Abstract Apotheosis: Madoka's wish turns her into the abstract concept of hope and also a kind of force of nature. This fulfills her wish to erase all witches (past, present, and future, including her own) from existence and preventing magical girls from becoming Witches— instead they fight a new sort of incarnation of humanity's evils, called Wraiths, and eventually die when they run out of magic, but are no longer consumed by despair and transformed into Witches. It's implied that Madoka is also waiting for them when they do die. In fact, this trope was originally named Becoming Hope, after this series.
Accidental Pun: Mami Tomoe's name "Mami" means Mommy in Spanish and other languages like German. Considering her mentor role it fits her. On a slightly pervier note, her name's resemblance to the word "mammaries" has not gone unnoticed by the fanbase.
The Drama CD "'Memories of You" is an expansion of the first part of the anime's tenth episode.
The Different StorySpin-Off manga begins with an adaptation of "Farewell Story", the anime's third Drama CD. This is acknowledged by the manga's author. The manga then segues into its own story from there.
Adult Fear: Mami is missing, Sayaka is found dead, and Madoka is troubled but refuses to share what had happened. With all the Witches, there must've been a whole lot of suicides, missing persons and who knows what else - which makes Madoka's behaviour all the more alarming in her mother's eyes.
Technically the names of the witches appear in the episodes themselves (written in Cypher Language), but other things like the names of their familiars and their personality traits can only be found on the official website. In addition, this information includes witches that have not appeared themselves or only appeared in a Flashback. Fortunately, they are translated on this page (spoilers, obviously). Special note that the creators have left open the rest of The Unreveal to Wild Mass Guessing.
The black cat in the OP never appears in the show proper, but it is explained in the first Drama CD from DVD Volume 1. In the first timeline, Madoka became a magical girl to save the cat when it was hit by a car. She kept this a secret because she didn't want to be scolded for contracting for such a small reason.
The third Drama CD reveals Kyoko and Mami have a shared past which is only hinted at in the anime proper.
The Different Story devotes its entire first volume to adapting the third drama CD.
The concept art booklet in the sixth Blu-Ray volume reveals a character's name. Madoka's goddess form is called "Ultimate Madoka". The name is never spoken or written in the show. However, since fans have been using Fan Nickname ( Godoka/Madokami/etc.) for it, this isn't a problem.
The You Are Not Alone guidebook includes or alludes to other Magical Girls' wishes.
All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Let's keep this as clear as possible: the majoritynote which would be anywhere between 50%-80% of these spoilers have circulated the internet five times over, and knowing most of them before watching isn't uncommon. Even though the anime didn't not have a proper English release until March 2012, a newcomer to the series will have to wonder about the size of this page and the rather large amount of spoiler tags. In other words, this page is Tempting Fate for anyone who reads it. You, on the other hand, have been warned.
Alternate Character Reading: Invoked. The kanji used for "Mahou Shoujo" can be rewritten to reveal multiple key plot points. Similarly, "Puella Magi" has multiple meanings, which are also key plot points. All of these are explained in the anime proper and theirrespective tropes.
And the Adventure Continues: The series ends with witches being replaced with wraith, so that Magical Girls still have something to fight. The very last scene shows Homura continuing to fight.
Averted in the manga adaptation, wherein after this, the final page has Ultimate Madoka taking Homura with her to the higher plane of existence to be with her for all eternity.
Alternate Timeline: It is a Running Gag on the Puella Magi internet pages that you will see how many times is it now formatted like this in some kind of way. Detailed explanation:
Homura is capable of jumping back to a certain point and creating as many of these as she wishes. We know of at least five she's been in (the last being the "current" timeline), and parts of her end monologue in Episode 10 as well as some of the dialogue in 11 and 12 implies even more resets than shown onscreen. Official Word of God answer: "Approaching 100".
Madoka's wish in the final timeline changes all timelines ever as a side-effect of retro-actively destroying all witches.
Most of the sidestories are alternate timelines. For example, Different Story is set in a timeline where Mami survives the battle with Charlotte, while Oriko Magica has the titular character becoming a magical girl and interacting with the main characters for her own purposes.
Angels, Devils and Squid: The magic system in the Puella Magi universe runs off this with Magical girls representing the angel side. The role of the devils falls on the witches that are fallen magical girls that feed on negative emotions as opposed to positive emotions. The role of the squid falls to the incubators, aliens that use the emotions of human as a source of energy, granting wishes to humans only to feed off their hope and despair.
"Puella Magi" almost, but not quite, translates to "Magical Girl". "Puella magi" literally means "Girl of the Sorcerer". This becomes a plot point when it's revealed that witches are fallen magical girls.
All of the OST's track titles (save two) are in Latin and uses the correct translation for Magical Girl: "puella magica".
And Then John Was a Zombie: Kyubey reveals at the end of Episode 8 that witch is the later stage of a magical girl's existence. Magical girls can only delay the inevitable transformation of her soul by shoving The Corruption into limited-use Grief Seeds (which are incidentally fully-corrupted souls). The same episode also showed a magical girl's transformation into a witch.
Angst Nuke: While it doesn't kill anyone, Sayaka's rather explosive transformation into a witch sends Kyoko and several objects around including Sayaka's corpse flying.
Anyone Can Die: Two episodes away from the series finale, three of the main characters have fallen. Only two remain ... in this timeline. In the four shown timelines, Homura was the only main character alive following the battle against Walpurgisnacht.
Walpurgisnacht will cause a Class 0 that leaves, at a minimum, Mitakihara in ruins.
Madoka's transformation into a witch in previous timelines is guaranteed to cause a Class 6.
Madoka's last wish and her subsequent transformation into a goddess causes a chain of destruction leading up to a Class X-4, although it's all part of her plan to fix things and rewrite reality.
Kyubey and his race are actively trying to stall and/or prevent a very prolonged Class X-4 throughout the series.
Apocalypse Wow: Episode 12, but Ultimate Madoka saves the day ... by causing another one.
Arc Words: Walpurgisnacht is an ominous threat that Homura is preparing for in two week's time. It turns out to be the appearance of a superpowerful witch.
