Strong female leads: an adventure in anime
All I want in life is a kickass heroine.
Recently one of my friends and I were discusisng some of her favorite badass women in anime. Being lifelong weebs (or is otaku the cutesy “reclaimed” Western nickname major anime fans like to use?) this was an hours long discussion about different types of strength, the eras each anime came out, and character development. It also got me thinking about how people not familiar with anime view it as stereotypically sexist, when if done right it has some of the strongest, smartest, and most capable female representation.
One of the strongest instances of Chinese representation I remember as a kid isn’t Mulan. No, her name was Meiling, a sassy, fiery, martial arts expert from Hong Kong. She wasn’t from an American cartoon — she appeared in the classic magical girl anime Cardcaptor Sakura.
Seeing Meiling, a Chinese girl with long black hair and big brown eyes, influenced my aesthetic for years. She was Asian, loud, emotional, over confident, and kicked ass. Sailor Mars and Jupiter, Misty, and Jessie too. All of my love to Mulan and the other great Disney heroines, but when I think of empowering female leads from my childhood, the majority are all anime characters.
Like most anime fans my age, I fell down the hole watching the original Pokemon (Indigo League), some Yu-Gi-Oh, and the infamous dubs of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors. After a brief time period when I was Too Cool For Everything, it was through watching the pop-up-fun-fact marathon of Avatar the Last Airbender when I remembered how awesome anime is. And how in a lot of ways it helped define the media I enjoy and character role models I love.
Now, I also get that anime has its fair share of very terrible role models, both male or female, but I’m focusing on the females ones. From over the top fan service to terrible writing and development, a truly strong female lead can be hard to come by sometimes. But that’s what makes really good ones so great. So if you’re at all curious about anime and not sure where to start, here’s my list of a few shows I’ve seen that all involve at least one awesome female lead.
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
This is a classic series, great place to start, you can’t go wrong. And the strong women in this show are the best.
Kill La Kill
Not gonna lie, I almost didn’t finish this series because of the fan service. But I stayed with it, and am so glad I did.
Ouran High School Host Club
Another classic, you can’t go wrong. Like I said, there’s different types of strength and badasses, and I certainly think Haruhi is a badass.
Attack on Titan
This show is a ride, let me tell you. But it’s fun (sometimes) and it’s got some great women in it. Though I do wish one of them (Mikasa) would get a bit more depth other than “I fight good because I’m in love with a useless dumbass.”
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
If you liked Ouran, you’ll love Nozaki-kun. The same satirical take on shojo romance with a charming disregard for traditional character roles.
Another classic, it’s a fun adventure story if you’re in for a longer plot and story.
Spoiler Alert: At the time, I was kinda bummed Maka x Soul weren’t OTP, but now I really appreicate their friendship.
Come for the angsty boys, stay for the girl piloting a giant robot like a boss. And because you get emotionally wrecked along the way.
Truly a classic, Bebop set the precedent for many of the anime that followed it. So I’m glad Faye and Ed were some of the first examples of fully formed and thought-out space cowgirls.
Akame ga Kill
Most of the main squad are women with huge-ass weapons they are highly trained to use, it’s great. I’m also always here for a powerful lady villain too.
Yona of the Dawn
A slow arc with true character development, it’s a really good series and the cast is a lot of fun. But a warning: this anime is technically “unfinished” in that the end of season 1 doesn’t answer any questions, but there’s also no signs of a season 2 — you have to read the manga if you want any closure.
And of course if you really want to go old school: Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon
Honorable Mention: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Madoka)
A lot of people love this anime, but I’m not one of them. Check it out for yourself and let me know where I went wrong.
There’s a lot of jokes, stereotypes, and misconceptions about anime, especially the women in it. But I think anime is just like any genre of media: there’s nuances, great examples, and problems that need greater discussion. Along with these shows I recommend, if you’re curious about the greater dialoge about female rep in anime check out the blog AnimeFeminist. And if you’re worried about being judged for anime, take heart in Sailor Mars’s words of wisdom: