Being a woman in a horror story is not usually easy. Women are the preferred prey of demons, serial killers, masked madmen and practically every critter ever invented by horror writers. This is why female leads in horror stories are always tough. They may not look like it at first before the monsters start trying to kill them, but by the end, it’s the final girl who carries the story and her survival or death is what makes the audience feel satisfied at the end.
As horror has evolved, the leads in stories have changed too. So we get a lot of different main characters, from monsters who try to recover their humanity to humans who have to become monsters to survive. And with such a wide variety comes the question, which ones are the absolute best?
Just be wary, because we're discussing some important elements to the girls' stories, there will be spoilers.
10. Mei Tanamiya from Ghost Hunt
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2006 – March 2007
Mei Tanamiya never wanted to be special, in fact, she was pretty happy with her normal life. However, fate had a completely different plan for her and when she accidentally broke the camera that Kazuya Shibuya—known as Naru to his friends and partners—used for his ghost-hunting business. Since Mei had no money to pay for the camera, she ends up "volunteered" to become Naru's assistant, and that's when her life takes a turn for the weird.
Mei is a very good example of an excellent lead in a horror anime. She’s only sixteen and she realizes very early on that having psychic powers would absolutely suck before she is proven right when her own powers appear. She’s not forced to stay with Naru, as once she gets her first paycheck she pays for the camera, but instead stays because she wants to help. Mei has common sense that sometimes Naru lacks, and that makes her an amazing lead in a horror story, as that means she is quite interested in surviving, rather than in poking dead stuff with a stick.
9. Yuuko Kanoe from Tasogare Otome x Amnesia (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2012 – June 2012
Yuuko Kanne has some problems. First, she’s dead and she doesn’t remember how she got that way. Second, she hasn’t been able to talk to anyone alive for decades, so the stories about the “Ghost of the Old School” have evolved into many different tales that may or may not be based on her death. Third, and most importantly, there is another ghost that haunts her. So when Teiichi Niiiya, a first-year student, suddenly can actually see and hear her, Yuuko jumps at the chance to ask for his help so that she can finally rest in peace. However, the events behind her death may not be pleasant to relive for everyone who is still alive.
Being a ghost, Yuuko is a very interesting lead character because she is both the person that is investigating the mystery and the mystery herself. She is the lead in every sense of the word, not just the main character, but the one who literally leads the story forward. And she is a delight to follow because she’s such an optimistic woman, despite the fact that she’s dead. Added to that every discovery they make about her death makes it clearer that her death wasn't’ an easy one so her story is an intriguing mystery to follow.
8. Ai Enma from Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2005 – April 2006
Ai Enma died full of hate against the town that killed her and her parents. She got revenge after death, but she was also punished for breaking the rules of the afterlife. For her crimes, she has become the Hell Girl, tasked with granting revenge to those who manage to summon her through a website for a cost: their eternal soul, which she will also ferry to the underworld at the time of their death. To those who reach her, she seems like a beautiful black haired girl without emotions. To those who work with her, she's a kind leader who will grant those who call her the choice to repent and not engage in vengeance.
Lead characters in horror anthology series are a bit different from other protagonists. They are there, of course, but for many episodes, their appearances are small, almost incidental, and because of this, it's hard to fully understand them in the beginning. That's the case with Ai Enma. However, she is not just the narrator of the story. She has her own arc that mirrors the lives of her new victims. This is why Enma is so intriguing, because she creates a puzzle that we all love to try to solve.
7. Saeko Busujima from High School of the Dead
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2010 – September 2010
When the living dead interrupt your school day, the natural reaction would be to panic and possibly die. But that's not Saeko Busujima's reaction. As class representative and the Kendo Club's president, she takes a different route: Grab her sword and kill as many of the infected as she can even if that means taking out some of her classmates before they even turn. This helps her to survive long enough to join other survivors led by Takashi Komuro and quickly become his trusted ally.
Saeko is an incredibly strong action survivor. When she’s first introduced, she seems a bit uncaring, killing one student who got bitten trying to save nurse Shizuka. But paying attention to that scene, it’s easy to see that it was a mercy kill. Saeko had seen enough people bitten already because unlike others who ran in panic, she stayed to fight. And she honored those who did the same. It’s impossible not to love her, nor to wish for her to survive through the whole ordeal.
6. Mima Kirigoe from Perfect Blue
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: February 1998
Mima Kirigoe was enjoying moderate success as part of an idol unit but she decided to leave it all behind in order to pursue a career as a serious actress despite the complaints of her fans and manager. With some effort, she manages to land a small role in a murder mystery, which would completely destroy her image as a cute, naïve girl as it includes a rape scene. However, the role is far more immersive than she thought and, soon, she is faced with the possibility that she has a split personality that wants to replace her main one to become a sweet idol singer again.
Perfect Blue is a very complex movie that even after 20 years of its release is still considered one of horror anime’s masterpieces. Mima’s downward spiral into paranoia as she has to deal with a real stalker and the possibility that she is the one who is live blogging every second of her life is perfectly represented in the script. You will feel Mima’s fear, and that makes her one of the most remarkable leads in modern horror anime.
