This is something I started years ago, but I feel more confident in a list like this just because I’ve watched more magical girl shows, and thus am more certain of what I like. The magical girl genre is probably my favorite genre of anime; part of it is the flashy animation, and the integration of various mythologies with new concepts, as well as the abundance of female characters.
By the way, I’m only including “classical” magical girl shows, containing one or more characters who transform to fight evil on a semi-episodic basis. Consider Steven Universe, She-ra and the Princesses of Power, and Little Witch Academia honorable mentions.
I have to give a nod to the classic magical girl franchises! Tropical Rouge might not be the best Precure ever, but it was the first I was able to watch through legal streaming. It’s got a chill slice-of-lifey vibe, and it manages to flesh out all the heroines (and at least manages to make the villains somewhat endearing by the end). It’s a solid episodic story with a good resolution.
4. Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir
I wanted to link all the shows, but this one’s all over the place. The latest seasons are on Disney+, but seasons 1-3 are on Netflix.
I said “Magical Girl Shows”, not “Magical Girl Anime”! Anyway, I was debating whether I should place Shugo Chara on the list until I realized that I only really loved it for its resident black cat boy, and this show has a black cat boy who is, if not better, then certainly more adorkable. The CG not only makes the fights more dynamic, but also allows the transformations to be altered with different outfits (an element which I only began to appreciate after watching more traditional magical girl anime). While the plot can meander at times (it’s five seasons and counting now), I give it the edge over other shows mainly thanks to the singular, constant, and well-developed villain.
Ironically, I enjoy Sailor Moon much more when it’s not about Sailor Moon. This season is mainly about developing Chibi-Usa, who is a much more interesting character than Usagi, and with a more interesting romance to boot. But really, it’s the hammy villains that make the show stand out, on top of an inspired creepy circus aesthetic that Ikuhara makes pop.
This show is too game changing to ignore. While it had the impact of making dark and gritty magical girl shows the norm for the following decade, Madoka did it first and did it best. Urobuchi deconstructs the genre in a masterful tragedy before inserting a glimmer of hope at the end. The art is fantastic, and Shaft gives the animation the attention it so rarely gets for more ordinary magical girl shows. The main issue that holds it back for me is that the characters aren’t really characters so much as archetypes or representations of certain philosophies, let alone actual girls.
What can I say that I haven’t already said in my series about it? It has phenomenal writing (both in regards to plot and characters), and it’s still one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. The elements it borrows from more traditional magical girl shows (like the reuse of transformation sequences, or the limited animation in general) is turned to its advantage through the balletic focus on art and image. This is a magical girl show for people who don’t like magical girl shows, which is convenient as it’s also one of the best examples of the genre.
Until next time…