I know already some of you are shaking your heads because you can name a dozen or more female lead characters in anime. Possibly it is because of the genres I prefer, but finding a female lead in action, horror, science fiction, or even fantasy, is actually quite challenging. Finding a good female lead in anime, particularly in those genres is even harder. Though isekai lately seem to be making an effort at least in having more female leads.
There’s a reason so many people praise the Major from Ghost in the Shell. She stands out because she stands more or less alone in terms of a solid representation of a female character in the genre within anime (there are others but I’d challenge people to think of them off the top of their head and I’m sure more than a few of you are trying).
Hard to find a good female lead in anime – though some steps in the right direction.
Admittedly, this problem isn’t entirely unique to anime. There are arguments across almost every entertainment medium for better representation of women and more diverse leading roles and certainly we can then extend that same argument to pretty much every minority group.
Still, given there are some truly brilliant female characters in anime, I have to wonder why in my preferred genres they get shuffled to romantic interest, emotional support, angry girl who occasionally beats up protagonist but comes through when needed, etc. Very occasionally they get to be the strict person in charge and get to chastise and talk down to the young male protagonist giving us the illusion that we have a female in a position of authority.
Usually right before the male protagonist goes and does whatever he wants regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these characters shouldn’t exist. There are some quite entertaining female supporting characters out there. I’m just wondering why we don’t have more well written leading females in these stories. And to be honest, it will largely come down to percentages. With less female leads in general if the same percent of female leads are good or memorable as male leads (lets be real, there’s a lot of poorly written male leads), that will result in very few memorably well written female leads.
Without looking it up, name 3 female
leads from popular anime.
Honestly, I would struggle with this. I can think of some great supporting characters from dramas, like the Kawamoto sisters in March Comes in Like a Lion. Seriously, Hina is just this side of a perfect supporting character with an incredible character arc in season two and she’s just amazing. Incidentally, go watch March Comes in Like a Lion.
But when going through the top 10 anime by popularity on MAL what I find is some truly great female characters but almost no female lead characters. I mean, Death Note… While Misa has her fans she’s not even close to a lead in the story. Skipping a few we get Sword Art Online and FMA Brotherhood. I would never be mean to Winry about her character, she’s awesome, and Asuna is one of my favourite female anime characters (at least in the first season of SAO). She’s actually a character I have a proper figure of, poised with her sword ready to strike. Amazing. But neither Winry or Asuna are actually a lead character.
At number seven on the list we get Steins;Gate and the amazing Kurisu Makise and the adorable but slightly less impressive Mayuri Shiina. However, no matter how you slice it, these characters exist around Okabe Rintarou and they aren’t leads (though they are highly enjoyable characters that should be celebrated in their own right).
In fact, it wasn’t until I got to number 10 on the list and saw Angel Beats that I thought we had any hope of finding a female lead. I mean, there’s Yuri in the centre of the promotional art holding her gun and looking for all the world like a leading character. But whose story does Angel Beats really tell? Almost the whole narrative is filtered through Otonashi’s experience and while the female characters certainly offer diversity (and one of the few that isn’t a harem in the process) it would actually be difficult to claim that Yuri is a leading female character.
Actually, I found that a lot. A story that seems to revolve around an interesting female character that is actually entirely filtered around a male character’s experience of the story. So Elfen Lied at 23 might count as a female lead in a horror, but I guess it depends if you think the story is Lucy’s. Certainly the opening few episodes are but then the story seems to get a little hijacked.
This begs the question:
with more female viewers watching anime
should there be more female leads?
Honestly, the answer to this, much like the question of should there be more diversity in general in entertainment, would be a resounding yes. At the same time though, creating a character just to check a box for diversity lends itself to pretty stale characters. Or characters that just miss the point of what the audience wanted when they asked for such a character.
Also, just because someone is a female viewer, does that mean they necessarily want a female lead? While I would certainly ask for a few more in my watch list, by and large I’m not concerned if the lead character of a show is male. I’m more concerned that they are an interesting character. If they are well realised and well developed as well we’re onto an absolute jack-pot of a character regardless of which box they’ll get placed in.
Female leads are scrutinised
within an inch of their life.
It is seriously tough being a female lead character (or a representation of any group that doesn’t get frequent representation). The audience that wants that type of character is frequently super critical of the way the character comes across or constructed. Doubly so if the person who wrote the character isn’t actually a representative of the group.
