So You Want To: Write A Magical Girl Series
Stop right there, writer! Don't turn yourself loose on your readers and viewers without the knowledge you need to write a good story with wands, transformations and miniskirts! ♥ I am Magical Princess Mystic Keyboard, and with the power of creativity, I'll teach you everything you need to know! ♥♥
The Magical Girl
genre may have begun with a handful of old-school manga aimed at being Bewitched For Kids
, but throughout its history, it's seen a lot of changes, typical plots evolving from "a kindhearted Cute Witch
does anonymous good deeds in order to pass her Magical Girl Queenliness Test
" to "an elementary-school-aged dreamer uses Older Alter Ego
to become an Idol Singer
" to "a group of Magical Girl Warriors
fights off Demonic Invaders
" — and the fun thing about it is that every single one of these plots remains viable for a story. You can even mix and match them with each other or with other genres if you really feel like it. And hey, it'll be fun!
Of course, check out So You Want To Write A Story
for all-purpose advice.
- Make your characters interesting even without magic. It is easy to get distracted by the coolness of magic, but don't forget to make your characters interesting enough that you would care about them even if they were powerless and never had powers; that way, your characters will be deep, complex, and relatable. Magic will not make your characters interesting by itself; a flat character will remain boring no matter how much magic she has.
- Personality is even more important than magic. It doesn't matter how powerful or weak your characters are; if they are interesting and relatable, you will keep people interested. Think of Spider-Man — there are superheros with the same superpowers and/or more powerful than him, but what keeps people loving him is that he is relatable and interesting, not so much because of his powers.
- Give us a reason to care: If your magical girl has a secret identity exposed, what would happen? How would her parents react? What would her boyfriend say? What would their classmates say? Would they approve?
- Break the mold. Nothing wrong with being inspired with the greats, just remember putting your own spin on things. Be a first-tier version of yourself rather than a second-tier version of someone else.
- Develop your non-magical characters too. Don't underestimate the plot potential of non-magical characters like friends and parents, as they can be used to make deep and complex plots. How, for instance, would your heroine react if her father was killed/kidnapped by the Big Bad?
- Define how having magic changes your characters' personalities and lives. Are they more confident, mischievous, serious while transformed? Or are they the same? Do they change their appearance? Is their magical self their real self or how they would like to be? Has magic improved their lives?
- Be very careful if you want to study magical girl works from hentai/eroge, they're aim at different fandom and will be Darker and Edgier than their generic counterpart, they always include rape scenes and naughty tentacles take home in these titles, so the cutesy facade won't last long and may even dip into squick or gorn. That being said, they tend to be Porn With Plot (the eroge are mostly Visual Novel) and you may be surprised by how much you can learn from them.
- First things off: magic. You need to establish it, and you need to know what it does. However, Magic A Is Magic A isn't too important, as it would be with other genres that use magic. All you need to do is make it work; you don't have to explain it with anything but a few sentences.
- Make all the naked transformation scene jokes you want, but the fact is that, especially in the olden days, a Magical Girl story was really a Coming of Age Story. You don't need to go so far as to have the main character happily abandon her powers to run off with some guy at the end, like they did in The Eighties and earlier - in fact, that really ticks modern readers off. Still, character interactions, maturation, and important milestones are good. Don't run the tropes listed under Coming Of Age Story into the ground, though. It's distracting and can get disturbing pretty fast, which isn't quite what we're looking for either.
- The Power of Friendship and The Power of Love cannot be thrown away or ignored. Most magical girls' powers run off the stuff. Even if they don't, they're still going to have to bail out their friends once in a while and work together. Even if she works alone, your main character shouldn't be completely shut out from the world all the time, unless she's going to learn how valuable the people around her are. This applies to normal, optimistic series, but also to the Sailor Nothing imitators — after all, the theme ran strongly through Sailor Nothing itself. If you absolutely have to, subvert it, deconstruct it — just don't ignore it.
