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Emma, Ochaco, Sailor Moon, Zero Two

The best female anime characters of all time

By whatever metric you judge them, these leading ladies are beloved by many.

Anime has truly gifted us with some of the strongest, deadliest, and most lovable female characters. Not all of them fight the good fight, but every one of them has a uniquely special talent or attractive personality trait that has stolen the hearts of anime fans everywhere.

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Obviously, it should be expected that the best female characters appear in the most popular anime — think about One Piece, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan, some of the most critically and commercially successful anime, and consider the leading ladies, who are infinitely known and loved within the anime community.

Sometimes, the anime ladies don’t get enough praise and respect for everything they do, especially when they occasionally bail the male leads out of some tight spots. It’s a hard job to narrow down the best female characters, because what exactly defines “the best,” anyway? It’s a broad topic when you think about it; best dressed, best looking, best personality, best powers, best presence? But let’s take every attribute into account and narrow it down to, in no particular order, the best female anime characters of all time.

Usagi Tsukino / Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon)

Usagi Tsukino / Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon)
Screengrab via Toei Company

Tsukino, otherwise known as Sailor Moon, is one of nine Sailor Guardians, each of whom represents a different property. Sailor Moon — the reborn leader of the Sailor Senshi — acts on behalf of love and justice. Possibly deriving from her zodiac sign, which is Cancer, Tsukino can be extremely empathetic, and in the Sailor Moon series, is often overcome with emotion and cries easily. She always sees the good in others and possesses a kind heart, believing that everyone deserves love, including her enemies.

As the fearless leader of the Sailor Senshi, Sailor Moon bears the burden of responsibility, but she carries it well. Her powers have moonlight, love, healing, and purification attributes, which is both adorable and admirable, considering that Sailor Moon is a pacifist who prefers not to fight or incite violence. Not only is Sailor Moon one of the most instantly recognizable anime characters of all time, but she also pledges her allegiance to all things good and just, which makes her the perfect role model for peace and compassion.

Asuna (Sword Art Online)

Asuna Sword Art Online II
Screengrab via Aniplex

Tomohiko Itō’s Sword Art Online, which was originally written by Reki Kawahara, rose to prominence after debuting in 2012, and has quickly become one of the most renowned anime series of all time. Divided into the “Aincrad” and “Fairy Dance” arcs, which were respectively adapted from the first two volumes of the manga, Sword Art Online follows Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya and Asuna Yuuki, two players trapped in the virtual world of “Sword Art Online.” Kirito and Asuna must work together to complete all 100 Floors and defeat the final boss in order to be freed from the game.

Sword Art Online‘s main heroine, Asuna, has earned herself celebrity status within the anime community. Asuna is the embodiment of female empowerment, acting as a symbol of self-preservation, independence, and survival despite difficult plights. Before meeting Kirito, Asuna could be careless and competitive, focused only on beating “Sword Art Online” and escaping. However, after some insightful guidance from Kirito, she learns to let loose and enjoy the experience more. Eventually, although high-strung and proud at times, Asuna softens and becomes selfless, sacrificing herself for others on numerous occasions. Due to her valor and self-determination, Asuna became not only the inspiration for countless cosplayers and artists, but proof that women can fight for themselves.

Zero Two (Darling in the Franxx)

Zero Two Darling in the Franxx
Screengrab via Trigger/CloverWorks

Human-klaxo sapien hybrid and elite Parasite, Zero Two, otherwise known as the “Partner Killer,” meets Hiro, an underachieving pilot who longs to operate a FRANXX mecha. Initially, Zero Two is resentful towards humans for mistreating her during her childhood, but she takes a liking to Hiro, and the pair become inseparable. Afterwards, they are assigned to operate the powerful FRANXX Strelizia, ultimately sacrificing themselves to save humanity. In the beginning, Zero Two had always been alone, an outcast due to her Klaxosaur roots and unnatural appearance; others had labeled her dangerous, ruthless, and alluring, but she often showed playfulness towards Hiro.

Although initially cynical towards life, Zero Two finds a new purpose in Hiro and ditches her dream to become human in order to fight alongside him. Somehow, a character as volatile and unpredictable as Zero Two became somewhat relatable, especially in regard to her insecurities about being a “monster,” and her distrust towards humankind. Due to her childlike nature and immaturity, Zero Two provides comic relief in times when tensions are high, and the soul-seeking journey she undergoes to develop her character is not just fascinating, but also heartwarming and moving. Honestly, Zero Two probably has one of the greatest character arcs in any anime series.

