March is Women’s History Month. This is a time to celebrate the resolve and accomplishments of women. It’s the women of yesterday who have opened the doors to the opportunities that we enjoy today, and now it’s up to us to reach greater heights. In honor of this occasion, I’m recommending Netflix anime shows and films that feature strong and fearless female leads. Much like their real-world counterparts, these characters aren’t weighed down by the conflicts they face, but instead learn to soar above them.
So if you’ve run out of things to watch, need to change it up or have never watched anime before, continue on. I assure you these are great choices if you want to experience the art of Japanese animation. These pieces will reveal what anime has to offer compared to many Western live-action films and shows nowadays: complex storylines, vivid imagery and nuanced characters.
First on the list is “Violet Evergarden.” Right off the bat, I’m going to warn you that this is a real tear-jerker, but those tears are definitely worth it! This series follows the story of the titular character and ex-soldier, Violet Evergarden, who was trained as a weapon of war and only knows how to follow commands. She knows nothing of humanity or her own feelings, but through the kindness of her commanding officer, Major Gilbert, she learns what it means to feel belonged, cared for and loved. The show follows post-World War I society, where Evergarden has lost everything imaginable: her two arms, her purpose for living and her beloved Major Gilbert. She accepts a job as an auto-memory doll—workers who use typewriters to write letters for people who cannot do so themselves. Through this job, she learns how to interpret people’s feelings, capture those feelings into words, connect with others and bring loved ones together. Through it all, Evergarden proves to be one of the bravest and tenacious women characters in anime. Even after partaking in the cruel horrors of war, a feat atypical for women at the time, she grows into a genial human who learns to process her emotions and helps others do the same. This beloved masterpiece by the esteemed animation studio Kyoto Animation is an unforgettable story that will leave your eyes wanting more.
“Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll”
This is a side-story that takes place in an indefinite time after the original “Violet Evergarden” series. In this two-part film Violet Evergarden is appointed to teach young heiress Isabella York etiquette for high society. Like Evergarden, York also comes from a difficult background. From losing her parents to scraping through poverty, Isabella is plunged into loneliness and despair following the Great War. In her travels, Isabella befriends another homeless young toddler named Taylor, whom she adopts as her younger sister. Despite being overwhelmingly penniless, Isabella finds a way to take care of Taylor, providing her with a home and safety. After the appearance of her alleged father, Isabella is abruptly plunged into a privileged life she doesn’t want to live, but does anyway so that Taylor can have a better life than she can offer. The second part of the film is set a couple of years later and follows the still-young Taylor. She’s been apart from her beloved sister Isabella for quite some time. Being an illiterate child, she has no way to write to Isabella or to find her. Eventually, though, she finds her way back home, gaining literacy along the way. This movie is a heart-wrenching portrayal of two lost souls who find each other following the ravages of war. The sheer courage of Taylor and Isabella ignited the confidence in me to learn to take adversity in stride.
“Ouran High School Host Club”
On a more light-hearted note, “Ouran High School Host Club” is an undeniable comedy classic among anime. It’s a series centered around Haruhi Fujioka, an intelligent student who secures a coveted place in the elite and privileged Ouran High School. On her first day at school, however, she accidentally bumps into a priceless vase belonging to the school’s “Host Club,” a group of eccentric and handsome male waiters who entertain the school’s female students through cosplay, elegant tea and conversation. To compensate for her deed, Haruhi becomes one of the male hosts who tends to the schools’ privileged girls. Haruhi is undoubtedly one of the most unique characters in anime. Not only does she take over the responsibilities of her house following her mother’s death and secures a rare position in a coveted school, but she is a gender non-conformist. Because she works as a handsome male host while still maintaining her role as a responsible daughter, she constantly performs gender-bend, not caring what others think. In addition, Haruhi’s father is a bisexual crossdresser, one of many other instances of gender-presentation fluidity among characters in the show. “Ouran High School Host Club” is a gem of a comedy with plenty of LGBTQ+ representation. This is an anime like no other, packed with eccentricity in every episode.
