High 5: Anime shows featuring strong female leads

MATTHEAU FAUGHT, Presentation Editor

Anime has continued to grow popular in the past few decades and I’ve found myself looking back at what the genre was when I was growing up. I notice popular anime tends to trend toward male leads, and complaints crop up of a lack of strong female leads in anime. In celebration of Women’s History Month I looked for standout series with female leads I feel are overlooked.


‘Vampire Princess Miyu’

 Released: 1997

 Genre: Horror

 Streaming on: YouTube 

 Favorite Quote: “Everyone has to live carrying a burden on one’s back.”– Miyu Yamano


This anime is based on a Shōjo manga illustrated by Narumi Kakinouchi, who wrote it with her husband, Toshiki Hirano. Initially it was adapted into a 4 episode original video animation (OVA) in 1988 then again in ’97. Between both adaptations I feel the ‘97 portrayal of the titular character, Miyu Yamano, was superior. Miyu is a high school girl by day and Guardian Vampire by night, assisted by her companions Larva and Shiina. She uses her powers as a Guardian to send demons known as shinma back to their original dimension, simply called ‘The Darkness.’ Miyu doesn’t particularly care for the wellbeing of humans targeted by shinma, often stepping in after the damage is done. Sometimes she has a somewhat twisted sense of morality when saving people, putting them in an eternal dream-like trance so they never have to face the reality of what happened to them. Despite how unempathetic she is there are moments where she shows genuine concern and humanity for those she’s become invested in, like her partner and fellow vampire Larva. I also enjoyed her relationships with her classmates Chisato, Yukari and Hisae. It showed a side to her that was severely lacking in the OVA. The way she develops over the course of this series as she grows closer to the girls and faces different Shinma foes made her a much more interesting character for me. I liked how the main high school setting allowed the writers to explore Miyu’s human side more effectively. While being a horror series it’s very light on gore and violence, but it succeeds in atmosphere, interesting characters, enthralling action sequences and engaging stories. If you’re looking for a moody monster of the week type anime with a killer soundtrack and amazing female lead, give this one a watch. 



 Released: 2005

 Genre: Horror

 Streaming on: Tubi

 Favorite quote: “Our hearts beat in the same rhythm, so why does time flow so differently for the two of us” – Saya Otonashi


Inspired by the 2001 anime film “Blood: The Last Vampire”, “Blood+” tells its own unique and exciting narrative with one of my favorite female leads. We follow Saya Otonashi, a young amnesiac whose life is turned upside down when she’s attacked by a blood-sucking creature known as a chiropteran. She discovers her blood is the key to fighting back against these beasts, infusing it into a katana she uses to defeat them. Saya also learns that she herself is a chiropteran who’s hundreds of years old. When her father is killed by one she’s upended from her normal life and forced to help a secret organization known as the red shield to combat the chiropteran threat, along the way discovering the secrets of her past. Saya is a layered character, she strongly identifies as human despite being a chiropteran providing an interesting juxtaposition as she’s forced to face her past lives and the hidden truths about herself. This inner conflict plays out over the course of 50 episodes as we watch this seemingly normal high school girl develop into a cold-blooded killer blaming the creatures for the pain she’s suffered. I enjoyed how the writers weren’t afraid to show her fail; at times she loses horribly, doesn’t save everyone and needs help from her family and friends to succeed. She’s not your typical overpowered girlboss and her many flaws, growth and bravery throughout the series make her one of my favorite female leads in all of anime.


‘Michiko Hatchin’

 Released: 2008

 Genre: Crime

 Streaming on: Crunchyroll and Funimation

 Favorite Quote: “How far shall we go this time, Michiko?”