Nezuko Kamado (Demon Slayer)

Nezuko kamado
Screengrab via Ufotable

Formerly a human, Nezuko Kamado was transformed into a demon by Muzan Kibutsuji, the Demon King and progenitor of all other demons. Before becoming a demon, Nezuko was a kind and caring person, but the alterations made her bloodthirsty and vicious toward humans. At times, Nezuko’s personality is akin to that of a child, but the regression can be deceiving; she is unafraid of a fight, and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her loved ones, specifically family members.

Again, Nezuko is highly distinguishable and one of Demon Slayer‘s best-selling points. She has been the basis of many internet memes, mostly due to her adorableness coupled with her lethal demon abilities. Fiercely protective over others, Nezuko is an all-around likable leading lady. Plus, the deadly combination of sweet and innocent versus lethal and flesh-starved is too exciting to resist.

Himiko Toga (My Hero Academia)

Himiko Toga
Screengrab via Bones

My Hero Academia needs no introduction; it really is one of the best-selling anime, and a tough one to beat. Its popularity is attested by its casual readability, especially in regard to superhero fans — My Hero Academia seems like anime meets Marvel. Among its many favorable characters, Himiko Toga, one of many major antagonists in the series, continues to win over the dedicated fanbase. Formerly a member of the League of Villains (which sounds like DC Comics’ Rogues Gallery, hence the superhero tie-ins), then later one of the nine lieutenants of the Paranormal Liberation Front, Himiko displays sadistic and psychotic tendencies, often reacting inappropriately to scenarios — such a smiling after killing or attempting to kill someone.

Himiko is — inside and out — the stereotypical supervillain who relishes the torment of others, which is precisely what makes her so enjoyable to watch. Who doesn’t love a good villain? Much like Darling in the Franxx‘s Zero Two, Himiko has shown a comedic and childlike demeanor, often providing not only the conflict, but also the humor. Himiko’s mood swings make her erratic and unstable, which prevents the storyline from turning dull and monotonous with unexpected twists and turns. There are too many My Hero Academia characters to count, so Himiko might not win the popularity contest, but she radiates excitement and flair whenever she does appear.

Yumeko Jabami (Kakegurui)

Screengrab via Square Enixx

Kakegurui revolves around Hyakkaou Private Academy, a prestigious school run by a student council hierarchy determined by gambling. Yumeko Jabami joins Hyakkaou as a second-year transfer student who — after adapting to the system and developing skills of her own — becomes one of the best compulsive gamblers. Yumeko is a charismatic, optimistic, and competitive gambler who learns to manipulate those around her as she becomes power-hungry and unstoppable. Despite this, she is generally friendly and prioritizes honesty and politeness, especially when she condemns her competitors for cheating.

Although Kakegurui isn’t as mainstream and popular as other anime, it stands apart from the crowd as a uniquely engaging concept. Not many anime series would use gambling as a basis, especially since it isn’t as interesting on the surface as the superhero-inspired My Hero Academia. There are instances where Yumeko is hard to relate to and sympathize with, especially since her obsession and drive towards gambling feels one-sided due to her overpowered and heightened senses for cheating and foul play. She might not be as three-dimensional as some of the other ladies on the list, but Yumeko is a delight to watch, even if she does effortlessly annihilate anyone who dares to oppose her.

Mai Sakurajima (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)

Mai Sakurajima Bunny Girl Senpai
Screengrab via CloverWorks

Young adult Mai Sakurajima is a noteworthy actress at Minegahara High School who notices that her existence has become subjective. Only Sakuta Azusagawa is able to see her — a theory that she tests out by wearing a bunny girl outfit to school — and the duo join forces to figure out the cause. While she isn’t inherently irritable, Mai does come across as short-tempered at times when lewd comments are made, especially toward herself. Overall, Mai is emotional and sensitive, harboring a crippling anxiety surrounding the fear of being forgotten. She can be very reserved and pessimistic, but cares deeply about Sakuta, striving to be a kind-hearted person foremost.

Not only is Mai considered physically attractive — which adds to her popularity — but she has a complex, multi-layered personality that unravels slowly throughout Bunny Girl Senpai. In 2019, Mai was declared “Best Girl” by Crunchyroll, so if there were ever a testament to her likability, that would be it. Bunny Girl Senpai is a touching tale of love and loss in its purest form, but Mai’s complexity makes it so much more than a generic romance; she brings passion, hilarity, and authenticity to the trials and tribulations of navigating high school while apparently invisible.

