Shoujo and fantasy are two of the most popular genres in media, shown most recently in anime like Tokyo Mew Mew New and the second season of Orient. Shoujo manga and anime are typically aimed at young girls, featuring courageous female protagonists, and fantasy explores magical and supernatural elements of all kinds.
When they combine to take heroic girls on adventures across different kinds of fantasy worlds and stories, it results in some of the best and most enduring anime ever made. Of all the anime in the International Movie Database (IMDb), these are the highest rated of all time by fans.
9 Little Witch Academia (7.8)
Based on a 2013 short film which holds a well-regarded 7.3 on IMDb, Little Witch Academia centers around Atsuko Kagari (Akko to her friends). She has idolized the witch Shiny Chariot since childhood and is determined to succeed at the magical academy Luna Nova, despite her lack of magical background and skill making her an object of mockery to her more powerful classmates.
The show expands excellently on the world of the short film and on Akko’s character. Her high energy and determination do a great job of carrying the show, especially through a developing plotline about how the magical world is changing in the modern age. The adaptability Akko shows to succeed in school is exactly what their society needs as a whole.
8 Sailor Moon Crystal (7.8)
The original nineties adaptation of Sailor Moon holds a 7.7 on IMDb, but its 2014 reboot Sailor Moon Crystal edges ahead to delight audiences new and old even more. Average high school student Usagi Tsukino discovers that she is the heir to the power of an ancient lunar warrior. Together with the other Sailor Guardians, she now fights for love and justice as Sailor Moon!
Like the classic Sailor Moon, Crystal features some of the bravest heroines in anime, and while fans agree that the art style and animation takes some getting used to, this reboot adapts more of the character depth from the original manga, adds better pacing, and features excellent music.
7 Ascendance of a Bookworm (7.9)
When aspiring librarian Urano Motosu’s dreams are cut short by a fatal accident, she wishes with her last breath to be reborn so she can keep reading books. Half her wish comes true: she is reborn, but into a world whose technology is still at the level where books are a copied-by-hand rarity enjoyed only by the wealthy. Born into poverty, Urano must now draw on all her knowledge of the books she read in her past life to bring literature to the entire world!
While its slow pacing may turn some viewers off, others will be charmed by its premise (unique among isekai, which tends to feature warrior protagonists rather than creators or scholars), its bright and colorful look, and its incredibly sympathetic protagonist.
6 Cardcaptor Sakura (8.0)
This 1998 staple of the magical girl genre sees young Sakura Kinamoto accidentally release a bookful of enchanted cards all over her town, each of which contains the power to cause some awful danger to the world. The guardian spirit of the book, Kerberos, tells Sakura that she must fix her mistake, and gives her a magical wand and a mission to seal all of the cards back into the book where they belong.
Cardcaptor Sakura is still loved today for its fun and lighthearted tone and broad appeal. It balances comedy, action, and romance (especially after Sakura’s love interest Syaoran Li is introduced) extremely well, and served as a great example to the magical girl shows that came after.
5 The Twelve Kingdoms (8.0)
Redheaded high schooler Youko Nakajima has always felt out of place in life. But when a strange creature appears in her classroom, bows to her as his queen, and whisks her off to a world of medieval kingdoms, her problems only get more complicated. Now, Youko must not only figure out the rules of this strange world, but grow strong enough to meet her destiny as one of its rulers.
Based on the ongoing novel series by Fuyumi Ono, The Twelve Kingdoms boasts not only a rich and fascinating fantasy world but an excellent arc for its heroine. Youko starts the show off as a terrified, out of her depth child who breaks down at the harshness of her new world, and ends it as a wise and powerful queen with a strong circle of friends and allies.
4 Yona Of The Dawn (8.0)
Princess Yona, the pampered only child of Kouka’s King Il, lives a carefree life in the palace until her older cousin launches a coup and murders her father. Taken on the run by her bodyguard Hak, one of the most loyal sidekicks in anime, Yona must learn about the kingdom she has always been overly sheltered from, gather allies, and grow strong enough to take back the throne from her cousin.
Jonah of the Dawn is an excellent blend of political intrigue and fantasy elements. The unfolding story about the descendants of ancient dragons, all destined to gather around the righteous ruler Yona, blends exceptionally well with the more realistic workings of Kouka and its neighboring kingdoms. Hak and Yona’s romance subplot is also very well done: the two are intensely devoted to each other in a way that’s very fun to watch.
3 Revolutionary Girl Utena (8.1)
Utena Tenjou arrives at Ohtori Academy wearing a boy’s uniform and bearing the rose signet ring allowing her to participate in the Academy’s secretive duels for the hand of the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. Joining with Anthy is said to bring the winner of the duels the power to change the world, but Utena resolves to win not for power, but to realize her childhood ambition of becoming a prince like the mysterious figure who saved her as a child.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the most influential anime of all time, with its striking visuals and action, exploration of complex themes like gender roles, trauma, and coming of age, and a plot with enough ambiguity and subtext to spawn a host of interesting anime fan theories .
2 Princess Tutu (8.1)
Fairy tales and fantasy go hand in hand, and Princess Tutu leans on that hard. An ancient story meant to go on for eternity has gone dormant, its characters having tried to flee the confines of their roles. The mysterious author transforms a lonely duck in love with the story’s missing prince into a human girl, and sends her into the prince’s path in hopes of finally pulling him back in.
One of many iconic anime turning 20 years old in 2022, Princess Tutu uses visuals, music, and character designs from famous ballets to tell its own extraordinary tale. It explores the mechanics of storytelling itself, as characters fight to break free from their preordained roles and end up reaching new heights as they take control of the story for themselves.
1 Fruits Basket (8.6)
While the original 2001 adaptation received a respectable 7.9 on IMDb, its 2019 reboot, which adapted the entirety of the manga’s story, has been better received than any other fantasy shoujo out there. When recently orphaned Tohru Honda is taken in by members of the reclusive Sohma clan, she accidentally discovers that they are under an ancestral curse: when they are hugged by members of the opposite gender, they turn into the animals of the zodiac! As Tohru’s friendship with them deepens, she becomes determined to break the curse.
Fruits Basket has received universal praise for its large cast of unique and memorable characters, and the skillful way it uses the Sohma family curse as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the cycle of abuse and childhood trauma. Seeing every character come into their own and become happier and independent by the end of their story is a joy to watch.
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