Top 10 Female Protagonists
Often underrepresented, but never underappreciated – The women of anime, comics, film and video games are here. Who is our top woman in all media? Who has the strength, the resolve, the skill and the brains? We were surprised we hadn’t made a Top 10 Female Protagonists list before, so we figured we’d right that wrong, as we check out our favourite women in all different media.
10) Faith – Mirror’s Edge
Mirror’s Edge was a game that defied typical gaming conventions; so rather than confrontation, you can take a passive approach and ensure you get Faith safely across the rafters and rooftops of this dystopian future. However, that didn’t mean she wasn’t able to kick butt in the process. She symbolises what we all wanted out of a completely different action game; she’s freedom of movement embodied.
The original title saw you fighting enemies off with just your fists, or sometimes even better – With no physical confrontation. Whilst being shot at, this parkour master would get the message wherever it needed to go. She was an excellent Runner and it’s been shown that a lot of what she does are very normal moves in parkour; even at the ridiculous extremes that she seems to thrive in. Take heed then; this woman is not only the embodiment of freedom, but she could also be a sign of how things could turn out.
9) Chun-Li – Street Fighter
One of the first female fighter’s, Chun-Li has been an inspiration for girls worldwide since the early 90’s. Part of the cast of Street Fighter 2, many people enjoyed the introduction of the character; bringing in a much more diverse range of fighters to choose from since the predecessor. Street Fighter 2 then was a game that many people realised would become the staple for fighting games.
However, Chun-Li is effectively a cop in her franchises universe, who is the self-proclaimed “strongest woman in the world”. She has a huge hatred towards M. Bison who killed her father and shares friendships with many other characters in the roster, such as Ryu and Cammy. She’s been in more games and cameos than most of the roster, with only one exception – Ryu himself. However, that’s only because she debuted one game later.
8) Jade – Beyond Good and Evil
Jade is an investigative reporter who lives with her uncle Pey’j and a bunch of anthropomorphic orphans, on an island in the land of Hillys (Pronounced Hill-iss, not Hilly-s!). Much like her namesake, she wears a lot of green and has green eyes – She really just likes that colour. Having grown up on Hillys, she’s used to being surrounded by nothing but war, being defended by the Alpha Sections whilst aliens, the DomZ, attack her homeland.
She manages to run her own business, called Jade Reporting & Co. In her line of work, she undertakes dangerous jobs to snap up pictures for her clients, which leads to her finding out a lot about the Alpha Sections and the DomZ. This leads her to dedicating her work solely around this dangerous war, to try and understand why these conflicts are happening in the first place – and what the Alpha Sections and DomZ are really up to.
==6) Korra – Avatar: Legend of Korra (Joel’s Pick) vs Major Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (Timlah’s Pick)
Coming in with a tie at number 6, we have a hard decision on our hands for who we loved more.
Korra – Avatar: Legend of Korra (Joel’s Pick)
Korra, the last incarnation of the Avatar sequence, is a teen girl who rather quickly took to the role and mastered three of the elemental forms within a very short space of time. Only the most spiritual – and now rarest – of the elements escaped her, air bending. Through her journey of discovery into the final element we learn a great deal about the nature and history of the Avatar, what it truly means to be the uniter of all people and the denizens of the spirit world.
She also goes through far more relationship woes than her forebear Aang, and has to deal with a far greater degree of politics, media attention, not to mention threats that may have far exceeded Fire Lord Ozai on a regular basis. She overthrows destructive traditions and revolutionises the world, even in the face of her own crippling self-doubt, and proves to be one of the most capable of the Avatars, even if she nearly ended the line on multiple occasions.
Major Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (Timlah’s Pick)
Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the highest ranking officers in Section 9; a fiercely confident leader, who has a male colleague who works directly underneath her in Batou. Her leadership includes a solid belief in bringing in different races and genders to work together, to try and make her unit stronger as a whole. She struggles with her ghost throughout the film, which is in essence her spirit, as she’s a cyborg. Being such, she’s completely uncertain how much humanity she actually possesses. Probably why she’s in such a high-pressured role!
When we write our entries for Top 10’s, we typically take a whole franchise into account. So, even though the writing for the recent Ghost in the Shell live action was considered to be pretty bad, we still consider Motoko to be a huge influence in the world of anime. However, the live action film doesn’t detract from the amazing work that Motoko puts in throughout the events of this glorious series.
5) Jessica Jones – Marvel’s Defenders
There are undoubtedly better female characters within the Marvel Universe, but when Jessica Jones took to the small screen following the lauded Daredevil series, those of us with only broad knowledge of comic book history had no idea what to expect. What we got was a woman who is already done, somewhere on the brink of giving up, and suddenly called to confront the greatest horror of her past.
The story told makes her inextricable from the Purple Man, Kilgrave, the source of trauma that made her hardened, vulnerable, jaded, and loving. The series sees Krysten Ritter explore the full gamut of emotion, while simultaneously using her super strength the get stuff done. It’s interesting watching a super-strong character challenged by a smart or strategic enemy, and Jones proves to be more than capable of rising to it.
4) Ellen Ripley – Alien
It’s no small thing to put Ellen Ripley out of the Top 3. Here’s a woman who has survived the worst of nightmares, alone, far from any kind of help, and she’s done so repeatedly. 1st Lieutenant, professional pilot, masters in engineering, and a consultant on the Xenomorph XX121 species, so heavily prized by the human species that the Weyland-Yutani corp… stole her DNA and made a bunch of XenoRipley clones.
