There are strong female characters and there are anime series with strong female characters. Let’s be real. Many anime series have one or two strong females, but otherwise many of the other female characters are just there to be cute, fall in love, and be dressed in cute outfits. However, there is something endearing about strong female characters and anime series that are daring enough to make their female characters more complex than just walking fan service.
Do note while many of these series have feminist themes, this is not a strictly feminist list. Instead, I’ll be highlighting series that creates not only strong females, but female characters that have more than just one personality dimension.
If Moribito were about a wondering male warrior guarding the life of a young princess, it would be a story told over a thousand times across all sorts of media. However, making Balsa a female mercenary smuggling and guarding a young prince keeps the story, but changes the narrative. If it were a man guarding a prince, it would be all about teaching him strength. However, Balsa is teaching him how to survive, but also the nature of bonds between people and the beauty of just living. Instead of training him to be a warrior, it can be said that Balsa’s influence will teach him to one day be a wise and fair ruler.
Though Balsa throughout the series shows herself to be amazing with a spear, Moribito isn’t a show all about fighting, it is a show about surviving without always the need for violence. That is strength in its finest form.
Yona of the Dawn
Like all good characters regardless of gender, Yona doesn’t start off strong as a character. She doesn’t end up physically strong in her way either, but rather the show is about watching her learn of the true world outside her royal bubble and grow into her role as a leader. You could say this is an anti-feminist show because she is surrounded by male warriors via her bodyguard and the dragons, but she doesn’t need to match their physical strength, but instead the show chooses to grow her strength as a leader. This makes it so her companions are not protecting a girl, but rather protecting a ruler.
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell follows Motoko, a cybernetic being with only a fully human brain, as she tries to catch a terrorist that can manipulate minds. As a cybernetic being, he physical strength is, well, pretty impressive. However, what makes Motoko such a standout character is actually that human brain of hers. She stays on task and tackles problems with the intellect of a technological being. Strength not always need be physical, but rather mental strength can change the tides.
Attack on Titan
Comparatively, there are not a ton of female characters in Attack on Titan, and that is a shame because most of the female characters within are excellently crafted. It is flush with strong silent-type females, a trope usually reserved for men, but you learn that these characters are not just top fighters in their class, but they also have different sides to them. Mikasa, for example, is strong enough to constantly have to save that stupid Eren, but we are also tormented by her deep and often ignored feelings for him as more than just her adopted brother. It is a unique soft spot to give a character and it makes her desperate rages a treat. Even sillier females like Sasha whose whole character seems based around eating due to childhood scarcity can bring the pain in battle when needed.
Claymore is a bit of a complicated case. On one hand, the Claymores are the strongest fighters in their world and the only ones capable of taking out those demons. On the other hand, their whole order seems to be under the thumb of men and they are mere sacrificial lambs to protect “man”kind. Regardless, the Claymore order is full of both excessively strong and rather personality-complex women that are shown off throughout the series and, I imagine, in more detail in the manga.
Akame ga Kill
Akame ga Kill is an anime series filled with physically strong female characters, to be certain. However, in terms of personality, typically they employ age-old personality tropes. The tsundere that gets softened by love, the crazy pixie murder girl, the stone-cold assassin with a tragic back story, ect. However, there is one female character that I especially enjoyed as a strong female – Esdeath. It is easy to make a character both strong and crazy, but to justify it is difficult to do, with Esdeath, they did it well.
She was raised in a big ol’ Darwinian way where the strongest deserve to survive, so when the people that taught her that were all slaughtered, it twisted that personality to extremes. More interestingly, it is not her strength as a fighter that is highlighted in the series, but it is her search for love. To be honest, her reason for wanting to fall in love could have been expanded on better, but it was an interesting quirk for her character.
Michiko and Hatchin
This series is not only excellent at highlighting strong and very real female characters, but it does wonders for the racial diversity of anime. Taking place in a fictional country, it doesn’t seem to have one prevailing race and even features a main female with dark skin. All that aside, Michiko and Hatchin has some great growth in the female leads in the series. You see Michiko as immediately a badass, but you learn she has a softer side as it explores the motivations for their little road trip. Hatchin, on the other hand, is more of a coming of age story. Together on their quest for freedom you learn to love and respect both characters as they learn to love and respect each other.
Mercenary work and crime is generally dominated by males in anime, but between Revy and Balalaika, two of the fiercest female character in any anime series, you see that women can be just as vicious and successful. In Black Lagoon, you often see the female characters in some sort of leader capacity because, in this world, strength is followed because that is how you survive. What is unique here especially is that there is no need for a stalwart moral compass which lets these characters really thrive.
Kill la Kill
I meet your skepticism here. Kill la Kill, an anime series primarily about two girls battling it out in outfits that get more powerful the skimpier they are? Well, first of all, it is poking fun at that general trope of how underdressed they make many female characters. However, the real reason that I counted this among my strong female characters list is not just because Ryuko and Satsuki are both strong fighters, but because they are actually fighting each other. They’re not fighting over some man, they are fighting for legitimate reasons and ideals that matter to them.
Women in the animation industry is an interesting controversy, but while an anime about five women in the anime industry doesn’t necessary fix the real life issues, it paints an interesting picture. While not necessarily highlighting the hardships, Shirobako does show the various trials and tribulations that anyone in the anime industry, regardless of gender faces. The long hours, the short deadlines, that variety of thanklessness of the work. You have to admire the hard work they do. It’s not physical strength, but it is better.
If you have more anime series that highlight strong female characters then lay them on us in the comments section below.