From Hinata Hyuga (Naruto) to Nezuko Kamado (Demon Slayer), here’s ranking the most iconic female anime characters.
So we all know this hard fact; anime as well as live-action cinema has long reinforced stereotypes about women. Hearken back to its formative phase in the mid-1900s, anime generally reduced female characters to either being a male protagonist’s love interest or a person who needs to be saved. Yikes. But things have rapidly changed in anime in the last few years. Nowadays, there’s a wealth of strong female anime characters, who hail from different walks of life. Anime is no longer a fan-service aimed at a particular target audience. From dark fantasy, sci-fi to historical fiction, and slice-of-life dramas, anime efficiently handles diverse genres. And more often, it is the brilliantly written and conceived female characters who end up stealing the show. Yes indeed!
Now any form of storytelling relies on certain tropes. Anime has also limited itself by following tropes and archetypal characterizations. This especially happens with the female characters, which are largely designed by men. Hence, from cute girl trope, to badass trope, and funny girl trope, anime assigns certain stock character traits to the female characters. Nevertheless, some of the best modern manga and anime are challenging and subverting these tropes. Girls or women in anime aren’t defined by a single character trait or by their perfect costumes or bodies. There’s a depth of characterization nowadays in anime that defies labels like ‘smart’, ‘cool’, and ‘fierce’.
In order to highlight this wonderful modern phase in the anime industry, here’s counting down the 25 most compelling female anime characters:
Top 25 Female Anime Characters
25. Riko – Made in Abyss (2017- )
Yearning is one of the important emotions in the dark fantasy anime series Made in Abyss. And its protagonist Riko embodies this feeling pretty well. The series is set in an alternate world where there’s a giant hole whose true depth isn’t known. Only a few legendary explorers have ventured into the depths of the pit. Riko’s mother is one such explorer, who unfortunately has gone missing. So the little orphaned Riko takes Reg, a humanoid robot, and descends into the abyss to find her mother.
Riko is a survivor. She remains enthusiastic and curious despite the trauma of losing a mother. Riko also makes good decisions even under immense pressure. Though she lacks physical strength, she manages to cope with the menacing atmosphere of the abyss.
24. Kurisu Makise – Steins; Gate (2011-2015)
Enter the mind-bending world of Steins; Gate. It’s a popular sci-fi anime series which revolves around a group of students who accidentally discover a technology that can help them change the past. Kurisu Makise is a prodigy and she becomes a neuroscience researcher at the age of 18. Kurisu is an intuitive and determined scientist. She is good at reading between the lines, and warns protagonist Okabe about his time-leaping obsessions.
“If I see a possibility, I have to investigate it”, muses Kurisu. And this scientific curiosity often pushes the character to do things which she regrets later. At the same time, she is honest and owns up her mistakes. Kurisu never attempts to hide behind a false identity like Okabe.
23. Lain Iwakura – Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Lain Iwakura is one of the most ambiguous female anime characters. The distinctive anime series also relies on a heavy experimental visual style that can be confusing to viewers. Wait, show that again? Let’s set the stage. Lain is a meek, 14-year old girl. She shows little interest in the world around her, until she stumbles upon a social-media-like platform known as ‘The Wired’. Lain becomes obsessed with Wired, and seems to manifest a separate identity for her online life.
Lain is a profoundly depressed girl who seems to be suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. At the same time, she is a kind-hearted soul and genuinely tries to undo the harms her other identities have unleashed. She’s a truly complex character whose inner struggles are uniquely presented. Lain is also very intelligent and a quick learner.
22. Homura Akemi – Madoka Magica (2011)
Madoka Magica revolves around a group of middle-school students who become magical girls to fight the dark abstract beings called ‘witches’. While the powers gained are fascinating, the series depicts the despair and difficulties of being a magical girl. Madoka Magica is wonderfully successful at showing “both sides of the coin” and “light vs. dark.” Homura Akemi is a hard-working student in the day, and a magical girl battling witches in the night.
