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Magical Girl Fantasy

What is Magical Girl Fantasy?

Adorable girls, awesome costumes, the power of friendship, adventure, and of course magic. Magical Girl Fantasy is a multi-platform sub-genre rooted in Japanese Fantasy, primarily manga and anime (see our Anime sister site's Best Magical Girl Anime for an extensive best anime list set in the Magical Girl anime subgenre). However, it can also be found in games, visual arts, and comics. The sub-genre is incredibly visual; indeed, common tropes are very much tied to pleasing the eye. For example, the protagonists often change clothes to activate their powers with pretty and glorious transformation scenes.

Magical Girl Fantasy is a fun and happy sub-genre that is aimed at a young female audience (at least initially). So at first, Magical Girl Fantasy was a bit fluffy, pink and pretty and sparkly, always a happy ending. There wasn’t really evil in these stories and there wasn’t violence, mostly because it was thought young girls couldn’t handle that. But, times have changed and Magical Girl Fantasy right along with it. Magical girls aren’t always frilly and perky, they aren’t always miss goody-two-shoes, they do find evil in the world, they don’t always win, there is loss, there is more to their characters and their world. This all makes for an exciting and varied sub-genre that is both sweet and action-packed (and not just for little girls anymore).

What does the Magical Girl sub-genre offer? It has female empowerment, representation (gender, sexual identity, race, and more) all wrapped up in a highly visual story full of action and adventure where love and friendship triumph over evil.

For anime recommendations or to find out more about anime, check out our sister site


Other Features of Magical Girl Fantasy

  • Level of Magic

    Moderate. Magic in this sub-genre is just plain cool—it is fun and central to the story. However, magic is not usually a highly developed system with detailed internal rules that are explained to readers—magic is cool and it works. The magical girl character has specific abilities that are usually fairly well defined—but this doesn’t mean her powers can’t grow. Magic has a real effect on the characters who wield it, their personalities and their lives, and this is more important to the story than developing a detailed magic system. It’s also worth noting that magic is visual and pretty, and often happy. At least initially, magic in this sub-genre wasn’t a destructive force, but that too had evolved.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Moderate. The importance of love and friendship are central ideas to the Magical Girl Fantasy. These are fairly light ideas, innocent though still meaningful. As the sub-genre has evolved the ideas and themes stories explore have also grown. Ideas about morality and questions about moral absolutes, religion and philosophical debates are more common now. Overall, there are three main types of protagonists:

    • Cute Witch: the early example of a magical girl, she is a young girl usually on some quest, but not a world-changing quest, and magic is just part of her life

    • Shapeshifter, with skills: this character is most often seen as an idol singer, she is benefiting herself with her magic and spreading a little joy, her magic is granted to her by a greater being

    • Magical Warrior: a superheroine who is cute and perky and fights bad guys.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate-High. Characters are individuals and have their own personalities and histories. However, Magical Girl characters do fall into tropes and stock characters. For example, the heroine is a sweet, ultra-feminine, magical girl with an air of innocence with an incompetent sidekick. She is a symbol of the triumph of love and friendship, of justice and virtue.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. Originally, the plots of Magical Girl fantasies were relatively linear and pretty straightforward. One example is: wake up, go to school, save the world. Another would be a cute witch with a kind heart does good deeds to pass a test. And yet another would be the Idol Singer trope, where a magical girl uses her powers to create an idol singer alter ego. The last often features a group of magical girls who fight off evil villains. These kinds of plotlines usually feature struggles of magical importance as well as those of social importance (crushes, social pressure, schoolwork, etc.), with the social struggles often being more difficult for the magical girl to remedy. The Magical Girl Fantasy sub-genre has evolved, and so have its plots. Stories are not always so linear now, some take parts of these typical plots to create a fun and engaging plot. Stories can be complex and even require some thought on the part of the reader.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable and evolving. Traditionally, Magical Girl Fantasy are stories of friendship, light stories that are entertaining and don’t really face evil—filled with innocence. This tradition was established because it was thought the target audience of young girls couldn’t handle evil. However, as the sub-genre has evolved so too have the conflicts the heroines face, which can sometimes include graphic violence. Although, the violence does fit into the context of the story—it’s not violence for the sake of violence.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

  • Media Tie-in Fantasy. Magical Girl Fantasy books are primarily manga books and have strong visual elements, which explains why the sub-genre is popular in anime as well. Many series are developed in both manga and anime formats.

  • Superhero Fantasy. Because sometimes a magical girl is also kind of a superhero. These girls can be empowering figures for readers and that makes them pretty awesome. Also, Superhero Fantasy

  • Coming of Age Fantasy. When the primary characters are young girls, at some point they have to grow up—so Coming of Age Fantasy is a natural crossover point.

Magical Girl Fantasy isn't for you if...

If the triumph of love and virtue as a main character trope and plot driver makes you want to gag, then this type of fantasy is not for you. Magical Girl stories can get a bad rap as a girls-only genre—but some of the stories have deconstructed the genre and have become more than the frilly dresses and cute girls. However, as some series seek to engage a male audience they have also included fanservice (panty shots, slight nudity, etc.), and this kind of sexualizing does not appeal to everyone.

Popular Magical Girl Fantasy Books (or Manga)

  • Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Sally the Witch. Inspired by the sitcom Bewitched, this series focuses on a young witch princess who comes to Earth and makes friends, while trying to keep her magical abilities a secret.
  • Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon. A young school girl leads a group of friends to battle villains and prevent the theft of a powerful artifact.
  • Clamp, Cardcaptor Sakura. An elementary school girl discovers she has magical powers and is set on a mission to prevent catastrophe.
  • Fujio Akatsuka, Minitsu no Akko-chan (The Secret of Akko-chan). Pioneering work of the sub-genre. A young girl is given the gift of a magical mirror and taught enchantments.
  • Masaki Hiramatsu and Takashi Tensugi, Puella Magi Kasumi Magica: The Innocent Malice. An example of the media tie-in potential of the sub-genre. This is a side story manga developed in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series about a young girl who must choose to become a magical girl. This is also a ‘heavier’ magical girl series—darker and more mature.
  • Masaki Tsuzuki and Koji Hasegawa, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. This is a novelization of the anime series the follows a young girl and a male shapeshifting mage—they have adventures and try to track down artifacts.
  • Clamp, Magic Knight Rayearth. Created by an all-female manga artist team, this series takes elements of the Magical Girl, Mecha, and Parallel World sub-genres. The story follows three eighth grade girls who are drawn into another world and tasked with a daring rescue.
  • Gaku Miyao, Devil Hunter Yohko. Miyao adapted the anime into manga form. It is a traditional story: teenage girl discovers she’s a demon hunter, can transform into tight dresses, kicks supernatural behinds, is a bit boy crazy. It’s a fun story with plenty of action.
  • Chiho Saito, Revolutionary Girl Utena. A unique series in that the manga and anime were created simultaneously. The protagonist is a tom boyish teenage girl determined to become a prince and has devoted herself to protecting a fellow student. It has some forward thinking gender politics.
  • Rachel Roberts, Avalon: Web of Magic. This children’s series is not manga, but it still has most of the Magical Girl tropes. It is a story about three teenage girls and their animal friends. Common themes are friendship, the triumph over adversity, and a love of nature.
  • Lynne Ewing, Daughters of the Moon. A series about four girls who find out they are daughters of the moon goddess and have been sent to Earth to fight an ancient evil. This is a series of novels, but it too contains many tropes and themes of Magical Girl fantasy.