Sasha Braus (Attack on Titan)

Attack on Titan Sasha Braus season 2
Screengrab via Wit Studio

Affectionately known as “Potato Girl,” Attack on Titan‘s Sasha Braus is a member of the Scout Regiment and one of the few former surviving members of the 104th Cadet Corps, Sasha is fun-loving, friendly, and personable, initially timid and prone to clumsiness. Somehow, these qualities became part of her charm and she resonated with a lot of Attack on Titan fans.

One of the biggest reasons behind her popularity came from Sasha’s love for food; there rarely came a scene where Sasha wasn’t chowing down on some grub. Eating provides her with considerable gratification and relief, as it does most of us in real life. Sasha is the anime equivalent of “eating your emotions” and everyone loves her for it. She often steals food from pantries and hoards it, making her not only extremely lovable, but also downright hilarious. Sasha also always fights for the greater good, and only ever fights when it is necessary. She really is the epitome of courage and virtue.

Ochaco Uraraka (My Hero Academia)

My Hero Academia Season 6 Uraraka
Screengrab via Bones

It should come as no surprise that My Hero Academia has yet another entry on the list; its vast multiverse of characters makes it hard to not pick more than one. Ochaco Uraraka, a student in Class 1-A at U.A. High School, is a complete airhead whose bubbly disposition is relentlessly endearing. Most of the time, Ochaco is trying not to laugh at some antics from her classmates, exhibiting her sense of humor at all times. She is warm, lively, and optimistic, always looking to help others in need and expressing empathy where needed. Despite her ditzy demeanor, Ochaco has steely focus that can be somewhat intimidating when the situation calls for it. She has unwavering determination and dislikes being underestimated, making her a fierce opponent and dedicated hero.

Coming from a humble background, Ochaco wishes to earn enough money to give her family a comfortable life, especially her parents, who are her main source of motivation. Despite her small stature, Ochaco is a formidable heroine and lacks the capacity to truly despise someone, even if she feels strong hostility towards them. Despite being undervalued, Ochaco proves herself as a level-headed and competent individual and it goes without saying that a lot of people can relate when eventually overcoming that feeling of inferiority.

Nami (One Piece)

Nami One Piece anime
Screengrab via Toei Animation

There are so many good One Piece characters, but Nami wins it for the females. As a notorious cat burglar, Nami initially encountered the Straw Hat Pirates to rob them, but when they rebelled against and defeated Arlong, she joined legitimately and became their trusted navigator. Nami is unequivocally intelligent as one of the smartest of the Straw Hat Pirates. Originally, she viewed all pirates as universally corrupt and immoral, but eventually softened upon meeting the Straw Hats. Although she may appear to be a coward, Nami is an exceptionally bold and bright woman, perhaps the most level-headed and reasonable of the Straw Hats. Like many women, Nami enjoys her luxuries and engages in leisurely activities from time to time, enjoying the royal treatment and being pampered.

Nami is greedy and obsessed with treasure and money — as most pirates are — which stems from a childhood of poverty and depravity. Despite this, Nami “treasures” (pun intended) friendship and camaraderie much more than gold and jewels. As a wise woman once said, “What good is treasure if I’m all alone? I’d rather have nothing at all.” Nami is especially relatable for older women, certainly those with wisdom and experience, but even younger audiences can admire her ambition.

Maka Albarn (Soul Eater)

Soul Eater Maka Albarn
Screengrab via Bones

Unlike other anime, including some featured on this list, Soul Eater was crafted with the even portrayal of gender in mind. Maka and her demon scythe Soul “Eater” Evans are the dual protagonists of Atsushi Okubo’s series, and they kick butt together in a way that is utterly satisfying and awesome. The same could be said for the other two main weapon/meister pairings in the story, but Maka and Soul’s relationship is special, and the respect they harbor for one another is inspiring, despite the fact that the two also bicker and fight like the teenagers they are.

Maka’s motivation to become a spectacular scythe-meister has to do with her father’s infidelity, which prompted her mother to leave the family behind. Maka is insanely hardworking and book smart, certainly the sharpest tool of the bunch. For a series created nearly two decades ago, the portrayal of Maka as a female powerhouse is to be praised. It certainly served as inspiration for middle-school me who finally got to see a girl character go toe-to-toe with the baddies without needing to be a damsel in distress to give the other male characters an opportunity to shine.

