Top 10 Female Leads in Psychological Anime

Anime with complex psychological themes are difficult to come by, but once you find one, you’re pretty much guaranteed a wild ride from start to finish. We love Neon Genesis Evangelion and Paranoia Agent, but today we want to showcase some of our favorite anime that star female protagonists. Whether they’re just normal girls thrown into extraordinary circumstances or they’ve been part of this crazy world since the very beginning, these ladies are our guides through the mind-bending stories they inhabit. Let’s get to know them better!

10. Yuki Takeya from Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Air Date: July 2015 – September 2015

Yuki thinks she’s living in a moe slice-of-life school anime, but her happiness is but a delusion created by her subconscious to protect her fragile mind from the horrific reality of the zombie apocalypse that has taken over her precious school. Her stable-minded friends try to indulge her to keep up their own spirits, but sometimes the façade cracks and Yuki has to face the true danger that she’s hidden from herself.

Her delusion is a great gimmick for the show, but it serves another purpose as well. Yuki isn’t an idiot—she just wants to believe that her classmates haven’t completely devolved into mindless monsters. Compared to her jaded friends, she holds onto a fleeting hope that things may not be as bad as they seem. Perhaps this positive attitude can actually make a real difference in the world...

9. Yumeko Jabami from Kakegurui (Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Air Date: July 2017 – September 2017

Kakegurui is a psychological anime in the sense that just about every character is psychotic about gambling. It’s a bit like the foodgasms from Shokugeki no Souma, but the gushing excitement is over a brilliant cheating strategy or a high stakes bluff rather than a perfectly spiced curry. And Yumeko, the newest student at a high school for rich gamblers, is the most devious and intense player of them all.

She enjoys unraveling her opponent’s strategy one thread at a time, slowly watching their composure fall apart as their underhanded tactics are exposed. She even games the caste system of the school so she can challenge the elites on the student council and beat them at their own game, too. But none of this is for money or even necessarily for bragging rights—Yumeko is just so addicted to the high of winning that she’ll do absolutely anything to achieve it.

8. Kaguya Shinomiya from Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen (Kaguya-sama: Love is War)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Air Date: January 2019 – March 2019

It seems straightforward enough: Kaguya and Miyuki know that they love each other, so they should just confess and start dating already. But since these two high-ranking student council members are both hardcore tsunderes, there’s no way that they’d ever admit defeat by simply confessing. And so begins the endless battle between the two most competitive lovebirds in anime to see who can make the other say “I love you” first!

Kaguya is a perfect mix of adorable high school girl and ingenious emotional manipulator, equally matching wits with Miyuki at the simple romantic gestures that they turn into heart-pounding mental chess matches (like walking home together in the rain under one umbrella). It’s just endlessly entertaining to watch!

7. Lucy from Elfen Lied

  • Episodes: 13
  • Air Date: July 2004 – October 2004

Extreme trauma can transform even the most agreeable person into a complete monster, and that’s no more evident than in the character of Lucy from Elfen Lied. Her strange psychic powers land her in a government experimentation facility, where immoral scientists torture her so horrifically that she breaks out and kills everyone in sight. But in the process of escaping, she hurts her head and develops a childish split personality named Nyu who befriends two locals who take her in without knowing her past.

Lucy hates humans because of how badly they’ve treated her, but her experience as the amnesiac Nyu shows her that humans can also be kind when they don’t know who she is. Her struggle between personalities and whose side she should be on is at the very core of this series, and it’s fascinating to see how she develops over time.

6. Madoka Kaname from Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Air Date: January 2011 – April 2011

Madoka never asked to be wrapped up in this whole magical girl nonsense, but she perseveres anyway for the sake of her friends who are slowly deteriorating from the mental and emotional strain of their new responsibilities. She has a happy family and no wish that she would sacrifice her soul to obtain, so she tries to help Sayaka and the others stay sane from the sidelines.

Unfortunately, positive thoughts won’t save their lives, so she goes one step further and sacrifices her own happiness to end the cycle of suffering. It’s not an unrealistic thing for her to do, despite the audacity of it all, because the writing has been so strong up to this point. Madoka is a normal girl, but one who has the courage to step up when she absolutely has to.

