2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the iconic Japanese magical girl series "Sailor Moon." Originally created by Naoko Takeuchi, the manga series was serialized from 1991 to 1997 and adapted into an animated series in 1992. The animated series would achieve popularity in Japan and overseas, serving as an introduction to both Japanese anime and the magical girl subgenre.
Featuring school girls that magically transform to fight evil, a reincarnated princess who became a soldier and a leader, and themes of love and friendship, "Sailor Moon" struck a chord with millions of viewers by providing female heroines to admire and love. Since then, "Sailor Moon" has gone on to inspire countless magical girl comics and cartoons around the world. For "Sailor Moon" fans that can’t get enough of magical girls, here are fifteen comics you should read.
15 POWER UP
Some magical girl stories prophesize the chosen ones who are destined to receive power to fight evil. Kath Leth’s and Matt Cumming’s comic "Power Up" has such a prophecy, except it was a little off. When a 23-year-old pet shop worker, a mother of two named, a construction worker, and a goldfish somehow get mysterious magical powers, their lives are turned upside down as alien monsters invade to take the powers back. A modern and humorous take on the magical girl genre, the comic is great for laughs and fun.
As the embodiments of Sight, Strength, Spirit, and Heart, none of the powers go to the people you’d think they would go, providing a twist that gives the characters quirks and chemistry that is fun and endearing to watch. In fact, seeing the characters continue their regular lives while fighting off monsters is funny and relatable because they don’t know what they are doing and are forced to see themselves differently. Taking the phrase “unlikely heroes” to a whole new level, "Power Up" will make the reader chuckle and adjust to change a little better.
14 MAGICAL GIRL PROBLEMS, MAGICAL GIRL SOLUTIONS
In a time when memes go viral and emotions are expressed in GIFs, it seems fitting to have a magical girl comic that has adapted to the current age. Veronica Agarwal’s "Magical Girl Problems, Magical Girl Solutions" is a series of short comics that involve having magical girl problems and solutions collide with real life. If you can imagine every iconic magical girl existing in our world and having social media, then you’d have this comic.
One story has a magical girl getting the bad guy she just defeated to sign a note so she isn’t late for class, while another has a magical girl wondering how to un-transform after saving the day. At the bottom of each comic, each magical girl summarizes the comic in a "tweet" that contains the either hashtag #magicalgirlproblems or #magicalgirlsolutions. Each comic is only one page long and some are inspired by not only the magical girl genre, but also by superheroes in general. Some comics have cameo appearances that make fun easter eggs to discover. Short, sweet, and fun, this comic is for the magical girl in the digital age.
13 SHATTERED STARLIGHT
With all the magic, friendship, and butt kicking that comes with being a magical girl, you'd think that there weren't any downsides. In Nicole Chartrand's webcomic "Shattered Starlight," those expectations are pretty much shattered when 28-year-old ex-magical girl Farah Shaughnessy is reassigned to a new location after lashing out with her powers at her real-life job. Farah is the magical girl version of "Daria," with dialogue so blunt you can almost hear her voice deadpanning.
In the prologue, when describing to The Empress Celestial why she lashed out with her powers, she states, “He was being a sack of dicks the likes I haven’t seen since those squid aliens attacked senior prom.” In addition to having a hilarious and sympathetic lead, the webcomic manages to combine a black-and-white palette with spots of color that draw the eyes toward the detailed character designs. A new, humorous webcomic that is grounded in reality and magic, "Shattered Starlight" is a magical girl comic to keep an eye on.
12 MAHOU JOSEI CHIMAKA
While the eye-catching artwork of "Mahou Josei Chimaka" might make you think it’s a manga, the publication shows otherwise. Created by the duo known as KaiJu and published in the digital magazine "Sparkler Monthly," the comic pays tribute to Japanese magical girl manga while telling a contemporary story. Chimaka is an ex-magical girl who feels like a failure after not saving her city from being destroyed by her arch-nemesis.
While working at a job she hates, she gets a call from the government saying that her greatest enemy has returned. Unable to use her powers, Chimaka must use her friend Pippa to rediscover the meaning of magic and save the city once and for all. As a twenty-something protagonist, Chimaka is relatable to any post-high school adult who isn’t sure where they are at in life. As a magical girl story, the comic is both an homage and satire of the magical girl genre, playing with and subverting magical girl tropes in a hilarious and poignant manner.
11 THE HUES
Alex Herberling’s "The Hues" combines the fantasy element of magical girls with a post-apocalyptic sci-fi future. Four girls discover they have mysterious abilities just as an alien invasion wipes out most life on earth and takes over. Now, they have to develop their abilities, try to survive on what is left of the earth, and figure out exactly why they have these powers in the first place.
