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Magical girl (Japanese: 魔法 少女 Hepburn: mahō shōjo) is a subgenre of Japanese fantasy light novels, manga, anime, and video games which features girls who use magic or possess magical powers. Magical girls transform to unlock their powers and are accompanied by an animal mascot, using wands or scepters as a weapon to fight monsters and the forces of evil.
Manga and anime historians regard the Princess Knight manga, released in 1953, as the prototype for the magical girl genre.:77 Himitsu no Akko-chan, serialized nine years later (1962) in Ribon, is generally accepted to be the earliest magical girl manga.:8 Sally the Witch, adapted from the manga of the same name, is regarded by historians as the first magical girl anime.:78 Sally the Witch was inspired by the Japanese dub of the television series Bewitched.
Mahōtsukai Chappy (1972) and Majokko Megu-chan (1974–1975) popularized the term "majokko" (little witch or witch girl) as a name for the genre. Megu-chan has been noted for its portrayal of multiple magical girls and the friendship between girls. Due to the women's lib movement in Japan, magical girls began displaying a "certain coquettishness" in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, Magical Princess Minky Momo (1982) and Creamy Mami, the Magic Angel (1983–1984) showed girls transforming into a "grown-up image of themselves". This has been linked to the increasing prominence of women at this time (such as politician Takako Doi, the girl band Princess Princess and pop idol Seiko Matsuda) and the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act in 1985.
Kumiko Saito argues that magical girl anime is best understood as "twenty-five-minute advertisements for toy merchandise", highlighting the high production costs and the involvement of Bandai in Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure. She acknowledges that despite this and the childish plots, magical girl anime discuss gender roles and identities.
The Sailor Moon manga and anime are considered to have revitalized the genre in the 1990s and paved the way for later successful titles.:199 A key feature of the heroines of Sailor Moon is that their transformations make them look more feminine, as well as make them stronger. The romantic relationship between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba and Usagi's care for her future daughter, Chibiusa are seen as points of difference between Sailor Moon and "typical Western superheroines". Another notable example is Cardcaptor Sakura, with its manga and subsequent animated series being highly popular in and outside Japan.
The magical girl genre earned renewed popularity in the 2010s with the advent of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, whose mature themes and darker approach earned acclaim from viewers and critics outside its target audience.
Along with anime and manga, live-action magical girl series were produced as a female counterpart to tokusatsu series aimed at young boys, such as Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Ultraman; however, interest in the genre declined in the early 1990s due to competing toy sales with Sailor Moon and other magical girl anime. Tokusatsu magical girl series were revived with the Girls x Heroine! Series, beginning with Idol × Warrior Miracle Tunes! in 2017.
Some series are notable for portraying magical boys as protagonists instead of the traditional supporting roles. Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! is a 2015 television magical boy anime series created by Kurari Umatani and produced by Diomedéa, which parodies tropes and cliches common to magical girl anime. Magical Girl Ore features magical girls who transform into manly-looking forms. In Is This a Zombie?, a zombie is resurrected by a necromancer after being killed by a serial killer, inadvertently gains "magical girl" powers, and is forced to become a "magical boy" (and thereby crossdress) in the process.[unreliable source] In Shugo Chara!, released in 2006, half of the series' main characters are males that possess the same powers as their female counterparts.
The Korean webtoon series Magical 12th Graders features a group of high school students who gain a magical artifact called the "Cubic", with which they are able to transform. Each of them uses her own personal transformation accessories to become a magical girl. Male characters who possess the same powers transform into magical boys. Their forms use a masculine, dandy uniform or they cross-dress in magical girl costumes.
The Italian animated series Winx Club uses the magical girl concept for their main characters, including transformations for each character. This concept also appears in the Italian comic book series W.I.T.C.H. and its animated adaptation, featuring five teenage girls with powers over the five classical elements. In 2014, LoliRock debuted as a French anime-influenced animation series of the genre, and contains many references to Japanese magical girl franchises. Miraculous Ladybug blends magical girl conventions with modern superhero action and adventure storytelling. Ragazze dell'Olimpo (Girls of Olympus), an Italian series by Elena Kedros, portrays a trio of magical girls who are reincarnations of the Olympian goddesses.
American cartoon series such as Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Bee and PuppyCat and Steven Universe use the magical girl concept as a sub-theme. Characters in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls are described as "full-time students and part-time magical pony girls".
The influence of the Magical Girl genre is inescapable; when Marinette's mother is captured in a bubble and carried off into the sky, apparently along with every adult in Paris, Marinette transforms into Ladybug in a series of twirls and poses, just as Sailor Moon and other magical girls always do. She even has the guidance of some kind of talking ladybug creature, fulfilling another Magical Girl trope.