Let’s play a game called “Elaborating upon the wording of the title of this post” real quick, before anything else is said.
Many anime have female leads. Many anime have female characters strongly outnumbering male characters throughout the course of their bodies. What I want to look at for the motivation behind this post is anime that are good (obviously) and feature the female lead as the lead. Not one of the leads, but the lead. The story being told from their perspective, or unearthed with them at the center of the plot. This wording automatically deletes any anime featuring a male-female duo in contention, as I want to focus on the female input without the assistance of a male counterpart (in true feminist fashion). This would mean series such as Ookami to Koushinryou, Katanagatari, and Toradora!—all series that would make this list otherwise—will not qualify, as they feature a male in just as prominent (and debatably more) a role as the female.
Of course, one could easily try and pick apart what exactly makes a role within a series more “important,” whether paying attention to screentime, impact on the plot, or amount of development. For this list specifically, my criteria generally follows this guideline: An anime will feature a female character at the forefront and will progress through their perspective. Basically, so long as we are being shown the thoughts of the character (whether directly or indirectly) and the plot progresses in front of them, it’s enough to feature them as the lead for me. With all this checked off, let’s continue to the countdown.
We begin with two female leads: leads with the same name, yet very different outlooks on life and love.
Meeting the criteria for this list was a no-brainer. NANA is absolutely dedicated to showcasing the female perspective more than anything, with a lot of the male characters developing in direct relation to their impact upon the two female leads.
As for the show itself, it’s a bit of a soap opera. The overdramatic events that transpire, especially near the end, may turn some people off to the whole of the story. Where NANA succeeds, however, is through the exuberance of its characters and their impact on everything occurring. One surefire way of knowing you are immersed in a series is when you start lecturing the characters onscreen on how to act, letting them know when they’re being an idiot. I did so many times within the last quarter of this series, something I don’t generally do with other series. If not for being able to understand the importance of
acting dumb standing firm for what these characters believe in, the drama near the end would certainly be overwhelming. Thankfully, the characters—even those within the minor cast—save the series by being ultimately likable and realistic people full of anxieties and hope.
#9: Kimi ni Todoke
For all those Shoujo fans out there, I’m providing you with some nice material right off the bat.
No other Shoujo will follow this entry on the list.
This is a title where one can make the argument over whether or not the female lead is the lead. Sawako is a timid girl who is constantly compared to the freaky female ghoul from The Ring. After that premise is glossed over, we get to go gaga for some popular hunk that sees Sawako for who she really is: a nice girl. Sawako’s world becomes almost entirely fixated on this boy who she really, really likes! The basis for any common romance, for sure, but doesn’t that mean this boy is just as prominent a lead as Sawako? Maybe from the outset.
As I see it, we follow Sawako’s perspective more than anything, even if it involves the attention of a boy more often than not. The series also involves other female characters that steal the spotlight from Sawako, too. (I adore Kurumizawa.) Whatever happens with the male lead is entirely predicated on Sawako’s interaction with him, much like any female character’s development is predicated on the male lead’s attention in a typical harem series. For this reason, I think Kimi ni Todoke is qualified to be on this list.
The series is also qualified because it is super cute. There is very little about Kimi ni Todoke that makes it an incredible romance or drama or anything, really, but it does enough good on most fronts of character development and romantic pacing (slow as it is) to make it an engrossing series. Admittedly, the second season isn’t quite as good as the first, with drama and unnecessary hurdles to the main romance becoming commonplace. Even so, the great chemistry Sawako has with her friends and the ability by said friends to be able to stand on their own is an impressive feat in and of itself.
#8: Kyousou Giga
I’ve started to develop a formula that states I should defend my placement of every series on this list by describing the female character’s role within the work, and then describe why the series is good. I’m gonna whisk this up a bit and trust that my readers will understand that I know what I’m doing.
Kyousou Giga is pretty good, though not necessarily for the idea of the “powerful female warrior” blueprint that the cover or premise for this series may imply. Our lead heroine is, indeed, pretty resolute in her ideals and position, but what makes this series nice is the value of togetherness and family. There aren’t many series that focus exclusively on family values without directly adhering to that point through realistic settings and overly-zealous wholesome messaging. I typically like things done the artsy-fartsy way, which is what this title accomplishes.
In a “How do you interpret this?” kind of way, Kyousou Giga does a great job of communicating the positives and negatives of living within a dysfunctional family, and why one should stay strong even in times of difficulty. All of this comes into fruition by the strength of the female lead, who is often cast in an interesting light. She seems rather straightforward, wanting to pursue her goals and damn you if you try to stop her. In other moments, however, she seems to have things all figured out. It helps to make the narrative intricate, but the characters’ personal intricacies shape the fabric in which viewers can empathize with their positions. The female lead does this with a full heart, while also embellishing the “never give up” spirit that Japan seems obsessed with. Thankfully, it all works out, making a show well worth watching.
