Note: Characters are listed alphabetically by name. We may love some more than others, but there’s no official ranking.
Akame ga Kill! – Yeah, her name is kinda silly, but the ice blue-haired general was more than just an evil villainess. Sure, no one can argue that she was a murderous, bloodthirsty, and highly prolific conqueror and torturer, but she was a product of her upbringing. She was taught that the strong slaughter the weak…and that’s it. But most importantly, her own heart rebelled against that dark philosophy and the Imperial Arm that propagated it. For all her scars and wrong-headed ideology, she still fell in love. One of the bigger tragedies of the show is that Tatsumi wasn’t quite able to turn her away from evil. Making us feel for such a fundamentally awful villain is no mean feat.
2. Hanabusa Sumireko
Akuma no Riddle – Sumireko was the self-appointed class president and a gorgeous, well-bred young lady of impeccable manners. She sat behind that desk, being nice and polite as girl after girl tried and failed to assassinate Haru, and when it was finally her turn, she did not disappoint, ditching her prim uniform for revealing combat attire, showing absolutely no mercy, and delivering one of the most elaborate, over-the-top battles of the show.
3. Ikkyuu Tensai
Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – While her cute blonde looks belie her samurai-style name, Tensai wasn’t just another pretty face. She was a genius detective, as well as a shameless self-promoter who happened to be able to back up her own hype with results. She really stood out among an otherwise meh cast, and her verbal spars and ‘chess games’ with Juugo were always a highlight of the show.
4. Kanbaru Suruga
Hanamonogatari – I know, this was technically a movie, but it was structured like five episodes of television, and that’s how I reviewed them. Suruga was (due in no small part to her seiyu Sawashiro Miyuki) always one of my favorite Monogatari characters, and she gets the spotlight in this wonderful arc that explores action and inaction, regret, adolescence…and the perils of sleeping in the nude.
5. Komadori Renge
Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda – You wouldn’t think Renge had much in common with the violent and domineering Esdeath…but you’d be wrong, and I’m not just talking about their tendency to wear white. Like Esdeath, Renge has fallen for the enemy…only in her case, she’s on the ‘good guy’s and he’s with the ‘bad’, only doesn’t know Jimon is part of Zvezda at all until quite late in the show, and even then, like Esdeath, those feelings don’t change. It’s quite fun to watch the two lovebirds walk a tightrope, both trying to keep their alter-egos secret, and while in their respective disguises.
6. Maji Mojiruka Rurumo
Majimoji Rurumo – While not a particularly serious-looking show, MMR had a serious (if simple and sweet) romance at its heart, and Rurumo was the slightly better half of it. Always derided and placed in a box labeled ‘slow and inept’ and pushed into training that will eventually take Kouta’s life, her time with him compels her instead to extend that training indefinitely so she can be with the person she’s become so fond of, despite their wildly different backgrounds.
7. Miyazono Kaori
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – The brilliant violinist who yanks Kousei out of his dark sea of self-loathing and regret and shows him the true beauty and light of music, Kaori is a bundle of energy and charisma, capable of engendering laughter or tears at will. It’s a shame then, she seems to be dying.
8. Murano Satomi
Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – If this list were ranked by luck (rather than the alphabet), Satomi would be pretty high, just as Shinichi would be high on the guy’s list. Her life isn’t all that bad…except for the fact Shinichi isn’t Shinichi anymore. What she doesn’t know is exactly what that means. Her love for him, tinged with her crushing fears, are ably expressed by Hanazawa Kana.
9. Sakurai Aoi
Rail Wars! – RW! was a flawed and sometimes just-plain-dumb show that just happened to have awesome trains, but the extremely badass Aoi was a definite bright spot, as was her tenuous relationship with Naoto. The proud (and very apparent) daughter of a cop, Aoi formed the ‘muscle’ of Defense 4 along with Shou. But her considerable confidence in combat was contrasted with her insecurity with her femininity and struggles with her feelings for Naoto. Aoi was many things, but never boring.
Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – Big changes seem in store for Arzenal in the near future, but at this point in Cross Ange’s run, Salia has been the poster child for a typical Arzenal Norma life, with emphasis on ‘child.’ We’ve explored the many ways in which Arzenal is basically a kindergarten you never leave. It’s the only home she’s ever known, and inspired by the likes of Jill as well as magical girl stories, she’s always dreamed of becoming its savior. Unfortunately, like Jill, she doesn’t quite have what it takes to be the heroine or even the troop leader, and must be content in a supporting role, which doesn’t sit right with her at all.
11. Hildegard “Hilda” Schlievogt
Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – The opposite of Salia in many ways, Hilda did know a life before Arzenal. It was an idyllic life, like Ange’s, from which she was cruelly ripped away once she was revealed to be a Norma. Rather than working and fighting to become the hero like Salia, all of Hilda’s scheming and screwing has been to find and secure a way out, back to her original life…which didn’t go well at all.
12. Kazumi Schlierenzauer
Gokukoku no Brynhildr – While she starts out as a callous and annoyingly flirtatious pain in the ass, but steadily grew into the most compelling and endearing of the girls, embracing her mixed-up adolescent tendencies and raw humanity with abandon. Her seemingly always-imminent death terrifies her, and you can’t help but feel for her.
13. Shinatose Izana
Sidonia no Kishi – Speaking of feeling for someone, one can’t help but sympathize with Izana’s unenviable position as the ‘neglected best friend.’ Add to that the fact she transitioned into a woman (from her original third gender) because of her feelings Nagate, who can’t see the forest of Izana for the trees of Shizuka (who was lost to the Gauna) and the artificial copy of her (which lingers in the ship’s lab).
14. Shinohara Erika
Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – This list is full of flawed and imperfect women, and Erika is no different. But she knows what she wants: friends, and a happy high school life; if she has to lie about having a boyfriend to get those things, so be it. She gets her comeuppance, but eventually comes to want something else: for her fake boyfriend to become real, and love her as she comes to love him. It’s a rough road before that happens, but that’s what makes it so satisfying.
15. Shiodome Miuna
Nagi no Asukara – Miuna’s one of those characters you won’t learn much about by reading her MAL profile, nor will you really get her unless you watch her full arc, which spans several years and in which she grows from melancholy girl to increasingly strong and selfless, even heroic young woman. Voiced by Komatsu Mikako in what I believe to be her finest voice work to date, Miuna was one of the richest and most beloved characters of the year, full stop.
16. Sonokawa Momoko
Sabagebu! – There are characters you love to hate, but the pink haired Momoko is someone you almost hate to love, because she is, at best, not a particularly good person, and at worst, a scheming, morally bankrupt scoundrel who’d happily tread upon the corpses of her friends to snatch victory. That being said, all the violence is make-believe (mostly) and she’s immensely entertaining to watch.
17. Takanashi Rikka
Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren – Was Chu2Koi 2 as good as Chu2Koi? No. Is it still some very strong KyoAni romantic comedy with a healthy dose of fantasy? Yes indeed, and Rikka is a big part of that. Her insecurities about the nature of her relationship with Yuuta (which are largely resolved by the end of the show); the elaborate chuuni ways in which she communicates with Yuuta; her competition with Satone; heck, just the way she says Yuuta…it’s all gold. Watching her and Yuuta grow steadly closer brought a lot of warmth to the cold, snowy Winter.
18. Tsunemori Akane
PSYCHO-PASS 2 – The guy’s list had a gumshoe in Shibazaki, but male or female, I don’t think there’s anyone who can stand up to Inspector Tsunemori in terms of wits or pure badassery. Maybe Esdeath, who has command of ice; or Miuna, who can breathe underwater…but Akane would give them a fight. Sure, she did much of her finest work in the first season, but she doesn’t exactly embarrass herself in this somewhat rushed and action-oriented sequel, either. In fact, she cracked the biggest case of them all: getting Sybil to start cleaning up its act.
19. Yuuki Asuna
Sword Art Online II – Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year was the fact that after undervaluing, undermining, and marginalizing our favorite SAO character in the second half of its first season and the first half of its second, the show not only brought Asuna back to prominence, but made her the unchallenged star of the show in its final arc which not only explored both her real and virtual families, but had her join another, which led to some of SAO’s best narrative and character work.