Breaking Down The Magical Girl Genre – Going Their Own Way

Alright, if you missed part one or part two, definitely check them out first and then let’s talk about magical girls.

Let’s wrap up this mini-series of posts (though I am definitely going to revisit the subject matter at some point because really nowhere near enough has been said).

What about the exceptions within the magical girl genre.

And why no magical boys (or not really the same kind of magical)?

While there are a few modern exceptions, I actually want to look at a more classic ‘magical girl’ that kind of does things her own way, and that’s Sakura from Card Captor. And already I hear people saying she defines magical girl, what do you mean she’s an exception?

Cardcaptor Sakura gives us a non-transforming magical girl but still kind of tells the same story.

True, she becomes a Card Captor after Kero recruits her to recapture the cards she let loose and it was more or less her destiny to release the cards in the first place and she fights an array of silly villains while wearing fairly ridiculous outfits using a magical wand to summon cards to fight for her, so it all seems fairly normal for the magical girl genre.


However, there are a few distinctions.

Firstly, while her friends are most definitely dragged into the magical encounters Sakura has after becoming a Card Captor, with the exception of Syaoran Li, most of her friends do not have any power and don’t end up joining her back-up group.

In fact, Sakura pretty much fights solo for most of the series, occasionally assisted/hindered by Li and offered moral support by her best friend Tomoyo. Furthermore, Tomoyo doesn’t end up being the victim of the week every other episode, unlike Molly (the magic free friend of Sailor Moon).

The focus is heavy on school life rather than being a magical girl.

Secondly, Sakura doesn’t transform into a magical girl. She always has her magic powers whether she’s in her school uniform or one of Tomoyo’s creations. Every single ridiculous outfit Sakura ends up in she changes into willingly (or at least because her best friend is trying to help in her own way and Sakura doesn’t want to hurt her feelings).

So no magical girl outfit (and this right here could throw Card Captor’s right out of the genre entirely given how important transformation sequences are in other shows).

Sakura in one of her many outfits - a magical girl with a whole wardrobe.
I will admit, the outfits are pretty cute.

Thirdly, Sakura defeats the escaped cards and then uses them to fight and capture other cards. These villains have no grand plan to take over the world. They’re magic cards that have escaped and are running wild. Mostly they aren’t working together or plotting anything.

So no gloating villain sneering about how they will beat them next time. Instead, this is a fetch quest that got out of hand but serves as the background for Sakura’s growth as a human (even as her increased stash of cards makes her stronger).


The last point I want to make is that Syaoran is both a rival and a love interest. He battles with Sakura to be the Card Captor, though eventually is forced to bow out of the fight which is when he takes on a far more traditional role. This is a refreshing role for a male character in a magical girl genre because he has his own strengths and agenda outside of saving the girl so she can save the world.


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I’d love to know your favourite exception in the magical girl genre so please share below.

Onto the lack of an equivalent magical boys genre. While there are definitely anime boys out there with magic (think Fairy Tail etc) these aren’t magical boy anime. Generally they are actions or dramas. They are fast paced and usually full of a large number of characters who the protagonists can fight with and support.

grey-fullbuster - ice magic user from fairy tail.
Of course, Grey is brilliant as an ice-magic user but can you imagine is someone asked him to spin around and transform?

Of course, if magical boys was a thing you would have to wonder who the audience would be? As Cute High Earth Defence shows, just putting boys in silly outfits and making them go through the motions of a magical girl anime isn’t exactly compelling viewing, and even if they played it straight it would be hard to take it seriously.


As stated in part 2, a large part of the magical girl genre is about imparting messages about qualities that the audience should admire and work toward. These messages are already presented by male characters in shonen anime and a range of other avenues.

One could almost argue that the magical girl genre exists only to fill the void that existed for strong female characters who fight villains. They used magic as a way to overcome the traditional stereotype of weaker female and then gave the protagonists admirable personality traits (even if these only developed throughout the series).


So do magical girl series still have a place for modern audiences when there are now plenty of other shows and media that present stronger females?

Definitely. This is a genre that filled a gap but also carved out its own niche and will continue to develop and grow with the modern audience. The success of shows like Madoka Magica clearly show that there is still a large market for the magical girl, even if she has evolved a bit from the shiny and sparkly days when all she had to do was spin around occasionally and wave a wand.


That concludes this run of magical girl posts and I know I’ve barely touched the surface. Feel free to leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions below.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

7 thoughts on “Breaking Down The Magical Girl Genre – Going Their Own Way

    1. I know. I always just lumped her in with standard magical girls but there are definitely key differences in her character and story.

  1. Part of the distinction between shounen fighters and shoujo magical girl shows is, I think, the gender divide. The fighting in the shounen genre tends to point towards a career. You become an adventurer, ninja, guild member, fire fighter… The distinction is that you have mentors, that there are older characters with the same job, and so on. You go out into the world and forge your own path.

    Magical girl shows tend to be strictly coming of age shows, with the magic tied to the process. It’s explicit in Shugo Chara. Do Re Mi ends with all the girls losing their magic… In any case, usually they are magical girls but they don’t grow into magical women. Sailor Moon doesn’t necessarily fit, but I haven’t seen all of it. Nanoha might buck the trend, since she’s joining a multi dimensional organisation (? I’ve only seen seven episodes of season one, and not that recently, either, so I’m not sure).

    The values tend to be love and supporting your loved ones, too. Compare this to wanting to be the best Pokemon trainer in the world, for example (and then see how all the club anime are about competition), and there’s this sense that magical girl anime prepare you for a domestic live at home, while your shounen protagonist hubby slaves away at a black company. Oh, the dreams of youth.

    I’m fairly sure there should be shows where the magic outlasts your teenage and leads into a career, but beyond Nanoha I find it hard to think of an example (and Nanoha, as far as I know, isn’t shoujo).

    It’d be interesting to imagine what all those magical girls will do when they grow up.

    1. I’m with you – magical girl becomes magical woman would be an interesting story. And yes, some of the scouts in Sailor Moon (the outer planets) were older but they still didn’t have a life really outside of being a scout and maybe one or two hobbies.
      Nice point.

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