“Maid Sama!” is a jovial romantic comedy series that features a bold and tenacious female lead. This lead character is none other than Misaki Ayuzawa, the first female student council president of Seika High School, a once notorious all-boys school. With women still in the minority, Misaki uses her power as student council president to reform the school into an inviting and safe place for the female students. However, her tough-as-nails demeanor is endangered by her part-time job in a maid cafe she works at to support her family. The popular and inscrutable boy of the school, Takumi Usui, finds out about her uncharacteristic occupation, and threatens to utilize it as a weapon to destroy her meticulously-crafted reputation in the school. Although this show was cheesy and predictable at times, it was still refreshing to watch. The resolute determination that Misaki maintained in all her duties really made the show wholesome. I think we can all learn a few things from her.
“Kakegurui,” which translates to “compulsive gambler,” is an enticing show about the temptation, strategy and bliss of gambling. The female lead of this show is the cunning and quick-witted Yumeko Jabami, a transfer student in the opulent Hyakkaou Private Academy. This is a place where gambling is the scene and the only way to wield power in the school. Yumeko is the queen of tactics and deception, giving her the upper hand as she brazenly gambles without fear. The series is an interesting take on the practice of gambling, highlighting the thrill people find when they relinquish their money and thus, their only footing in capitalistic society, to pure chance. If you’re searching for a one-of-a-kind anime, this is a really good one to seek out.
“Whisker Away” is a romantic coming-of-age film that will certainly leave you in tears, so make sure you’ve got some tissues. It’s a story about Miyo “Muge” Sasaki, a middle schooler who feels like she can’t be loved. Her parents get divorced, her mother abandons her and her father marries another woman who forces herself into Muge’s life. But despite these hardships, she still manages to wear a smile in school, especially if it’s to attract the notice of her crush, Kento Hinode. But unfortunately, Kento ignores her, and the only way Muge can capture his attention is when she transforms into a cute cat with the help of a magical mask. However, Muge begins to desire to permanently be a cat, as she continues to feel alone and unloved when she is a human. This shifts once Muge loses everything she had in her human life, including a supportive friend, concerned classmates and loving parents, forcing her to realize that she is in fact loved and deserves to be loved. This was a poignant story that really taught me to cherish the supportive and loving people in my life. Sometimes we take what we have for granted and are unable to see its value until it leaves.
“In this Corner of the World”
“In this Corner of the World” is a masterpiece that has accrued dozens of awards, including the esteemed Japan Academy Film Prize. Directed by Suano Katabuchi, it’s become a national phenomenon that succeeded in connecting with not just anime-lovers but all of Japan. This incredibly detailed war film is a homage to the people who died during the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it follows the story of Suzu, an 18-year old girl from Hiroshima who fancies herself a day-dreaming artist. The film recounts her life during World War II and the catastrophic experiences she endures during the time. Although at first she may seem spacy and clumsy, the harsh reality of war challenges her character, but she comes out intact at the end. This film is unique with its distinctive hand-drawn rather than the digital animation of most modern anime. Due to the meticulous research that went into making this film, it’s much more detailed than any war piece I’ve ever seen, making the viewer feel transported into the grave time period. This is an enlightening film that explores all facets of war from daily air raids to resource scarcity to fear of the unknown as it showcases the strength and resilience of everyday people.
“A Silent Voice”
Last, but not certainly not least, is “A Silent Voice,” an already iconic movie that was one of the highest-grossing films when it came out in 2016. Speaking of powerhouse women, the work was created by one of the few female directors in Japan, Naoko Yamada. It’s a wholesome film about a deaf and mute girl, Shouko Nishimiya, as she transfers to a new school where she’s bullied by her classmates for being deaf, especially by the arrogant Shoya Ishida. The bullying progresses to a point where Shoko is forced to transfer to another school. Consequently, Shoya is ostracized, friendless and, ironically, bullied himself after how he treated Shoko. In the future, as the characters become older, Shoya seeks out Shoko in his search for redemption for his actions. This was a humbling movie about forgiveness, shared human suffering and the strength you can find in others. Shoko is a force of a human being, as she continually proves herself to be a person that wants to find the good in people and remains a beacon of hope and positivity, despite being mistreated at a young age for her impairment.
And with that, these are all the anime movies and shows on Netflix that I believe have incredible female leads. Considering the time period we’re in, where a woman’s resolve and strength are constantly tested, these films and shows not only offer a respite, but teach more meaningful values that can help us survive this era. By seeing the fiery courage in these characters, we can learn to find the courage in ourselves to continue on.