#7: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
This is a fun series. It jumps all over the place within its own timeline, characters are placed within metaphorical situations for larger societal commentaries, and the female lead doesn’t even have a name (most often referred to as “The mediator”). I came upon this series fairly early in my anime-watching days, and it’s been something I’ve enjoyed discussing at length for all two times I’ve had the opportunity to.
What’s nice about the female lead in this particular case is that she’s subtle. I like subtlety. Her aims are not always altruistic and she appears fairly egotistic when dealing with less-than-diplomatic persons. I like the emphasis on making the female lead not overtly sweet and hospitable. She takes her duty as a mediator seriously, but can’t help but flash her resentment for the trouble it causes her. Kind of reminds me of me while I’m working. Ah, damn. I’ve realized I only like her because I see myself in her—and I’m male, therefore this series cannot be qualified anymore. Show’s over. Thanks for reading, everyone.
There remains a slightly chaotic vibe to this series that makes it unpredictable. Personified bread that tears itself apart, fairies that create their own civilization, time travel, being trapped inside a manga, and more await those who wish to see why, exactly, humanity is declining. The real question is: Is that through quantity or quality? The series implies it’s through quantity, but is there something more to it? A fun thing to think about.
#6: Kill la Kill
I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that this series doesn’t feature female leads, but from another feminist viewpoint, this series could also be very problematic. We may save that discussion for a later date.
Ryuuko, upon the finale of Kill la Kill (and likely before it), was one of the most popular additions to MAL members’ favorites list. At the moment, she is currently ranked 86th all-time for number of members who have her among their favorite characters. If I had to hazard a guess as to why, I would imagine it’s because she’s “badass.”
While I don’t care for the term myself, Ryuuko is definitely the soul of Kill la Kill, with an immeasurable fighting spirit and run-and-gun attitude of problem-solving that’s easy to be enamored by—within reason, of course. Her commitment to the ones she loves and her desire for freedom from the clutches of the evil student council is also one, as an American, I can get behind. She, along with Satsuki (who is ranked 147th for member favorites), make Kill la Kill as emotionally-captivating as it is.
It’s definitely a series I would put up there along with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, another work of love by one Hiroyuki Imaishi that embellishes the power of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming hopelessness. The expressiveness of the characters and the build-up to the final showdown is a great ride, though only for those who can be swept up in such things. If the popularity of the series is any indication, that isn’t an issue for many.
#5: Aria The Origination
This immediately following Kill la Kill is like Yoshi’s Story following DOOM.
Aria The Origination is the final season of the Aria series, featuring a large cast of female characters in a dystopian universe going through life at their own pace. It is essentially the ultimate slice-of-life series with a twinge of sci-fi fantasy. And it’s great. Not always, but generally very, very nice. It is also a very niche interest, so I would advise not giving it a chance if you require the excitement of death-defying duels between transforming mechs to suit your viewing appetite.
For whatever reason, I don’t often think of this series when I think of anime that I really cherish, despite Origination getting a whopping 8.5 from me. This may be because the whole of the series, which consists of over fifty episodes, is not consistently good or entertaining to me. When it is good, however, it makes me cherish the series all over again, with Origination being the best of the bunch.
What’s more (fitting for this post) is that a very large portion of characters are female, with many kind of taking the central spot whenever the specific scenario calls for it. Most would consider Akari the main character, though even she gets pushed aside for large portions of episodes to focus on the community surrounding the setting. Sometimes her friends get the credit, other times it’s dedicated to strangers that will eventually become more integral. Sometimes the plots concern one-off characters that mean nothing to the whole picture, but provide added clarity to the world-building. It’s a very slow, rewarding process of development for everything involved, not just characters. And how they all happen to be female seems irrelevant.
Watching this is a commitment, with 52 episodes to its name as a series (excluding OVAs and specials). What I feel compelled to compare it to is a Bob Ross painting, where his techniques at first lull the viewer to sleep, but eventually the picture comes into focus and it all seems so simple, yet amazing. Aria the Origination gets the same distinction; a calming presence, like the whispers of classic orchestration, to help people find that tranquil peace.
Again, one could make the argument that the female lead isn’t more important than the whole of the team, which is comprised of both men and women. Even so, the plot follows Aoi throughout her process of finding her footing in the anime industry, along with her friends (all female) doing similarly. While I acknowledge that the team is what makes the anime great, it is the determination of the female lead in Aoi that serves as the foundation for its greatness.
