5 shonen anime where the female cast is respected (and 5 where they are not)

Two shonen anime that respect their female characters (top) and two that don
Two shonen anime that respect their female characters (top) and two that don't (bottom) (Image via Sportskeeda)

Shonen anime can be quite uneven when it comes to its female cast. For every shonen anime that treats its female cast with respect, such as Spy x Family, there are those like Naruto or Dragon Ball that either write them inconsistently or otherwise don't respect them at all.

This can be seen in many ways on both fronts - sometimes female characters are all well-rounded, capable of being both awesome and vulnerable, whereas sometimes they're just comedic or fanservice fodder. This article will go into 5 shonen anime that treat their female characters like people and five that ultimately fail in that department.

Disclaimer: This article is subjective and contains spoilers. To ensure clarity, respect accorded to a character will be judged based on the following parameters -

  1. The female character must be a character unto themselves, having an arc and at least some importance to the plot or story overall. They must fill roles other than just the mother, love interest, medic, or someone who is dead.
  2. They cannot just exist for the sake of fanservice or comedy. Addtionally, if there is fanservice, it must either serve a point or otherwise be in moderate doses.
  3. There must be multiple female characters, or at the bare minimum three.
  4. Their moments in the spotlight must stick with viewers and not be invalidated. If it's an action show, they should be allowed to be as messed up as the men.

5 shonen anime that show their female characters respect

1) Pokémon

Villains, gym leaders, and companions (Image via Sportskeeda)
Villains, gym leaders, and companions (Image via Sportskeeda)

Pokémon is probably not the first name that comes to mind when talking about shonen anime. However, this shonen anime makes it to the list of ones with respected female characters given its range of trainers, gym leaders, and companions alongside Ash Ketchum, who all have their own unique personality, battling style, and even character arcs.

Likewise, female characters in this particular shonen anime are allowed to have multiple roles. Aside from really difficult gym leaders like Cynthia and Sabrina alongside iconic companions like Misty, May, and Dawn, there's the multiple law enforcement Officer Jennies, the many Nurse Joys, and villains in the form of Team Rocket with Jessie and Cassidy.

With Ash Ketchum's journey at an end, and a new female protagonist named Liko ready to start the adaptation of Scarlet and Violet, most fans of the anime are eagerly anticipating this next chapter in this shonen anime saga.

2) Spy x Family

Spies, assassins, and Anya (Image via Sportskeeda)
Spies, assassins, and Anya (Image via Sportskeeda)

One of the many new waves of shonen anime that have started showing their female characters respect is Spy x Family.

Yor Forger might be clumsy and socially awkward, but she's likewise a deadly assassin who shows her skills more than once in the anime. Anya might be slightly dense, but she's five years old and a telepath who is doing her best to help her newfound parents. The aforementioned characters are pivotal to the story. Besides having their own arcs, they have also saved Loid's life on numerous occasions.

The other women in the series fit multiple roles, from schoolchildren like Becky to fellow spies like the Loid-obsessed Nightfall and Loid's Handler.

They are all characters unto themselves, with each having their own arc and motivations: Yor is in the family to get her brother off her back and avoid detection, Anya just wants a home to belong to, and Nightfall has a massive crush on Loid/Twilight, which she'll never say out loud.

3) Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury

The clumsy protag, her wife, the scheming mom...and epic punch Chu Chu. (Image via Sportskeeda)
The clumsy protag, her wife, the scheming mom...and epic punch Chu Chu. (Image via Sportskeeda)

While Gundam as a franchise could easily fit this list, The Witch From Mercury, in particular, fits this criteria. For one, it's one of those examples of a shonen anime that focuses primarily on women and is the first in the Gundam franchise to feature women in the lead, as main characters Suletta Mercury and Miorine Rembran take center stage.

While the main thrust of the anime is the relationship/engagement between these two unlikely partners, this particular entry in the massive robot franchise has plenty of other women in roles that would usually go to the men. An example of this is Lady Prospera Mercury filling the role of this season's version of Char Aznable.

