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Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction

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The Magical Girl and Magical Girl Warrior genres are very popular genres for anime and manga in Japan; they're also popular internationally, with several non-Japanese works being produced for the genres. They're normally fluffy Coming Of Age Stories usually featuring a cast of young 8-15 year old girls who gain magical powers thanks to a Transformation Trinket. However, in the 2010s, a new sub-genre began to form: the Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction, usually called "Dark Magical Girl" in anime fandom, though that is a different trope here.

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Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction anime are almost never aimed at little girls. They're usually Subverted Kids Shows aimed at men (and, more rarely, teenage boys and women).

This genre twists the normal Wish Fulfillment part of most Magical Girl shows by showing that the magical powers aren't all fun and games but serious responsibilities. These works are deconstructions where being a Magical Girl comes with various real-life complications that end up actually preventing the wish-fulfillment. This often comes in the form of trying to be Darker and Edgier. Common themes of these series are that you should Be Careful What You Wish For and that Growing Up Sucks (in sharp contrast with how traditional Magical Girl works treat pseudo-adulthood as a form of empowerment). While "magical" is traditionally meant in the sense of "wondrous", here it's more of an aesthetic - you can expect the protagonist's identity to be common knowledge, and/or for there to be an entire class of similarly empowered people in which she's only a small cog. Sometimes they are treated as Child Soldiers, with all the horrors that entails. If the protagonist is a Stock Shoujo Heroine, then she will often end up a Deconstructed Character Archetype. You can expect them to emphasize that being a magical girl is Not a Game.

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Straight examples of Magical Girl rarely use the term "magical girl" In-Universe (and because the fantasy is based around a desire to grow up, they might even find it insulting). However, most stories like this use "magical girl" exclusively, to the point of extending it to characters who are adults or even male (because the fantasy is based around nostalgia for childhood).

2011's Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the Trope Codifier for this genre (but it's not the earliest example). It's an anime which starts off looking like a normal Magical Girl story but takes an unexpected turn three episodes in, and portrays the stereotypical Mentor Mascot as a figure more akin to Mephistopheles. The series' twist proved popular enough that other works soon began exploring more serious interpretations of Magical Girls as well.

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Madoka Magica was in turn heavily influenced by the Henshin Hero series, Kamen Rider Ryuki, one of the more deconstructive entries in the Kamen Rider franchise, which would eventually lead to Madoka's creator writing Kamen Rider Gaim, a series with a Ryuki-esque format and a Central Theme of Growing Up Sucks. While Kamen Riders are no stranger to darkness, Ryuki threw the whole idea of Riders being heroes out the window, with a whopping 13 people gaining Transformation Trinkets (which weren't a magically summoned part of the Rider's body like past entries, but physical items that could be damaged or stolen) and forced to fight each other to the death.

Note: Before adding examples, please read Not a Deconstruction, as not all Darker and Edgier Magical Girl series count. Shamanic Princess, for example, is a dark Magical Girl Warrior series but it doesn't feature the deconstruction or subversive elements associated with this genre. Many traditional Magical Girl works, such as Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure, and even classic Magical Girl anime like Magical Princess Minky Momo each feature dark elements, however they're not considered Magical Girl Genre Deconstructions.

