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Picture this: You are a teenage girl in Japan, who one day finds a cute little critter that talks and tells you that you are the last hope of his land. Then he gives you a trinket and tells you to yell a complicated verse; that suddenly transforms your clothes into a very complex dress worthy of winning the first place in a cosplay contest. Then he points you to the nearest monster and tells you to stop it with no other weapon than a cute wand. Congratulations, you are now a magical girl.
Magical girls are one of the most well-known staples of manga and anime. Together with Sentai heroes, they’re to Japan what superheroes are to American comics. And while their popularity in the Western world can be tracked down to Sailor Moon and it’s success, the truth is that the genre is almost as old as anime itself, as there are arguments about which is the first magical girl, if Princess Knight, by Osamu Tezuka from 1953; or Himitsu no Akko-chan, from 1962, as Akko-chan is closer to what we think of as a magical girl.
While the majority of the most famous magical girls are original to anime, or have been adapted into anime, there are still some great jewels that are exclusive to manga. So here’s our top ten list of magical girls that includes only a few that were later adapted to the tv screen.
- Mangaka: Homerun, Ken
- Genre: Action, Comedy, Magic, Shoujo, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 3
- Published Date: 2010 - 2013
When the demon world invades Earth, there’s usually a magic world ready to defend humanity. In this case, the queen of said world, Red Garnet, decided to grant magical powers to three teenagers in order to fight said demons. The teens, Reo Ebihara, Tatsuya Kai, and Hiromi Manaka, are also promised that if they fill a card with stamps that Red Garnet gives when they defeat demons, they will get one wish granted.
However, things are not as straightforward as they seem. Reo can turn anyone into candy, but she wishes she had a different kind of magic; Tatsuya can fly with his lollipop-shaped wand, but he really wishes he had a different wand; finally, Hiromi turns into a girl that can charm anyone –to the point that the leader of the demons wants to marry “her”- and all their powers cost “stamps”, so they are never close enough to actually fulfill their wishes, and instead are forced to keep fighting the Phantom Demon who has gone from wanting to destroy the world to forcing Hiromi to marry him.
Magic Change is a fun parody of the Magical Girl concept, and while not the first or only magical boy, it gives it a breath of fresh air because it doesn’t take it seriously. Just for that, it gets the tenth place of the list.
9. My Code Name is Charmer (Code Name wa Charmer)
- Mangaka: Kakinouchi, Narumi
- Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy, Horror, Magic, Shoujo, Supernatural
- Volumes: 4
- Published Date: 1990 - 1997
Naomi Morimura is a teenager who, on top of her responsibilities to get good grades, also has to protect her school from dark spirits with the help of her psychic powers. Together with her friends Makoto, Yuji and Kaede, she forms part of the Supernatural Phenomenon Research Group - which is nothing but a front - in order to battle the Zeyrey, which are inter-dimensional invisible monsters who feed on the humans they catch. And of course, having her school days interrupted by monster attacks doesn’t help Naomi’s love life at all.
There are no magical transformations, but this is a very classical look at the Magical Girl. It helps that Narumi Kakinouchi is better known for manga like Vampire Princess Miyu, where she blends shoujo and horror perfectly. Well, here she blends the typical story of a slice of life manga, with the fantasy needed for a magical girl story without losing either. Because of this, My Code Name is Charmer is our ninth choice.
8. Mousou Kikou – Adolescence Avatar
- Mangaka: Moriyama, Daisuke
- Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, School, Shounen, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: 2010 - 2011
Imagine for a moment that everything that you write can come true. Every word on your laptop is the blueprint for a new reality. And the monsters you conjured for your fanfic, RPG campaign, or original novel, all of them, are now free in the world and attacking your friends. What would you do? Yuuri Yazama doesn’t have much choice but to take on the role of his light novel’s main character and fight those monsters with the powers he gave her. And therein lies the problem. The main character of his novel is a young girl named Hildi, and thus to destroy the monsters –who look like scribbles as Yuuri is not a good artist- he has to become her.
Mousou Kikou – Adolescence Avatar is another of the deconstructions of the magical girl genre, putting a boy in the main role. But what makes this one interesting, and gives it higher points than Magical Change, is that in this situation, the boy himself made the design of the magical girl: her transformation chant, her song power, her short skirt, everything was made by him. And as his female form embarrasses him, the other characters that know his secret call him out on it. If he thinks her skirt is too short, well, it’s his fault. He made it that way. Of course, he defends himself: he’s not a pervert, he considers Hildi his pure daughter, but that doesn’t change her costume, or her age.