Homura is a riveting, enigmatic figure in the anime series, which makes us want to watch her. She comes across as a cynical loner. At the same time, she can be totally selfless when it comes to helping those in need. Homura truly understands the troubles of being a magical girl. Therefore, she does her best to save classmate Madoka from becoming a magical girl. Homura also carries a lot of trauma which is why she builds a tough exterior shell.
21. Akame – Akame ga Kill! (2014)
Cue notorious Akame. She’s a highly skilled assassin and one of the main characters of the 24-episode anime series. Akame ga Kill! revolves around a teenager named Tatsumi who travels to the Imperial’s Capital to raise money for his village. However, he is recruited by an assassin group named Night Raid. Tatsumi gradually learns the corrupted and evil nature of the Empire. Akame is an important member of Night Raid.
Though she looks sombre and cold-hearted, we learn that she is actually socially awkward. Here we have another female anime character who has depth, and is multi-faceted like a diamond. She is said to be in her teens. But she is the strongest and fastest when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. Akame shows no mercy for her opponents. Important to note, her resolve could be linked to her sad past. Akame and her sister were sold to the Empire by her parents. She faces and overcomes a deadly test as a kid.
20. Shizuku Tsukishima – Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Written by Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, Whisper of the Heart tells the story of book-loving middle-school student Shizuku. It’s a story about her first love. We see her managing the hard reality, while also striving to achieve her dreams. Shizuku is a genius of sorts when it comes to writing. But her journey highlights the need to work hard even if you are skilled at something.
Unlike the sweeping fantasy tales of Spirited Away or Howl, Shizuku’s story is pretty small-scale. At the same time, she’s as exceptional and smart as the female anime characters of those movies. The way Shizuku overcomes her insecurity is touchingly relevant to all of us.
19. Faye Valentine – Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Shinichiro Watanabe is good at writing female anime characters, who aren’t reduced into a simple trope. Faye Valentine, the only female member of the Bebop space crew goes through a fascinating development over the course of the anime series. Faye wakes up from cryogenic sleep after 54 years. Moreover, she starts her new life with a massive debt. She is also manipulated by a con artist.
Hence, the tough gal Faye initially remains dishonest, selfish, and cynical. However, she gradually finds a group of people who care and looks out for her. Faye largely keeps her emotions on the inside, allowing her terrific actions to speak for itself. In many ways, Faye is the perfect contrast to the other key characters in the series: Spike, Jet, and Edward.
18. Asuna Yuuki – Sword Art Online (2012- )
Asuna Yuuki is the main female protagonist of the anime series Sword Art Online. The series is set in the year 2022, where thousands of people get trapped inside a virtual MMORPG. A passionate gamer named Kirito investigates the phenomenon and tries to find a way out. Asuna is a kind-hearted and resilient girl whose life is changed after meeting Kirito in the game world.
Asuna is one of the well-rounded characters in the anime. Although some of the devastating arcs in the series make her emotionally dependent on Kirito, she is much more than a damsel in distress. No female anime character that must be saved here. Moreover, Asuna makes some of the tough decisions in the series. But she never loses her humanity in the process.
17. Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (1995)
One of the most badass female anime characters, Major Motoko Kusanagai, the protagonist of Masamune Shirow’s manga series Ghost in the Shell, is a highly advanced cyborg with a human brain. Now get this. She is the squad leader of Public Security Section 9. She solves the most notorious technology-driven crimes in a futuristic dystopian society. Talk about immense responsibility. However, the most interesting conflict regarding Kusanagi is the tension between her mechanical self and human self.
In the 1995 movie, the sequels, and later in the series, Kusanagi deeply contemplates how the cybernetic augmentations have changed her humanity. Anime has a long history of creating female cyborg characters. Alita, Mardock Scramble are some of the examples of such female anime characters. However, the identity crisis of Kusanagi brings forth some of the profound philosophical questions about humanity. Kusanagi gets us thinking.
