Often perfect introductions to the medium, adventure anime speaks to the excitement of discovery and wanderlust for exploration. Whether the journey is through a faraway fantasy land, historical period, exotic country, or otherwise, adventure anime can tell their stories through the world itself, but also have characters to follow along the way. While there’s plenty of generic isekai out there with self-insert sword/shield/magic dudes gathering their harems through copy-paste medieval fantasy worlds (which may or may not actually be a video game), there’s also many anime adventures out there following women and girls that do more with their characters that make their worlds and stories better for it!
In this list, we’re counting down our top picks for female leads in adventure anime, roughly ranking them based on their overall charm as a character, impact on their respective series, and how they add to and capture the feeling of adventure! What ho, let’s go!
10. Atsuko "Akko" Kagari from Little Witch Academia
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Air Date: Mar 2, 2013
One of the earliest projects from Studio Trigger, and their first movie, Little Witch Academia tells the story of Atsuko Kagari, a young girl enamored with her idol Shiny Chariot, a famous witch whose amazing magical performances inspire Akko to become a witch herself, moving all the way to England to enroll at Luna Nova Magical Academy. While many of the other students make fun of her for believing in and admiring Shiny Chariot, who is viewed as a performer rather than a serious magic user, Akko remains steadfast as she tries to overcome the challenges of becoming a witch.
Akko’s persistence is very important to her character because truth be told, it’s what’s carrying her through her studies, along with her friends, rather than her skill (she’s pretty incompetent at times). Although she can be naive and prone to some childish behavior, Akko is a really loveable and pure character that’s brought to life with the series’ great design and animation. She also experiences growth even in the span of the first movie (and even more in the TV series) and eventually becomes a hero herself Making her!
9. Riko from Made in Abyss
- Episodes: 13
- Air Date: July 2017 – September 2017
For generations, ambitious treasure hunters called diggers have ventured into the titular Abyss, a massive hole that goes deep down into the ground, in search of powerful artifacts. The Abyss is divided into different layers, each with their own biomes and monstrous creatures that grow ever more dangerous as the depth increases, most importantly passing on the “curse of the abyss” that will cause headaches, hallucinations, and eventually death to anyone who journeys too far and too long. The story follows a group of orphan children, Riko in particular, who wants to become a ‘white whistle’ (the highest rank of digger) to find what has become of her long-lost mother, a famous digger and adventurer who mysteriously disappeared. After meeting an amnesiac robot boy she names Regu, the two escape the orphanage and dive headlong into the abyss.
Riko is similar to Akko in some ways, sharing a determined spirit and belief in something that most doubt, in this case Riko’s mom still being alive and waiting for her at the bottom of the abyss (many assume she’s dead), but is a lot more competent, despite still being a child. Adept at making quick decisions under pressure, analyzing different situations strategically, and cooking (among other things), Riko is a skilled adventurer, wise beyond her years whose energetic and positive personality let her make it through the extremely tough and traumatic conditions of the abyss.
8. Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura
- Episodes: 70
- Air Date: April 1998 – March 2000
Based on the legendary shoujo manga of the same name by CLAMP, Cardcaptor Sakura is a classic magical girl series following the life of fourth-grader Sakura Kinomoto. After opening a strange book full of cards, Sakura finds herself caught up in a magical adventure after the cards are blown away by a gust of wind. A magical beast, who looks like a very chibi winged lion, called Keroberos (or Kero-chan) is revealed to be the guardian of the book and explains that the escaped ‘Clow Cards’ contain dangerous powers that need to be sealed away. Together with Kero and some help form Sakura’s best friend Tomoyo, Sakura begins her quest to seal the cards while balancing her own personal life at the same time.
Certainly one of the biggest reasons Cardcaptor Sakura has remained consistently popular throughout the years is its appealing characters, particularly Sakura who has both incredibly cute and varied costumes and a sweet personality that’s also more emotionally deep than you might expect. Despite being clueless and clumsy at times, Sakura is perceptive, energetic, and loyal to her friends and overall a great example of a classic character executed wonderfully.
7. Kino from Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World - The Animated Series (Kino's Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series)
- Episodes: 12
- Air Date: October 2017 – December 2017
Fully embracing the ethos of journeys as a vehicle for self-discovery, Kino’s Journey is in fact about the journey of a person named Kino, a wandering sharpshooter who travels around the world with a talking motorcycle named Hermes. A very episodic and philosophically introspective series, Kino’s Journey explores various ideas about society through parables often using exaggerated examples to illustrate a point and it isn’t afraid to get dark. While maybe not always incredibly deep, this series has a strong intellectual and unique feeling.
