Captivating transformer. Heart warming. The magical girl genre has become an anime staple over the last three decades, with its own charming tropes, unforgettable anime characters, and legions of fans. But if you want to venture outside of classics like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, where should you venture? Not only is this list a definitive ranking of the best the magical girl anime genre has to offer, it will also introduce you to some new favorites, hidden gems, and contemporary offerings to fill that magical girl void in your life. So get ready for witches, cat DNA, magic wands and more!
Top 10 magical girl anime of all time
Little Witch Academia is an extremely cute wizarding school story that reinvents the magical girl trope for a post-Harry Potter generation. When Akko enters the fantastic Luna Nova Magical Academy, she can hardly believe it. She has wanted to learn magic all her life, but it has been difficult, because although she adores the famous witch Shiny Chariot, she Akko is not magical. All that changes when she discovers a magical artifact connected to her idol. Soon, Akko is on a mission to rekindle a love of magic in a world that is fast forgetting its existence. Coming of age and witchcraft collide in this charming series that focuses on a cozy friendship and a unique take on magic. It is a great anime series on Netflix that you should definitely watch.
9. Cake Yumi, the magical idol
This 1986 series is one of the earliest examples of a magical girl anime, which meant it had to make our list. It also focuses on one of the best anime and manga tropes: a main character who wants to make manga for himself. Yumi is an aspiring artist who wants nothing more than to become a mangaka. Her love for art is matched only by her passion for flowers that she comes from growing up with her florist parents. When she prevents a flower from being picked, she receives two magical gifts, a wand and a locket, which allow her drawings to come to life. Retro and charming, Pastel Yumi the Magical Idol is a hidden gem well worth checking out.
8. Tokyo Mew Mew
Adapted from the manga by Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi, Tokyo Mew Mew is an extremely unique take on magical girl anime. In this cute tale (or should it be tail?), our heroine Ichigo Momomiya gains her powers from an accident that leaves her with big cat DNA! In a werewolf-style transformation, Ichigo becomes increasingly feline and uses her powers to find the other girls who were affected by the accident. Before long, the group is faced with a strange alien threat that is connected to her newfound powers. Extremely fun stuff! And the new reboot elevates the show to even more amazing levels!
7. My HiME
Dubbing the magical girl trope into a boarding school drama is a perfect match in My-HiME. Joining the elite and enigmatic Fuuka Academy is a momentous change for Mai. She is sure that she will never fit in at the strangely secret school where unusual figures lurk around every corner. However, she soon realizes that she is there for a reason and that there are others like her there: those marked with a special symbol that allows them to summon a familiar to protect the world from nightmarish creatures. But that being known as “Child” is deeply connected to someone they love, which adds serious stakes to battles.
6. Nice Cure
Do you need a magical girl series that you can lose yourself in for several seasons? Then try Pretty Cure, which has a staggering 800 episodes, all centered around the same premise. A group of young people gain magical powers that allow them to fight against the forces of evil. It’s the most classic version of the magical girl tradition and it still works. This super cute, technicolor series has been around for so long for a reason and that’s because it’s absolutely charming. Also, if you need a cute creature or two with your magical girls, Pretty Cure provides that too.
5. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Taking the magical girl trope and adding more textually magical and ultimately heartbreaking reasoning, this series takes its core group of young women and transforms them into supernatural witch fighters. First, however, they must accept a contract that offers them what appears to be a cat, granting them magical powers to fight witches. Although the setting sounds quite traditional, this is a story dealing with the realities of being a magical girl. Exploring the trauma, exploitation, and lies told to young people to keep them in check, this is a fascinating examination and excavation of the trope.
4.Magic Knight Rayearth
The artist collective known as CLAMP is behind many of your favorite manga and anime. And one of the most famous is this ambitious magical girl series that jumps from one universe to another. Who among us didn’t want to travel to an amazing magical world instead of studying all day and going to school? In Magic Knight Rayearth that dream comes true when friends Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki and Fuu Hououji become entangled in an interdimensional adventure during a school field trip, transported to a world they can control with their will. This high fantasy epic showcases what made CLAMP such a powerful cultural powerhouse. Expansive world building, beautiful animation, and complex relationships, this is the kind of series you can get lost in over and over again. There has even been a series of Magic Knight Rayearth Games in the 90’s that you can play.
3. Revolutionary Girl Utena
One of the most influential and subversive magical girl anime of all time, Chiho Saito and Be-Papas’ Revolutionary Girl Utena is unlike anything else on our list. Romantic, elegant, and inspired by the chivalry of yore, this story centers on a young orphan Utena who, after an encounter with a charming prince, decides that she needs to become a prince herself. It’s a choice that informs the rest of her life and plays a pivotal role in the story, as it leads Utena to enter a secret dueling contest at her school, where she suddenly finds herself entangled with a mysterious girl known as the Bride. Pink. This surreal take on the genre also acts as an exploration of the tropes and expectations of it, making for a wonderful metagame.
2. Cardcaptor Sakura
This stone-cold classic from CLAMP was a truly transformative experience for a certain age of viewers. Following the titular Sakura, this action-packed, edgy series blends the magical girl genre with the card-collecting craze of shows like Yu-Gi-Oh and, of course, Pokémon. When Sakura discovers a strange book in her basement, she accidentally unleashes the mysterious and dangerous Clow Cards. She soon finds out that she, apart from being a normal elementary school girl, is a powerful magic user and sets off to capture the cards. Fortunately, she has the help of a cute and enigmatic creature named Cerberus, who protects the artifacts.
1. Sailor Moon
There was only one option to top our list and of course that was Naoko Takeuchi’s groundbreaking Sailor Moon, arguably one of the best anime of all time. One of the world’s most renowned anime series of all time, the story of an ordinary schoolgirl, Usagi, and her unexpected role as the titular Sailor Moon is a classic for a reason. Gorgeous animation, stunning character designs, and that all-time great transformation sequence make this the granddaddy of all magical girl anime. It helps that each of the Sailor Scouts is as well-constructed and unique as Sailor Moon, allowing audiences to find their own favorites as they revisit the hilarious, heartwarming, and action-packed series over the years. Easily the most influential and impactful series on our list, Sailor Moon is a must-watch for anime fans.
Looking for more anime tips? Check out our guide to the best vampire anime as well as our list of the most underrated anime series.