All this make Mousou Kikou a very interesting setting. Unfortunately, it’s too short so that takes points and lands it on the eighth place.
7. Magical Girl Site (Mahou Shoujo Site)
- Mangaka: Satou, Kentarou
- Genre: Drama, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 4+
- Published Date: 2013 - ongoing
Most magical girls are raised in a loving family, and thus tend to be caring and love everyone. They are protectors of love, justice and everything nice. But what happens when a girl who doesn’t have that background gets the power to do magic? Aya Asagari is a girl like that. She’s bullied everyday at school, and even at home she has no escape, as her brother is a narcissistic psychopath who beats her in order to “release stress”. The only good thing in her life is the love of a kitty she rescued from the streets, and even then she can’t take the cat home for fear of what her brother would do to it.
On the day her beloved kitty dies in an accident, Aya stumbles into a site named Mahou Shoujo that offers her a “magical wand”, that will be sent to her. The next day, in her school locker, she finds a stylized gun with a heart on the handle and the instructions: “to use the wand, pull the trigger”. She thinks it’s a joke, until she needs to use the gun in her most dire moment, and it works; just not how anyone would’ve expected it to.
Mahou Shoujo Site is a horror manga, there’s no doubt about it. It takes the concept of the Magical Girl and twists it on its ear. There are no enemies from another world to defeat; all the evil is just shown in normal people even as the site promises something more; an apocalypse will happen a month after Aya gets her wand. Because the manga hasn’t finished yet, we can’t give it points for a great ending, so it stays on the seventh place of our list.
6. Nanatsuiro Drops
- Mangaka: Takami, Yuuki (Art), Unison Shift (Story)
- Genre: Adventure, Magic, Romance, School
- Volumes: 6
- Published Date: 2006 - 2010
Every magical girl has a partner: a cute critter that gives them their powers, and moral support during the battles. They can be cats, dogs, rabbits, or animals that we have never seen on this Earth. But they all talk, and they’re all cute. However, stories rarely focus on them. Even if the mission of the magical girl is to help them save their world, the story is not about them, but about her and her problems. Nanatsuiro Drops is the exception to this rule.
Tsuwabaki is a popular high school student that accidentally drinks a potion that turns him into a magical girl companion: A cute small plushie in the form of a lamb. The only cure is to find a magical girl to work with, to find star drops and gather enough magic to give him human shape again. The only string attached is that he can’t reveal his true identity to the chosen girl. And this gets complicated when the chosen one happens to be Aki Sumomo, a classmate that happens to be in love with Tsuwabuki, and is very worried about his disappearance.
Because of the original spin on the classic tale, and the cute art that is perfect for this kind of story, Nanatsuiro Drops gets sixth place.
5. Mahou Shoujo Ore
- Mangaka: Moukon, Icchokusen
- Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 2
- Published Date: 2012 - 2014
In a world where magical girls have existed by generations, they can be likened to yakuza. They keep life-long contracts, they guard their secrets closely, and they can be recognized by very specific visual clues. This is the world where Umi Saki lives, but she doesn’t discover the truth about magical girls until the day when her crush, Mikage Mohiro, is targeted by the local demons. Desperate, she makes a deal with the mascot that belongs to her mom –the official magical girl of her area, who due to her age can’t fight as well anymore. But for some reason, when she chants her love power, she’s turned into a handsome guy dressed like a magical girl, flowing skirt and all.
Mahou Shoujo Ore is a parody of both the magical girl conventions, and the idol singer-themed manga, with a touch of both yaoi and yuri as the story advances: To Saki’s eternal dismay, Mikage is attracted to her male form. And then her best friend, Mikage’s sister, also turns into a magical girl/boy by declaring her attraction to Saki. It is a complicated love triangle, which only becomes more complicated thanks to magic.
Made to make people laugh, Mahou Shoujo Ore still manages to bring some interesting turns to the magical girl genre, and it defies a lot of conventions with it’s clear love for muscle men, so it gets the fifth place of our list.
4. Magical Girl Apocalypse (Mahou Shoujo of the End)
- Mangaka: Satou, Kentarou
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Horror, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: N/A
- Published Date: 2012 - now
What if Magical Girls were evil? That instead of using their powers to protect mankind, they went around killing everyone that opposed them; or even, everyone who crossed their paths. People would run away at the sight of them, instead of cheering with happiness. Kii Kogami doesn’t have to imagine that world, because it’s the one he lives in since the day he saw a cute little girl kill his gym teacher.