Published as a webcomic and collected in volumes, the strength of the "The Hues" lies in playing out the mystery of the girls' powers while developing the characters. These girls can’t fight evil yet because they are too busy trying to live and hide from the aliens. Interestingly, their powers help them do that while gradually forging a bond between the girls. They are resourceful and fascinating, coming from diverse backgrounds and personal experiences that are revealed as the story progresses. Meanwhile, the aliens are a sinister shadow lurking just behind them, a threat to their lives and a possible key to their powers. Grim and yet filled with hope, "The Hues" is a colorful gem of a comic.
10 PRETTY HEART BOUQUET
E. Jackson’s webcomic "Pretty Heart Bouquet" is one of the few webcomics of any genre to have a black transgender female lead. More importantly, the comic doesn’t revolve around the lead being transgender, but rather focuses on her changing into a magical girl to save her friends from evil flowers that corrupt their hearts. Hardcore "Sailor Moon" fans will note the influence of the "Sailor Moon" film "Promise of The Rose," especially given how the lead character Ginny uses her heart and magical powers to release her friends from the influence of the bad flowers.
While a major plot has yet to be revealed, the few chapters that are available to read have a cute cartoonish art style that is reminiscent of not only Japanese manga but also animated shows like "Steven Universe" and "Adventure Time." In fact, some of the artwork is literally animated using gifs, making the magical girl transformations and other related scenes more exciting. "Pretty Heart Bouquet" hasn’t fully bloomed, but it’s budding leaves show promise.
9 PRINCESS LOVE PON
While some of the newer magical girl comics have gotten darker and mature, there are others that retain the cuteness that the genre was originally known for. One such comic is Shauna J. Grant’s "Princess Love Pon," which features a black heroine named Lia navigating high school while fighting darkness and despair as Princess Love Pon. The most noticeable aspect of the webcomic is that it is very pink, from Princess Love Pon’s outfit and weapons to the background artwork. This allows Lia and her magical girl alter-ego to be depicted as strong without sacrificing her femininity.
Furthermore, the artwork is reminiscent of the bubbly character designs seen in characters like "Cardcaptor Sakura" and Sailor Chibi Moon from "Sailor Moon." Despite being a teenaged girl, Lia is drawn in a manner that makes her almost like a chibi-sized version of herself. Not only does this enhance the cuteness of the comic even further, but it also enhances the innocence of Lia’s character. Endearing, fluffy, and fun, "Princess Love Pon" is an adorable read for all-ages.
8 POWER AND MAGIC
Edited by Joamette Gil and published independently by Power and Magic Press, "Power and Magic" is an anthology featuring queer women of color using magic to find self-acceptance, love, and the will to survive. Consisting of comics created entirely by queer women of color, this anthology provides a necessary mirror for those at the intersection of multiple identities that are often simplified or ignored.
Using an archetype associated with Japanese magical girls and American witches, these comics feature different interpretations of magic that is based on cultures, personal longings, and circumstances. One comic titled, “Your Heart Is An Apple” features queer fairy tale princesses experiencing dating struggles and searching for a happy ending. Another comic, “Te Perdi” features a queer woman of color pleading to the gods of the Santeria religion to prevent her lover from dying of cancer. All of the comics are in striking black-and-white, drawing attention to the characters and their stories. Multi-faceted, poignant, and imaginative, "Power and Magic" makes the impossible seem more possible.
7 AGENTS OF THE REALM
While attending Silvermount University, five young women are chosen to protect our world and its sister dimension. Mildred Louis’ "Agents Of The Realm" webcomic is one of the most well developed magical girl stories out there, featuring an elaborate plot involving the current Agents, the last-known Agents before them and shady characters from the sister dimension. This plot is steadily developed after all five young women have been introduced and established as the current Agents, pushing things beyond the standard “monster of the week” fights seen in classic magical girl works.
Also notable is how the webcomic subverts or toys with magical girl tropes. One part of the series that takes places during Halloween features a young man dressed up as Tuxedo Mask from "Sailor Moon" and commenting on how useless the character was. In addition to Louis’ writing, her artwork is visually stunning, with certain panels having a glow to them that bring colors to life. When put together with a relatable and inclusive cast of characters, you have one of the most exciting modern-day magical girl comics out there.
This Italian magical girl comic series may have had a short-lived animated series, but it still managed to stay strong on the page. With a whopping 139 issues, "W.I.T.C.H." was created by Elisabetta Gnone, Alessandro Barbucci, and Barbara Canepa. Released for a little more than a decade, the comics were first published in 2001 before concluding in 2012. Both the animated series and comics told the story of five teenaged girls chosen to be the Guardians of Kandrakar and protectors of the fantasy world of Meridian.
The names of the five girls (Will, Irma, Taranee, Cornelia, and Hay Lin) form the acronym W.I.T.C.H. and have different elemental abilities that grow stronger throughout the series. Taking place on earth and various fantasy worlds, the comic series is both an urban fantasy and high-fantasy adventure. While the series is somewhat difficult to find, "W.I.T.C.H." still managed to combine the magical girl genre with a rich fantasy setting and tell contemporary and fantastic stories.