Artistic Age: All of the girls look to be about 10 to 12-years old, because of the cutesy art style. However, while Madoka is definitely 12 years old, Sayaka and Hitomi are about 12 to 13, Kyoko is about 13 to 14, and Mami is 14 to 15, being a third year. Although Homura is physically about 12 years old, she's implied to be much older than she looks due to the numerous time resets since episode 10.
Artistic License - History: The cattle car housing the Nazis' captives in Episode 12 was incredibly spacious in comparison to the ones that actually existed, which were usually packed so tightly passengers barely had room to stand.
Artistic License - Physics: Played with. Priority one for someone with an interest in extending the life of the universe should be shutting off stars which throw away vast amounts of energy to light up dust and dead rock. Since we don't know what Kyubey does with the energy he collects, this might be it or it might be something outside the realm of conventional science; magical girls and miracles certainly are.
Art Shift/Medium Blending: A witch and her barrier will employ one or the other because of their reality bending otherness.
The third episode stops borrowing from the Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei opening and starts borrowing from cute 1980s-style cartoons.
Episode 4 has a strange, flat, Louis Vuitton-esque design to the witches dimension. In the witches' TV screens, one can see the same art style used for the Maria†Holic ED.
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Madoka does this in the last episode by disconnecting herself from time to ensure witches never exist. In the process, she becomes something akin to a magical girl goddess. It is implied that all magical girls post-Madoka are also like this, with Ultimate Madoka guiding them to her own plane of existence after they die.
In the manga, Ultimate Madoka takes Homura to be with her forever some unspecified time afterwards.
Ascetic Aesthetic: For starters, the school building is about 90% glass. The utter sterility of the city itself makes a nice contrast against both the characters and the bizarre world of the Witches.
Asshole Victim: In Episode 8, Sayaka encounters two rude misogynists on a train. The context implies that she killed them.
Astral Checkerboard Decor: Many of the witches have this motif somewhere inside their barriers. The first few minutes of the opening episode is nothing but this. The end of the manga takes place in a dungeon with a checkered floor and acts as nice Book Ends.
Autocannibalism: After Kyubey is killed, something that looks just like him waltzes onto the scene and eats the corpse. Word of God says that he has many functioning bodies, all with one shared consciousness, so chances are he was recycling the protein or something. That, or he didn't want some random person to stumble across the dead Kyubey.
Episode 6: Soul gems are actually soul jars. The process of becoming a magical girl involves ripping out the soul and transforming it into a gem. The human bodies become empty shells animated by the soul gem; the two must remain in close proximity. In other words, "magical girl" is synonymous with "lich".
Episode 8: Witches are magical girls whose soul gems are sufficiently corrupted.
Episode 9: Kyubey's race has been using magical girls as an energy source since the beginning of human history. The energy released when one transforms into a witch overcomes entropy.
Episode 11: Madoka has incredible latent potential because of Homura's time resets. Each timeline is centred on Madoka, and all of those timelines have converged on her. This means that all of Homura's attempts to save her have made her into the most powerful magical girl ever and thus the most powerful witch.
Ax-Crazy: Sayaka hacks a witch to pieces in Episode 7 and all the while laughing about how she didn't feel any pain.
Back from the Dead: Specifically mentioned as something that Kyubey can't do. Unless it's Madoka making the wish as Madoka's wish in The Different Story brings Sayaka back to life after her transformation into a witch. Presumably it takes place during one of the later timelines.
Bait-and-Switch Credits: The opening is something that would fit perfectly on any typical Magical Girl show, with Shout Outs to Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, and Pretty Cure. The ending has distorted music, is nearly completely devoid of color, has sombre lyricsnote The song is Magia by the band Kalafina, and ends with Madoka floating in the fetal position in the eye socket of a giant skull. Prior to Episode 3, the anime avoids showing the ending and instead ran the credits along the conclusion of the episode and used the song for fight scenes. The bait and switch disappears when it becomes clear just whose perspective the opening song is from.
The Blu-rays for the first two episodes have an ending theme which plays this trope straight.
For the briefest moment when Kyoko and Homura transform.
Madoka in the opening and in a transformation sequence.
Shows up in Episode 12, during the encounter between Homura and Madoka after the latter's ascension to law-of-naturehood.
Batman Gambit: Kyubey's modus operandi involves appearing to MG candidates when they are at their most vulnerable and least able to resist a miracle. Afterwards, he twists their motivations to ensure their fall into despair in order to harvest their energy. A specific example: Kyubey misleads Kyoko into believing there may be a way to make Sayaka human again, which leads to Kyoko's death and leaves Homura as the only magical girl left; since Homura can't possibly defeat Walpurgisnacht alone, Kyubey hopes this will force Madoka into making a contract.
Batter Up: On her first witch hunt alongside Mami, Sayaka brings along a baseball bat to compensate for a lack of magical girl powers.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Deconstructed: The problem isn't in the literal granting of the wish, it's the fact that the wishers aren't asking for what they really want. The repeated warnings against making selfless wishes are there because there is no such thing as a selfless wish. Each wish was made in the hope that it would result in something the magical girl would ultimately benefit from, but since that result isn't what they asked for, that isn't what they got. This plays into Kyubey's plans since it means forcing the girls to realize that their pure dreams and wishes were never pure at all, and can only further divide them from the happiness they wanted after it's too late to change their minds. To go along with the show's treatment of entropy, and happiness and suffering balancing out to zero, the magical girls' wishes are an illustration: the amount of hope they create is equal to the pain they have to endure, but no matter what happens, they are the ones who have to endure the pain regardless of who gets the benefit of the hope.
Kyubey: Before you took up the burden of this fight, you had a wish you wanted to see fulfilled. And I did make that wish come true, didn't I?
Mami's wish: She wished to live, but what she really wanted was to continue living with her friends and family the way she did before. Since she was dying she didn't have time to carefully choose the Exact Words and it's forgivable that the literal genie who saved her was also a ruthless opportunist.
