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Elements of a Popular Mahou Shoujo

July 04, 2013 By: Nopy Category: Anime


Since the first airing of a mahou shoujo (magical girl) anime, Mahoutsukai Sally in 1966, the genre has had its up and downs with its most recent success being the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series. Originally intended for young female audiences, the mahou shoujo genre has evolved over the years to cater to both genders, and in some cases even have a larger male than female following. Some mahou shoujo have achieved unimaginable popularity around the world whereas others have fallen into obscurity, so what are the elements of a mahou shoujo series that makes it so appealing, particularly the fighting-focused ones?

There are several elements that are present in many mahou shoujo series that involve fighting: attractive appearances, a source of magic, an animal sidekick, transformations, character growth, and an adherence to ideals. These elements alone, however, do not constitute all of the parts needed to create a successful mahou shoujo series. Tokyo Mew Mew, for example, had many of these elements but many people probably haven’t even heard of it. To determine what really makes a good mahou shoujo series, lets examine three titles: Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha.


Usagi Tsukino, better known as Sailor Moon, is the most identifiable mahou shoujo in the world. At the height of her popularity in the mid-90’s you could find Sailor Moon merchandise in all major economies. She was so popular that people who didn’t know what anime was would refer to it as “Sailor Moon”. As with many people, I was swept up in the Sailor Moon craze, but what was it that made Sailor Moon so successful? Sailor Moon’s success is commonly attributed to the integration of the sentai and mahou shoujo genres. I remember local newspapers publishing their reactions to Sailor Moon and discussing how Usagi’s role as the main heroine fighting against evil helped to empower young girls while showing they could maintain their feminine side and keep a close group of friends. Newspapers also discussed how the Sailor Moon appealed to boys because of all of the action packed into the series and similarities to sentai series such as Power Rangers. Of course, the internet pointed out that people liked the series because of its sex appeal. Nothing in Sailor Moon was particularly unique, but the combination of different genres helped to create something new that appealed to a wider audience and introduced them to the good parts of mahou shoujo.


A few years after Sailor Moon, a bright-eyed young girl named Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura (CCS) was making waves across Japan and the internet. In the late-90’s and early 00’s it wasn’t uncommon for an anime fan to stumble upon a pink-coloured CCS website or entire webrings dedicated to Sakura. Unlike Sailor Moon, however, CCS didn’t integrate the sentai genre, had less action, and didn’t use sex appeal. What made CCS stand out were the highly developed characters and deep story. Unlike the average mahou shoujo series that focused on battling monsters, CCS was almost more romance/drama than mahou shoujo. If you don’t believe me, just think of all of the romantic match-ups, both confirmed and implied: Sakura <-> Shaoran, Sakura -> Yukito, Meilin -> Shaoran, Tomoyo -> Sakura, Sakura’s friend <-> their teacher, and more. The amount of love arrows drawn between each of the characters is on the same level as a Japanese drama. What makes CCS so different is that it integrated that seamlessly into Sakura’s card capturing activities and developed her growth as a girl in parallel with her growth as a magician.


One of the more recent mahou shoujo successes is Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. Nanoha Takamachi was orginally a very minor character in the Triangle Heart series, but her spin-off franchise has grown exponentially larger than Triangle Heart. While Sailor Moon and CCS had a mainly female audience, Nanoha seems to have a much larger male audience so where does Nanoha differ? It’s no secret that Nanoha was heavily influenced by mecha series such as Super Robot Wars and Gundam. Some of the characters in Nanoha are actually like little girl versions of some mecha, having similar designs and attacks. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha can be thought of as a combination of sci-fi mecha with mahou shoujo, taking the best of both worlds.

After examining Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, what is it about them that makes them stand out from other mahou shoujo anime? In my view, it seems that a good portrayal of the main elements that make up the mahou shoujo genre seamlessly integrated with elements from another genre to create something most people haven’t seen before will make a series relatively popular. Think of a series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, how many of you had seen a mahou shoujo x horror/suspense series before 2011? Of course, this doesn’t mean that series that follow the mahou shoujo only route are doomed to obscurity. Pretty Cure is an example of a series that sticks to the conventional definition of a mahou shoujo series and is still very popular, though mainly with the genre’s traditional audience of young girls. PreCure is proof that sticking to the basics can still produce a popular series.


So what do you guys think about mixing mahou shoujo with other genres? Would you have enjoyed Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, or Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha if they excluded sentai, drama, and mecha elements? Personally I enjoy seeing different genres combined to create something new and exciting, but I can see why some people would like to stick with the traditional mahou shoujo.

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9 Comments to “Elements of a Popular Mahou Shoujo”

  1. Yeah, Nanoha is kind of a different beast as it was designed from the start to appeal to the male audience. I’m not sure if we can consider it a true Mahou Shoujo series or not…*wonders*
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    • The mahou shoujo genre has branched out so much that I’m not sure there is a “true” mahout shoujo anymore. I think as long as the main characters are female, transform, and use magic, then it should qualify.

  2. Both traditional and non-traditional mahou shoujo are appealing to me–I really loved PMMM but I also love the Precure series. Mixing mahou shoujo with other genres definitely makes it more interesting to watch, though.

    Old school mahou shoujo was more witch-based, I think? As in, the girls are witches/wizards/magicians and whatnot. I think it was only after Sailor Moon got popular that the “traditional” magical girl genre was born (ie. transforming girl warriors).
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    • Yeah, many of the older mahou shoujo series were based around witches, but I wanted to focus more on the action-centric mahou shoujo series for this post.

  3. I love magical girl animes in general and I think that any male with a big sense for cuteness like such stuff. Watching a cute girl trying her best to make a better world is nice. I like when a show of this genre isn’t all peaceful and the plot is a little deeper than general kiddy anime. Cardcaptor Sakura is such a great anime and gave me such a good time. I liked the story, the characters and of course bigger character development and relationships.

    Nanoha was a bit more action in a kind of sci fi setting with these more martial weapons, still it was very cute in the first few seasons. These fanservice orientated transformation scenes where kinda strange, I have to say. I don’t need this when the characters are abviously too yoiung ^^

    I think Pretty cure is special, at least the latest, I don’t know the others.
    I like the hero characters and the comedy can be rather good at times.
    Other things ruin it a bit for me, the villains are stupid, the story progress is super slow and it’s very cheesy in it’s appearance. These long devices scenes are annoying. It is quite prominent that it’s main target are young girls. I would prefer it more mature.
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    • I definitely agree with you that a mahou shoujo anime needs to be a little deeper in order for it to be enjoyable (at least to older people like us). I don’t think I would be able to watch a mahou shoujo anime that was strictly made for kids.

      To be honest, I haven’t seem much of the PreCure series either, but I do plan on picking up one of them in the future.

  4. I just want to see a magical boy rival again in a mahou shojo series, they have be lacking as of late mainly because mangaka’s apparently think that the only ones who watch magical girl series anymore are guys. but this whole “make magial girl rivals fall for each other” thing is getting really old really fast

    • I agree, I also want to see a magical boy in one or a few mahou shoujo series by becoming a main rival to one or more mahou shoujo girls as well as later fighting alongside and falling in love with the main heroine but I do not think that would happen though, unfortunately despite the fact of me already know the reason though.

  5. kandiiyuutaamu I know right the reason anime creators and mangaka’s won’t make male rivals is because they’ll lose the otaku crowd which I think is pretty unfortunate because I want a boy/girl magic relationship for once.


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