Breaking Down The Magical Girl Genre – Let’s Never Become a Magical Girl


If you missed the first post on Magical Girls be sure to check it out and then let’s get into part 2.

If she’s a magical girl, what powers does she have?

Right so we’re back to magical girls and I wanted to look at the characters and the magic powers that crop up in these stories. While this is where many of these stories differentiate themselves, there are still a lot of common factors between shows.

Alas, I am only going to be looking at the main characters from a handful of anime. There is too much content to get into side characters and villains (though I may do a post on those guys at some point – it won’t be in this series).

So who are our main contenders? Serena (Sailor Moon – original anime series), Amu (Shugo Chara), and Madoka (Madoka Magica).


Serena – The Ultimate Magical Girl?

How do we describe her?

Sailor Moon - yep she's a magical girl.
She’s a klutz.
Who over eats.
And she’s not particularly bright.
Wait, why did we get Serena to save the world again?
And she’s a cry baby.

Wow. It’s a good thing she likes cats and rescued Luna or else she was kind doomed as a character. Even her friends regularly run her down but they all agree on a couple of things. Serena is stubborn (and while that is sometimes a negative a certain amount of stubbornness is needed to not just give up on things) and she’s also happy most of the time and loyal to her friends.

As a magical girl, Serena’s path is a long one.

You have a long path to walk Serena. Take cookies. You'll become a magical girl for sure.

Her initial transformation aside, she struggles in the early battles to hold her nerve and to use her powers effectively. She regularly needs a pep talk from one of the scouts of Tuxedo Mask to get her moving again and while the threat doesn’t feel very real at times she’d rather let someone else take care of it.

However, as the danger intensifies and as Serena ‘grows up’ she begins to embrace her roles as the Moon Princess. Admittedly, it’s midway through season 2 before you see her settle on this and even then she is plagued by the occasional doubt about whether she’d just like to be ordinary.

Serena and Darien both grow into their roles together. Magical Girl and Boy couple goals.
Serena and Darien

Serena’s love story is integral to the overall plot as there’s a whole lovers in former lives issue and Serena and Darien’s love regularly saves the plot from falling apart by generating a much needed power boost or saves one or the other from what should be death.

While Darien’s presence is very much a positive for Serena’s development, he himself gets very little development or chance to take the lead. It’s a magical girl show so show up, give your speech and then wait on the sidelines until she requires some moral support. I always felt a bit sorry for Darien.

As to the magic itself, Sailor Moon relies heavily on devices. Transformations can be undone by removing brooches and powers rendered useless by knocking wands out of hands. The girls themselves seemingly cannot activate their power without these device and accessories (which makes you wonder how any of the villains ever lost to them when there was such an easy path to victory).

The device aside, Sailor Moon is the champion of shouting out attack names and key phrases for transformation in English. I wonder if shouting it louder made your power more impressive?

What about Amu’s Magical Girl cred?

Amu will not smile and will not willingly transform for you. Find another magical girl to pose.
I must not smile.

Amu is straight away a different character from Serena. She is cool and admired for being cool and aloof. However, that’s all her outer character and one she has deliberately established. The audience is let on to her inner monologue and uncertainties and we know she’d love to ooh over the cute things and gush at the prince.

And unlike Serena, Amu isn’t inherently a magical girl. Nope. She did not get reborn after dying tragically in a past life. Nor was she chosen by destiny. Apparently being indecisive and wishing for a change in your life is enough because Amu created her own magic, even if she regularly regrets it during the first part of the series.

What? You can’t see the difference? She now has a heart in her hair and she’s ridiculously over the top and exuberant.

Amu’s indecisiveness is crazy. She doesn’t just manifest one alternate personality in the form of a guardian character but three (later four but you know). This leads to a whole range of different transformations, though Amulet Heart is her main go to.

Amu is not amused by this magical girl transformation.
Yep, I’d look like that too if someone put me in a cheerleading outfit.

Keep in mind, this isn’t like Sailor Moon evolving in Super Sailor Moon or then becoming the Princess. These are entirely separate identities with totally different powers (more or less the same results though). And then later, of course, we start combining these powers and then things just get silly.

Where Amu is very similar to Serena is the journey she goes through as a character. She matures and stops worrying about petty things quite so much and stops complaining about things not being fair. She learns to just deal with things as they are and take them as they come. She also eventually gets over her ‘Prince’ crush though Ikuto probably had something to do with that.

amu and ikuto
Ikuto is definitely the best boy.

Seriously, who needs a Prince when you have a bad boy whose alternate self is a cat? And unlike Darien, Ikuto actually gets to play a more active role in the story. He stirs up the core group, acts as an antagonist, get’s close to Amu and then disappears leaving her to fret for his safety and try to save him. He (like Darien) also gets brainwashed and has to be saved but then hangs around for the final fight instead of ending up with amnesia in the hospital.