16. San – Princess Mononoke (1997)
In this classic Miyazaki anime, San – also known as Princess Mononoke – is a human girl adopted by the wolf goddess Moro. Though she is human by birth, San is deeply connected with the gods and animals of the forest. She wears a mask, signifying her connection with the spirits of the forest. Miyazaki is known for writing three-dimensional female anime characters. In fact, San is one of his most complex anime girl characters.
While she is compassionate towards the natural inhabitants of the forest, San can be a fierce character when it comes to taking down the intrusive humans. Initially, San rejects her human identity, but gradually comes to embrace her own humanity.
15. Akane Tsunemori – Psycho-Pass (2012- )
Akane Tsunemori is a rookie detective in a high-tech futuristic society. The anime series presents a world where advanced technology can identify the emotional distress of an individual and extrapolate whether the person would commit a crime or not. These people are called ‘latent criminals’ and put under drugs or therapy. Then watch as an intense philosophical game unfolds when Akane explores the murky grey areas of this world.
Akane is a go-getter, even though she is initially deemed weak-willed due to her aversion to killing. Throughout the series, she shapes herself into an independent woman with a strong sense of right and wrong. Most importantly, she believes in justice. It’s why she doesn’t turn to revenge when losing someone close to her. She’s a perfect example of a modern, strong, multi-dimensional anime character.
14. Shouko Nishimiya – A Silent Voice (2016)
Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is an especially touching story based on a manga of the same name by Yoshitoki Oima. The anime unfolds from the perspective of teenager Ishida Shoya. He is weighed down by guilt for bullying his deaf classmate, Shouko Nishimiya. On the surface, Nishimiya is portrayed as a sweet and energetic girl. Unlike others, she couldn’t perceive others’ emotions through their voice or words. Hence, she has grown-up with a sense of isolation.
However, Nishimiya does her best to make friends and communicate with others. Most importantly, Nishimiya proves to be a strong female anime character by not completely shutting herself after the bullying episode. Though the past has an impact on her mental health, she overcomes ostracization in order to find happiness and friendships.
13. Sophie Hatter – Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Sophie is a young woman and a skilful hat-maker, who works in her late father’s shop. She accidentally crosses paths with the Witch of the Waste. Subsequently, Sophie is cursed and wakes up as an old woman. Later, she hitches a ride on the moving castle of renowned wizard Howl. Sophie is an organised, mature, and diligent woman. Howl is opposite of her in many ways. He is a grown-up, but shies away from the responsibilities of an adult.
However, the older Sophie’s dutiful and mature nature gradually changes Howl, and alleviates his existential crisis. At the same time, Miyazaki didn’t create Sophie only to save Howl. The narrative of Howl’s Moving Castle largely tracks Sophie’s journey as she learns to stay true to her caring personality despite the various obstacles.
12. Uraraka Ochako – My Hero Academia (2016- )
Here’s a super-popular anime character. Uraraka Ochako is the best and most famous character in My Hero Academia. In fact, she is one of the most beloved female anime characters with masses and masses of fans. My Hero Academia is a superhero anime series. It’s set in a world where a large chunk of the population is blessed with some superpower. How fortunate! Or maybe not? Uraraka comes from a working class family, whose power is lifting large objects. She wants to join the hero association in order to earn money and bestow a luxurious life upon her family.
However, throughout the series her values and goals are persistently challenged. She understands the grey areas in fighting against those deemed as villains. Uraraka initially starts as an action-oriented figure. But gradually she overcomes her shallow beliefs and tries to deeply understand the world around her.
11. Chihiro Ogino – Spirited Away (2001)
In Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning blockbuster hit, ten-year old Chihiro Ogino is the protagonist. When we first see her, she is a moody, whiney girl who is unhappy with her parents’ decision to move to a new town. But soon, Chihiro’s parents take an ill-advised detour to an abandoned theme park. The girl’s fate changes overnight. The rest of Spirited Away is about how Chihiro survives the spirit-world and shapes her own destiny.
Chihiro is kind, cautious, and innocent. But as the story progresses she also becomes self-sufficient, brave, and assertive. This growth and transition process is dynamite to witness. Miyazaki as usual doesn’t define his female anime character through any of the gender stereotypes. The result is a well-rounded female character with a wide range of strengths and emotions.
