20 Best Anime With A Female Lead MCThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
Quite a few female characters in anime are unfortunately reduced to ecchi fanservice tropes and subservient harem members.
But just as many anime are capable of providing strong females characters, engaging role models with good writing.
A great female main character is beloved for their sex-positive attitude, drive to accomplish something great, relatability, awesomeness, or even a combo of all of this!
Well we’ve selected & ranked some of the best anime that feature developed female MCs (and one nonbinary) in the spotlight.
20. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
Here’s the gist: Panty and Stocking have been disqualified from heaven for unbecoming behavior and are put under the liege of the priest, Garterbelt.
They’re given the ability to ascend back to heaven – but it’s taking a while, as the Anarchy Sisters are particularly hedonistic.
Panty is a sex-fueled angel, driven by lust and love. Whereas her sister, Stocking, prioritizes all things tasty and sweet.
Definitely the most risqué on this list, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt has developed a cult following for its immature humor, Powerpuff girls-esque art style, and top tier Trigger animation.
19. Humanity Has Declined
This tragically overlooked fairy tale dark comedy needs more people gushing over it.
From the cutesy, deceiving art style to its stellar dialogue and witty plot points, Humanity Has Declined crafts a completely unique shape for itself in the anime community.
Our unnamed main character (referred to as Watashi) is designated the position of negotiation between fariykind and mankind. And what follows is a hilarious & disturbing series of stories across a colorful yet unusual world.
Watashi is enigmatic, funny, and always determined to help the fairies and people out in her travels.
Philosophical without being condescending, and always able to balance darkness and wholesomeness, Humanity Has Declined deserves your attention.
18. Madoka Magica
One day, Madoka Kaname and her best friend Sayaka are given the opportunity of a lifetime: they can have any wish granted, but in return they must become magical girls sworn to protect the world from ‘witches.’
The new transfer student “Homura Akemi” hates this, and tries to convince them to refuse – for she is a magical girl herself, and she knows the gig isn’t as good as it seems.
Hope and despair rattle the foundations of Madoka’s life, as it’s thrown upside down in a way she never expected.
Gen Urobuchi’s deconstruction of the mahou shoujo genre is rife with compelling female characters, all with totally different personalities and ambitions.
Be warned, however, that the cute aesthetic does not entirely match the tone of the narrative…
17. Aggressive Retsuko
Aggretsuko follows a red panda called Retsuko working in an office environment.
Sexual harassment, gossiping coworkers, sleezy bosses, and deindividuation follow her from day to day. So to let off steam, she screams death metal in a karaoke club. A pastime we can all relate to, I’m sure.
This is her own private corner of the world. And we get to see her slowly let people into it.
Aggretsuko is comfortable with tackling issues that most anime confront. A progressive anime about the woes and pains of living in a capitalist world.
The monotony and aimlessness, and perceivable unimportance of her job, is relatable to so many of us out there, making Retsuko an immediately endearing character.
Short, cutely animated, and funny for sure. Definitely check this one out.
Aoi Miyamori and her four best friends have dreamed of working in the animation industry since they were in high school.
Aoi and Ema manage to secure promising positions at Musashino Animation, but the other three aren’t having as much luck, stuck in jobs where their ambitions are capped.
Shirobako details the struggles of working in the anime industry, the adversities that come with that dream, and the determination required to collaborate & communicate successfully to overcome hurdles.
Featuring some important members of the industry, Shirobako never shies away from the trauma and tribulations to come with such a hectic work environment.
But it’s the wholesome cast of female main characters that make Shirobako such a joy, as they’re all relatable and driven to achieve their dreams.
15. Spice and Wolf
Holo the Wisewolf is a spiritual deity worshiped for blessing the annual harvest.
However, over time the town of Pasloe have become increasingly non-reliant on her due to industrial developments.
When she meets the travelling merchant Kraft Lawrence, she joins in her countryside travel as they head north to her birthplace.
Along the way they create an unshakable bond and overcome all obstacles – economic and physical – that stand in their path.
Holo is witty, wise, cunning, and noble.
She’s graceful yet fearful, capable of turning into a great wolf without notice.
Seductive and funny, yet not lacking agency, Holo quickly became one of my favorite female anime personalities.
