Think all women in anime are just bobble-headed eye candy? Think again! While some anime and animations in general have a long way to go in empowering female representation through characters, things are definitely changing! We put together some of the most badass, smart, funny, and unique female protagonists from different anime series and films for this list, and there was quite a lot to choose from. From focused and powerful warriors to brave young girls, from princesses to really interesting space aliens, there are a ton of protagonists on this list that we can all look up to. Or at the very least, we can be intrigued by their stories and captivated by their character development.
It is important to note that “best” does not exclusively imply physical strength, intelligence, or victory. The ladies on this list are the best because of their engaging stories, interesting personalities, powerful character development, and overall theft of our hearts.
Check out 15 Of The Best Female Protagonists In Anime History.
15. Mikasa Ackerman — Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan‘s Mikasa is one of those reserved, stoic characters who doesn’t speak very often and seems to be stuck in her own head. After all the trauma she’s experienced living under the looming terror of Titans and the carnage she witnessed while part of the Survey Corps, not to mention the brutal murder of her biological parents by criminals, it would be difficult to come out unscathed. Perhaps it is endurance that is one of Mikasa’s most relatable traits. Despite her often cynical comments about the world around her, she manages to retain her humanity. Mikasa herself said, “This world is cruel. And yet… so beautiful.”
The stereotypical boy-saves-girl gender roles that play out in media are also very much reversed when it comes to her relationship with Eren, which is very refreshing to see, though her protectiveness of him seems a little unhealthy at times. On top of everything mentioned, she’s also totally ripped.
14. Motoko Kusanagi — Ghost in the Shell
Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the primary protagonists of the popular Ghost in the Shell franchise of manga, films, and animated series. Motoko is a cyborg who works as a field commander for Public Security Section 9 on the Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Motoko is a very physically strong and incredibly intellectual who that is quick-witted and an excellent hacker.
As a child, Motoko was comatose following an airplane accident. After her health began to steadily decline, her consciousness was put into a “full-body prosthesis,” an augmented-cybernetic human body. Motoko causes us to question exactly what makes us human. She is an emotional, stoic, strong woman who fights for the citizens she protects, yet she lives inside an artificial body.
IGN has rated Motoko as one of the greatest anime characters of all time on two separate occasions, in 2009 and 2014, stating, “though she may be cool, professional, and mostly artificial, she’s unquestionably human.”
13. Chihiro Ogino — Spirited Away
Chihiro, the pint sized hero from the Studio Ghibli classic Spirited Away, has some of the best character growth from any anime film or series. She starts out as a sort of easily spooked bratty kid and harnesses within herself the power to become a very brave, tough, and responsible person. Chihiro is like many of Hayao Miyazaki’s leading ladies in that she experiences a huge amount of character development, gains confidence throughout her journey, and is part a healthy coming of age story that young girls can learn a lot from. Chihiro is thrown into a world that is scary and is burdened with the responsibility of saving her parents when she should just be a happy, normal kid. However, her circumstances push her to look within and pull out strong qualities that were always there, but now have an opportunity to come out.
Hayao Miyazaki clearly agrees, and was quoted saying of Chihiro, “[I] created a heroine who is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can sympathize. It’s not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them, brought out by the particular circumstances.”
12. Usagi Tsukino — Sailor Moon
You really can’t have a list of awesome female protagonists without including our favorite schoolgirl superhero: Usagi from Sailor Moon. Usagi is empowering in her fearless display of conventional femininity without any implied weakness. Usagi is your typical teenage girl who is all about her friends, food, and cute things, while simultaneously being a badass heroine who cleanses the streets of evil. In the original manga and anime, Usagi was portrayed as reluctant to be a superhero and would often run away from fights and be a crybaby. Through her character development, Usagi becomes a brave, reliable, and confident person who cares deeply for her friends. She becomes a better version of herself without stereotypically “shedding” her girliness. Instead, her femininity becomes a defining feature of hers, desconstructing the idea that being girly makes you weak. On the contrary, Usagi’s girliness makes her funny, relatable, and a good role model for young girls.
11. Asuka Langley Soryu — Neon Genesis Evangelion
We couldn’t leave out Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Asuka from this list of awesome female protagonists. Asuka is a classic anime heroine and remains beloved by fans of the show to this day.
