The magical girl genre is one of the most popular anime genres in the world, granting multiple generations of anime fans the chance to witness the dramatic transformations, weaving storylines, and complicated relationships that the genre is known for.
There are literally hundreds of shows that could be considered magical girl anime. But what makes the best ones stand the test of time?
From classics like Sailor Moon to the ongoing multimedia giant that is Pretty Cure, here are my picks for the best magical girl anime series of all time and why they're absolutely worth watching.
10. Pretty Cure (2004–Present)
Pretty Cure (also called PreCure) might not win any awards for being the most groundbreaking magical girl series, but it does offer an astonishing amount of content to watch—more than 850 episodes to dive into.
Each season is around 49 episodes long and features a different theme, so you can dip in and out without losing much.
The colors in this show pop beautifully off the screen, and they've really nailed the formula that brings this series to life. Want a magical girl anime series that you'll never run out of episodes for? This is the one!
9. The Demon Girl Next Door (2019–2022)
The Demon Girl Next Door is a comedic anime series that lampoons the tropes of the magical girl genre, but does so in such a loving way that it's impossible not to enjoy.
Momo is a magical girl who saves the life of Yuuko. But things get complicated because Yuuko is actually destined to become a demon and can only lift that curse... by killing Momo.
The tension between their budding friendship and the impending doom that hangs over Yuuko forms the basis of the series, and it's remarkably good at making this simple concept work over multiple seasons.
The jokes don't always land, but The Demon Girl Next Door is such a unique take on the genre that I don't mind.
8. Pastel Yumi, The Magic Idol (1986)
Pastel Yumi, The Magic Idol was one of the first ever magical girl animes, and it shows its age in a lot of ways. However, its influence is still felt on every other show on this list, so it deserves its place here.
In Pastel Yumi, The Magic Idol, young Yumi is an aspiring artist who wants to grow up and create her own manga. When she's given the power to bring her drawings to life, the ensuing story is consistently beautiful to watch and incredibly wholesome.
The stakes may be much lower in this series, but there's a whimsy to every action scene that's undeniably fun and charming.
7. My-HiME (2004–2005)
The relationships between the characters in My-HiME form the backbone of the show, offering plenty of drama, romance, and complexity along with the beautifully animated action scenes.
Mai and her classmates feel like real people from start to finish, complete with depth and desires all their own. The plot gets a bit stuck in its complexity at times, but it never fails to offer plenty of fun drama.
While everyone is eager to save the world, not everyone here agrees on what that means—and that's compelling to watch. My-HiME is one of the most grown-up magical girl animes out there.
6. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, several young girls are given extraordinary powers to save the world.
While that might be a straightforward task in almost any other magical girl anime series, here it's complicated beyond anything you might expect. Truly nothing is what it seems.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica subverts pretty much every trope and cliché you can imagine in the magical girl genre, but it does so with exceptional skill and love. This series explores not only what kind of strength it takes to save the world, but also what kind of sacrifices are required.
5. Tokyo Mew Mew (2002–2003)
Why did it take so long for someone to create a magical cat girl anime? We'll never know! But it was certainly worth the wait.
In Tokyo Mew Mew, Ichigo has cat DNA accidentally added to her system, allowing her to transform at will. Now she must assemble a team of other girls who have the same powers—to fight off an alien invasion.
This is a weird but wonderful show that has all the fun of a magical girl anime, complete with unique transformations and a rapidly escalating plot. The 2022 reboot, Tokyo Mew Mew New, updates the art and gives a touch more polish to what was already a great show.
4. Magic Knight Rayearth (1994–1995)
In Magic Knight Rayearth, three young friends discover the existence of another world that's filled with magic and princesses—and they are the only ones who can save it from peril.
What better way is there to kick off a magical girl anime? Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu must work together to defeat the evil Zagato, who threatens the magical world of Cephiro.
Magic Knight Rayearth has stellar artwork and interesting action scenes, especially when the three friends use their unique elemental magic to defeat the forces of Cephiro.
But between all of that, the series features some touching moments that highlight the importance of friendships. It's a bright watch with tons of good, wholesome fun from start to finish.
3. Cardcaptor Sakura (1998–2000)
The plot of Cardcaptor Sakura reads like an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! gone wrong, but the end result is way better than expectations.
Elementary school student Sakura accidentally unleashes magical cards into the world and is tasked with tracking them down to prevent them from causing chaos and catastrophe.
Cardcaptor Sakura errs firmly on the side of cute—with a younger cast and less danger overall—but that doesn't mean the show is low on stakes. On top of lots of action, there are talking animals and countless cute dresses, which have become staples of the magical girl anime genre.
Cardcaptor Sakura doesn't look to reinvent the formula, but it uses the tropes better than almost any other show in existence.
2. Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)
When Revolutionary Girl Utena first aired in 1997, the magical girl anime genre was already intensely popular and, therefore, ripe for subversion.
Revolutionary Girl Utena took what was popular about magical girl shows and gave it a subtle twist: young orphan Utena disguises herself as a boy to join an exclusive dueling school and earn the title of Prince.
Along the way, she seeks to earn the hand of the infamous Rose Bride, a young woman who people say will revolutionize the world.
The series features lots of drama, action, and romance, with a surprisingly good approach to LGBT+ relationships for the time. Revolutionary Girl Utena has aged wonderfully and still holds up for modern audiences.
1. Sailor Moon (1992–1997)
No other show could possibly top this list. Sailor Moon might not have been the first magical girl anime ever, but it's easily the most popular and influential worldwide.
This series introduced the concept of a magical girl squad to millions around the world—and that concept worked so well here that it became the blueprint for nearly every other magical girl anime that followed.
From the first time Usagi utters her catchphrase ("In the name of the moon, I will punish you!") to the dramatic moments of the finale, Sailor Moon didn't just help establish the magical girl genre—it forever impacted the entire anime industry.
More than 30 years after it was first published, Sailor Moon is still the gold standard of magical girl anime.