“You were either a Winx or a W.I.T.C.H.,” an oft-circulated Tumblr post announces.
That meme is referring to two animated shows that both debuted in 2004 and both centered around magical-girl teams led by a plucky redheaded protagonist. While Winx Club aired on Nickelodeon in the U.S. for five more years before getting an animated revival and a spin-off series, W.I.T.C.H. quietly departed from ABC after its second season. Nevertheless, to kids who grew up watching them, the two shows were inextricably linked, given their anime-influenced character designs, exciting fantasy stories, and diverse casts. (And though young American viewers might not have realized, both had roots in Europe, with Winx Club originating in Italy, and W.I.T.C.H. being based on an Italian comic series of the same name.)
Winx Club’s popularity set it up for a recent revival: Netflix just turned it into a gritty live-action series. But the streaming service may’ve picked the wrong show to tap into that energy. Both shows starred magical girl teams bond by friendship, but W.I.T.C.H. was much darker, and would better fit the tone of Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga.
W.I.T.C.H. follows five teenage girls — Will, Irma, Taranee, Cornelia, and Hay Lin (get it?) — who learn that they are Guardians of the Veil, superpowered beings who can control quintessence, water, fire, earth, and air, respectively. They’re in charge of protecting the border between our regular world and various fantasy worlds. The first season primarily focuses on the world of Meridian, a medieval fantasy realm recently taken over by evil prince Phobos and his snake-shapeshifter right-hand Cedric.
When the girls learn about their powers and their new roles, they must find the rightful heir to the throne and free Meridian from Phobos’ rule. The girls balance their dual lives, which means keeping their powers a secret from their families and other friends. Eventually, they meet Meridian teenager Caleb, who at age 15 leads an underground rebellion. The series doesn’t need to be remade as something dark and edgy, because it already is pretty dark and edgy. W.I.T.C.H. was more action-focused than Winx Club, in an effort to expand to a male audience. That didn’t make it any less of a girl show, but from the get-go, W.I.T.C.H. had that plot-heavy, action-focused vibe that Fate: The Winx Saga tries its hand at. It’s jarring in The Winx Saga to see the protagonists learning about a war that scarred the generation before them, but the same beat would work just fine in a W.I.T.C.H. update, where the girls are already trying to overthrow a despotic leader.
Even some of the more specific threads of Fate: The Winx Saga — the tension between the girls and the theme of fallible mentors — are present in W.I.T.C.H. Most of the W.I.T.C.H. protagonists know each other before they receive their powers, and they don’t exactly get along. It’s even more true in the comics, where new girl Will struggles to connect with the others when she first meets them, especially when she’s dubbed their leader. While the Guardians initially bicker, they slowly work toward a strong, enduring friendship.
W.I.T.C.H. is also ahead of Winx Club when dealing with complicated relationships with mentor figures. The very basis of how the Guardians get their powers sets up that tension. Each generation of Guardians passes their powers onto the next, and the second season of the show focuses on the current team learning more about the women who came before them — and how one doomed the rest by lusting after power. Fate: The Winx Saga adds these mentor relationships to the Winx world, but W.I.T.C.H. already did it 15 years ago.
And on the most superficial note possible, W.I.T.C.H.’s visual aesthetic was always grungier than the bright neon of Winx Club. During the day, the W.I.T.C.H. girls attend Sheffield Institute, a brick-walled academy that looks more like the dark academia vibes of Fate: The Winx Saga’s take on Alfea college than the original pink whimsical walls in Winx Club ever did. Under Phobos’ rule, Meridian is enshrouded in shadow, storm, and fog, and the royal castle’s hallways capture Gothic decadence. Even when Phobos is eventually overthrown, Meridian is more rooted in golden-swathed earth-tones than the jewel-toned worlds of Winx.
W.I.T.C.H seems primed and posed to become the dark and edgy magical girl series that Fate: The Winx Saga is trying to be. But unfortunately, the short-lived show could not be saved. While the second season, led by showrunner Greg Weisman of Gargoyles and Young Justice, set up a third, it never manifested. An old forum post claims this is because there was so little investor and producer interest.
Unfortunately, W.I.T.C.H. isn’t currently available for streaming, and the DVDs only released in Europe, Australia, and the Philippines. Still, the memory of W.I.T.C.H. lives on — in Tumblr posts, in fan art, and in the striking parallels of a live-action show about 2004’s other five-member magical girl show. Maybe one day it’ll land on Disney Plus, but until then, Fate: The Winx Saga will have to suffice.