Anime is an incredibly diverse media that has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed, battle-oriented story with larger than life characters who possess all kinds of cool powers, or a down to Earth, heartwarming tale of everyday life with a relatable cast of characters, there’s a whole list of anime you can choose from.
There’s also a lot of great anime with female protagonists. In fact, you can probably find at least five worth your time from any genre. If you’re looking for a great anime with a female protagonist at the moment, perhaps our list can be of service.
Updated by Lianna Tedesco on November 29th, 2020: It’s not often that anime fans pick a fight with their favorite shows over the fact that the main protagonist is a male rather than a female. Thankfully, in both video game and anime culture, there has been a surge of storylines that credit females as being just as strong – if not stronger – than men. In fact, anime is one of the rare places where feminist power and a woman’s independence is displayed in its full glory. For those seeking even more of this genre, the options for anime binge-watching have only grown and include some of the best, and most memorable shows out there right now.
15 ACTION: KILL LA KILL
Kill la Kill certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s weird – bizarre even. IGN described it as “magical girl anime on speed”, which captures the nature of Kill la Kill perfectly. The non-sensical plot, the over the top character design, the colorful backgrounds and explosions, and the unusual approach it takes to explore important themes are all dead giveaways that you’re watching a Trigger anime.
The story of Kill la Kill is about a Ryuko Matoi who sets out to find the one responsible for her father’s death and exert her revenge. She ends up at the Honnouji Academy – an elite school where clothes are a crucial element of its competitive hierarchy. In fact, Kill la Kill relies heavily on clothes to explore themes like fate, freedom, and sexuality. Hence, the weird costumes. But, it’s also immensely fun and hilarious with tons of stunning action.
14 MYSTERY: FROM THE NEW WORLD
If you’re into works like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, then the 2012 anime titled From the New World might be what you’re looking for. Set in a utopian future society where humans have developed psychic abilities, From the New World is a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of Saki Watanabe, as she narrates the events from her childhood from the future– from this new world.
Saki’s world is an isolated society of psychic humans, bound by complex rules, and shrouded in mystery. From the very first episode, it’s abundantly clear that there’s much more to this supposed utopia than meets the eye. We follow Saki and her group of friends as they unearth the dark truths about the nature of their society. And the truth is surprising, yet completely plausible and will leave you with plenty to think about.
13 SUPERNATURAL: FATE/ZERO
One of the main characters of the infamous Fate franchise, the blonde-haired knight known as Saber is one of the Servants that the Masters can summon in the Holy Grail Wars. For the uninitiated, the Holy Grail Wars are basically secret battle royale-type tournaments between seven Master magicians who summon seven legendary heroes to fight on their behest as their Servants.
Saber is the reincarnation of King Arthur, who was a woman in this universe. Aside from Saber, there are six other classes – Assassin, Archer, Rider, Berserker, Caster, and Lancer. Each Servant serves their Master, has unique abilities, and their own interesting story. The series is gorgeously animated, has great action scenes, and it even explores great philosophies and themes.
12 ROMANCE: LOVE IS HARD FOR OTAKU
Most romance anime – well, most love stories in general – tend to focus on the pursuit of the relationship rather than giving us the chance to actually see that relationship develop. Luckily, that is not the case with one of the biggest surprises of 2018, Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku.
Wotakoi tells two love stories. There’s the story of two friends who have common interests of the otaku variety and decide to start dating, eventually falling in love with each other in a realistic fashion. And then there’s the already established, sometimes dysfunctional but nevertheless wholesome relationship, of their two friends/co-workers. If you’re sick of classic sappy rom-coms, Wotakoi will feel like a breath of fresh air.
11 THRILLER: PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA
It’s nigh impossible to explain what Madoka Magica is about without spoiling it. However, it did come out almost ten years ago, and if you have any interest in anime you’ve probably heard all about its twist. In short, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is by no means what it appears to be on the surface. Disguised as your typical cute magical girl anime, Madoka Magica is extremely dark and mature.
The story starts with two normal high school girls who come upon a cat-like Satan’s spawn who promises them great power in exchange for becoming magical girls. Not long after taking the offer, they find out that the life of a magical girl isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be. Madoka Magica received wide critical acclaim for its writing and stands as a quintessential anime series.
10 DRAMA: NANA
Nana tells the story of two 20-something girls named Nana. But though they share the same first name, they couldn’t be more different. Where one is helpless and naïve, the other is proud and bold. One boards the train to Tokyo to chase after her boyfriend, while the other boards the very same train in pursuit of her life-long dream to become a professional singer.
They end up sharing an apartment, becoming close friends, and supporting each other through life. Nana’s story is that of friendship, romance, heartbreaks, challenges, and the difficulties of transitioning to adulthood. The way the story is told, however, is where this anime truly shines. Nana relies on realistic dialogue and thought process, relatable characters that act like real people, and believable plotlines that resonate, in order to explore themes relevant to young adults who are stumbling through adulthood.
9 COMEDY: AGGRETSUKO
Based on the eponymous Sanrio character (yes, the same company that created Hello Kitty and Gudetama), Aggretsuko, short for aggressive Retsuko, is a hilarious anime about a 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda (Retsuko) who works in the accounting department of a Japanese trading firm. Frustrated with her superior and annoying co-workers, this sweet little creature has the habit of blowing off steam by going to a karaoke bar after hours and singing death metal at which point she transforms into a scary demon-like version of herself.