Poorly written female characters endless get criticism about existing only for fan-service, for being stupid or comic relief, for having no clear goal of their own… Yet there are so many more male characters who behave in the exact same way. We’re almost immune to these characters because we see them so often and we don’t bother to call them out, but when a female character comes along with the same flaws somehow this ignites the inner critic.
Criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you. Better written characters in general would make for more enjoyable stories. Very few people would say we need characters written with less integrity or care. Yet it seems counter productive to always focus on the negative when anime, or any entertainment medium, does try to branch out in their characters. Sometimes they deserve it when they are truly poorly researched or written, but when there’s a genuine attempt, should the positive not be noted? Or should we start lambasting all the terrible male leads out there and demand better representation for them as well?
It is difficult to understand what
the audience wants in a female lead.
Does the audience want strong women? Real women? Emotional women? Super women who can do everything? Vulnerable women? Stoic women? Do we want them all at various points and none at others?
Just making your lead character a female doesn’t mean that the anime is going to satisfy an audience seeking a female lead character. Just like not every male protagonist clicks with every male viewer. Again, having a range would be nice because statistically if there enough different kinds of female leads surely one would work for the member of the audience in question.
In short: The Key To Better Female Leads
Is Having More Female Leads
I’m kind of hoping this didn’t come off sounding like a rant against male leads or arguing that lack of female representation is the only representation issue in anime. If it did, that wasn’t the intention. I was just starting to short list my draft for top female characters this year and realised that other than Emma, from The Promised Neverland, I was coming up fairly short on leading female characters. I know that if I watched more CGDCT anime or school comedies or more slice of life I would probably encounter more female leads.
Anyway, I’d love to know your opinion on female leads in general and who your favourite female lead character is. Incidentally, mine is Maka from Soul Eater.
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
65 thoughts on “Why Is It So Hard to Find A Good Female Lead In Anime?”
maybe it’s bc female characters aren’t the best characters that i don’t really like watching anime with female leads. idk why but i just always skip them
my favorite is kyoko from skip beat but you don’t really see her development in the manga so not sure if that counts xD other than her, i can’t really name other female leads i like. great post!
This post is so well written Karandi.
Some of my favorite female characters are usually if not always support, villains or side/secondary main characters in a male protagonist lead story. Emma from TPN certainly steps out of that but other great female characters are typically in a group of other main characters.
Really glad you liked the post.
And yeah, group female leads aren’t that uncommon but a solo female usually gets put into a support role (particularly in the genres I focus on).
Thanks for the interesting read. While I do think you have a point, I also think there are more anime with female leads if you broaden the range of genres and range of years to some of the older stuff. For me personally at the end of the day look for 2 things, was it a good story, and was it entertaining. I really don’t consider if the lead was xy or z.
Certainly, including more genres makes a larger pool of female leads but it makes us wonder if we are still at the point of boys watch action and girls watch romance or if audiences have moved beyond those clear delineations.
I’d like to say that we are past that, but honestly I am not so sure. Plus as other people have said previously anime is by enlarge still made for the Japanese audience which may have different viewing preferences than elsewhere. Finally I will say that certain genres probably gravitate more towards certain demographics and certain genres lend themselves to certain character tropes.
While entirely late to the discussion, I found myself really racking my brain for good female leads. Beyond Psycho Pass I really couldnt think of any off the top of my head in recent memory.
I can agree we should have more female leads. I just don’t know how we get there.
I feel what made me think most about your article is I can think of very impactful female characters who I feel like play focal roles in many animes but dont take a lead role. And its odd because I can list many female characters who are far more impactful to me than anything a protagonist sometimes does. I often feel a stronger connection with the side characters than a main protagonist, many of whom are female.
I could write perhaps hundreds of peices about many impactful female characters who could debatedly be a lead. That would reveal all the people I am in love with as characters. I hope we get more females leads that deliver great results (and great male leads that deliver great results).
There are some fantastic female characters out there in anime. Some that are well written and highly memorable. So it makes you wonder if they can craft these great female characters why not allow them to lead their own stories? It isn’t that they can’t write good female characters or that people don’t like these characters.