Technically, Kino’s inclusion on this list is a little bit of a spoiler, since her femininity is very understated and not revealed until the fourth episode, but she is more than worthy of here regardless. The wandering marksman presents herself as more typically masculine wearing a long trench coat over a military-style uniform and also sporting her distinctive helmet and goggles. She has a very calm and calculating personality and is adamant about remaining neutral as much as possible in situations but is also very capable when force is needed. Kino’s often silly interactions with her motorcycle Hermes further flesh out her personality and make her a perfect observer character for the anime as a whole.
6. Michiko Malandro from Michiko to Hatchin (Michiko & Hatchin)
- Episodes: 22
- Air Date: October 2008 – March 2009
Set in the vibrant turbulence of a fictional country in South America, which seems to be heavily based on Brazil, Michiko & Hatchin is an action-packed adventure series following the lives of the titular characters Michiko Malandro and Hana Morenos (who Michiko later names Hatchin). Michiko, a wild badass who has just escaped from prison for a least the fourth time, ends up rescuing Hatchin from her abusive foster parents. Both are searching for Hatchin’s father, Hiroshi, and face many trials along the way, fighting against warring criminal gangs and corruption.
Putting the action in this action-adventure, Michiko is first and foremost an action hero. Fiercely independent and just plain fierce, she’s adept at fighting whether it’s fisticuffs or firearms and knows how to make a slick getaway on her motorbike to boot. What really makes her an endearing character, though, is her emotional capacity, which gets revealed over time, particularly as she and Hatchin grow closer together. With a checkered past that ties into the core of the series, a developed personality, and strong character design, Michiko is a big part of what makes Michiko & Hatchin so memorable and one of the best females leads ever in our book!
5. Lina Inverse from Slayers
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: April 1995 – September 1995
Slayers is top tier 90s gold! While there is an overarching plot, some deeper moments, and big bads waiting to be defeated at the end, Slayers is very much a character-of-the-day hijinks fantasy story full of charm and comedy from a growing motley crew of adventurers that begins with goofy wandering swordsman Gourry "Guido" Gabriev and impetuous hotheaded sorceress Lina Inverse, who is always on the quest for treasure. They go on many adventures together, meeting others such as clumsy princess-magician Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune and the partially demonic chimera Zelgadis "Zel" Graywords.
Since most of the plot in Slayers is fluff it relies mostly on its characters to carry the show and Lina is certainly able to do it! A tsundere rogue who is often very open about her lust for gold, power, and magical artifacts, including Gourry’s own Blade of Light, Lina nevertheless deep down has a heart of gold not to mention tremendous abilities. Her character design is also extremely iconic and popular, especially back in the day where she was a popular character to cosplay. Hilariously powerful and with great character dynamics with the rest of the cast, Lina Inverse is certainly worthy of her spot here.
4. Fuu Kasumi from Samurai Champloo
- Episodes: 26
- Air Date: May 2004 – March 2005
A pseudo-historical story set in a hip-hop influenced Edo period Japan, Samurai Champloo follows a woman named Fuu who is searching for “the samurai that smells of sunflowers” after her job as a waitress is abruptly interrupted by a fight between two other samurai, Mugen and Jin, who end up getting roped into being her bodyguards until she finds this mysterious smelly samurai. This journey across many regions of Japan, with many allusions to both modern pop culture and real Japanese history, sees the trio through many trials and dangerous, and often humorous, situations.
Despite her rather unassuming background as a waitress, Fuu is the driving force of the group and actually ends up saving Mugen and Jin many times throughout the adventure, including at the start, which is why the end up helping her in the first place. While she can be whiny at times, particularly when it comes to not having enough food to satiate her overly voracious appetite, Fuu proves her courage and determination time and again and is well developed in the series. Unlike many other anime characters, she’s also portrayed pretty realistically in terms of her abilities, personality, and behavior, making her easy to connect with which enhances her deeper moments in the story. Overall, an excellent character!
