They’re cute, but they’re not to be underestimated. These girls have supreme power! Mahō shōjo, or magical girl, is one of the most popular genres in manga. It was initially targeted to young girls, but over time, it has entertained and captured the hearts of all people. Like its audience, magical girls have evolved during its 60+ years in media.
The first series to feature a magical girl was Princess Knight (1953). Magic wasn’t present in the plot, per se, but it did establish the premise of the protagonist (Sapphire) transforming into something else (a prince). It wasn’t until the 1960s that the two main protypes of the genre were introduced. Sally the Witch* (1966-1967) told the tale of a witch princess from the Magic Kingdom who teleports to Earth. In The Secrets of Akko-chan (1962-1965), the titular character was given a compact that could transform her, as a reward after caring for a mirror spirit. A magical girl could either be a witch or an ordinary girl who receives power.
Megu, the Little Witch* (1974-1975) added an extra layer to the genre. Megu was sent to Earth from Witch World to learn how to control her powers and to prove that is she worthy of her homeworld’s throne. But she was not the only witch transported to Earth. Non wanted the throne as well, creating a rivalry between the two. Cutie Honey (1973-1974), although appearing in Weekly Shonen Champion, portrayed a teenage girl who could change into seven different forms to fight evil. Both series promoted female empowerment, which would continue as a major theme in future magical girl stories.
The 1980s spiced up the genre by adding music! Idols were very popular in Japan, so why not mix them together? Hence, Magical Angel Creamy Mami* (1983-1984) was born. Ten-year-old Yu was given the ability morph into a more mature version of herself and accidentally became a professional idol. And she had two talking cats from space! (That sounds familiar…) Creamy Mami set the standard for magical idol girls, in the 80s and beyond. Self-expression and self-affirmation, on and off stage, were crucial in this era.
Magical girls continued to advance during the 1990s. Sailor Moon (1992-1997) broke barriers, in and outside of Japan, by introducing a team of magical girls and combined beauty with strength, rather than choosing one over the other. Cardcaptor Sakura (1996-2000) focused on other forms of love, such as unrequited love and familial love, and human relationships. Revolutionary Girl Utena (1996-1998) used the prince fairytale and deconstructed it and the genre itself, noted as the manga to do so. Additionally, all three series contained LGBTQIA+ characters and themes, creating a more inclusive environment. Magical girls of this era were coming-of-age stories that explored female sexuality and weaponized femininity.
Tokyo Mew Mew (2000-2003), Princess Tutu* (2002), and Pretty Cure* (2004-2005) led the 2000s, but things took quite a turn by the 2010s. Puella Magi Madoka Magica* (2011) changed the magical girl game. It took a darker approach to the genre and emphasized on the “be careful what you wish for” theme, among others. Kill la Kill* (2013-2014) was filled with moments of fanservice but was extremely action-packed. Short film turned internet sensation Little Witch Academia* (2017) focused on a human girl named Akko who attends a witch school, combining and simultaneously flipping the magical girl prototypes. These and other series rebelled against what a magical girl should be and had fun doing it. It will be exciting to see what the genre thinks of next!
Jade Stewart is a young writer who has been actively building her craft for over ten years. She has graduated with a BA in English Writing with a minor in French from Loyola University New Orleans. As of May 2019, she has graduated from Columbia University’s MFA Writing program.