As it turns out, I don’t read a ton of books about kick-ass heroines! That’ll certainly be something to correct in the upcoming year. In the meantime, though, here are the top ten favorite heroines whose stories I’ve already read:
1. Alanna of Trebond, Lady Knight
I really strongly suggest this series to anyone interested in a strong heroine. As a matter of fact, I suggest Tamora Pierce in general.
2. Hermione Granger
Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame is the smartest witch of her generation, despite being discriminated against for being born to non-magical parents. She’s an advocate of creature’s rights from a young age, forming a house-elf rights group called S.P.E.W. at age fourteen and working with the Order of the Phoenix to take down the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time from ages eleven to eighteen.
But what makes Hermione unique isn’t her kick-ass attitude, it’s how she does it. She’s not strong or beautiful, scheming or sly. She’s smart. Not smart as in quick and clever (though she could certainly be described as such, too), but book smart. School smart. It’s awesome to see a girl who would normally be cast as the “nerd” character use her “nerd” nature to become a kick-ass heroine.
Hermione was portrayed by Emma Watson in the eight Harry Potter films. (Thus throwing out the “not beautiful”, unfortunately.)
3. Lisbeth Salander
What’s great about Lisbeth is that she isn’t your typical heroine. She comes with baggage. Loads of it. Unlike most characters with traumatic childhoods, her psyche has genuinely suffered from her negative experiences. She’s asocial and untrusting, vengeful and somewhat sadistic. And this, wonderfully enough, reflects in her personal relationships. She doesn’t have a “perfect” relationship with either her co-star, Mikael Blomkvist, or her other lover, Mimmi Wu; both of these relationships are on-again, off-again, and in the former case, prone to misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
I’ve only read the first book of the Millennium Trilogy, so I can’t say if I’ll still love Lisbeth as time goes on. But as of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she’s pretty damn great.
Lisbeth has been portrayed twice on the silver screen: first by Noomi Rapace in a Swedish film, and later by Rooney Mara in an English-language film.
4. Violet Baudelaire
Violet Baudelaire is the fourteen-year-old co-star of Lemony Snicket‘s Series of Unfortunate Events. (The other members of the power trio are her younger brother Klaus and infant sister Sunny.) She’s another female character who uses her brain to kick villain ass (and commit the occasional crime).
When she suddenly finds herself orphaned, she’s plunged into the conspiratorial secret world her parents kept hidden. Between trying to evade Count Olaf’s efforts to steal the Baudelaire fortune and trying to unravel the mystery of VFD, Violet must rely on her inventive talent to keep her family whole and safe.
In the Series of Unfortunate Events movie, Violet is portrayed by Emily Browning.
5. Jasmine, Queen of Deltora
Jasmine is one of the three main characters in Emily Rodda‘s three Deltora series, Deltora Quest, Deltora Shadowlands, and Dragons of Deltora. She’s a “wild girl” in the sense that she grew up an orphan in the Forests of Silence, quite away from civilization. She joins Lief and Barda in their travels to save the kingdom of Deltora, and eventually (spoiler!) becomes queen.
Though she has tangled black hair in the books, she is portrayed with slightly curly green hair in the Japanese anime adaptation of Deltora Quest, which you can read about here.
6. Veralidaine Sarrasri
Veralidaine Sarrasri, called Daine, is another strong female character written by Tamora Pierce. She’s the warrior-mage star of Pierce’s Immortals series. Unlike the previous strong female protagonist from Tortall (see Alanna above), she kicks ass with Wild Magic and archery. Throughout the series, she learns to shapeshift, communicate with animals and immortals, and even raise the dead.
I’m not quite as fond of Daine as I am of Alanna, but I did enjoy reading her series when I first read it back in the early 2000’s… and I’m much overdue for another reread!
7. Keladry of Mindelan
Keladry of Mindelan, called Kel, is yet a third strong female character written by Tamora Pierce. She’s the female knight-training of Pierce’s Protector of the Small series.
I honestly don’t remember a ton about Kel. I read her series once or twice about a decade ago, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it the way I loved Song of the Lioness. Which, of course, means I need to reread it soon to reevaluate!
But there’s no question that Kel is a kick-ass female. After the events of the Song of the Lioness quartet, the kingdom of Tortall allows females to train as knights. In Protector of the Small, Keladry of Mindelan is the first to try (and, unsurprisingly, succeed).
8. The Tokyo Mew Mews
The five girls that make up the original Tokyo Mew Mew team aren’t what I’d normally think of when talking about kick-ass female characters. They’re exceptionally girly and they act their age (young teenagers in some translations/adaptations, older teens in others). But they do kick ass.
The original five mews are Ichigo Momomiya, Mint Aizawa, Lettuce Midorikawa, Pudding Fong, and Zakuro Fujiwara. Each of these teenage girls are involved in the Mew project, in which their D.N.A. was “merged” with that of an endangered species to make them crime-fighting superheroines. As a matter of fact, environmentalism factors into the plot of the series as a prevalent theme, with the alien villains harboring a hatred of humans borne of humanity’s irresponsible care for the planet’s health.
You can read about each of the characters here. The Mews appear in a manga series of seven-volumes, a Japanese anime adaptation, an English translation of the anime adaptation retitled Mew Mew Power, a manga-only sequel series that adds a new
Mary SueMew character, and possibly(?) a video game that adds yet another new Mew character (that I have no familiarity with).
9. Princess Arenelle of Eldearth
Nell from the Keepers series is undeniably awesome, so why is she so far down on the list? Because she’s almost too awesome to be believable.
Princess Arenelle of Eldearth is only eleven, but I’m not buying it. She looks about fifteen on the covers, and she acts like someone that age, too. She’s very mature and responsible for a sheltered and incredibly young princess, as well as being a surprisingly powerful Witch and more socially enlightened than anyone else in her world.
Nell big thing is feminism. Because she was born female, she can never inherit her father’s throne or learn to harness powerful magic. And she’s not having a bit of this.
During her journeys, Nell also starts to champion the rights of the other magical creatures that inhabit her world, as well as various humans who are also discriminated against. Unlike anyone else in Eldearth, Nell wants to put an end to the intense discrimination going on in the kingdom. And she manages it.
She kicks ass against nefarious sorcerers, demon creatures, and various criminals… all while she fights to end discrimination.
If she was written a little more believably, she might have been my favorite female protagonist, hands down.
10. Lili “Detective Spica” Hoshizawa
Lili from Zodiac, P.I. leads a double-life. Ostensibly an average high school student, Lili harnesses astrology to solve crime as the magical and mysterious Detective Spica.
Unlike the others, it’s not terrifying creatures or malicious sorcerers that Lili kicks ass against. It’s your average criminals; Detective Spica unravels the plots of and catches murderers, kidnappers, and thieves even as she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her missing mother, the original Detective Spica.
So! Who should I check out next?
As I said, I don’t seem to read enough books with strong female characters capable of kicking ass and taking names. I’m certainly hoping to correct that a.s.a.p., and I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have on which books or series with strong female characters I should be reading.
And look forward to me updating this list in the future as I discover more awesome women in fiction!