The show doesn't hesitate to put action and trauma centerstage either, especially during the first season finale where Suletta kills someone bloodily to save Miorine and the second season thus far dealing with the fallout. While it likewise has academy drama, this shonen anime also has many Gundam staple issues of space vs. Earth racism, corporate shenanigans, and interpersonal relationships.

4) Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood

Mechanic, villain, military, princess (Image via Sportskeeda)
Mechanic, villain, military, princess (Image via Sportskeeda)

Speaking of women in multiple roles, Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood have plenty of female characters who are as important as the men, if not more. From the always helpful Winry Rockbell providing Edward Elric repairs on his constantly breaking automail, to Riza Hawkeye being the voice of reason to Roy Mustang's literally hot temper, the heroes are all as nuanced as the villains are.

Lust herself is nuanced despite being a villain and homunculus. Same is the case with Olivia Armstrong, despite her being on the "good" side of things. Mention must be made of mentor and housewife Izumi Curtis who trained the Elrics, Rose Thomas, who has a much bigger role in the 2003 series than Brotherhood, and Mei Chang, who's the princess of the Xing in Brotherhood.

They're all unique, all important in one way or another, and all have nuances to them that most shonen anime lack. Winry hates Scar for killing her parents, but ultimately the two come to a reconciliation. Lust is far more intelligent and doesn't act like her namesake sin, and Olivia is so strict because she cares.

5) Fate: Stay/Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Summoners and summoned (Image via Sportskeeda)
Summoners and summoned (Image via Sportskeeda)

Speaking of women who can fight in a shonen anime, Fate: Stay/Night has several central female spirits and summoners as main characters. They include Rin Tohsaka, Saber, Rider, Illyasviel von Einzbern, and Sakura Matou. All of them have their own importance to the story, Rin being chosen to participate in the Holy Grail War, Saber being almost accidentally chosen to be Shirou's Servant, and more.

The entire series focuses around these master/servant dynamics, leading to some iconic moments. Where else are shonen anime fans going to see a gender-bent King Arthur fight against Medusa and Medea from Greek Myth? Likewise, the fact that Saber and Rin have a good rapport to the point where they wonder why Shirou is Saber's master is also funny.

In addition to the characters all being well-rounded and well-written, the cast also tends to defy stereotypes: The women fight and are just as vulnerable as the men are.

5 shonen anime with a distinct lack of respect towards their female characters

1) Naruto


Much as Naruto may be one of the most beloved shonen anime out there, and part of the Big Three, the handling of its female characters comes up woefully short and wildly inconsistent. For every Sakura Haruno who proves vital at saving people's lives and even has her own character arc, audiences are frustrated by the sidelining of other characters who ooze potential like TenTen or Hinata Hyuga.

As this is a story focused primarily on Team 7 and mostly Naruto and Sasuke, the women tend to be sidelined. Such examples include women who are important posthumously (Rin Nohara and Kushina Uzumaki), women who are in power being relegated to the background (Tsunade the fifth Hokage and Mei Terumi the fifth Mizukage), and often men getting more impressionable moments overall.

This doesn't mean that there aren't women in multiple roles, or that they aren't important at all, only that they're sidelined far more often than the male characters.

Boruto seems to correct this, having more female characters that are important like Delta, Sarada, Sumire, and Ada, who don't end up getting shafted and are important to the plot.

2) Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z

The women of dragon ball (Image via sportskeeda)
The women of dragon ball (Image via sportskeeda)

The original Dragon Ball had Bulma, Launch, Mai, and Chi Chi. Mai may have been serious once upon a time, but was reduced to comedic relief upon Pilaf's defeat.

Chi Chi was likewise homebound in Z, and became a lot less popular due to being a rather strict mother. Launch was always comedic relief. Bulma is the only one in Ball that has some consequence throughout the entire series, remaining so throughout Z and Super.

