Ah, a much-delayed sequel to my top-ten heroes post...because I never planned on making one, because I couldn't come up with ten top heroines.
"WHAT?!!" you say.
I know, I know. I could have made a list of heroines I enjoyed, found cute, thought were cool...but to me what truly makes a great heroine and a great hero is a person who is an EXAMPLE of somebody I want to be. Not just somebody I relate to or think is cute (though those are great qualities that usually contribute) but somebody who inspires me to be better. But lately, I've been really thinking about what makes a heroine great to me. And I find a common theme that none of them have their character centered about romance. Which I find extremely common in books. Like, the heroine can deny that romance is her reason for living all she likes, but that is usually her main plot-line in the book anyway. Not always, for sure. But often. And in secular fiction, I find a lot of heroines to be jerks.
But I have gathered ten from various corners of the visual arts that I find beautifully strong and perfectly female in every way.
Yona of the Dawn
When you first meet Princess Yona, she's not very admirable. She's spoiled, ditzy, love-struck, and reeeeally pitchy. Cause, what do you know, some teenage girls are like that. But when life turns upside down and she's forced to leave her privileges, she starts soaking in the troubles of people around her with a very compassionate eye and fiery heart. She's not content to just sit back and let other people do things for her anymore, she is all about doing things FOR them. The anime alone is a great example of her growth, but she goes beyond even that in the manga. She is what a true leader should be, always willing to seek solutions to the troubles of their people and put in the hard work themselves. Her determination to protect people she loves changes her from a damsel in distress to a heroine taking up a weapon. She's always on the lookout for a peaceful resolution, but she isn't afraid to bring down the wicked either.
I grew up with Ahsoka. A lot of girls and guys did. When she first appeared in the Star Wars universe, there were a lot of doubts and criticism. It didn't take me very long to decide I liked her, even though some called her bit bratty and arrogant at first. But as the seasons of Clone Wars passed, her trials matured her from a hot-headed kid into a steady, strong young woman. She is one of the few Jedi to notice the fatal flaws that she's been raised with and she makes makes the shocking choice to forge her own path outside of their strict code. Her warmth and wisdom only grow as we see her as an adult in Rebels and The Mandalorian, and I cannot wait to see where her journey leads from here.
Amy might be the only "normal" girl on this list, but the depth of her heart is exceptional. She's a new girl in town struggling to fit in high school. Sure, she's moved in from a mining colony from outer space and had to be cryogenicly frozen for years during the travel, but her insecurity and troubles feel very relatable. Amy doesn't let these struggles stop her from loving life though. She sees the beauty in every little thing, things we take for granted. And when she sees people hurting, she wants to help. Sometimes, she'll get so focused on helping others, it overwhelms just how much she can take, but she keeps on trying. She is not at all mentally prepared for the troubles this story brings her, but that doesn't mean she isn't brave enough to face it.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
I sometimes see Katara get a lot of flak for being "motherly" or "bossy." And...I'm just over here going, "...but I relate to Katara." And the show acknowledges that while these traits can sometimes be Katara's weakness, they are also her strength. She is a natural leader and caretaker. When others crack under pressure, Katara is the one holding everybody up. She is somebody who puts in the work to achieve her dream, transforming her into one of the strongest warriors of the show. I adore her kindness, her sass, her determination.
Mulan wanted to be something the world told her she couldn't be. It wasn't that she wanted to be a a man, but she wanted to be honorable, somebody who could keep care of the family she loved so much, and her culture told her women just didn't do that kind of thing. Well. She proves them wrong. Unlike the live action, this Mulan didn't have any special powers. Her driving motivation is "to protect." And yes, she also wanted to find her own self-worth, but that's something she had all along.
Violet is the most unusual lady on this list, because in the beginning, she hardly feels human. Many compare her to a "tool" or a "doll," seeming to be without an understanding of her self-purpose or emotions. You see, Violet was a child soldier. The trauma of war and whatever shady background she came from pushed her into a cold container that has a lock so strong, she doesn't even know how to be free. She most certainly does not understand this thing called "love" that seems to have so many layers, meanings, and effects on people. But she wants to know. She wants to be human. So Violet sets out to discover what love and humanity is really about, and she becomes this incredible creature of graceful empathy. Once she understands the complexity of humans, she values life above all else.
How to Train Your Dragon
Probably one of the best and most realistic portrayals I've seen of a character changing from girl to woman is Astrid Hofferson. In the first movie she was a tough-as-nails teenager who was honestly a bit mean in her zealous attempts to be the best and just as powerful as the guys. But when we see her in the second movie, she seems to have become more comfortable with her femininity and her strength in being a supporting person. This is not to say she has lessened her own role at all, indeed, we see she has become quite the leader, but she also knows leaders help others. By movie three she's still struggling a little with her own grasp on independence and transition into a life of marriage, but by the end, she's ready to take the step. And we see in both the epilogue and the follow up short film, she has fully embraced ALL of who she is.
She is the greatest warrior of her village. She is their chieftess. She is a wife. She is a mother. She is fierce. She is soft. She can wear armor, and she can wear beautiful dresses. She's not afraid to be filthy and she's not afraid to be lovely. She can council, she can lead, she can step back, she can support. She can be all these things and more because that is what a real woman is capable of.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
What's this? A video game heroine who is not given a marketable, sexy appearance, but actually feels like a real, gritty "viking" girl? Alloy is tough. She has to be. Orphaned and outcast, loved only by her rugged adoptive father, Alloy's physical strength is something pretty admirable. But she's not just strong in body. She's strong in heart and mind. There's something unjust in the world? She'll pause her own quest of self-discovery to help out. Somebody is being stupid? She'll take the time to reason with them and give them new clarity. Alloy might be the most spartan woman on this list, but her stoutness doesn't make her feel like a man either, and that's a rare balance to achieve in storytelling.
Final Fantasy VII
In contrast, Tifa of FF7 does have a "sexy" look, so you might assume she'd be that "kick-butt, seductive" type that is so popular. But while Tifa can indeed kick butt, she is a very gentle, even reserved, young woman. She's chosen to be a warrior because her world is sadly lacking on people willing to stand against tyranny and oppression of the innocent. It's a dark, drab city in which she lives, her friends are struggling, and sometimes you can see her actually straining to be the positive figure in the room. In another, quieter life, Tifa might have been the pretty introvert wearing dresses and reading books. But not here. Here, boldness and stalwart strength are what is needed, so that is what she will give. (Also, gotta make a note on her other outfit in Advent Children, because it actually captures her character of practicality, modesty, fierceness, and elegance.)
Like most Disney Princesses, Moana has a dream and it goes against her parent's wishes. Unlike most Disney Princesses, Moana actually tries to respect her parents and make peace with not achieving that dream, taking on actual responsibility. It is only when her village is in danger does she set out to that alluring sea.
I love that Moana has this deep desire to do something, but when she starts out...she's not that great at it. In fact, she's pretty terrible at sailing at first. ("I am self-taught.") But her never-give-up attitude keeps her going until she can get proper teaching. When others give up, Moana keeps going. It's not something she can really do on her own, but her determination inspires others to help her until she can achieve her goal.
And that's what all these ladies are to me. Inspiration. How about you? Who are your favorite heroines and what traits do you most admire?