International Women’s Day was this past Sunday and ever since my hiatus I have been excited to take the opportunity to praise some of my favorite female characters. Whether they be relatable, funny, awe-inspiring, or simply badass, anime has given us so many iconic female characters there’s bound to be a few gals in every anime fan’s list of favorites.
About three years ago, I ranked the five hottest anime dudes I’d seen, based solely on sexual reasons. As I am not straight, the same can’t be said for this list. I would have called it “anime women who almost turned me bi,” but that wasn’t necessarily accurate either. Regardless, the important thing about any ranking of characters be that the writing produces a character worth giving a shit about, regardless of attractiveness… still though these women are fucking gorgeous.
Favorite Female Characters
5 – Hitagi Senjougahara, The Monogatari Series
Listen… there are a lot of great gals in Monogatari. It’s likely everyone has one, in particular, they love the most. Though really, it comes down to priorities. I really can’t pretend my love for Kanbaru is for anything other than sexual reasons (she’s fucking swol dude). Hanekawa is brilliant, headstrong, and always seemed to complement the lead Araragi, who’s almost the complete opposite. However, I always end up coming back to the very first girl.
“First” in this case meaning the first girl to be the center of an arc in a Monogatari story, seeing as how the timeline jumps around a lot. Hitagi Senjougahara perfectly encapsulates the kind of chaotic and provocative energy that drew me to such a strange series in the first place.
Her first scene is captivating, as she approaches the lead Araragi with all the subtly of a knife to the throat. In this case, it was a stapler and a box cutter to the mouth. She has the air of a stoic serial killer before Araragi defuses the situation and the two team up to solve her problem.
The word tsundere is thrown around, one of many meta-references to the medium itself throughout the series. However, the joke here lies in how reductive that word is in describing her. Monogatari is a series about a complicated, anti-social man helping the women in his life confront paranormal apparitions. In doing so, characters who could normally be defined by tropes are peeled back to reveal far more fleshed out and complex characters.
The series is famous for its banter. It practically forms the backbone of the storytelling and no character banters with Araragi as Senjougahara does. They bicker, flirt, or discuss whatever paranormal nonsense is happening in the plot with such fast and snappy interchange.
Monogatari thrives on its art and direction to propel the audience through its many scenes of conversation. No character ever kept my eyes glued to the screen quite as Senjougahara did. Whether it was the art direction’s captivating appraisal of her dominating sexual presence or her entertaining wordplay with Araragi.
She teases him playfully and sometimes cruelly. In the latter case, she seems to lack the social skills needed to understand when something said is too much. That or she simply believes Araragi doesn’t mind the berating, which he very well might not despite his protests.
While not outright confirmed, I think Senjougahara can be seen as autistic. It explains a lot about her issues with communication. Additionally, it’s one element of why her relationship with Araragi – someone with a history of anti-social conduct – is so oddly wholesome. I think they find comfort in one another.
My favorite scene from the entire series comes from the end of the TV run of Bakemonogatari. Senjougahara shares a personal experience with Araragi that brings her joy, followed by a rather upfront, mutual affirmation of their feelings. Then, she fumbles attempting to find the right way to say to ask Araragi to kiss her. First, in a coarse, rather commanding manner, then in an uncharacteristically polite one, before settling on one that seems casual enough.
There is an unnaturally direct nature to Senjougahara. She says exactly what she thinks, which in real life is a blessing and a curse. Her honesty can be brutal, but while not outwardly expressed, she has a very caring side. One that comes out at times like the above-mentioned. She is a clever, striking woman with a talent for reading people and commanding their attention.
4 – Mikasa Ackerman, Attack on Titan
Coming from the show which jump-started my obsession with anime, Mikasa has the privilege of being the very first god-tier anime badass I became enamored with. Every action show has those characters who just ooze cool with every scene. Hell, Attack on Titan has two.
Yet even compared to the arguably cooler Levi, Mikasa’s scenes from the Battle for Trost arc just always send shivers down my spine. So much nostalgia from a time where a show like Attack on Titan was so new to me.
