4th ed.). Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 1880656531.
  13. ^ a b c "魔法少女アニメなぜ激増?『魔法使いサリー』から『魔法少女育成計画』に至る系譜を読む". Real Sound (in Japanese). November 18, 2016. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  14. ^ a b Ituriel, Ivan (October 30, 2020). "Pretty Cure 101: Everything You Need to Know And Some Things You Don't". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  15. ^ コンテンツ2次利用市場(ライセンス市場)に係る 競争環境及び海外市場動向実態調査 (PDF). Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. 2011. pp. 22–23.
  16. ^ Jensen, Paul (December 16, 2016). "Rise of the Dark Magical Girls". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  17. ^ Ohanesian, Liz (October 22, 2012). "How Puella Magi Madoka Magica Shatters Anime Stereotypes". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on April 26, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  18. ^ McNulty, Amy (March 4, 2015). "Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! Episode 9". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  19. ^ Bridges, Rose (May 13, 2015). "Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! Episodes 1-12 Streaming". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  20. ^ Martin, Theron (January 24, 2013). "Is This A Zombie? DVD - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  21. ^ Orisin, Lauren (June 20, 2018). "Magical Girl Ore: Episode 12". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  22. ^ "イナズマン&ポワトリン、冬のライダー映画に登場決定!サナギマンも復活し映画初出演!". Cinema Today (in Japanese). September 29, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  23. ^ a b "大人気シリーズ第二弾『魔法×戦士 マジマジョピュアーズ!". Real Sound (in Japanese). April 8, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  24. ^ Yamamoto, Keisuke (February 27, 2019). "プリキュア一強に終止符? 話題の「女児向け特撮ドラマ」担当者に聞く、子ども番組が"守るべきもの"". Oricon (in Japanese). Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  25. ^ Yamada, Yūsuke (February 4, 2015). "中国産魔法少女アニメ『バララシャオモーシェン』がプリキュアっぽいような" [Chinese magical girl series Balala the Fairies seems to resemble Pretty Cure]. Kotaku Japan (in Japanese). Retrieved December 7, 2020 – via Ameba.
  26. ^ Altehenger, Jennifer E. (2013). "Chapter 4: Comic Travels: Disney Publishing in the People's Republic of China". In Yung, Anthony Y.H. (ed.). Asian Popular Culture: The Global (Dis)continuity. Hoboken, New Jersey: Taylor and Francis. pp. 66–70. ISBN 9781134089956. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  27. ^ a b c Bose, Priyanka (September 18, 2020). "Sailor Moon's impact on modern American animation remains undeniable". The AV Club. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  28. ^ a b c Saito, Kumiko (January 2, 2014). "Magic, Shōjo, and Metamorphosis: Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society". The Journal of Asian Studies. 73 (01): 143–164. JSTOR 43553398.
  29. ^ Anders, Ella (April 27, 2016). "Lolirock Arrives At Long Last to US". BSC Kids. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  30. ^ Silverman, Rebecca (July 1, 2020). "Our Most Anticipated Anime Of Summer 2020". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 7, 2020. There's also something vaguely reminiscent of the French 2014 – 2017 magical girl cartoon LoliRock, and since that streamed on Netflix, the visual similarities may prove helpful as well.
  31. ^ Anders, Ella (July 2, 2015). "Part Magical Girl, Part Superhero; Ladybug Arrives State-Side in Fall". BSC Kids. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  32. ^ Collins, Elle (December 3, 2015). "Teen French Heroes Ladybug & Cat Noir Arrive On Nickelodeon". ComicsAlliance. Archived from the original on February 16, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  33. ^ Polo, Susana (May 11, 2016). "Steven Universe, Explained". Polygon. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  34. ^ Schedeen, Jesse (September 29, 2020). "Review: Syfy's late-night animation block adds one winner and one misfire". IGN Southeast Asia. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  35. ^ "The Girls of Canterlot High Return to Discovery Family in Three New My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Specials to Air Throughout the Network's Annual "Summer Splash" Programming Event". Discovery. May 26, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2018.

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