Here’s a piping-hot batch of feminist-friendly titles hot out the oven for our dear readers! We’ll likely expand this list to include more general “harmless fun”-type titles in the future, but right now we’re focusing on anime that more specifically center on intersectional feminist-relevant topics and ideas, such as gender or racial politics.
Questions about our rec selection process? See our Intro page for details. You may also want to check out our Queer Recommendations list for titles starring LGBTQ+ characters or our Family-Friendly list for shows for younger audiences.
A Place Further than the Universe
What’s It About? Mari Tamaki is a by-the-books high school student whose desire to experience new things has always been undercut by her fear and insecurity. When she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a driven young woman determined to follow her vanished mother to the Antarctic, Mari is finally inspired to take a leap of faith.
Why We Recommend It: It’s hard to know which parts to highlight, because Place Further gets so much right. The representation of teenage girls and friendship is spot on. The Antarctica mission is led by skilled, experienced, scientific women. Each character is a distinct, complex individual with clear goals and motivations which develop over the story. The art is expressive and the world grounded in realistic detail. Suffice to say, this is an expertly crafted series.
Place Further weaves together four separate coming-of-age stories into one travelogue that pack a real emotional punch. Each girls’ personal struggles can be hard going at times, but the writers make sure to balance each note of grief with plenty of comedy and charisma. It provokes laughter and tears just about every episode.
One-part adventure story, one-part character drama, Place Further is top-tier young adult fiction, heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. This is a rare anime you could show someone who is not an anime fan without the need for caveats or lengthy explanations. At 13 episodes, it tells a complete story that is an absolute pleasure to watch.
Content Warnings: Bereavement; an isolated “joke” about a parent threatening to hit their child; mild nudity (bathing scenes; not sexualized); mentions of bullying (not shown).
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
What’s it about? Fujiko Mine is a woman of mystery: a thief with a thousand identities who’ll steal your heart and valuables without a second thought. On her travels, she crosses paths with a hotshot young thief, an expert gunman, an erstwhile assassin, and a crooked cop—all under the eyes of watchful owls, who seem to want something from her.
Why We Recommend It: A stylish action noir with staggering ambition, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine comes with more content warnings than anything else on the list. Nearly every major character is a terrible person, though they are often sympathetic or at least entertaining to watch. Mari Okada’s scripts, perhaps the best of her incredibly varied career, burn with anger and unflinching sharpness in tackling the subject of abuse (understandably, as Okada is herself a survivor)—and yet the series is also woven through with effective, pitch-black humor that keeps the viewing experience from being intolerable.
Sayo Yamamoto’s direction matches the writing beat for beat, taking a legacy character designed as an untrustworthy tease and framing her as powerful and clever. The show is so full of nudity it practically approaches parody, eventually numbing the viewer to the sight of breasts appearing constantly in nonsexual, casual scenes. At the same time, it pointedly dresses Fujiko in pragmatic, functional outfits when she’s working a job.
A visually stunning, deceptively episodic story that slowly builds into a tightly woven mythos, its meta narrative questions how women’s stories are told—or more often, how they’re either silenced or co-opted by men. It looks at how the oppressed can become perpetrators of the system, how queer narratives are shut out altogether, and slyly reclaims a character originally created to be interchangeable. It isn’t a viewing experience for everyone, but it is a powerful and exemplary work of art.
Content Warnings: Depictions of sexual assault (adults and children, implied), child grooming, physical and emotional abuse, medical experimentation, torture, branding, gaslighting, homophobia (internal and external), toxic masculinity, misogyny, war crimes, gun violence, police brutality and corruption, transactional sex, drug use (consensual and nonconsensual), and nudity.
Suggested Age Range: 20 and up
Maria the Virgin Witch
What’s It About?In the last stages of the Hundred Years’ War, there lived a witch named Maria. While most witches profit from the war, Maria intervenes to stop every battle she can. Also unlike most witches, Maria is a virgin. The Archangel Michael descends and tells Maria that if she continues to interfere, God will strike her down and, as a test of her conviction, she will lose her powers if she has sex.
Why We Recommend It: We here at AniFem tend to avoid labeling series as “feminist” because it’s often an overly simplistic term. But with its focus on complex female characters directly tackling issues and attitudes that affect women living under patriarchal systems, it’s hard to think of a more apt descriptor for Maria the Virgin Witch.
