When I found it a few years ago, I had no idea that Senki Zessho Symphogear would quickly become one of my favorite anime series of all time. It is a fun, uplifting, semi sci-fi spin on the classic magical girl genre that’s filled with awesome action, awesome music, awesome characters, awesome messages, and awesome stories told over five seasons. Here’s a brief description of a scene set in one of the show’s later episodes that is emblematic of why I love this anime so much:

Our main character, 17 year old Hibiki Tachabana, has just survived a powerful trap set by her team’s enemies. She did so by drawing on a never before used power granted to her by her Symphogear armor thanks to some key events that occurred in the prior season. After a flashy re-transformation sequence which sees her normally orange and white outfit slimmed down and adorned in shiny gold, she breaks out into a triumphant song about bravery and kindness as she now easily rebuffs the enemies who had moments ago been giving her so much trouble. With a few brilliantly animated blocks and punches in time with her self-sung lyrics, she swats two of her three foes aside before the final one unleashes a flurry of missiles at her.

Explosions light up the screen, and for a moment the scene is filled with smoke, but then Hibiki, still singing, her voice alive with righteous fury, bursts through the lingering haze fist first, completely unharmed. Her powerful punch careens towards the enemy leader’s face, certain to be a killing blow…

….but at the last possible moment Hibiki pulls back her punch, her fist mere centimeters away from striking true. She holds her attack there for a moment as if to make the point “I could have killed you.” But then her face breaks out into a kind, almost sympathetic smile as she unclenches her fist and turns her hand over to reach out an open, welcoming palm to her enemy.

“I don’t know if you were telling the truth or not, but you said you wished we could be friends… So…” Hibiki offers.

The above action sequence lasts just under three minutes but it contains all the pieces that make Symphogear one of the best anime I’ve ever watched. Without going too much farther into episode specific spoilers, let me break down just why I love this show so much.

1. It Has Awesome Action

While Symphogear isn’t as outrageously high budget as something like Akudama Drive or Ufotable’s various action oriented shows like Unlimited Blade Works or Demon Slayer, its action scenes and general animation quality are pretty good. Even its first season, which was produced with a lower budget and leaner crew, gets a lot right as far as action scenes go. Choreography, shot composition, tension, impact, and visual effects. They are all there from the very beginning. And the show just gets better and better by leaps and bounds as it moves into later seasons.

In particular, Symphogear’s action scenes deliver just about everything you’d want from what is essential a Magical Girl show that has traded the traditional frilly costumes of the genre for cool looking, form fitting power armor. From tense one on one battles, to smaller meaningful paired team ups, to the whole team squaring off against armies of minions, to exciting season ending boss fights, Symphogear has it all. There’s a lot of variety across the five seasons and the show is constantly able to one up itself while still remaining consistent with what came before.

One of the coolest things Symphogear does with its combat are the stylized freeze frames it holds for a second or two when one of the heroines utilizes one of her signature special attacks. These named attacks become integral parts of each character and are a joy to watch even if they only last a brief moment at a time.

Oh, and hold onto your hat for each season’s opening episode. Starting with the second season, the show goes all out with its first episodes to remind you just how awesome Symphogear is. We’re talking about extended action sequences that could easily be the finales of other shows!

2. It Has Awesome Music

All those actions scenes above? They are all of them set and choreographed and timed to various forms of awesome music. And it’s not just music. They’re all set to singing. You see, the Symphogear armors that our heroines wear are powered by myths and songs, with the songs felt deep within each wearer’s heart being the far more important of the two. Inevitably, at least one of the heroines in any given combat sequence will be pouring her thoughts and feelings into her singing in order to fuel her powers. This leads to some pretty powerful lyrics that express the main characters’ hopes and fears and doubts and dreams all while they are fighting for what they most believe in.

Each of the Symphogear armors emerge from pendants that contain fragments of a different relic from the pages of history, so likewise each of the wearers personalities and combat styles fit into a theme that draws heavily on the history of their relic. One relic’s origins came from the remaining fragments of a legendary Japanese sword, so its wielder naturally comes from a traditional Japanese family and uses a powerful nodachi as she sings lyrics with a traditional Japanese bent. This kind of thing goes for all of the Symphogear users and it affects the feeling of each combat scene. One battle might feature J-Pop, while another might be steeped in heavy rock music. And the thing is, the fights really do match up to the music. Sword slashes, heavy punches, missile barrages, and more are all well timed to the songs being sung. It can be a sight to behold as attacks, dodges, blocks, and special techniques all flow in time to the various beats.

Symphogear has a lot of songs sung by its core cast of characters, but even so, there’s more combat sequences by far than there are unique songs in each season, so you will hear some repetition. Fortunately, the show varies up which parts of the songs you hear in order to keep things fresh. More than that, the series also does a pretty good job of introducing new songs right when they are needed. Getting a powerful new song at a turning point in the plot or after a key moment in a character’s growth can be quite the thrill.

There’s also a handful of songs separate from the combat that I really love. Most notably are the concert scenes that show up roughly once per season. One of the Symphogear users truly loves to sing as a profession, not just as as part of defending the world from evil, and her concerts throughout the series are masterful showcases of music and animation.

3. It Has Awesome Characters

Symphogear’s action and music would be pretty soured without a cast of awesome characters to hold things together. Fortunately, the series doesn’t slack in that regard, either. Each of the handful of Symphogear users are interesting, fully rounded characters. They face their own personal problems on and off the battlefield. Sometimes they fail to meet their own expectations. But they also have plenty of instances where they triumph or support each other in their times of need.

