In the world of anime, nothing can get crazier than its limitless supply of action packed titles. Action is largely why people get into anime with how creatively distinguishing it is compared to how other nation’s film, television, or animation industries express it. However, a lot of action oriented anime goes beyond just its originality, as it also features stylish and unique characters, and that largely includes female oriented ones. The likes of Dragon Ball and Hokuto no Ken are filled with testosterone and incredibly buff men. But that doesn’t mean a lady doesn’t know how to kick ass, too. If anyone paved the way for female action leads for contemporary anime, it would certainly have to be Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. She is someone who helped pave way of addressing modern gender roles not just in terms of anime, or to Japanese society, but to the world as a whole. So for today’s list, we wish to explore some female leads from the world of action and follow the standards paved by Utena.
10. Nezuko Kamado from Kimetsu no Yaiba (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: April 6, 2019 – Ongoing
On the outside, you can think of Nezuko as a cute moe girl. However, she’s now a demon no thanks to her family’s arch-nemesis, Muzan Kibutsuji. While there have been negative effects of her transformation in regards to her memories, deep down inside, she’s still the same sweet little girl she was before, but with enhanced abilities. Thanks to becoming a demon, she can change the size of her body, has super strength, and has regenerative abilities. As opposed to using them for evil, she uses her powers for good in the hopes that she can one day become a human again.
9. Raphtalia from Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (The Rising of the Shield Hero)
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: January 9, 2019 - Ongoing
Kicking off this list is Raphtalia, the first true party member of Naofumi, the main male lead. When you put aside the circumstances as to how Raphtalia is introduced, her value starts to define itself with her own discovery of her worthiness to Naofumi, but her own self-worth as well. By the laws of the world Naofumi is stuck in, Raphtalia is a slave. However, Naofumi doesn’t exactly see her that way as he treats her like an equal by letting her eat the food she wants to eat, giving her a bath, a place to sleep and clothes to put on her back in a world where everyone else discriminates against her kind. Thanks to the kindness that Naofumi extends to her, even when she’s officially free of Naofumi, she still chooses to stay by him and is kind to the people they meet. She can be a damsel in distress at first, but her role progresses in a manner where people start to see her true contributions. She shows that people can have the will to be what they want to be, and that you always stand by the people who will always believe in you.
8. Kyouka Izumi from Bungou Stray Dogs
- Episodes: 36
- Air Dates: April 7, 2016 - Ongoing
With the tremendous ensemble cast of Bungou Stray Dogs, Kyouka is one of the leading females in an anime dominated by men. Don’t let her frail looking frame and the high-quality kimono fool you because her Demon Snow power can cut you down. What makes this character stand out in comparison to who we have listed is how she starts off as an antagonist, and she only acted when ordered to. After Atsushi shows her there’s always a different way, she leaves the Port Mafia and joins the forces of good and starts to learn more about the world, and develop her own free will. Due to her upbringing, she has a strange sense of appreciation of everything she’s exposed to. In addition to wanting to learn more, she wants to prove it to herself that she’s worth more than just killing, and that she belongs to no one. Her journey of redemption and wanting to re-create herself despite everything that has happened to her demonstrates why she’s a great addition to this list.
7. Saya Otonashi from Blood+
- Episodes: 50
- Air Dates: October 8, 2005 – September 23, 2006
Saya may seem like your ordinary high school girl, but in fact, she’s nearly two centuries old due to being part Chiropterans, a more scientific way of saying she’s a vampire. Despite those qualities, it doesn’t mean she can be just like your ordinary school girl. Initially, she may have been as stuck up as a Kardashian, but thanks to the positive influences of her friends, she decided to flip the script. Then after some incidents, she loses her memories and she becomes vulnerable. After she re-groups her memories, let say she only looks at things as absolutes as it relates to humans and Chiropterans. Compared to a lot of characters on this list, Saya goes through a lot of turns that progressively make her darker and the story does a great job of showing why and if anyone were in her shoes, they’d probably react the same way. Her views may seem ridiculous, but she is distinctly relatable in other ways as well. People deal with certain hardships with their life such as betrayal, and it can happen on a large scale and in turn, it can affect their moral compass. Everyone tries to get back on track on their own ways and sometimes, you can only learn the hard way, which is what defines Saya.
6. Akame from Akame ga Kill!
- Episodes: 24
- Air Dates: July 7, 2014 – December 15, 2014
Akame may seem sweet and innocent, but as crazy as it is to believe, she’s one of the most elite assassins of the Night Raid. Try to cat call her or put your hands on her, then she’ll make Lorena Bobbitt look like Mary Poppins. When you engage a fight with her, you’d swear she was trained by Cobra Kai as she personifies it’s third rule, no mercy. Due to her upbringing of being trained to be the ultimate lean mean fighting machine, it has made her socially awkward to the point it makes those that encounter her come across as uptight and serious. Another result of her training/upbringing, it has made her suppressive of her emotions, but as her journey progresses, she learns that it’s ok to have emotions, especially when you lose a loved one. On the same token, she is very humble as she has turned down offers of promotion and advancement since she prefers fighting alongside her fellow soldiers on the field. Akame may be a killer, but she has her principles, and she never compromises them for anybody which is why she’s a great addition to this list.
