10 Best Magical Girl Anime You Need To Watch

Revolutionary Girl Utena

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In 1996 a manga would take Japan by storm resulting in an anime and film adaptation, it is known as Revolutionary Girl Utena. It is a perfect mix of action and a coming-of-age story told from the viewpoint of a strong-willed tomboy named Utena Tenjou who desires to be a prince. Utena enters into a series of sword fights in order to win the hand of the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya, who has the power to revolutionize the world.

This show deals with LGBTQ+ issues by deconstructing the typical fairytale and magical girl anime and centering on the relationship between its main characters, Utena and Anthy. The show uses metaphor and symbolism in a way that wasn’t seen often at the time, incorporating color with yellow representing nostalgia, orange as confrontation, and red as ambition. The show explores queer and feminist themes with its two leads being presented as bisexual while Utena’s presentation deconstructs gender norms. Their relationship is described as a soft and sympathetic lesbian relationship that challenges hetronormativity.

This show was a huge influence on the person who worked on Adventure Time and later created the hugely popular Stephen Universe, Rebecca Sugar. They have gone on to be the first non-binary person to create their own dhow for Cartoon Network.

[Utena] was an epiphany for me. The way that it plays with the semiotics of gender. I was a bisexual teenager watching a show like Utena. It was stunning, I related to it in a way that I had never really felt before and it really stuck with me… I love that she (Utena) decides that after being saved by a prince that she wants to be a prince, It’s great!… (Utena) is so extreme that it’s funny.

That was a huge influence on me as well, that something could be so dramatic and so, beautiful, but also wacky… Akio will flip onto the front of the car, or the way that (the student council members) want to shatter the world. It’s so extreme that it’s powerful and almost even funny, it’s really exciting… I saw them [the Takarazuka Revue] do Guys and Dolls, which is one of the greatest things I have ever seen. And there’s huge, huge Takarazuka theater influence to Steven Universe, I feel like I got a chance to see some of the deepest source material for that whole genre, and it was hugely inspiring.

Rebecca Sugar on Utena on Stephen Universe | Den of Geek

Cardcaptor Sakura

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This might be one that those who watched afternoon ITV Kids programming might remember. Cardcaptor Sakura is a personal favorite of mine and still holds up today, even if it is aimed more at a younger demographic. Originating as a manga in 1996 it was adapted into a 70-episode anime in 1998 and two movies. In 2000 it was dubbed for English-speaking audiences known as just Cardcaptors.

Sakura Kinomoto is a ten-year-old girl who accidentally frees a set of magical cards into the world. Possibly taking influence from the story of Pandoras Box, Sakura must retrieve these cards to prevent catastrophe. This awakens Cerberus, the guardian of the cards, and is renamed Kero by Sakura, he is the comic relief of the show, being a small lion cub with wings who is bossy, demanding, and likes food but he also deeply cares about Sakura. Each card grants Sakura new magical powers that reveal her own inherent magical ability.

Sailor Moon

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She’s fighting evil by moonlight and winning love by daylight, Sailor Moon has become one of the most well-known and well-loved magical girl anime in the world, with its influence being felt even to this day. Starting off as a manga in 1991 it would be adapted into one of the most popular animes of all time the following year. 30 years on and Sailor Moon is still the standard when it comes to this kind of anime, am I biased? possibly, I do have Sailor Moon stickers on my laptop at the time of writing, but this show influenced a whole generation of women.

Sailor Moon has been adapted into eight series and seven movies over its 30-year run. Starting off with the classic Sailor Moon series that ran between 1992 and 1997 it spawned three movies during its initial run. Sailor Moon would return to TV with three seasons as Sailor Moon: Crystal in 2014 and ending in 2016. This new adaptation, which changed the 90s technology to relate to a more modern audience has spawned two movies with two more set for release in 2023.

The show and presentation of young teenage girls are one of its greatest strengths with themes of feminism and girl power, as well as a strong LGBTQ+ relationship making it a truly groundbreaking show in the 1990s. The Sailor Guardians are seen as strong and beautiful while all having their own distinct personalities, wants, needs, and styles, which is refreshing. While the show deals with magic and transformation the friendship between the Sailor Scouts is one of the most realistic portrayals of strong female friendships put to film. They argue, they are kind, and they always stand by one another.

For western fans of the show, the characters of Uranus and Neptune were changed to cousins instead of lovers, and this is the biggest reason a fan of the show needs to watch the original. Luckily this isn’t the case with Sailor Moon: Crystal which finally shows that audience who grew up with the Guardians a beautiful LGBTQ+ relationship that is relatable and shows little queer kids everywhere that they are normal and accepted. The show also shows the teens as hyperfeminine while also inhabiting stereotypical male spaces and concepts with them being the ones fighting evil and saving the day.

Sailor Moon is by far the best magical girl anime and most popular but if this is your first introduction to this type of show maybe a deeper look into the shows listed here is needed. Have fun and enjoy the power and great stories told in these female-centric shows.

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