10. Usagi Tsukino – Sailor Moon (1992-1997)
The highly acclaimed anime series chronicles the magical adventures of a teenager named Usagi Tsukino. She joins a group of female warriors known as ‘Sailor Soldiers’ to take down Earth’s evil super-villains. At the beginning of the series, Usagi is a slacker. She isn’t unintelligent, but she is definitely naive. The series tracks down her slow transformation into a capable leader. She becomes brave, athletic, and an upholder of justice without losing her inherent kindness.
Even before Usagi meets Luna the cat, she often helps those in need. Her desire to help people in need simultaneously grows alongside her rapid growth in powers. Usagi also doesn’t believe in killing the villains. She finds a way to undo their evil instead of annihilating them outright. She definitely scores “clever” points on this feat.
9. Shinobu Kocho – Demon Slayer (2019- )
Demon Slayer’s Shinobu Kocho has quickly become one of the huge fan-favourite female anime characters. While she is regarded as a petite girl, Shinobu’s agility and intelligence helps her in fighting the demons. The series largely revolves around brother-sister duo Tanjiro and Nezuko. The brother embarks on a quest to save his sister who has transformed into a demon.
Shinobu first attempts to kill Nezuko, but she later cares about both Tanjiro and Nezuko. She is a very important member of the demon slaying team. It’s because she has a vast knowledge of medicines and venoms, which provides her with opportunities to prepare for the demon attacks. Furthermore, Shinobu has a very complex backstory, which can be utilised for a spin-off series.
8. Taeko – Only Yesterday (1991)
Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday tells the familiar story about a young person finding his/her place in the rapidly-moving world. However, the story was told with such grace and universality that it will surely evoke our own memories of childhood. Taeko is a 27-year old Tokyo resident who temporarily moves to the countryside. She is bogged down by the incessant demands to get married and settle down. As Taeko settles down into the rhythms of rural life, she gets to understand herself a little better.
Taeko’s character arc is so grounded in reality that many of her confusions are very relatable. The narrative portrays Taeko’s journey to reconcile her past self with the present one. It’s a beautiful and realistic tale of a woman finding her agency.
7. Violet Evergarden – Violet Evergarden (2018)
Violet Evergarden is the eponymous character of the fantasy drama anime series. The series is set in the aftermath of war, and Violet is an orphaned child soldier. Her major is the only person who showed some kindness in her life. In order to find purpose in post-war life, Violet decides to become an ‘Auto Memory Doll’. It’s a term used for a typist who composes letters that deeply express the client’s feelings. In the process, Violet attempts to retain her humanity and discover her ability to love.
While many anime have focused on battle-ready female characters, Violet Evergarden is uniquely engaging as it deals with an anime girl’s PTSD. We witness a heart-rending journey as Violet learns to understand her and others’ emotions. Furthermore, she makes peace with her dark past.
6. Erza Scarlet – Fairy Tail (2009-2019)
Fairy Tail is one of the long-running manga series with several story arcs. It’s set in a land where magic is omnipresent. Sorcerers in this world form guilds and run various errands including monster-hunting. The story starts with an aspiring wizard named Lucy who wants to join the renowned guild known as ‘Fairy Tail’. Erza Scarlet is a fierce woman-warrior of the guild who can effortlessly intimidate her enemies to submission.
Erza is a self-dependent and self-motivated woman, and almost never seeks the help of others in her missions. She showcases diverse abilities in a fight. Even when Erza is stripped off her armour and when she is vulnerable to an attack, she manages to deliver the finishing blow. Wow! The indomitable will of Erza Scarlet makes her one of the strongest female anime characters.
5. Sasha Braus – Attack on Titan (2013- )
Sasha Braus is a strong and optimistic soldier of the Scout Regiment which encounters and kills the tall humanoid creatures. Let’s not forget that Attack on Titan is one of the devastatingly dark anime series. In fact, Sasha’s friendly presence lightens the graveness of certain situations. When the series opens, she is defined by her clownish behaviour and obsession for food. Later, we deeply comprehend the reasons for her behaviour.
