We’ve talked here in the past about how Madoka Magica is — while still an awesome anime — not necessarily a first in the magical girl genre. We love it, of course, and we can’t wait for each new timeline to emerge…
But at the same time, we would never recommend this as a gateway magical girl show. And we’re pretty sure the makers wouldn’t, either.
There’s a lot to Madoka Magica that riffs on earlier series. In fact, the main purpose of the show is to offer a new take on familiar tropes. So while you can watch the series with no previous knowledge, there’s a lot to gain from having seen some magical girl series before.
Soul Gems: It Started With A Mirror
Nowadays, the “henshin” is an indispensable aspect of magical girl life. But henshin items weren’t always essential to the genre. In fact, for quite a while they were simply an option you could take or leave.
The very first henshin item belonged to Atsuko Kagami, the star of Himitsu no Akko-chan. The series has been remade many times, but the first anime iteration aired in 1969. Akko-chan used a magic mirror to change into… well, whatever she wanted!
Akko-chan was followed by shonen hero Cutie Honey in 1973 — the first heroine to have a specific “battle form” — and ultimately by the game-changing Sailor Moon in 1992. And while no henshin items prior to Madoka Magica have ever made their users go full zombie, there’s still an aspect of risk.
Death and Doom: No One Ever Tells Us Anything
Even with the pretty outfits and super powers, being a magical girl must suck. For one thing, you get lied to. Like a lot. Even if it’s just lies of omission, like
No one said you weren’t going to be eaten alive by entropy to feed an alien race.
And it’s been that way almost for as long as there have been magical girls in anime. Whether there’s a catch to their powers, a punishment for revealing their identity, or some dire history behind their duties, they’re sure to find out something. Heck, even finding out you’re a reincarnated Moon Princess is kind of a shock. Let’s not lie.
So are we saying Madoka Magica is unoriginal? Of course not. But it wasn’t the first to introduce the concept of magical girls with dark undertones.
What it does do, though, is give a solid in-universe explanation for a lot of the tropes. Why are magical girls so often between 13 and 15 years old? Why do these cute, unarmored battle forms keep them safe?
Watching earlier magical girl anime not only helps us understand references throughout Madoka Magica, it also gives the show something to explain to us — and helps us see the real inventiveness behind it. If you enjoy Madoka and haven’t seen any other magical girl anime, give some a try!