In the idol sub-genre of music, explores and shares a very fascinating aspect of modern Japanese pop culture. It dates back to the eighties with The Onyanko Club, which was created by Yasuhi Akitmoto, who is also the creator of one of Japan’s present hottest acts, AKB48 and its numerous sister groups across the nation and selected parts of Asia. Between then and now, Japan has been over saturated with idols whether they be singular, a duo, a trio, or a group with 48 members. Considering how they’re a large part of Japanese society, it’s only natural that they find a way into the world of anime, which further glorifies this presentable magical world.
Compared to some of your standard musicians, idols in Japan are meant to be larger than life, and can be used to inspire others in working hard and achieving their dreams, or going through a national crisis. However, the world of being an idol does have its downfalls such as the performers are discouraged from having any kind of relationships as to maintain a pure image that they are trying to market. Either way, lots of young ladies wish to become an idol, sing with an abundance of energy, wear crazy clothes, and maybe appear on TV shows and movies. So, who are some female leads in the world of idol anime that demonstrate the ups (and downs) of this crazy world? Read our top 10 to find out!
10. Freyja Wion from Macross Delta
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: April 3, 2016 – September 25, 2016
Ok, we can admit that our first selection is rather unorthodox with Macross being a mix of mech, space opera, and idol anime because in the world of Macross, music is power! In this edition to this groundbreaking franchise, we have Freyja, the newest member of the UN Spacy’s military idol unit, Walkure (a modern German way of saying Valkyrie, based on the angel warriors from Norse mythology, and the names of the mechs used in Macross). Like a majority of real life idols and the rest of the characters on this list, Freyja comes from the most humble of beginnings. Compared to her predecessors, Freyja comes from the opposite side of the conflict since she’s from the planet Windermere, who the forces of the UN Space Force are presently fighting against.
What makes her a worthy edition is beyond her natural talents. She is someone who is willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING to pursue her dreams, even if it means leaving her home behind. She did it to find herself and she puts herself in harm’s way just to make her dreams come true, and there’s nothing more admirable than that. Thanks to her presence, regardless of her intentions, she is used as a symbol of peace and bringing people together, and even in the tightest of situations, she can muster the strength to pull through and get the job done. In addition, she finds the time to pursue a romantic relationship with Hayate (thankfully the laws of reality don’t apply in anime), and thanks to their love, they were able to overcome.
9. Mitsuki Kouyama from Full Moon wo Sagashite (Search for the Full Moon)
- Episodes: 52
- Air Dates: April 6, 202 – March 29, 2003
12-year-old Mitsuki has a dream of becoming an idol, but the bad news is, she has sarcoma, or a tumor in her throat. The good news is, it’s treatable. But if she goes through with it, it could affect her ability to sing. Not only is she inflicted with a disease, her maternal grandmother is uncompromisingly opposed to her dreams. Later, she is visited by two Shinigami who both say she has one year left to live if she doesn’t go through with the surgery. Thanks to Takuto, one of the Shinigami she encounters, he helps her become Full Moon, an idol singer.
Despite the magical nature of her rise to stardom, it does not mean she has to face the realities of success and what it means to be an idol. She has to deal with crazy fans, jealous competition, and the pressures of maintaining that success while combating the fact she’s going to die within a year, and to top it all off, wants to see her best friend who is overseas. Through Mitsuki, we can get an idea of what it means to not be an idol or what it means to make sacrifices, but what happens when those sacrifices don’t mean what they’re supposed to represent. Do you keep going? Do you give up? Or do you find a new meaning to what you put your heart and soul into? Through Mitsuki’s journey, we can get a perfect answer to all those questions.
8. Naru Ayase from Pretty Rhythm: Rainbow Live
- Episodes: 51
- Air Dates: April 6, 2013 – Match 29, 2014
Putting aside the fact that Naru’s still an up and coming idol, she’s still your regular teenager going through all the motions, but is expressed in an unusual way appropriate for the world of anime. She can see the “colors of the music,” as that’s how they come visually to her. On the other hand, she’s subjected to the downsides of them as she has her emotional moments, which nullify her abilities. On the outside, it may seem annoying, but through Naru’s experience, audiences can get a symbolic journey of what it’s like to be a young lady at not just that stage of her development, but also trying to be an idol and run her own business.
