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 an 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. So You Want To Write A Superhero Comic can also be useful (especially for Magical Girl Warriors), particularly the sections on rogues' galleries and team dynamics. Likewise, since many Magical Girl works are set in the modern day, a good reading of So You Want To Write An Urban Fantasy would not be remiss.
- 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 superheroes 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 her secret identity exposed, what would happen? How would her parents react? What would her love interest say? What about her friends and classmates? Would they approve? If your heroine(s) has nothing to lose and random one-shot characters we never had time to care about are the only lives at stake, the audience simply won't care. It doesn't matter how many people a villain kills or how many big secrets are revealed — if no emotions are involved, it won't be interesting, no matter how dramatic the situation is supposed to be.
- 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 kidnapped or killed 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 and eroge, as they're aimed at a very different demographic and will be Darker and Edgier than their generic counterpart. As with most hentai, sexual assault, rape scenes, and Naughty Tentacles are common here, so the cutesy facade won't last long and may even dip into squick or gorn. Rarely, one of these series might just have a concept that can stand on its own when cleaned up for general audiences — as Lyrical Nanoha and other Bleached Underpants series can attest — but in many cases there simply isn't enough substance.
- Break the mold. There's nothing wrong with being inspired by the greats, but always remember to put your own spin on things. Be a first-tier version of yourself, rather than a second-tier version of someone else.
- 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 — her powers came with levels of agency, fashion, and sometimes even size normally reserved for adults, but on her own terms, thus helping to ease the transition into full-time adulthood. 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 '80s 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 more deconstructive ones in the vein of Madoka Magica — after all, the theme ran strongly through the works that gave rise to this sub-genre in the first place. If you absolutely have to, subvert it, deconstruct it — just don't ignore it.
- Princess Protagonist: Perhaps not strictly "necessary", but very common. After all, there are plenty of young girls who fantasize 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. The Central Theme of Go Princess Precure was what it meant to be a princess, so that's definitely worth looking at.
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, too...).
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). When writing a Magical Girl Warrior team, each member should get her own rival to face off against throughout the arc (barring an occasional Opponent Switch), and the rivals may or may not band together into a Psycho Rangers team.
Are magical girls the only characters with access to magic? If there's a whole Wainscot Society of adult wizards running around, then you may need a further Unique Protagonist Asset to explain why they haven't resolved the plot themselves. Maybe magical girls have a different kind of magic that's stronger or better suited to the problems at hand (e.g. only magical girl powers can affect The Heartless), or maybe the other magic-users just live in Another Dimension and have no investment in what's going on.
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, or just make a darker series? These can be done extremely well to a wide reception, but we only know this because of Lyrical Nanoha, My-HiME, Sailor Nothing, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, 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, 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). Fancy special effects and Calling Your Attacks are not what makes Nanoha's battles great—rather, it's the fact that in every battle, something very personal and important for its participants is at stake. Nanoha defeats her future friends not by being the World's Best Warrior (she's not), but by only ever fighting for what she believes in and cares about—and then giving it her all.
- Moving to the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism? It should be noted that Madoka spawned a whole slew of dark shows already, so just putting some death and hopelessness in won't help your cause without substance. 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 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.
- Magic Idol Singer stories can run out of steam very quickly, since many of the usual driving factors for a performer (honing her skills, seeking out new teachers to expand her horizons, entering high-stakes competitions, practicing late into the night, etc.) are made redundant when she gains everything she needs through magic. While you can throw in a jealous female rival, a love interest (or several), a few festivals and competitions, and some scandal to spice things up a bit, that's about the limit — it's hard to wring a multi-episode plot out of a premise that revolves around instant gratification. As such, successful Magic Idol Singer stories are generally either one-shots or have a few ongoing subplots to pad things out — mixing in Cute Witch or Magical Girl Warrior elements is popular, as is using an Ensemble Cast.
- Given all the emphasis on The Power of Friendship, The Power of Love, and youths getting a taste of adult responsibility, it's not uncommon for magical girls to end up in a Pseudo-Romantic Friendship. However, this can have Unfortunate Implications if the subtext is too strong and it comes across as a full-blown lesbian romance... that the characters then "grow out of". Understand why characters are written this way and what it can contribute to the story, rather than just doing it for its own sake. If you want to write lesbians, you don't need to be sly about it — even in the 90s, Sailor Moon had a bisexual lead and a clear-cut lesbian couple introduced in the third arc.