3. Sophie Hatter from Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle)
- Episodes: 1 (movie)
- Air Date: Nov 20, 2004
A meek and reserved young woman, Sophie Hatter has a rather ordinary life working at her family’s hat shop despite living in a world full of magic, but not for long! She ends up having a chance encounter with a beautiful man in the streets who rescues her from two soldiers who were hitting on her. He himself pursued by some creepy blob monsters, the young wizard uses his magic to protect both of them and then takes his leave. Later, her sister Lettie warns her that that man must have been Howl, an evil wizard said to steal the hearts of young girls, but it appears the real danger is from someone else after Sophie is visited by the Witch of the Wastes later that night. The witch bestows a curse on Sophie, changing her into an old woman, which prompts her to leave home in search of a cure. She ends up running into Howl’s castle, a gigantic mechanical building that walks on huge, bird-like metal legs. Sophie then weasels her way into getting hired as a cleaning lady there by bargaining with a fire demon named Calcifer (who is what powers the castle) who wants her to break the curse put on him and Howl.
Sophie is not only unique for being a great female lead but also a rare example of an elderly character taking on the role of protagonist; well, at least partially elderly in this situation. In any case, Sophie’s transformation as a character is both physical and mental and also very well developed, especially considering its done within the length of a movie. Sophie gains confidence in herself through overcoming her newfound physical limitations and being able to reinvent her personality in her new form, feeling empowered to present herself as she pleases and, perhaps somewhat ironically, less self-conscious about her looks. Most of all, she gains emotional intelligence, empathy, and eventually love through her interactions with others and shows considerable bravery, cementing her as one of our top favorite female leads of all time!
2. Yona from Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn)
- Episodes: 24
- Air Date: October 2014 – March 2015
Living an idyllic life as the princess of the Kouka Kingdom, which interestingly is based on medieval Korea, Yona has always been sheltered from hardship, happily living with her peace-loving father Il, friend and later bodyguard Hak Son, and frequently visited by her beloved cousin Su-won. Everything changes after a violent coup d'etat leaves her father murdered and Yona narrowly escaping with her life with the help of Hak. To make things worse, this was all orchestrated by Su-won, shocking Yona to her core. Yona of the Dawn follows Hak and Yona as they journey across a war-torn and impoverished world as they seek to restore Kouka to its former glory.
Yona of the Dawn is one of the best coming-of-age stories in anime. Seeing Yona’s maturation from a naive sheltered princess into a strong and determined leader, not to mention a powerful archer, is the best aspect of the show and very well done. Living as a fugitive on the run with Hak, Yona faces adversity from the armies of both Kouka and neighboring countries and witnesses the harsh conditions of poverty and corruption that many face but is able to persevere in spite of it, slowly building up support to save herself and her kingdom. A motivated leader who faces great challenges and learns from her mistakes, Yona is a brilliant female lead and character in general.
1. Kagome Higurashi from InuYasha
- Episodes: 167
- Air Date: October 2000 – September 2004
After accidentally falling into a sealed well at her family’s Shinto shrine, teenager Kagome Higurashi finds herself transported to a fantasy feudal Sengoku era Japan 500 years in the past. Narrowly escaping a monstrous female centipede demon, Kagome learns that she is the reincarnation of a powerful priestess named Kikyo and that the sacred, wish-granting Shikon Jewel has also been reborn within her body, making her a target for the many demons that prowl the land. When the revived centipede woman attacks again, Kagome ends up freeing a half-demon named InuYasha who was pinned to a tree with a sacred arrow, who is actually after the jewel himself in order to become a full demon. Shortly after the battle, the jewel becomes shattered into numerous shards and Kagome and InuYasha form an uneasy alliance in order to get them back, meeting many others along the way who join their quest like shapeshifting trickster fox-demon Shippo, demon-hunter warrior Sango, and ‘amorous monk’ Miroku.
As a long-running classic series, InuYasha can sometimes feel like an endless barrage of monsters-of-the-day and jewel-shard grinding but it remains a joy to watch thanks to its excellent characters, and Kagome is one of them; particularly her interactions with InuYasha, which are quite varied, ranging from comedic arguments typically resulting in plenty of ‘Sit boy!’ retaliations to a lot of deeper feelings and conversations as they grow closer in the story. Kagome is also a fantastic character on her own, growing from an ordinary schoolgirl to a skilled archer, learning how to use her own inherited powers as a priestess, and always determined to do the right thing. Kagome works hard to become skilled, has a strong sense of justice, and an empathetic spirit. Plus she’s beautiful and not afraid to express herself, all of which makes her our favorite female lead in adventure anime ever!
Let’s hear it for the adventurous ladies! We’d love to see more women and girls going on journeys in future series. What do you think? We hope you enjoyed this list, let us know your own thoughts and picks in the comments section below! As always, please be sure to stick around Honey’s for more of all things awesome, anime and otherwise! Until next time, see ya~!