- Related to the previous item, it's rare for magical girl shows not to have at least a hint of romantic two girl friendship somewhere. Mainstream series tend to either have the main character involved in one or keep it between secondary characters only, but rarely have more than two of such relationships going on at the same time. If you decide to focus on the main character, lots of mainstream series are subtle about it. A popular way is to have a fangirl pining for the main character, while the lead herself is mostly oblivious to the romantic overtones (like Tomoyo to Sakura in Card Captor Sakura). Another way is to make the feelings mutual, but to introduce a relationship ceiling (Honoka and Nagisa from Futari wa Pretty Cure). The latter is rather tricky, as it can lead to confusion with the audience — unless you aim for that. Secondary characters are fair game and you can crank up the les yay between them quite a bit (see Michiru and Haruka from Sailor Moon), but it really depends on the setting and target audience. Then again, if you're sick and tired of Hide Your Lesbians and Get Back in the Closet and you really want to give the pairing equal footing with the het ships, and no one's stopping you, why not? A number of Pretty Cure fanfics capitalize upon the Cureshipping tendencies in the show by making out-and-out canon ships between the Cures that are treated equally to the het pairings, from side characters (Hanae and Ikuko from Pretty Cure Perfume Preppy, Akira and Sora from Shining Pretty Cure) to the leads (Asa and Yoko from Futari Wa Pretty Cure Blue Moon).
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Perhaps not strictly "necessary", but very common. After all, there are plenty of young girls who fantasise about being a princess. This is because, like the Superhero, it's a power fantasy - the difference being that, where the superhero is a physical power fantasy, the princess is a social power fantasy, of commanding the love and obedience of everyone around you. Of course, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility applies to a princess as much as it does a superhero.
Are you doing a Cute Witch
story, a Magic Idol Singer
story or a Magical Girl Warrior
story? All three have their obvious perks, so it depends whether you prefer slice of life, celebrity life or saving the world as your type of Wish Fulfillment
. However, remember this:
- The Cute Witch template could use some dusting off, as it was last popular quite some time ago - but you're in the company of Kaitou Saint Tail and Ojamajo Doremi, so you're not the first to revive it. Just try and avoid making it into Bewitched like it was originally intended to be. If we wanted that, we'd watch a Magical Girlfriend show.
- The Magic Idol Singer is going to have to deal with the politics of her career, and, eventually, probably losing it in favour of a cuter, younger girl - not exactly uplifting. How are you going to get around that? (Do you plan to?)
- The Magical Girl Warrior story, no matter how original or entertaining or how many times it's been done before, will be called a Sailor Moon ripoff in the comments. It's unavoidable, so you'd better learn to deal with it.
Does your heroine work alone, or in a group? The latter has become much more common nowadays, probably because it allows The Power of Friendship
to be exercised more often. If you're doing the Magical Girl Warrior
thing, you might want to throw in a Mysterious Protector
or Aloof Ally
along with the band. (Actually, that might work for a Magic Idol Singer
Especially in a Magic Idol Singer
series, a rival
character is good for motivating your lead. You don't have to limit yourself to a singer from a competing label, though; the character works equally well as a selfish witch jealous of the Cute Witch's popularity or a Dark Magical Girl
competing for the Plot Coupons
(or anything else you can think of).
Want to throw out the genre tropes and instead use the plot devices from Humongous Mecha
series? How about shounen
battle series? Or maybe you want to send in a Deconstructor Fleet
? These can be done extremely well to a wide reception, but we only know this because of Lyrical Nanoha
and Sailor Nothing
, in that order. If you want to go off the beaten path, don't just rely on novelty - do it as well as they did.
- One must not ignore Characterization Tropes, as with everything. Nobody wants a boring cast, and nobody wants one we've seen a million times, either.
- For Magical Girl Warriors, don't just focus on the battles. No matter what the Nanoha fanbase will tell you (no offense, it's a wonderful show), character development and interaction are key to any shoujo series (or any seinen/shounen series if you decide to go the Nanoha/My-HiME route).
- Moving to the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism is for Sailor Nothing, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Dark Fic. If you want to occupy that spot yourself, do something they didn't do. You'll be written off as a Darker and Edgier mindless childhood-corruptor otherwise.
- The liberated among us plead with you not to fall to the old cliche of the heroine giving up her powers to run off with the boy. That became a Dead Horse Trope years ago.
- Magical Girl Warriors will be accused of ripping off Sailor Moon, as previously mentioned. This does not not mean that you can just go ahead and rip off Sailor Moon because they'll say you are anyway. You're not doing anyone any favours.
- Some people are going to bash your show without having watched it. Just accept it. Your show can still last. Wedding Peach has somewhat of a fanbase, even though a lot of people blindly assume it's all about how marriage is important, when it's more about how love is important (and that marriage isn't right when there isn't love).
- Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Even in Magical Girl Warrior shows, Magical Girl stories are not just about girls who have power, but the power of the feminine. Of course, including a Tomboyish character is fine, too, and one shouldn't go too far the other way, either.
