Absolute Zero

August 6, 2006

Mahou Shoujo

Filed under: Anime,Reviews — throughhim413 @ 8:46 pm

Here’s an article I wrote awhile back. This is a brief overview of the Mahou Shoujo or Magical Girl genre of anime.


In the early 60s, the Japanese dubbed version of the American TV show Bewitched was becoming increasingly popular in Japan, especially among young girls. In order to create a show aimed at the same target audience, Japanese animators created Mahoutsukai Sally (Little Witch Sally). Mahoutsukai Sally first appeared in manga form in 1966 by Yokoyama Mitsuteru. This was the first Mahou Shoujo title, and as such, had several concepts that have had lasting impacts on the genre as a whole.

  1. The Mahou Shoujo must keep her ability to use magic a secret. If she fails to protect this secret, there will be some sort of negative result. This is a general rule, in many cases the Mahou Shoujo has some sort of confidante (can be a single person or a small group of people) who knows all of their secrets and is there to help them in their struggles.

  2. The Mahou Shoujo has some sort of magical guardian. This guardian is there to help the Mahou Shoujo learn more about their powers and how to use them. The guardian can also in some cases serve to protect the girl and to help guide her on the right path.

  3. Magical power is utilized by the use of a Magical Phrase and a Magical Item. When thinking of a Magical Phrase, think perhaps of Sakura’s incantation in Card Captor Sakura to activate the Key of the Clow. In Mahoutsukai Sally, her magical phrase is Mahariku Maharita Yanbarayan.

While Sally does use a magical item to use her powers, she does not receive them from the item, they are inherent. Sally came from the “witch world”, of which she is actually the princess. This is one type of Mahou Shoujo, often referred to as majokko (little witch) stories.

I briefly mentioned the majokko subgenre, but there is also a second type of Mahou Shoujo. In this second variety, a normal girl is given an item of magical power or somehow gains the ability to use magic through an outside influence. I’m not going to go into a lot more history of Mahou Shoujo type shows since 1) I don’t know enough about them to provide an accurate perspective and 2) there are many great examples that I can provide using more recent shows. So you’ll have to forgive me when I skip ahead almost 3 full decades to 1992. On March 7th, 1992, the first episode of the now classic show Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon aired on Japanese TV. Known in the US as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon or often just Sailor Moon, this show had a lasting impact in the world of Mahou Shoujo. (At this point, you may be thinking “I saw Sailor Moon on TV in the US, it was terrible, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Let me assure you, if you are comparing the Dic edited version of Sailor Moon to the original Japanese one, we are barely even talking about the same show. Watch the real version before you offer any criticism, although there are certainly still plenty of flaws.) Besides being a perfect example of a normal girl who was given power by a magical item, Sailor Moon incorporated several thematic elements that had been developing over the years.

  1. Sailor Moon featured a sentai style cast. Sentai is Japanese for task force or squad and is usually used to refer to a team of superheroes. For the most part these heroes’ uniforms are classified by color (in some cases used to show rank). For an example (I wish I didn’t have to use this, but it will be more accessible to most US readers) think of the Power Rangers. It is a fighting team with different colored uniforms, usually led by “Red” unless there is an ambiguous or ‘uncolored’ leader (as is the case in Sailor Moon for example).

  2. Another addition to Sailor Moon was a sort of villain-of-the-week progression. Every week there would be another villain, usually some minor baddie dispatched by the greater enemy which the heroes would have to face. Usagi in Sailor Moon either has the best or the worst luck of all time, because she would constantly end up landing herself right in the middle of this minor baddie’s scheme.

There were many more common elements of Mahou Shoujo employed by Sailor Moon, but these two are the most influential. Back when it emerged in the US, I wouldn’t have mentioned watching Sailor Moon to my best friend or my family. I remember my sister picked up one of the first season VHS tapes and a copy of Sailor Moon R: The Movie (subbed). I used to watch them when my family out. If they came home I’d quickly eject the tape and hide it and then switch it to something else. I had a pretty hesitant start in the world of Mahou Shoujo, thankfully things are much different nowadays. Sailor Moon was also my first experience with downloading fansubs online. Am I the only one who ever went to Senshi TV? It’s gone now, but back when most of Sailor Moon was still unlicensed, it was the best. In any case, Sailor Moon, to this day, has a lasting influence in both Japan and the United States. The mention of the name can bring forth various reactions from various people, but it was, for a time, almost a household name.