Her performances have a genuine sense of charm both for the world of anime and the world of idols. Beyond her talent, she has a good heart and tries to be friends with people, even those who come across as suspicious. It is thanks to her good nature that she can pursue other endeavors that allow her to interact with regular people such as the Prism Store, a sweets shop she manages. She pushes herself as she should, and sometimes, that can get the best of her and that can happen to anyone. This particular sense of relatability is something audiences of all ages can admire.
7. Haruka Nanami from Uta no Prince-Sama Maji Love 1000%
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: July 3, 2011 – September 24, 2011
In comparison to the majority of the characters we’re listing, Haruka represents a different side of the idol equation. As opposed to being a performer, her contributions come in the form of being a composer for a boy idol group. Despite her role, her only training was by ear through her grandmother and can’t read sheet music (apparently neither could Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Slash, Eddie Van Halen or Jimmie Hendrix), so she takes it with a lot of caution. Since she’s not the performer, she can be shy but she does what she can to stay positive.
Thanks to her hard work and dedication, she does gain the admiration of the idol group she composes for not just from a romantic point of view but from a viewpoint that they appreciate her contributions and they don’t want her hard work to go to waste. The boys truly care for her and they put all their heart and soul into Haruka’s work. Sometimes, it’s nice to see an idol anime where such young ladies can work behind the scenes and be something akin to the boss.
6. Aoi Kiriya from Aikatsu!
- Episodes: 178
- Air Dates: October 8, 2012 – March 31, 2016
What if you could go to school to become an idol (well, there is a school in Okinawa where that is possible, but that’s another topic for another time)? In the world of Aikatsu!, that’s what the Starlight Academy is for, and who better to be its star student than Aoi? Aoi is the ultimate idol otaku, and she has completed step one into making her dreams come true. Despite her obsession, she puts her academics first. As opposed to enjoying her hobby until the last minute, she takes care of her other priorities first so she can make time to learn more about the entertainment world. Thanks to her prior dedication, she goes through the training with no issue.
Aoi is a great character because not only does she apply herself, she goes the extra mile to do her research. She’s always prepared for everything that comes her way, but if there is one thing that tears her apart, it is the notion that she won’t have her true friends with her as she progresses.
5. Laala Manaka from PriPara (Prism Paradise)
- Episodes: 140
- Air Dates: July 5, 2014 – March 28, 2017
While we have covered Pretty Rhythm, it is actually a spin-off of PriPara, and its respective main lead is Laala Manaka, who mixes traditional Shoujo with idol anime. Though her name stands out compared to some of our other listings, she’s named after the sixth note of the Solfege scale. Like many young ladies her age, Laala is appropriately spunky and wants to find the joy with her life. Some say she needs to cut back on the sugar, or maybe she’s naturally that way (or maybe she could use some Ritalin). However, her charisma and energy make her the perfect candidate to be a leading idol. What makes her rather unique is that even as she grows older, her idol form doesn’t. If anything, it could be meant to symbolize how real life idol audiences associate a certain idol at a certain age, and can’t imagine her any older (or younger). A lot of idols can be as young as latter half elementary, which is what Laala represents as she’s the youngest member.
4. Nagisa Motomiya from AKB0048
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: April 29, 2012 – July 22, 2012
Nagisa Motomiya assumes the stage name of Atsuko Maeda, who is probably one of the most famous members of AKB48 throughout its 10-year lifespan. Putting aside her pink hair, Nagisa is designed in a manner to resemble her real-life counterpart. Despite her success in becoming a member of the anime version to Japan’s hottest idol group, she’s more grounded in the world of typical anime girls as she lacks confidence, but she understands the opportunity she has and wants to become a better person. She’s not just a talker, she truly is a do-er. Not only is she trying to become a better person for herself, she wants to be a good friend and role model to those around her. She’s the type to put others first.