Asuka is an American teenage girl who serves as an Eva pilot for the Evangelion Project and pilots the Evangelion Unit-02. Asuka was raised in Germany and often swears in German. She was a child prodigy with a college degree at only fourteen years old, but definitely has her human flaws. She has a temper and is obsessed with being the best at everything she does. Despite these flaws, Asuka is hilarious in her own way and has the kind of confidence and pride you rarely see in a young girl. She knows she can do her job well and isn’t afraid to tell you about it.
Asuka is relatable in that she is stubborn and often has a hard time properly expressing her feelings and vulnerability to others. Her eventual nervous breakdown shines a light on her humanity– she is not a perfect person and she is still a child forced to do a job that no child should do.
10. San — Princess Mononoke
San’s character represents something much deeper than what we see at face value, like many of the characters and themes in Hayao Miyazaki‘s work. San represents the anger of oppressed people and how that anger, while valid, can either guide you to a place of tangible change or completely destroy you. San has been hateful toward humans for much of her life, and for good reason. When the wolf Moro came upon her parents vandalizing the woods, they threw the baby San at the wolf to save their own skin.
San is willing to do anything to protect her adopted wolf family and the forest they live in. Though she experiences a lot of maturity and growth, as well as sympathy for human beings, throughout the film– especially toward protagonist Ashitaka– she remains unforgiving towards humanity and continues to live in the woods. Anything less would have been a sort of apologetic assimilation– San hates humanity, and always will. But she does acknowledge her human side, which makes her a little more sympathetic. This character growth and San’s fearless fighting spirit earn her a place on this list.
9. Tohru Honda — Fruits Basket
The heroine from the series Fruits Basket may be relatively unknown, but to any girl who grew up reading the manga, Tohru shows what a good person really is like. She lost both her parents to a car accident and a chronic illness, and lives in a tent on the Sohma property when she begins to feel like a burden to her grandfather who was housing her. After being discovered, she is invited to stay in a room at the Sohma estate. She works hard at her part-time job to support herself and pay her school tuition. Tohru is kind, generous, and grateful for the good things in her life. She shows her new friends the true meaning of friendship and earns a spot on this list for just being an all-around relatable, good person.
Tohru has been dragged through the mud for much of her life. And still, she remains so upbeat and shines a sweet light on all of her friends. Tohru deserves a spot on this list for being brave in her own mousey way– she is existing, enduring, and surviving despite the grief that lurks in her heart.
8. Faye Valentine — Cowboy Bebop
Faye Valentine is a main character from the popular futuristic bounty hunting anime series Cowboy Bebop. When she was younger, her parents were killed in a spacecraft accident that nearly killed her. Since there was no way to treat her injuries with medicine at the time, she was cryogenically frozen until medicine was advanced enough to heal her. The Gate incident resulted in her identity and records being erased. After fifty-four years, the amnesiac Faye is awakened and healed, and but is also in massive debt. To escape her debts, she lives a life on the run as a criminal. She eventually meets Spike and Jet and becomes a member of the Bebop ship.
Faye is an awesome protagonist with some antihero tendencies. She’s one of the funniest female characters in any anime ever, her story is interesting, and she is a lot more vulnerable than she lets on. When Spike decides to attack the base of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate and possibly be killed, Faye does everything she can to stop him, telling him that he is her only family.
7. Sophie Hatter — Howl’s Moving Castle
Like Chihiro of Spirited Away and several other heroines from Studio Ghibli films before her, Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle is an endearing, interesting, and very likable character.
Sophie is a reserved and insecure young woman at the beginning of the film. In the country where she lives, the first-born daughter in a family is destined to live a mundane life taking over the business affairs of her family. After being transformed into an old lady by the Witch of the Waste, she proves herself as a strong, level-headed, and smart person. While accompanying Howl on his adventures, her kind nature and dutiful morals shine through and she does her best to help everyone around her. Sophie is a relatable heroine who, through stepping out of her comfort zone and entering a world she’s not used to, is able to awaken her magical abilities that she never knew she had.
6. Haruko Haruhara — FLCL
If you love extraterrestrial weirdness, you’d definitely love the 2003 anime FLCL.
Haruko is one of the main characters of the show. She is an alien private investigator for the Galactic Space Police Brotherhood who arrives on Earth to search for a space pirate called Atomsk. She works for a young man named Naota’s family as a maid.
