Just like I said I would, here's the first in what will hopefully be a few roundups of my picks for anime characters. Keep in mind these are my totally subjective favorites. First up is female characters. What ties them all together, I think, is that none of them are just stuck being one thing. Too many shows, both Western and anime, stick female characters in a trope and keep them there. The characters that made an impression on me are people, not just the bookworm, the tsundere, etc. Well, shall we?
Anime: Valvrave the Liberator
Valvrave is one of the most batshit insane anime I've ever watched, but Rukino Saki is one of the least batshit characters in a cast full of people who do not necessarily have their heads on their shoulders all the time. She's certainly not what people expect in "idol who goes to normal (space) high school" characters. The reason she makes this list is because she is kind of an awful person and completely owns it. Rukino has personality traits that are often hated in female characters: ruthless ambition, being a cold bitch, and willingness to manipulate others. These are things often applauded with male antihero types, but usually found only in females of the villainess variety. Part of having good representation of female characters, to me, is to go beyond badass "strong" and good female heroes. I want the girls to be just as conniving as the dudes. This isn't to say Rukino isn't good. She can be an amazing friend and makes a few unselfish turns in the plot. But above all, I love her for her real talk, her shameless self-promotion, and her willingness to admit that she can be a "terrible person."
Anime: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is a sweet romantic comedy because it makes romantic leads out of characters that are usually relegated to background color. Shizuku is a high school loner mostly out of choice. She's probably too direct and tactless for most people, and she'd rather focus on her studies. She's a bit of a selfish pick for me because she reminds me of myself quite a bit. It's great to see a show focus on the internal conflict of a female character over romantic entanglement. Being in a relationship doesn't compromise her sense of self, but she definitely worries about it. I really just haven't seen this "am I selling out to emotional connection?" thing done much with female characters. She does, in the end, shine when she opens up a bit, but it's still a very spot on depiction of how the quiet, standoffish among us form connections.
Anime: Monogatari series
Bakemonogatari and all its sequels and prequels are basically mystery harem shows. Koyomi Araragi, a kind of ex vampire, is a hapless dude that deals with the many supernatural troubles of the women in his life. In a pretty big cast, his friend and later girlfriend Hitagi Senjougahara completely steals the show. She has her own traumatic past and otherworldly problems to overcome, but she's no damsel in distress. She's wonderfully sharp and her quick banter with Araragi made Bakemonogatari for me. Senjougahara is another great female character who doesn't get lost in her relationship. It's just a shame she wasn't around too much in other series.
Anime: Code Geass
Yeah, I like bitchy mecha girls. C.C. is an immortal being who doesn't take shit from one of the best/worst anime protagonists of all time, Lelouch Lamperouge. Being sarcastic and not having a high pitched speaking voice always wins points in my book, but I didn't come to call C.C. a definite favorite until she showed her existential side. Like Lelouch, she doesn't have the brightest outlook on life and people, and I think that's part of why they respect each other so much. My favorite C.C. moment was a conversation in the second season about the importance of death. She explains her wish to die because "You don't call endless aggregation of not dying, 'life'. That is merely an experience." Damn girl, that's a pretty Eva thing to say. Also, you know, she is obsessed with pizza.
Anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena
Utena lives up to her anime's title. It's a classic shojo anime, but at times Utena is really more like a shonen protagonist (there's a fencing duel in almost every episode). It's a modern fairy tale, and Utena is both the prince and princess. She talks straight, she stands up for others, she wears a kickass boys' uniform to school, and she can still be very girlish. This 90s gem really is one of the best examples of why, when you just write women as people, it works. Utena isn't put into the usually "boyish girl" box, so she gets to be both tough and vulnerable. Her story is also a great example not only romantic conflict that doesn't overtake the female character's personality, but of a central relationship and love that's about female friendship. As far as anime characters go, she really is revolutionary.
Steins;gate is a show full of dynamic, interesting characters. None of its girls are very typical even when playing into tropes, but Kurisu stands out not only in the show but as one of the most special female characters I've ever encountered. Television loves quirky male geniuses and there is a sad lack of women counterparts to these types. But Kurisu is protagonist Okabe Rintaro's equal in every way. She's brilliant, has an A+ bullshit detector, and under an aloof surface is a bit of a nut herself. Her social awkwardness is very believable in an art form that often plays off awkward as a moe thing. Steins;gate did a wonderful job of developing her relationship with Okabe and the other members of the Future Gadget Lab. It's sweet to note that despite Kurisu's logical and direct manner, she shows a very nurturing side with Mayuri. To be unspoilery, there is some plot stuff that might at first come across as using Kurisu as a tool for Okabe's development, but it turns out nicely. She is also very much the motivator in the events of the Steins;gate movie.
Every, yes every, female lead in Evangelion
Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion (original series)
What did you expect with me writing the article? On top anime character lists, usually Asuka or Rei gets in somewhere, but that's really selling the other women of Evangelion short. Every character in the series reflects some aspect of the struggles of the human condition and connecting with others. Rei is on my list more because I like her than having a dynamic personality or anything (though depending on your iteration of Eva she can). She's iconic, and although she maybe shouldn't be seen as relatable, she is to me. We probably all know someone like Asuka, or maybe we relate to her – someone who is obviously capable of many things, but obsessively ties their self-worth to one. To me, she's a dark take on the never give up attitudes of shonen protagonists. In reality, that kind of single mindedness can be your downfall. She's loud, selfish, arrogant, and brash, and because of that she became one of anime's most memorable leads. While I would say Shinji most closely mirrors my experiences with anxiety and periods of depression, Asuka's pride and fall hit pretty close to home as well.
Misato Katsuragi and Dr. Ritsuko Akagi have very solid places on my favorite character list. One of the reasons I think the rebuild movies fall short of the series is that it doesn't have Ritsuko's amazingly complex character and motivations. She's there, but her story isn't. Misato and Ritsuko give us some great moments of female friendship throughout the series, even though it becomes…uh…strained. They play off of each other well. They're both capable and brilliant in their way. Dr. Akagi's story is also one of Eva's fucked up looks at mother daughter relationships (and probably much more common than Asuka's). Misato is Eva's emotional rock, while being a mess herself. She isn't much of a mother figure, but she provides the closest thing to genuine friendship and support the children have. Eva is full of Misato doing incredibly badass things, but her strong character really shines in her vulnerability and relationship with Shinji. She needs him and much as he needs her.
Now it's your turn! Who are your favorite female characters and why?