Wizards, witches, and furry sorcerers!
Magic is an essential part of the historical Japanese experience. Indeed, magic and magical creatures pervade Japanese culture to this day. Tanuki statues are placed outside bars and restaurants, pictures of kappa appear on warnings near bodies of water, and onigawara appear on buildings to ward off misfortune. It should be no surprise that magic is a persistent theme in Japanese pop culture as well, and the representation of magic in anime is no exception.
Some of the most entertaining anime contain magical elements. Whether they contain witches and wizards studying in school, magical objects, adventuring groups, heroes, or people transported to another time or realm, anime has something for everyone who likes a little magic in their lives.
The most popular trope we see with magical anime is that of the magical girl. Oftentimes tackling heavy issues like gender roles and identity, there are also many lighthearted takes in this subgenre that stress the importance of female friendship.
Sailor Moon (1992) is an extremely popular example of this subgenre. The protagonists are all young girls who are given magical powers and tasked with saving the world from evil. Plus they have cat sidekicks.
The titular magical girl anime is Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika (2011), or “Magical Girl Madoka Magica” (commonly referred to as simply Madoka Magica). In this anime, two young girls are offered a deal by a magical cat: hunt witches and you can become a magical girl with magic powers. (What’s the deal with magical cats giving young girls magical powers?)
Another great example is Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). In fact, the name in Japanese is even Majo no Takkyūbin, which means “Witch’s Delivery Service.” Kiki is a young witch who decides to move to the city in order to hone her craft, and in the process starts her own delivery service.
In Princess Tutu (2002), we find another great example of a magical girl. Well, sort of. See, she’s actually a duck who can change into a girl. She’s also a ballerina. It’s kind of all over the place, but it’s worth seeing if you haven’t yet!
Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura (1998) is a magical girl who must collect the mischievous, magical cards she accidentally released into the world. Interestingly, the idea behind this anime is a reflection of a popular cultural concept in Japan: kototama, the idea that mystical powers dwell in words.
Magical anime also employs the use of academies or school for the study of magical arts. The idea that there is a school for those who are interested in learning and honing their magic is extremely popular in Japanese and western cultures, as well (Harry Potter, anyone?). The creators behind these anime took this popular idea and gave it their own unique Japanese touch.
Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (2014), or The Irregular at Magic High School, is about a young man, Tatsuya, who doesn’t let the fact that he is completely inept at magic stop him from using his ingenuity, strange techniques, and powerful physical abilities to create his own kind of magic.
Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (The Legend of Legendary Heroes) (2010) is the story of student, Ryner Lute, who is studying at the Roland Empire Royal Magician’s Academy. After a war breaks out, he embarks on a mission to recover relics from an ancient hero to help turn the tide.
Admittedly, Little Witch Academia (2013) is also a magical girl anime, but we liked to list it here since it takes place at Luna Nova Magical Academy. An all-girls’ witch school, the star is Akko, who is not a very good witch, but idolizes a famous witch named Shiny Chariot.
A fun concept that occurs often in magical anime is the idea of isekai. In an isekai story, the character travels from the world they know into a world they do not. This could be a trip forward or backward in time, or into another realm or dimension entirely.
In the recent Hai to Gensou no Grimgar (Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions) (2016), several strangers suddenly awake at the top of a tower with no recollection of how they got there. While some of them give up hope, the others decide to make lives for themselves as goblin slayers. In a cute twist, the authors of this anime inject elements of experience and leveling up (as in RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons).
One of the most revered magical animes on our list, Inuyasha (2000-2004) falls solidly in the isekai category. The protagonist, Kagome, has fallen into a well at a shrine and winds up in the feudal Japan of the 15th and 16th centuries. Her companion is Inuyasha, a half-dog demon. Kagome also has a magical jewel within her that she inadvertently breaks and must recover the pieces.
In a fun twist on the magical isekai style, Overlord (2015) transports the protagonist into an DMMORPG video game, where he must save the world he has come to love.
We also see adventures and heroes in magical anime. Sometimes they even remind us of dungeon-crawling RPGs. Whether the heroes are on a quest to obtain a magical relic, or are trying to save the world, their adventures create a fun blend between swords and sorcery.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (2013) is one such anime, loosely based on 1001 Arabian Nights, it follows Aladdin and his friends on magical adventures where they sometimes journey through Dungeons, underground labyrinths full of treasure and guarded by Djinns.
The wizard guilds in Fairy Tail (2011) are composed of wizards and witches who are paid to do odd jobs.
Reminiscent of King Arthur’s knights of the round table, The Seven Deadly Sins tells the tale of a group of rogue warriors (including Merlin), brought together by Princess Elizabeth to defeat the evil, magical Holy Knights.
Even if you’re not an anime fan, but enjoy one of the many shows centered on magic, you’ll probably enjoy one of these amazingly creative works! Since we lost our magic spell for perfection, we’re certain this is an incomplete list, so please let us know which ones we forgot or the ones that you feel would make this list more valuable to the next reader.