In the first episode of the short series, she runs over Naota with her bright yellow Vespa and hits him in the head with a guitar. The blow to the head opens a portal in Naota’s forehead from which giant robots emerge. Haruko is refreshingly eccentric and unpredictable, and few of the things she does makes sense. She has antihero tendencies and is somewhat manipulative towards Naota. Regardless, her antics steal the show. It is very rare to find a character as unhinged and deeply interesting character as Haruko, and that’s why she’s earned a spot on our list.
5. Konata Izumi — Lucky Star
This entry may seem unlikely, but Konata, from the comedic slice-of-life anime series Lucky Star, definitely deserves a spot on the list.
Konata is the implied leader of the Lucky Star group of friends. She is mischievous, friendly, and sarcastic, with no shortage of hilarious lines. Konata isn’t your typical leading lady from a shoujo production. She is unapologetically lazy, loves video games, falls asleep in class, and is proud to be a bit of a weirdo.
Konata’s mother died after she was born and was raised alone by her father. The episode where we learn more about what happened to her is incredibly sad, and gravitates away from the typically upbeat and funny presence that Konata has on the show. Konata is much more interesting and complex than one would think, and her complicated past solidifies that. She is loyal to her friends, even if she does gently bully them at times. What else could you ask for in a great protagonist?
4. Yuuko Ichihara — xXxHolic
The all-female group of illustrators called CLAMP came out with a lot of great manga back in the day, including Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits. xXxHolic was one of their best releases that was adapted into an anime.
Yuuko is the owner of the shop in Tokyo where most of the events of xXxHolic takes place. She is a wish-granter who aids Watanuki in his wish to be rid of the spirits that bother him in exchange for an extended period of servitude. Despite giving him frequently demeaning tasks, Yuuko cares deeply for Watanuki.
Before Yuuko’s eventual death, she asks their mutual friend Haruka to protect Watanuki once she is gone. At the end of the series during a dream sequence, she turns into a vast swarm of butterflies and disappears before Watanuki can catch her. When she does die while in another dimension, Watanuki clutches his heart in pain, implying an undying connection.
3. Fuu Kasami — Samurai Champloo
Fuu is the one of the lead characters in the series Samurai Champloo. The fifteen year old Fuu tricks Mugen and Jin into protecting her on her journey to find the enigmatic character called the Sunflower Samurai. It is later revealed that the Sunflower Samurai is Fuu’s estranged father. The three get into a lot of funny dramatically compelling situations on their journey and eventually become good friends. Fuu also has a pet flying squirrel named Momo.
Fuu is a great character because she is very imperfect in many ways. She meddles in other people’s business, is usually awkward and clumsy, and is very susceptible to freak accidents. She also tries to behave as if she is as worldly as her bodyguards, which is very much not true. However, she has experienced hardship and the death of her mother, so she’s not an entirely privileged person. Fuu is a bright and trusting young woman, and despite her impractical abilities within the group she remains a very endearing and memorable leading lady.
2. Hinata Hyuuga – Naruto
Naruto, one of the most popular anime series ever, had no shortage of interesting, diverse, and unique characters. However, Hinata is definitely one of the most engaging on the show.
Hinata started off in the series as a very shy and self-conscious young girl with an innocent crush on the titular hero. She was often considered the useless princess of the Hyuga clan, but soon gained inspiration from watching her friends succeed and harnessed the power within herself to improve. She became a formidable ninja. Hinata is genuinely kind, good person and her backstory is very fascinating and well written. Despite being forced into a very bitter rivalry with her sister, she maintained her goodness throughout the series. She is also the second youngest ninja to create her own jutsu and was the fastest as preparing it for combat.
Between her ninja abilities, endearing personality, powerful backstory, and fantastic character development, Hinata definitely deserves a spot on this list. Her relationship with Naruto is also very cute and well-written as well.
1. Nana Osaki – Nana
Nana is a manga and anime series about two young and very different women named Nana who meet by chance and decide to move in together as roommates. While Nana Komatsu is interesting in her own way, there’s something about Nana Osaki that is titillating and fascinating.
Nana’s endured her share of garbage in her life. She is the illegitimate daughter of a woman who abandoned Nana in her grandmother’s care as a toddler. Her grandmother was somewhat abusive, forbidding Nana to dress in ways that would tempt men like her mother. Nana became a rebellious youth and developed a fondness for punk music. Nana was expelled from school for a false prostitution accusation and became the lead singer of the band Black Stones and developed quite a fan following. Despite relationship issues, she refused to abandon her music career for a man. Despite her intimidating appearance, Nana is actually a funny, devoted friend with a good heart.