I love anime. It’s the thing, after comics, that made me a nerd, but also helped me learn the most about myself. Female-driven narratives in anime, magical girl or otherwise, were some of the places where I learned to be comfortable with my feminity over time.
Looking back at characters like Usagi from Sailor Moon, I realize the importance of sometimes having a heroine who wasn’t afraid to cry and whose power was in her kindness. Sailor Moon was my gateway drug, but there are so many awesome female-centric or female-led anime out there that I wanted to make a list of same faves I think you will enjoy.
Not all of them are magical girl animes, although admittedly most of them are, because that’s my jam, but all of them have really great female characters in them who go through emotional journies. Please let me know what some of your faves are down in the comments. Also, there is no order. Chaos reigns.
We get a little bit of Cinderella in the story with teenage Himeno, who is trying to adjust to her new step-family when her dad marries a wealthy widow. She discovers that she is this a magical warrior called the Pretear, who is supposed to protect the world from the Princess of Disaster and can combine with one of the seven Leafe knights to gain special abilities to fight monsters. It’s like a magical crossover between Cinderella and Snow White, with a tiny bit of harem thrown in. It managed to create a really fun story that appeals to magical girl fans, romance fans, and fairy tale fans in just 13 episodes. It deals very heavily with grief, love, and family. Also, the opening song is awesome.
 Petite Princess Yucie:
Our story centers around a young girl named Yucie who, despite being seventeen years old, has stopped growing and retains the body of a ten-year-old. It announced that Queen Ercell wants an audience with the young ladies of the kingdom in order to find the Platinum Princess candidate for the Human World. Guided by the light of the Eternal Tiara, Yucie is accepted by the queen as a candidate and enrolled at the Princess Academy.
There she must go through of a series of tasks in order to strengthen her heart and become worthy of the Eternal Tiara. On the way she is joined by the other Platinum Princess candidates (each sharing a similar aging problem as her) who as they become closer help each other grow into better people. However, there can only be one Platinum Princess and one wish granted. With multiple stakes involved who will be truly worthy of holding the Eternal Tiara?
It is was unfortunate that I initially dismissed this series because of the title and I’m sure that other people will as well. Petite Princess Yucie honestly deals with friendship, rivalry, and bonds between young women in a way that brings them together rather than ripping them apart. Yes, they do fight in the show and stuff happens, but when you watch those final episodes there is no doubt that these girls have grown together in a way that is the purest definition of friendship. That’s a story I love watching and Petite Princess Yucie gives me a sense of enjoyment every time. I recommend it for people who love fun, cute shojo stories.
 Madoka Magica:
A 14-year old girl named Madoka Kaname and her best friend Sayaka Miki are approached by a strange creature named Kyubey. This creature offers a contract in which a girl can have any wish granted in exchange for becoming a magical girl tasked with fighting against Witches, manifestations of despair that are responsible for unexplained murders and suicides. Meanwhile, a transfer student named Homura Akemi tries to stop Madoka from becoming a magical girl at all costs.
As Madoka contemplates becoming a magical girl, she learns that a magical girl’s life isn’t as glamorous as she thought and is filled with anguish, suffering, and despair. Soon coming to learn the dark secrets between magical girls and witches and the burden it places on her friends, Madoka struggles to decide if there really is a wish worth risking her life for.
 Cardcaptor Sakura:
Cardcaptor Sakura is loved so much because it is just damn good. It is a cute, character-driven story about a young girl who saves the world while becoming a stronger more secure person. I think the fact that Sakura is a kid and not a teenager adds to it on some level. She is spirited and has this great outlook on life and sometimes she has the sort of will that only someone young and un-jilted by the world can have. And that is great to see.
Sakura is a wonderful, heartfelt character because she tries and tries and will keep on trucking. She’s not perfect and has to deal with the disappointments of being young and having that first crush—realizing what different sort of loves are and differentiating between them. Most of all what makes Cardcaptor Sakura great is that it is 100% genuine in what it does. CCS captures all the fun, hope and wonder of a straight magical girl manga/anime story.
 Magic Knight Rayearth:
Three young women, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are on a field trip to Tokyo Tower with their relative schools when they are suddenly transported into a land called Cephiro. There they are meant by Clef, a Master Mage, who informs them that they are destined to save the Pillar of that world whose current incarnation is Princess Emeraude.
Emeraude is captured by her high priest Zagato, and in order to save her the girls, she must activate the three Mashin (Rune-Gods) and defeat Zagato. MKR is like that dish you always heard about but were reluctant to taste. I am glad I gave it a chance because I think it uses a lot of different genres to tell a really engaging story about power and destiny and free will. If I had a complaint about the series it would be that the characters are not as strong as they could be.
The series follows the story of two young female assassins who embark together on a personal journey to seek answers about mysteries from their past. It also has one of the most iconic opening theme songs in anime. Noir set off the popularity of the “girls-with-guns” subgenre of anime with shows like Madlax and El Cazador de la Bruja.
Our heroines are: Mireille Bouquet is a Corsican woman born into a powerful crime family. Mireille and her uncle are the sole survivors of a brutal attack on her family, after which he trained her to become an assassin. Kirika Yuumura is a teenage high school girl with amnesia who lives in Japan, however during her journey, she goes to stay with Mireille in her apartment in Paris; the only things she remembers are the word Noir and her instinctual killing abilities. It’s a fun spy thriller with great female characters. If you love Faye you’ll love Mireille.