Despite the horrors she has endured and continues to endure she has consistently proven to be one of the most stubbornly durable characters across the franchise (not to mention her ability to run away from things), as she is staggeringly knowledgeable, resourceful, cunning, and has the backing of so many fans that killing her off pretty much killed the Alien films dead, with Prometheus doing little to reignite any enthusiasm.
Now it’s hard to imagine the sci-fi world without Sigourney Weaver, and I am far from alone in how much I’m anticipating her role in Marvel’s Defenders.
3) Samus Aran – Metroid
We all know and love Samus Aran, but there are a number of people who still believe “Metroid is a man!” No, that massive hulking suit of armour that we’re used to in the Metroid franchise is actually the shell for a woman named Samus, a bounty hunter… In space! This alone gets her cool points, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people truly believe she was a guy in the original Metroid games. The reveal was made back in 1986 officially, however if you completed the game in under an hour, she revealed herself as a girl.
Still, if we take the actual gender out of the equation, she has a lot to stand up on! She’s strong, she’s agile and she’s athletic. She’s exterminated races of deadly, evil aliens known as Metroids; she’s defeated space pirates and she’s even refused to hand over dangerous specimens, opting to destroy them instead. She’s confident, she’s decisive, she’s powerful, she’s highly intelligent – All around, Samus Aran is one of, if not the best, and one of the most consistently well written women in gaming history.
2) Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
Possibly the second most famous fictional archaeologist, the first lady of gaming is renowned for dual wielding pistols and green tank top, less remembered are the things that she has managed to face down in her eleven year career. In her travels that have taken her across the world (and occasionally to places slightly removed from it) she has bested half-spider scientists, half angels, giant octopi, giant sharks, and just about every manner of religious zealot under the sun, rarely with anything more than a pair of nine-millimetres.
Croft is a skilled marksman, athlete, pilot, free climber, free swimmer, and all around impressive woman, and while she does not give an accurate depiction of archaeology, we have Time Team for that. She’s undergone two reboots, had two mediocre films with another famous sex-icon taking the titular role, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Still not an easy call between her and Samus, but the #1 was a no brainer…
1) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Was there really any question? Oh sure, we all liked Xena but when it comes to leading ladies of the late 90’s to early 00’s there was only ever going to be one winner and it was the better written character. Buffy looks the victim, a tiny, attractive blonde girl, still attending school, with all the facade of sweetness and innocence fixed firmly on Sarah Michelle Geller’s face. She is also one of the most lethal forces in the world, latest in an Avatar-like chain of women destined to slay monsters and combat the evils that haunt the world.
Buffy takes up residence at a hellmouth to be completely immersed amongst typical teenagers, and to attempt to live a normal-ish life along with helping make sure her more normal peers can go on living theirs without fear of being devoured, converted, or otherwise eradicated in a very supernatural way. In that time she faces… just about everything and even comes back from the dead a few times.
Through it all we find ourselves watching a character go from pure bad-ass, to someone increasingly human, increasingly fragile but no less dangerous, forced to combat herself as much as anyone else. It made for a compelling series that has gone down in the annals of television history.
Not all women are created equally – Some of them aren’t quite able to fit in our list above for instance; but here we honour two more female protagonists who have made an impact in their franchise, either as the lead or otherwise.
Furiosa – Mad Max
Relegated to the honourable for technically being in somebody else’s film, but Furiosa fits the bill rather neatly. Max himself isn’t so much a protagonist as he is a witness to the stories of others, a pivotal component for sure, but he errs on the side of silent and stoic, where the personality falls into the lap of others. In the most recent film, Imperator Furiosa, high ranking warrior in the ranks of Immortan Joe’s horde, takes the role of off-centre protagonist when she enlists the aid of the dangerous prisoner to help her smuggle Joe’s harem out of his palace.
Fury Road is her story. We learn so much about her history, her family, motives, and personality. Max doesn’t introduce himself until the film is nearly over, and when the job is done he just walks away, with the little burst of hallucinatory back story flashbacks leaving us with more questions than one film could ever answer, so it just doesn’t bother.
The Halliwell Sisters – Charmed
Okay, if you’ve seen this show, you’re now all singing that amazing theme tune in your heads right now.
So the Halliwell Sisters are the Charmed trio, a bunch of related witches who have the power of three. It was an incredibly cheesy show, which was well known for being able to mix-up pop culture in with a fun narrative. With knowledge of the occult, both in-universe and real world, it was a great show.
It’s kind of cheating having these sisters on the Top 10 list itself, as there are three of them – and none of them were better than the others. Plus, it’s not particularly geeky in itself; it was a TV show which has a lot of intrigue around it, but it wasn’t something that catered to any particular audience. Men, women, boys, girls, the family dog – Everyone enjoyed Charmed! Whether or not they get one final hurrah has been a rumour going around for years; so let’s hope the rumours come true.
Women have always been hugely underrepresented, but we’re so thankful to have witnessed these amazing franchises! Heck, growing up, there’s no doubt these franchises must at least have touched your lives in some way. However, it’s now time to look to the future. I wonder what the next best woman in media will be? In the meantime, we already have a Top 10 for next week – That’ll be our Top 10 Half-Breeds list, which we’re going to record whilst at Kitacon (We’re already here! Hello all!) The below vote doesn’t affect anything, but hey – go mad. Vote for your favourite thing.
We’re done playing around – These women seriously know how to lead and be the heroes of their stories. But it’s now time to sit back and wonder if we put all the best women (hint) in this list, or if we missed any great ones out? Do you think Katniss Everdeen deserved to topple some of our list? Do you think we got our order right? As always, leave us a comment below, or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.