Sasha hails from a village where food is scarce and people survive by hunting. Hence, the habit of hoarding food is something she can’t control. Moreover, like other members of Scout Regiment, she also constantly lives with the fear of death. However, unlike others she distracts herself by joking around and stealing food. Overall, Sasha is the perfect opposite to the other stronger yet very serious female character in the series: Mikasa Ackerman.
4. Hinata Hyuga – Naruto (2002-2007)
Naruto is one of the most well-known anime series, based on a longest running manga series. It revolves around Naruto Uzumaki, an orphaned ninja, who aspires to become the strongest ninja and leader of the village. Hinata of the Hyuga clan is first introduced as a kind and fragile girl, whose father gives up on her when she doesn’t meet his expectations. Subsequently, the father disowns her. However, Hinata perseveres and learns to be more assertive through Naruto.
One of the most beautiful anime characters, Hinata is not a conventional anime girl. She goes through a tough and long journey in transforming herself from being a weak-willed girl to a brave member of Team 8. The bond between Naruto and Hinata leads to a wonderful ending as she remains supportive of him even after the Fourth Great Ninja War.
3. Renge Miyauchi – Non Non Biyori (2013-2022)
The first-grader Renge Miyauchi, from the slice-of-life anime Non Non Biyori, is hands down the cutest and sweetest female anime character ever. Cue those long lavender pigtails! Renge’s boundless curiosity, precocious nature and weird non sequiturs are great fun to watch. The anime series follows four girl students – of different ages – going to a small village school.
Though Renge remains expressionless on many occasions, she is very friendly and affectionate to the people around her. Her odd ways of interacting and strange songs are adorable in their own way. The kid shares a special bond with her sister’s friend, Kaede, who runs the village’s candy store. Moreover, Non Non Biyori viewers can never forget Renge’s delightful greeting, ‘Nyanpasu!’ (Meow-ning).
2. Mikasa Ackerman – Attack on Titan (2013- )
Attack on Titan has many popular and strong female anime characters. But the most powerful and well-established of all the female characters is Mikasa Ackerman. She is the fiercely loyal friend to the protagonist Eren Jaeger. Mikasa has one of the very tragic backstories in the series. Her parents are brutally murdered before her eyes. Hence, she grows up with Eren’s family and dedicates herself to protect Eren.
Mikasa maintains a stone-faced expression, even when she takes down a string of deadly giant entities known as ‘Titans’. At the same time, Mikasa’s bias towards Eren pushes her to burden herself with a lot of responsibilities. In fact, this particular trait turns her character arc darker as the story progresses.
1. Nezuko Kamado – Demon Slayer (2019- )
Nezuko Kamado is one of the pivotal characters in the dark fantasy anime series Demon Slayer. Within a short span of time, Nezuko has become the most beloved female anime character of all time. She is definitely a bright star and one to watch. The crux of the anime series is Nezuko’s caring relationship with her brother Tanjiro. She and Tanjiro become the sole survivors of a demon attack. Unfortunately, Nezuko also slowly turns into a demon. Therefore, Tanjiro embarks on a quest to retain Nezuko’s humanity.
Even when Nezuko transforms into a demon, she’s unlike other demons. There are more shades to her demonic form. Most importantly, Nezuko is a capable fighter in her own way that she doesn’t need to be saved by her older sibling.
There you go! These are some of the powerful, intelligent, and attractive female anime characters ever created. Whether they are strong, cool or painfully relatable, all such anime girl or woman characters have been memorably unique. A lot of other interesting female anime characters might not have made it to the list. But some deserve a mention. For instance, Yumeko Jabami from Kakegurui (2017-2019), Touka Kirishima from Tokyo Ghoul (2014-2015), Nobara Kugisaki from Jujutsu Kaisen (2020- ), and Kaguya Shinomiya from Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War (2019- ).
What are your most favourite female anime characters? Let’s talk in the comments below.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’