Nothing can compare to the ultimate Sailor Moon– or so many believe. It’s thanks to Sailor Moon that the entire genre is stuck to the formulaic plotline. However, the magical girl genre extends far beyond the common archetypes in the Sailor Moon series.
In fact, there are at least three main sub-genres: senshi, witch, and idol–all three focus in different areas. Most viewers are familiar with the mahou senshi shows-- better known as magical warrior anime-- which includes the likes of Sailor Moon. Witch and idol shows, to an extent, integrate magic and transformation sequences in the story, but instead of the explicit day-to-day villain scenarios, magic is used to further explore the conditions and situations that the characters are in.
Sailor Moon inspired a generation of young girls who remember its fights and scenes because of the emotional weight they held. While a few magical girl shows have been able to bypass the formulaic or build upon the established genre, at its core the genre follows young girls (and boys) learning about friendship, love, and overcoming all obstacles. Whether this means punching a metaphorical monster called "Fear" or transforming into a ballerina to bring people happiness, at the end, the characters grow from their experiences.
Aside from the mahou senshi-style shows out there, there are a few great shows that are far better than our favorite senshi based on concept, design, and, more importantly, how magic is implemented in the story arcs.
Here are the 15 Shows That Are SO Much Better Than Sailor Moon.
15 Puella Magi Madoka Magicka
If there's one magical girl show that is eons better than Sailor Moon due to its dark and mind-blowing storyline, it's Puella Magi Madoka Magicka. When the official website released the official staff list with SHAFT and Gen Urobuchi (the Japanese George R. R. Martin) on it, their names sent out two giant red flags.
They falsely advertised a "harmless kids'" show about love and friendship to lure unfortunate viewers into the series. On the surface, it's about Madoka who is given a chance to become a magical girl, but once we learn about how the magical girl system works, it's becomes absurd.
In the third movie, Puella Magi Madoka Magicka: Rebellion, the creators decided to give their fans the final shaft-- the infamous ending that Madoka fans still remember. Madoka Magica isn’t sunshine and lollipops for kids, but it does well picking apart the magical girl genre and restructuring it as a show about friendship and life as a warrior– just with a different lens. Thanks to this show, no one can see the magical girl genre the same way ever again.
14 Kill La Kill
Kill La Kill is like the love child between Cartoon Network and shonen writers. Ryuko, like 99.9% of all magical girls, is a transfer student at Honnouji Academy, an imposing academy that is the equivalent of a totalitarian regime.
Ryuko arrives at Hnnouji with hopes to find her father’s killer and suspects that Satsuki, the school’s class president, is responsible for his death. During her stay, Ryuko learns more about life fibers and the Satsuki’s Student Council brigades, who possess goku uniforms that allow them to transform. Also, male characters get their own transformation sequences and nudity– there's even an organization called Nudist Beach.
The story’s art style is based on 1980’s cartoons. Though the transformation song loses its charm quickly due to the vocal choirs chanting “don’t lose your way” when Ryuko loses her way, it’s more of an oxymoron than an actual moral lesson. Aside from the song and fanservice, Kill La Kill is a great show for those who prefer high-flying butt-kicking shows.
13 Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
Male magical girl shows are unheard of, so when Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! aired on television, it was a must-see for many fans. Unfortuantely, it’s sometimes not taken seriously because magical warrior shows are often female-focused, so some purely see it as a spoof. After all, how would they even show pretty guys transforming into cute warriors?
Earth Defense, on the other hand, prides itself on magical girl cheesiness, and openly admits that it is bizarre. Characters have tons of over-the-top speeches, dynamic fights, and often speak about friendships and "lovemaking."
If viewers can get past the bizarre setup, it's actually a fun gender-bend show. Though the team was initially embarrassed during their first transformation sequence, they eventually accept the circumstances, and hilarity ensues.
Earth Defense makes it an enjoyable ride for fans who understand that the magical girl shows can be cheesy and hilarious, all while following a serious story arc. There’s nothing shameful about loving Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
12 HeartCatch PreCure!
It's difficult for senshi girl shows to be seen as original series outside of Sailor Moon. HeartCatch PreCure! is the exceptions, as it makes a habit of standing out from the crowd. It follows Tsubomi Hanasaki and Kurumi Erika, two middle school girls who are given the power of PreCure to save people that are turned into desertarians.
While the creators are aware of the genre style and required Sailor Moon formula, they still manage to put their hearts into the anime, and it shows. One stark contrast between it and other senshi girl shows is the fight scenes, thanks to Dragon Ball Z's director who created the first Pretty Cure that inspired HeartCatch director Tatsuya Nagamine. (Fun fact, the original Sailor Mercury voice actor also plays Cure Moonlight in the show.)
HeartCatch PreCure is an emotional rollercoaster ride. Many of the people who are turned into desertarians are usually associated with the main characters, so it provides a strong message to its audience: not everyone comes out of traumatic events unscarred.
