Updated: Mar 12
It is often hard to picture women having strong roles in anime. After all, much of the Japanese shows that outsiders to the anime community are exposed to images of ecchi poses and embarrassed, disproportionate female bodies in maid costumes (at least these visuals were initially questioned by peers that asked why my friends liked to watch anime). I have to admit that the Japanese do not seem to be particularly empowering. In fact, many anime gals are "damsels in distress" that need saving or play passive roles like healing males in questing anime.
When was the last time you saw a female headlining an anime? Among the myriad of action anime available and/notorious in reputation such as Inuyasha, Naruto, Black Butler, One Punch Man, to name a few, the protagonists are all male. They are all great but females are not depicted as main heroines as much as they could be. The versatility of female anime characters has yet to reach its peak potential. In honor of International Women’s Day, here are some of the top female anime characters from my personal arsenal of favorite women who can wreak havoc unlike any other to defend what they care about most.
Esdeath - Akame ga Kill!
Upon reflection nowadays, I always see Esdeath as the female version of Todoroki from My Hero Academia (but without the firepower- unless you count her relentless passion for Tatsumi which can safely be said that the hearth of that burned brightly). General Esdeath was specifically recruited from her position with the Empire by the Prime Minister to lead the Jaegers, a group to counter the assassination unit, Night Raid. She takes the cake in my book because she was the “villain” to Akame’s merry group of assassins.
Her abilities were obviously as fearsome as one might have guessed, with the ability to manipulate ice endlessly. This paired well with her manipulative and extremely sadistic philosophy she adapted from her father, “The strong survive and the weak die.” Quelling rebellions and seeking bloodshed seemed to be her only fierce qualities but through her love for the rookie Tatsumi, her character really highlighted “anti-hero” qualities that made me stan her hard.
She was fair with her subordinates and garnered their utmost devotion and in her quest for fighting strong opponents, she recognized Susanoo as a warrior, as opposed to a mere Teigu and fought him seriously. In the end, when Tatsumi’s demise seemingly did not affect her, she did deteriorate and while that ultimately sealed her fate in the deciding battle against Akame, her valiant efforts really showed her humanity. She just wanted Tatsumi’s love and unknowingly went about that the wrong way since Akame’s feelings for Tatsumi was harnessed much more effectively.
Erza Scarlet - Fairy Tail
Most known for her scarlet red hair, Erza is a force to be reckoned with as an S-Class Mage. Not only can she equip 200+ swords, lances and axes interchangeably but she can manipulate her weapons to pierce from afar, too. Furthermore, "Requip: The Knight" spatial magic allows her to circulate 100+ armors that vary in strength, weakness, and abilities. The Japanese Cloth outfit has been one of the most impressive (best) back-against-the-walls attire that Erza has whopped a handful of strong opponents with.
Erza is hardworking (to the point where she took on all 100 demons by herself in the tower during The Magic Games) and strict (Gray and Natsu’s rivalry has been mediated when fighting broke out multiple times along the way with a swift blow to the head of both parties) but she all in all cares deeply about her guild and friends. She was my favorite guild master when Master Makarov was gone. I truly understand the gravity of intimidation every villain that Erza encountered had for her since age even endured losing all her senses under an excruciatingly immense amount of pain to defeat Kyouka.
Tsuyuno Yatsumura - Mahou Shojou Site
The main protagonist of this magical girl series is Aya Asagiri. The debate between choosing the protagonist or her strong friend was difficult but Tsuyuno wins best girl in my book. Tsuyuno revealed herself to be another magical girl (at the risk of exposing herself and her life itself) when she saved Aya from a bully’s attack in school. Tsuyuno continued to have Aya’s back throughout various encounters with other hostile magical girls. In fact, without her help, Aya would have been dead in the water at least ten times, not to mention completely oblivious to the caveats of using their wands too much or imminent death by unknown magical girls.
Yatsumura, as Aya called her, had steeled herself to opening up to others after her parents were murdered during a home invasion. Revenge was hers when the magical girl site granted her power; she tortured the burglar that had committed such an atrocity to her family every day since. Yatsumura’s time-freezing abilities with her smartphone-wand changed her hair into orange during usage, which makes her “You are screwed” look towards the enemies that much more menacing. Yatsumura throws herself in harm’s way protecting Asagiri countless times and the ominous magical girl site recruiters’ plot is unraveled with Yatusmura’s adept realization that the magical girls were purposefully pitted against one another to fuel the developers’ amusement.
Yuuki Asuna - Sword Art Online
While one of the most popular game anime and overused as a fan favorite, the characters were arguably great, hence the iconic status (everyone has heard of Sword Art Online at some point!). The world’s most exciting VR MMORPG game, “Sword Art Online” captured the attention of many players. Literally. Yuuki Asuna, or Asuna, as she mononymously goes by in the game, shines right off the bat. The Knights of Blood is an esteemed guild that Asuna has already made a name for herself in. She came to be known as “The Flash” since her foes could not seem to notice, let alone counter her rapier’s relentless, precise slashes. Her impulsive actions to jump into fights without much assistance showcased how inspirational, brave (and reckless) she was but owned every second of those feats, earning her a spot in my favorites.
Asuna’s rush to complete the game, in hopes of escaping with the glory, was short-lived when she tried to do too much on her own. Granted, her rapier was formidable for taking out myriads of monsters and bosses on the first floor of the Labyrinth but exhaustion paused her quest. However, after teaming up with Kirito, the duo overtook the game by storm. When they ascended levels and dungeons, no monster or boss could stop their forward push. As the first players to clear the game with nearly maxed levels(around level 90 each), it was clear that Asuna’s techniques and Kirito’s strategy would come in handy in future games they played.
Mikasa Ackerman - Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan has been extremely captivating because of its horrifyingly deformed Titans (things you only see in nightmares, for real, though) and the promised gore in many episodes. While Eren Jaeger is the protagonist that has access to a Titan exoskeleton form, Mikasa, his adopted sister has been killing it without the added power. Out of all of the cadets in the 104th Training Corps, Mikasa has been ranked the best. For good reason, however.
Mikasa’s need to protect Eren from harm, as well as the comrades she reluctantly makes along the way, has definitely influenced her values. Titans have been cut down by her hands alone on numerous occasions. Higher-ranked military officials have recognized that she has the might “equal to that of a hundred ordinary soldiers.” It was no surprise that when Annie in Titan form defeated a majority of other top-notch military forces, Mikasa not only survived but drove Annie to use her ultimate hardening technique to seal herself away and prevent being eliminated while transformed.
Her precise movements with her gear happen so quickly that many Titans barely see her coming before parts of their bodies are slashed deeply. There is no doubt that maneuvering the omnidirectional mobility gear has become second nature to her, as well, since her weaving in and out through the tiniest crevices of the Titans’ bodies while flailing is unparalleled. Mikasa has demonstrated what it is like to not have supernatural abilities, yet still, be able to CRUSH daunting Titans easily. There is no one better to protect Eren, honestly and if I was in an apocalyptic event, I hope she would be accessible for aid or I might as well be easy fodder.
International Women’s Day may be over this year but it is important to honor the good fight for equal rights, pay and respect women are still trying to come into worldwide. There were tons more options to consider but to keep things diverse, only one female character from each of the shows mentioned was featured.
Anime women are only going to continue being as badass as they have been. I am looking forward to seeing even more inspiring female role models take the lead beyond the scope of magical girl and romance anime.
Let us know in the comments below if there are any other strong female characters in anime that have inspired you.