5. Saber from Fate/Zero
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: October 2, 2011 – December 25, 2011
Of course, no list of action female leads isn’t complete without Saber, aka Artoria Pendragon (meaning she’s a female version to King Arthur). If you want an anime equivalent to Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, look no further than Saber except Saber is far more badass than Brienne. Though the character was initially conceived as a male, it’s kind of hard to imagine that now that the franchise has been a huge success largely thanks to Saber being female. She’s more or less a modern day interpretation of Oscar from Rose of Versailles but with numerous distinctions that defines gender roles and identity for today’s audiences as gender roles/identities are now being discussed in the media. Her role is more or less the definition of challenging gender roles to the point that if anyone were to write a book about such an issue as it relates to pop culture, Saber is certainly someone you can’t miss.
4. Balsa Yonsa from Seirei no Moribito (Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: April 7, 2007 – September 29, 2007
Another great female lead who is also a strong warrior is Balsa from Moribito. After a select group of eight people all perished protecting her when she was a child, she decides to become a bodyguard-for-hire in order to redeem herself and not make their sacrifices go in vain. Thankfully, she’s a natural in hand-to-hand combat and is a master of the spear. In addition to her elite skills, she is willing to show mercy to her opponents because she’s a protector, not a killer. Eventually, her abilities are recognized to the point that she is assigned to protect the young prince but her role goes beyond that. Through her relationship with the prince, you see that Balsa’s maternal instincts come in as she can teach him certain things that royal upbringing can’t. She teaches him about humility and what it’s like to be a commoner. Through Balsa, sometimes the role models we need are there when we least expect them.
3. Clare from Claymore
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: April 4, 2007 – September 27, 2007
Clare is certainly the personification of “started from the bottom and now we’re here.” Upon the beginning of the series, she was designated as the lowest ranked Claymore in her training squad. However, by the laws of storytelling with an underdog, Clare overcomes adversity and finds her true potential. Putting aside such tried and true storytelling techniques, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any value as an individual. The reason why the underdog story can be told over and over again is because audiences of all backgrounds can identify with it, and it makes things much fresher when you put a woman in the role because they can be a bigger underdog than everyday men such as Rocky Balboa or Daniel LaRusso. Not only does she overcome her obstacles and prove her worth as a Claymore, she also discovers her true potential to become the very best (like no one ever was).
2. Mikasa Ackerman from Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
- Episodes: 52+
- Air Dates: April 7, 2013 - Ongoing
Even before she joined the Scouts, Mikasa was always a badass as she bailed Eren out every time he got into a fight for standing up for his beliefs. She’s a natural born warrior and she has used that to the fullest in humanity’s war against the titans. Not only is she a lean mean fighting machine, she knows how to maintain composure when the heat turns up, and while she is capable of exhibiting emotions, she doesn’t allow them to cloud her judgement a majority of the time. However, her contributions go beyond just being a warrior with the ultimate killer instinct. She is still loyal to her friends, especially Eren. When he was initially put on trial, Mikasa still stood by him to the very end and always believed in him. When she can’t figure something out in terms of putting together a game plan, she relies on Armin’s expertise to do the job showing that she can put her faith in people’s talents. Plus, it’s always nice to see Mikasa always get Eren, a young man, out of trouble, instead of the traditional reverse.
1. Revy from Black Lagoon
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: April 9, 2006 – June 25, 2006
We can admit it was a hard choice, but we give number 1 to Revy (aka Rebecca Lee) from Black Lagoon. She’s the contemporary female badass audiences can all get behind, and we’d all enjoy a drinking game with (and likely lose). She’s truly all about the pirate’s life as she doesn’t care about regular life, just kicking ass and taking names. If anime can have its own version of Archie Bunker from the classic sit-com All In The Family, it’s definitely Revy who can fill that role. She speaks her mind and is politically incorrect. If she had a twitter account, she’d definitely give Donald Trump a run for his money over who can make ridiculous tweets. However, what makes Revy believable in relation to how she expresses herself is demonstrated through her harsh upbringing, and such situations can make a person grow up to be something we can call a menace to society. Revy may not be a perfect role model with how easy it is to get on her bad side (even when she’s in a good mood, don’t expect anything to turn out well), but how can anyone say no to a lady that doesn’t take crap from anyone and plays by her own rules?
Beyond Utena, we’d like to give some other honorable mentions to Yuko from Gurren Lagann, Selesia from Re:Creators, San from Princess Mononoke, and Dororo from Dororo. Yes, the ladies we all listed can kick ass, but their selections go beyond that. As characters, they have something to contribute to the story, their fellow peers, and they grow as individuals. They demonstrate that it’s ok to be feminine, and that it’s even badass to be as tough. Some of these characters do have love interests, and you see how their feelings affect them in a positive way. There are others that don’t pursue romance, and that’s ok, too. The characters here demonstrate they are not only capable of taking care of themselves, but protecting their loved ones as well and they show that not only they can be just as equally capable as men in terms of being fighters, there are instances when they can be superior.