The magical girl genre of anime is one of the staples of the medium, inspiring kids and adults alike around the world and influencing many western TV shows and films. There are many different shows that have contributed to the magical girl genre, but there are a few standout titles that continue to have an impact on modern television...
Thanks to being serialised on US television, Sailor Moon's messages of peace and the power of friendship have reached millions of people. Adapted from the bestselling manga by Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon ran for 200 episodes and 5 seasons, along with a few shorts and feature length movies.
It's easy to see why so many people have chimed with Sailor Moon: the protagonist Usagi is a typical teen girl, who likes food and comic books much more than saving the world. At first, she tends to cry when confronted with life threatening situations (and who can blame her: she's fourteen), but throughout season 1 she learns to embrace her badass side and with help from her newfound Sailor Senshi friends (and frequent pep talks from hearthrob Tuxedo Mask), Usagi becomes the hero we always knew she could be.
Sailor Moon's impact on TV really can't be minimised. From a feminist perspective, naturally the show's emphasis on strength through typically feminine characteristics (emotion, compassion, love of make up, etc) did a lot to combat the idea that femininity is synonymous with weakness. But there's a lot more to Sailor Moon than its progressive gender and sexuality themes: the plots are fantastic, there are elements of scifi and fantasy, and it can be honestly heartbreaking at times.
It's very easy to see Sailor Moon's influence on the magical girl genre, as after the success of the show magical girl animes started popping up all over the place. And western TV shows also started emulating the genre: the Italian comic inspired TV show W.I.T.C.H. drew heavily from Sailor Moon and other magical girl animes, and Steven Universe is one of the most popular magical girl-esque cartoons currently airing on TV.
Having said that, we shouldn't assume that this inspiration is just a one way street. While Princess Knight is lauded as the first magical girl anime, which aired in 1953, the Japanese dub of the US show Bewitched became very popular in Japan, and inspired a resurgence of the magical girl genre in the 60s. The Powerpuff Girls were similarly influential, and through later part of the 20th century many anime shows borrowed elements from western animation, and vice versa.
But as important as the genre is, it's equally important to subvert these ideas, and that's where Puella Magi comes in.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
This show really tore down the happy-go-lucky tendency of magical girl animes, injecting themes of grief and madness into the genre.
The very idea of a young teen girl fighting horrific creatures is developed in the show, as these children learn some very tough lessons as they make a deal with the creepily cute alien Kyubey. Drawing from Doctor Faustus, as well as many horror films, Puella Magi Madoka Magica did a lot to subvert the idea of magical girls. With a complex plot and characters with dark backstories, Puella Magi rockets towards a thrilling and disturbing finale. But it still stays true to the ideals of love and the power of friendship, and ultimately it's one of the best magical girl animes out there.
Puella Magi helped to fuse the magical girl and action genres, and its dark themes have definitely influenced shows like Steven Universe: while at first seeming cute and fluffy, Steven Universe has some very dark and heartbreaking moments. Puella Magi adds some much needed variety to the magical girl genre, and its popularity reached beyond usual shouju fans.
Black Rock Shooter is another magical girl-esque anime that plays with the genre boundaries, and it's fantastic to see magical girls start to strike out into new territory. With any luck, more shows will follow in Puella Magi and Black Rock Shooter's footsteps, to give us some darker magical girl stories.
The importance of magical girl shows really can't be ignored, and with the increasing popularity of kids cartoon shows with young adults, hopefully we'll see plenty more shows in this genre pop up around the world.