In its brief 12-episode run, the series takes aim at a broad variety of topics that affect women under patriarchal systems. It looks at purity culture and rape culture as two sides of the same coin; social othering and male fear of powerful and rebellious women; and how systems of inequality can harm people in different ways across the board. Maria has little regard for the way things are expected to work, and is more interested in standing up for what’s right than how things are normally done. Combined with her power as a witch, this means that those who hope to preserve the status quo seek to control her in any way they can.
Not that Maria is all gloom and preachiness, of course! These ideas are all wrapped up in a story told with wit and charm. The series shifts between bawdy comedy and historical drama, and each part is as strongly written and directed as the other. The comedy bits are especially notable for sexual humor that rarely hinges on assault or “comedic” misunderstandings. A smart, nuanced series that’s also an entertaining watch, don’t let the tawdry title keep you from giving this one a try.
Content Warnings: It’s impossible to talk about the relationship between sex and power without sexual assault coming up, and so Maria the Virgin Witch comes with a major warning for rape. It’s portrayed respectfully and never used for titillation, but it’s graphic and potentially very triggering. It also makes hefty use of Christian mythology, going well beyond the usual surface-level symbols that many Japanese properties use as set dressing. Finally, there’s a lot of sexual humor, graphic violence, a gay stereotype character, and mild non-sexual nudity.
Suggested Age Range: 16 and up
Michiko & Hatchin
What’s It About? After Michiko saves 9-year-old Hana “Hatchin” Morenos from her abusive foster family, the two set out on a journey through fictional Brazil to find Hatchin’s biological father and Michiko’s ex-lover. Their world is a cruel environment, particularly to racialized communities, but gradually Michiko and Hatchin become each other’s chosen family.
Why We Recommend It: While Michiko & Hatchin’s premise is about finding a useless man, the show is actually about the relationships between adult womxn trying to make sense of an unfair racist, classist, and patriarchal world. The show is melancholic and not afraid to depict the brutal socio-economic realities that racialized communities (particularly Black/Brown folks) are forced to face on a daily basis and the lengths they will go in order to survive. It can be difficult to watch due to the show accurately capturing the nuances of how colorism, or in this case Mejorarando La Raza (Bettering the Race), works in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the show also portrays complicated people trying to find solace and happiness.
Despite the violence our protagonists face wherever they go, Michiko & Hatchin does not depict their vulnerability as a sign of weakness, but as a source of strength for them. This is especially important because for characters like Michiko and her childhood friend Atsuko, the show could have easily relied on problematic tropes normally associated with the representation of Black/Brown womxn, but thankfully avoided that completely.
The portrayal of various forms of subtle love and compassion in Black/Brown communities is something rarely seen in anime, and we’d love for that to be normalized across all mediums. The series also contains major and minor queer characters like Atsuko and Ivan, who are fully fleshed-out characters living their own lives outside of the main plot.
Ultimately, Michiko and Hatchin is about chosen families supporting their loved ones in both good and bad decisions in the hopes for a better future. It can be a difficult watch at times, but it’s very much a worthwhile one.
Content Warnings: Child abuse; child trafficking; depictions of emotional abuse and sexual assault; police violence; depictions of mejorarando la raza; exotification of Black/Brown bodies; fatphobia; brief animal cruelty (bull fighting).
Suggested Age Range: 16 and up
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
What’s It About? Chiyo Sakura has been crushing on the tall, taciturn Umetaro Nozaki since the first day of school. When she finally gets up the nerve to confess to him, he… hands her an autograph? When she tries again a few days later, she finds herself recruited as his assistant to help create his popular shoujo manga, Let’s Fall in Love!
Why We Recommend It: In addition to having an across-the-board charming cast and consistently note-perfect comedic timing, Nozaki-kun is also deceptively smart and cheerfully subversive, exploring gender roles in reality and fiction, the manga industry, and how stories impact our understanding of the world.
Inexperienced teenagers research popular romance tropes and find out they’re a lot less heart-pounding than they sound. A lady prince flirts with every girl she meets and happily rough-houses with her beleaguered male senpai. A socially anxious boy serves as the model for a shoujo heroine, while a tactless girl becomes the basis for a boorish boy in the same manga.