Koko Hekmatyar (Jormungand)

Koko Hekmatyar Jormungand
Screengrab via White Fox

From a lesser-known anime produced by studio White Fox, based on a manga by Keitaro Takahashi, comes the white-haired shrewd arms dealer, Koko Hekmatyar. Nicknamed “Princess” by the members of the squad she leads, Koko’s personality is complex, but undeniably fascinating to watch on screen. She may appear easy-going and sprightly one moment, and be downright ruthless the next by putting a bullet in your brain if you happen to get in her way. Koko is resourceful, highly intelligent, and mysterious, with her own masterplans cooking behind the scenes.

More than having an interesting plot and plenty of action, the crown jewel of Jormungand is Koko’s relationship with the newest member of her crew: Jonah, an aloof child soldier who hates weapons but is crazy good at using them. Jonah acts as Koko’s anchor, to keep her humanity from disappearing as a result of her risky, illegal enterprise, her great aspirations, and their consequences.

Emma (The Promised Neverland)

Emma The promised neverland season 1
Screengrab via CloverWorks

Being 11 at the start of the series, Emma is the youngest female on this list. However, she is forced to grow up precociously without ever losing her bottomless compassion and determination to save all children at Grace Field House. Later on, after managing to break free most of the children at the farm, she sets her sights even further. It becomes even more impressive how resourceful and leader-like she becomes taking into account the powerful forces she and her allies must fight against. She becomes a beacon of hope to those around her, inspiring in the way in which the horrors of the reality they have lived in have not managed to stifle her sense of empathy.

While season 1 is amazing, and it showcases how incredible Emma is, season 2 is a disservice to the manga, having abridged far too much — removing entire arcs and characters — and cutting down on the plot’s quality. Therefore, to get the best out of this incredible story and out of Emma’s character, reading Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu’s manga would be the way to go.

Nobara Kugisaki (Jujutsu Kaisen)

Nobara Jujutsu Kaisen
Screengrab via MAPPA

Jujutsu Kaisen‘s Nobara Kugisaki grows on you like a rose bush, beautiful and thorny, that you won’t be able to uproot before it’s too late and it has fully settled in your heart. Flawed in a way that is so human, and so like her age, Nobara nevertheless – or precisely because of it – inspires you in the way she is so true to herself. She’s one essential side to the triangle that creates one of the most compelling main trio dynamics in the Shonen genre. Nobara shines both as part of the group and by herself. She evidently has what Megumi Fushiguro calls an “unshakable character,” – although he did not use these words in reference to her, but while humoring Aoi Todo’s question.

Like any good jujutsu sorcerer, Nobara has plenty of craziness to be able to pull through the difficult and risky jobs, something which is perfectly showcased in the last episode of season 1. She is proud of the fact that she’s a girl who can do both: be strong and be cute, without these attributes being mutually exclusive.

Kurisu Makise (Steins;Gate)

Kurisu in Steins;Gate 0
Screengrab via Whitefox

With one of the highest IQs on this list, if not the highest, Kurisu Makise fights with wits, not with strength. In fact, her very existence is the main cause of a future world war based on a time-machine arms race, as she is credited with being the mother of the time machine. In Steins;Gate, both the visual novel and the anime adaptation derived from it, Kurisu is brave in the face of the fear awakened by extraordinary circumstances, and is always there to support the protagonist Rintaro Okabe in his life-or-death mission that spans multiple different worldlines. Whenever Rintaro comes to her with some unbelievable story about what occurred in another timeline only he remembers, Kurisu does not dismiss him and always hits the ground running with incredibly clever hypotheses.

Kurisu is also a quintessential example of the tsundere character type done right. Even though she could solve the most complex equations in record time, she’s also a quirky internet nerd who hides that side of herself due to embarrassment. Most of the characters in Steins;Gate are written exquisitely well, but Kurisu earns this spot for her role in how much she helps the protagonist on his journey to get to the Steins;Gate worldline.

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Image of Margarida Bastos
Margarida Bastos
Margarida has been a content writer for nearly 3 years. She is passionate about the intricacies of storytelling, including its ways of expression across different media: films, TV, books, plays, anime, visual novels, video games, podcasts, D&D campaigns... Margarida graduated from a professional theatre high school, holds a BA in English with Creative Writing, and is currently working on her MA thesis.
Image of Chynna Wilkinson
Chynna Wilkinson
Chynna has been a noteworthy presence within creative media for over seven years. As a self-proclaimed geek driven by a passion for horror, comic books, video games, and modern cinema, she takes pride in doing what she loves. In addition to her personal writing projects, Chynna is also an award-winning screenwriter, published poet, and accomplished academic writer, producing everything from short stories and screenplays to articles, features, and poetry. She enjoys watching anime, horror movies, and animated shows and her life revolves around cinema, video games, and tasteful literature.