People have been trying to make a Noir live-action American version for years. If they had, Scarlett Johansson could actually be in an anime without taking a role away from an Asian actress.
 Princess TuTu:
Once Upon a Time, there was a writer and he died before completing his final masterpiece. Despite his death, his spirit lived on and he created a world based around the incomplete tale. Now, in order to finish his work, he has enlisted the assistance of a young Duck who has fallen in love with the Prince in the story. She is given a locket that allows her to become a girl and transform into Princess TuTu, a magical ballerina who must retrieve the pieces of the Prince’s heart in order to finish the story.
That’s Act I. Act II, well that is something different. The best way to explain this without spoilers, is to compare it to the musical, Into the Woods. The first act of the play goes the way a traditional fairy tale, it begins and ends the way the audience intends. Act II, however, deconstructs the entire narrative and everything goes to hell. TuTu is a lot like this with its plot. It sets up the status quo and you think that it is going to end one way (I certainly did), but when it’s over you are left with something very different.
The only real flaw with Princess TuTu is the unnecessary stigma it will deal with due to its title. When I first saw this anime when I was in my mid-teens, I kept wondering how something called Princess TuTu could have warranted so many episodes of anything. As I got on the internet I found people recommending this anime to me and I just kept wondering just how amazing this could be. So, I roughly it four-ish years ago for Christmas and I was hooked.
I mean 100%, how can I stop watching this, it is too good to be true, hooked. I was amazed at how this cute show could have so much depth and emotion vibrating through every little aspect of it. Even the aspects I found strange, like the dancing, started to entrance me because I understood the reason it was there and in the end I came to realize that the “action” bit was not that important. It was what that bit represented for the characters and their growth that was important. The fighting/dancing was just a way to visualize that. Princess TuTu is art and it is one of the best animes I have ever seen.
Lina Inverse is a damn gangster. Slayers is based on a series of light novels about a sorceress named Lina Inverse and her companions who travel the world, sometimes helping people, but often causing trouble and trying to make money. Despite being really popular in the 90s, it is not as well known (I’ve gone to many cons the last few years and see very little merch).
Her party includes Gourry Gabriev a loveable goofball swordsman, Zelgadis Graywords, a half-human half-demon chimera made of rock, and Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, a young priestess and princess. In the OVAs she teamed up with Naga the Serpent, a powerful sorceress with powerful breasts. I think of Slayers as a crossover of Scooby-Doo and Dungeons and Dragons. If you love chaotic good female protagonists look no further than Lina Inverse.
 Revolutionary Girl Utena:
I think that if I over-simplify the show as much as possible without giving out spoilers, Utena is pretty much the Bildungsroman shojo story with magical girl elements and tons of fairy tale, gender, and narrative deconstruction. We follow the story of Utena Tenjou, a noble but naive girl who has strived to emulate the prince figure from her childhood.
The series follows Utena as she attempts to protect her “friend” Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride, and tries to become a noble Prince. At Ohtori Academy, she is forced to duel members of the Student Council (and later others) in order for possession of the Rose Bride, for with her comes the power to revolutionize the world. And that is the most basic way to really talk about the plot without spoilers, but I will say that this description does not a single iota of justice to the actual anime. So if you want a full understanding about what made this anime so important in the late 1990’s go watch it. It’s beautiful, it’s psychologically gripping, and it’s gay as hell.
Created by legendary mangaka Rumiko Takahashi, this show tells the story of Kagome Higurashi, a 15-year-old girl from Tokyo who is transported to the Sengoku period of Japan after falling into a well in her family shrine, where she meets the half-demon dog Inuyasha. She discovers she is the reincarnation of the priestess Kikyou, Inuyasha’s former lover, and also has priestess powers. When her arrival in this time period allows the powerful Shikon Jewel back into the hands of demons Kagome, Inuyasha and their friends travel Tokyo for way too long to retrieve all the pieces of the Shikon Jewel and stop the demon Naraku.
While this series does go on for much longer than it should, what makes the anime so enduring (besides Lord Sesshoumaru of course) is the great character drama and development that goes on between the characters. One part romance, one part fantasy, Inuyasha can give you a strong case of the feels. Also Lord Sesshoumaru.
 Michiko to Hatchin:
From the studio that brought you Samurai Champloo comes Michiko to Hatchin. Taking place in the fictional South American country of Diamandra, the criminal Michiko Malandro escapes from prison and kidnaps her former lover’s daughter Hannah Morenos (Hatchin), freeing her from an abusive foster family. The two go on the run together trying to find Hiroshi Morenos, Hatchin’s father, and in the process end up bonding together like mother-and-daughter. All the while going on this high-action adventure across a colorful criminal landscape.
On top of all that, the cast of the show is very diverse, inspired by Brazilian culture (fun fact—Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan) it offers depictions of black, Asian, and white characters, giving brown female fans of anime more options to cosplay as besides Yoruichi from Bleach.
What are some of your favorite female-led anime?
[Note: Realizing that I didn’t have the right credits for the gifs posted, I changed them into screen stills from the series. I apologize for not doing my due diligence and will make sure to correct that in the future.]
( image: Viz)
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