As intelligent as it is silly, Nozaki-kun laughs with its characters but never at them, and is always quick to remind us that real people don’t slot neatly into the roles often assigned them in fiction. Blending sharp commentary with feel-good comedy, it’s one of those rare beasts that critiques and challenges while also just being a whole lot of fun to watch. A start-to-finish delight, we’d recommend this one to just about anyone.
Content Warnings: Comedic violence; mild sexual innuendo and discussions of physical/romantic relationships.
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
The Rose of Versailles (sometimes listed as “Lady Oscar”)
What’s It About? Assigned female at birth and raised as a man, Oscar de Jarjayes becomes the head of the palace guard at the same time Marie Antoinette becomes the Queen of France. As the French Revolution approaches, Oscar must choose between love and duty, torn between loyalty to their Queen and the nobility and empathy towards the oppressed lower class.
Why We Recommend It? Considered by many as both groundbreaking and one of shoujo anime’s greatest productions, there’s no doubt that The Rose of Versailles is a beloved classic. It certainly has the over-the -top melodrama that characterizes the shoujo of the era, and while the limited animation can occasionally show its age, the stunning visuals and delightful entertainment it provides endures.
One of its biggest appeals definitely comes in the form of its iconic protagonist, Oscar. It’s not hard to see why: from their bravery and strong sense of justice in a crushingly unjust world, to a set of skills that knows no equal in a male-dominated world, Oscar is an inspiring hero. Desired by both men and women, their closest relationships plus their struggle with restrictive gender roles and gender identity notably give them their status as a queer icon as well.
The 40-episode show can be basically divided in two: the glamorously petty (but ridiculously engrossing) court drama stage, and the darker countdown towards the revolution. While far from perfect, The Rose of Versailles is the kind of iconic show every anime fan should try to see at least once.
Content Warnings: Some outdated ideas about romance and gender; attempted rape (by the love interest, who continues to be a love interest afterwards); pedophilia (the threat of a girl getting married to a pedophile); suicide; and murder.
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
What’s It About? This historical fiction follows the career and personal life of Yakumo, a master rakugo performer, as well as the lives of his found family as they struggle to understand each other, perfect their storytelling craft, and find a way to make peace with their complicated pasts.
Why We Recommend It: At the risk of over-hyping it, Rakugo Shinju is a modern masterpiece, a nigh-perfectly crafted series featuring some of the most impressive direction, writing, acting, and cinematography that visual storytelling has to offer. Each episode improves upon the last, drawing its audience deeper into its characters’ lives and their tangled relationships with one another.
It’s a love letter to the performance arts; a thoughtful exploration of storytelling; a powerful meditation on the inevitability (and importance) of change; a quiet challenge of gender norms; a beautiful tale of found families and forgiveness; and a nuanced character study featuring an array of complex, contradictory figures and a fascinatingly layered queer-coded (arguably ace-coded) protagonist. It was an analytical feast and an emotional haymaker, warming and breaking our hearts in equal measures.
Simply put, Rakugo Shinju is a phenomenal piece of fiction and some of the best that anime has to offer. It doesn’t just deserve to be on this list; it deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time greats of the medium.
Content Warnings: The story deals with sexism, emotional abuse, sexual situations, depression, and violence/suicide, but most of it is told or implied rather than graphically depicted, and it’s all respectfully handled and serves a narrative purpose. There’s also the suggestion of child grooming at one point, but it comes from an unreliable character and is almost certainly untrue.
Suggested Age Range: There’s nothing especially “unsuitable” for older teens, but the content would likely be best enjoyed by adult audiences—20 and up, we’ll say.
The Story of Saiunkoku (sometimes listed as “Colourcloud Palace”)
What’s It About? Inspired by dynastic China, this historical fantasy follows Shuurei, a young woman who dreams of becoming a government official even though women are barred from civil service. When a request from the palace brings her into close contact with the nation’s young emperor, she realizes the barriers to her dreams may not be insurmountable after all.
Why We Recommend It: Saiunkoku is the progressive shoujo fantasy that time forgot; a buried treasure we just couldn’t resist highlighting. While it wears the trappings of a reverse-harem and features an undercurrent of fluffy romance (with an openly bisexual love interest!), this is first-and-foremost a political dramedy focused on Shuurei’s career and personal growth.
Starring a determined, capable female protagonist, Saiunkoku directly tackles sexism in the workplace and lauds feminine-coded strength. The men closest to Shuurei are fiercely supportive of her goals and the few women in power are consistently depicted with respect and borderline awe, including a cool-headed sex worker who functions as Shuurei’s primary mentor.
