First appearing in Jan. 2018, the science-fiction romance series Darling in the Franxx revolutionized modern dystopian anime and revitalized common romance tropes. Most often, an anime series will have originated as a manga before its digitization, but Darling in the Franxx, co-produced by A-1 Pictures and Trigger, inspired its own comic panel, as illustrated by Kentaro Yabuki.
Darling in the Franxx is set in a dystopian future where technology has developed tenfold and children are artificially created and indoctrinated solely to defend the remnants of civilization. The story closely follows a squadron of 10 pilots — known as Squad 13 — and particularly focuses on the partnership between Hiro, a former pilot prodigy, and Zero Two, a hybrid human and elite pilot. Squad 13 is assigned to boy-girl pairs to pilot giant mecha known as Franxx to defend society against invading klaxosaurs. Hiro and Zero Two are partnered to operate the most powerful Franxx of them all: Strelizia.
Now, the term “strong” can have several connotations; many people equate it with muscle mass and physical prowess while others consider the strong-willed and strong-minded to be the most powerful of all. To ensure an unbiased ranking, these selections factor in both physical and emotional elements that truly define a “strong” character. Here are the strongest Darling in the Franxx characters, ranked. Note: this list will only include the strongest of all characters and will not feature every individual.
Futoshi, a kind-hearted soul if ever there was one, is also one of the strongest Darling in the Franxx characters for many reasons. First of all, Futoshi develops romantic feelings for Kokoro, with whom he was partnered to pilot the Franxx known as Genista. Throughout the series, Futoshi is determined to protect Kokoro despite discovering that she does not reciprocate his affection. Many times, Futoshi will put himself in harm’s way — both literally and confrontationally — to defend Kokoro in all aspects.
Even after Kokoro shuns his advances, Futoshi overcomes the heartache and devastation. As hopeless romantics will agree, heartbreak is a silent killer, and defeating that sadness defines a truly strong individual. Although Futoshi was devastated, he never blamed Kokoro for rejecting him and only wished for her to be happy, even if he couldn’t be the one to make her happy, and that acceptance takes a lot of inner strength to manifest.
Given that Ikuno was partnered with Futoshi after Kokoro insisted that they were no longer compatible, it makes sense that both Ikuno and Futoshi would share similar personalities. If this were untrue, they wouldn’t bond well enough to pilot the Franxx known as Chlorophytum since stamens (males) and pistils (females) must have a deep emotional bond in order to collaborate effectively.
Similar to Futoshi, Ikuno suffers a bout of one-sided love for Ichigo and because of this, struggles immensely with her sexuality. During the partner switch, when Futoshi and Ikuno become partners, Ikuno notices an attraction between Mitsuru and Kokoro and she longs to be able to share that same emotional connection with Ichigo. Eventually, when Ikuno admits to Ichigo that she is romantically attracted to her and has been this way since Ichigo gave her her name, Ikuno adds that she is ashamed and the revelation makes her feel abnormal.
Again, like Futoshi, overcoming one’s own mind can be a display of strength that is unlike any other. It might be brains over brawn, but accepting the things we cannot change can be a challenge in itself. Throughout Darling in the Franxx, we see Ikuno transition through self-acceptance and the hardships shape her into the mature, self-respecting adult she becomes.
3. 001, aka Princess of Klaxosaurs
After some sentimental analyses, it seems only fair to include the truly “strong” contenders. Code 001, otherwise known as the “Princess of Klaxosaurs”, possesses the strand of Klaxosapien DNA used to create the human hybrid known as Zero Two (002). As the last member of her kind in existence, 001 has stood the test of time as the war between humans and Klaxosaurs has waged for centuries and she still remains healthy and powerful.
001 can exist indefinitely and never ages. She has existed for over 60 million years, proving that she can outlast the parasites and humanity itself. Arguably, 001 is the strongest (physically) of any Darling in the Franxx character. She has eight appendages, similar to the legs of a spider, that can be controlled freely to attack others.
Additionally, her “regular” limbs possesses superhuman strength and 001 can utilize telepathy, allowing her to speak directly to others’ minds. When her horns glow, 001 can mentally freeze Klaxosaurs and FRANXXs. When combining all her abilities together, the Princess of Klaxosaurs can singlehandedly overpower Zero Two ⏤ presumably the strongest of Squad 13 ⏤ and very nearly ends civilization as we know it. If nothing else, those facts prove her unparalleled strength, which stems from uncontrollable rage and hatred for the human race and its clueless dictators.
It must be expected that Hiro would make the list, especially as he overcomes many personal obstacles over the course of the series. There are many instances where Hiro proves just how powerful he is, merging both brains and brawn to become truly unbeatable. For starters, Zero Two gains a reputation as the “Partner Killer” — a nickname that garners apprehension from anyone paired to pilot alongside her. However, Hiro jumps at the opportunity to risk his life for such a captivating connection and shows compassion for Zero Two despite the rumors.
Besides lifting himself out of the dark trenches of inadequacy and hopelessness, Hiro becomes Zero Two’s “wings” after she dubs him her “darling” and the pair continuously pilots Strelizia. Hiro discovers an entirely new purpose for living and leaves rock bottom. Again, this can be an extremely difficult feat for weak-minded individuals to achieve. Instead of the “fight until I die” mentality, Hiro developed a “fight so I can keep living” mentality, which marks an inner strength that, in reality, inspires motivational speakers.
Right before his demise, Hiro and Zero Two were completely willing to sacrifice themselves to save the Earth so that the next generation — and their comrades — could continue to live happier lives. In terms of brute strength, Hiro is an average teenager with standard “human” abilities, but because Hiro ingested some of Zero Two’s blood as a child, he became a hybrid and harbored a special type of strength that Klaxosaurs possess. In the end, Hiro was able to physically and mentally overpower the Princess of Klaxosaurs in the final battle to protect humanity.
1. Zero Two
Lastly, as expected, Zero Two tops the list. It might be expected, but it’s still thoroughly deserved. As a child, Zero Two was imprisoned and experimented on, leading to inhumane tortures and procedures. Zero Two undergoes the biggest transformation of any other Darling in the Franxx character. Prior to the main storyline, Zero Two shows a reckless lack of concern for others and her actions result in several unnecessary deaths. After meeting Hiro, she develops a newfound compassion for others. Still, despite all that she went through as a child, Zero Two sacrifices herself to save the very humans who tormented her during her youth.
As far as physical strength goes, Zero Two is more powerful than any average human. She possesses superhuman abilities, such as increased strength and rapid regeneration, but also seems to possess heightened sensitivity and expert-level acrobatics. Besides the obvious, Strelizia is the most difficult to co-pilot out of all the Franxx and without a considerable amount of core strength, Zero Two would struggle to lift a worm stretching 12.6 kilometres out of the ground with effortless ease. From this, Zero Two has survived immense strain in piloting Strelizia either on her own or with Hiro.
Throughout the series, Zero Two endures some crippling mental strain, especially when the weight of the world is placed on her shoulders. She fights back against her creators, shows determination to fall in love and grant herself happiness, and provides a safe environment for the next generation, even at the cost of her own life. Pre-Hiro Zero Two would never have sacrificed herself for another human life, but an existential crisis made her stronger in ways that no other character could compare to.
Darling in the Franxx is available to stream on Crunchyroll.