2016 has been a pretty impressive year so far for television. We’ve been blessed with a few new Netflix original series ranging from highly anticipated comedies to on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrillers. There’s been a lot of new seasons of shows released this year that have been awesome as well.
But what’s really standing out so far this year are the female characters who have stolen our hearts and inspired us to be our own heroes (or villains). Visibility has been a welcome change in female television characters this year, with influential women of color, LGBT+ women, mentally ill women, and older women gracing the screen in engaging, powerful portrayals of people we can all look up to.
Many characters on this list have not debuted this year specifically but were particularly awesome in season released this year. It’s also important to note that I couldn’t possibly arrange these ladies in order of significance, so consider this list an equal playing ground. Also, spoilers ahead!
Check out the 17 Most Inspiring Female TV Characters Of 2016 So Far.
15 Tulip from Preacher
Her name is reminiscent of a gentle southern belle, but there’s nothing delicate about Preacher’s fearless firecracker, named Priscilla-Jean Henrietta O'Hare, but known by friends and enemies as Tulip.
Tulip was the girlfriend of the titular preacher Jesse and grew up with him in their small Texas town. As an adolescent, Tulip was a troublemaker from a bad family who often stayed with Jesse and his father at All Saints' Congregational church. As an adult, Tulip became a criminal and did jobs with Jesse, which often included armed robbery. Tulip became obsessed with getting revenge on a former partner-in-crime named Carlos, who had betrayed Tulip and Jesse during a heist. She returns to Annville to ask the estranged Jesse to help her do so.
Tulip is introduced pretty early on in the series, and it is probably one of the most badass introductions to a TV character in a good while. We were all that little girl at the end, awestruck and inspired by the awesomeness that is Tulip.
14 Eleven from Stranger Things
Eleven is such an interesting character, despite barely speaking throughout the entire first (and hopefully not last) season of Netflix’s original Stranger Things.
Eleven is a young girl who first appears in the series stumbling into a small town restaurant with a shaved head and a hospital gown. She is cared for temporarily by the restaurant's owner, Ben, but it soon becomes clear that Eleven is not your average preteen girl. Eleven exhibits incredibly strong psychic abilities that allow her to move objects with her mind and connect with parallel dimensions. Government agents who kill indiscriminately are on the hunt for Eleven, forcing her into hiding. She eventually meets the show's main characters Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, and helps them on their mission to find their missing friend Will.
Eleven is an inspiring character because despite enduring horrendous child abuse and being cursed with powers that are difficult for her to control, she somehow manages to maintain her goodness. Even at the climax of the season, she does everything she can to protect her friends.
13 Carol Peletier from The Walking Dead
Carol’s been around since the very first season of The Walking Dead, but her character development in this year’s sixth season of the show is something to be reckoned with.
Carol Peletier started out on the show as a timid wife and mother. After her abusive husband is killed by walkers, Carol’s daughter goes missing and is eventually revealed to be dead. Throughout the remaining seasons of The Walking Dead, Carol’s personality changes wildly and her fearlessness and will to survive become major traits of her character.
In the 2016 release of season six, Carol is tossed back into domestic life when the group moves into the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Most of the group’s members are struggling with reconciling the trauma they experienced while travelling with their new supposedly safe life in the community. Carol is no exception. She manages the sweet suburban wife life well for a while, but her desperation to survive is still going strong. Despite a few moral hiccups, she really shows how admirable and quick-thinking she is when a gang of murderous thieves attack the community. Carol’s story is a narrative of the abused woman who becomes stronger than anyone who has ever hurt her.
12 Michonne from The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead definitely has its share of badass female characters. Michonne is truly one of the best on the show. Little is known of the mysterious fighter who wields a katana, other than that she had a husband and a baby who both died at the beginning of the outbreak. Michonne makes her first appearance on the show with two armless and jawless walkers chained to her, sword drawn, and saves Andrea from a walker in the woods. A powerful sight indeed, and her character has never disappointed to date.
In season six, the enigmatic Michonne is having difficulty adjusting to her new life within the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Her new relationship with Rick is almost comforting in a strange way. Michonne has been a brick wall soldier through most of the show, and to see her take down some walls and show her vulnerability is inspiring. After crap hits the fan when Saviors attack the community, Michonne has clearly not lost any of her wit, fighting capability, or strength.
11 Dana Scully from The X-Files
FBI Special Agent Dana Scully has been inspiring women since the 1993 release of the first season of The X-Files. Gillian Anderson herself has said that young women since then have told her that her character inspired them to go to medical school and succeed.
