Anime, like every other medium, has its share of problems. One of the more frustrating and noticeable aspects of anime is how often female characters are portrayed as overly-sexualized fan service (even where the character in question is just a tween). These gratuitous depictions can often detract from the actual plot, undermine the character, or just make the viewer feel wildly uncomfortable. These depictions help perpetuate the mainstream stereotype that anime is just perverse, childish, and a lower art form, and can, unfortunately, act as a deterrent for potential new viewers who are unsure if anime is “for” them.
Don’t worry: anime is not all defiant boob physics or upskirt shots. Though some anime fans may just recommend that you watch all-male cast shows to avoid gratuitous fan service entirely, I’m here to tell you that there are series out there that actually have female main characters who aren’t used as erotic punchlines! Below are ten anime series that do not sexualize the female characters. These series range from moving “slice of life” tales, wholesome magical stories, to unnerving thrillers, and they all demonstrate the wide variety of anime that’s out there — and in a time when we should all still be staying home, there’s no better time to dive in.
The Promised Neverland
Mamoru Kanbe (director), Toshiya Ono (writer)
Based on the manga by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu
Set in the year 2035, The Promised Neverland focuses on Emma, Norman, and Ray, children living at the seemingly perfect Grace Field House orphanage. They seem to have a comfortable life with a caring “Mom” and tons of time to play, but things aren’t always what they seem…
The series doesn’t have fan-service, but it does have a very dark theme that may not be for everyone: spoiler alert, the children are actually being secretly being fed to demons. It’s definitely not a happy-go-lucky anime, but it is an intriguing horror-tinged story focused on a female lead. It handles suspense and drama exceptionally well, while also emphasizing the importance of family and friendship.
The Promised Neverland is available on Crunchyroll, Netflix, and Hulu.
Tatsuya Ishihara (director)
Kyoto Animation Studio
Based on the manga by Keiichi Arawi
Nichijou seems to follow the everyday lives of ordinary people in the town of Tokisadame. The events that occur are far from ordinary though; this show’s got it all, from goat-riding classmates, flying salmon, a talking cat, and an android who just wants to go to school.
This absurd comedy focuses on the school lives of three young girls and is considered one of the most iconic anime comedies. Odds are you’ve seen an out of context clip from the show, but you should really watch the entire thing.
Nichijou is available on Funimation.
March Comes in Like a Lion
Akiyuki Shinbo (director)
Based on the manga by Chica Umino
This series focuses on Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and young shogi prodigy dealing with loss and an uncertain future. Along the way he finds support and comfort from a family of three sisters, Akari, Hinata, and Momo, who take center stage as the series progresses.
This drama focuses on navigating depression, family, and shogi; it’s heavy with emotion and is extremely genuine and touching. It highlights the hardships of the characters but also how they come together and learn to overcome them. If you want to be sad, learn about shogi, and find hope, this is for you.
March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll and Netflix.
Morio Asaka (director)
Based on the manga by Yuki Suetsugu
Chihayafuru is a coming-of-age story about a young girl with a passion for karuta, a card game where you match poetry phrases. As a child, Chihaya falls in love with the game after becoming friends with a talented player named Arata. Even after being separated, she doesn’t give up her dream of being the best karuta player and facing off against Arata one day.
This series has all the heart of a shonen sports anime, all while actually having well-rounded female characters. You can’t help but love Chihaya and get invested in her journey to the top and in the friends she makes along the way. It’s also a nice cultural lesson since it teaches you about karuta, which in turn teaches you about historic Japanese poetry.
Chihayafuru is available on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE.
Little Witch Academia
Yoh Yoshinari (director)
Based on the films Little Witch Academia and Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade
With Little Witch Academia you can enjoy the magical antics of Akko Kagari, a newly enrolled student at Luna Nova Magical Academy, and her newfound friends, Lotte and Sucy. Watch them navigate school life and learn to be more powerful witches in a world where magic is becoming less common.