I’ll never forget watching her threaten that thug in episode 6 to save the evacuating citizens, or her speech that unintentionally or otherwise inspired the recruits to take up arms against the titans. Most of all, her “final stand” in episode 7 is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series.
Beyond the nostalgia (and believe me, there’s a lot of it), Mikasa is an appealing character because she’s the one-woman army but also a genuinely compassionate person. We can feel relief whenever she is on screen but also feel for her every time she’s fearful of losing her friends. It helps that the performance by Yui Ishikawa perfectly captures the balance between stoicism and frightened or relieved concern.
Her best moments are definitely earlier in the series, season one especially, but she leaves an impact that just can’t be forgotten. The first true queen I ever witnessed in an anime series, and a killer queen at that.
3 – Akane Tsunemori, Psycho-Pass
I imagine that when most people start Psycho-Pass, they probably find themselves drawn more towards Kogami as the main character. This is for good reason, mind you. Kogami is not only one of the hottest male anime characters I have ever seen, but he is also very easy to like with his cool demeanor and hard-boiled cop ethic.
However, as Kogami’s arc leads him towards a descent, that of his partner and supervisor, Akane Tsunemori, is one of rising. It took me way too long to truly appreciate what I had with Akane. After season one, I waiting for Kogami to strut back into the plot while the whole time, I had a boss-ass bitch of a protagonist right in front of me. By the time I saw the first Psycho-Pass movie, I accepted that Akane is the most interesting character in the series.
On a surface level, the artwork in the series goes to great lengths to convey growth on a visual level. Akane’s body language and even her facial features are noticeably different between season one and the movie. In the beginning, she has a lot more rounded features and huge eyes but as the show goes on her eyes get smaller, more angular and she walks with a lot more confidence.
Akane comes to understand the truth of the Sibyl System, the system which governs Japan and makes it one of the few stable democracies left on earth. Instead of seeking to destroy it once she learns the truth, Akane endeavors to continue working within the system in the hopes that she can help it become better, believing people will eventually reject the system.
It’s an incredibly unusual move for this kind of story, but one which gives insight into Akane’s view of justice. She looks objectively at the good which the current system does and concludes that going against it wouldn’t achieve anything but the kind of chaos which the antagonist, Shogo Makishima, tried to create.
As an added benefit, Akane is cute as fuck, all while staring down threats to her city in a sensible suit. The icing on the cake came when she learned self-defense in between the first season and the movie. Then she was even able to get the jump on Kogami in a fight. Cute AND kick-ass. A perfect combination.
2 – Major Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell
In a series as expansive and lore-rich as Ghost in the Shell, a protagonist like the Major is a blessing. In almost every iteration of her character, she shines because of her status within the world and her philosophies therein.
In the original film from 1995, her character spoke to the fears of the growth of the internet. The existential questioning of her existence made her a compelling and relatable character to follow. The end of her arc encapsulates the film’s grand and ambitious ideas about the nature of the soul, turning her into something more than human. Hence why the sequel, Innocence, focused on the similarly relatable Batou, with Major only appearing in a cameo.
In Stand Alone Complex, she carries herself a lot more confidently, not as haunted by the same existential fears. Instead, she finds herself a sort of soldier philosopher, combating threats in between philosophizing with her cohorts the ethics and reasoning behind the socio-political events.
While SAC often liked to remind the audience of the moral ambiguity of the depicted future and how Major was essentially government property, the way she carries herself and leads her team never suggests that she bows to such restrictions. Her perspective on the world stage makes her the perfect protagonist to carry the story.
The same can be said of GITS: Arise, where the story makes Major’s goal one of independence. While I think that Arise made her a bit too mean, she is nonetheless still a fascinating character given her circumstances.
Integral to many iterations of the Major are her backstory, which ranges from elusive to barely mentioned, though there are some consistencies between the different stories. They usually involve her having been involved in a tragedy that required her to become a full-body cyborg.
