International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements throughout history and the inspiration they have instilled in us.
While it’s important to crack open a history book, sometimes we just want to kick back and relax with anime. Now, anime can be a punching bag for its portrayal of women, but there are some super inspirational leads to be found.
1The Twelve Kingdoms
The Twelve Kingdoms is a sprawling saga following Youko Nakajima, a timid high school girl who is transported to another world. Youko quickly finds herself attacked by demon-like creatures and left to fend off a corrupt king. With the help of a few new friends, Youko learns she must protect the kingdom of Kei as an empress.
Inspirational because: Youko begins the series as a timid student, but grows into a confident empress as her journey progresses.
Princess Mononoke follows two protagonists: Ashitaka and San. Ashitaka takes more of a bystander role as San fiercely defends a sacred forest from rapid deforestation at the hands of Lady Eboshi of Tatara.
Inspirational because: San is the first human willing to take a stand against Lady Eboshi to stop the destruction of the forest. She understands the value of all life and that humans shouldn’t impose their will on nature.
3Spice and Wolf
Spice and Wolf chronicles the travels of the merchant Lawrence and the harvest goddess Holo. Years of self-sustainability has rendered Holo to a mear folktale and offers to become Lawrence’s business partnership until they travel to Yoitsu. Their contentious partner begins to thaw as Lawrence’s business sense and Holo’s charisma leads to new goals.
Inspirational because: Holo is super charismatic and witty, which plays well with Lawrence’s dry approach to business. Injecting a little bit of personality in day-to-day situations can lead to a joyful outlook on life.
Clare is a Claymore – a half-human half-Yoma warrior bred to protect humans from the flesh-eating Yoma. She travels from town to town, slaying any Yoma that at the request of her organization. However, each battle brings Clare closer to turning into a Yoma herself.
Inspirational because: Clare is willing to sacrifice her life and humanity to protect the weak.
5Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona)
Yona is the sole princess of the Kingdom of Kouka and has lived a sheltered, carefree life. A deadly coup during Yona’s 16th birthday shatters her comfortable worldview. Yona is tasked with her saving her kingdom while on the run with her faithful guard Son Hak.
Inspirational because: Yona doesn’t let a horrific, life-altering event break her. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Yona takes the time to learn how non-royals live and forms a plan to improve everyone’s lives as she attempts to retake Kouka.
6Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayuki-hime)
Shirayuki is a natural herbalist who possesses rare red hair, which causes the country’s prince to take her as his concubine. Not wanting to lose her freedom, Shirayuki cuts her hair and flees to a neighboring country, which is home to Prince Zen. The prince offers to take Shirayuki to his palace, but she decides to prove her own merit by becoming a court pharmacist.
Inspirational because: Shirayuki refuses to take the path of being a quiet wife and instead pursues her passion for learning more about pharmacy to save lives.
7Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Balsa is a wandering bodyguard and agrees to protect Prince Chagum from his father’s assassination plot. Chagum has been possessed by a powerful water spirit, which is deemed a threat to the Yogo Empire. However, Balsa’s primary reason for protecting Chagum is to atone for past mistakes.
Inspirational because: Balsa tries to perform good deeds to repay the past mistakes she committed as a youth. Not only that, but she truly cares for Chagum’s safety and will protect him at all costs.
Two 20-year-old women share the name Nana, but they have widely different personalities. Nana Komatsu is a romantic who is dependent on those around her, and Nana Osaki is the lead vocalist of an indie punk-rock band called Black Stones. The two have a chance meeting while moving to Tokyo, both with their own reasons, but fate draws them together.
Inspirational because: Both Nanas are trying to discover their own goals while living in Tokyo. Komatsu wants to become more independent and Osaki attempts to kickstart a music career as opposed to coasting on someone else’s fame.
Inspector Akane Tsunemori is a new recruit at Unit One of the Public Saftey Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division. Despite being a rookie, Akane’s honest desire to uphold justice puts her at odds with Enforcer Shinya Kogami. However, she learns that the Sybil System’s judgments aren’t as perfect as society believes.