Sayaka's wish: She wished for the boy she loved to get better; he did, and no bad consequences came from it, but what Sayaka didn't wish for was for him to fall in love with her, which was what she really wanted. Kyoko pointed out that what she should have wished for was for him to never recover and become completely dependent on her.
Kyoko's wish: She wished for people to understand her father's preaching. It backfired when he discovered the truth, driving him insane and leading him to kill his entire family apart from her; she likely only survived because she was unknowingly a "zombie". This is how she knows to tell Sayaka what she should have wished for: what Kyoko wanted was a better family life.
Homura's wish. She wanted to save Madoka, but what she wished for was to be able to go back in time and do it over, and become strong enough to protect her. She took several levels in badass and protected Madoka numerous times but repeatedly failed in saving her. Kyubey tells Madoka later that if Homura keeps trying, she'll eventually realize she can't save Madoka; being stronger than Madoka doesn't mean being stronger than Walpurgisnacht or Madoka's destiny. - so, like Sayaka, she didn't wish for exactly what she wanted, which was to prevent Madoka from becoming a magical girl. (Because, at the time she made it, she didn't realize that was the only way to save her; she only came to that realization later, after the third timeline.) Also similar to Sayaka, this realization would result in Homura's degradation into a witch as well but by that time Madoka's wish rewrites the rules of the game (it helps that she has a lot of mulligans handy should Madoka become a witch or expire for any reason).
Finally averted for Original-Timeline Madoka. The wish didn't backfire on her, just because her wish was simple, straightforward, and relatively petty. In the Drama CD, she wished for a cat to be saved after being hit by a car, and there's no indication that anything related to that wish ever went wrong.
It could be considered as a form of subtle foreshadowing: The first time around, Madoka made a wish and was satisfied with the result, so whatever grief she endured because of it wasn't compounded by disappointment the way other wishes are. In the finale, she does the exact same thing: she makes a wish that couldn't possibly let her down because it really is what she wants, without pretense. Madoka's wishes are the only purely selfish ones in the entire story, it's just that what she wants for herself is the happiness of all magical girls.
It's All There in the Manual, but it's Played Straight for the magical girl who would become Charlotte. She wished to be able to share one last cheesecake with her dying mother, and that's exactly what she got: a single cheesecake, and her mother immediately died before they would have the opportunity to get another cake to share. It leads her to wonder if she should have just wished for her mother to get better. Considering the circumstances under which her Grief Seed was found, Charlotte may have been a Magical Girl for a span of minutes. It has been confirmed that she was a small child at the time and never fought a single witch.
Finally, fully averted with Madoka's final wish. Unlike all the others, hers is exactly what she truly wants, with no preconceived notions to be disappointed by, and without the pretense of selflessness to keep her from including herself. Then it becomes an inversion! Madoka turns this trope back on Kyubey, by making a wish that will eliminate witches from the universe and rewrite the laws of reality.
Bechdel Test: Madoka Magica fails the inverse Bechdel Test, as the only conversation between two men is about women.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Cleopatra, Queen Himiko, Joan of Arc and Anne Frank were magical girls. Joan of Arc makes sense because she claimed to hear the voice of God and was later accussed of witchcraft.
Sayaka's attempt at being a moral crusader backfires and the strain of fighting as a magical girl while not getting what she wanted causes her sanity to leak down the drain.
The ending also qualifies, as Madoka's tradeoff for saving magical girls from their inevitable fate was being erased from physical existence, and magical girls still eventually die—they just no longer corrupt into Witches (it's implied they go to some sort of Magical Girl heaven with Madoka).
Kyoko's Heroic Sacrifice, because she had no intention of transforming into a witch.
In Episode 10, after The Reveal in a previous timeline, Mami suffers a mental breakdown and tries to kill the other main characters and herself, following this logic. After the battle against Walpurgisnacht in the same timeline, Madoka asks Homura to Mercy Kill her before she turns into a witch.
Big Bad: While Kyubey does not directly oppose or antagonize the girls, Kyubey is the reason why the the events of the show happen.
Big Good: Due to her Cosmic Retcon Madoka becomes the patron goddess of Magical Girls. She saves them from witching out, gives them hope, and is implied to take them to magical girl heaven.
Played straight with Walpurgisnacht: The second largest witch shown and infamous among magical girls for its power.
Both of Kriemhild Gretchen's forms huge: the first time we see her, she's obscured by weather and distance, but she's mountainous in height and estimated to be able to destroy the world in a little over a week; the second time, she's big enough to envelop the planet.
Big "NO!": In Episode 10, in the timeline shown just before the current one, Homura does this as she falls while Madoka makes the contract from the scene in the first episode.
Madoka's homework in Episode 6 is to translate the English nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle." To see her word processor giving a closely translated suggestion to the words "Hey diddle diddle" in Japanese is quite an amazing feat.
Graffiti on the wall shown right before Kyoko and Madoka enter Sayaka's Labyrinth says "Love Me Do".
Walpurgisnacht has been defeated, there are no witches, there never will be, and there never have been, magical girls are carried off by Madokami to Magical Girl Heaven instead of turning into witches, Incubators are able to gather curse energy harmlessly, and both Kyoko and Mami return from death. Madoka is a goddess, and one day, she and Homura will be together again. On the bitter side, the magical girls fight wraiths (rather than witches), Sayaka is still dead, and Madoka has disappeared from normal existence, forgotten by all except Homura and Madoka's pre-verbal little brother.
In the manga there's more sweetness. An unspecified period after Homura's battle with the wraiths she is shown in Madoka's heaven, restored to her innocent and adorkable self, to be with Madoka forever.
Bizarre Alien Psychology: The Incubators seem to operate in an extremely rational Hive Mind. They view emotions as a mental sickness, and do not consider not telling every part of the truth as lying. Simply put, their only concern is to offset the heat-death of the universe.
Black Box: Magic is impossible to figure out even to Kyubey and the race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens he comes from, but it seems to work and doesn't mind that it's a black box that involves the suicidal grief and monstrous transformations of adolescent girls.