Shirobako is great, too, whether because of the female lead or the collection of leads that lead in various directions, from commitment to excellence to redemption to finding what one loves to do. There is a massive collection of things to empathize with, along with the treat of knowing what it’s like to work on an anime (spoiler: it’s a nightmare). Like many other titles on this list, it favors the art of character to take the reins. This series wouldn’t work if the viewer didn’t care about Aoi, or the team, or the outside influences that make up the collection of relationships that are put into the work. It’s all about companionship (and meeting deadlines).
I had heard great things about the series, which spurred me to watch it soon after its finale. I wasn’t disappointed, and it’s something I think anyone could enjoy, even those who want something more fantasy-based. In some regards, it is a fantasy, a fantasy painted in a realistic coat of job-like settings, with quests including “Get this man his coffee” or “Make sure the director doesn’t run away from his responsibilities.” Occasionally funny, endearing, and insightful, it paves the way for other series wanting to relate to the anime industry in a more intimate manner.
#3: Shinsekai yori
The placement of this and what’s to follow was so unbelievably close, one could just have them tied at second. For the sake of a traditional top 10, I just put one below the other for the sake of it. Just imagine these next two are basically equal.
I am also pushing the reach for the importance of the female lead with this pick, too. One could seriously argue that Satoru is just as prominent of a lead as Saki, which would go against my own criteria. For me, the middle span of episodes that has Saki discovering the whereabouts of her friends and the revelations placed upon her by the village’s elders makes me feel her role within the story is just a notch above Satoru’s, who is definitely important to a large extent otherwise.
Saki ends up being what makes Shinsekai yori able to be on this list. Her place within the world she inhabits, which muddies the moral conscience of the human race, is constantly put into doubt. This series is definitely one of story and narrative significance, with the characters playing the roles of chess pieces in the larger game of chess played by unnamed forces at work. Even so, there’s a magnitude of impact Saki has upon the place of the story, where only she can determine the fate of her own survival, which is very rewarding to see.
I really do need to rewatch this. All of the things that had lingered in my mind have almost vanished, only re-invoked by other people’s thoughts on it. Though that sounds like an indictment, it’s more a testament to how packed the series is with content. There are many things at play within the story that speaks of the behavior of human civilization. It’s a think-piece of an anime that suits itself to its storytelling prowess. I would highly recommend it to anyone willing to think as they watch, even if not every second is a masterpiece of animation and discourse.
#2: Dennou Coil
Not only are most of the main characters female, they’re also children. This series also had me close to tears. It’s a fun time.
There is a point in this series where it’s generally below-average—a three(?)-episode span near the middle of the series that feels like filler content and little more. Somewhat like Aria before it, it’s a slow-building process that makes one adore the characters before the more harrowing details emerge to put the characters at risk. Unlike Aria, it has the appeal of a sci-fi world as a premise that immediately grants intriguing possibilities and situations straight from the first episode.
The reason I pointed out that the female characters in the prominent roles are children is because that slightly lowers the inclusion on romantic subplots where male characters become more prominent in the feature story. While the prospect of romance appears here, it is fairly minimal, and the tone of the story is general serious in a drama/adventure-esque way. Furthermore, children have more potential for growth in general conundrums than, say, teenagers. Here, the most prominent aspect (especially later on) is death and how to deal with it. It’s handled beautifully. I almost cried. Oh, I already said that.
It’s a wonderfully creative series that makes use of its large cast and sci-fi setting. It may be a bit dated with how technology works and the general make-up of what it does, but it still provides some nice insight into the terrors of technology and what it could mean to a number of people (including its exploitation).
#1: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho
This series, too, almost made me cry. If a series is getting use out of my tear ducts, I cherish that shit. These girls make it better.
I feel like if there were any male characters in this series, they were ignored for the sake of giving more screentime for the women, which I was fine with because these girls are amazing. Young and bold, they carry forth with their dreams at the expense of being at all prepared for what they’re to face in the meantime. Reminds me of my own—y’know what? Not even going to go there.
This has recently become a favorite of mine, with such emotional immersion that it became easy for me to feel the need to re-evaluate my favorites. Each character among the four female leads has their own interpretation of life that bounces off other members of the group in a ping pong fashion that ricochets faster and faster and never leaves the playing field until late. Their chemistry is phenomenal and real, in such a way that it truly does encapsulate the human spirit for those so young and adventurous. It’s contagious and I adore it.
A fitting end to the end of this list, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho is the series with the most female leads in a major role as anything else on the list. And when the series does its due diligence to develop all of them at a pace that coincides with the story’s and the other characters’ inputs, all is won. It’s like having multiple favorite flavors of ice cream and getting all of them in one sitting. Amazing. Wonderful. Spectacular. Marvelous. Beautiful. Can’t say enough good about this series, and everyone in existence should watch it.
What other series can you think of with majority-female roles? Let me know in the comments!