Magical girl anime has been a long-time staple genre of the medium.
Series following all of the frilly and fantastical cliches of Mahou Shoujo has been coming out since the 80s.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that there is a clear split in styles when it comes to this genre.
All of the old-school stuff tends to be happy-go-lucky and cheery, whereas the newer adaptations have been dark beyond belief.
This divide is something that’s captured my attention, so I’ve come up with what I think are the best magical girl anime series of all time.
Spoiler alert: I prefer the newer stuff.
- Best Magical Girl Anime
- 21. Senki Zesshou Symphogear
- 20. Revolutionary Girl Utena
- 19. Kiki’s Delivery Service
- 18. Black Rock Shooter
- 17. Sugar Sugar Rune
- 16. Ojamajo Doremi
- 15. Houkago no Pleiades
- 14. Magical Princess Minky Momo
- 13. Shugo Chara
- 12. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
- 11. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya
- 10. Tokyo Mew Mew
- 9. Princess Tutu
- 8. Magic Knight Rayearth
- 7. Pretear
- 6. Little Witch Academia
- 5. Pretty Cure
- 4. Sailor Moon
- 3. Cardcaptor Sakura
- 2. Kill la Kill
- 1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Best Magical Girl Anime
21. Senki Zesshou Symphogear
I’m a bit of a sucker for mecha anime. Get it? Because “Symp” sounds like simp?
Senki Zesshou Symphogear is a blend of magical girl and mecha, which sounds like it should be right up my street.
I’m going to keep it real with you, though. It’s not all that good. I mean, it’s no Code Geass or Evangelion for sure.
It’s got a messy plot, and the production tends to suffer the longer the series went on.
It’s a missed opportunity, hence why it’s only ranked 21, but it’s still a magical girl x mecha anime, so I’m going to overlook those flaws and include it anyway.
20. Revolutionary Girl Utena
Speaking of Evangelion, this magical girl anime is one that tends to pop up in the same sentence.
It’s obviously not from the same genre, but it’s complex and full of symbolism. Some even hail it as being better than Neon Genesis, but it’s not.
Despite that, it’s still a great watch for magical girl fans looking for something a bit deeper than the happy-go-lucky plots found in a lot of entries into the genre.
19. Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service is an animated movie, not an anime series. If you have a problem with that, too bad; this is my list, so I’ll do what I want.
In all seriousness, this is a Ghibli production, so I’m giving it a pass. Kiki is a witch in training who moves to a cutesy seaside town with her talking cat to spend a year training alone.
Rather than focusing on potion brewing and spells, though, Kiki uses her broom to set up her own courier service. It’s as charming as it is entrepreneurial.
18. Black Rock Shooter
Black Rock Shooter is a CG anime, which isn’t for anyone. I personally don’t mind it, but even if I did, I would still recommend Black Rock Shooter.
You’ve got a dark heroine that has a rock shooting canon. If you need any more incentive to watch it than that, then I don’t know what to tell you.
17. Sugar Sugar Rune
I like my anime like I take my coffee; dark and bitter. Sugar Sugar Rune, as the name implies, is neither of these things.
It’s a witchy magical girl anime that is full of heart, quite literally, and is going to pull you by your emotions through the journey of our two protagonists.
It’s an anime that delivers far beyond what was expected of it, so I’m giving it my 17th spot.
16. Ojamajo Doremi
This is another entry that I’m not ranking higher because of its lightheartedness.
If you’re a fan of casual and easy-to-watch anime, though, then you’re going to be at home with this one.
It strips away at the whole grand adventure found in most magical girl series and instead focuses on the mundane and average lives of the witches that serve as the protagonists.
If you’ve ever played Recettear, it’s something like that. If you haven’t played Recettear, then what on Earth are you doing?
15. Houkago no Pleiades
Houkago no Pleiades isn’t for everyone; I’m going to put that out there right now.
It drops you right into the center of a plot that mixes aliens with the typical magical girl anime and doesn’t bother explaining what’s going on at all.
While that’s a part of the appeal, it does mean that you might feel like you ate mysterious mushrooms when you load up the first episode. Stick with it, though, and you’ll appreciate it by the end.
14. Magical Princess Minky Momo
While not a regular on my watch list, it would be remiss of me not to include Magical Princess Minky Momo on this list.
It’s an old-school magical girl anime that’s aimed towards a younger audience, and it does exceptionally well at delighting that target audience.
If you’re looking for a magical girl anime for kids, this is the best series out there by far.
13. Shugo Chara
Shugo Chara is a doozy.
We’ve got an outwardly cool but internally shy female protagonist, which isn’t too unusual for a Mahou Shoujo, but this female protagonist has a store that revolves around eggs.
Not just any eggs, though. Eggs that transform into what are essentially guardian angels.
She then goes on the hunt for more eggs. It’s the magical girl equivalent of an easter egg hunt.
It’s weird, to be sure, but well worth a watch if you’re running out of things to binge.
12. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
This is very much the blueprint for magical girl anime, and that’s far from a bad thing.
It’s a prime example of how an exceptional writer can take a standard concept and turn it into something special without going crazy on innovation.
It starts off the same way you would expect it to. Girl gets her powers from some creature that falls down from the sky.
However, the pacing, characters, and plot of the series only continue to develop as time goes on. Each episode leaves you hooked, which is the whole point of an anime in the first place.
11. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya
Anytime you see Fate/ in the title of an anime, you know you’re in for a wild ride. That universal law still applies with Fate/Kaleid.
It starts off pretty run-of-the-mill but soon devolves into an anime that’s going to give you an existential crisis. If you’ve got a masochistic streak, this is perfect for you.
If you don’t, it’s still going to be an enjoyable watch. Just be ready for the sleepless nights this one is going to give you.
10. Tokyo Mew Mew
Do you like catgirls? Do you like magical girl anime?
Then watch Tokyo Mew Mew. That’s all I have to say on the matter.
9. Princess Tutu
Princess Tutu is a blend of a slice of life, romance, and magical girl all in one. You’re not going to have any world-ending cataclysms in this one.
Instead, you have a sweet and romantic anime about a ballerina trying to win over her lover’s heart.
If you want a break from the dark and dreariness of the world, which even I do at times, then put Princess Tutu on your watch list.
8. Magic Knight Rayearth
Magic Knight Rayearth is on the opposite side of the coin to Princess Tutu. It’s dark, gritty, and bloody.
It’s also from the 90s, meaning you’re getting a magical girl infused with realism that was created during the anime golden age.
It’s an interesting plot with grounded characters that should be watched by every anime fan, not just magic girl fans, hence why I’ve ranked it so highly at number eight.
Pretear completely breaks the cliches and expectations you’re going to have of it when you load up the first episode.
You might think you’re getting some irritating harem-esque anime similar to SAO, but it takes that concept and actually makes it realistic.
Not everyone involved with the plot is in love with the protagonist, and that’s what makes it special.
It’s an enjoyable and wholesome twist on a concept that ran its course several years ago, so it earns brownie points with me.
6. Little Witch Academia
Now we’re getting into the big boys, or girls in this case, of the genre.
If you haven’t at least heard of Little Witch Academia, then you’ve probably been living under a rock.
Consider yourself lucky, though, because you get to experience this series for the first time, something I only wished I could do again.
All of the characters are unbelievably charming and loveable to the point there’s not a single weak cast member.
If I, someone who loves dark and gory stories, is advocating for an anime that’s silly and lighthearted, then you know it’s something special.
5. Pretty Cure
Pretty Cure is a long-standing giant of the magical girl genre, so you probably know about it if you’re anyway interested in anime that follows those conventions.
It’s like the Fairy Tail or One Piece of Mahou Shoujo. It’s over 600 episodes deep, and that run has been made up of various different series and seasons.
There’s something here for everyone, and how long the series has been going on should tell you just how accessible the anime is.
It’s a safe watch that delivers at every turn, which is what allows it to sneak a spot into my top five.
4. Sailor Moon
Don’t shoot me just yet! I know only giving Sailor Moon fourth place is blasphemy, but this is a subjective list so hear me out.
I already said that I like my anime gritty. I’m a Tokyo Ghoul and Parasyte fan, so it’s only natural that I’m not the biggest Sailor Moon fan.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I certainly did. At least, enough to give it the number four spot.
Regardless of your interests, this is one of the all-time greats.
There are certain anime that you just have to watch: Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, and so on. Sailor Moon is a part of that lineup.
3. Cardcaptor Sakura
Cardcaptor Sakura is arguably the most popular magical girl anime to ever be created. People talk about it everywhere you turn, and for a very good reason.
It’s not too deep, it’s not too dark, but it does everything that it sets out to do perfectly.
We follow a 10-year-old girl that accidentally releases “Clow Cards.”
After doing that, she must take on the responsibility of return all of the cards back.
It’s a simple premise that is phenomenal at introducing newbies into the series but is still worth a watch if you’ve been around the block.
2. Kill la Kill
Is Kill la Kill a magical girl anime? Arguably. It’s my list, though, so I make the rules.
If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, then I’m genuinely surprised.
Go watch it now, though, because this is one of the greatest anime ever made, not just for the magical girl genre.
It’s bizarre and stylized to the point that it takes on a life of its own. It’s become a favorite of anime fans all over the internet, so go and see what all the fuss is about.
1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Could the number one spot honestly be anything else? Madoka Magica is my favorite magical girl anime of all time, and it’s not even close.
In case you didn’t realize, that means it’s dark and gruesome. While it might appear kid-friendly on the surface, it’s anything but that.
Don’t let little Timmy see this series unless you want to leave him seriously emotionally scarred.
I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot; just make time to watch the first few episodes. Don’t look anything up; watch it blind.
Trust me when I say you’re in for a wild ride.