Potential Subversions and Variations
- Having the Mysterious Protector go Brainwashed and Crazy makes for good emotional drama, of course, especially when he's finally gotten together with The Hero. Too bad it's been done to death. We don't want to cringe when we see that scene in Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, or any of the other series that have used it in the past, so please stop it from becoming a Dead Horse Trope. Don't worry, you can still play with it and churn out something original! Corrector Yui and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon both had the lead's close friend and teammate catch the crazy in place of her boyfriend. Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch appeared to be leading up to Gackto brainwashing Kaito, all the way up to invading his dreams and kidnapping him, but he just wanted to steal his powers and blackmail Lucia with a Friend or Idol Decision. Do something new.
- I Just Want to Be Normal. Ever since Sailor Moon said those words, people have copied them until it turned into a blur of unoriginality, not to mention ungratefulness for awesome powers. Too few girls actually want them.
- Let's get into detail here. In the Magical Girl Warrior story, if your heroine is an Ordinary High School Student, then this is actually a realistic reaction. A normal girl saddled with power that she doesn't understand, a responsibility that forces her to battle evil empires and monsters that could seriously harm or even kill her, and her line of duty costs her her social life, as well as forcing her to lie to her friends and family in order to keep the whole thing secret. That being said, make sure to turn this into Character Development instead of keeping her complaining, or she'll just come off as wangsty.
- In Magic Idol Singer or romance-themed Cute Witch stories, hold off on using this trope until your heroine has some Character Development. Unlike Magical Girl Warrior, the characters in this group aren't loaded with world-saving responsibility. If they really wanted to be normal, then you wouldn't have the story at all. But after Character Development, it's possible that some events will make her question herself, for example is she really worthy to enjoy the fame or love, or it it only because she's lucky enough to have the magic power? It's most likely that she will try to prove her worth without using her power. How it turns out should lead to more Character Development.
- For the classic "Cute Witch helping people" story...just don't use this trope, you can't justify it without changing the genre into something Darker and Edgier. Like romance-themed Cute Witch, this kind of heroine alway has a choice in using her magic or not. In fact, she usually gains the power (if she isn't born with it) because whoever granted it recognized her as a good girl, and believed that she would use it for the benefit of others. So pulling this trope is simply a case of Took a Level in Jerkass for your heroine. And if you want to do that, there is no reason to write this kind of story to start with.
- Have your heroine jump at the call. Chances are that you will make introducing the plot a naturally speedy process, and the heroine would be more than willing to play The Watson for a little while to ask about her destiny, responsiblities, and powers. Notable examples include Nanoha Takamachi and Nozomi Yumehara.
- Try mixing and matching the three genres! It's worked before and quite well, and it's not done enough to be boring yet.
- How about a male romance prospect who is an equal partner to the female lead? Emphasis on "equal", emphasis on "partner." Please don't just rely on sudden cases of helplessness to facilitate feelings of love, that are then expressed by them just talking about it nonstop. This makes the romance feel forced. Instead, try to write a female/male team that works together, that has conversations together, and that respects each other. A note: beware of perfect matches when creating romances; everybody involved should preferably be a real character.
- Why don't you try to explore the view from the sidekicks and Secret Keepers? Especially the ones who have no powers and are more often than not in the rescued side, or were skipped by The Call. At least for A Day in the Limelight or a And Now For Something Completely Different episode.
- We know Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe, and since Magical Girl Warrior series mostly take place within the last 20 years or so, so who says there's only one Magical Girl Warrior (or one team of them) active at a time? To that effect, instead of creating a Magic Girl Warrior team in the Sentai mold, go for a Justice League style group consisting of a bunch of different sorts of magical girls.
- In the same vein, how about magical girls from different cultural, ethnic, religious or socio-economic backgrounds? Take a look at For The Spirit Of Creation in the rpg.net forums, for example. It has a homeless magical girl who protects kids on the street. How about an inner-urban black or hispanic magical girl? A Military Brat girl? A Muslim girl?
- Try for a magical girl who loves the idea of the powers, but thinks all the other magical girls are doing it wrong.
- What if the villains aren't Harmless Villains? What if they're Dangerously Genre Savvy Complete Monsters who don't mind if their Starfish Aliens of the Week actually kill people (and since they might be Eldritch Abominations, it actually makes much more sense if they just don't care about it)? What if casualties are common and the battle is a long road of Break the Cutie for the heroes? This subversion might be only a good idea if you're working on a Deconstruction, though. Typical fans of the genre (young girls and...well, lolicons) just don't like to see Darker and Edgier stuff much.
- Just because your protagonists are young girls doesn't mean your show has to be a Shōjo (Demographic) series. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha proves you can write a magical girl series with plenty of action to appeal to the older male crowd. And hentai with a Magical Girl theme prove you can write a magical girl series with another kind of action to appeal to the older male crowd.
