Magical Girl Themes and Tropes

The Magical Girl Phenomenon is nothing new to Japan. Magical Girls have existed in Anime for many years. But what are they?

Like many anime series, Magical Girl shows are shoujo ( girls) anime series, usually based on a manga (comic book) series by the same name. A story does well in a manga. Toy or video game companies, such as Bandai, see an opportunity to bring the already popular premise to the TV screen, at the same time making a lot of money in merchandising the toys that can be created from the show. They quickly snap up the rights to the characters and produce an anime TV series or an OVA series based on the characters.

In America, law forbids the practice of placing toy advertisements in children’s programming in which the toys appear. For example, it is not legal to have ads for Bugs Bunny toys run during the commercial breaks of an actual Bugs Bunny show. Furthermore, a likeness of Bugs Bunny (costume or animated) may not be used to endorse any products during commercials run during a Bugs Bunny program. However these types of regulations do not exist in Japan, and advertisers are able to take complete advantage of the advertising time they buy. Therefore, Magical Girl anime shows are always filled with commercials for the toy versions of the magical items the characters use in the shows. Also, either animated versions of that show’s characters, or cute girls dressed up in the Magical Girl’s costume are often seen hawking everything from tennis shoes to eye drops during these commercial breaks.

The Magical Girl genre contains many basic ideas. The stories, for the most part, involve a cute young girl, (or set of girls), usually in her tweens. The girl is almost always very cheerful and is often quite clumsy, or is a tomboy. For some reason, she often has a very unique hairstyle. However, despite her failings at being elegant and ‘feminine’, she has a huge heart, and a good spirit. This girl usually is either given, or finds some sort of magical (and mass marketable) item that, along with some magical words (which recently seem to be in English) that will change her into her super-cute alter-ego.

The reasons for existence of each magical girl vary somewhat. Some Magical Girls are destined to save the universe and all life as we know it. Others perform the simpler, yet also very important tasks of making individual lives better, whether it be returning a valuable lost object, or opening them up to the beauty of love. Some Magical Girls have no other purpose for existence other than to entertain!

These are the general types of magical girl I classify on my site:

Visiting Princesses – These are magical girls who visit the Earth from Magical Worlds. They are usually here to complete some sort of test or quest. They already have magic and know how to use it. The series follows their adventures as they make human friends and teh stories are more slice-of-life in nature.

Idols – Idol Magical Girls can sometimes be visiting Princesses too, but they are usually just regular young Earth girls who are given a magical object that will grant them the ability to transform into a slightly older version of themselves. Their older self will then get scouted somehow and become a television performer (singer, actress, magician)

Robots – Some Magical Girls aren’t human at all! Some are actually robots created by a human scientist. They have enhanced abilities and use them for various purposes.

Fighters – Perhaps the most common type of Magical Girl these days, these Magical Girls are often normal Earth girls who are granted magical abilities in order to defend the Earth from supernatural invaders. Their magical abilities are combat-focused – offensive attacks, defensive shields, etc. Episodes revolve around them defeating a monster of the episode each week.

Phantom Thieves – Phantom Thieves have different reasons for their activities, but these girls use their magical abilities to evade the police and steal various items. Sometimes they are doing this in order to fight evil, sometimes to right an injustice.

Not only are there common plots and concept characteristics in Magical Girl anime shows, there are also many similar visual motifs between each anime show. As you go through the examples of various Magical Girl shows, notice the widespread use of such ‘feminine’ images as hearts, flowers, butterflies, ribbons, wings, angels, and rainbows. Pink and gold are common colors also.