I want to give brief to what could be considered a 3rd subgenre of Mahou Shoujo. The example I want to use is Full Moon wo Sagashite. Kouyama Mitsuki has no inherent magical power. She also gains no magical power when she is transformed into Fullmoon. What does occur is that she is changed into an older version of herself (which is a concept that is actually pretty common in Mahou Shoujo). This allows her to experience things that may have otherwise been impossible. The magical and transforming elements of the show exist so that a normal girl can have a chance to achieve her seemingly impossible dreams, just because she believed she could. Even more then the other subgenres of Mahou Shoujo, this particular type depends almost entirely on the development of characters and relationships. You learn why the girl wants to achieve this dream and then watch as she tries her best in order to reach it. The ups and downs of the journey along with the progression of relationships that the Mahou Shoujo develops along the way are essential to this subgenre.

Another Mahou Shoujo that I can’t help but mention is the CLAMP classic – Card Captor Sakura. This is another show that got chopped to pieces and put back together in horrible ways when it was dubbed in the US. Thankfully, over the years companies have been getting much better about not doing this, and Card Captor Sakura has been re-released in 2 Subtitled Only boxsets. It’s beautiful. Card Captor Sakura is a good example of a blend of the two subgenres of Mahou Shoujo. Sakura does in fact have inherent magical powers, but when the series begins, she has no way to use these powers and as such, she appears to be a normal girl. She is given a way to use magic by Keroberos, the guardian of the Clow Cards. So while she does have inherent magic (which would place her in the first subgenre), she had to be given a magical item by her guardian in order to use it (making her fit into the second subgenre). That explanation is purposefully vague, I don’t want to spoil anything. What I said there might be clearer after seeing the show. The point I am attempting to make is don’t get too hung up on the strict classifications, you will see consistent themes throughout all of Mahou Shoujo.

Traits of a Mahou Shoujo

– Innocent/Pure Hearted

– Courageous

– Loyal

– Idealistic

– Forgiving

– Has an indomitable spirit, resolute to the very endUsually in the school age group (usually early middle school)

Common Characteristics of Mahou Shoujo

– Has a female lead character

– The Mahou Shoujo has a confidante who knows her secret

– The Mahou Shoujo has a love interest, figuring out their relationship is a major part of the plot progression

– The Mahou Shoujo has a guardian beast or some sort of magical companion

– Contains lengthy transformation sequences

– Contains high levels of comedy, varying from slapstick to situational.

– Focuses a good deal on romance and relationship development

– Has a plot that is almost entirely driven by the character development of the Mahou Shoujo and those around her

So you’re looking to get into the Mahou Shoujo genre and you’re wondering where to start… Well, I’ll make a few recommendations. First, if you’re looking for something that is cheap, decent, and available completely on DVD, I recommend Pretear, a show released on thinpak by ADV. I was able to find this 3 DVD, 13 episode anime for about $20, so it is more then worth the investment. It is cheap and short, a perfect introduction to the genre, but I would not go so far as to call it a masterpiece.

Another title that I have to recommend is Full Moon wo Sagashite, not only my favorite Mahou Shoujo anime, but one of my favorite anime series. This anime has been licensed by Viz, and while they’re not my first choice for licensing (**GENEON/PIONEER**), I support their release. I’ve been buying all the DVDs so far, and although they aren’t perfect, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. It is 52 episodes, so it is a greater time commitment, but it is well worth it. There are few shows that have the ability to control as many powerful emotions as Full Moon wo Sagashite does.

If you’re looking for something longer, beautifully executed from start to finish, and available on DVD in the US, I would suggest Card Captor Sakura. With 70 episodes and 2 movies, you will not be lacking in story development and longevity with CCS. The show itself is fantastic and I recommend it to anyone interested in Shoujo or Mahou Shoujo. As a warning, the new boxsets are Subtitle Only, meaning there is no English audio track. I don’t mind this at all, especially since the seiyuu in Card Captor Sakura are some of the best that there are. It is not cheap, the two 9 disc boxsets will end up costing about $65 each. So if you want both boxsets and both movies, it will end up costing somewhere around $150 or $160. It is, however, a very worthwhile investment, but may be one that is better saved for when you are sure you like Mahou Shoujo. If you aren’t sure about it, maybe give Pretear a try first or Full Moon wo Sagashite if you want something of a decent length. I think that you won’t be disappointed by any one of these three titles.


This ends my Introduction to the Mahou Shoujo genre. I hope you found it informative and helpful. And I also hope that you are able to appreciate the unique shows of this fantastic genre as much as I have. Enjoy!



  1. That was a very insightful article regarding the mahou shoujo genre and I really enjoyed reading it. Nice job as usual Matt.

    Comment by hellmasterinu — August 8, 2006 @ 2:14 am

  2. I ❤ Mahou Shoujo anime most of the time myself.

    Cardcaptor Sakura is definitely one of my favorites.

    Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is also a really good one. Although, I have yet to watch StrikerS.

    Overall, good read! :]

    Comment by Rarutos — August 23, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

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