The magic here comes from their guardian spirits (which are like manifestations of their dreams). Problem is, these spirits live in eggs and they can get stolen, sealed shut, or broken. Way to shatter your dreams literally. It’s like someone gave you that thing at school where they make you care for an egg for a week, only in this case if you break your egg you will not only have no super powers but become an empty shell of a human being. Tragic.

Once transformed though, the characters generate weapons and magic appropriate to their character. When she’s the cheerleader, Amu uses a baton or pom-poms. When she’s the artist, she uses a paintbrush. As Su, she uses a whisk (so cute and yet so useless – except for remake, that’s a remarkably useful power for cleaning up supernatural messes).

I will point out that I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to make a heart shape with my fingers like Amu and I am still convinced it is actually impossible to position your hands the way she does and end up with a clear heart. You can put your fingers together but it really doesn’t look particularly heart like.


Lastly, the girl who didn’t become a Magical Girl – Madoka.

Finally, we have Madoka. And I know, she isn’t a magical girl until the very end of the series. That’s why she’s included. We have the traditional magical girl (Serena), the slightly more modern and self-aware magical girl (Amu) and now we have the not a magical girl and hesitant to become one because it could cause you to die.

Madoka knows being a magical girl is not all it is cracked up to be.

That’s not the only reason Madoka is interesting. She also has no love interest. She saves the romance angst for her best friends to deal with. All Madoka has to deal with is her rampant insecurity because she feels she has no special… oh wait. She is a modern version of Serena with the self-awareness of Amu. Now the pink pony-tails make sense.

Still, the magical girl transformation is definitely impressive – they do make you wait all season for it. And her power is pretty undeniable (she recreates the entire lore by which magic works). Similar to Amu, her power is based on an inner wish, but in this case manifests by making a contract with the dev…

Oh no, just Kyuubey. Close enough. Once a wish is made the magical girls get a soul gem that enables them to transform and then their power is kind of linked to their wish. Though watch out, if you get too far away from your soul gem, well you have no soul. This isn’t a good state to be in as it pretty much leaves you dying in a coma.


I said their power was kind of linked because it’s a little odd. Madoka though has a bow and arrow, because arrows are cool nowadays, but she has the overly frilly dress of someone who grew up on a rich diet of what a magical girl should look like. It’s almost on par with the parody outfit from Is This A Zombie?

Let’s be honest. None of these girls are going to hold their own in a straight up swordfight. Serena will trip, Amu will be sarcastic and Madoka will wring her hands together in distress as she tries to think of a way to help (though which side she would help is debatable). But what these girls do possess:

  • Loyalty,
  • Honesty, and
  • Perseverance

These characteristics are not bestowed on them by mystic eggs, lockets or creepy bunny things. These are traits they have developed through their lives and are traits that allow them to overcome the trials and hardships they face. And that’s the core of magical girl stories. These characters.

For just a little while you can believe that you don’t need to be smart or athletic or particularly talented at anything as long as you keep working hard and growing you will one day triumph.

And yeah I’ve missed a huge amount of points and ideas and haven’t even touched on the other cast members (friends and foes alike) but the post is already long enough so I’m calling it. Please feel free to add your points and argument below.

Be sure to check out part 3.

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

Shugo Chara Series Review


Shugo Chara Overview:

In Shugo Chara, Amu is an ordinary girl but her classmates see her as having a cool and spicy personality. She just wants to be cute and normal and find the courage to confess to the Prince of the school, Tadase. After making a wish one night, she wakes up to find three eggs in her bed. When the eggs hatch, Amu’s life is going to change as the school Guardians know she’s got them and suddenly want her to become the Joker.

Shugo Chara Review:

In case you didn’t pick it up from the super shiny pink colour scheme or the overview, Shugo Chara is another magical girl series, though technically there are as many magical boys in this show as girls so we’ll leave that to the side for now. Essentially if you are up for transformation, ridiculous costumes, a monster of the week that mostly seems ineffectual but somehow helps our hero learn more about herself and others, before building to a massive overly emotional final battle, then Shugo Chara is the show for you.


In this version of the magical girl/kids with super powers story various young people have a guardian egg and for those with particularly strong dreams or wishes the eggs become visible and may hatch into guardian characters. The guardian characters can do a character change with their owner which gives them some power though they are still strictly human at that point.

For Amu, when she does a character change with Ran, she becomes very enthusiastic and becomes really good at sports (cheerleader). Going a further step, they might be able to do a character transformation where they get a full transformation sequence and then the powers get really over the top. By the way, don’t break the egg. Bad idea.