Compare to Real Robot Genre (in contrast to Super Robot Genre), Capepunk, The Dark Age of Comic Books, and '90s Anti-Hero (many works are to Magical Girls in the 2010s what these were to superheroes in the 90s). Contrast Not Wearing Tights.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dai Mahou Touge at first seems to be a typical Magical Girl Queenliness Test anime- that is, until Punie, the main character, begins using wrestling submission holds upon people. The further you get, the more you learn that Punie is not a nice person, nor is her family.
  • Granbelm: the main character, Mangetsu, is a Stock Shoujo Heroine — kind, sweet, and helpful. She feels empty and unfulfilled because she actually is just a creation of Magic with no actual history. Magic power is a terrible thing that has been locked away for 1000 years for good reason. It lures young girls every generation into Battle Royale in cute Super Robots, where their dreams will be destroyed and many are erased to the point of never having existed in the first place.
  • Il Sole penetra le illusioni, also known as Daybreak Illusion, features magical girls who want to fight monsters... but then they discover that not only are the monsters created from corrupted humans, but they can't defeat the monsters without killing the humans as well—even humans who never wanted to be monstrous.
  • Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne: A precursor (1997), but main character Maron suffers from Clinical Depression as a result of Parental Abandonment, and her magical companion and friend Fin is actually a fallen angel working for the Devil.
  • In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, Magical Girls are widely known and are treated as soldiers by governments. The protagonist is a Shell-Shocked Veteran magical girl formerly attached to the JSDF who just wants to live an ordinary life after years of fighting monsters, but keeps getting dragged back in because there aren't many Magical Girls left.
  • Parodied in Mahou Shoujo Ore. It hits all the high points but takes them to such extremes that what is horrifying for Saki becomes hilarious to the audience:
    • Saki's wish to get together with Mahiro is fulfilled in a Monkey's Paw way. True, he Loves Her Alter Ego, but considering what that alter ego is, her regular self never had a chance.
      • In a Generation Xerox, her father was the same way with her mother, preferring her buff, male magical alter ego.
    • Saki wanted a perfect body — she got Goku's version, not Sailor Moon's. The former is much more realistic for physically smashing evil after all.
    • Unlike most Magic Idol Singers, she hates using her transformed body to perform. And while using it does boost her group's popularity, the sales also come from the novelty of seeing two crossdressing buff men singing rather than any skill they have.
    • Combat is anything but elegant (such as in Pretty Cure). Instead, it's a brutal hand-to-hand battle, leaving behind a horrible, bloody mess.
  • Mahou Shoujo Ni Akogarete is a highly sexual action/comedy work about Utena Hiragi a girl who dreams about being a magical girl but actually ends up being a Dark Magical Girl. While at first horrified Utena discovers a hidden side to herself as she fights her admired heroines, she likes it...a lot
  • Mahou Shoujo Site: The suicidal main character is horribly abused by her brother and brutally bullied by a Girl Posse before becoming a Magical Girl. A website called the "Mahou Shoujo Site" specifically targets troubled young girls and asks them if they want to become magical girls. Once she becomes one, it turns out that using her powers steals from her lifespan. There is also a Battle Royale among the magical girls. While The Power of Friendship is a major element, it doesn't prevent it from falling into this genre given the other effects.
  • Mai-HiME is an early example that either tosses or examines many of the standard tropes of the Magical Girl genre. Fancy costumes (except for the Cosplay Otaku Girls) and secret identities are not in use. The Power of Love that powers the HiME is shown to be a tainted love that drives several girls to insanity and murder, and the defeat of a magical girl kills whoever they love the most. The military gets involved in magical girl affairs midway through due to the actions of a secret society, but their forces are defeated by magical firepower. Even Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World is deconstructed, since in a world of magical battles, going to class really stops mattering by the midway point (or earlier, if you're Natsuki).
  • Mai-Otome takes a minor subplot of its predecessor and puts it in full view: Magical girls have the power of fighter aircraft? Then they'll be treated as weapons of mass destruction and taken into the service of their nations, and they'll fight wars rather than the Monster of the Week. Also, the tendency for magical girl series to have a Cast Full of Gay and strong yuri undertones is also spotlighted, because sperm destroys the Otome nanomachines, so Otome are expected to sleep with girls, and the Academy's culture includes sexual relationships between sempai and kohai. While the latter is fully romanticized, some Otome are actually straight and in love with men, leading to comedy and angst in equal proportion.