- Don't abuse of the Improbably Female Cast trope, despite the genre being centred around women and feminity that doesn't mean that all men have to be written off or be used as a either a Living Prop or a Satellite Character, especially when they are supposed to be someone close to a member of the cast or if the setting can allow them to help the team or heroine in a meaningful way.
Potential Subversions and Variations
- Ever since Sailor Moon first uttered those words, they have been copied over and over again into a blur of unoriginality, not to mention ungratefulness for awesome powers. Too few girls actually want the powers they get.
- 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 is 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, we'll be blunt: you can't justify this trope without changing the genre into something Darker and Edgier. Like romance-themed Cute Witch, this kind of heroine always 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.
- Or Take a Third Option. Rather than outright refusing or jumping at the call, have your heroine take some time to think about it before accepting her destiny. After all, it's a big decision, and once she makes it, there's probably no going back.
- 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 All-Loving Hero 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?
- Be careful on this though. While having a magical girl that isn't as noble as the others make sure that you're still giving a reader a reason to want to root for the character.
- Have a magical girl series be about a character who is a seasoned magical girl but was once a Dark Magical Girl. The series could be about her struggling to atone for her horrible crimes while fighting evil in the process. Not something that is done often.
- In a similar vein, have the seasoned magical girl be the mentor to an upcoming magical girl. In other magical girl series it usually focuses on the magical girl that just starts out in her career, but having the magical girl be the mentor would add a whole new layer to the story and has Character Development potential for both parties (the Cynical Mentor becomes more hopeful and the Wide-Eyed Idealist becomes more grounded).
- Older magical girls with families are a largely unexplored territory. Maybe a magical girl has a mother who also took up the calling, and who may team up with her when the going gets really serious.
- Try for a magical girl who loves the idea of the powers, but thinks all the other magical girls are doing it wrong.
- For extra humor, try adding a Super Gender-Bender slant — the hero is a boy who turns into a girl whenever he transforms to fight evil. You could even play with that and transform a girl into a non-/crossdressing boy to use her powers, and see how she deals with it. 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?"
- An unironic, non-crossdressing Magical Boy may be an interesting way to shake the genre up; a boy learning to work with the power of the feminine or contrasting it with his daily life may serve as a subtle sort of juxtaposition with characters of his archetype in different genres. It doesn't even have to be a comment on anything; he may just like or use his new powers like any other (as the Earth Defenders have shown us). You could even make the story a conceptual Day in the Limelight for an archetype, such as turning a male character who would normally be The One Guy or a Mysterious Protector into a magical boy. Don't rule out possibilities of how a Cute Warlock could help out in his story. If you're writing this in the "Warrior" subgenre, don't fall into the trap of having to "justify" why he's going outside of his usual gender roles (like "he's girly enough already"); if a girl can become a Tokusatsu-style Henshin Heroine or a Sentai squaddie without justifying gender choice, he shouldn't have to either.
- 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.
- What if your magical girl goes the Fantastic Four route and doesn't bother with keeping a Secret Identity? It would make for some different storylines that haven't really been explored.
Teams of magical girls
- 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? An Ojou with Hidden Depths?
- How about a seasoned magical girl who originally was only solo and now suddenly has a team to work with? The Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism can be explored in depth this way thanks to the seasoned MG being more cynical due to her experiences, while the rest of the team are raw rookies who are Wide Eyed Idealists.
- In a series where magical girls are The Chosen One, how about a character who wasn't chosen but manages to join a team of magical girls anyway? While a pure Badass Normal won't always make sense, she could still get her hands on a magical weapon that anyone can use, or be a Weak, but Skilled user of a more common type of magic. An Ascended Fangirl character might even create a completely unnecessary Transformation Sequence for herself, just to emulate her heroes.
- Having the Mysterious Protector go Brainwashed and Crazy makes for good emotional drama, of course, especially when they've finally gotten together with the heroine. 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.
- How about a 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 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.
- Having the Mysterious Protector be The One Guy to an Amazon Brigade has been done plenty of times. Instead, why not have a male counterpart for each girl? Or at least consider having more than one. Mysterious protectors need guy friends, and the other girls deserve the chance to have someone too.