Blessed Are The Cheese Makers: According to Charlotte the dessert witch. She can create any dessert in the world, but she can't create her favorite food, cheese. No wonder Mami was eaten by her; she wears all yellow.
Blessed with Suck: A magical girl will have any wish of theirs granted in addition to Magical Girl powers that they can use for any purpose they want. However there are a few things in the fine print Kyubey doesn't mention. Like having to experience despair equal to the happiness gained from that wish, and spending the rest of their life as a lich fighting witches and possibly becoming a witch themselves.
Cursed with Awesome: This is the final fate of magical girls in Madoka's reconstructed universe. A wish is granted to the girls at the cost of fighting the wraiths until the girls exhaust their soul gems and die. However, as long as they keep fighting the wraiths, their soul gems keep replenishing — so it's very much a willpower thing. Finally, when they wear out at last, Madoka appears to guide them to Magical Girl Heaven.
Here's a comparison of Sayaka's fight with Elsa Maria in the TV and BD version (spoiler warning). The BD version adds more blood to the scene.
The BD release keeps better consistency with Kyoko's injuries during her fight with Oktavia.
Blue and Orange Morality: Kyubey discusses this trope with the magical girls and Madoka. He says he's an alien gathering energy to stave off entropy. It just so happens that having teenage girls turning into Eldritch Abominations is a very efficient way to do so, and he doesn't understand how anyone who knows the whole story could object to The Plan. When Madoka asks him how he could have been doing this for so long and never even try to understand the girls' feelings, his response is that if his people could understand human emotions they wouldn't have needed humans at all.
His consistent reply to the girls' protests, "I don't understand what you mean," has become a Memetic Mutation associated with him in Japan.
In the epilogue he's still this, but his race's best chance to work on things in the new paradigm is to work very closely and openly with the magical girls. He even warns them up front that they will fade away when they run out of magic.
Body Horror: Episode 4 features a witch that kills its victims by stretching them until they tear apart. The effect is exaggerated by the art style used for it.
Bolivian Army Ending: In the anime Homura's final fate is uncertain; it could be that she's gained new superpowers, or she's going to Heaven as soon as the series is over or both. Averted in the manga, when Madoka does indeed take her to Heaven, where they'll be together forever, along with Sayaka.
Sequel Hook: It is possible that Homura in the anime had split into two separate people. The anime depicts two versions of her: one with Madoka's bow defeating large Mooks and another with symbolism showcasing her Badass purple wings. Word of God, so far, has not given a confirmation on the ending. See the WMG page for speculation.
Different Story ends in this way, with Madoka, Sayaka, and Homura getting ready to fight Walpurgisnacht. However, readers who have already seen the anime know that the result of the battle is a Foregone Conclusion.
Book Ends: The very beginning and the very end of the series are set to the sound of a projector running, and then the sound of it abruptly shutting off. There are several within the story, as well:
In the first episode, Sayaka teases Madoka about acting like an anime character. In the last episode, Madoka has been erased from existence, but her kid brother Tatsuya is seen drawing her as an Imaginary Friend. When Homura seems to recognize the drawing, Madoka's mother asks Homura if Madoka is an anime character.
Madoka's mother chooses a pair of ribbons for her in the first episode, which she wears throughout the rest of the series. Near the end, Homura tries to give one of them back to Madoka's mother; she doesn't take it because she's too old to pull off that look, but says that if she had a daughter, she'd make her wear it.
The first and last scene involve Madoka and Kyubey watching Homura fighting an evil entity, though the details are considerably different. The first scene is a hopeless attempt by Homura to defeat Walpurgisnacht, while Kyubey attempts to trick Madoka into becoming a Magical Girl to satisfy his turning-people-into-witches quota. The last scene has Homura confidently sniping some post-witch-era monsters with Kyubey on her shoulder and Madoka, now a goddess, is presumably "there" as well, what with transcending spacetime and all.
Kyoko announces her intent to kill Sayaka in her first appearance, and they both try to kill each other in their first encounter. Eventually, they become somewhat friendly. After Sayaka becomes a witch, Kyoko kills herself and Sayaka simultaneously.
Bread and Circuses: A "Stable but not always comfortable status quo" version. Kyubey provides wishes so magical girls will fight for his goals and enable him to collect the energy generated by their despair. This trope is almost taken literally with Sayaka's witch realm, which is represented like a operatic cinema/three-ring circus.
Madoka, who over the course of the series is forced to suffer through the deaths of Mami, Sayaka and Kyoko, on top of learning how the system works.
Kyosuke is revealed to have been on the fence for some time, since his injuries meant he would never be able to play the violin again. Until Sayaka uses her wish to heal him.
Sayaka becomes a magical girl for Kyosuke's sake, only to find out the truth about soul gems and discover that Hitomi also has feelings for Kyosuke. She falls into despair, and eventually becomes a witch.
Homura was originally a very shy girl from an alternate timeline, who befriends Madoka and Mami after they save her from a witch. After the two magical girls die fighting Walpurgisnacht, Homura wishes to go back in time and protect Madoka, hoping to save her. Instead, she's forced to watch all of her friends die or become witches in each of the four iterations we have seen her experience. The series offers what appears to be a fifth iteration, however in Episode 11 Kyubey remarks that Homura has gone through this cycle countless times and it is still not looking any better.
Mami gets her turn with The Different Story as it spells out what was hinted at in the TV series; Survivor Guilt, turf wars, falling out with her students, etc.
Breather Episode: Episode 5 is much lighter in tone compared to the previous two episodes, which dealt with Mami's death (Episode 3) and the effect it has on the characters (Episode 4).
The author of the Madoka Magica manga has stated that the anime and manga are based on the same scenario, but has implied that the manga could be very different down the road. This is completely false; the manga is based on the exact same script as the anime, and is simply a Bloodier and GorierCompressed Adaptation. The closest it gets to diverging from the anime is the addition of a short, highly ambiguous, epilogue.
Canis Latinicus: Though the song titles are real Latin, the lyrics to songs such as "Sis puella magica!" and "Credens justitam" are not. The lyrics are actually gibberish that Kajiura writes according to what sounds pleasant, matches the melody, and is easy to sing.
