10 Anime With Compelling Female Characters to Enjoy
Women Making Strides Through Anime
An unmissable list of anime with engaging stories and interesting female characters.
Anime has come a long way in the past decade, with more and more shows featuring strong, compelling, and well-rounded female protagonists. In the past few years, we’ve seen an increasing number of fantastic anime that centers around major themes of loss, self-discovery, adventure, and more. Each of these anime showcases beloved and inspirational female characters, and sometimes even an entire cast of complex and endearing female protagonists. So, let’s take a look at the best anime with compelling female roles from the past few years. These shows are all available with subtitles or dubbed into English and just waiting to be binge-watched.
1. Golden Kamuy
Set in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war, Golden Kamuy follows a veteran on his search for a whispered-about Ainu gold. Early in his adventure, he meets Asirpa, a young Ainu huntress. This anime, and the manga which it is adapted from, not only gives its female character a leading role, makes her smarter, craftier, and more capable than her male veteran soldier counterpart—but it also gives center stage to a young Ainu. Asirpa is a girl from Hokkaido’s native people, a group that has been marginalized for a hundred years.
It’s a series that proves why representation matters. It teaches viewers about a culture and history they might know nothing about. It broadens our perspectives on Japanese history and culture, especially that of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people.
Where to watch
2. Laid-Back Camp
Some of the most charming anime to have come out of recent years has revolved around the tight friendships of a group of young girls. Watching them grow, discover their own strengths and weaknesses, and work as a team to become stronger together is an absolute delight. Laid Back Camp (also called Yuru Camp) is one of the best examples. It follows the story of Rin, a girl who loves to camp in seclusion as she enjoys nature by herself. During one trip, she meets and helps the lost Nadeshiko, and the two become unlikely friends. At school, they join the Outdoor Activities Circle, and the member of this club all work together to take trips out into the Japanese wilderness.
Where Laid Back Camp sets itself apart is in its depiction of personalities that are usually embodied by men. Especially Rin, the aloof loner who enjoys her own quiet company over that of others. It’s an anime that shows the deeper complexities of friendship between young girls as opposed to the tired trope of kawaii girls and their carefree games.
Where to watch
3. A Place Further than the Universe
It might be a little too bold to say this but I’ll say it anyway: A Place Further than the Universe is one of the best anime of the past decade. It tells the story of four high school girls who take a trip together from Tokyo to Antarctica. Each girl has her own distinct reason for making the trip. First, there’s Kimari, a curious girl desperate to not waste her youth any longer and instead seek something truly unique and difficult to accomplish. You’ll also meet Shirase, the daughter of an Antarctic explorer who tragically went missing.
These four girls are each so well-defined and endearing in their own ways, and their combined banter, teamwork, fights, and communal growth make for some of the best TV this year. In just twelve episodes we adventure to the mysterious wastes of Antarctica with four determined and lovable high school girls. By the end of it, neither they nor we will be the same.
Where to watch
While the Netflix series Beastars follows a male protagonist – a wolf named Legoshi – the show is a romance of sorts, and the girl who has stolen Legoshi’s heart is a three-dimensional and captivating female character named Haru. Haru is a white dwarf rabbit in a world where she lives and studies alongside predators who have the strength to kill and eat her. She lives in a world where herbivore meat is sold to carnivores on the black market, Haru is vulnerable, always a hair’s breadth from death. She comes to realize that she feels a sense of true agency, even dominance, in the bedroom. And so, Haru develops a reputation for being easy. Few anime ever give real dimension to female characters who enjoy sex and promiscuity.
It’s a refreshing and modern perspective, and it gives Haru some real dimension as she attempts to take control of her life as a herbivore in a way that she has chosen on her own. It’s a sex-positive show that focusses on the free choices of a young female character.
Where to watch
5. Fruits Basket (remake)
The original Fruits Basket from the early 00s is a fan-favorite and treasure of the anime community, but sadly it was never finished. The manga, however, was finished and so Fruits Basket has been given the ‘brotherhood treatment’ (totally re-vamped!) and at last, has an adaptation worthy of its source material. The anime follows the tragic-turned-magical story of Toru Honda, a high school girl who lost her mother and is now living alone in a tent in the woods, while still managing to keep her life somewhat together. One day, she stumbles upon the home of one of her classmates: a house in the woods populated by the actual animals of the Chinese Zodiac, disguised as human boys and men. Toru goes to live with, forms friendships with, and learns from all of these quirky and strange individuals.
