Western cartoons have come extremely far when compared to a decade ago. 2010 to 2015 has really marked a progressive era of animation; not only in terms greater complex storytelling elements, but also in layered and unproblematic characterization. We’re beginning to witness a much more diverse cast of protagonists and supporting characters across many titles. And alongside showcasing diversity in culture and sexuality, the number of well-portrayed female characters is also on the rise.
So to pay homage to these progressive changes, this post will count down the top female characters of animated television.
But before we begin, there are a few details I’d like to outline:
- This is a completely subjective list assembled by yours truly.
- As such, it will only series that I have personally watched in their entirety (or up until all episodes released to date)
- . . . which just so happens to not include anything before 1997.
- Only one character per series can be featured.
- Animals and inanimate objects are not included on this list; however aliens, mutants, and magical beings are permitted so long as they are personified as human.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
Janna Ordinia (Star Vs. The Forces of Evil)
Janna is one of my favorite characters on television. She defies plenty of female-character tropes in being a trouble-making tomboy with a shrewd interest in occult gimmicks. Her characterization defies commonly-held female portrayals in terms of her general disinterest in many things young girls are socialized to enjoy/admire. Seemingly counter-intuitive to this, Janna’s favorite color is pink, but she denies this fact as she “hates pertaining to gender stereotypes”. In more ways than one, Janna truly “fights the patriarchy”.
The reason she didn’t make it onto the top-10 list is the fact that her character hasn’t been fleshed out as much as it has the potential to be. There is still plenty that we don’t know about her; however, season two will feature more of our beloved Janna Banana, so her position on this list can most definitely change in the near future.
Akane Tsunemori (Psycho Pass)
It kind of felt like cheating to include an anime character on the list—mostly because I haven’t seen enough anime to qualify as an expert, and every other character on this list is from an American animated series. But out of the 40+ titles of anime that I have seen, I can confidently say that Akane is one of the most well-portrayed female character to grace Japanese animation.
Everything from her short hair to her eagerness to learn and grow as a detective, is a fresh of breath air in the realm of anime. The story of Psycho Pass is told from Akane’s perspective, and we as the audience are fortunate enough to watch her grow from a naive people-pleaser to a strong, tough, hard-headed Inspector who fights for what she believes in. Her qualities are truly phenomenal, and features that all admired anime characters should have.
Turanga Leela (Futurama)
Leela is an excellent character; she is a kick-ass fighter, strategic leader, and skilled pilot. She’s compassionate and has made it far in life as she comes from a place of humble beginnings. Although Leela is the love interest of Fry, her characterization doesn’t revolve around the fact. Even after she and Fry begin dating, it doesn’t detract from her rationale and intelligence in the slightest—instead, these qualities are actually accentuated when next to her significant other.
Although her characterization is a token in animated female portrayals, I have only seen a third of the Futurama episodes that have aired, so found it unfair to include her on this top-10 list.
TOP 10 FEMALE CHARACTERS IN ANIMATED TELEVISION
10. Melissa Chase (Milo Murphy’s Law)
Melissa is such a pleasant character. So much that I have written a review of Milo Murphy’s Law with Melissa as a focal point:
Melissa is a gem. She is very intelligent, as shown through her self-imposed high standards for academic performance, and she is also incredibly fearless. Before Zack moved into the neighborhood, Melissa was the only person brave enough to hang around Milo on a daily basis. Her intelligence really makes her shine, in combination with the fact that she is portrayed as an overall cool girl, showing that smart female characters don’t always have to be archetyped as socially-awkward nerds—in other words, being a smart young girl whose mind isn’t completely occupied by boys and fashion, can be very chic.
In terms of female characterization, Milo Murphy’s Law is a huge step up from Phineas and Ferb. In the latter series, and as mentioned in a separate blog post, its main female characters are defined by their boy-crazed behaviour. Melissa, on the other hand, isn’t introduced or defined by her feelings for any male characters of the series. Instead she proves that young girls don’t need to be pigeon-holed into a specific set of traits to be likable.