Can't Catch Up: Sayaka is the weakest Magical Girl shown. Even in the best-possible-timeline ending, she still dies, despite being partnered with Kyoko and Mami. She's also the only one who has a Despair Event Horizon to reach because the object of her wish is still alive to die for, one way or the other; the others have already lost theirs.
Can't Take Criticism: It is implied that Isabel the Artist Witch was once a magical girl who didn't like criticism. Like what her card description says, "In order to defeat this Witch, remember to bring a critic."
Using magic of any kind, as well as experiencing negative emotions (especially despair and angst) dims soul gems. When it's completely dark, the 魔法少女 (Mahou Shoujo) - magical girls - turn into 魔女 (Majo) - witches.
In the new universe, this is even more true — when the soul gem runs out of power, Ultimate Madoka takes the despair — and the soul gem — away to the afterlife.
In the anime, Kyubey implies this is what happens to human souls after their receptacle is destroyed. Madoka's "omnipotent" potential, Kyubey's own ability to be reborn, the witches cloning themselves via familiars, and Homura coming from an alternate timeline render this less than certain.
In the manga, it's averted: Kyōko and Sayaka are shown together in the afterlife after their death.
Cheeky Mouth: Madoka◊ displays a very wide one during the first episode, when she's talking about her dream.
Homura's original art featured her as the one with a bow. Then there was the later illustration of her and Madoka holding the bow together in what looked like a disguised spoiler for the last battle. They left guns outside the Fourth Wall. In the epilogue, Homura is shown using a modified version of Madoka's bow instead of her time-stopping powers. Which makes sense, as in the new reality there was no Madoka to sacrifice herself and gain time powers for.
Mami fights with a whole arsenal of these, created by magic.
Homura uses (mundane) guns and explosives to deal with witches. Her primary weapon in Episode 10 is a Desert Eagle.
Costume Porn: The magical girls have beautiful battle outfits.
Covers Always Lie: Played with. Official artwork for the series constantly shows Madoka in full Magical Girl attire. She doesn't make the contract until the final episode. However, she became a magical girl in the previous four timelines Homura has experienced. Aside from that, the bow and arrow Homura is shown with in one piece of official artwork is actually the weaponry one of the alternate-timeline Madoka uses. Homura doesn't touch it until the very end.
Crapsaccharine World: Technology has advanced and is ubiquitous, there's no visible pollution, and everything's shiny and white. However... The only reason human society has advanced this far is because of the intervention of the Incubators and the suffering of countless magical girls since the beginning of human history. Without them, humans would still be living in caves. Also there's still disease, domestic abuse, murder, organised crime, a need for a military response, and witches that can destroy whole cities.
Creature Hunter Organization: Madoka and co form one in one of the timelines. though even if they didn't they'd still count as "backed, individual members", given they fight witches exclusively.
Cryptic Background Reference: Mami states that witches cause all sorts of bad things to happen with their mere presence, but we're only shown two attempted suicides. Walpurgisnacht's true nature and name are also never divulged, even in the manual. The muggles can only see her as a 'supercell' storm.
Cryptic Conversation: Justified. The last time Homura tried to explain everything, none of the girls in timeline 3 believed her until Sayaka became the witch Oktavia. Immediately after Oktavia's defeat, Mami suffered a breakdown and murdered Kyoko which forced Madoka to kill her.
Curb-Stomp Battle: In one timeline (specifically, the one that the opening sequence from the first episode is from), Madoka becomes a magical girl and defeats Walpurgisnacht in one shot. She becomes a witch immediately and with enough power to destroy the world within ten days.
Curtain Call: At the end, a picture appears showing the silhouettes of the five Magical Girls in the show facing off against the Witches.
All the puella magi have matching hair, eye and even costume colors; Madoka (pink), Sayaka (blue), Mami (yellow), Kyoko (red)...except Homura who has black hair, purple eyes and a purple costume. However, a lot of official art tends to color her purple for all three.
Averted for Madoka in the final episode where she gains amber eyes and a white dress in her Ultimate Madoka form, but her hair is still pink.
Cut-and-Paste Translation: In the original Japanese, when Kyoko is revealing her past to Sayaka, she says that her family was inadvertently destroyed by her prayer. In the English dubs and subtitles she says "wish" instead of "prayer".
Kyubey. His full name is Incubator, as in the incubator of the witches that magical girls fight and eventually become themselves, if their soul gems are completely corrupted. It's also only a syllable and a half away from "Incubus", continuing the Faustian theme...
While it uses magic rather than technology, and the city is much cleaner than in usual works, the show's hints at transhumanism and, to a lesser extent, Kyubey's mottos and personality could feel right at home in a Cyber Punk series.
Homura's character in particular feels like a typical Cyber Punk protagonist.
Darkest Hour: Episode 11 Walpurgisnacht has endured an army's worth of firepower from the lone Homura, who has finally given up hope of the "Groundhog Day" Loop ever saving Madoka, who steps up to make her wish...
Dark Reprise: "Magia", the ending song of the series, made its appearance in the first scene of the first episode. There, the song is slowed down to give it a much darker atmosphere than it already had. This turned out to be a production error as all of the music in the first episode was slowed down and it was back to its normal speed and pitch in later airings.
The opening theme song is sung by Homura in the post-Episode 12 world. The lyrics and symbolism make perfect sense once you realize this.
Deal with the Devil: The Puella Magi universe turns the standard Magical Girl contract with the Mentor Mascot into one of these. Kyubey will make any one wish you have come true in exchange for turning you into a Magical Girl Warrior who has to fight Witches. By accepting the contract, the girl becomes a Lich, with her Soul Gem becoming her Soul Jar, and she will eventually become one of the very monsters she's fighting. All of this happens so Kyubey can collect the energy generated by the arc from hope to despair.
Dead Person Conversation: When Madoka was on her way toward goddess-hood, she met Kyoko and Mami in... somewhere suspiciously similar to Mami's apartment. Chat and cakes were had. Sayaka isn't there because she didn't die: she became a Witch and her soul was destroyed. After Ultimate Madoka rewrites the universe she is revived/never died/etc and the two have a last conversation at Kyosuke's recital before leaving for the new magical girls' heaven.
