I love Sailor Moon to death and I think that it deserves all of the love that it’s given. Even if you don’t like the show, you can’t deny its contributions to pop culture and to the magical girl genre.
But the 90s were a golden age for magical girls and there are several other series worth checking out. Some of these are more well-known and respected than others, but I enjoyed them all. I intentionally did not include one of my favorites, Revolutionary Girl Utena, because it deserves an article of its own.
Magic Knight Rayearth (1994)
“Magic Knight Rayearth focuses on three eighth-grade girls: tomboyish and headstrong Hikaru Shidou; the quick-tempered and no-nonsense only child Umi Ryuuzaki; and intelligent and ladylike Fuu Hououji. While on a field trip to the Tokyo Tower with their respective schools, the girls find themselves drawn into another world, Cephiro. There they learn that Cephiro is influenced by one’s will and that the Pillar maintains Cephiro through prayer. The girls are then tasked with rescuing the current Pillar, Princess Emeraude, from her abductor, the high priest and antagonist Zagato, after which they will be returned to Tokyo.” (Wikipedia)
Magic Knight Rayearth is one of my favorite series of all time. This is mainly because it combines two of my favorite genres: magical girl and mecha. It is also because this show offers a great (if not soul-crushing) twist on the typical Hero’s Journey.
One can always assume that the good guys will win; MKR is no exception to this rule. However, by the season one finale, no one, including the protagonists, feels like a winner. It is a rare, moving experience.
The second season is not as amazing but worth watching. It is hard to compare to the powerful, unique first season but it expands on something else that MKR does very well: world development. The fantasy realms so well-developed that I kind of wish the show could have its own MMORPG.
Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne/Phantom Thief Jeanne (1998)
“16-year-old high-school gymnast Maron Kusakabe is visited by the angel Finn Fish, who gives her a task. God’s power is scattered across the Earth, and if He does not gather enough by the turn of the millennium, He will die. To block Him, The Devil had sent out agents to gather His power, which is the beauty in human hearts, in the form of chess pieces. With Fin’s assistance, Maron transforms into the reincarnation of Jeanne D’Arc in order to hunt Demons hidden within works of art. When Maron defeats a Demon, the artwork disappears, and to the outside world it is as if she has stolen it, and she becomes known as a kaitō (“phantom thief”). Maron’s best friend is Miyako, the daughter of a police detective in charge of Jeanne’s case.” (Wikipedia)
The Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne manga was my introduction to manga ka Arina Tanemura, who is awesome…even if her characters suffer from a tragic case of Same Face Syndrome. The relationship between Maron and Chiaki (a.k.a. Kaito Sinbad) is very reminiscent of Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, but feels more developed. I think this is because this series is incredibly short in comparison and focuses on a much smaller cast.
This brevity works well, given the bizarre premise. While the concept of the show is ridiculous (Why is Jeanne D’Arc fighting painting demons, and what does Sinbad have to do with it?), it packs a powerful punch in character development and shocking twists.
Corrector Yui (1999)
“It is the year 2020 and computers have become an integral part of daily life for most people. However, a teenage girl Yui Kasuga is one of the few who cannot use computers at all, despite the fact that her father is a software developer. An evil computer called Grosser wants to take over the ComNet (what the Internet is called in Yui’s time) and as the programs that have been developed to stop it (called “Correctors”) need her help, she is sucked into the ComNet where she is recruited by a corrector called I.R., who gives her downloadable element suits that allow her to become the ComNet Fairy Corrector Yui who can fight Grosser’s computer viruses.” (Wikipedia)
I don’t think Corrector Yui is anyone’s favorite show, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like too many anime shows like it, I found Yui on a sales rack at a Dollar General. Yui herself is incredibly likable and her friend Haruna serves as a great foil. It makes a lot of sense that the smarter and more responsible Haruna was supposed to be the hero, but Yui’s combination of incompetence and optimism makes her much more entertaining to watch. Plus, Yui isn’t incompetent when it comes to fighting; in fact, she’s pretty darn good. As a Corrector, she also has access to multiple outfits and kinds of powers, which provides a great variety that I kinda wished the show used more often.
I recommend it for the kind of silly take on the 1990s idea of ~future technology~, War Wolf, and the beautiful opening theme song that I have sung way too loudly in my car way too many times.
“D.N.Angel follows the adventures of Daisuke Niwa, an average teenage boy. At the story’s opening, Daisuke declares love for his crush, a girl named Risa Harada, on his fourteenth birthday. She rejects him, and later that day, the heart-broken Daisuke undergoes a strange mutation that changes him into another person. He is told calmly by his mother Emiko that, because of a strange genetic condition, all the males in Daisuke’s family gain the countenance of Dark Mousy, a famous phantom thief. The transformation occurs every time Daisuke has romantic feelings for his crush or whenever he thinks too long about her. Dark changes back into Daisuke the same way. Daisuke is forced to keep his family’s secret and control his alter ego, Dark (whom Risa, Daisuke’s crush, has fallen for), while dashing his way out of being caught by the commander of the police. Daisuke learns that in order to return to normality, he must have his unrequited love returned.” (Wikipedia)
This was my first experience with a magical boy series, a subgenre that doesn’t get the love that it deserves. When I was a preteen I consumed the manga at a disturbing rate, reading and re-reading and drawing awful fan art of Dark. Also, all of the promotional images look like photos of 90s boy bands, which I find hilarious.
The series is as cute as one would expect, but it also has substance. The seemingly simplistic, Ranma 1/2-like premise gets increasingly complicated, and it becomes easy to get emotionally attached to characters that will probably crush you in the end. Daisuke is probably the best-developed magical boy in anime. This story is his coming of age with a very unfortunate twist.
The most frustrating part about DNAngel is that the manga remains unfinished! While the anime came up with it own ending in 2003, the manga had an extended hiatus and is still ongoing.