One of the big challenges of this project has been sub-genre identification. It's pretty clear that within the Magical Girl genre, several sub-genres exist: TV Tropes identifies the three big ones as the Magic Warrior, the Cute Witch, and the Magic Idol, and I came up with a few more out of necessity, like the Psychic and the Object User. However the question is, how does one determine which sub-genre a given show belongs to? What are the specific attributes that define each sub-genre?
So here are some of the main parameters I've established for determining which sub-genre a given show fits into:Natural Magic vs. Given Magic:
I remember sailorptah
mentioning that people in PMMM fandom were debating whether Kyubey gave Madoka her magical powers or whether she had latent powers all along and Kyubey simply unlocked them. I was perplexed by this because to my mind, "giving magic" and "unlocking magical potential" are functionally the exact same thing.
A defining trait of the Magic Warrior is that she spends the first chunk of her life as a muggle, totally unaware of the existence of magic up until the fateful day (usually occurring in the first episode) when she is contacted by some magical entity who lets her in on the masquerade and gives her a magical object that lets her transform. Regardless of whether her magic is "given" or "unlocked," the Magic Warrior requires the assistance of an outside party to kickstart her magic-using career.
For example, compare the origin stories of Wedding Peach and Futari wa Precure: In Wedding Peach, Momoko is the daughter of an angel and her friends are all reincarnations of angels, so it seems obvious that they all possess an innate genetic magical power. In Futari wa Precure, the two mascot mentors crash-land into Nagisa and Honoka's houses apparently by chance and recruit the girls to be Pretty Cures because they're the most convenient choices; no mention is made of destiny or innate powers or the girls having some kind of specialness that makes them prime candidates — they're just a couple of muggles who were in the right place at the right time. Yet despite these differences, the heroines of these two shows get initiated in basically the same way: they're visited by a magical being who tells them that magic exists, gives them a magical doodad, and asks them to transform into a superhero in order to save the world and go fight that monster that's trying to kill you as we speak.
This is what I mean by "given" magic: a Magical Girl who cannot access her powers and isn't even aware she has them until an outside party comes along to enlighten her and unlock her potential, or
a Magical Girl who is a totally ordinary muggle with no hidden powers at all until an outside party comes along and hits her with the empowering stick. And while PMMM was actually pretty clear in establishing that Madoka is the former (otherwise why would Kyubey be badgering her all the time), other shows can be pretty vague about how much of the heroine's magic was given and how much was innate potential, thus reinforcing my belief that they're functionally the same.
On the other hand, there's "natural" magic, a feature of the Cute Witch and Psychic sub-genres. A natural magic-user doesn't need the help an outside party to access her powers — instead her powers just manifest on their own, either at birth or gradually as she grows older. Harry Potter, for example, is a natural magic-user because even before he learned any spells or was told about the hidden magical world, he had already discovered his ability to make weird things happen. With a typical Cute Witch, we don't even get to see her discover her abilities — at the start of her story, she's already been using magic for a while and is totally used to it. A natural magic-user also usually doesn't require a magical object to cast magic. A magic wand certainly helps, but even if you take it away, a Cute Witch can usually still do a little magic. The earliest Cute Witches didn't use wands at all, simply pointing or winking to cast magic, and Psychics are similarly unfettered by a reliance on doodads. By contrast, if you take away a Magic Warrior's transformation trinket, she's as powerless as any other muggle.Unlimited Magic vs. Limited Magic:
Another key difference between Cute Witches and Magic Warriors is the range of powers they have access to.
Magic Warriors usually have "limited" magic, meaning that they can only do a few different magical things. Look at Sailor Moon's powers: she can transform, she can disguise herself, she can purify monsters with a finishing move, she can throw her tiara like a frisbee, she can sometimes bring people back from the dead, and she has the standard superhero powers like strength/speed/jumping/resilience/etc. And probably some other ones I forgot. That might sound like a lot, but it's actually quite restrictive when you think about it. Can Sailor Moon make a freshly-cooked steak appear out of thin air? How about a house? Can she split a preexisting house into two houses? Can she summon the guard dog of hell? Rearrange furniture with her mind? Make someone's dessert disappear from under their nose? Bestow sentience and mobility onto potatoes and carrots?
These are all tricks I've seen Cute Witches do, because a Cute Witch usually has "unlimited" magic: she can theoretically do anything
with her magic so long as she has reached the required skill and power levels. Also, since Magic Warriors have a clearly defined job description and mission (save the world) their powers are specific to the task at hand. Sailor Moon can't make a steak out of thin air because that ability isn't applicable to monster-fighting; her abilities are limited to only those she needs
in order to do her job properly. Cute Witches, on the other hand, have missions that are less pressing or less specialized, and their job description is usually "being a magic-user," so they have more freedom to use their magic on silly things like steak-conjuring and vegetable-animating.
The "limited" magic that characterizes Magic Warriors (and Magic Idols, since they have a similarly specific mission) can be traced back to the old Object User genre, in which the heroine's power was entirely tied to this one doodad that could perform a very specific type of magic and nothing else. In fact, the very first two Magical Girls demonstrate the "limited"/"unlimited" dichotomy quite nicely. Akko, the first Object User, was given a magic mirror that had exactly one power: it could turn her appearance into whatever she wanted. A pretty versatile power, but still. Sally, the first Cute Witch, was the complete opposite: she could do anything that popped into her head simply by pointing her finger. The only limit was her imagination.Foreign vs. Native:
This one's pretty simple: Cute Witches are usually from another world; Magic Warriors are usually from Earth. On the rare occasion that a Magic Warrior is born on another world (as in Hyperspeed Grandoll) or was from another world in a previous life (as in Sailor Moon), she'll still have spent the majority of her life on Earth and will have no memories of life on the other world (until the plot gives those memories back). This ties into the "natural vs given" dichotomy and the difference in origin stories: a Cute Witch's homeworld is usually a magical
world, so she grew up with magic all around her and is totally used to it, while a Magic Warrior, even if she has latent powers, grew up as a muggle on Earth and so has to be informed about the magical world's existence.
The last two decades have seen the appearance of a few "home-grown" witches who break with tradition by being from Earth, such as in Ojamajo Doremi and Sasami MG Club, but the majority of Cute Witches are still foreigners.Fighting Evil By Moonlight:
At the end of the day, I think there's one thing that separates the Magic Warriors from everyone else, and it's right there in their name: Magic Warriors fight evil. Cute Witches and others might fight evil on occasion, but Magic Warriors have it as their main gig. Note that "fighting" doesn't have to involve violence. Perhaps "opposing" would be more accurate, because some Magic Warriors conduct their battles nonviolently (like Princess Tutu) or by proxy (like My Melody). The term "evil" is also open to interpretation. In Cardcaptor Sakura, for example, the Clow Cards aren't evil, they're just chaotic and resistant to capture, but they also cause a lot of trouble when out of their box, which is where Sakura comes in.Hybrids:
Obviously not all shows fall neatly into these categories, which brings us to a sub-genre that I call the MW/CW Hybrid. Basically if a Magical Girl a) has fighting evil as her main gig but b) comes from a foreign magical world, that's what defines a Hybrid show. Hybrids are usually "natural" magic-users, since they come from a world where magic is ordinary, but they're also usually "limited" magic-users, because they have a specific job to do and only need the skills necessary to do it. Examples of this mini-genre are Panty and Stocking, Otogi Jushi Akazukin, Onegai My Melody, Super Doll Licca-chan, Jewel BEM Hunter Lime, and Shamanic Princess.