Incredible, solid post, well written and making an excellent point that there does need to be more female viewpoint characters in popular anime. I’m always stoked when I come across one and perhaps I’m generalising too heavily but I find I can identify more with female leads a lot of the time, too often it’s easy to see male main characters as ‘blank slates’, which leads into the realisation that this lack of gender diversity harms both.
I’ve read a lot of comments on favourites and I think my favourite would be Akane Tsunemori from Psycho Pass, an audience surrogate in the beginning but grows into her own character and displays great competence in what is a male-dominated profession. Moriko and Emma are great more recent calls too.
One I didn’t see mentioned that is somewhat interesting to me is Hiyori from Noragami. I’m not entirely sure if she counts for sole female lead but I think of her because her and Yato’s relationship feels like the typical shonen lead and manic pixie dream girl trope reversed in gender, which makes it feel a lot like an ‘opposite shonen’. I don’t think it’s entirely female led but more shows like that where it isn’t always the girl who’s (from the start) inherently magical, sometimes the girl can be the everyman, relatable one, is good. If only because the more that happens the more people will realise that men and women are ultimately just people and it’s possible to relate to both.
That’s a good point about Hiyori.
I am glad you enjoyed the post .
This, 100%. It’s something I’ve written about myself (https://fanofacertainage.blog/2019/04/23/youre-an-old-hag-once-youre-over-fifteen-why-are-there-no-women-in-anime/), and I think it’s a combination of several different things: what stories are being written, which stories are picked up for distribution, which stories get tons of promotion and which are seen as niche, and who distributors and promoters think actually watches anime.
There are plenty of stories focusing on girls, and plenty of those stories are great, but they’re often marketed just to girls, whereas stories about boys are marketed to everybody because supposedly everyone can relate to boys but only girls can relate to girls. If adult women get to be the focus of the story, it’s generally because it’s a romance story aimed at women (and thus receives little promotion because it’s a ‘niche’ story with a limited audience) or it’s because it’s a lone woman taking on a typically male role (lots of violence). There might be adult women in harem or ecchi stories aimed at teenage boys, but they’re supporting roles in someone else’s story.
It’s a universal issue that doesn’t just apply to anime, and it’s related to the roles women are expected to take in modern societies – women who aren’t wives and mothers or educators or carers or crafters are still, somehow, seen as unusual. You might see a sympathetic female character running her own bakery, for example, but a lead female character who’s running a business is a bitch who has to be taught to loosen up and be nice. Otherwise, female characters over 18 are largely supporting characters in someone else’s story.
It would definitely be nice to see a wider range of roles for older women in particular. It would be so exciting to see more women over twenty who aren’t someone’s family or emotional support and aren’t a romantic lead. I don’t know that here’s much out there that meets that particular goal.
When I read the opening paragraph my very first thought was “Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit” though the keyword in the question for me was “popular”.
Since shonen anime is the dominant subgenre, the central or main protagonists in the big shows will be male almost be definition, whilst the females are largely eye candy sidekicks who might also be occasional butt kickers.
So whilst we can chuck out titles with great female leads – Black Lagoon (Revy), Birdy The Mighty, Vampire Princess Miyu, Witchblade, Hanasaku Iroha, Chihayafuru, Corpse Princess – they are not tiles that leap to mind for many fans as opposed to Naruto, DBZ, One Piece, etc.
Then again, look outside TV and you have the wonderful female leads in Ghibli and Miyazaki films and they have greater global exposure than most TV anime. 🙂
True, there’s quite a few in Ghibli films. I’ve never been a huge fan of anime movies, I don’t find I get much of a connection with characters in the duration of a film and while there are Ghibli films I like none of them really spring immediately to mind when I’m thinking of characters. Still, you are right in that there are some nicely written female leads in those movies.
Another vote for Balsa from ‘Guardian of the Spirit’ for me – she came to mind first. With Balsa, I do wonder how much impact having a female writer for the novels had on her representation?
That’s an interesting question to pursue.
Yeah, I think it’d be an interesting criteria to include, (though plenty of male writers create well-rounded female main characters too, of course)
Kino from Kino’s Journey.
I think the core of your question just boils down to the market. Like many other questions we have about anime, often the answer is just – because that’s what they think will sell.
