Dark magical girl anime has been all the rage in recent years. Spurred on by the popularity of Madoka Magica, storytellers are rushing to get their grim takes on the genre out there. Some are good. Others… less so.
We’ll be reviewing Magical Girl Site in full in a future Otaku USA magazine. For now, suffice to say we have other options you might prefer. And that’s even without suggesting Madoka — because that’s a bit of a gimme. So step back and try these shows instead… even if they don’t seem to fit the “dark” brief on sight.
Cutie Honey Universe
Cutie Honey is technically a “transforming heroine” with a lot of tech in her. But her original series was a major influence on magical girl anime, and she carries more than a few of the genre’s tropes with her. 2018’s Cutie Honey Universe dives back into the plot of Go Nagai’s original manga and, while there are a still few changes, it flies far closer to the original grim story.
This version of Honey Kisaragi loses a lot — like a lot — in her battle with Sister Jill. Fans familiar only with anime adaptations will likely be shocked to learn just how much of what happens in Universe is true to the manga. And what isn’t, is toned down.
Phantom Thief Jeanne
In the late 1990s, Arina Tanemura was creating series that many dark magical girl anime could only hope to aspire to. The heroine of Phantom Thief Jeanne, Maron, is the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. Her job? To steal art so God doesn’t die. (It’s more complex than that, but that’s the elevator pitch.)
This mix of phantom thief and magical girl action is already pretty inventive, putting a new spin on a combo introduced by Saint Tail. But there’s much more to the story than looking cool and stealing paintings. There are double and triple crosses in play, and not everyone is who they say they are. Confidences will be betrayed before this is all over.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
When this magical girl anime first arrived on the scene, it blew a lot of minds. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha looked at first like your typical mascot-having, monster-fighting series. But when a rival magical girl arrived… and then the spacetime police showed up mid-battle… well, you get the idea.
The first season of Lyrical Nanoha was far more complex than it first appeared, and the “villain” far more convoluted. As the series has progressed, it’s integrated sci-fi and even mecha-like elements into its storytelling. One thing that never goes away, though, is its willingness to explore darker story threads while still launching off cool explosions.
Magical girls don’t have to cry literal blood to explore darker stories. What other shows do you think belong on this list?