Take Tsubasa Kazanari, one of the first Symphogear wearers we meet. As a shy child growing up, she was found to be compatible with a Symphogear relic and was trained over the course of the next decade or so to help defend the world from threats no one else could face. Tragic events early on in the first season see her abandon her normal wants and needs in order to shape herself into a self described sword. For the next couple of years she lives as a shell of a person whose one and only stated desire is to become strong enough to make sure nobody else under her protection is ever harmed again.

Tsubasa is a powerful warrior who is capable of being an excellent mentor and a true friend. In her ideal world, her singing would be used to comfort and entertain and would not be needed for combat. Thus, she tries all the harder to fight for that ideal world when it becomes necessary. Special note should be paid to Tsubasa’s phoenix imagery which, on occasion, sees her rise up from her own challenges and defeats to some of the show’s most inspiring heights.

In practice, Tsubasa acts as a brooding warrior who is highly protective of her friends even to a fault. She can be encouraging and occasionally her words are enormously helpful to those around her, but sometimes she is too caught up in her own troubles to help others. Though the Symphogears don’t really have a team leader, Tsubasa might be the closest thing to one as she is often the one calling out strategies during battle.

Or, take main character Hibiki Tachibana who only gains the use of her Symphogear after being injured in a rescue attempt by Tsubasa and her partner. Though she struggles during her two long years of recovery, Hibiki somehow manages to maintain her fun loving nature and her deep desire to help others.

Where Tsubasa is heavily themed after the concept of blades and swords, Hibiki takes on a unique role among the Symphogear users as the only one who doesn’t wield a separate weapon. Though Hibiki fights her battles with some truly impressive punches and kicks, her true power is that of carrying the show’s core message of reaching out to one’s enemies in an attempt to bring peace through understanding. Sometimes she struggles with upholding her ideals. Sometimes she laments the fact that that her Symphogear powers only seem good for dealing with the “little problems” of villains who want to destroy the world. Super strength and a punch that can smash nearly anything aren’t much help when she alienates a friend or when she has to face down long lingering family issues. But, when push comes to shove, it’s Hibiki’s mighty clenched fists that can be opened to form helpful, outstretched hands that ultimately win the day.

In practice, Hibiki is the naive, hopeful goof of the team. She is always encouraging others, always pushing her more serious teammates to live a little and have some good, wholesome fun. At school, she is perpetually behind on her homework because she takes any and every opportunity to help those around her. On the battlefield, she is often the team’s ace in the hole, especially once the final boss is in sight.

It’s not just the core group of Symphogear users that makes Symphogear great. There’s a small but fun cast of secondary characters and some terrific villains as well. The villains in Symphogear range from cruelly self absorbed to frighteningly focused to uncompromisingly righteous to scarily silly. Each of the main villains is memorable and distinct, and they really round out the show by providing excellent foils to the Symphogear users.

4. It Has Awesome Messages

Consistent across the seasons of Symphogear is an oft repeated core message that says understanding one another and working through our conflicts peacefully is the only true way forward. Sure, the show features tons of combat and explosions, but in the end, every single time, it’s this message of compassion and forgiveness that is the real way out of conflict. It doesn’t mean the show is timid by any means. This core message is sometimes delivered in some pretty awe-inspiring ways. What better way to show an enemy the error of their ways than to reach out to them when they are at their most vulnerable? Similar messages are at the hearts of many of the best magical girl shows, but Symphogear puts this theme so front and center, and expertly integrates it so directly into its plots that it’ll have you cheering for that inevitable outstretched hand.

Additionally, the show puts forth a handful of other themes that have a bit less focus but are still pretty inspiring. Themes like redemption, renewal, and admitting one’s weaknesses come up again and again. While the overall theme of reaching out drives the biggest moments of the plot, these lesser themes lead to some pretty powerful personal moments for many of the show’s main characters over the course of the five seasons.

5. It Has Awesome Stories

The first season of Symphogear would be one of my favorite anime if it simply stood alone. It does a good job balancing excitement, sorrow, humor, and touching moments. That the series has five awesome seasons produced back to back, all of which at least match the first season story wise, just kinda blows me away. Each season is its own story and has its own set of villains, but the main and secondary characters remain and certainly the show’s themes form a repeating through-line across all the seasons. While each story does largely stand on its own, key events from past seasons do frequently come back in neat ways that make the series as a whole feel cohesive. The fifth season, in particular, is something of a victory lap that pulls back in elements from the other seasons in pretty awesome ways.

It’s not just the show’s immediate plots that are awesome. It’s the way the series emotionally resonates by leveraging all the other pieces. Whether it is referencing events from the previous season or from the previous episode, Symphogear has this knack for landing strong, uplifting emotional beats again and again based on what came before. Pulling off moments that warm your heart is almost as much a part of Symphogear as the fight scenes are. And you don’t get that in what is predominately an action series without the show being willing to take the time to tell good stories.

All in all, Symphogear is a show that saw me fist pump the air in overjoyed excitement several times throughout the seasons and had me leaping to my feet on occasion as it drove home its climaxes. It’s a show that has quite a bit of goofiness but mixes that with a well-appreciated maturity of storytelling. While its cast does face down some serious troubles and doubts from time to time, it’s not a show that is overly dark or depressing or filled with gore like a lot of magical girl shows seem to be these days. I wouldn’t want every show to attempt to be Symphogear. It has a direct, almost over the top, complex-simplicity that I think might be impossible to replicate. But it also knows that it wants to be an awesome action show with a big heart and good message, and it pretty unfailingly hits its desired mark again and again.

If you are at all interested in Symphogear or the magical girl genre, I’d recommend you give the first season four episodes to win you over. By then, the show will have given you a full taste of all it has to offer.