And to be honest, while you say that more and more women are watching anime, and that may be true in the West, I’d be interested to see if that was the case in Japan itself. Something tells me that at the end of the day, when it comes to selling Blu-Rays and other associated merch, as well as securing sequels to keep that going, there’s just going to be more money in selling to men, who are also the larger market to target here.
I’ll also point out that there are plenty of shoujo anime with female leads aimed at a female audience. Even if you don’t prefer them, I’d have to imagine that there is a market of women who do, and if a studio is looking to make money marketing towards women, it probably makes sense to pick up a shoujo story over a mecha, or action, or some other genre.
The market certainly will dictate a lot of trends. Though given the success of the GITS franchise and the like it could be assumed that a well written female character in those genres would sell just as well if someone made it.
Your final point raises the question of what is the percentage of male leads in shoujo stories because I imagine there probably are male viewers who quite enjoy those kinds of stories as well.
Of course I think there will always be exceptions, and it’s great to see studios willing to take those risks and make an action movie with a female lead and make it work well. But as far as I see it, those are exceptions.
I think of novels as a good example for this. From my experience, novels aimed at men tend to have male protagonists, novels aimed at women tend to have female protagonists. My personal anecdote is that I only read maybe 1 novel series that had a female protagonist but was clearly meant for a male audience. Exceptions exist, but perhaps if a guy wants to fantasize about being a hero, it’s easier to do through a male lead, and same sort of thing with women and romance novels.
Not trying to be controversial, because this is just the way it is. I’m a guy, and I tend to prefer male leads. And even if everyone in the comments section here says otherwise, there’s clearly a trend of marketing male leads to men, and female leads to women, with some exceptions in-between.
It all just comes down to risk and what the studio thinks will sell though, which I believe to be the ultimate answer to your question – there’s just a larger male audience to market to, so they produce stories they believe will sell well to men, which tends to lead to more male leads in anime.
Again, it is probably because of my preferred genres, but in reading, the majority of stories I loved growing up had male leads (then again, finding female leads in fantasy wasn’t the easiest thing in the 90’s though it has improved since then). I don’t think female readers or viewers necessarily always want the lead to be female. But I also feel that male readers and viewers, while they might be very used to having male leads by default, may not necessarily dislike or not watch or read something because it doesn’t have a male lead. I also think the market has never really tested that theory in any substantial manner.
However, those exceptions in Hollywood, kind of show that a well produced and well made movie (or at least a well promoted and financed one) will still sell even with an atypical lead character.
I would disagree with the Hollywood parallel, because a couple of Marvel movies that are a part of a long running series don’t exactly dictate the entire market. There are also movies that have tried to place female leads into formerly male led franchises like the all female ghostbusters, or the recent Men in Black Reboot. And then there was also Dark Phoenix that didn’t do well. Even in Hollywood it can be a risk to try and make an action movie with a female lead, when action movies typically (or historically at least) are consumed by men more than women.
I agree that a well made anime can still sell with an atypical lead character, but it doesn’t change the original reason for why there aren’t as many female leads. Paving the way to changing the market, or taking risks is just not profitable. And so they’ll just continue to churn out fairly average titles with fairly average premises, and capitalize on what’s popular. Unless there’s some massive outcry for female leads or a successful genre variation that uses female leads, they’re just going to keep doing what works.
I wish anime was cheaper to produce so that we could see more studios going out on a limb and producing all sorts of interesting new content, taking all sorts of risks. I’d love to see indie studios putting out innovative works, taking risks, and being rewarded when the risks pay off. Hopefully animation and everything that goes into anime can become more accessible at some point so we can see that, like what is happening with the video game industry right now with a surge of new creative games reaching broad audiences on Steam.
That would be kind of cool but we’re probably a fair way off that point.
I think it’ll happen eventually. Everything is going that way, becoming more de-centralized and compartmentalized through the internet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a new anime studio pop up at one point that outsources its work out to individual animators / VAs / etc. through the internet.
Right now we can carve our own little corners of the internet with our blogs, but soon enough people will be able to carve our their entire careers through the internet, like what we see now with Fiverr and other such spaces. I think that’s the way things are headed.
The same argument has been used for years in Hollywood, the market doesn’t want female lead characters, the market doesn’t want minority lead characters, but as can be seen in the last few years, when they actually do good films with female and minority leads (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel), the market actually loves them. As you say, they think female/minority leads don’t sell, but being a bunch of older male guys, it may be hard for them to actually understand what the market actually wants.