5. Lain Iwakura from Serial Experiments Lain

  • Episodes: 13
  • Air Date: July 1998 – September 1998

It’s difficult to pin down anything concrete from the abstract, non-chronological web of intrigue that is Serial Experiments Lain, but what’s clear is that Lain herself is more than just an ordinary shy schoolgirl. Through her interactions with The Wired and her various split personalities, she becomes akin to a god who can control what happens both in the virtual world and what she perceives as the real world.

Like Lucy from Elfen Lied, she’s torn between her various selves and can’t tell which one is the real Lain. And even though this series predates the modern social media-fueled internet, Lain’s internal conflict reminds us of how our online personas can be so vastly removed from who we are in real life that they may as well be different people. For an anime that’s over 20 years old, it’s still surprisingly relevant today.

4. Akane Tsunemori from Psycho-Pass

  • Episodes: 22
  • Air Date: October 2012 – March 2013

Akane is an honest young woman who joints the Inspectors with the goal of bringing peace to the city, but she’s faced with a corrupt system that forces her to target and occasionally kill people who haven’t actually broken the law yet. She wants to fight back against the Sibyl system, which judges people based on their likelihood to commit a crime but acknowledges that the public is generally safer when crimes aren’t allowed to happen in the first place.

The dystopian future that Akane lives in isn’t real, but the feeling of being trapped in an immoral society with no ability to change it certainly is. She tries to stick to her idealistic morals while still doing her job, but using the Dominator never becomes as natural to her as it seems to be for the other police officers. Is peace just an illusion in this world?

3. Emma from Yakusoku no Neverland (The Promised Neverland)

  • Episodes: 12
  • Air Date: January 2019 – March 2019

If Kaguya-sama: Love is War is a chess match, then The Promised Neverland is 5D space chess played with a VR headset and a time machine. The level of deception and meticulous planning from a group of 11-year-olds is a little ridiculous, but when everything comes together like a perfectly arranged row of dominos and topples over in sequence, it’s beautiful to behold. And the ringleader of the group is the indomitable Emma, sweet sister to the other orphans and part-time genius tactician.

Norman and Ray are powerhouses as well, but Emma stands out for her steadfast commitment to rescuing all of the orphans instead of just the ones who can fend for themselves. It’s easy enough to form a plan that allows a few strong kids to escape, but Emma keeps her two co-conspirators in line by reminding them that everyone deserves to live. But can she really make that dream come true?

2. Mima Kirigoe from Perfect Blue

  • Episodes: 1
  • Air Date: February 1998

The life of a celebrity seems glamorous and perfect from the outside, but Mima understands the true horror of being in the public eye. Her story is a brutal takedown of the Japanese idol industry, which controls its celebrities with such a vice grip that women can’t even date without it becoming a scandal (because idols “belong to everybody”), but viewers from any culture can feel Mima’s crushing dread when a stalker and eventually even her own manager try to rip her image away from her and claim it as their own. No matter who you are, the idea that somebody could take away your humanity out of sheer obsession is terrifying, and seeing that through the eyes of a relatable young woman makes it hit even harder.

1. Rika Furude from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai (When They Cry Kai)

  • Episodes: 24
  • Air Date: July 2007 – December 2007

In the first season of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Rika was just a supporting character. She spoke in a child-like manner and was largely absent from several storylines, but we saw glimpses of something more mature within her from time to time. So when she comes back as the main character of season 2, we find out what she was really doing behind the scenes.

Rika is stuck in a seemingly endless time loop of a single summer in 1983 and has to find a way out of the gruesome chain of murders that always results from the strange phenomenon known as Hinamizawa syndrome. She’s our pick for the best female lead in a psychological anime because she’s someone you don’t really give much thought to in the first season, but she turns out to be the most interesting character of them all once we see her side of events. All she wants to do is save her friends, but how long will she have to be trapped within one torturous month to do it? Only time will tell.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of our list? Did we leave out any of your favorite female leads from psychological anime? Do you have some new shows to put on your “plan to watch” list? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!

Mahou-Shoujo-Madoka-Magica-wallpaper Top 10 Female Leads in Psychological Anime


Author: Mary Lee Sauder

After the hard-hitting East Coast lifestyle hit me a bit too hard, I started pursuing my passion as a writer in my cozy home state of Ohio. Aside from that, I spend my time cooking, cosplaying, collecting anime merch, and being an improv comedy actor. I also love sneaking alliterations and stupid puns into my writing, so be on the lookout for them! 😉

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