5. Mei Misaki from Another
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2012 – March 2012
When Kouichi Sakikabara met Mai Misaki, at first he thought he was talking with a ghost. After all, they met in the elevator of the hospital where he was staying, and she was talking about death and her “other self”. Later, when he sees her at his school, he’s even more convinced that Mei is otherworldly because none of their classmates or their teachers even acknowledge that she exists. It took a long time for him to realize that she was alive and that the reason why she was being ignored hid a deadly secret.
Although Mei is not a ghost, she is the one character in the story with the most knowledge of the mystery that surrounds the town where they live in. But that is not what makes her interesting, or one of the most intriguing female characters in modern horror. She is memorable because of her incredible strength of character as she volunteered to be completely ignored and, unlike previous sacrifices, Mei was holding up the weight of her duty perfectly.
4. Tamaki Suzuhara from Gift ±
- Episodes: 20
- Aired: September 2018
When we first meet Takami Suzuhara, she's saving a classmate's life by throwing her into a tree when the other girl tried to kill herself. Because at first glance it seemed as if Takami had actually let go of her classmate rather than save her, she has to explain her actions to her teacher, and she does so with no emotions. She is logical and to the point: she couldn't carry the suicidal girl over the railing, and no one was close enough to help so she did the only thing she could. As to why she did it? She thinks every life is a sacred gift that can't be just thrown away. Which makes it more ironic when we find out that she's also a merciless killer who harvests organs for clandestine transplants.
Tamaki is a curious character with a contrasting personality. At school, she seems sometimes uncaring but pays attention to the strangest things. But when she's working to get the organs that her clients require, Takami becomes full of life, smiling as she handles the parts of those who fall under her knife. She even thanks them while alive because she believes it's only proper as they will help someone else to live. It's very hard to determine if Tamaki is evil, as her victims can be criminals. But it's because her moral compass is so gray that she fascinates us.
3. Yuki Takeya from Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015– September 2015
Yuki Takeya is so optimistic that at times one could easily believe that she sees the world through pink-tinted glasses. And she does, because while she sees her school as a wonderful place where all her friends are allowed to stay instead of going back home and the School Live Club has different adventures all over campus, the truth is that she and her friends are the lone survivors of a zombie apocalypse. But Yuki simply doesn’t see that: her mind broke at some point after the zombies started appearing. For her, life has become an eternal wonderful school day.
Usually, a character who just doesn't get that she's in danger can get pretty annoying in a horror story. But Yuki manages to be endearing because she is not a load: she is not as capable as her friends when it comes to combat, and her lack of awareness of the danger can put the rest of the club in danger, but at the same time, her optimism and cheerfulness is why the girls have managed to survive for so long. And as the series advances and there are hints that she may be faking her hallucinations in order to cheer up her friends, she becomes even more interesting.
2. Emma from Yaukosoku no Neverland (The Promised Neverland)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2019 – March 2019
For ten years, Emma lived happily at a secret orphanage with her 38 siblings under the care of "Mom". While she and her siblings had to take tests every day, most of the time they were free to play in the forest around the orphanage, as long as they didn't cross a fence in the middle of it since there were unknown dangers pass that point. But that happiness ends the day she and Norman, one of her best friends, discover that the orphanage is, in fact, a farm where they are the cattle: human children raised to be eaten by demons before they turn eleven. Now that she knows the secret, Emma is determined to make sure all her siblings escape together before the next harvest comes.
Emma is an amazing lead character because she mixes an unending optimism— the idea that she can escape with all her brothers and sisters without having to make any sacrifices on the way—with determination and smarts. She is only ten, but she has been raised all her life to be smart and cunning because the demons want the best brains to eat. This is her biggest advantage and even when she’s not the smartest at the orphanage, she still manages to outthink even her smarter brothers who are sure that her ideal world where children are no longer cattle is just a dream.
1. Satou Matsuzaka from Happy Sugar Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2018 - September 2018
Satou is a cute girl who will do anything for love. When she met the defenseless Shio, she fell in love with the girl and decided that from then on, she'd do everything to make sure she and Shio would have a perfect life together. Unfortunately for everyone around them, Satou has been raised by an unstable aunt, and her idea of love is quite twisted, so it involves kidnapping Shio, not letting the girl out of their apartment, and killing everyone who threatens to take her “happiness” away. She doesn't care if it's her friends or even her family, she will do anything to keep Shio at her side. And she is the hero of the story because she's not the bigger monster out there.
Satou is a fascinating lead character for three reasons: First is that her morality is completely skewed. She knows what society thinks is wrong, but she cares little for that. Second, as we mentioned before, she is not the worst person around Shio. Even Shio’s brother, who is trying to rescue her, comes out worse than Satou as he also will kill anyone who won’t give him information about his sister. And finally, in the end, as twisted as it sounds, the whole "doing it for Shio's love" is true. The horror of Happy Sugar Life comes mostly from that realization, and that is why Satou is the best female lead in horror anime.
We get more and more great horror anime series every year, and so, we have more main characters to love and villains to hate. But more importantly, because the genre keeps evolving, the new Final Girls are no longer following the same mold.
So we want to know, which one is your favorite lead girl in horror anime? Is she on our list, or did we miss her? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below!