14. Whisper of the Heart
Shizuku Tsukishima is a 14-year old poet and aspiring writer who ends up meeting a boy named Seiji Amasawa.
He has the dream to create violins abroad and intends to fall under the tutelage of a master of the craft.
This is much to the dismay of Shizuku, who feels as though she’s going nowhere.
Afraid of falling behind, and determined to make something of herself, Shizuku resolves to finish a first draft of her novel alongside her studies.
Whisper of the Heart is a simple story told well with a soft romantic undertone. It’s a story of dreams, goals, and ambitions.
The relatable Shizuku embodies the aspiring creative, and subsequently becomes a source of inspiration for any similar watcher.
13. Ghost in the Shell
I hope every anime fan could see this one coming!
Major Motoko Kusanagi is a female, cybernetically enhanced as a child, and has regularly switched artificial bodies.
As such, her design is in constant fluctuation – but this dissonance between body and soul is a main motif of the series (hint: it’s in the name).
Motoko is constantly developing as a personality striving to understand herself in a world where the line between artificial & real is blurred.
Regardless of her iteration or the narrative she appears in, Motoko is always written proficiently.
She’s a mysterious character difficult to understand – even to herself.
12. Spirited Away
In the beginning of this incredible film, Chihiro Ogino is a bit of a bratty 10-year-old, unappreciative of her parents and upset that they’re moving to a new house in a new town.
On the way they discover an abandoned amusement park and decide to check it out – much to Chihiro’s chagrin.
But soon, as nighttime approaches, weird spectral apparitions appear. And her parents devolve into grotesque pigs.
Chihiro is now trapped in the spirit world, a place where begging demons, great origami-based dragons, and wicked witches are commonplace.
Spirited Away is a historically important film for the medium, and I’m so glad the protagonist is so realistic.
Capable of great feats of courage for such a young girl striving to find her parents in a world she thought she hated, Chihiro is one of the best female-child main characters to come out of anime.
Akane Tsunemori is excited for her first day as a criminal justice inspector.
She’s tasked with investigating criminal activity and reducing the offender to a (usually) bloody mess.
The world is run by the Sibyl System, an algorithm designed to detect latent malefactor capacity to erase the societal threat before it grows.
However, Tsunemori soon comes to realize that the system is flawed in its nature and decides to dig deeper into its machinations.
She’s thorough, incredibly smart, and capable of keeping cool even under moral crisis.
She comes with the brains to climb both the bureaucratic and physical ladder.
Akane is driven to uncovering corruption and bringing it to justice, no matter the source.
10. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
A well-meaning bamboo cutter, Okina, discovers a miniscule baby inside of a shoot.
He rushes home to show his wife, and the two vow to raise the (unknown to them) little princess themselves.
Though she grows up happy playing with her friends in the forest, Okina feels guilty at the prospect of not providing more for the miracle child.
This changes when he is blessed with a gargantuan fortune, elevating her into high society. Though Kaguya is unhappy about this – and wishes for the simpler times of her childhood.
This is one of Studio Ghibli’s most esoteric offerings, with a simple and rough art style that enhances the charming tale.
It’s based on a 10th-century Japanese folk tale, sprinkled with aspects of Buddhism and tragedy.
Though ultimately morose, Kaguya tells a touching and simple story that nails its execution.
9. Land of the Lustrous
The crystalline Gems are humanoid defenders of a mysterious world.
Though technically genderless, our protagonist Phos does have a somewhat feminine aesthetic. So we’ll include them as they deserve to be here.
Phos is brilliantly written: insecure and frail, yet yearning to be instrumental in their species’ ongoing conflict with the alien Lunarians, here to harvest their bodies for its beauty.
Studio Orange has produced a unique, aesthetically sublime philosophical nosedive into existentialism and purpose.
Phos is an endearing protagonist to follow, striving for something more in a confusing world where identity is brittle.
Absolutely gorgeous – season two, please?
Chihaya’s sister, an up-and-coming professional model, has always overshadowed her.
Having no talents outside of P.E. and running, she’s unsure of herself and what she wants to be.
This changes when she meets Arata, a quiet boy with an unquestionable ability at the game of Karuta (a dying mentally extensive memorization game passed on Japanese poetry).
She promises herself to become the Queen of Karuta someday, as its exclusivity to Japan means that to be the best player, is to be the best in the world.
