It’s no exaggeration to say that some of the best anime feature strong female characters. Anime is an incredibly diverse media that has something for everyone. Whether the audience is 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 to choose from.

Dedicated anime fans can probably find at least five anime with strong female characters from any genre. From mystery thrillers to magical girl adventures, these are some of the best female-led anime series of all time. With that in mind, female leads aren’t exclusive to magical girl or shoujo outings, either. Plenty of quality romance, isekai, and action-thriller series prominently feature women in leading roles.

20 Canaan

  • Available to stream on HiDive

When a photographer is on the hunt for her next big story, she finds herself investigating the strange happenings at a local carnival and pulled into a conspiracy about a deadly virus. An old friend who happens to be a mercenary, the titular Canaan, comes to help her. Of course, Canaan is also out to get former teammate Alphard, the antagonist of her story.

This is the rare anime where the strong female protagonist, the damsel in distress, and the antagonist are all layered and complicated women who ally and come into conflict with one another repeatedly. The thrills and the twists don’t stop.

19 The Twelve Kingdoms

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll

High school can be hard enough on students without them suddenly being transported to a whole new world where their status as an Earthling makes them a wanted fugitive, but that’s exactly what happens to Youko Nakajima in this 2002 isekai anime, which predated some of the more ridiculous isekai that would release later.

Based on a manga that began a decade earlier, aspects of the story are definitely dated, but watching Youko grow from a whiny teen into a full-blown strong female protagonist is worth it. The anime also features a great musical score.

18 The Promised Neverland

  • Available to stream on Hulu

Shonen anime is, by definition, a genre meant specifically to target young boys, so it’s unusual to see one that features a strong female protagonist. That’s what makes The Promised Neverland unique.

Here, the protagonist is a young girl named Emma. She’s very intelligent and optimistic, and it’s only because of her that the other children at the group home have a chance to survive. The Grace Field House isn’t what it seems and, while some of the audience will see the twist coming, it’s only a contributing factor to this subversive anime series.

17 Made in Abyss

  • Available to stream on HiDive

Made in Abyss is a classic story of adventure at its core, driven by the curiosity of its main character Riko. Riko has spent her childhood looking up to her mother, an explorer who vanished into the mysterious Abyss soon after Riko was born. So when Riko receives a letter from her mother telling her to come to the bottom of the Abyss, Riko jumps at the chance.

On her journey, Riko encounters dangerous animals and some incredibly disturbing groups of people, but her passion for adventure keeps the series from devolving into depressing misery. While she may not seem like a typical strong female character, the strength she shows in the face of adversity makes her one of the strongest anime protagonists regardless of gender. It also made Made in Abyss one of the best anime of 2022.

16 Chihayafuru

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll and HiDive

Chihayafuru is one of the more niche anime on this list, focusing on the obscure Japanese card game of Karuta. However, it is hard not to get invested in the game when seeing how passionate the show’s protagonist Chihaya is about it. Chihaya’s passion also draws many of the show’s other characters to the sport making her the anime’s most important character.

The show also has a lot to love outside its central card game. Chihaya is at the center of one of the best love triangles in anime. Seeing her struggle to decide on her future career outside Karuta is also compelling and relatable. Chihaya is one of the most unique strong female protagonists on this list and she makes Chihayafuru compelling despite its niche subject.

15 Kill La Kill

  • Available to stream on Hulu

Kill la Kill certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s weird—downright bizarre, even. However, it has been extremely influential for many series, including Chainsaw Man which put a twist on its central gimmick. 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 the audience is watching a Trigger anime.

The story of Kill la Kill is about Ryuko Matoi, a girl 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 and one of anime’s best strong female protagonists.

14 From The New World

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll

If an anime fan is into works like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, then the 2012 anime titled From the New World might be what they’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.

Saki’s world is an isolated society of psychic humans that’s 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. The audience follows Saki and her group of friends as they unearth the dark truths about the nature of their society—and the truth is surprising, completely plausible, and will leave fans with plenty to think about.

13 Fate/Zero

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll

One of the main characters of the fantastical 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 has their own interesting story. The series is gorgeously animated, has the epic action scenes the Fate franchise is known for, and explores some thought-provoking philosophies and themes while having a literal strong female protagonist.

12 Love Is Hard For Otaku

  • Available to stream through Amazon Prime Video

Most romance anime 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 otaku interests and decide to start dating, eventually falling in love with each other in a realistic fashion. And then there’s the already established, occasionally dysfunctional relationship of their two friends/co-workers. If anime fans are sick of standard, sappy rom-coms, Wotakoi will feel like a breath of fresh air. This cements its place alongside Kaguya Sama: Love is War as a modern Rom Com classic.