Career criminal and escaped convict Michiko Malandro kidnaps Hanna Morenos, or Hatchin, the estranged child of her presumably dead lover Hiroshi. The two journey across the fictional country of Diamandra in hopes of reuniting with Hiroshi. This obscure gem was the directorial debut for Sayo Yamamoto, who worked on other anime like “Samurai Champloo”, “Ergo Proxy” and “Gunslinger Girl.” The show’s titular characters have an interesting relationship. Michiko is a childish, impulsive and arrogant criminal jumping into danger while Hana is a more reserved, mature and slightly intelligent young girl. Their contrasting personalities lead to an entertaining dynamic – initially the two have an antagonistic relationship. As they journey to different locations and meet new people, they change and come to support one another. They’re both searching for a sense of freedom in different ways: Hana from her abusive family and Michiko from the long arm of the law. I really liked how the two came to care a lot about each other. They’re both alone in the world and in constant danger, and their growth leads to some really heartwarming moments as the two come to support one another. I also really like the setting of this anime. This one has a very distinct Latin style as the country of Diamandra is based heavily on South America – Brazil in particular. The characters, style and great soundtrack, courtesy of Shinchiro Watanabe, make this already great story and characters even better.


‘Ergo Proxy’

 Released: 2006

 Genre: Sci-Fi

 Streaming on: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation and Tubi

 Favorite Quote: “I will not run away from the reality that is happening right now. Even if a much harsher reality lies ahead, I will do what I have to do”


In the futuristic city of Romdeau, machines called autorievs are becoming infected by a virus called Cogito, which gives them sentience. While looking into these incidents, investigator Re-L Mayer is attacked by a monster, called a proxy, and soon finds herself wrapped up in an elaborate mystery involving her subordinate Vincent Law and the top echelons of the city. Written by Dai Sato, who also worked on “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (SAC)”, it similarly tells a very complicated story with deeply philosophical undertones. As the lead character I found Re-L Mayer quite endearing. On one hand she’s a tough, no-nonsense cop and on the other she’s a spoiled bratty young woman whose grandfather is regent to the city. There’s an interesting parallel between the autoriev machines and Re-L as she too comes to her own sort of awakening. Unable to turn a blind eye and inquisitive by nature, she seeks to uncover the truth about the proxies. Her character journey is a fascinating one as she’s pushed to the edge in pursuit of the truth and goes through a dramatic personality change throughout the series. I really enjoyed her relationship with Vincent Law. The show’s best moments for me were when she left the city of Romdeau out into the wasteland in search of him, and the way the two grew together over the course of their travels. Sato did a good job showing how Re-L breaks down in this environment, struggling to maintain her obsessive desire for perfection and routine. The direction here is great with the show dripping in atmosphere, making the action much more explosive. Re-L also shines as she’s a good marksman and clever at manipulating situations into her favor. She’s not physically a strong character but she more than makes up for it in wit. The story is told in an unconventional way and will confuse newer viewers, as it doesn’t spend as much time explaining its universe and jumps straight into the story. I like it because it made me engage more with the story, characters and ideas presented.


‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’

 Released: 2011

 Genre: Fantasy

 Streaming on: Hulu and Crunchyroll

 Favorite Quote: “Don’t forget. Always, somewhere, someone is fighting for you, as long as you remember her, you are not alone” – Madoka Kaname


Madoka Kaname and her friend Sayaka are offered any wish they desire by a mysterious creature named Kyubey. In exchange they must become magical girls and battle creatures known as “witches”. I loved this show’s Faustian take on the usually light-hearted magical girl genre. “Madoka Magica’s” story was written by Gen Urobochi, known for his work on other popular anime like “Psycho-Pass” and “Fate/Zero.” Madoka, our titular character, is a good-natured girl with a loving family and promising future. She’s at an age where she’s very confused and trying to understand the world, and thus is unsure what she wants to wish for. As she witnesses the horrid life magical girls live she becomes terrified of becoming one despite the fact she has the potential to be the strongest one of them all. She cares deeply for others and wants what’s best for them, like her friend Sayaka, who’s tempted to become a magical girl so she can use her wish to heal the boy she has a crush on. Madoka’s not the only great character here – the lead female cast each bring something different to the story. The show did a good job at portraying the mental toll becoming a magical girl takes on these young girls. Despite how cute and colorful the show seems, it tackles heavy themes like depression, rage, regret, suicide and much more.“Madoka Magica” is a good example of a time when a genre usually intended for younger audiences tackled mature themes in a balanced and nuanced way.