©Photo by iStock: DanilaPhoto

Magical Girl Anime: The Lasting Legacy

The Fantasy Genre That's Adored By Fans Of All Ages Throughout The Years

By Jane Pipkin
April 3, 2024
Art & Culture, Subculture

In this article, I will be exploring the genre's history, some of the reasons why it is still relevant today and the best places in Tokyo to go if you are a magical girl anime fan.

I have always had a love for the 魔法少女 (mahoushojo; “magical girl”) anime genre. My favorite show growing up was Ojamajo Doremi—a show about a group of girls who become witch apprentices. When I was a child, I was so excited to have my very own transformation compact and wand. To this day, the show is so nostalgic to me. When I see new merchandise, I instantly want to buy it. However, I’m also surprised that it’s still relevant enough to be sold, 20 years on.

On TikTok and Instagram, I see users with Sailor Moon-inspired nails and collections of magical girl items, proving that the genre has had a lasting impact on 90s and 00s babies. Is it nostalgia for simpler times? Or is it something else that draws us into these magical worlds, even as grown-ups?

A Brief History of Magical Girl Anime

Sally the Witch© Photo by Wikipedia Commons: Keihin Nike
Sally the Witch by Mitsuteru Yokoyama

Magical girl anime is a type of fantasy anime that focuses on young girls who can transform, have an alter ego and use magical powers. They often use magical transformation devices and have little animal companions as they were originally marketed toward young girls.

The genre first came about in the 60s, with mangas such as Himitsu no Akko-chan and Sally the Witch. One of Japan’s most famous animation studios, Toei Animation, helped to build on the genre in the 60s and 70s by making the Majokko, “Little Witch” series, which included Sally and Akko-chan as well as a host of other new female witch characters. This would be the first time in anime history that a girl was a heroine rather than a classical princess, showing how from the start the genre was progressive in its nature.

Breaking International Borders

5 Japanese ‘Compliments’ That Can Sound Off To Foreigners© Photo by iStock: Sharon Gallo

Although there were a few other notable magical girl anime series that came out during the 80s, it was in the 90s with Sailor Moon that the genre became more mainstream and defined. Not only was Sailor Moon the first magical girl series to reach international audiences, it was also the first to have their main female characters fighting against evil powers, the first to fight as a girl group instead of an individual protagonist and the first to implement aspects of romance.

Sailor Moon’s creator, Naoko Takeuchi, is credited as “transcend ideas of gender, generation and nationality” through her characters. Sailor Moon went on to inspire the creation of other iconic Japanese series such as Ojamajo Doremi as well as Western shows like the Powerpuff Girls, showing the true impact of Takeuchi’s progressive and creative mindset.

In her work “Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society”, scholar Kumiko Saito notes how such series displayed changing gender identities and were being released at a time when the women’s liberation movement was growing. At the time, shoujo (aimed at adolescent females) manga was becoming increasingly popular.

Why has this genre had such a big impact?

A Brief History of Magical Girl Anime© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Many series like Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure are still releasing new films every few years—with Pretty Cure having broken the Guinness World Record for having the “Most Magical Warriors in an Anime Film”. I often think about why there is still a demand for these series and how these characters still manage to capture the hearts of a new generation.

Apart from our love for nostalgia and escapism, one of the key reasons that magical girls are still popular today is that they embody female empowerment as well as the beauty of female friendships. Again, in her commentary on the genre, Kumiko Saito argues that “the magical girl genre has been an active site of contesting ideas surrounding gender roles and identities”.

Japan’s love for cute culture also plays an important part. As mentioned, some of the key things every magical girl has are cute outfits, a makeup compact that doubles as transformation gadgets and magical animals as companions. All of these things were merchandised by Bandai and were the things young girls wanted to have.

Magical Girl-Themed Places To Go in Tokyo

Although many 90s and 00s babies have a deep appreciation for the magical girl series, you won’t find many permanent places in Tokyo dedicated to them. Luckily, there are a few shops around the city where you can get your hands on limited edition and exclusive magical girl anime merchandise.

Sailor Moon Store

Sailor Moon Store© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Tokyo is home to the world’s first official Sailor Moon store. Located on the bottom floor of Laforet, this store is split into two sections; One based on the world of Sailor Moon and the other on Princess Serenity. Both stock limited edition items in addition to apparel and other random Sailor Moon goods.

Address: Laforet B0-5F, 1-11-6, Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo

Pretty Cure Pretty Store 

Pretty Cure Pretty Store © Photo by Jane Pipkin

Down Tokyo Character Street, situated on the ground floor of Tokyo Station, is the official Pretty Cure Pretty Store. In this very pink store you can buy original merchandise of characters from each of the series. You can even take photos, wearing a Pretty Cure costume, in the photo studio booth.

Address: Tokyo Character Street B1, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda City, Tokyo

Toei Animation Museum Shop

Toei Animation Museum Shop© Photo by Toei Animation Museum Shop

As mentioned, many magical girl anime belong to Toei Animation Studios. This famous animation studio has an official shop attached to its small museum in Nerima and an online store too. It’s a great place for fans of Pretty Cure, Sailor Moon and Ojamajo Doremi.

Address: Toei Animation Museum Shop, 2-10-5, Highashiozumi, Nerima City, Tokyo

More General Shops 

TV Asahi Shop© Photo by Jane Pipkin

You can also try browsing at more general shops that sell character goods like Kiddy Land, Don Quijote and the TV Asahi Shop. These will normally only have a small selection of magical girl merchandise. It is also worth looking out for special collaborations in other popular character shops. For instance, Hello Kitty has collaborated with Ojamajo Doremi and most recently, Sailor Moon, to create exclusive products that feature both sets of characters.

Magical Girl Anime: The Lasting Legacy Gachopon© Photo by Jane Pipkin

Checking out your local gachapon (toy vending machine) shop is another option for small goods as there are many cool magical girl-themed ones. More devoted fans should head to Nakano Broadway, a shopping mall that sells anime goods. You can often find merchandise from the 90s and 00s such as wands and transformation devices.

Pop-up Events

Cardcaptor Sakura© Photo by Cardcaptor Sakura/Q-pot

Although there might not be many permanent magical girl anime-related shops or exhibitions in Tokyo, there just about always is a special pop-up event. When a show celebrates a major anniversary, it often hosts a special pop-up event such as a cafe, shop or exhibition for fans to enjoy. Examples include the Sailor Moon Museum in 2022 and the All Precure 20th Anniversary Exhibition in 2023. Most recently, Ojamajo Doremi had a special 25th Anniversary Cafe available until March 2024. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events by checking your favorite magical girl anime sites!

Fans of Cardcaptor Sakura are in luck this spring! A special Cardcaptor Sakura Collaboration Cafe with Q-pot will be held in Omotesando until May 2024.

Do you have a favorite magical girl anime? Let us know in the comments below!

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