Some instead claim it is Not a Deconstruction because being gritty and "edgy" does not qualify as such and it still retains and validates much of the essential premise of the magical girl genre; essentially it's Faust with Magical Girls.
Decon-Recon Switch: Specifically, this series deconstructs the power of heart often used in Magical Girl anime. The show does this by drawing attention to the fact that the power of what the girls wish for (the desires of their heart) are never as pure and noble as many shows often assume they would be (these are young girls after all and Humans Are Flawed). Tragedy ensues because of their often selfish and unclear desires. The ending, however, reconstructs the power of heart in that a wish made for all the right reasons can essentially become the most powerful force to ever exist.
Demon Slaying: The new magical girl system against those black incorporeal wraith-like creatures. Whether they're demons or undead is up for debate.
Department of Redundancy Department: The Latin title reads as this, but it's subverted in that there's an alternate, more accurate translation (based off of Altum Videtur): Girl of the Sorcerer: Magician Madoka. Furthermore, "Puella" literally means "a young girl" but it's derived from "Puerulus", which means "a young slave".
The witches' mazes. The first witch, Gertrud, is a gardener, so the maze is covered in roses and thorns, with floating scissors and butterfly- and puffball-themed familiars. The second, Charlotte, has a maze made of cake and sweets with syringes and bottled body parts everywhere. Charlotte herself looks like a children's cartoon from the 80s.
A certain aspect of Charlotte itself takes heavy inspiration, too, from Takeshi Murakami's Superflat artwork.
As noted below, if you're into architecture, this is the series for you.
Despair Event Horizon: For magical girls, this is more than a metaphor: it's a literal point of no return that has tangible consequences.
Sayaka starts heading towards it when Kamijo hits it, gets really close when Hitomi confesses that she wants to ask Kamijo out (going Ax-Crazy in the process), and passes it in Episode 8, turning into a witch. In Episode 12, however, she's "purified" by Madoka's wish, which gives her a more peaceful death.
In Episode 10, Mami from one of the previous timelines snaps and tries to kill the other magical girls when she finds out about the Awful Truth. She murders Kyoko and took aim Homura but Madoka killed her before she could fire.
Homura becomes so desensitized due to her past failures that she becomes a Knight Templar for Madoka's survival. Kyubey notes that the only thing keeping her away from the edge is her belief that she can hit the Reset Button and try again. If she wavered for a moment, her soul gem would instantly corrupt.
Kyoko appears to have crossed it by the time she's introduced, and the incident where she's supposed to have crossed it is shown in graphic detail in Episode 7, but it turns out that she had simply been straddling the line all along and ultimately comes back from it just in time to have to do a Heroic Sacrifice to stop Sayaka's vigilante killing spree against both the scum of the Earth and the magical girls that are trying to stop her.
Divided We Fall: The magical girls are not working together. In fact, there are reasons for them to not work together, because they're competing for the same resource (the witches' grief seeds). At the same time, the girls are clearly inclined to help one another, and yet are also unwilling to accept the others' help. The results are sadly unfortunate.
Died Happily Ever After: This is the only way a magical girl can have a happy ending of any sort and Madoka had to make a reality changing wish to make it possible. Each magical girl in the series has one of these: Sayaka's witch is destroyed in Episode 12 and she is taken to Heaven by Madoka. Homura rejoins Madoka there in the manga but the anime only implies it. Mami and Kyoko are slated to go out this way, too, eventually.
Distant Finale: The last pages of the manga occur some unspecified time after the last scene in the anime.
Doing in the Wizard andDoing in the Scientist: Kyubey is a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, not a magical creature, and he wants to prevent the universe's heat death by breaking the second law of thermodynamics. However, he does this by performing genuine miracles and drawing out real magical potential in human girls so he can collect energy generated by emotions; none of these are governed by thermodynamics or any kind of science and that's why they suit Kyubey's purpose.
Doomed by Canon: Any spinoff depicting a previous timeline is doomed to end either in the world's destruction or Madoka's death, since the cycle isn't broken until the final timeline in the anime.
Downer Beginning: The curtain rises with Kaname Madoka dreaming of a mysterious black-haired magical girl battling giant falling pieces of buildings in a grey, war-torn world.
Dramatic Irony: Sayaka blames Homura for Mami's death, on the grounds that she didn't enter the fight until Mami was killed in order to take the witch for herself. However, both the audience and Madoka know that Mami cast a binding spell on Homura before the battle, meaning that she couldn't step in until the spell was broken by Mami's death.
Dreaming of Things to Come: Madoka's dream at the beginning of Episode 1. Inverted, as Episode 10 reveals the dream(?) depicts a scene from another timeline, the predecessor.
People affected by the witches, who radiate despair. Mami says that all the un-explained suicides are caused by witches. In Episode 4, they form a suicide pact.
Kyoko's father killed himself when he found out about her wish.
Mami, in Episode 10, as a result of discovering the Awful Truth about becoming a witch. She was also going to take down everyone else, but Madoka stops her after Kyoko's death.
Mami at the end of the Different Story manga, where she simply can't cope with living as a magical girl anymore. Homura even references Mami's breakdown in Episode 10 of the anime by warning Kyoko that this is part of Mami's nature. Once she finds out the truth about the origin of witches she is likely to commit suicide.
The Inversion: Kyubey will grant a single wish, any wish, of a chosen girl in exchange for a contract to be a Magical Girl as payment-up-front. The cost of that one reward is a lifetime of battles against witches and familiars.
The straight version: no matter how hard and long a magical girl fights, her efforts will never be recognized, never known, and she is most likely to die alone.
Homura: ...dedication has no reward.
Due to the Dead: Sayaka's funeral at the start of Episode 11, and after Madoka takes her to Heaven in the current timeline, it's implied she gets a token funeral shortly afterward.
Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Magical girls get this after their Soul Gem is taken away from them, due to being effectively dead.
