For the December talking meme, lielac prompted: “Talk about your top 3-5 magical girl shows/anime/manga/things!”
(not that I’m going to be terribly precise about the rankings, here.)
Top Two: Sailor Moon and Madoka Magica
…surprising absolutely no one.
Trying to rank these against each other is downright unfair. I’ve made more fic and fanart for Sailor Moon, but, listen, I was in that fandom for a solid 10 years before Madoka Magica was even released.
And of course, Sailor Moon is foundational. Not that Madoka is a pure takeoff — it engages with series from all over the genre. (Sayaka has Utena’s aesthetic and Anthy’s tragedy; Madoka the character is her own Pretty Cure self-insert…) But Sailor Moon is an essential part of its DNA, and Madoka wouldn’t be the series I love without it.
…for instance, it might not have hit on “cute pink-pigtailed ray of sunshine and her depressed dark-haired purple-themed goth gf.”
Other Favorites: Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne
Doing the rest in alphabetical order, because that’s easiest.
Kamikaze (“divine wind”) Kaitou (“phantom thief”) Jeanne is about Maron, a girl who discovers she’s the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. Her mascot sidekick is a doll-sized angel, who explains that Maron has to use her divine powers to seal away demonic energy in the name of God.
Also, these demons attach themselves to paintings. So as far as the cops are concerned, Jeanne is a high-profile art thief with a weirdly-elaborate costume.
There’s a headdesk-inducing het romance with her magical-boy rival (who might be working for the devil??), which brings in some truly obnoxious gender essentialism toward the end. All of that is much less interesting than Maron’s dynamic with her best friend Miyako.
They’re devoted to each other. When Maron and the guy start getting closer, Miyako describes it as “worse than having [my] heart broken.”
Also! Miyako’s father is on the Jeanne-catching unit, and she’s determined to help bring Jeanne in, for the honor of the force.
…definitely just for that, and not because over the course of the series she develops any other kind of interest in Jeanne. That would be ridiculous.
Also over the course of the plot, Miyako starts to get the sense that Maron has been hiding things from her…but she can’t figure out why.
Maron notices, of course, but can’t just tell Miyako what’s going on. All she can do is hope Miyako will go on pretending not to notice.
It’s so much fun, you guys. (Aside from the het.)
Recommended for anyone who likes:
- the identity-porn angle in Miraculous Ladybug
- the Lupin/Zenigata dynamic in Lupin III, but with ladies
- ridiculous off-the-wall Japanese adaptations of Christian mythology
- pre-Madoka takes on “this magical-girl universe turns out to be way darker than it first appears”
Other Favorites: Saint Tail
Who would’ve thought “magical phantom thieves with a Christian theme” would be a trend?
Meimi’s father is a famous magician who taught her everything he knows. Her mother is a reformed thief, who didn’t try to teach those skills, but Meimi seems to have inherited a bunch anyway.
Now Maimi uses her talents to pull Leverage-esque heists as Saint Tail, stealing back things that have been unjustly taken.
(Classic Tuxedo Mask pose, there.)
Her BFF is Seira, a nun-in-training who picks up hot tips in the confession booth and passes them on to Meimi.
…I mean, this is yet another example of Anime Being Wrong About How Christianity Works, but it’s not “sexy jeweled battle nun” levels of wrong. So sure, let’s roll with it.
In this case, the boy love interest is the amateur detective who’s trying to catch her — he goes by Asuka Jr. — and the romance is downright cute. It has a lot of the emotional building blocks I like in Maron/Miyako, but because it’s m/f, it actually goes there.
(The last thing she steals is him. And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical “she stole his heart” sense, either.)
I’m not moved by Seira/Meimi, but if you’re intrigued by that, the series sure won’t make it hard.
There’s no broader magical world in this one (no literal divine intervention, church is only there as a plot device to get Meimi her tips). She doesn’t have a magical sidekick, either — though she does pick up a very merchandisable pet hedgehog.