Heck, the opening scene is an intense fight with PreCure defeated by the main villain, and at one point, they even kill one the cute little mascots on-screen. HeartCatch caught our hearts and deserves praise.
Mai-HiMe is the magical girl show that provided fans with some mind-blowing scenes in the early 2000s. It follows Mai Tokiha, who discovers that she is a HiMe and gets entangled with the other HiMes-- students who are able to harness mecha-beasts and use their newfound abilities defeat Lovecraftian monsters called orphans.
Mai-HiMe doesn’t have the mahou senshi vibe due to its lack of colorful moves and merchandising items, but the show is technically still considered as a mahou senshi show because it still follows the basic formula.
It starts out with typical funny scenes of the HiMes battling orphans, but when you finally hit the latter half of the show it transforms a glorious trainwreck. The show pulls a fastball when the HiMes finally learn about the history of orphans and the reason why the HiMes were created.
Although it somtimes comes off messy, there are more than a few epic battles. Mai-HiMe has zero over-the-top speeches and rarely uses stock footage in the fights, so you know it's going to be good.
10 Magic Knight Rayearth
Magic Knight Rayearth follows Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji who are transported to Cephiro, a parallel world filled with magic and maintained by the Pillar. The current Pillar Princess Emeraude gets kidnapped by Zagato, and it’s up to the trio to rescue Emeraude and defeat Zagato before returning back to the realm. Along the way, they gain new powers and stronger transformation abilities through teamwork and friendship.
CLAMP’s illustrations are borderline magical, which is perfect for a series set in a fantasy world. Indeed, the creators capitalized on the magical girl template, but CLAMP forgoes the sailor uniforms and, instead, pitches a mecha-fantasy world.
The Rayearth series starts out with the same formulaic plotline: save the princess from the big bad, but when they finally reach to the tower and save Emeraude, the story gets complicated. Magic Knight Rayearth adds a fresh new spin to the formula, and despite it being a Sailor Moon 2.0, it’s still a great story for viewers who like a retro anime series.
9 Princess Tutu
Princess Tutu is a meta-series that revolves around Ahiru, a duckling who transforms into a human named Princess Tutu to heal a prince's broken heart. Tutu uses her powers to not only help the prince, but also to help the people around her who are in trouble.
From the beginning, Princess Tutu is one odd duck in the magical girl category and is praised for its inventiveness, especially since it integrates classical ballet into its unique storyline. Not to mention, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Nutcracker's music pieces and classical-inspired soundtrack add texture to the show, and, in some cases, the music is a huge factor to the story.
Princess Tutu doesn’t reveal the cards early on, but instead, offers a new crumb of information in every episode until we reach to the spectacular finale. Unlike Madoka, this show does finish with a fairytale ending.
8 Is This a Zombie?
Getting murdered is traumatic, but being killed and resurrected as a zombie and then turned into a magical girl, is a little more disturbing. Only in anime logic would something like this ever happen.
Is This a Zombie? spices things up with otherworldly demons called megalos, and since this is a story about zombies, necromancers, and bloody murders, the show isn’t for young kids. It follows Ayumu who gets turned into a magical girl to fend off from megalos.
Much to Ayumu’s chagrin, he goes along with it and becomes the defender of the town, while also searching the serial killer who murdered him. Although this show does feature fan service (for both genders), it puts in the effort to elaborate on the world of hell and the demons.
In addition, a boy senshi adds an interesting element to the story. Technically it’s a comedy show more so than a magical girl series, but we just had to include it on here because of its hilarious scenes.
7 Sally The Witch
Sally the Witch is the first longest and popular magical girl show that started the shoujo genre. Long before Sailor Moon, Sally the Witch and other magical girls series focused on young witches who spread dreams and hopes to fellow townspeople with their magic, inspired by the classic American show Bewitched.
Sally is a witch princess from a magical kingdom. One day, she travels to the mortal realm, presumably to find friends, and is accidentally transported to Earth. She meets two kids who learn of her powers after she stops a couple of thieves. Curious about the new world, Sally decides to stay on Earth and has plenty of misadventures with her newfound friends.
The show pans out as a problem-of-the-day episode, and follows Sally's experiences learning about the Earth world, while also hiding her identity as a witch. Sally the Witch is an iconic classic in the shoujo genre, and, despite it being decades old, it has a catchy opening song that even includes the titular Tom and Jerry characters. As a 1970s cartoon, the show ignores the over-the-top speeches and action sequences, and instead adds in its own charm.
6 Full Moon o Sagashite
Mahou shoujos often focuses on the senshi subgenre due to Sailor Moon’s popularity and because the merchandise offers ample funding to the studios' already low budgeted shows. When a magical girl show that doesn’t follow the formula-- such as Full Moon o Sagishite-- comes along, it's often seen as a rare gem.