- Why not make the heroine's love interest be, instead of a Mysterious Protector Distressed Dude, a villain from the Quirky Miniboss Squad? It could provide some interesting Character Development for both parties involved, and maybe add in a factor of Love Redeems. (The love interest in general doesn't necessarily have to be male, either.)
- 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 Formula-Breaking Episode.
- What if the villains aren't Harmless Villains? What if they're 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 Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction, though. Typical fans of the genre just don't like to see Darker and Edgier stuff much.
- Try mixing and matching the three genres! It's worked before and quite well, and it's not done enough to be boring yet.
- 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 I.O.N, 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 psychic powers out there, the choice is limitless. Please note, the last 2 have no transformation sequences, no signature outfits, and minimal use of bling.
- The vast majority of magical girl series are set in a modern (usually Japanese) city in the present day — but they don't have to be. How might magical girls function in, say, Victorian London? Japan during the Sengoku Period? World War II-era Europe? Ancient Imperial China? A post-apocalyptic wasteland?
- What if the existence of magical girls is normal and accepted in your setting? How would they alter society? There are lot of possibilities here to play with: perhaps they would be drafted by the military to be used as Human Weapons, or maybe they would be treated as celebrities who fight the forces of evil live on TV? Remember to be creative, don't just pick X-Men and replace all the mutants with magical girls.
- Just because your protagonists are young girls doesn't mean you have to aim for the Shōjo Demographic. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha proves you can write a magical girl series with plenty of action to appeal to the older male crowd. That being said, don't be ashamed of making your magical girls as girly as they come and still trying to reach adults; franchises like Aikatsu! and Pretty Series may not have action scenes and features lots of fashion and frills, but they maintain a wide appeal with kids and adults alike.
- If you want a darker story, then consider using the War Is Hell trope. Many magical girl anime state that the war between the Magical Land and the demons has been going on for very long time, yet the effect is rarely seen. Some possibilities including:
- A magical girl whose normal life is completely ruined by the demons and becomes an Anti-Hero motivated by revenge. She may be willing to kill some civilians under the demon's control, as well as capture and subject a demon to Cold-Blooded Torture interrogation.
- A Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who acts like an Actual Pacifist and keeps preaching about how they should try to understand and coexist with demons, only to reveal later that she has given up on stopping demons and become The Mole in the hope of becoming an elite person on the conquered Earth.
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.
If you're writing a team of characters, giving them a united theme is a must — but planets/Roman 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). There are no shortage of patterns or motifs on which you could base your team of girls — there's the Tarot, the Zodiac (Eastern or Western), precious metals or gemstones, or even influential women from history (imagine moe modernized versions of Hatshepsut, Joan of Arc, and Elizabeth I?), just to give a few ideas. 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.)
Fairytale Motifs 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.
While it's noted that the magical girl is the power of the feminine, that doesn't mean your magical girl's motifs must be something cute and adorable. Take a look at Moe Anthropomorphism, and you will notice that you can make adorable outfits and gadgets out of almost everything, as long as you're creative. So, for example, if you're designing a team of magical girls with bug motifs, and want a strong one to fit with a Tomboy girl with sheer combat prowess, what should you choose? Dragonflies and ladybugs are fine, as are the Japanese Beetle Brothers, but even a mantis isn't out of question as long as you can design a cute costume out of it (and have no problem with magical girls tearing monsters apart with sickle-like blades).
While not all magical girls exhibit this convention, most follow the general rule of a theme title + a noun for their alter ego identities.
For example, the naming convention for the sailor scouts is "Sailor" + a planetary name or body.
This can also be seen in Tokyo Mew Mew with "Mew" + a food or plant, and in the Pretty Cure franchise as "Cure" + any noun, seriously, there are hundreds.
Other examples which are similar: Princess Tutu and Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir. Though in these examples, the theme lies in the noun, rather than the title and the naming convention for Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir is an adjective + an animal, removing the title aspect completely.
Potential Genre Mixes
- Fantasy: Well, since they involve magic, magical girl series are technically fantasy to begin with, but what we mean here is "secondary world" fantasy, set on a world other than Earth. Many High Fantasy genre conventions can mesh well with magical girls, as seen in works like Magic Knight Rayearth and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.
- Science Fiction: You could rationalise the "magical" devices as Sufficiently Advanced Technology or Magitek, and things like alien races have long been included in the magical girl genre. Going too far toward Hard SF probably won't work. Space Opera, on the other hand, can work wonderfully — see Sailor Moon and Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure.