Recommended for anyone who likes:
- “let’s go steal an X” as a heroic catchphrase
- Steven-Universe-type “whoops, it turns out my mom got up to some shady things in the past, and now I’ve gotta use what I’ve inherited from both my parents to make it right”
- Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, but maybe a little less weird, and the romance is cuter
- everything is relentlessly adorable
Other Favorites: Tokyo Mew Mew
Our world is in peril. Two environmental scientists can no longer stand the terrible destruction plaguing our planet. They give the DNA of five endangered animals to five special young people. Ichigo, with the power of catgirl. Mint, with the power of blue lorikeet. Lettuce, with the power of finding her porpoise. Pudding, with the power of totally different from Mrs. Coulter we swear. And Zakuro, with the power of whoozagoodwolfgirl.
With the five powers combined, they’re gonna fight some aliens!
The villains are a group of space-elves (also with food-themed names) who used to live on Earth, or at least believe they used to, and want it back.
Since humans have treated the environment so badly, they don’t want to share it, either. They want to wipe us out — one MotD attack at a time.
The show doesn’t go quite as far as giving “don’t forget to recycle!” PSAs at the end, but it really does care. A lot of lovely renderings of nature throughout the series help drive that home. Here’s a bit from the opening sequence.
(I did say Madoka was influenced by everything….)
Our main character is Ichigo, because catgirl. One of the aliens, Quiche, develops a crush on her and is famously terrible about it. (Forcing a kiss on her without permission, assuring her that she can join him and stay alive while they kill all the other humans, and so on.)
Thankfully, the narrative knows this is terrible. And her endgame love interest is cute nerd Aoyama, who geeks about about environmental science, likes cats, and will probably be a bit of a kinkster when he gets older. (He respects her consent and gives her a collar.)
There’s a great sequence where Ichigo’s dad freaks out about his daughter dating…and deals with it by challenging Aoyama to a kendo fight. Aoyama accepts — but loses — and then Ichigo grabs a sword of her own, gets in between them, and goes “wtf Dad, if you have a problem with who I’m seeing, that’s my business, and you talk about it with me.”
The Sailor Moon influence is strong in this one. Not so much in the manga, and the anime keeps that basic plot framework — but when it adds or changes stuff, a lot of the time you can see exactly where they got that.
Ichigo’s weapon is literally “we have a bunch of extras of Chibiusa’s bell at the toy warehouse, we gotta find a way to repurpose these.”
And the monsters-of-the-week start out as genuinely creepy mutant animals (or, occasionally, plants) — leading to some great, complex, well-choreographed action scenes…
…but towards the end they devolve into classic daimon-style “sexy lady version of this animal.” Compare and contrast:
And then there’s…whatever this is.
But I don’t want to get down on this too much. The premise is good, there are some solid and genuinely surprising twists as the plot goes on, and the characters are original and lovable.
Special note: Mint (rich ballet prodigy, who’s normally all proper and stoic except when her crush is involved) is gay af for Zakuro (hot aloof model/actress, who actively balances the world-saving with her ongoing career).
This isn’t unintentional subtext or wink-wink nudge-nudge say-no-more, either. This is head-over-heels, hearts-in-eyes, sparkle-vision love.
There’s an arc towards the end where the team thinks Zakuro has thrown them over for the aliens. Mint insists on being the one to go confront her. This time the action-packed fight sequence is intra-Mew, and it’s wrenching.
Zooming in on that last part:
Admittedly, in the course of the series it’s one-sided…but Zakuro doesn’t outright reject Mint’s interest, in a way that leaves shippers plenty of room to maneuver post-canon.
(Sidenote: there is a sequel to the manga, called Tokyo Mew Mew A La Mode. Don’t bother with it. Same artist, but not the same writer — and it seems very clear that the artist wanted to create her own original magical-girl series, but the publisher insisted she shoehorn it into the continuity of their already-existing hit, to unsatisfying results.)
Recommended for anyone who likes:
- Captain Planet, but with Japanese catgirls
- the Sailor Moon villains in the Black Moon and Makaiju arcs
- Catradora, but the angsty part is temporary and resolved
- unusually good shoujo gender politics
- bird lesbians
I didn’t put Revolutionary Girl Utena or Read or Die on the list. Decided they were too genre-adjacent to really rank. And this is already longer than I meant it to be, so I’m not going to do a whole sidebar about them anyway.
Short version: they’re also very good, and you should give them a look.