Mahou Shoujo of the End is a horror manga where the Magical Girls are pretty much the monsters that mankind fears. They can’t speak more than one word, they are bloodthirsty and possess magic that is deadly. Kogami and the ones who survive them have to run for their lives, because the victims of the magical girls also come back as zombies. It’s the end of the world brought to us by cute monsters that look like cute girls.
And since it’s not just an excuse to draw gore-filled scenes with cute girls around, as the story has very interesting twists, Mahou Shoujo of the End gets the fourth place.
3. Puella Magi Oriko Magica (Mahou Shoujo Oriko Magica)
- Mangaka: Magica Quartet (Story), Mura, Kuroe (Story & Art)
- Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
- Volumes: 2
- Published Date: 2011 - 2011
You get one wish in exchange for your life. You won’t die, you’ll get one amazing power that relates to your wish, but you will have to fight against witches for the rest of your life; and if you die in one of those battles, no one will know. Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? The problem comes with the fine print, the one that states that if you don’t cleanse your soul gem –the source of your powers- often enough, you will fall into despair and turn into another witch for magical girls to fight. And no magical girl knows that except Oriko, a white magical girl whose power is to see the future and thus has decided she will stop others from falling into despair, by killing them before that can happen.
Puella Magi Oriko Magica is one of the many manga spin offs from the hit series Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and thus follows many of the deconstructions presented in the original series. What makes Oriko special is that the story happens during one of the many loops Homura had to go through in the series, and it presents a solution to the problem of Kriemhild Gretchen that Homura herself would never consider.
Because of the way in which this manga manages to twist the already twisted mythos of the original story, it gains the third place in our list.
2. Card Captor Sakura
- Mangaka: CLAMP
- Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Magic, Romance, Shoujo
- Volumes: 12
- Published Date: 1996 – 2000
Sakura Kinomoto accidentally released a deck of magical cards into the world. Because of that, the guardian of the book where the cards were kept tasked her with capturing them again, or else a terrible disgrace would happen to the world. So armed with nothing but the magical baton to trap the cards, and the unending support of her cousin Tomoyo –who also provides cute outfits for the missions- Sakura becomes a Card Captor, ready to make sure nothing hurts her friends, family or the world.
Card Captor Sakura is the second foray of CLAMP in the magical girl genre, but unlike Magic Knight Ray Earth, which took more of the RPG genre than the magical girls, it stuck to the classic story of a girl who suddenly finds herself as the possessor of great powers and great responsibility. The story follows her as her secret affects her life, her friends, and her family, while she manages not to lose her optimism and love for all living things.
Because it’s such a classic tale, and yet still manages to bring back interest in the most simple of Magical Girls, the ones who want to help for helping’s sake, Card Captor Sakura has the second place in our list.
1. Sailor Moon (Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon)
- Mangaka: Takeuchi, Naoko
- Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Magic, Romance, Shoujo
- Volumes: 18
- Published Date: 1991 - 1997
The most well-known magical girl in modern times, Sailor Moon should need no introduction. But in case you are new to anime and manga, here it is. Usagi Tsukino is a modern Japanese girl, who also happens to be the reincarnation of the Moon Princess, and the pretty soldier who fights for love and justice, Sailor Moon. Together with her friends, the fellow Sailor Scouts, she protects the world from all kinds of threats from those who want to destroy mankind and the galaxy.
Sailor Moon revolutionized the genre of magical girl manga. While she wasn’t the first fighting magical girl –that particular honor goes to Cutey Honey, by Go Nagai-, this was the first story to put together the concepts of sentai heroes and magical girls, creating heroines that every girl could look up to. And while the anime is far more known, the manga is the root of the story, taking away every superfluous villain of the week and leaving a story that is equally uplifting and tragic at some points.
Because of the great story, and the influence that is still shown to this date in modern manga and anime, Sailor Moon has our first place.
You probably noticed that many of these manga are either deconstructions or straight parodies of Magical Girls. This is because on one hand, most of the general Magical Girl manga have been adapted into anime, and they tend to follow the same steps with just some small variations on the theme. On the other hand, after so many years of the magical girl genre, it’s really hard to do something honestly different from the rest.
But because we know that everyone has different tastes, we’d love to hear your favorite magical girl manga as well as your opinions on this list, right here in the comments.