Though it probably wouldn’t be fair to simply leave it at that because even within the magical girl genre there’s quite a bit of variety. Shugo Chara manages to be one of those adorably sweet shows that has just enough actual drama and heartache to keep it from tipping into cavity territory. Mostly that is because of the two older characters in the cast, Ikuto and Utau. Even though they are still students, admittedly older than our fifth grade protagonists, they have enough of a tragic back story for to fill an entire young adult novel all on their own.

So rather than skipping all over the place with this I’m going to take a plus/minus approach to this show.

Plus +


Pretty much every encounter between Amu and Ikuto is golden. Whether it is early in the story where Ikuto is strictly set up as the dangerous bad-boy, or later on where you start to see him as the stray cat, or further down the story where you realise he really is just a lonely teenager starved for actual relationships, his encounters with Amu really are the highlight of the show, and not just because his character change turns him into a cat boy and quite adorable with his ears out.

This relationship is enough to keep you going through the many episodes of this series (there’s 51 in the first series of Shugo Chara and then it just keeps going).

Minus –


The rest of the guardians from the school (King, Queen, Jack, and Ace). While each of them get a moment at some point in the series, and the King, Tadase, is technically set up as Amu’s actual lover interest early on, to be perfectly honest I’m not sure these characters serve any point other than this show decided it wanted a team of 5 people.

For a large majority of the series the other guardians can’t do character transformations so their powers are pretty limited, and to be honest Tadase’s character change is incredibly annoying. Even after they can do character transformations, most of them aren’t overly helpful. Yaya in particular has the most ridiculous costume ever and her attack remains laughable.

I kind of get that Amu developed as a character through the support these guys gave her, but they could have easily given her one or two friends who would have served the same essential role and then they wouldn’t have had to keep coming up with excuses to make the rest of the cast relevant.

Plus +


If you want something kid safe, this one is more or less a winner. While some of the themes around Ikuto are a bit more mature there is no foul language, no overt nudity (although a couple of the costumes are a little on the skimpy side), and the violence is fairly limited to magical attacks rather than weapons (with one or two exceptions).

Minus –


Do not expect a complex storyline. The plot is strictly formulaic. At first the guardians are on a quest to find the embryo, some magical thingy that will apparently grant a wish. The evil company, Easter (not joking), is also trying to seek the embryo. Incidentally, both Ikuto and Utau are either working for or controlled by Easter for a fair amount of the series, as does a teacher who comes to the school.

The guardians have the genius plan of randomly running around and hoping they spot it (seriously, I don’t think ever come up with a better plan because they are strictly reactive in terms of seeking the thing) whereas Easter has the even more genius plan of corrupting other kid’s eggs and turning them into x eggs, which sends them on a rampage requiring them to be purified by Amu etc, etc.

Occasionally Easter comes up with plans in order to collect large number of heart’s eggs at once and are essentially ripping the dreams out of small children but seriously, their plans kind of remind me of most of the throw away villains from Sailor Moon. Some of the subplots fare better with Utau and Amu at one point swapping eggs and being forced to confront each other and their own weaknesses and Ikuto’s entire plot line is fairly interesting, but the overall story is as cookie cutter as they come in this genre.

Plus +

There is some really good music in this series. Okay, the theme songs are catchy but fairly horrendous when you think about them but within the show itself you have Utau who is an idol and regularly performs. Because Easter runs an entertainment company there are quite a lot of episodes that feature performances from various bit characters. However, the true stand out would be Ikuto on the violin. It is no wonder Amu tracked that sound down in the park because it was beautiful.

Minus –

It never really felt like there was much point in Amu having 3 and then 4 guardian characters. Admittedly, it was used as a plot point toward the end and early on it was showing that she didn’t have one clear dream but other than Ran, the other two guardians don’t get to do much, and the final one doesn’t come until very late into the show. It just felt like they could have done more with that.

Plus +


A final plus to finish on, Amu is the kind of heroine I could get behind. While she tries really hard sometimes to be upbeat, most of the time she is full of self doubt and confusion. She doesn’t really get the guardian eggs or why she needs to fight and she certainly doesn’t understand her feelings for either Tadase or Ikuto.

I like that she is essentially a good person but she is a kid. She starts the story in the fifth grade and while her outer persona may be super cool sometimes, you never really forget how young she really is. Over the course of the series I came to really admire her because she didn’t run away from her problems (although she did occasionally sulk) but neither was she the super positive, we can do it, kind of protagonist that just kind of gets on your nerves after awhile.

Amu from Shugo Chara as Amu-Heart

Realistically, Shugo Chara is kind of average in every respect. It is completely watchable and if you are in to the genre it is very binge worthy, however it is also quickly forgettable save one or two minor plot lines. It is cute and adorable and if you want a show where love, friendship, and dreams will eventually win the day, it is well worth checking out.

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