Anime Heroines to Root For

by sketchyfeminist

So, I want to start a series of posts showcasing awesome anime heroines. Because sometimes when I watch anime I ask myself, “If I had a daughter, would I be willing to show this to her?” (I actually do this. I realize that this is a weird criterion for popular culture enjoyment, but just roll with it, OK? I’m not weird.) And sometimes, shockingly, the answer is “yes”.

And why is it shocking? Well, because sexism is kind of A Problem in anime. Not all anime, mind. But it’s a problem in enough anime to make it A Problem in Anime. Panty shots? Check. Sexual harassment for comic effect? Check. Supposedly powerful female characters (especially romantic leads) getting surpassed, outstripped, outranked and in other ways outdone by male protagonists? So many checks! Supposedly powerful female characters turning into damsels who have to be rescued? Check again. These things are all anime tropes. They are common (particularly in anime targeting boys). Young women falling for emotionally abusive young men? Verbal abuse as a sign of affection? Check and check. These are also anime tropes, and they are common (especially in anime targeting girls).

When I was little, I watched a lot of Nick at Nite. And it seemed harmless enough. Who doesn’t love classic TV? Then one day I made a sexist joke to my mom. Because women, right? I think my joke had something to do with women being terrible drivers. Because that was a pretty commonly recurring gag in the kind of TV I watched as a kid.

My mother was, rightfully, horrified. “You don’t really think that, do you?” she asked.

[Dramatic pause.]

“No,” I answered.

And it was true: I didn’t. Once I thought about it logically, I couldn’t think of a reason to assume that women would be worse at driving than men. But, the thing was, I had thought it, up until that moment, when my mom called my attention to my assumption. Because, according to TV Land (and this was back before TV Land was its own channel), women were bad at driving. It was an unquestioned truth that got repeated over and over again. Honestly, I thought that everyone (not just Bob Newhart) thought that about women and driving.

So, that was a bit of a wake-up call for me as a kid. It taught me to think about and question those “truths” that media laid out for me. It also brought to my awareness the fact that I could be influenced by media in ways of which I was not even conscious.

Even when I was making the sexist joke to my mom, I never would have said that I thought women were inferior to men in any way. And yet: sexist joke, right out of my mouth. I didn’t even realize it was a sexist joke.

Anyway, I watch less classic TV and more anime now. And I’m very aware that anime is especially popular with kids, teens and young adults. I’m also well-aware that even children are capable of bringing their own grain of salt to the table when it comes to consuming media, and that “kids these days” are not going to be “brainwashed” by the nasty messages in their entertainment.

That doesn’t make them immune to those messages. None of us are immune to those messages. And we pick up on all kinds of things, often subconsciously, just due to repeated exposure. And people (kids and adults) who haven’t thought about or who choose not to think about how to approach media critically may be especially at-risk for this.

So sometimes, when I’m watching or reading a piece of media, I ask myself if I would share it with my (imaginary) daughter. Would this be a helpful or hurtful thing for a young woman to see? Would it make her feel bad about herself, or would it make her feel strong? For whatever reason, I find myself applying these criteria most frequently when reading manga and/or watching anime.

So maybe an alternative title for this heroine lineup would be “Anime Heroines in Anime that I would Totally Show my Daughter if I Had One.” Please do keep in mind that I’m imagining that my imaginary daughter is super-mature, and that the presence of sexual and violent content in these titles is a non-issue. My hypothetical-daughter imago can fend for herself on that front.

For now, here is a list of “Anime Heroines to Root For,” organized alphabetically by show title. I plan to showcase these leading ladies (at least some of them) in their own posts, which will either be organized chronologically by the shows’ release dates or not organized at all (probably the latter). I also plan to update this list as I go. Feel free to make recommendations for additions to this list (or even your own competing list) in the comments, as the mood strikes you.

I’m trying to focus on shows that are either female-led or have a fairly even split (in terms of screen time, importance to the plot, etc.) between their male and female leads.

The Anime Heroines to Root For List

At the moment, this (partial!) list is limited to heroines in anime series that I have actually seen, at least in some part. If your favorite anime heroine isn’t on the list, that may mean that (1) I haven’t seen her anime, (2) I’ve seen it and left it off the list for reasons of my own or (3) I’ve seen it and would have put its heroine on this list if the anime in question hadn’t slipped my mind.

The list so far:

Saya in Blood+
Erin in Beast Player Erin
Chihaya in Chihayafuru
Clare in Claymore
Lafiel in Crest of the Stars
Maya in Glass Mask
Ririchiyo in Inu x Boku SS
Nanami in Kamisama Kiss
Haruhi in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Balsa in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Nadia in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Haruka in Noein
Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club
Akane in Psycho-Pass
Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena
Juliet in Romeo x Juliet
Oscar in The Rose of Versailles
Lina in Slayers
Shurei in The Story of Saiunkoku
Taiga in Toradora
Yoko in Twelve Kingdoms
Asumi in Twin Spica
Ryoko in Yakushiji Ryoko’s Case Files

Now, these heroines aren’t perfect, and I’m not claiming that their titles are issue-free (a few of them are even guilty of one or more of the tropes listed above). But they’re a good place to start.