The magical girl, a popular genre of Japanese television animation, has provided female ideals for young girls since the 1960s. Three waves in the genre history are outlined, with a focus on how female hero figures reflect the shifting ideas of gender roles in society. It is argued that the genre developed in close connection to the culture of shōjo (female adolescence) as an antithesis to adulthood, in which women are expected to undertake domestic duties. The paper then incorporates contexts for male-oriented fan culture of shōjo and anime aesthetics that emerged in the 1980s. The recent tendencies for gender bending and genre crossing raise critical questions about the spread of the magical girl trope as cute power. It is concluded that the magical girl genre encompasses contesting values of gender, and thus the genre's empowerment fantasy has developed symbiotically with traditional gender norms in society.