That’s an excellent point.
You misunderstand then. You say that older male guys don’t understand what “the market” wants for Hollywood movies. I’m saying that guys ARE the bulk of the anime market in Japan, which is why studios market towards them the most. It’s precisely about what they want. And Shoujo anime still exist, it’s not like the anime market doesn’t market towards women as well. It’s all about what the studios think will sell to their primary market, Japan. They wouldn’t do what they are doing, and they wouldn’t be selling if it wasn’t working.
But just because guys are the bulk of the anime market, doesn’t mean that a lead female character won’t do well. The equivalent people in Hollywood have made exactly the same argument as you are making and it has turned out to be wrong. Now, maybe in the Japanese market it is correct, but when you look at Ghost in the Shell and as other people have mentioned the success of Studio Ghibli with a female lead, you have to be suspicious that the argument may not be based on solid market research but more on we’ll just keep doing what we’ve done in the past and allow our prejudices to direct our choices.
You can attack the way things are done all you want, unless you have some real data to back up “men want female leads in anime” and can convince the studios of it, it’s just words. Female leads can work, but it’s still a risk for an anime studio to move away from the standard. And anime studios don’t like taking risks. I can guarantee you they have much more research on the topic than we do. It has nothing to do with prejudices, it’s just about what their audience wants.
This is going to end up being a circular argument. You can’t get real data without actually changing things and they won’t change things without real data. And so on and so forth.
You could create a circular argument for literally anything then. “Anime needs more ponytails”, or “anime needs more X”…. There’s a reason they don’t just change things without real data. I wish anime wasn’t such an expensive medium but unfortunately it is. If I enjoyed manga I’d gladly dive into all sorts of stories but I just could never get into it.
I kind of feel likening issues such as gender representation to the frequency of a certain hairstyle is trivialising the issue just a bit.
It’s not about gender representation, it’s about making money. Until studios have solid reasons and data that leads them to believe gender representation will start making them serious profits, they won’t think twice about it. And in that sense, it’s no different than arguing for a hairstyle or anything else. If they have reason to believe it will sell, then they’ll do it.
There’s so much to this topic it’s hard to even find a place to being. But another factor I think is that it’s also harder for shoujo manga (which generally features female leads) that get adapted into anime are much harder to get a second season. I wonder if some of these leads would be higher on people’s lists if they could see more of their development, if their journey wasn’t usually capped at 12 episodes.
True, and I’ll admit my genre biases definitely narrow the scope of female leads that I encounter. There’s probably amazing female lead characters I’ll never know because I don’t watch those genres with regularity or I won’t really hold onto those characters because they aren’t the type of show that I’ll binge watch more than once and really get to know the character. Still, the point that a lot of shoujo stories struggle to get more than a season, and if we look at all the long running series they are generally male focused, it does make it harder to have a character develop and grow in 12 episodes and to make the same kind of impact that a male protagonist with 100 episodes can have.
Great post and well put.
I’ll be honest, I often gravitate towards female characters rather than the male leads in a lot of series I watch. So a series with a good female lead is always a joy to find, the trouble is just finding them.
The point I want female representation, and by extension all representation, to get to is the point where there’s so many characters that they’re allowed to just be characters and don’t have to struggle under the weight of having to represent a whole group by themselves. That feels like its still a long way off though.
My favourite female lead is Akane Tsunemori from Psycho-Pass, and I do regard her as the lead, for the first season at least. She’s the rookie cop and therefore the viewpoint character and while Kogami and Makishima may be the hero and villain, the story is Akane’s, she develops the most and the guy’s main roles are as influencing factors on her journey.
Good call with Akane. It is her viewpoint being told and her decisions are what ultimately drive the plot and provide closure in the series.
“The point I want female representation, and by extension all representation, to get to is the point where there’s so many characters that they’re allowed to just be characters and don’t have to struggle under the weight of having to represent a whole group by themselves.” – I think this is something I wanted to say but couldn’t find the words. Thank you.