Chihayafuru follows her struggles to achieve this goal. Including her countless losses and failures along the way.
Driven by some of the best character writing in anime, and a tear-jerking central relationship dynamic that really encourages you to click over to the next episode, Chihayafuru is one of the greatest josei ever made.
7. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Studio Science Saru – founded by the brilliant Masaaki Yuasa – really hit it out of the park with this year’s Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
This whimsically enthralling anime depicts the passion of art.
Midori Asakusa’s life changed forever the day she saw her first anime, dedicating herself to the art with enthusiasm and adoration.
When she meets the clever Sayaka Kanamori, and the brilliant animator Tsubame Mizusaki, the three decide to create a school club dedicated to animation.
What follows is a love letter to the industry.
It’s filled with lovable characters and jaw-dropping animation techniques. All three of our protagonists are driven girls unashamed of their unwavering passion for a male-dominated industry, and it’s simply wonderful.
6. Kill la Kill
Ryuuko Matoi must overcome all shame, fear, and hurdles standing between her and her objective in this (mostly) sex-positive anime that deconstructs the ecchi genre to make it something wholly unique.
After her father dies, she vows to avenge him.
Equipped only with her scissor blade and attitude – and eventually an article of sentient clothing capable of strengthening her – she battles through hundreds of enemies to discover the reason and put an end to the murderer.
What she does not realize is how much deeper the conspiracy runs.
Ryuuko is one of my favorite characters, thanks to her attitude and character design.
Determination and resolve are key to her not losing her way, in a gorgeous Trigger-animated story with ever-escalating and bizarre scenarios.
Two girls – each named Nana – have their lives intertwined one day when they happen to meet on the same train.
Nana Komatsu is an idealistic, naive woman overly concerned with romance and true love, and driven by her dream of becoming a stronger person.
Nana Osaki is the vocalist of a popular punk rock bands. She’s haunted and traumatized by a previous love and determined to focus on her career.
They end up sharing an apartment together, their lives collide, and heartbreak ensues.
One of the greatest josei / shoujo anime out there.
Melodramatically touching on topics of pregnancy and drug abuse (among many other subjects), Nana does not shy away from the reality of the world.
Our main characters are complex, heartbreaking, and lovable.
4. The Garden of Sinners
Shiki Ryougi prowls the street at night.
She’s out searching for supernatural oddities with her Mystical Eyes of Perception.
Burdened by murderous impulses, she channels them into this task, vowing never to take a human life unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Slick, agile, driven by her own psyche and self-discovery, and troubled by the dark and philosophical, Shiki is an enigma in more ways than one.
Ufotable did an incredible job with the seven-part Garden of Sinners movie franchise (with the fifth, a mind-bending experience with ridiculously good production, being my personal favorite).
3. Serial Experiments Lain
Lain Iwakura lives in and out of reality, obsessed and over immersed with the WIRE (the Internet) to the point of alienation.
Weird things keep happening around her, both online and offline. And she’s finding it hard to draw the line between the two.
Lain is very relatable to me.
This brilliantly avant-garde story of depression, depersonalization, egocentrism, and a cyber world, is more relevant in the 2020’s that when it was first released in 1998.
She’s an otaku icon of the neo-internet age of the 21st-century, representing the dark division between our online and physical selves.
2. From the New World
Saki Watanabe has finally woken her latent psychokinetic powers. And she’s promptly sent to a school to control them in a dystopic world riddled with secrets.
Her first months go fine, until one day a girl from their class just… disappears. This raises more questions – such as what happened to those children whose powers had not yet awoken; and what the rumored Tainted Cats are, and whether they truly abduct children.
Saki is driven by many things.
Fear, curiosity, compassion, societal justice.
We follow her from childhood through middle-age and watch her evolve as a person. One of my favorite well-written characters in all of anime.
1. Princess Mononoke
Tatara, a town of technology and advancement, intends to tear down the neighboring forestry to expand their civilization.
But the wolf-raised Princess of the Forest, San, refuses to go down without a fight.
She’s inspirational, protecting the land she loves from deforestation.
A role model for anyone of any gender. This is one of the best Ghibli movies ever made, telling an incredibly animated parable on industrialization and wildlife at odds with one another.
San is strong, capable, determined, and possesses far loftier goals than romance in this epic anime that everyone should see at least once.