Her name is a pseudonym and even her race and true gender are sometimes up to interpretation. The world she lives in seems to be constantly erasing race and nationality as everyone becomes cyberized, but she becomes attached to a form that she considers “her”. She has taken advantage of cyberization, not to change herself, but discover herself.
To many fans of the franchise, her reputation within the world made her truly memorable. Motoko is a Super Wizard Class hacker, the upper echelon of hacking skill in this post-singularity world. Her skills and her tenacity as a leader command respect from her team, who would readily put their lives on the line for her.
She is undoubtedly the strongest cyborg in the world of Ghost in the Shell and the show doesn’t stray from showing it. From her gravity-defying acrobatics to the countless brutal hand-to-hand fights, she is one of the toughest ladies in sci-fi.
Major Motoko Kusanagi is a pansexual, a fierce and charismatic leader, and a respected one at that in a high-functioning position within the government. Her composure, but also her humanity and her desire to understand the world as much as she fights it will always make her one of the most fascinating and cool protagonists.
1 – Shirayuki, Snow White with the Red Hair
Anyone who has ever read my review of Akagami no Shirayukihime shouldn’t be too surprised by this.
Within the first episode, Shirayuki finds that she has caught the eye of a dastardly prince who wants her to be a concubine. She leaves, but not before leaving medicine along the counter of her store where she works as an apothecary so that all of her patients will be okay. She leaves so that she may continue being free to pursue her goals. Meeting another – decidedly nicer – prince, Shirayuki finds the opportunity to pursue her calling in a new kingdom she can call home.
Shirayuki is an inspiration to anyone who feels like they have been advised against their wishes. Particularly, I think she might be one of the most wholesome and commendable female role models I have seen in media. Analyzed through a feminist lens, she never abandons or compromises her own self-actualization for the sake of love or someone else’s will. She pursues love because it is what she wants.
She is hospitable, mind you, given her aspirations of becoming an apothecary. But the most important thing to Shirayuki is being able to pursue her career so she CAN help people. Early on in the series, her friendship with the prince Zen allows her access to the castle. When it is revealed that this could become an issue because of her status, Shirayuki decides to get a job in the castle. She never tells herself that she can’t be friends with Zen and also have the career she wants.
Shirayuki is never treated as though she has to be a fighter or special to be an amazing person. She stands up for herself, even when it scares her and her resourcefulness and intelligence grant her a clever edge when she finds herself in a bind. Otherwise, she is a charitable soul who often forgets herself when committing to the health of others, much to the annoyance of her friends.
This series is a romance, and I won’t pretend that Zen isn’t just as important in portraying such a wholesome romance. His capacity to respect Shirayuki’s will and compromise even when he’d prefer she’d stay out of danger makes them still THE best couple I have come to see in fiction.
At some point later in my life, I would like to have a family. I have often wondered if I would prefer to adopt a boy or a girl, but characters like Shirayuki make me wish for the latter. So that I can show this show to my daughter and show her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. Snow White with the Red Hair is one of the happiest shows I have ever watched, and it’s a happiness that should be shared with those who can benefit the most from it.
Favorite Women of the Industry
The women whose names I’ve come to know from the industry have always had some hand in media which affected me in some way. The following women have done so consistently over the years across all aspects of production. Directing, writing, composing, you name it, they’ve done it.
Yoko Kanno, Composer
I recently hosted a radio program that covered the works of Yoko Kanno across her career as an anime composer for almost two whole hours. Throughout that episode, I started to get some perspective of how long the woman has been creating such phenomenal work. Even before Cowboy Bebop, she was channeling the very soul of the story into sound.
Much like director Shinichiro Watanabe, with whom the two share history working together, her works transcend Japan. They take inspiration from rock and alternative from the west, and she has scouted talent over the years who breathe an American rock flair into her work. Vocalists like Scott Matthew and Steve Conte have such dulcet tones that bring to mind classics of western alternative rock.