However, she’s also someone who knows what true sacrifice is because her father is about as anti-fun as you can get. So she gives him the proverbial middle finger and goes with her gut. When Nagisa makes a decision, she goes through with it and will never leave anybody in the dust. Not only does she know what it means to succeed, she knows what to do with that success, which is why she’s a great role model for audiences.
3. Sakura Minamoto from Zombieland Saga
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: October 4, 2018 – December 20, 2018
Out of all the characters and series’ we’re listing here, everyone has to admit that this is probably the weirdest way to express the concept of idols, and that’s through having a Zombie group. 10 years prior, Sakura was hit by a truck and upon her resurrection (with no memories of her past), she is recruited into Franchouchou, an idol group consisting of fellow zombies (who must hide their identities) to save Saga Prefecture while keeping their true forms a secret. Initially, she freaks out about her predicament as anyone would. However, she finds a way to embrace her new role and applies herself.
In the end, she was still somebody before her accident and when she discovers that, it wasn’t easy for her to take. Her reactions have a sense of realism to it, and we’re positive that if any of us were in her shoes, we’d all react the same way. Yes, everybody has goals and want to obtain something. As the saying goes, we can’t always get what we want, but when we do, there are instances that makes us re-evaluate what we wanted and it gives us the opportunity to appreciate what we have now, and Sakura’s journey is a great way to get an idea of that.
2. Iori Minase from The iDOLM@STER
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: July 8, 2011 – December 23, 2011
If there’s any anime that paved the way for modern idol anime, it certainly has to be iDOLM@STER, based on the hit game that made the Japanese consider the XBox console the closest thing to 15-minutes of fame over there. Since then, it has been ported to Sony consoles and it was inevitable that it would get its own anime. Considering the nature of real life idol groups like AKB48, anime such as these require an ensemble cast. We have to admit choosing a character from this anime was next to impossible, so we went with Iori, the daughter of one of the big wigs.
She’s a good representation on how competitive the world of being an idol is in both an external and internal definition. The root of her competitive spirit comes from having two older brothers. As the daughter, she represents the spoiled rich brat who likes to brag. In the end, she’s the tsundere type due to her quick temper. Putting that aside, she’s very humble with her fans and is very afraid to show her sweet side because it makes her feel embarrassed. Putting aside her family’s influence, she is talented in her own right and is willing to put in the work.
1. Chika Takami from Love Live! Sunshine!!
- Episodes: 13
- Air Dates: July 2, 2016 – September 24, 2016
If any of you reside in Japan or into Japanese sociology, then you likely hear that schools throughout Japan (most especially in the countryside) are rapidly closing due to declining enrollment as a result of the low birth rate. One such school is Uranohoshi Girl’s Academy in Shizuoka prefecture, just two prefectures south of Tokyo. Chika was just an ordinary school girl from that school. After finding inspiration at a concert in Tokyo, she hopes to launch her own school idol group in order to promote enrollment. Like her respective predecessors, she does run into some obstacles, but her nevertheless, she persisted. Eventually, she was able to establish Aquors, her school’s idol group.
She does have the talent to sing and a well-developed sense of charism, but she also works hard on working on the songs and being the leader. She faces not just external obstacles, but internal ones as well. As she recruits the appropriate members, she comes to appreciate them for their individuality, and allows them to be themselves in conjunction to their act. Her positivity, open-mind, and open-heart and the fact that she allows people to be themselves are the ultimate qualities of what everyone regardless of age and/or background should have, and that’s why we put her at number one.
Through our listings, we can see the world of idols as an anime from many perspectives. Yes, it naturally glorifies it because that’s what the audience want to see. On the other hand, you also see that the characters are just ordinary girls from all kinds of backgrounds. Some come from humble beginnings, some come from different planets, and there are those that come back from the dead. Despite how strange a good number of these titles can get, they’re a good representation on what becoming an idol is like, and they impact they can have. Through Full Moon wo Sagashite, we learn that it’s not easy being at the top. From the perspective of Zombieland Saga, you can see how idols can be used to promote a place, or a school like in Love Live. Most of the time, they’re pre-teen and teenage girls, a way to promote purity, innocence, and make audiences feel young and energetic, but in the end, they get the job done both in reality and in anime.