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Madoka Kaname is a happy, normal high school girl. She has a loving family and good friends. There’s nothing to cause her harm, until Kyubey, a strange, cat-like creature comes stumbling into her life, and introduces her, and her friend Sayaka, to the world of magical girls. It seems exciting at first, as she and Sayaka go on missions with Mami, the magical girl protecting their city. But it’s not all fun and games, as the girls quickly learn, but Kyubey’s offer of granting any wish becomes too tempting to Sayaka. But not everyone is cut out to be a magical girl.

Story by Magica Quartet; Art by Hanokage
Publisher: Yen Press
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Price: $11.99

Being a magical girl sounds exciting. You get magical powers, a cool transformation, an awesome weapon and a cute mascot. You use all these things to fight the powers of darkness and protect the people around you. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be for magical girls. Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes all those expectations and turns them completely on their head.

I first heard about the anime that this manga is based on, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, back in 2011 after it came out in Japan. There was a lot of talk about how dark the show was. The manga doesn’t waste any time diving into that darkness. It starts by introducing Madoka, a normal girl, who has a dream about another girl she’s never met facing great odds, and a cat-like creature offering to make a contract with her and make her a magical girl. Both the girl, mysterious transfer student Homura Akemi, and the cat-like creature, Kyubey, turn out to be real, and not too disposed to liking each other. Kyubey seems determined to get Madoka to make a contract with her, and Homura is just as determined to stop him.

While the reasons why Homura wants to stop Kyubey isn’t explained at first, the reasons for not becoming a magical girl in general do start to pile up fast. They are first warned not to be self-sacrificing, or to make a wish for anyone but themselves, because they can only fight for themselves. Kyouko Sakura, another magical girl who appears, shows what pain can come from making a wish for another. Next, Madoka and Sayaka learn that it’s not all cool poses and weapons, as Mami meet her match, and the result is a horrific end for Mami. The shocking truth behind the soul gems even throws the more experienced Kyouko for a loop. Even so, Kyubey continues to try to convince Madoka to make a contract, taking every opportunity to press her, with Homura stopping him every time. It’s not until the end of volume 2 that the truth behind Kyubey begins to be revealed.

I really enjoyed these first two volumes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It took many of the conventions to magical girl stories and easily turned them into something darker, and creepier. Seeing the magical girls fight with each other rather than work together reminded me immediately of the tokusatsu series Kamen Rider, a live action series that can be fairy dark. It was fascinating how the desire to fight for justice and others gets turned around and made into something that creates darkness instead of dispelling it. The revelations at the end with Kyubey and Sayaka were a great twist, and came out of nowhere.

And the twists work because the characters are so well-developed. The story moves at a quick pace, the series is only three volumes long, but still manages to create interesting characters so that when things turn dark, you care about them. Madoka is level-headed, but too kind-hearted, which makes Homura’s cold and harsh attitude so necessary to protect her from Kyubey’s constant attempts to make a contract with her. Sayaka’s optimism butts heads with Kyouko’s pessimism which is what makes them friends, no matter how short-lived it ends up being.

If you’re a fan of the magical girl genre, then Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a must have. It isn’t a series that parodies or pays homage to the genre, it is a straight out deconstruction of it, and it does a good job. Everything is the exact opposite of what you expect from a magical girl show, where everyone is friends, no one gets hurt and the good girls always win. Even if you aren’t a fan, I would recommend this title as a good example of how to spin a dark and possibly tragic tale. Definitely check this one out.

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About the author

Lori Henderson is managing editor for Manga Village. She also has a personal manga blog at Manga Xanadu and a personal blog at Fangirl Xanadu. She also contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog. As the mother of two teen daughters, she needs all the escape she can get, which reading and writing about manga gives her.