Scully started out as a smart, educated, and skeptical medical doctor who was assigned by the FBI to work with a tinfoil hat enthusiast named Fox Mulder. Despite enduring countless terrifying events while assigned to the X-Files, she usually remained skeptical of things that could not be proven and maintained an air of cool detachment. Nearly fourteen years since the conclusion of the show’s ninth season, Scully appeared in the short season ten revival, released earlier this year. Her personality remained consistent throughout the series and subsequent movies in the franchise, though she did develop some well-earned bravery as she matured.
Despite not having played Scully for over a decade, Gillian Anderson seems to know the character like the back of her hand. She picked up the season ten role perfectly, as an older, wiser version of the Scully we all know and love.
10 Maria Bamford from Lady Dynamite
Maria Bamford is a real life human woman, but her autobiographical character in Lady Dynamite should absolutely be considered inspiring. In the show, Maria is a funny woman trying to navigate her comedy career and relationships while simultaneously dealing with bipolar disorder. The show jumps back and forth between moments from her upbringing, past relationships, eventual institutionalization for a nervous breakdown, and career paths navigated mostly by her ridiculous management. The show is totally hilarious and absurd, in a classic Maria Bamford way that we’ve all been waiting for. If there’s not going to be another season of this show, a lot of people are going to be disappointed.
Maria’s inspirational character portrays mental illness in a way that hasn’t really been done before. Funny, but not in a deprecating way. Her disorder is difficult, but can be harnessed as a tool for comedy. Maria finds a humor in her disorder that can often be impossible to find for those that suffer from it, and makes it clear through her character that it’s okay to be wired a little differently.
9 Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones
Daenerys Targaryen is probably the most loved female character from the HBO series Game of Thrones. And what's not to love? She's beautiful, powerful, strong, compassionate, and a great leader. The Mother of Dragons is a pretty intense title to hold, on top of all the other ones she has.
Daenerys has endured a lot in her life, from sibling abuse to losing her beloved husband, to the stillbirth of her son. In season six's 2016 release, she overcomes being imprisoned by the khalasar. After being sent to the Temple of Dosh Khaleen with an uncertain fate, Daenerys fearlessly confronts Moro and his khals and asserts her power. After they threaten her, she burns them all alive and emerges from the fiery building naked and unscathed. Definitely a scene to remember. The season ends with Daenerys overseeing her new fleet with her dragons circling above, ready to take back her homeland. If that's not inspiring, what is?
8 Vanessa Ives from Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful is a spookily good period piece that pulls from old horror stories including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Grey. The enduring and odd Vanessa Ives is without a doubt one of the most interesting characters on the show.
Vanessa isn’t the typical Pride and Prejudice girl often seen in period shows like this. She’s rough around the edges, incredibly strong, and her story is very important. Her backstory paints a picture of a sexually repressed young woman who can’t deal with taking responsibility for sleeping with her best friend’s fiancee and ruining her life. She’s locked up in a mental ward for hysteria, where she’s subjected to horrendous treatments. In reality, Vanessa is a powerful Daywalker (witch) who has been sought after by the Devil himself and this possession has affected her life greatly. Despite her off-putting demeanor, Vanessa is kind and compassionate, as well as fearless, fierce, and quick witted. All qualities you would find in an inspiring woman.
7 Polly Shelby from Peaky Blinders
One of the coolest gangster mamas to ever be on TV, Peaky Blinders’ Polly Shelby is the matriarch of the Shelby family and is intricately involved in the family’s organized crime. She is the treasurer of the Peaky Blinders gang and was the temporary manager of the group during World War I.
Polly may be a criminal, but her character is pretty inspiring for her toughness alone. She has no patience for men who abandon their families and she tries to take care of the women in the family as best she can, going as far as delivering Ada’s baby at home. She is a sexual assault survivor who gets her revenge, and her later-in-life love affair with Ruben was refreshing to see on TV.
Who else was furious when Thomas had them all thrown in prison? For all we know, Pol will probably start her own organized crime ring in jail. Get it, Pol!
6 Poussey from Orange is the New Black
Poussey was one of the most intelligent and strong women to ever be on the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. She was funny, avoided violence, and had a unique backstory. Before Poussey was sent to Litchfield for trespassing and selling pot, she was a military brat that lived in Germany with her family. Poussey had a relationship with the daughter of a German commander, who walked in on the two having sex and subsequently had Poussey's father reassigned to the US. Prepared to kill the commander, she was stopped by her father who told her that he accepts her for who she is.