9. Star Butterfly (Star Vs. The Forces of Evil)
Star Butterfly is a remarkable character. She is a 14-year-old girl who has the personality of an actual 14-year-old. This may sound like a given, but it’s very common for Western animation to age up young characters. Star, however, maintains a naive and idealistic personality. And although starts off as fairly two-dimensional, she’s beginning to develop a wide range of emotional layers. While most television shows skip past this period of life, we as the audience get to witness Star’s journey of self-discovery.
Star embodies this period by being exceptionally optimistic at first, but slowly begins to realize that life is not always as great as initially presumed. The reason Star is number 9 on this list is because her personality is within the realm of different and realistic female characters who are not defined by stereotypes.
8. Daria Morgendorffer (Daria)
Daria is the most trope-defying character in animation. Not only does her characterization go against typical female personas, but her outlook and accompanying personality contrasts television protagonists as a whole. Primarily she is overtly critical and analytical. Her unfathomable intelligence allows her to see through everyone and everything. Because of this detailed and objective perspective that she carries, Daria is seemingly unfazed by life in general and prefers to spend her time exploring her own mind while questioning those of others. As a result, much of her time is spent pondering about life and death (which she is not afraid of) and inadvertently analyzing the motives behind others’ actions and behaviors.
Daria is a realist by nature, and she is not afraid of sharing her critical perspective, despite others’ lack of comprehension. This is something that’s rarely seen in a main character. She has a socially unorthodox and complex personality, which is why Daria takes this spot on the list.
7. Korra (Avatar: The Legend of Korra)
Korra is a phenomenal character. She was smartly designed and written in heavy contrast to her predecessor, Aang’s, persona. Korra is tough, hard-headed, stubborn, and determined. During the first Avatar iteration, defeating the Firelord relied heavily on Aang himself; however, Korra has displayed a mix of realism and vulnerability in relying on her teammates for help. Korra starts off as idealistic, but soon sees Republic City for what it really is—a region deeply struggling to find social and political balance. On top of becoming handicapped at the end of the third season, Korra still manages to battle inner fears and demons for the sake of restoring balance to Republic City, the Spirit World, and their surrounding regions.
6. Sam Manson (Danny Phantom)
Sam is an incredible character. She is a unique individual who embraces the fact that she has a special way of viewing the world. Sam battles for what she believes in, doing everything in her power to fight for the sake of principal alone. Along with Tucker, she doesn’t need powers to fight against ghosts with Danny, and is constantly determined to help her best friend keep their town safe. Sam is truly a fearless character who strays away from typical female archetypes that have overtaken animated television.
Although she is the love interest of Danny and vice versa, this element does not define her in the slightest. She is Danny’s friend first and foremost, and doesn’t want to risk ruining their friendship for a deeper relationship. Sam is far from boy-crazed, but does have some moments of jealously towards those taking an interest in her best friend—which is a natural reaction. What’s important to note is that she doesn’t blow up over it, nor does she allow it to blind her from what needs to be done. Her character is unique, strong-willed, brave, and determined, placing her at the frontier of excellent female portrayals in animated television.
5. Kim Possible (Kim Possible)
She can do anything! She’s Kim Possible.
Kim is an excellent character and a fan favorite of many. Not only is she an intelligent and popular cheerleader, she is also a part-time agent of justice. She constantly helps to save the world from evil villains without even batting an eye, and makes it back in time for cheer practice. Kim’s characterization is so interesting, and not something that has really ever been seen in animation. What’s great about her is that she’s not popular because of what she does, but rather who she is as a person. She’s kind, outgoing, helpful, and smart, making her an overall well-rounded person. Despite being a world-renown hero, she doesn’t believe that she is better than anyone else; yet the confidence that she has in herself and her abilities is overwhelming.