Dying as Yourself: What Ultimate Madoka does for every magical girl that has ever, or will ever, exist. By taking them off to heaven with her, she prevents them from turning into witches and allows them to fade away instead.
The barrier that surrounds each witch disregards every law of science and houses dangerous familiars.
Homura's Apartment: Word of God is that "the white walls, floating texts, and clockworks are all a holographic projection superimposed on a more mundane setting. At the same time, there is the suggestion that Homura's residence was intentionally drawn to resemble a witch's barrier."
Emotion Eater: Kyubey's true purpose. They're able to turn emotions into surplus energy that violates the second law of thermodynamics in order to save the universe.
Emotional Powers: Magic is fueled by emotional energy and gradually expends it. Likewise, negative emotions cause magical ability to diminish. A combination of the two nearly inevitably causes the magical girl to transform into a witch.
Kyubey's arguments make a lot of sense, but only from a coldly logical, utilitarian standpoint; the girls' counter-arguments always run along the lines of "But it's so horrible."
Most of the girls (Sayaka especially) are hindered by their emotions, and are regularly rescued by the more stoic Homura, who advises them to control their emotions. The one girl who did not heed her advice, Mami, was quickly met with a gruesome death. Notably, when Homura does lose control of her emotions, it's a sign that things have really gone bad.
The barrier seems to work this way. When Madoka says that she will become a magical girl and fight alongside Mami (who, at this point, is bitter from all the fighting but hides it well), medicine capsules fall from above and then warm, fuzzy-looking wispballs float from below.
Episode 8 has Madoka and Sayaka at a bus stop in the rain. The rain gets more intense to match Sayaka getting more riled up.
The End Is Nigh: This is what Walpurgisnacht will entail according to Homura. She's right. Walpurgisnacht can wipe out a town in one night and the only times it was ever defeated was by Madoka, who then corrupted into a witch more powerful than her, that, according to Kyubey, would destroy the planet in a matter of days. It remains debatable whether Walpurgisnacht itself would be a global threat if not stopped.
Enhanced on DVD: The DVD/Blu-Ray releases have fixed up a large number of Off Model shots, added additional details to the backgrounds, and fixed one lingering question — The witch in the Episode 1 prologue was re-drawn to look like the witch in Episodes 11 and 12.
Environmental Symbolism: Due to the classrooms looking like cages, there has been speculation by fans that the school (lots of glass, generally futuristic) was based on Justice Center Leoben, an Austrian prison with a similar design.
The hope spread by magical girls is equally counteracted by the despair in their everyday lives, eventually turning them into the very witches they fight against. This is on purpose. However, the system Kyubey presents does not balance out, since he claims the "good" energy himself to "prevent the Entropic Heat Death of the Universe".
One of the things Kyubey doesn't tell the magical girls is that the hope generated by a wish is spread out to everyone that hope touches, but the equivalent amount of despair is shouldered only by the one who makes the wish. Others may suffer in the wake of a wish, like Kyoko's family, but that baseline equivalent despair is always going to go right back into the Soul Gem that made it. That's what Kyubey is counting on for the energy. Interestingly, it's possible that the implication that Equivalent Exchange is being strictly enforced (or is inherent to the process) may well just be a masterful piece of misdirection on Kyubey's part. The real reason they meet despair proportional to the hope they bring is because it lets him double-dip—he profits from ANY sufficiently strong emotional swings.
At the end of the last episode, Madoka's final wish destroys this aspect of magical girl life, by removing all witches before they're created, and ensuring that magical girls do not meet with despair in the very end. Even this wish is shown to eventually release enough despair to destroy the universe... only for Madoka to appear and destroy that witch. Basically, Madoka uses her wish to annihilate that form of Equivalent Exchange itself.
Essence Drop: A defeated Witch leaves behind a Grief Seed, which a magical girl can then pick up and use to refill her lost mana and thus restore the brightness of her Soul Gem — That's what they're led to believe. What they actually do is transfer The Corruption that they had accumulated from the Soul Gem into the Grief Seed, thus delaying their eventual fate of transforming into Witches themselves.
If you watch closely, you can see the OP change slightly from episode◊ to episode◊. The final image of Episode 10's outro is changed from just Sayaka, Madoka, and Mami. This time Kyoko and Homura◊ are in the picture, too.
Homura resembles Natsuki Kuga, another magical girl who specializes in firearms and caught in a battle that might pit her against her friends.
Homura's Mental Time Travel ability, and her unshakable determination on saving Madoka from her death? Oh, that's a certain Mad Scientist's ability and goal too.
Past!Homura is similar to Miranda from D.Gray-Man. Clumsy, shy, nervous, no self-esteem, determined despite herself, comes into her power when she realises she wants to protect someone, and controls time using a disc on her arm.
Kyoko is similar to Asuka with red hair and costume, abrasive personality, introduction about one-third into the series, wielding a spear and a dead family. It's not too hard to see the connection there. Her father ending his life by hanging himself is a bit too similar to Asuka's mother (who's name as it happens, was Kyoko).
Kyoko's powers and magical girl niche are very reminiscent of Kaitou Saint Tail (trickster-thief with a definite Christian overlay, plus the ponytail). St. Tail's rival/love interest was, Asuka Jr.
Eye Colour Change: Madoka's eyes change from pink to gold after becoming a magical girl and essentially becoming a god in the penultimate timeline.
Failure Is the Only Option: Homura's refusal to accept this trope is why she repeatedly goes back in time to save Modoka. Word of God says the total number of loops 'approaches 100'.
The Fair Folk: Some witches behave like this. Gertrud is focused on her roses; while Charlotte is fixated on cheese and will be caught off-guard if one throws her some. It's also a tantalizing irony for Charlotte: despite being able to make candies out of nothing, she can't create cheese.
Kazumi Magica refers to contract-making creatures like Kyubey as fairies.
Fairytale Motifs: Sayaka's storyline has paralells to the non-DisneyfiedThe Little Mermaid. Girl has affection for a high status boy and wants to be with him so she makes a Deal with the Devil that causes her great pain. She's offered relief but refuses it, and because of this, she dies. Ultimately she goes to heaven.