5 ZODIAC STARFORCE
On the surface, "Zodiac Starforce" seems to be just an American version of "Sailor Moon." The name of the team may have changed, but they are still five teenaged high school girls using magical powers to fight evil. This would be the end of the story, except these magical girls have disbanded and have to get back together to save their leader Emma. They also battle a posse of mean girls and their leader Diana, who are all literally evil.
As a subtle deconstruction of the magical girl genre, Kevin Panetta’s writing manages to tell a story about friendship, love, and loss while hinting at Zodiac Starforce’s past. Meanwhile, the main cast is refreshing and inclusive, with different body types, races, sexualities and interesting abilities inspired by the zodiac signs. Even mean girl Diana has some depth that makes her a sympathetic, compelling villain. When put together with Paulina Ganucheau’s beautiful and vibrant artwork, Zodiac Starforce is the perfect read for long-time magical girl fans or newcomers.
4 STEVEN UNIVERSE
Created by "Rebecca Sugar," the animated series "Steven Universe" has steadily risen to become one of the most popular television shows in recent years. Featuring a half-human, half-alien boy named Steven and three female intergalactic warriors called the Crystal Gems, the series has been influenced by the magical girl genre in more ways than one. From the fusion forms of various characters to the eye-catching backgrounds, the show manages to forge its own path while being a love-letter to magical girls.
For those who need more than the 10 to 15 minutes that each episode contains, the comics are a wonderful way to continue the adventures of the characters. In the most recent comic called "Steven Universe and The Crystal Gems," Steven must figure out who or what is turning people into glass after being told the story of a glass monster. Other comics allow the reader to get to know Steven’s neighbors and friends that live with him in Beach City while he and the Crystal Gems fight monsters. With an ongoing "Steven Universe" comic planned for 2017, Steven Universe has an even bigger universe to play in.
3 MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH
"Magic Knight Rayearth" is an unappreciated magical girl series of CLAMP’s, dwarfed by "Cardcaptor Sakura" and more recognized works. As the series that gained CLAMP national attention, the work has many aspects worth noting. One of them is that the series combined many different influences, including fantasy role playing video games, the magical girl genre, and the mecha genre that features giant robots. In fact, the best way to describe "Magic Knight Rayearth" is that it is "Legend of Zelda" meets "Power Rangers."
Consisting of two series titled "Magic Knight Rayearth" and "Magic Knight Rayearth II," the series features the adventures of three heroines called Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu and their adventures in the magical world of Ceifero. The first series deals with three girls attempting to become the magic knights and rescue a princess while the second series deals with the aftermath of the first series and outsiders who wish to invade Ceifero. By combining different influences and creating memorable male and female characters, the series would set the tone for CLAMP’s future work and gain a crossover audience.
2 CARDCAPTOR SAKURA
Once "Sailor Moon" rose to stardom in the late 90's, the magical girl genre was renewed as other manga series began to appear on the scene. One of them was "Cardcaptor Sakura," another manga by CLAMP, which told the story of an elementary school student named Sakura Kinomoto as she attempts to recapture a set of magical tarot cards after accidentally releasing them from a mystical book. As Sakura’s story progresses, she encounters magical beings and creatures that are connected to the cards and her life.
As an imaginative take on the magical girl genre, the series featured its heroine whose costumes are made for her by her best friend, a great cast of characters connected to the cards and to Sakura, and some of the most poignant depictions of love and relationships. The series also features gorgeous artwork, especially through its character designs and backgrounds. As a franchise, "Cardcaptor Sakura"exists as a manga, anime series, film, and more. Earlier this year, "Cardcaptor Sakura" even returned with a new series called the "Clear Card Arc" and commemorated its 20th anniversary.
1 CODENAME SAILOR V
Before Usagi Tsukino (better known as "Serena" in the English dubs) became Sailor Moon, there was another magical girl called Sailor V. Naoko Takeuchi's short manga series "Codename Sailor V" served as the prequel to the manga series Sailor Moon, which would later become one of the most iconic series in Japanese popular culture. Fans of "Sailor Moon" will know Sailor V as Sailor Venus, but may not remember that Sailor V was fighting evil before Sailor Moon came on the scene.
Codename Sailor V tells the origin story of Sailor Venus and how she learns she must find Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Soldiers (or "Sailor Scouts" in the English dubs). As a character, Sailor V becomes an emotionally mature and confident young woman. In addition to fighting malevolent forces, she also deals with serious issues not touched on in Sailor Moon, including body image and unhealthy romantic relationships. Given the lackluster portrayal of Sailor Venus in the original anime, a manga series that tones down the antics to develop her character is heartwarming. Balancing great character growth with humor, action, and adventure, "Codename Sailor V" makes Sailor Venus a character worth revisiting.
What other comics and manga do you feel "Sailor Moon" fans need to read? Tell us all about them in the comments!