  • Nurse Angel Ririka SOS presages the genre and was released in 1996. Its displays several elements of this genre despite predating it by well over a decade. Ririka is a ten-year-old who must fight an alien invasion against the evil organization Dark Joker. It's a normal Magical Girl Warrior anime but then the Wham Episode hits. Ririka is forced to kill her crush and friend, Kanou. Ririka soon begins doubting her resolve. As it turns out. Ririka is actually the reincarnation of the original Nurse Angel and is the flower she's been looking the entire series. The series ends with Ririka commiting a Heroic Sacrifice, but the very final scene reveals that she survived. The unanswered question, however, is whether her family and friends still remember her.
  • Oku-sama wa Mahou Shoujo is a more lighthearted Deconstruction, exploring instead what happens when the Magical Girl grows too old to be called a "girl" anymore, with the main character now 26, and married, but refuses to give up her power to her teenaged replacement, as it would undo all her own efforts for the town.
  • Otasuke Miko Miko-chan is very, very fond of playing with the conventions of the Magical Girl genre. The most obvious ways are how Ayumu as Miko-chan is used primarily to sell merchandise and advertise the shrine, that his magical familiar is more of a manager than anything else, and that he is a reluctant cross-dresser.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the Trope Codifier. It's a Magical Girl franchise featuring an adorable art-style but a dark and depressing plot. As it turns out, all Magical Girls are destined to become the Witches they fight and the Transformation Trinket is in fact their soul itself. Another Deconstruction is of the cute Mentor Mascot, who is here the true Big Bad and more of a classic Devil - a contract for the soul that is never quite what it seems, and in the lives of the magical girls, who experience combat fatigue and wear down mentally. However, the series ends on a Decon-Recon Switch for The Power Of Heart: naive young Madoka invokes the vast power from her wish to effect a vast Cosmic Retcon, preventing witches from having ever existed and becoming the embodiment of Hope in the process. The ultimate message is profoundly Anti-Nihilist: this world may be grim and messed-up, but it's never wrong to keep on hoping and fighting to make it a better place.
  • Re:CREATORS: Among the fictional characters transported to reality is Mamika Kirameki, star of the (in-universe) kids' show Magical Slayer Mamika, whose design evokes something from Pretty Cure but whom in the "outer" setting functions more as an Expy of Madoka Kaname. Being from a Lighter and Softer work than the other Creations, she fights by shooting pink hearts and Energy Balls that knock people out without hurting them... so she's horrified to learn that in the transition to Earth (or possibly due to the influence of her Periphery Demographic), she's become a Person of Mass Destruction whose attacks make people actually bleed. In the end, while she becomes a little more stoic, she manages to retain her idealism and become the Token Good Teammate of Altair's faction (as well as the Living Emotional Crutch of Aliceteria, a female Captain Ersatz of Guts). At least until figuring out that Altair is an Omnicidal Maniac and dying in a failed attempt to kill her. The reality of the creators does not have the same genre expectations as the world she came from.
  • 1997's Revolutionary Girl Utena is a shoujo with Magical Girl influences, though it's not a full-fledged Magical Girl work. Utena is a fourteen year old girl who wants to be a prince some day after being inspired by a princely man she met seven years ago. At her middle school, she becomes involved in a secretive swordfighting tournament held by the student council. While fighting this tournament she meets a similarly aged girl, dubbed the "Rose Bride", Anthy. What follows is a surreal story about Innocence Lost and Coming Of Age revolving around a Dysfunction Junction.
  • Initially played straight with Senki Zesshou Symphogear, which seems to utilize magical girls as tools to fight wars with extraminensional entities, as well as almost completely averting the usual Adults Are Useless trope found in Traditional Magical Girl Settings to the point that viewers early on thought it was a Madoka clone (Not helped by Aoi Yuki playing the lead like with Madoka), only to outright defy it HARD by the first seasons end, turning into an optimistic, hotblooded Magical Girl Super Robot fusion by season 2 onwards. Its suitably epic as a result.
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero is the first in the multimedia franchise Yuusha De Aru where a group of young girls dubbed "Heroes" are assigned by the government to save their island from monsters called "Vertexes". Within a few episodes, it becomes clear that they're closer to Child Soldiers than Kid Heroes. The initial anime takes place in a Cosy Catastrophe 300 years in the future. The entire world has been wiped out except for one Japanese island, with everything outside of the wall being an Acid-Trip Dimension. Heroes must protect the World Tree from Vertexes but it's a Hopeless War because there are always more Vertexes. Every time a Hero goes Mankai they permanently give up a part of themselves (their hearing, eyesight, ability to walk, memories, etc) to the World Tree. Eventually, they'll end up bed-bound, but in exchange for having god-like abilities and being worshiped by the Taisha. To add insult to injury, their Fairy Companion prevents death or suicide (a rule inacted after an elementary schooler Hero, Gin from Washio Sumi Is A Hero, died in battle).