Me, when I stopped and tried to think of three lead female characters: “Tohru Honda… Lina Inverse… about as different from each other as can be, but still need a third one… no, I am *not* cheating and using the Major… hm, what’s in my personal library? Angel Beats? No, that doesn’t really count. Angel Links… not great, but it does qualify, with Meifon Li, though the part where it ends with her having to accept her impending death takes the shine off it… still, being so victimized by the man she most trusted makes her rather riveting in that aspect, I suppose.”
Seriously, it was maddening to conjure a third one. So, naturally, the moment I got a third one, they started coming a little more easily, but it’s still very sparse.
Sailor Moon, Maria the Virgin Witch, Lucy from Servant x Service, Mai from Ghost Hunt, Gabriel from Gabriel DropOut, Haruhi from Ouran High Host Club, Misaka from the Certain Scientific Railgun… and there are a number of female characters in Baccano, but as *everyone* plays the lead in that one… well, you know.
Thing is, one can argue both for and against including each of them. I mean, Maka, for comparison, is very cool, but the story of Soul Eater isn’t explicitly hers, so she might be the lead female character of the show, but not necessarily the lead character, ya know?
And as I think about this… it is a shame. It’s easily solved, mind you (as you say: more quantity makes for a better chance of better quality), but, still, a shame.
I *like* strong women, ya know? I like women who are leaders just as I like men who are leaders. (though the hormones may influence the exact nature of the liking, of course) To think that there are so many strong female characters, but so few *lead* female characters… it’s a bit like that feeling I got recently, watching a crowd of people going through a double-door, but only on *one* side of it, until *I* went forward and opened the other side as well, and then I heard someone behind me thank God that I’d opened it.
I mean, DUH.
I know, if we turn the question around and ask someone to think of three great male leads the issue they have is narrowing it down to only three. Where as with female leads, a lot of us struggle to even name them and then there’s debate about whether they lead the story or not. It really shouldn’t be so hard to have female lead characters that aren’t necessarily part of a harem, an ensemble cast or having their story told from a male perspective. But it also isn’t as though there are no good female leads and when we do stop and think most of us can find a few.
Hm, some that haven’t been mentioned (unless I missed them):
Yoko from 12 Kingdoms
Yona from Yona of the Dawn
Saki from Shin Sekai Yori
Erin from Beast Player Erin
Both Yasako and Isako (co-leads) from Dennou Coil
I could probably think of some more, but it really isn’t that easy. I have the added problem that I usually prefer side characters to leads, whether they’re male or female, since leads often aren’t who I remember a show for.
If we’re going this year, I also liked Mei from Meiji Tokyo Renka (reverse harems don’t always have good female leads, but they do always have female leads). I thought Stella from Price of Smiles was a good co-lead in a lesser show (she was certainly the more interesting of the two female leads). I like Carole from Carole and Tuesday (and Tuesday isn’t bad either, but less my type of character), and – of course – Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket. And Oh Maidens in your Savage Season has a pretty good female cast, too (one of the better Okada shows).
Good female leads exist, but they definitely are comparatively rare. (Note that I deliberately left out all-girl shows like, say, Granbelm or Wasteful Days of Highschool Girls.) Romances are their own topic, so I tend to leave them out (other than reverse harems, which in a sense fit better here than in the one-on-one romance topic – I’m thinking Takagi-san this season, for example.)
I’m also not sure what to do with shows like Kanata no Astra. Kanata is clearly in the title, and he something like a formal main – being the captain – but the story is really more an ensemble piece. I don’t think I’d say the show has a female lead (Aries was the first character we saw, and she has the characterics of a rather typical lead, at least on the surface, so I could see people make a co-lead argument – I probably wouldn’t, but I’m not quite sure why – it’s certainly more complicated than Kanata being in the title and the captain to tie them all together).
As for why female protagonists are under more scrutiny: if there are less female leads, then a single bad one accounts for a much higher percentage. A bad male protagonist isn’t as much of a lost opportunity. There are enough of those to go around. So I think you’re entirely right: the key to better female leads is more female leads.
Thanks for your comment. Sorry it went to spam initially and I’ve just unearthed it.
The Price of Smiles is an interesting anime to raise from this year because you are right that Stella was an interesting character and shared the lead with Yuki (another female). The anime itself ended up being a lot of wasted potential, but the characters are probably worth noting as solid female leads in the mecha genre.
You’re asking an important question here, and I’m glad to see your commenters are taking it seriously.
“Also, just because someone is a female viewer, does that mean they necessarily want a female lead?”
