From iconic anime, to underrated cult classics and new favorites, an ever-increasing number of Sci Fi anime feature female protagonists.
Both the sci-fi genre and the anime industry have been plagued by unfortunate stereotypes of being aimed at exclusively male audiences. This has been shifting in recent years, with both sci-fi and anime opening up to wider and more diverse audiences. From some of the most iconic anime of all time, to underrated cult classics and new favorites, an ever-increasing number of sci-fi anime have female protagonists.
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Recent anime seasons have been telling more stories focused on female protagonists, especially where Sci Fi works are concerned. However, there have been popular sci-fi anime series with prominent female protagonists since at least the 1980s.
11 Bubblegum Crisis
Unmistakably a product of 80s and set in what was at the time the distant 2030s, Bubblegum Crisis features bright lights, big hair, a relentlessly 80s soundtrack, and clear Blade Runner influences. Bubblegum Crisis is, however, much more action-oriented than Blade Runner ever was. The heroines of Bubblegum Crisis are called Knight Sabers, a team of female mercenaries in suits of powerful armor who fight rogue cyborgs created by an evil megacorporation known as Boomers. Overall, the action feels campy, in the same vein as Power Rangers, but the series does possess a certain mature edge and grittiness.
9 Martian Successor Nadesico
In a lot of ways, Martian Successor Nadesico is a series that feels like Evangelion if it were a comedy, a fact helped by the English dubs of both series sharing several voice actors in prominent roles. The Nadesico is an interplanetary battleship with a prominently female crew. Like Evangelion, Martian Successor Nadesico sees teenage pilots fighting alien threats with giant robots.
Unlike Evangelion, Martian Successor Nadesico is a fast-paced, offbeat comedy series. Since most of the characters are huge fans of an in-universe mecha series, there are plenty of self-aware jokes about mecha anime and the conventions of the genre. Martian Successor Nadesico does have moments of genuine emotion and tragedy: the male lead, Akito, is traumatized by living through the destruction of the Mars colony in his childhood and one of the series’ most famous episodes centers on a seemingly important character being unceremoniously killed off.
8 Burst Angel
Taking place in a lawless and devastated near-future dystopia, Burst Angel follows a group of female mercenaries. Where other anime would use the setting to deliver a thematically deep story, Burst Angel commits to ludicrous action. That doesn’t mean Burst Angel isn’t compelling; the gunfights are the primary draw to the series, and they occasionally escalate to all-out combat featuring mechs with rollerskates and jetpacks. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it’s also immensely entertaining. Interestingly, three of the four main female characters are named after the sisters from Little Women, which is perhaps one of the most thematic incongruities ever seen in an anime series.
7 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
While not the first-ever movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki in his iconic anime career, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was the first movie Miyazaki directed independently as the head of Studio Ghibli. Based on a manga also written by Miyazaki several years earlier, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind tells the story of the title heroine, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, as she strives to guide the inhabitants of the Valley of the Wind to live in peace both with nature and with other humans. The movie delivers a powerful anti-war and environmentalist message and has gone one to be regarded as one of Miyazaki’s best. The heavily edited and altered original English release influenced Miyazaki’s strict no-cuts policy towards English version of his later movies.
6 Ergo Proxy
With a title based on French philosopher René Descartes famous line “cogito ergo sum”, it should be obvious that Ergo Proxy involves deep philosophical and psychology themes. A post-apocalyptic detective story with a mind-bending narrative and Georgian chant-infused soundtrack, Ergo Proxy follows Re-l — pronounced like “Ree-El” — and her robot partner Iggy as they investigate a series of murder in the domed city humanity has been forced to live in to survive on an environmentally devastated Earth.
Re-l soon encounters strange humanoid beings called Proxies and an amnesiac man named Vincent, and finds herself thrust deeper and deeper into a sprawling mystery. In addition to its beautiful art style, Ergo Proxy‘s philosophical and psychology themes and heavy use of symbolism make it a novel spin on a cyberpunk dystopia.
5 Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
The Witch from Mercury is the first entry in the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise with a female protagonist. The series follows Suletta Mercury as he transfers Asticassia School of Technology, where she is promptly spurred into a Mobile Suit duel that culminates in her winning the right to marry the corporate heiress Miorine Rembran.
With a smaller scope to its plot and more of a focus on corporate politics, The Witch from Mercury is a change of pace from earlier Gundam series while still remaining true to the themes and spirit of earlier entries in franchise. Although the series’ ending was criticized by fans for not committing to Suletta and Miorine’s relationship, The Witch from Mercury is a groundbreaking entry in the Gundam franchise for its focus on the relationships between its female characters.
The poster for the English release of Paprika had the tagline “This is your brain on anime” – a reference to an old anti-drug campaign. Paprika definitely feels mind-altering. An Inception-like plot revolving around Paprika, a therapist’s virtual avatar created by a machine able to enter dreams and influence people on a subconscious level is made even more bewildering by a surreal art style and animation sequences. The standout soundtrack is provided by electronica composer Susumu Hirasawa, who previously provided several memorable pieces for the Berserk anime. Paprika is so unlike anything else that it’s absolutely worth experiencing at least once.
3 Bodacious Space Pirates
Bodacious Space Pirates/Satelight.
Focusing on high school student Marika Kato after taking over her father’s ship and crew, Bodacious Space Pirates is an enjoyable Space Opera romp with an almost entirely female cast. The series never really takes itself too seriously, notably, the space pirates in the series still wear the stereotypical Golden Age of Piracy-era costumes and exist primarily as a form of dinner theater, carrying out staged raids on cruise ships so wealthy passengers can experience the thrill of a pirate raid with no danger to themselves. Like fellow pirate series One Piece, it’s primarily a comedic series and even at its most intense, it never gets to the same level of violence as One Piece. There are moments of actual piracy and fights with real stakes, however, the space piracy primarily serves as a vehicle for the comedy.
2 Ghost in the Shell
The iconic cyberpunk manga by Masamune Shirow has inspired several anime adaptations since the 80s, including a recent Netflix movie and anime series, a video game, and a 2017 live-action film that was controversial for its casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese Motoko Kusanagi and foundered at the box office. Although the exact plot and details vary between adaptations, Major Motoko Kusanagi has the main character is the series’ constant. Motoko is a cyborg police officer working for Public Security Section 9, a special ops division of the Japanese government. Throughout the various adaptations of the series, examining the relationship between humanity and technology has always been a central theme, driving the stylish cyberpunk action of the series.
1 Kill la Kill
A marked change of pace from Studio Trigger’s other recent series like BNA: Brand New Animal and Little Witch Academia, Kill la Kill is, in a word, bizarre. Luckily, Kill la Kill commits completely to its ridiculous premise and embraces its own outlandishness. In a dystopian world, protagonist Ryuko rebels against the fanatical and oppressive student council of an authoritarian school with the help of one half of a giant pair of scissors and a sentient sailor uniform. The art and animation are cartoonishly exaggerated to emphasize both the action and the humor. The plot doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, but does at least serve as a delivery system for the action and humor. Kill la Kill is instantly unforgettable and immensely entertaining.
With the sci-fi genre opening up to larger and more diverse audiences. More and more sci-fi works now center on female characters. However, female protagonists are not a new idea. Since at least the 80s, there have been many sci-fi anime featuring female protagonists.