Aggretsuko is a brutally honest and biting satirical take on modern life, which most people can relate to. Retsuko is stuck at a job that she hates, with a chauvinist pig for a boss, and wants nothing more than to simply be happy. However, as we all know, life is complicated and unfair, and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it. So, we might as well grab the mike and scream at the top of our lungs.
8 ADVENTURE: A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE
A Place Further than the Universe was one of the best anime to come out of 2018. The adventure comedy follows the fascinating journey of four girls traveling from Japan to Antarctica. Kimari, who always had lofty aspirations but no determination to pursue them, meets Shirase, a girl who’s fiercely determined to go to Antarctica to search for her mother. Two more girls tag along and the four begin their unforgettable journey. The story of Shirase, Kimari, Hinata, and Yuzuki is so incredibly earnest, inspiring, and heartwarming.
A Place Further than the Universe is about having the insanity to follow your dreams. It’s about conquering the paralyzing fear of living life to the fullest that we all experience. On their journey to a place further than the universe, the four girls support each other in facing their fears, all the while engaging in all kinds of shenanigans which will make you burst into laughter and tears.
7 FANTASY: VIOLET EVERGARDEN
Violet Evergarden is, without doubt, one of the most gorgeous anime we’ve seen, but it’s far from being style without substance. Violet Evergarden is a crushing story about war, love, loss, and empathy. It follows the titular hero as she attempts to reintegrate into society after returning from the battlefield.
Violet, who was abandoned as a child and grew up as a soldier, never understood emotions. When her superior officer dies in a decisive battle, Violet failing to save him and losing both her arms in the process, she decides to learn the meaning of his last words to her, “I love you”. To do this she becomes a ghostwriter for people who can’t write but want to convey their emotions in a letter. Over the course of thirteen episodes, we see Violet grow and learn through her interactions with her clients.
6 SCI-FI: GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX
Major Mokoto Kusanagi, the lead character of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, is one of anime’s best-known female protagonists. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows the Major and her team, who work for the Public Security Section 9, as they investigate highly sensitive criminal cases in a world where many people have become cyborgs.
But these amazing advancements in technology also have drawbacks. The existence of cyberbrains led to a whole new class of dangerous crimes, as criminals can take control of people’s cyberbrains, alter memories, and manipulate their sensory input. With lots of action and thought-provoking ideas Stand Alone Complex is a must-see anime for any anime fan, especially if you’re looking for a strong female lead – it hardly gets any better. With the third season coming sometime in 2020 now is the perfect time to dive into Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
5 MECHA: DARLING IN THE FRANXX
Darling in the Franxx was a hit almost as soon as it came out and people weren’t binge-watching it just to watch Hiro gain his confidence. Zero Two, a code name given to hybrid-humans such as herself, was captivating and enrapturing during every moment she had on screen.
Her intensity and aggressive impulses are what make this anime so much fun – and emotional – to watch, and it’s arguably up there with some of the greatest mecha anime of all time. The soundtrack also helps to boost this show’s ratings along with other strong, female characters like Ichigo, Miku, Kokoro, Ikuno, and, of course, their Franxx, which are just as much characters as they are.
4 MAGICAL GIRL: SAILOR MOON
Almost nothing needs to be said about the strong feminine energy that’s exuded during every episode of Sailor Moon. Not only does Usagi undergo an incredible transformation (literally, several) throughout both the manga and both anime series, but she also saves Tuxedo Mask consistently throughout.
In addition, the rest of the sailor scouts are some of the most epic sidekicks anyone could ask for, each offering their own unique personalities along with a skill they’ve honed from day one. Teamwork, feminism, and general butt-kicking are all part of the Sailor Moon series and it’s iconic in every category.
3 SLICE OF LIFE: FRUITS BASKET
Sometimes, a good ‘slice of life’ anime is all one needs in order to make a day better. Fruits Basket is home to an understated character, Tohru. Although her strength might not seem like much at first, as the anime goes on, she gains even more of a confident presence.
Her reputation depended on the fact that she was a hard-working, honest character, and one that – although surrounded by male energy – managed to maintain her sense of self and independence. Time after time, Tohru showed that she was far stronger than many others would be in tragic positions.
2 DARK FANTASY: MADOKA MAGICA
All it takes is one look at this anime to know that it’s bound to be filled with a similar, Sailor Moon-like energy, but somehow, even more so. Madoka Magicka is far darker, though, bringing to the surface many complex questions that the anime is so well-known for. With each character bringing a dynamic and drastically different personality to the mix, this is a tough anime not to fall in love with.
While there might not be room for character flaws in other anime, these strong individuals go through a process of self-discovery that includes stumbling a little bit before learning how to fly.
1 SWORD AND SORCERY: CLAYMORE
There’s no arguing that Clare is an incredible character in Claymore. This anime had a unique storyline from the start as it’s not every day that humans are infused with demon blood in order to become great warriors, but these ones are.
Despite the fact that it’s the women kicking serious demon butt in this anime, it’s men who are the ones in power, so to speak, making this even more of an interesting dynamic. Despite that, the power that one woman can display should never be underestimated – especially when it comes to proving oneself just as worthy of living in a one-sided world.
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