- Try doing something different with the genre. In the early days of the genre, a few magical girls were ordinary muggles who were given a magical object, like Akko-chan's mirror, or Pastel Yumi's wand. As for the object itself, its magical powers were quite specific and limited, unlike the Cute Witch. This type of magical girl has fallen out of fashion, but it's not too late to attempt a revival - only please note that while the object sometimes bestows an Older Alter Ego, this type of magical girl has nothing in common with the Magic Idol Singer or Magical Girl Warrior apart from the Transformation Sequence, and the girl could only vaguely be considered a Cute Witch. Or there's the wizard school, like Gakuen Alice or Petite Princess Yucie, where the Cute Witch must attend magic school with other witches (and sometimes wizards) in order to learn how to use magic. If you use this one, however, try not to rip off Harry Potter. Or there's the psychic, like Telepathy Girl Ran or ION, which tend to be more down to earth and feature girls who were born with their powers and discovered them at some point in their lives - telepathy and telekinesis are common, although levitation is sometimes used, and with many other pyschic powers out there, the choice is limitless. Please note, the last 2 have no transformation sequences, no signature outfits, and minimal use of bling.
- For extra humor, try adding a Gender Bender slant - the hero is a boy who turns into a girl whenever he transforms to fight evil. Or you could play the gender inversion straight and have a serious story featuring a male witch or idol singer or warrior, but remember some of the motifs, costumes and props suggested here won't apply.
- Indifferent if it's for comedic or serious value, how going full straight with the above and have a cross-dressing character in the cast? Apart from cross-dressers of either gender being highly famous, it adds another layer of "What if the character gets found out?" and "Why does the character actually act this way?"
- One idea that hasn't been explored much in magical girl stories is the idea of transgender magical girls. How about a transgender girl who becomes a magical girl, or a transboy who feels he can't come out due to his duties as a magical girl? Keep in mind that this plot would require a lot of research, as well as effort to avoid stereotypes and keep the characters from being defined by their status as transgender.
- How about setting your story in a different time period? How would magical girls function in Victorian London? Sengoku period Japan? Ancient Greece?
- What if existence of magical girls is normal to your setting? How they will alter the society? There are lot of possibility to play with. Maybe they will be used in war. Maybe the Muggles will form Cape Busters out of paranoia? Or maybe they will be treated like idol celebs? Remember to be creative, don't just pick X-Men and replace all mutants with magical girls.
- Try mixing it up a little with the variety of protagonists. Why not make the heroine the standard Broken Bird Dark Magical Girl often seen in magical girl teams instead of the usual Messiah Nice Girl? Dark magical girl types are usually quite popular with the magical girl fandom. Alternately, how about the heroine being a Deadpan Snarker Dark Magical Girl who fights for goodness, but operates in questionable manners that make more "heroic" magical girls find it hard to work with her?
Suggested Themes, Plots, and Aesops
One overall theme around Magical Girls is the Power of the Feminine, who is not necessarily "Grrl Power". In a way, a Magical Girl is a celebration of the way girls do things, and the power to overcome everything and find the strength inside herself, all while looking fabulous. Don't underestimate this wish fulfillment aspect; even if they later claim that they just want to go back to normal
, very few girls won't enjoy having a little bit of magic power to do what they want ;).
The ever-popular Be Yourself
is a very common aesop we can use, and becomes more appropriate when we focus on the Character Development
. "We can do everything with The Power of Love/Friendship
" is another popular one, because it's especially powerful for females.
Hearts. Stars. Things that look like plastic
? Jewels never go out of style.
If you're writing a team of characters, giving them a united theme is a must - but planets/gods have already been done by Sailor Moon
. What else? Ojamajo Doremi
used musical notes, Tokyo Mew Mew
had endangered animals, and Pichi Pichi Pitch
just went for colours (since the team would obviously be Colour Coded Characters
anyway). A team based on semiprecious stones is a possibility, or pick out some esoteric pattern that you like - the Zodiac, Tarot, uppity women of history (imagine moe modernized version of Hatshepsut, Joan of Arc ot Elizabeth I, or if you really push it, Gender Swap Joseph Stalin
). This will be a good starting point for crafting your team's powers and personalities, and you could base villains around them, too (Elizabeth I faces off against the despicable Spanish Armada Five! For example.)
are commonly used in Magical Girl series, and for good reason - fairy tales are stories, often with a young girl as a major character and magic as a major element, with enough resonance to have endured for centuries. With some shows, the connections to such tales are referenced (Prétear
, Princess Tutu
, among others), others simply base storylines on fairy tales (e.g. the first arc of Sailor Stars
is based on "The Snow Queen
". Don't just go by the Disney versions - add your own take on the stories, and do the research - you'll probably find at least a few stories that you hadn't heard of, but would make great motifs to include in your story.
Set Designer / Location Scout
These kinds of stories tend to be set in the present day, usually in a big city. Tokyo is popular.
The bad guys in a Magical Girl Warrior series will live in a sea of black, purple and gray. It could just look like a void with only those colours in it, but you can always add some variety by making it a fortress, a ruin, even an office building
if you really want it to.
Cute, pink, plastic weapons and accessories are a must.
In a Cute Witch series, you could use some typical witch accessories - usually for magic purposes, but maybe when she's fretting over the lunch she's making for that cute boy in her class, she's cooking it in a big pink cauldron with heart-shaped jewels on the sides. In a Magic Idol Singer series, showy microphones and cute stage show props should be within arm's reach. In a Magical Girl Warrior series, Improbable Weapon Users
are the most popular, but the Lady of War
might have a glowy or jewel-studded sword. All three types like wands.
Cute. Flashy. Impossibly Cool Clothes
. The Cute Witch should have a few witchy elements to her design, like a pointed hat and short spiky dress, but should look adorable overall rather than threatening. For the Idol Singer, check the streets and fashion magazines, and check them often. Try some Frilly Upgrades
for your Magical Girl Warrior, and put your Dark Magical Girl
in leather or Spikes of Villainy
. Overall, when in doubt, err on the cute side.
Magical Girl Warriors: Ballet-fu, Le Parkour
, and lots and lots of twirling to shoot beams of death out of your parasol or heart-shaped flute. The other types don't have to worry about this.
Magical Girl Warrior
Magic Idol Singer
- Sailor Moon: Pretty much set the standards of the tropes for a majority of the shows that came after it, including the multi-character team concept and Transformation Sequences.
- Magical Project S though not very popular it's both a parody and a deconstruction of the genre , it lampshades and makes fun of magical girl tropes (Which will help you understand and play with them.).
- Shugo Chara!: At least began with a very interesting lead. Is quite retro in that Amu does Stock Footage attacks rather than Precure type fight scenes,but is also about good vs evil so doesn't quite fit into other categories. It even later lets boys transform and at one point has 4 boys and 4 girls.
- Card Captor Sakura: A good example of a series where the heroine works alone (okay, so she has a Fairy Companion in Kero, but that's beside the point) and is quite enthusiastic about her new powers. She's half this and half Cute Witch; CLAMP worked off their fuzzy childhood memories to create a "typical" magical girl series, but ended up with one of the most original things that the genre had seen.
- The Pretty Cure franchise is good for a post-modern feel, twisting, subverting and playing with the genre tropes all over the place. Their girls fist-fight, have Wonder Twin Powers (at least for the first two continuities), and take The Power of Friendship to a whole new level.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica provides a good example of Deconstructed Trope in the most brutal way.
- Fancy Lala is an old-school, cutesy-plastic-transformation-pen whirl through the Magic Idol Singer's life. Yes, it's old, and it uses some storytelling devices that the modern day rolls its eyes at - but the main character's use of creativity to tweak her own powers should alone grab some attention, plus there's the nostalgia factor and knowing the roots of the genre.
- Full Moon O Sagashite is an early-2000s anime by Tanemura Arina. If you know her, you know exactly what you'll get. This is a Tear Jerker with a lot of relationship drama, from family to friends to love triangles, and sometimes a combination of two or more of the three.
Non-Shoujo Genre Hybrids - these are gaining in popularity
- A modern example is Ojamajo Doremi, which is adorable condensed. The art style might put you off if you're not into that sort of thing, but it's a good crash course for the do-gooder witch (even though they might be a little selfish sometimes). The main characters sometimes have a quest or two, but never to the level of the Magical Girl Warrior's workload - these girls just want to be happy.
- A much more classic example is Magical Princess Minky Momo, both the original and early 1990s remake. The original is famous (some may say infamous) for its Downer Ending — the main character is run over by a car and dies.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: This show's popularity proves that strong characterization and entertaining writing can make even a premise that seems blatantly ridiculous on the surface great fun to watch. Though keep in mind that only the first two episodes have any semblance to a Magical Girl show. The rest of the episodes are Slice of Life.
The Epic Fails
Princess Magical Finish! Wasn't that fun? Hey, what do you mean you asked for that Engrish loli girl? Stupid fanservice always stealing my business... I need a new destiny. This career isn't working out.