It struck me that I could spin the question around and ask if I, as a male viewer, necessarily want a male lead?
No, I don’t. I want an interesting lead. Not even necessarily strong; just interesting. Show me something I haven’t seen before, or something I’ve seen in a different light.
“I’m kind of hoping this didn’t come off sounding like a rant against male leads or arguing that lack of female representation is the only representation issue in anime.”
It’s almost heart-breaking to me that you felt you had to say that. Your post was solid and completely avoided histrionics. It was rationally-worded and concise. Yet, just suggesting that more female leads might be a good thing can come across as confrontational.
Even though it’s true.
Stepping off my soapbox (which is getting kinda worn; I need to calm the heck down), you’re also right in saying it’s hard to think of female leads outside of certain genres. I’m glad Lynn remembered Claymore! That’s a great example. I’d like to add Zakuro from Otome Yōkai Zakuro. Yeah, she was a co-lead with Kei Agemaki, but the story was hers, start to finish. And it rocked.
Even saying that, others that come to mind like Makina Hoshimura from Shikabane Hime proved your point: The story was really a coming of age about Ouri Kagami, though the Shikabane Hime did play a major (and powerful!) role.
Do you count RWBY as anime? It had four strong leads.
And there’s Princess Principle. I think Ange would count. Or Izetta: The Last Witch with both Izetta and her princess (even now, all this time after watching it, I can’t think of Fine any other way).
There was Satellizer from Freezing; I’d say season 1 was more about her than about Kazuya, but I can how a case could be made to the contrary.
Ange and Hilda from Cross Ange? I think even Tusk knew he was a secondary character to Ange!
But to be honest? I had to go through my library to come up with some of these. They’re in the minority, but I really enjoy finding them!
Very nice list of characters and thanks for the thoughtful comment. I haven’t watched much of RWBY and I know there’s an argument about whether it is or isn’t anime, but ultimately it probably doesn’t matter. It is great entertainment for some and does have female lead characters. It didn’t really work for me as I just couldn’t get into it, but I know there are some really big RWBY fans out there.
I watch so many female-centered shows that I’d have no problem rattling off a list, but I don’t think that’s really the heart of the issue. As you point out, there are plenty of female leads in CGDCT, romances, magical girl, idol anime, etc., but a lot of those are practically segregated, like the writers decided the only way to give the female characters agency is to minimize the presence of males entirely (or have the females as the only ones capable of wielding whatever special magical powers exist in the show), which doesn’t solve the problem.
The real question is, how often do you see a female lead character in a series where, A) she’s also the viewpoint character, B) the cast isn’t predominantly female, and C) she actually has the same amount of agency and initiative in the story that a male character would if she was gender-flipped? That’s a much smaller list (especially if you limit it to the action/sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres, as you noted). Looking at the “Top 10 Female Leads in Action Anime” that Honey’s Anime put together is instructive, for instance, because the only character on the list who fits all of those criteria is Balsa from Moribito (and maybe Saya from Blood+, but I haven’t seen that). The other eight, as cool as many of them are, all come from shows with either male viewpoint characters or mostly female casts.
That aside, some other female leads I like from action and sci-fi anime besides the ones mentioned in the article or by other commenters are Mirielle from Noir, Kurau from Kurau Phantom Memory, Yomiko from Read or Die, Misaki from Angelic Layer, Priss from Bubblegum Crisis, and Kei and Yuri from Dirty Pair. And all of those are at least 15 years old. Oh well.
“The real question is, how often do you see a female lead character in a series where, A) she’s also the viewpoint character, B) the cast isn’t predominantly female, and C) she actually has the same amount of agency and initiative in the story that a male character would if she was gender-flipped?” – I think you are right in that is the heart of the issue. Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing some of your favourites.
Tanya, of course, from her Saga of Evil; Violet from Violet Evergarden; Rory from GATE. (All three of the sisters from Grrrl Power!)
Good choices, but, considering Tanya was originally a guy and Rory isn’t really the lead character of the show, I’m not sure they quite qualify, ya know?
You might be right about Rory (although she IS the series, to me), I must stand firm with Tanya. In her current world, she was born and remains female–she just happens to have previously been male in a prior lifetime.
Rory was an awesome character. I agree she’s not really a leading character, but GATE would be a much poorer viewing experience without her.
Fair enough. 😉
My issue is that when I think of strong female characters, it’s ALWAYS in an ensemble cast. I agree, we don’t have a lot of great female characters that are the main focus for most of the series by themselves.
I’d say Satsuki Kiryuin (the TRUE protagonist of Kill la Kill), Kino from Kino’s Journey, and literally nothing else but supporting leads from there on out. Jeez, that is weird.
You made the point better than I could. Yeah…the best female characters often tend to be part of the ensemble, or are the main supporting lead. I can see why that might grate on some people, but that doesn’t take away the fact that those characters often become far more popular than the male lead.
Does Serena from Sailor Moon count? I mean, yes she’s part of a group, but I think she leads the story.
Then again, I’m reaching back to the mid-nineties to come up with an actual example so maybe that is telling all on its own.
Not sure about nowadays but when I started watching anime in the 90s to very early 2000s one of my motivations was the shock and awe at seeing a plethora of incredible female characters. There used to be this channel called AZN TV that would show dubbed anime and I was watching stuff like Slayers, You’re Under Arrest, Bubblegum Crisis, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sakura Wars, Crest of The Stars, etc. I’m not sure how things are right now though in 2019? I’ve heard about some very interesting shows but there’s just so much out there/so much coming out each season I have no real opinion on whether its gotten better or worse lol. The only thing I’ve noticed is that anime for guys and anime for girls seems far more distinct and divided. I haven’t heard of too many popular crossover series that both genders are meant to watch like Vision Of Escaflowne or Inuyasha was back in the day.
At times there does seem a fairly solid gender divide in the way anime presents itself. This isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with given I was a gamer girl in the 90’s when games still seemed very much targeted toward one gender or the other and I was regularly directed away from RPG’s or action games in shops by well meaning sales-people who thought a girl like me would not like all that violence and blood splatter in some of the titles I worked my way through at the time. That said, I think for western viewers at least there’s less pressure to watch one anime over another regardless of who it is geared toward. There are plenty of action and horror fans who are female and plenty of guys who are happy to admit they watch romances and drama. It is nice that audiences are now able to find what works for them, rather than what others expect will work for them.
I had the same experience with gaming, can definitely relate. I notice too there is a lot of wonderful overlap with people liking all kinds of different things though I suspect a lot of shows are made for narrower audiences and hope to see more, I guess, multi-faceted types in the future though there are already some great ones out there. 😀
I honestly think it depends on where you are going. There probably isn’t going to be a female lead in shonen jump, that’s not what that magazine is aimed for. But there are a some good female characters present, of course your mileage may vary. In the great anime genre there are several, dozens of good female characters (I fucking hate the term ‘strong female”). Are they the headlining star? Maybe, maybe not. That’s a cool conversation to have, but just because they aren’t the focus doesn’t mean they can’t be just as, or not more influential.
Harem anime live on their female cast, so much that a series can be successful with minimal effort put into the male character. As much as people love Kazuma from Konosuba, people remember Aqua, Megumin and Darkness far more. Is that because they are always “cute waifus?” quite possible, but it’s something to consider.
I think the unfortunate thing is, that a large number of stories in certain genres reflect biases that still exist. We can have cool and interesting female characters but they can’t be the star. Or if they are the star it is because they are part of a group. The idea of a female leading the story on their own (again – not in every genre, there’s heaps of leads in romances) is still fairly unexplored.
Again, it isn’t that every anime needs a female lead (strong or otherwise) and it isn’t that we need some kind of quota or any other thing that would just result in badly told stories. It would just be nice to see a few more female leads every now and then.
My favs include Clare from Claymore, Ri-L from Ergo Proxy, Violet from Violet Evergarden, and A-ko from Project A-ko. Would Emma count from The Promised Neverland?
There are tons of awesome secondary female characters, but it does seem fairly common to have a male as the actual lead. I’m watching WorldEnd at the moment and there are lots of interesting female characters, but it’s mostly shown from the guy’s perspective.
Getting a better balance is obviously a good thing and I think anime does generally do a better job of having a good range of female characters.
There are definitely some amazing female characters in anime, which is why I didn’t want this to come across as some kind of rant. And Emma definitely counts. She was one of the few female leads I came up with from anime I watched this year.