Poussey's relationship with Taystee was one of the most genuinely loving friendships on the show. Poussey also developed a really sweet budding relationship with Soso during season four as well. Poussey’s kindness, strength, and caring personality in the face of adversity make her worthy of the list. Her death was without a doubt the most emotional, heart-wrenching moment in any season of Orange is the New Black. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
5 Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones
Cersei grew up with a lot of privilege but also without a mother or really a father. Her incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime isn't the most admirable thing, but makes sense when you examine her childhood. She loses all of her children throughout the series, loses her title of queen, and has to suffer through the humiliating and abusive walk of atonement in season five. In 2016's season six release, Cersei gets revenge on Unella and has Pycelle assassinated, becoming the new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Cersei may be cold and calculating, but she is inspiring in how she does everything necessary to survive. She is an expert planner and consistently follows through with what she wants to do. She is a cruel, exacting woman who deals in absolutes. She’s consistent in keeping her promises and has a strong and unique sense of honor. She’s also not under the thumb of fear or a belief in duty. She executes her desires as she sees fit. That’s pretty inspiring.
4 & 5. Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler from Broad City
Comedy Central’s Broad City is a gem that follows the story of two pals, Ilana and Abbi, as they try to figure out their broke life in New York. Abbi is an aspiring artist who becomes the charismatic and confident Val when she's wasted. Ilana is a comedic and energetic pothead.
The pair are inspiring for their portrayal of what realistic, everyday feminism looks like without a lot of politic semantics or seriousness. They may not be the most put together or flawless characters, but their reliability and wackiness is what makes Broad City so appealing. They talk about sex, deal with cat callers, and are unapologetic about their sexual identities. Abbi and Ilana’s friendship is definitely idealized, but is also relatable enough that their interactions will probably remind you of hanging out with your own bestie. The two are a pair of relatable role models in that they are fiercely loyal to each other and do everything they can to get by.
3 Arya Stark from Game of Thrones
Arya is awesome for a multitude of reasons. She has no time for rigid gender roles, is a loyal and independent person, and has had some of the best character development on Game of Thrones.
In season six, after being afflicted with blindness, Arya continues her training with the Waif. When she decides not to follow through with the assassination of the actress Lady Crane, the Waif nearly stabs her to death. Lady Crane takes her in and treats her wounds but is then killed by the Waif. Eventually the two duel in the dark, with Arya emerging victorious. After bringing her enemy's face back to the Hall of Faces, she confronts Jaqen and says one of the best lines of the season: "A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I'm going home." Upon arriving in Westeros, she gets revenge on her mother's killer. Despite only being sixteen years old, Arya definitely deserves a spot on this list for her bravery, growth, and fierce independence.
2 Suzanne Warren from Orange is the New Black
Once viewers watched Suzanne’s backstory and heard her heartbreaking line, “How come everyone calls me 'Crazy Eyes'?” it started feeling gross to continue calling her by her prison name. Suzanne has been through a lot in her life, suffers from an unknown mental illness, and many fans of Suzanne speculate that she is neurodivergent. Suzanne’s endurance through being misunderstood and mistreated make her one of the most admirable and inspiring characters on Orange is the New Black.
In season four, Suzanne is seen dissociating for the rest of the day after beating up Maureen. After Poussey’s death, Suzanne tries to put heavy objects on herself to know what it's like to suffocate. She eventually pulls a bookshelf down on herself and is taken to the medical ward.
Suzanne was previously seen in early episodes exhibiting a lack of empathy, but this scene really changed it. It showed that neurodivergent people experience empathy, grief, and other emotions in ways that may seem absent but are in reality just different from the status quo. This is what makes Suzanne so inspiring-- she's surviving prison life while surrounded by people who don't understand her.
1 & 1. Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein from Grace and Frankie
Grace and Frankie is a Netflix original series that everybody should see. It isn’t often that you get to see such a funny, honest, and genuine portrayal of older people’s relationships, and this show definitely got it right. The show follows two women whose husbands leave them for each other, and their subsequent supportive friendship that forms.
The pair are inspiring for a number of reasons. They manage to forge a friendship out of a relationship that used to be pretty rocky and together have tried to deal with all the emotions that come with divorce: guilt, insecurity, jealousy, anger. Grace and Frankie have each other to lean on, and it's a beautiful sight to see older women validated by each other on their journeys. They are showing a way of life after retirement that isn't mundane, sad, or miserable. While it may be hard as the average person to relate to two women with the financial assets to go on the post-divorce adventures they want to, because they're open about their lack of "having it together."