    Fan Works 

    Literature 
  • The Daughters of the Moon series definitely counts. While it is pretty lighthearted overall, it does get increasingly darker as the series goes on, with big changes to the member lineup and the coming of the final eclipse approaching. By the end of the series, one of the members leaves to live in another dimension permanently, another has no memories of her time as a Daughter, and two of them are dead.
  • In Magical Girl Raising Project, a middle schooler named Koyuki has always wanted to be a magical girl and still adores magical girls even after her peers have outgrown them. She plays a free-to-play mobile game called Magical Girl Rising Project that, rumor has it, allows one in every few thousand people to become a real Magical Girl (regardless of their age or gender). Koyuki ends up one of the people and gets turned into a Magical Girl whose alias is "Snow White". She and a group of other magical girls act as superheroes around their district. One day Fav, the fairy mascot who made them all magical girls, mentions that he accidentally allowed too many in one region and has to downsize by half. It's soon revealed that those who stop being magical girls die. Even if you voluntarily quit being a magical girl, you'll still die. This quickly leads into a Battle Royale between the magical girls as each one fights to make sure they're not the one who is forced to quit, with most of them dead by the end.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon ends up deconstructing its own source material in increasingly surprising ways as it diverges from the original story, until, by the end, Sailor Moon herself has become the Omnicidal Maniac villain; the senshi's power source, the Silver Crystal, turns out to have really been an Artifact of Doom; and erstwhile villain Queen Beryl is revealed to have actually been trying to save the world, albeit only so she could rule it. The deconstruction arises here as a result of the audience's own genre expectations about the senshi's Power of Friendship and the motivation of the Card Carrying Villains, and how naive and dangerous it'd actually be for the heroines to make such assumptions.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Princess: The Hopeful is based on the idea how magical girls would fare in a setting like Chronicles of Darkness. It's not easy to keep hope alive and spread Light in a world where darkness has basically already won but it is possible. Different factions of magical girls may disagree on the details of things like "what is right" to the point that they attack each other, but they can still work together. If you want to be an All-Loving Hero then you should take precautions when helping a potentially dangerous creature.

    Web Comics 
  • Miss Guillotine: Many of the Magical Girls are treated like celebrities. But instead of sweet girls, most are actually Alpha Bitches who regularly bully other people. One magical girl actually went through plastic surgery just so she would look beautiful to match her name.
  • Shattered Starlight has started to show some of the realistic results of a Magical Girl lifestyle, especially after growing up, with Farrah showing some signs of PTSD and having trouble keeping a regular job, the team apparently having broken apart after some event hinted to have ended with a member dying, and the former team mentor is now near-constantly drunk.
  • Sleepless Domain is an Animesque webcomic where Magical Girls serve as Child Soldiers to protect the city from monsters, but are treated like pop star celebrities, complete with interviews, merchandising and plenty of gossip. Being a Magical Girl has a high injury risk, but - as a cheerful poster claims - registered ones have a 70% lower risk of severe injury or death.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe: The titular character starts out as an innocent, naive boy who happens to have three super-powered women called The Crystal Gems as his primary guardians, and powers he inherited from his late mother, Rose Quartz. However, things slowly begin to change as Steven starts taking a more active role in the Gems' missions. Over the series, the Crystal Gems are all shown to have their own flaws that are capable of hurting those around them, and Rose Quartz is revealed to not be the perfect warrior she is initially built up to be. Steven himself ends up going through a large amount of trauma due to the battles he takes part in, and he begins to develop an inferiority complex due to everyone comparing him to his late mother and expecting him to fix her mistakes. Despite all this, Steven never stops being an All-Loving Hero who will only resort to fighting back if he sees absolutely no other option.
    • Steven Universe: Future Deconstructed further as a older Steven realizes that he spent so much time fixing everyone else's issues that once everyone is happy, he has no idea what to do with himself. He needs to be needed, seeing everyone moving on with their lives just makes him miserable.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: A major deconstruction of The '80s version of the show. Adora has to deal with a major Guilt Complex due to both old and new friends fighting and she has to destroy the She-Ra power due to the fact it was created by Omnicidal Maniacs, Glimmer is extremely insecure about her capabilities and when her mother dies she has to become Queen, resulting in a Took a Level in Jerkass that made things worse for everyone. The princesses are unknowingly not magical but powered by Magitek that was designed by A Nazi by Any Other Name. The Horde is a very morally blended group with Hordak being a failing clone just trying to earn his validation from Horde Prime. Catra's ambition does more harm than good to her and her obsession with Adora's defection Leads to her nearly destroying the universe in a Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum that results in most of the Horde defecting when she pulls The Starscream. Yet after all this, someone has to fight the good fight.

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