While Dragon Ball Z did add characters like Android 18, Videl, and others, 18 was pretty much the only big threat in this particular shonen anime. Basically, everyone mostly agrees that Toriyama could've done better on female characters especially following Pan's birth. Pan is another can of worms in Dragon Ball GT, as she was considered the most bratty and annoying child character in the franchise.

Dragon Ball Super is considered something of a course correction, with female Supreme Kais, Gods of Destruction, Angels, and the addition of characters like Caulifa, Kale, and their fusion Kefla. Ribrianne, on the other hand, exists and is considered rather powerful, but likewise is one of the most hated of the new characters due to her magical girl idol parody going into mean spirited tones at times.

3) Gurren Lagann

The three women of Gurren Lagann (Image via Sportskeeda)
The three women of Gurren Lagann (Image via Sportskeeda)

While Gurren Lagann is an incredibly fun and over-the-top shonen anime, it does kind of fall short in the respect for female characters category. The main female character, Yoko Littner, is used mostly for comic relief/fan service despite being a great shot with her sniper rifle. There were Kitten's siblings and Darry, but Darry was a kid and the siblings all had support roles.

Following that, we have Nia Tepplin. Nia helped Simon out of his depression following Kamina's death, but Yoko was shown to have resented her for a while. Nia is a bit of a complex character in and of herself, but she dies at the end of the post-timeskip era. Nobody liked the fact that Nia died, especially not on her and Simon's wedding day after helping defeat the Anti-Spiral.

Those are two big female characters out of a cast easily spanning dozens on the good side. On the evil side, there was Adiane the Elegant who was the only female general on Lordgenome's team as well as possibly the most cruel and nearly completely human in appearance.

4) Death Note

The two important women in Death Note (Image via Sportskeeda)
The two important women in Death Note (Image via Sportskeeda)

An excellent example of a surreal urban thriller, Death Note has quite a few problems regarding the treatment of female characters within the shonen anime. The problem with Death Note is that Light Yagami and L are the focus of the anime and everyone else that's not them tends to be pushed to the wayside.

One notable example of wasted potential in the fight against Kira is Naomi Misora. A skilled and intelligent FBI agent who was viciously on Light's tail is killed just as she discovers Light is Kira. Many fans have repeatedly stated that it felt like she could've lasted longer, or at least been just a little more effective; even though she's the one who mainly points L to Light. At least the live action movies give her more to do, and portrays her death in a realistic manner.

Now, the other main female character in this shonen anime is Misa Amane, aka the second Kira. In the manga, she has several memorable moments. The live action movies portray her as far more competent. The anime, however, downplays her impact and alters her intelligence and personality to make her an airhead and a typical Yandere.

5) Rurouni Kenshin

The one important female character in Kenshin (Image via Liden Films)
The one important female character in Kenshin (Image via Liden Films)

Surprisingly enough, there are roughly 34 female characters in the shonen anime Rurouni Kenshin. Some are dead mothers, some sisters, some are cooks, some medics, and so on. They usually double as information brokers, motivational pieces for the main characters, or otherwise just people living their lives, which is a plus for this shonen anime.

Why then, is Kenshin down here instead of in a grey area? A lot of the women have to be rescued, those who can fight are pushed aside in favor of the men, and if females do have any spotlight, it's usually as either love interests or dead people serving as motivation, like Yukishiro Tomoe, who was Kenshin's first wife.

A lot can be said about the lead female character Kamiya Kaoru, and how she's a very divisive character in the fandom. Some attribute this to her being consistently overshadowed, constantly captured and used for ransom, and seemingly only there to provide Kenshin with a love interest. She does have her defenders, however, citing her development as leaps and bounds ahead of others in the series.

While a lot of these anime are either cult classics, new favorites, or even part of the Big Three, overall, the writing of female characters in shonen has improved, much like male characters in shojo.

Some other honorary mentions for anime respecting women include Keijo!!!, Komi Can't Communicate, and A Silent Voice. There are still others in a grey area like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan. If you think we missed out on any, let us know in the comments below.

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Edited by Upasya Bhowal
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