This show has a fun and almost entirely female cast, and the focus of the story is fully on Akko, her friends, and her journey to be like her favorite witch, the controversial Shiny Chariot. Plus, it has gorgeous animation done by the iconic animation studio, Trigger (which has also done Kill la Kill and Promare).
Little Witch Academia is available on Netflix.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Mitsue Yamazaki (director)
Doga Kobo Studio
Based on the manga by Izumi Tsubaki
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a comedy about high school student Chiyo Sakura, who tries to confess her feelings to her classmate, Umetarou Nozaki. During the confession, she panics and says she’s “a fan of his,” and is confused when he gives her an autograph. Turns out he’s secretly the author of a popular shojo manga, and he recruits her to help him out! They grow closer as they work together; with an ever-growing cast of weirdos showing up, will Chiyo be able to confess her feelings for this oblivious fool?
If you’re looking for a typical romance, look elsewhere! While the overarching plot is romance, the main focus is on the daily lives of the main characters as they make manga, star in school plays, and make fan fiction for their favorite video games. It’s ridiculous in all the right ways, while also featuring plenty of sweet moments.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is available on Crunchyroll and Netflix.
Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits
Yoshiko Okuda (director)
Based on the light novels by Midori Yūma
In Kakuriyo, Aoi Tsubaki, a college student who can see ayakashi (supernatural creatures), is kidnapped by an ogre and taken to the Hidden Realm. It turns out her deceased grandfather had promised to pay off his debt to the ogre by gifting Aoi as a bride. She refuses to marry him, even though he’s hot, and decides she will work off the debt her grandfather had by opening a restaurant on the resort the ogre runs.
This show is a wonderful mashup of gourmet food anime and otherworldly romance. The scenery is gorgeous and the characters are lovable. If you want to feel hungry while watching Aoi cook delicious food and thirsty when the many hot ayakashi show up, then this is the perfect show for you.
Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits is available on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Ouran Highschool Host Club
Takuya Igarashi (director)
Based on the manga by Bisco Hatori
At the prestigious Ouran Highschool, there is a club where six male students entertain the female students with tea, snacks, and by just being cute. Everyone at the school is from a rich family except for Haruhi Fujioka, who got in by being incredibly smart. While searching for a quiet place to study, Haruhi accidentally finds the Host Club room and destroys an expensive vase. She is mistaken for a boy, and in order to pay off the vase, is recruited into the Host Club. Naturally, antics ensue.
This classic shojo comedy is a household name for any anime watcher. If you just need a feel-good show with a bunch of cute boys, then Ouran Highschool Host Club is a good bet. The show is overall pretty wholesome.
Ouran Highschool Host Club is available on Netflix, Hulu, and Funimation.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Masaaki Yuasa (director)
Science Saru Studio
Based on the manga by Sumito Ōwara
In Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, anime fanatic Midori Asakusa and her friend Sayaka Kanamori meet Tsubame Mizusaki, a model who secretly wants to be an animator. Since Mizusaki can’t join the anime club because of her strict parents, the three girls make a club focused on secretly making their own shorts. Along the way, the series showcases both the joys of imagination also the hardships of animation production.
The show is directed by the legendary Masaaki Yuasa, who’s known for Mind Game, Ping Pong: The Animation, and Devilman Crybaby. Since the story is focused on making anime, it uses that as an opportunity to show off different animation styles and art. It explains the animation process in a fun and easy-to-understand way.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is available on Crunchyroll.
Carole & Tuesday
Shinichirō Watanabe (director)
Far in the future on Mars, Tuesday runs away from home to pursue music and becomes friends with Carole, a refugee from earth and a fellow aspiring musician. They team up to become the titular band Carole & Tuesday.
While Carole and Tuesday are adorable and watching their friendship grow is great, the soundtrack is the real star of the show. If you need a relaxing show, watching these two girls work together to take on the music industry is exactly what the doctor ordered. The director is Shinichirō Watanabe, known for Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Space Dandy. His world building in his other work has been great, and Carole & Tuesday is no exception!
Carole & Tuesday is available on Netflix.