A character like Toru would usually be nothing more than a pair of eyes through which we see this strange world, but given her tragic backstory and optimistic personality, she’s quite the lovable character. Her closest friends, Arisa Uotani and Saki Hanajima, a former gang member and psychic respectively, are also both well-developed female forces to be reckoned with.
Where to watch
6. Zombie Land Saga
J-Pop culture can be a toxic industry, especially for its women stars. It’s a dangerous game to play in many ways, and the creators of Zombie Land Saga know this. The show plays off the nastiness of the J-Pop industry with some clever satire and dark humor but is also a rollicking good time in its own right. The plot follows a group of girls who each, at the start of the show, die and wake up some years later as zombies, recruited by a shrewd manager looking to turn them into the next big idol group. The girls agree and begin their careers as a zombie J-Pop idol group.
From the beginning, the zombie girls have no memories of their former lives and are happy in their idols. Given the fact that these girls have no memories, thus no family or loved ones that they know of, the show heavily hammers home the idea that idols are essentially robots carrying out a function. If they had loved ones, memories, or dreams outside of being idols, it just wouldn’t work. But the reality is that they’re not robots—they are human girls—and we see later in the season this robotic fulfillment begins to fall apart.
A lot of the comedy comes from the slapstick you’d expect from a group of zombies: heads turning completely around and limbs detaching. But far more than that, Zombie Land Saga is a grizzly commentary on how idol girls are treated in Japan, by their fans, their managers, and by the demanding industry itself.
Where to watch
A brand-new anime series for 2020, Deca-Dence has been turning heads for months. This original anime from studio Nut is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure, full of intense and thrilling twists and turns. The glue that holds this insane series together is protagonist Natsume, a young girl with a prosthetic arm and a lot of trauma.
However, Natsume is not defined by her injury or her history. She looks to the future, demonstrates her skills and savviness though the show does give into that trope of her learning under a wise older man. Aside from that, Natsume is another welcome addition to the tough, smart, capable female protagonist. Not defined by her gender, she has a clear goal in mind, which is to change herself. Natsume wants to grow and become better. It’s a noble and relatable goal that carries her as a protagonist.
Where to watch
8. Revue Starlight
Stories of brotherly bonds and competitive duels can often be relegated to male-only affairs. However, Revue Starlight applies those themes to a pair of talented young women at an all-girls school of singers, dancers, and performers. When Karen’s childhood friend, Hikari, transfers to her school, Seisho Music Academy, her dream of performing in the musical Starlight escalates as the girls discover an elevator to a basement where girls duel for the top performer spot.
The contest is directed by a talking giraffe (because anime), but the contest itself is a gorgeous spectacle of beautiful animation. The story is overloaded with heart and charm as these two girls must do their best to remain sisterly friends, but also follow their dreams as far as they will take them.
Where to watch
9. Violet Evergarden
What do you do when your purpose in life is taken away from you? And the only person who mattered is gone? That’s the question posed in Violet Evergarden, an anime about a young woman who was raised as a tool for warfare but taught humanity, empathy, and love by a man who was lost before the war came to an end. Without a war to fight and a major to guide her, Violet is like a lost child. After her arms, also lost in battle, are replaced by mechanical ones, she finds a job at the postal service writing letters to patrons’ loved ones. Her one purpose is now to understand love—the concept and the feeling—as the major had attempted to instill in her.
Violet Evergarden, aside from perhaps being the most beautifully drawn anime ever produced, presents us with a woman who has been shown the world as crafted by men. Men go to war, men teach her to read and write, and men show her love. But now, as peace settles, Violet must make a life of her own; she must seek purpose, love, and understanding on her own terms. It’s a subtle treatise on the autonomy of women in a world governed by men, all the while being a character-driven story about navigating an ever-changing and often frightening world.
Where to watch
10. Made in Abyss
On an island, there exists a gaping mouth that leads down into the depths of the earth. For almost 2,000 years, explorers have been venturing down in search of treasure and understanding. A city has even grown at the edge of this abyss. Rico has only one goal: to become a white whistle, the best and toughest of the cave raiders, following in the footsteps of her brave mother. Not only is the protagonist of Made in Abyss a young girl, but she is also inspired by the actions of her mother.
Despite the fact that Made in Abyss goes to some frightening and shocking places that make it borderline unsuitable for kids, the show is perfect viewing material for young girls looking for a role model their own age. Riko is book-smart, savvy, hungry for knowledge, and adventure. She takes risks, cracks jokes, and aspires to her goal. There is a lot to love and learn from when it comes to Rico and the adventure she undertakes. She is one of the most inspiring and admirable anime protagonists in a long time.