My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic takes place in the fantasy land of Equestria, which is amusingly populated with mythical creatures from cockatrices to minotaurs. Also talking ponies. With accompanying dolls sold by Hasbro! The basic premise is that a pony named Twilight Sparkle is sent to Ponyville to learn about friendship. Seriously, that is her actual mission; she has to write weekly letters to Princess Celestia in Canterlot about a lesson she has learned. But how is she going to learn about friendship if she doesn't have any friends? Well, luckily, she makes some pretty quickly, and the Mane Six (look, if you can't deal with horse puns, you're out of luck, because, hoo boy, they keep on coming...and they're pretty brilliant a lot of the time) comprise a diverse array of personalities.
Twilight Sparkle is a studious unicorn, which means she learns lots of spells to use with her magical horn. Friendship is magic, but magic is also magic. Twilight is sort of the main character, and she kind of functions as the straight man, the regular girl. Although this does not mean she is devoid of personality. She's a nerdy bookworm and a little neurotic. It took me a while to realize that we had a lot in common, at which point she became my third-favorite character.
Pinkie Pie is the life of every party, largely because she throws them. She is extremely hyperactive and full of energy and joy and impossible not to like and if you do not like her she will make you like her dammit. She's kind of a weirdo, but she is not embarrassed by herself at all; I admired how self-confident she was. She also tends to be a little bubbleheaded at times, which means she gets some of the funniest lines. She's one of my two favorite characters, as she represents my extroverted side.
Fluttershy, as her name suggests, represents my introverted side. She is very meek, but it's clear she does have a lot bottled up inside her, and it's not a pretty sight when it gets let out. She's great with animals, big and small. She also has a dry wit to her that I wanted to see much more because some of her retorts killed me. I basically wanted to give her a hug all the time because I identified with her lack of assertiveness. Funnily enough, my two favorite characters are voiced by the same voice actor. They do have the cutest voices.
Applejack is a tomboyish farmer who really, really likes apples. It's the family business, after all! To that end, she's very family-oriented and business-oriented, and she's always looking for ways to find a new market. She's also good with animals, but only if they can be herded and/or lassoed.
Rainbow Dash is a tomboyish athlete who really, really likes flying. Flying really, really fast. She dreams of joining the Wonder Bolts (the Equestrian equivalent of the Blue Angels, I think). She's super cocky and kind of irritating, but she has a good heart. Funnily enough, I frequently think both of these characters are dudes (I had to stop myself from typing "He" a couple times just now), and they are both voiced by Ashleigh Ball, of Hey Ocean! fame.
Rarity is a fashionista unicorn, which means her clothes are literally made of magic. Okay, more like made with magic. She loves making pretty dresses and hopes to be the premier designer in Equestria one day. For a while, I had no interest in Rarity at all because whatever, fashion, but I warmed up to her as I saw that she was actually not as superficial as she seemed on the surface. She may be a little snooty, but she's also passionate about her art, and I can respect that.
You may have noticed that this show has six main female characters, which is just unheard of. As a result, every episode Bechdels all over the place. There's one major male character, a baby dragon named Spike, who is Twilight's sarcastic, genre-savvy assistant. He has a mad crush on Rarity and likes eating jewels. Because he's a dragon. All the characters are distinct and surprisingly well drawn; they all have clear strengths and flaws. (They are also well drawn: the very fluid animation on the show is quite nice, and the candy-coated color scheme is a treat for your eyes.)
With the exception of the occasional two-part premieres and finales, there is very little emphasis on serial storytelling, which is sad but understandable given the target audience. There is a modicum of continuity, but not much. Instead, most episodes are stand-alone adventures wherein the ponies learn some sort of lesson about friendship or life in general. It is a testament to the show that even though it is treading familiar ground—trust your friends, listen to your friends, friends are great—it still feels fresh and new, if only because they're talking ponies and the writers do have lots of fun with the worldbuilding (even though it's sort of episode-specific and mostly an excuse to be clever). And I was surprised that even though Twilight Sparkle literally explicates the lesson she has learned at the end of each episode, it didn't come off as sappy or cheesy because it was earned.
Creator Lauren Faust left at the end of the first season, and the second season is a bit different, especially because the writers became aware of their older male fanbase. I found the dialogue a bit wittier and snappier in the second season, and there were more homages and clever stylistic touches that little girls might not appreciate. On the other hand, the second season seems to turn the ponies into dicks more often for the sake of teaching somepony a lesson. The writing on the show overall is a bit mixed; the same writer would produce a great episode one week and then a dud the next. Plus, the show is unfortunately constrained by the fact that, in the end, it is actually a big commercial for toys: there have been times when the writers wanted to feature a supporting character more but were not allowed to because said character did not have a doll to sell. They manage to work around the marketing admirably, however, and the show never actually feels like a commercial at all; it feels like a fun, entertaining show about likable characters. That is also super duper adorable and colorful.
While I do like the show and am attached to the characters, I do remain mystified as to the brony phenomenon and the immense popularity of the show. It's not ~*amazing*~ or anything; when it comes to children's shows that are also great for adults, it's certainly no Avatar. But I have caught up just in time for the third season, and I look forward to seeing what my ponies are up to!