11 Nana

  • Available to stream on HiDive

Nana tells the story of two 20-something girls named Nana. 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 thing they share in common is that they are both strong female protagonists. One boards the train to Tokyo to chase after her boyfriend while the other boards the very same train in pursuit of her lifelong 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 processes, relatable characters that act like real people, and believable plot lines that resonate in order to explore themes relevant to young adults who are stumbling through adulthood.

10 Aggretsuko

  • Available to stream on Netflix

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 named 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. This contrast is also what makes Aggretsuko‘s Christmas Special one of anime’s best.

Aggretsuko is a brutally honest and biting satirical take on modern life to which most will relate in one way or another. Retsuko is stuck at a job that she hates with a chauvinist pig for a boss, and she wants nothing more than to simply be happy. However, life is complicated and unfair, and, sometimes, the only recourse is death metal.

9 A Place Further Than The Universe

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll

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 these four female protagonists is so incredibly earnest, inspiring, and heartwarming.

A Place Further than the Universe is about having the courage to follow a dream. It’s about conquering the paralyzing fear of living life. 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 that will make the audience burst into laughter and tears.

8 Violet Evergarden

  • Available to stream on Netflix

Violet Evergarden is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous anime of all time due to its stunning animation, 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, 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.

7 Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex

  • Available to stream on Vudu

Major Mokoto Kusanagi, the lead character of the expansive Ghost in the Shell franchise, is one of anime’s best-known strong female protagonists. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows the Major and her team, who works 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 series for any anime fan, especially if they’re looking for a strong female lead.

6 Darling In The Franxx

  • Available to stream on Crunchyroll

Darling in the Franxx was a hit almost as soon as it came out, even getting a North American manga adaptation, and people weren’t binge-watching it just to watch Hiro gain his confidence. Zero Two, a code name given to hybrid humans, was a captivating female protagonist and was enrapturing during every moment she had on screen.

Her intensity and aggressive impulses are what make this anime so much fun 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 every bit as important to the series as their operators.

5 Sailor Moon

  • Available to stream on Hulu

Almost nothing needs to be said about the strong Magical Girl energy that’s exuded during every episode of Sailor Moon. Not only does Usagi undergo an incredible transformation throughout both the manga and both anime series, but she also saves Tuxedo Mask consistently throughout. This is the series that pioneered the strong female anime protagonist, and it is still ongoing, with a new movie Sailor Moon: Cosmos being released soon.

In addition, the rest of the Sailor Senshi 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.

4 Fruits Basket

  • Available to stream on Hulu

After her mother’s death, Tohru Honda finds herself alone and homeless. Eventually, however, she makes the acquaintance of Yuki Sohma and comes to live with her and the Sohma family. The Sohmas have a secret, however: when under stress, embaressed, or when hugged by a member of the opposite gender, they transform into a corresponding animal of the Chinese Zodiac.

Tohru vows to keep the Sohma family curse a secret and quests to find a cure for the strange ailment. A tale of romance, love, loss, and everything in between, it’s a tentpole Shoujo anime series that almost any fan of anime will enjoy.

3 Serial Experiments Lain

  • Available on Funimation

When schoolgirl Lain Iwakura receives a mysterious email from a supposedly deceased classmate, she embarks on a strange journey that could change the way life, death, and reality itself are perceived. In Serial Experiments Lain, individuals are able to transcend their physical forms by uploading their consciousness into The Wired, a virtual world created as a consequence of man-made technology.

It’s weird, cerebral, and almost tough to follow at points, but Serial Experiments Lain is one of the best single-season anime series of all time. Additionally, it’s hard to imagine a character gaining more power than Lain does, making her literally one of anime’s strongest female protagonists.

2 Madoka Magica

  • Available on Netflix

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 Magica is far darker, though, bringing to the surface many complex questions that the anime is so well-known for. With each strong female 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 Claymore

  • Available to stream on Hulu

There’s no arguing that Clare is an incredible female protagonist in Claymore. This anime had a unique storyline from the start, sharing a lot of similarities with the excellent Witcher series. The anime’s dark take on the Fantasy genre makes it still worth watching for its epic plot and characters.

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 anime woman can display should never be underestimated, especially when it comes to proving oneself just as worthy of living in a one-sided world. The best anime with strong female characters all prove that beyond a doubt.