Saiunkoku doesn’t shy away from depicting complicated situations and emotions (including an arc where Shuurei grapples with being attracted to someone she knows is toxic), but it remains doggedly hopeful and empowering, believing in its protagonist and, by extension, its female-targeted audience. Charming, funny, and triumphant, with a stellar Japanese cast and beautiful soundtrack, there are few series as deserving of a license-rescue as this one.
Content Warnings: Mild violence, sexual content, and discussions of sex; death and bereavement; leans into gender essentialism at times; depictions of sexism, classism, and child and emotional abuse (not sexual, delicately handled, and ultimately condemned).
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
The Twelve Kingdoms
What’s It About? Yoko Nakajima does her best to be a good girl. She obeys her strict parents, gets good grades in school, and never rocks the boat with her classmates. It’s not her fault her red hair draws the wrong kind of attention. But her efforts turn out to be of little use when a mysterious blond man named Keiki appears in her class one day, commanding her to fight the monsters that came with him. Before she knows it, Yoko and her two classmates are alone in a strange and hostile world.
Why We Recommend It: The isekai genre can be a tough field. Modern-day ones tend to indulge in the worst male power fantasies, including harems and slave ownership. Older ones aimed at shoujo audiences frequently focus on romance and handsome saviors, which can have its value but isn’t exactly empowering. Among these series, Twelve Kingdoms stands alone.
Twelve Kingdoms uses fantasy as a way of questioning and examining our world’s biases and beliefs. Yoko, Asano, and Sugimoto face hostility not for who they are but what they are. Even if they survive, will always be regarded as outsiders. The fantasy world has its own systems of oppression, separate from ours, that throw real-life issues such as sexism and racism into sharp relief. Yoko, meanwhile, must suddenly deal with the consequences of her actions, including her complicity in the bullying that turned Sugimoto into a suspicious, antagonistic person. Through all this, she is driven by desperation to do terrible things, but comes out the other side a better and stronger person.
Even better, because the series is based on a series of novels that follow different characters, there are frequent point-of-view shifts, expanding the world and the stories within it well beyond just Yoko. This variety strengthens the shows feminist leanings by showing how different circumstances can lead to different paths and outcomes. Epic and intimate in equal turns, with a memorable cast of complex figures, Twelve Kingdoms is fantasy and isekai at its best.
Content Warnings: Portrayals of bullying; discussion of sex and reproduction; violence towards humans and animals.
Suggested Age Range: 13 and up
FILM: Miss Hokusai
What’s It About? Set in Edo-era Japan, this historical fiction follows O-Ei, the unconventional daughter of an unconventional father (the famous artist Hokusai). O-Ei doesn’t cook or clean, or do any of the usual “woman’s work.” Instead, she paints, watches firefighters at work, and cares for her blind younger sister, O-Nao. This film follows her through several episodes of her life, providing a portrait of the artist as a young woman.
Why We Recommend It: “We don’t cook. We don’t clean. When things get too messy, we just move.” From this line on, we knew we were going to like O-Ei.
Miss Hokusai offers little-to-nothing in the way of narrative structure; rather, it focuses on loosely connected vignettes in O-Ei’s daily life as a young female artist. Through these vignettes, we get a sense of who she is, what her relationships are like, and how her contemporaries regard her.
As the episodes flow through the movie, it offers a complex, multi-faceted look at O-Ei’s personalities and influences and how they shape her, without any one thing defining her. She’s not defined by her womanhood—she almost entirely rejects gendered expectations, in fact—but it shapes how the other artists treat her. Romance and sex don’t motivate her, but she still wants to experience them. She’s brusque with the men around her, but gentle and tender with her younger sister.
Sometimes, narratives can restrict character development, especially in short-form media. Audiences only see how a character reacts in a certain situation, in limited circumstances. By carefully selecting its vignettes, Miss Hokusai paints a portrait of a complicated, unique young woman and the age she lives in.
Content Warnings: An unsuccessful attempt at sex; portrayal of sex work; discussion of the supernatural including ghosts, demons, and Hell; disability and depictions of ableism; depictions of sexism.
Suggested Age Range: 15 and up
Special thanks to Marion Bea for providing the write-up for The Rose of Versailles.