Inspirational because: Akane trusts her instincts, pushes boundaries, and questions “what is just” in a utopia that punishes her for breaking the rules.
Five high school friends – Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todou, and Midori Imai – promise to create an anime together. Fast forward two-and-a-half years later, and they find themselves facing the harsh realities of the industry they love. All of the hard work and frustrations are draining, but they refuse to let their dream of producing an anime together die.
Inspirational because: These women share the same dream and support each other in a career that is both punishing and rewarding.
Tsukino Usagi is a ditzy and energetic junior high student with failing test scores. After a bad day, Usagi meets a talking cat named Luna who grants her powers to transform into Sailor Moon. Usagi is tasked with protecting the world against the dark kingdom and Queen Beryl.
Inspirational because: Sailor Moon begins as a bit of a brat who is afraid of fighting, but through each trial, she gains grace, skill, and transforms into a leader that can save the world. She epitomizes the truth that any girl can transform into a woman who can change the world.
After losing her mother in an accident, Tooru decides to live in a tent in the woods out of fear of burdening her family and parents while her grandfather’s home is being renovated. Cousins Yuki and Shigure take Tooru in after her tent is buried under a landslide. Upon arriving in their home, Tooru learns that hugging a member of the Souma family turns them into a zodiac animal.
Inspirational because: Even though Tooru has experienced personal tragedies, she doesn’t use it as an excuse to mope around. Instead, Tooru improves her life and those around her by keeping a positive mindset.
Chihaya has spent most of her young life supporting her sister’s modeling career, but she finds new purpose after meeting a karuta player named Arata. After becoming friends, Chihaya learns she has the potential to become a great competitive karuta player and she strives to make the dream a reality.
Inspirational because: Chihaya balances both romance and her serious love for her craft.
Two girls with a passion for acting find themselves competing for a prestigious role. Maya Kitajima has spent her youth toiling away at a restaurant, but her talent is discovered by the legendary actress Chigusa Tsukikage. Opposite Maya is Ayumi Himekawa – a girl who is guaranteed success, but she wants to be praised for her talent instead of her parent’s connections.
They both take on challenges to win the role of The Crimson Goddess, but only one can win the role.
Inspirational because: The women go on an emotional journey that pushes huge, public stress on them while they are constantly tested for if their dream is worth all the sacrifices.
15Little Witch Academia
Atsuko Kagari enrolls at Luna Nova Academy with dreams of becoming a great witch like her idol Shiny Chariot. However, Atsuko finds herself at a disadvantage because she doesn’t come from a magical family. Atsuko isn’t willing to give up her dream and she finds a mysterious object that belonged to Shiny Chariot – now she just needs to find a way to activate it.
Inspirational because: Atsuko remains tenacious in the face of adversity and won’t let anything stop her from achieving her dreams.
16Ouran High School Host Club
Haruhi Fujioka is a bright scholarship student at Ouran Academy, which caters to rich students. However, Haruhi comes from a working-class family and is forced to join the school’s host club after she accidentally breaks an expensive vase. Initially treated as an errand runner, Haruhi becomes a full-time host due to her charms.
Inspirational because: Haruhi earned her own scholarship into the incredibly prestigious school and even when faced with people that made no sense to her, she accepted them for who they were with no judgment.
Kyouko Mogami has spent her youth supporting the career of her crush and pop idol Shoutarou Fuwa. However, Shoutarou has been taking advantage of Kyouko and tosses her aside. Scorned and heartbroken, Kyouko vows to make a new life as an entertainment manager and to get vengeance on Shoutarou.
Inspirational because: Kyouko starts out boy crazy but grows to value herself and her career.
Ohana is sent to live at her estranged grandmother’s hot spring inn after her mother’s elopement. Ohana begins working at the inn, but she has trouble getting along with her co-workers and customers. After wallowing in discouragement, Ohana decides to use the situation to change not only her personality but to improve her new relationships.
Inspirational because: When the anime starts, Ohana is a timid girl who is dependent on her best friend Koichi. However, she gains confidence and becomes strong-willed after moving to the country and work at her grandmother’s inn.
Who do you think are the most inspirational female anime leads?