Kim is probably the most relatable, yet extraordinary, female character in animation, and is an excellent role model to girls of all ages.
4. Raven (Teen Titans)
In being a half-demon/half-Azarathian hybrid, Raven is inherently dark and brooding. Yet her complexity is accentuated in that her feelings are tied directly to her powers, hence she’s incapable of displaying grand emotion. She maintains a disconnect between her mental and emotional states out of sole necessity, and has become accustomed to this act.
Raven is constantly visiting the world she has created in her own mind. She is only ever at peace when she is meditating, exploring her thoughts in a world where she can be and feel whatever she wants to without the constraint of her powers. But despite her closed-off demeanor, she doesn’t entirely block out those who take the time to get to know her. In being the daughter of Satan, she’s aware that her conception was a mistake, but she does everything that she can to fight for justice to make up for this strain that weighs on her. Although she’s aware that half of her being is evil by nature, she chooses not to go down her prophesied path, and trusts her friends to help her fight against the evil within.
3. Rogue (X-Men: Evolution)
Kitty Pryde is my favorite animated character of all time, but in attempting to suppress my bias, it’s easy to see that Rogue is truly an amazing character, and deserves a place on this list. Like Sam of Danny Phantom, Rogue has her own unique way of perceiving the world. A layer of depth is added as her mutant abilities prevent her from making any kind of direct physical contact with others (unless she’d like to temporarily knock them unconscious).
Primarily, Rogue is recruited by Mystique on the villain side of the equation. However, after discovering that she was manipulated into joining this side, she quickly switches over to become one of the X-Men. Although Rogue is part of a more welcoming group, she still can’t help but feel like an outsider. This, however, doesn’t stop her from making close friends who she deeply appreciates. Rogue is a character with layers upon layers of depth, which is why she deserves this spot on the list.
2. Artemis Crock (Young Justice)
Artemis has a long and painful history, despite only being 15 years old when joining the Young Justice team. Her father is a villain by the name of Sportsmaster and mother was the ex-villain Huntress. Artemis’ mother was paralyzed during a crime spree, and had taken the fall for her now-estranged husband in spending 6 years in prison. As a result of the Crock family’s broken relations, Artemis’ sister, Jade, entered the villain field under the alias Cheshier Cat. Even as a child, Artemis did everything in her power to keep her family from falling apart, but to no avail. Although her mother was released from prison and decided to go the straight road, the damage destroying their familial ties could not be undone. This only made Artemis more determined than ever to fight for good.
Artemis is a powerful and strong-willed character despite her messy past. At a young age she learnt that so many elements of her life are completely out of her control; however, this has never stopped her from crafting her own future. Although Artemis puts on a strong front, she’s actually very insecure over gaining her teammates’ trust as a result of her familial relations; which causes some conflicts within her new family, the Young Justice team. Overall, Artemis is a well-developed character who, like any person, has many flaws that sometimes lead her astray.
Artemis has to answer to her many mistakes, which makes her all the more human.
1. Toph Beifong (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Last, but definitely not least, is Toph Beifong of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Not only is Toph the youngest member of Team Avatar, but she’s also the most kick-ass. Her parents, who are wealthy diplomats, worked hard to protect their blind daughter from the dangers of the outside world—even going as far as covering up her existence.
However, this doesn’t stop Toph from going on a wild adventure to help the Avatar defeat the Firelord. Hardly anything scares Toph, and she’s undoubtedly the best Earthbender in the known Avatar universe. Her personal mantra appears to be “don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something”. This inadvertent slogan is showcased, not only in winning battles wherever she goes despite her parents’ wishes, but also in doing the unthinkable in discovering how to metal-bend. Toph is incredible, and the undying belief that she has in herself is something that we should all aspire to have.
So here’s my list! It took quite a while to rank these characters since they all have such amazing qualities (I rearranged them around at least 5 times). Which character rankings do you agree or disagree with? And which female characters are on your list?