Ryuko Matoi (Kill la Kill)
Armed with a scowl every bit as fierce as her giant sword, Ryoko Matoi is the main protagonist of the magical girl-martial arts extravaganza. Unique among such characters, she has absolutely zero interest in falling in love and is only at Honnouji Academy so she can avenge the death of her father. Matoi’s show-stopping fight scenes frequently start with her outgunned or outmatched, but her sheer bloody-mindedness (and semi-permanent bad mood) always help her win the day.
Mikasa Ackerman (Attack On Titan)
Mikasa Ackerman might not have the main story arc in AoT, but she is the fiercest character in the show who isn’t a ravenous colossus. Strong, loyal and of few words, her face betrays little in the way of emotion as she zooms over rooftops and disposes of her gargantuan foes like a balletic ninja, all while brandishing her trademark red scarf. Without her, hero Eren Yeager would be absolute mincemeat.
Revy (Black Lagoon)
Revy is another outlier among modern anime characters. Traditionally, female characters are not meant to be cynical, gun-crazy mercenaries with fiery tempers who instil fear and terror in all who cross their paths, but this describes Revy perfectly. She is the wild card among the titular unit, with a colourful personality (best exemplified by her love of swearing) and absolute adoration of anything that has a trigger she can pull.
Rally Vincent (Gunsmith Cats)
Rally Vincent is another accomplished practitioner of pistolcraft, but she’s immeasurably more mentally balanced than Revy, not to mention more smartly dressed. Kenichi Sonoda’s created this classic manga (later adapted into a fabulous anime) with the intention of paying tribute to his love of ladies, fast cars and guns, guns, guns. Vincent has an encyclopaedic knowledge of firearms and their inner workings, and she frequently gets the drop on bad guys because, in addition to her excellent marksmanship, she’s sharp as a tac.
Princess Mononoke (Princess Mononoke)
Hayao Miyazaki filled his movies with believable and compelling female characters long before such a concept was fashionable. Of the many he has brought to screen, none possess more badassery than the eponymous heroine of his 1997 masterpiece. The feral forest matriarch is a veritable ninja and is one of Miyazaki’s most iconic creations.
Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon)
Her inclusion on this list might surprise some, as she doesn’t carry a sword or a gun, but Usagi Tsukino makes the cut due to her heart of gold. Chasing off the local bullies and saving a cat turns out to be the decision that changes her life, and despite her epic and exhausting struggles to help save the universe, her love for her friends (and her cat), along with her desire to help others is completely undimmed. Not to mention, who doesn’t love a good moon prism power transformation?
Fujiko Mine (Lupin the Third)
Her name is intended as a lewd riff on Mount Fuji, a reference to the mountainous depictions of her bosom in the long-running franchise. Male gaze aside, Fujiko is frequently the cleverest and craftiest member of the Lupin gang, outwitting her colleagues and countless villains (and their henchmen) as she exploits her beguiling charms to the max – for her benefit alone. The visually exquisite Lupin spin-off/reboot, The Woman Named Fujiko Mine (2014), explored her character in greater depth.
Akane Tendo (Ranma 1 1/2)
Rumiko Takahashi’s gender-swapping comedy has its share of memorable female characters, but Akane Tendo takes the crown, as she is the perfect foil for hapless hero/heroine Ranma Saotome. Not only is she a talented and accomplished martial artist in her own right, but she takes absolutely none of Saotome’s shit and is more than capable of holding her own in any fistfight. Many believe that Takahashi created her as a symbol of beauty and strength combined.
Asuka Langley (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
The pilot of Evangelion Unit 02 is such a fan favourite that Asuka Langley was voted the third most popular female anime character from the 90s by Newtype magazine. Red of hair and sharp of tongue, Langley is a German-Japanese teenager. At first glimpse she might seem to be a spoiled brat whose only purpose in life is to put down Shinji (the main protagonist and Langley’s friend) and make herself look fabulous, but go a little deeper, and you will find a fearsome she-warrior with plenty of emotional depth.
Priss Asagiri (Bubblegum Crisis)
Named in loving homage to Daryl Hannah’s character in Blade Runner (1982), Priss is a ferocious, defiant 19-year-old who is the stand-out character in the cyberpunk classic. Out for revenge after the death of her boyfriend, she not only does battle with Boomers in her trademark blue armour, but also has a nice side story as a motorbike enthusiast and rock singer. Never one to back down from a fight, even when her back is against the wall, she is firmly a fan favourite.