Madoka: Her selflessness. Kyubey often attempts to manipulate her into contracting by exploiting her desire to help others at her expense,and would have succeeded multiple times over in the final timeline if it weren't for Homura's interference.
Sayaka: Her self-righteousness. Some would say it's her Naivete, but what dooms her is her unwillingness to listen to Homura or Kyoko since she sees them as evil. Even after finding out about the nature of the Soul Gems, if she had been willing to accept their help, she could have survived.
Homura: Her devotion to Madoka. It's quite telling that after all the crap she's been through in nearly 100 failed timelines, what makes her break is the knowledge that she's hurting Madoka.
Even Kyubey can be said to have one flaw that contributes to his downfall: Greed. Usually he doesn't let anyone he wants to contract with know anything relevant about the whole "Magical Girl" system until it's too late. He didn't need Madoka to continue harvesting humans for energy, but he continues to attempt to contract with Madoka even after she's made aware of the whole system (by Kyubey himself, no less). If he had just left her alone, he would have been untouchable.
Up until the last episode, Homura's time-manipulation powers were only factor capable of catching Kyubey off guard.
Madoka's wish in Episode 12 coupled this with Cosmic Retcon to change Kyubey's system to favor the magical girls instead of him.
Fear Is the Appropriate Response: Type 1, and is consistent throughout the entire series, includingKazumi Magica and Oriko Magica. It can be considered a Mythology Gag (although a very Nightmarish one) for the series due to Mami doing this in Episode 3 and getting her head chomped off in the process. Every time a character performs this trope, something bad happens directly next to it.
Five-Girl Band: Played with as the magical girls are more likely to fight each other than work together. However there is at least one time line where they formed The Team and that team would be as follows
In Episode 2, when Mami is sitting seiza at her table, the way she places her hands in her lap and the reflection of the glass makes it look like she's holding her head.
In Episode 3, Homura confronts Mami about Madoka becoming a Magical Girl, and in response, Mami accuses Homura of being scared of Madoka's incredible magical potential. Homura doesn't have a rebuttal. It looks like Mami won the confrontation, but it's very telling that Homura is standing on a staircase above Mami. Guess what happens later in the episode.Mami earns herself a gruesome death by having her head chewed off because she refused Homura's help against the witch Charlotte (and instead tied Homura up so she couldn't help), and Homura is forced to clean up her mess.
In the form of a Freeze-Frame Bonus when Mami and Madoka enter Charlotte's maze: "Caution" with a row of decapitated bodies on crosses.
When Mami fights the first witch, in retrospect, you can see how careful she is, attacking from only long range, and attacking the weak spot. When she fights Charlotte, she bashes the witch with her gun, shoots it at point-blank range, jumps recklessly into close range, freezes when she got surprised...
During a brief moment in Episode 7, when Kyoko and Sayaka are in the church, an angel appears to come out of Sayaka's shadow and stab Kyoko's shadow with a sword. It's a Red Herring because what happened was different.
Episode 7. The witch-like Art Shift in Kyoko's flashback is foreshadowing the final fate of most magical girls, before the revelation...
The conversation between Madoka, Sayaka, and Hitomi about Homura in Episode 1. In Episode 10 we find all of it is relevant, even Sayaka's throwaway joke about "Is this moe?"
Meta example: "Puella Magi" was initially thought to be a botched mistranslation of "magical girl". It means "girl of the mage"
The bow that Homura carries in the initial concept art is finally seen in the last episode; she's using Madoka's because Madoka herself has ascended to a higher plane of existence.
According to the website, Madoka's witch form wishes to make a perfect world free of suffering. When Madoka finally makes a wish, it isn't very far off.
When Madoka talks to Kyubey in the park in Episode 8, there's a shot of the water from a fountain as it passes by a cresecent moon, which looks like either a bow-and-arrow, or a comet. The bow-and-arrow is Madoka's weapon as a magical girl; the comet shape can be seen on Kriemhild Gretchen's grief seed.
After Mami is killed pay attention to Kyubey in the next episode. It never once shows any kind of grief or regret over the outcome. This is because he expected it and is used to it.
There's one present throughout the series until the Reveal. Note that Kyubey always seems far more interested in steering the conversation to making people in Magical Girls rather than protecting the innocent or getting Magical Girls to work together.
When Madoka draws examples of her future possible costumes, she draws herself with black eyes, rather like various soulless beings in stories like Coraline.
In the first of the films, when Sayaka saves Madoka a clip of Oktavia von Seckendorff's theme is slipped into the music.
Forgotten First Meeting: The third drama CD, which takes place before the anime, reveals that Kyoko saved Madoka and Sayaka from a witch. They exchange dialogue, but it's never face to face, so Madoka and Sayaka never see who's talking to them.
Mami as the Realist; she is easily the most cautious magical girl, who several times warns her juniors that entering this life with an idealist view can be dangerous, while also encouraging them to make up their own minds about contracting. Her careful, precise combat style also reflects this. Hence why the second she gets reckless, it kills her.
Homura and Kyubey as the Apathetic. They are both entirely focused on one thing, and one thing only - the former on saving Madoka, no matter what, the latter on overcoming Entropy by creating Magical Girls and Witches. Their motivations leave them detached from the rest of the group.
Freak Out: Poor Mami in the third timeline. When she's confronted with Awful Truth about Soul Gems and Grief Seeds she murders her fellow magical girls to prevent them from becoming witches.
From Bad to Worse: An extended series of revelations about how much it sucks to be a Puella Magi; first it shows the risk of death, then it reveals that they're undead anyway, then it reveals that even if you make it through all that you're inevitably going to become one of the mindless, monstrously destructive witches you were fighting anyway, and this is all by design.
Frozen Face: Kyubey's face in the anime is always frozen in an intense stare, and his mouth never moves since he talks telepathically. There are exceptions but they are rare and limited to the early part of the series. This makes him extremely creepy to look at face to face. However, this is averted in the manga, where Kyubey uses normal facial expressions. Usually. Sweet dreams.◊