The story follows twelve-year-old Mitsuki Kouyama who dreams to be a singer, but, given her throat cancer, she is unable to sing. One day, she is visited by two shinigami who accidentally tell her that she only has one year left to live. Mitsuki asks one of the shinigami for a chance to be an idol, and he grants her wish-- she transforms into a high-schooler to compete for a competition.
Full Moon o Sagishite sets itself apart from the other shows because of its story and realism. The issues that the show tackles involve family problems, dreams, and facing the inevitable truth that we all must eventually face death. It handles its material well, and with a mere 52 episodes, fans get to see the characters grow and evolve.
5 Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is your standard magical girl series that has followed the anime success like Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon. With over three seasons and a number of movies, Lyrical Nanoha is doing something right with the genre.
The show follows Nanoha who is given powers to recover jewel seeds, which can turn living beings into monsters if it comes into contact with them. It starts out with her fighting monsters, but once we get to the real meat of the story– where Nanoha meets a rival magical girl named Fate Testarossa– things get a bit complicated and soon the simple task of gathering seeds is a minor subset of what’s really at stake here. Pretty soon the intergalactic police become involved in the story, and Fate’s motives take the center stage.
In the later seasons we soon discover that the magical girls are part of an organization that trains warriors to defend Earth. Lyrical Nanoha widens the world of the magical girl genre, with a unique premise that is arguably more fascinating than Sailor Moon.
4 Phantom Thief Jeanne
Full Moon o Sagashite creator Arina Tanemura drew a magical girl manga series called Phantom Thief Jeanne. In it, Maron Kusakabe is visited by an angel named Finn Fish who tells her that God has scattered himself into a thousand pieces and that, if his power remains scattered, he will die.
The devil tries to prevent this by sending his agents disguised as artworks to steal God's powers, which take the shape of chess pieces inside human hearts. Maron agrees to help and becomes Phantom Thief Jeanne, the reincarnated warrior Jeanne d’Arc.
Unlike other mahou senshi shows with warriors fighting baddies or thieves, our main protagonist is a notorious art thief. Her best friend's father is the police chief, and her classmate/love interest is apparently her rival Sinbad, a collector working for the devil.
The show is often compared to Sailor Moon because of the main character’s design. However, Phantom Thief Jeanne diverges from the regular senshis once we reached the final act of the show. We won't spoil it, but the revelation is uncommon and the main reason why it's on this list.
3 Magical Girl Team Alice
Sally the Witch focuses on a witch exploring our world, whereas Magical Girl Team Alice transports a human girl named Alice into the world of witches. Initially, Alice is ecstatic to find out bout the witches' realm, as she herself is interested in witchcraft.
However, she isn't as thrilled when she discovers that magic in this world is used for war, and not to spread happiness. (Apparently she watched far too many magical girl shows on Earth.) She unwittingly releases the sprites, a source of witch’s spells, out of rebellion, which forces her and her new friends to soon recapture them all.
Rarely do we find a series that has animation that is as breathtaking as that found in Magical Girl Team Alice. Sailor Moon doesn't come close to its Miyazaki/Disney-like caliber of artwork.
It’s not just artwork that's amazing, though, as the entire story is consistent and rich like the Harry Potter universe, despite each episode running under twelve minutes. Fantastical and simply gorgeous, Magical Girl Team Alice is hands down the best mahou shoujo in the genre.
2 Cardcaptor Sakura
As CLAMP’s easily most identifiable work, Cardcaptor Sakura was the second Sailor Moon clone that ran during the Saturday morning cartoon block back when the WB was on the air. Aside from nostalgia, Cardcaptor Sakura was different than the average magical girl.
Though it has the same transformation sequences and typical elementary school setup, it chose to settle for mystical and fantastical elements instead of the anachronistic magic tools seen in other shows. In addition, Sakura doesn’t wear the same outfits-- courtesy of her friend Tomoka for the card of the day-- and her powers are based on the cards she captures.
The anime removes the boring parts of the senshi and replace them with new abilities and design sequences, which provide new transformation attacks. Again, CLAMP brings together their best minds, creating an intriguing urban fantasy.
1 Revolutionary Girl Utena
Kunihiko Ikuhara became well known for his work in the original Sailor Moon series. However, dissatisfied with the lack of creative control, he left Toei studios after Sailor Moon's 4th season to create his own studio Be-Papas. During this time, he created a new magical girl show called Revolutionary Girl Utena, a deconstructed shoujo series revered by many critics as Kunihiko's magnum opus to the genre.
The show starts out with the same formula: girl transfers, must transform into a prince, and duel other people for the Rose Bride. Whoever wins can bring a new "revolution" to the world.
Each scene and dialogue are meticulously crafted in every episode. On the surface, the show's plotline is easy to understand, but truly analyzing it requires five or six reruns. It uses stock footage to its advantage, but continues to add new details for each transformation sequence.
Most magical girl shows are timely and don't age very well, but Utena remains universal, offering a coming-of-age story and breaking new grounds that Sailor Moon could never achieve.
Are there any other shows that you think are much better than Sailor Moon? Let us know in the comments section!