It has been 25 years since the first season of the famous Magical Girl anime Sailor Moon began airing, all the way back in 1992. Since then the magical girl genre has expanded immensely, with many titles being deeply inspired in Sailor Moon, but recently a new trend has appeared within the magical girl genre: Dark Magical Girl anime.
Be warned that his list will include some minor spoilers.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Episode count: 12 + 3 movies
Shortly after a mysterious new transfer student, Homura Akemi, joins their class, middle school students Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki meet Kyuubey a cat-like magical familiar from another planet that offers them a simple proposition: he will grant them one wish, anything they want, and in exchange they will form a contract with him and become magical girls.
By far the most well known anime on this list, Madoka Magica has a reptutation as the anime that started this darker trend. It seems harmless enough for the first couple of episodes, but in soon dives into much, much darker territory after the brutal death of one of the main characters. This leads to some Evangelion leavel mindf*ckery that, by the end of the last movie will leave you with one question: What did I just watch?
Episode count: 12
On the last day of school before the summer holiday starts, middle school girl Ichika Tachibana meets Manatsu, a mysterious girl that appears within a busted mirror in an unused campus building. Manatsu gives Ichika magical powers and tells her that she must unlock the 12 powers of the Djinn, claiming its part of her summer homework and she wants Ichika to help out. But, as the series progresses and the Djinn awaken, Ichika slowly begins to loose control of her powers and her own body.
Aired in 2004 and having passed almost completely under the radar, Uta Kata is a bit of a hidden gem. It deals with topics such as child abuse, eating disorders, mental health and misanthropy, with the main character coming close to killing innocent civilians, some bloody moments, shoujo-ai and shounen-ai and a particularly promising candidate for awful mother of the year.
Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru
Yuuki Yuuna and her friends are part of the Hero Club, a group of ordinary teenagers that go around helping others. When mysterious forces called Vertexes threaten humanity, the members of the club are called upon by the gods to fight. They are turned into magical girls of immense power using an app on their phone, but it turns out that the price for their powers is more than most of them are willing to pay.
A lighter take on the dark magical girl subgenre, yuyuyu features quite a lot of Slice of Life moments and adorable character interactions. However, it’s still filled with enough despair to outdo Zetsubo-sensei.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha
Episodes: 64 (4 seasons) + 3 movies
Third grader Takamachi Nanoha stumbled upon an injured talking ferret after hearing his telepathic cries for help. The ferret turned out to be Yuuno, an archaeologist and mage from another world who had accidentally scattered the dangerous Jewel Seeds throughout Earth. Without the strength to collect the Jewel Seeds, Yuuno had resumed a ferret form and needed someone else to take on the task for him. He gave a red jewel to Nanoha explaining to her with this she could transform and use magic to combat the monsters that threatened them due to the Jewel Seeds. But the monsters are the least of their worries, as Yuuno and Nanoha are not the only ones out to collect the Jewel Seeds. (Taken from MyAnimeList.net)
Lyrical Nanoha is one of Japan’s most successful magical girl franchises. It began in 2004, during the same season as Uta Kata, and features similar themes of child abuse and misanthropy. Also the main character won’t stop “befriending” people to make friends.
Magical Girl Raising Project
For many individuals in N-City, playing the popular social role-playing game Magical Girl Raising Project is as close as they could come to being a real magical girl. However, for some rare players, that dream can become a reality. One such girl is Koyuki Himekawa, who receives a notification one night that she has been selected to become a magical girl, her in-game avatar Snow White.
As Koyuki and other chosen players in the city begin helping those in need, they all receive yet another notification: the admins have decided that they want to reduce the number of magical girls. Whoever collects the least amount of Magical Candies—which are awarded for their magical girl activities—in their competition each week will lose their powers. But when a real-world tragedy happens to the first player that drops out, they are shown the repercussions of losing their abilities. As more participants inevitably lose the competition and more twisted rules are added, the girls soon realize that their “contest” is actually a desperate fight for survival. (Taken from MyAnimeList.net)
As the synopsis well suggests, Raising project is basically magical girls meet Battle Royale. Filled with violence, psychopaths and lots of death, it might just be the darkest magical girl anime on this list.
Senki Zessho Symphogear
Episodes: 39 (3 seasons) + Specials + Fourth and fifth season coming out soon
Two years ago, a pair of idols, Tsubasa Kazanari and Kanade Amou, collectively known as ZweiWing, fought against an alien race known as Noise using armor known as Symphogear. To protect a girl named Hibiki Tachibana, who got severely wounded by the Noise, Kanade sacrificed herself. Two years later, as Tsubasa has fought the Noise alone, Hibiki ends up gaining the same power as Kanade. (Taken from MyAnimeList.net)
Symphogear is bloody and filled with fanservice, with one of the earliest major character deaths to be found in Magical Girl anime.
Thirteen girls, each with the ability to materialize “Elements” and summon metallic guardians called “Childs” have been brought to Fuuka Academy to battle mysterious creatures called Orphans. Each with a different personality and background, they must decide who they truly care about and why they fight. (Taken from MyAnimeList.net)
Some consider it a magical series, some don’t, but either way Mai-hime is an undeniably dark series, dealing with mental health, carnage (albeit without blood), character death, resurrection and quite a lot of fanservice.
In a fairy tale come to life, the clumsy, sweet, and gentle Ahiru (Japanese for “duck”) seems like an unlikely protagonist. In reality, Ahiru is just as magical as the talking cats and crocodiles that inhabit her town—for Ahiru really is a duck! Transformed by the mysterious Drosselmeyer into a human girl, Ahiru soon learns the reason for her existence. Using her magical egg-shaped pendant, Ahiru can transform into Princess Tutu—a beautiful and talented ballet dancer whose dances relieve people of the turmoil in their hearts. With her newfound ability, Ahiru accepts the challenge of collecting the lost shards of her prince’s heart, for long ago he had shattered it in order to seal an evil raven away for all eternity.
Princess Tutu is… odd. Hard to explain, deeply weird and quite often borderline surreal, it takes a fairytale setting and a fairly mediocre plot ( the main character is literally a duck) and makes something creates something dark, unhappy and at times deeply unsettling.