- Horror: Horror is actually not too far removed from the magical girl genre — after all, the "mahou" in "mahou shoujo" literally means "demon arts", and witchcraft and the occult are staples of horror fiction. Putting a lot of emphasis on the horror elements will probably only work in a darker, Madoka-esque series, but lighter quantities can still work in a more traditional series (after all, even a kid-friendly show like Sailor Moon had its fair share of Nightmare Fuel, especially for younger viewers) — have the magical girls be the ones who can fight the Things That Go "Bump" in the Night, and you have something that's basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer with more frills and sparkles. Or do a Lovecraft Lite series, where they blow away the Eldritch Abomination with the power of love and friendship. Going the other way, adding magical girl elements to a horror work could give you something like Vampire Princess Miyu.
- Fighting Series/Martial Arts: This can be good to include elements from if you want to have more hand-to-hand combat in your show, rather than just shooting energy beams. One difficulty may be what is the source of the characters' powers is — in martial arts stories, the heroes usually come about their abilities by study and practice. Conversely in magical girl stories, either the characters' abilities are theirs by birthright, or they are granted them by a higher power — usually because they have somehow proven themselves worthy, but sometimes purely by accident. How are you going to resolve this? Perhaps they are given the trinkets to activate their powers, but then have to train in order to unlock their full potential? Works that combine the genres usually fall on one side or the other — Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid is essentially a martial arts series whose cast happen to be magical girls, while Saint Dragon Girl's lead is more of a magical girl who happens to also be a martial artist.
- Superhero: While the Magical Girl Warrior subgenre already covers this, it could be interesting to do a story which involves a magical girl meeting an American-style superhero, comparing and contrasting their styles and approaches.
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.
- How about a Magical Boy once in a while? And don't go cliche and make him have a mean personality.
- Mahou Profile provides in-depth reviews of Magical Girl shows.
- 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).
- And it also deconstructs the genre showing how a normal girl with heavy real life problems would act if she had magical powers with Pixy Misa: Pixy Misa (A crazy Dark Magical Girl enemy of Sammy and a Villainous Harlequin being the repressed aspects of the personality (and hidden self) of Misao Amano (a Shrinking Violet and best friend of Sammy) (not brainwashing as it was initially thought)
- Shugo Chara!: Begins with an interesting concept of Playing With both Be Yourself and Beneath the Mask, both deconstructing and reconstructing them in turn. 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. Can be used as an example that proves good characters and strong writing can make a show that could easily be downright absurd or even childish be enjoyable for many people.
- Cardcaptor 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. Of course, since it's been running since 2004, it's had its highs (Futari wa Pretty Cure, HeartCatch Pretty Cure!) and lows (Suite Pretty Cure ♪, Maho Girls Pretty Cure!)
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a brutal, Darker and Edgier Deconstruction of the whole idea of untrained teen-aged girls facing unfathomable evils in superpowered battles with hundreds of innocent lives at stake.
- Magical Stage 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 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.
- A later 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.
Non-Shoujo Genre Hybrids — these are gaining in popularity
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: A rare example of a magical girl series set for older audiences. People who hate magical girls love it, because after the first few episodes, it turns into a Humongous Mecha series pretending to be a Magical Girl series. The Ship Tease and Fanservice are a side bonus.
- My-HiME: A good shonen-oriented series, though it doesn't skimp on magical powers or character interaction and/or development. Not to mention is quite willing to deconstruct certain aspects of the genre, including the Power of Love!
- Sailor Nothing: A very dark deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre that is entertaining in its own right.
- My-Otome: A politically-themed series in which magical girls are servants for heads of state and weapons of war. Starts off light-hearted, but takes a darker turn. Could provide ideas for a series with no Masquerade. Also notable for being populated mostly by alternate versions of the My-HiME verse, making it an official Alternate Universe spin-off....or possibly a distant Future.
The Epic Fails
- Moetan: The premise looked... interesting, to say the least: an Edutainment Show for lolicons. However, it fails because it really is an Edutainment Show for lolicons. An early episode was removed from syndication for too much fanservice and replaced with a Clip Show, which should tell you something.
- "Episode 0" of Haruhi Suzumiya, though this was largely on purpose.
- CosPrayers is plagued with poor editing, resulting in a weak story, uninteresting characters, and Mind Screw continuity problems. Whatever story you tell, don't let this happen.
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.