Outside of rock or jazz, her more romantic pieces seen in works like Escaflowne transport the viewer into the world of the show. The soundtracks she has produced are often diverse, a collage of musical styles all produced no more or less heart-fully than any other track. It’s unlikely there will ever be another composer who has as much of an immediately recognizable and respected pedigree in anime.
Rie Matsumoto, Director
While reviewing Kyousougiga, her 2013 Toei Animation series, I spent the latter half of my review to deep dive into her career from the beginning. I endeavored to get a sense of her style based on its origins. Her love of western films and directors such as Stanley Kubrick and her likeness for the movements of female mangaka all painted a very interesting picture.
As I dug deeper, I began to think of her even more highly than before. After all, Matsumoto directed Kekkai Sensen, one of my favorite shows of all time. Digging into her career revealed a passion for creating loud, colorful stories, oftentimes about family and discovering one’s self, that put more of an emphasis on emotion and character than about reaching a specific audience.
As a result, some of her work can be pretty niche, but the enthusiasm within her work is contagious, and I think the industry could only benefit from more of it. Still waiting on that movie she was working on… who knows, maybe some year soon we’ll get it.
Naoko Yamada, Director
Yamada really doesn’t need much of an introduction. We’ve all hopefully seen Silent Voice by this point. Liz and the Blue Bird was delightful, if a bit under the radar, and the K-ON! is still remembered fondly for the most part.
Yamada has some really powerful name recognition by this point in the realm of animated film. Her works are slow dramas that pull viewers in with magnetic and emotive characters. In typical Kyoto Animation style, a lot of the drama is conveyed through subtle character animation, much in the same way live-action actors can convey a lot physically.
Yamada’s ability to immerse audiences of a wide range into stories dealing with complicated emotional dilemmas will always impress me. It doesn’t even have to be sad in the same way Silent Voice was. Liz and the Blue Bird‘s depiction of loneliness and longing was deeply relatable to me at the time. K-ON!‘s depiction of high school youth and friendship is so cozy and comfortable it’s hard not to feel happy just watching it.
Mari Okada, Writer & Director
Consider this more of an honorable mention. Okada is the kind of writer who you may think you don’t have much of a personal attachment to until you grasp the scale of just how many shows she has worked on. She’s done series composition for Kiznaiver, Canaan, old obsessions of mine like Black Butler, and even… Gundam?
She has written a lot, both adapted and original screenplays. There seem to be some weird hate for her, some criticizing her works as overly melodramatic. Furthermore, some think she isn’t right for certain projects she works on such as Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Personally, though, she’s proven to be great at writing dramatic character dynamics that are essential to dramas with large casts.
Nowhere else does she prove this more than with her most famous script, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. I don’t think any other series has made me cry as much as that one did. Those 11 episodes of characters soul searching and reconnecting built up to a finale that I still consider nearly perfect. You come out of that episode a changed person.
Considering how many shows she wrote that I wasn’t even aware of, I’ve been watching her work since the beginning. Adaptations like her script for Hourou Musuko captivated me at an age when I was just coming to understand the Transgender movement. Kiznaiver is practically the pinnacle of character drama driving a story by the sheer premise of the story. Furthermore, I’ve been hearing excellent things about Toradora for years. Looking back on her work, it’s no surprise she is now getting into directing.
If you haven’t seen Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, you should. It’s a fantastical gut punch for sure, tragic and heartwarming in equal measure. It can be a bit slow, and certain plot threads felt unexplored, but it can be profoundly beautiful. If you don’t know who Mari Okada is, check her MyAnimeList page. You might be more familiar with her than you think.
What do you think of my list? Who’s your favorite female anime character? What about your favorite female writer/director? Leave a comment below and tell me your favorites.
Next week, I’ll be reviewing Powerhouse Animation’s Castlevania, from season one to the recently released season three. Been a while since I covered an American animated series and Castlevania is one of the best in a long time.
I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!