Superheroines or female superheroes—people may not agree on what to call them, but we can all agree that they have never really received the respect they deserve. Yes, comic book writers have come to love what superheroines offer creatively, particularly in recent years, but it’s never been close to on par with male superheroes. People argue that the male experience is the one that all sexes have been conditioned to associate with–both on screen and in text–but that’s changing. If you can’t appreciate the female experience by now, you’ve been missing out on plenty of amazing stories. Throughout history, there have been some incredible superheroines created on the page. In the last 20 years, we’ve been seeing many of these characters bleed onto the screen in powerful ways as well. Sure, there were female superheroines on TV and film earlier than that, but not nearly in the numbers we see today and definitely not with the same effectiveness as today. But, we had to walk before we ran. These days, it seems like we’re finally moving at a brisk pace.
With that in mind, we felt that it was a good time to stop and look at the best of the best in the superheroine category. While it certainly proved difficult, we wanted to consider all mediums of representation when ranking each character. We wanted to do this because some fans put much more weight into comic book versions of the characters than their onscreen counterparts and vice versa. Our goal was to see if we can’t blend all these considerations to see which character has received the best treatment over the years. After all, when people judge these characters, they consider everything they know about them—film, television, and text. Obviously, deciding on their placement on this list is a subjective exercise. There are bound to be some ruffled feathers. Let’s see how we fared Ranking the Top 16 Female Superhero Characters Ever.
In the Golden Age of comic books, there were virtually no female superheroes. A couple had received a page or two–maybe even an entire episode–but they were few and far between. There’s a debate about who the first ever superheroine was. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, was the first to have her own title in 1937, but was she “super?” Then, there was Fantomah, who many call the first superheroine. Well, Hawkgirl is in this group. The difference between Hawkgirl and the others in this early period is in staying power and legacy. Since 1940, Hawkgirl has been a constant presence. In TV and film, she’s made appearances on Arrow, Smallville, and many of the animated series. Truthfully, she is often relegated to that of a history lesson rather than considered a contemporary character, but she is one of the true legends of comic book history and deserves a space in the list.
15. Jessica Jones
As the newest creation on this list, Jessica Jones might seem like an outcast. Her comic roots have never been as strong as most on the list, and they may get there. But Jessica Jones’ true strength comes in the Netflix series. To comic purists, this might sound silly. How could a Netflix series compete with years of comics. Well, just as the shows of yesteryear initiated previous generations of fans to the comic world, Netflix and other new shows are bringing in new fans. Now, there’s definitely an argument to be made that without Daredevil, Jessica Jones would never have experienced the success it did. But you could also argue that Jessica Jones is the best of the bunch. Not only was her story the most captivating by far, but Jessica Jones is also probably the most flawed hero of The Defenders, and flawed heroes are engaging heroes. Perhaps, more importantly, she’s flawed, and she’s strong in entirely female ways but is also relatable. She’s relatable in a way that we’ve been led to believe female characters can’t be. In an age dominated by superhero films and TV, Jessica Jones has proved that she can rise above all the noise.
14. The Invisible Woman
Sue Storm, also known as the Invisible Woman, has been the tragic victim of several failed films. Even though Jessica Alba or Kate Mara or even Rebecca Staab before that weren’t the primary problems in their films, none of them did the character any favors. If it weren’t for those films, the Invisible Woman would be higher on the list. After all, Sue Storm is a legend in the comic world. She was first created in 1961, the first female for Marvel in the Silver Age of comics. Although she was basically only a defensive force in the beginning, Sue’s powers picked up over time, and she became a major hero—easily the most powerful of the Fantastic Four and one of the most powerful superheroes overall. At this point, we don’t hold out much hope that there will ever be a good film version of the Fantastic Four, but even without one, the Invisible Woman is one of the best ever.
13. Ms. Marvel
Maybe you prefer her to be called Carol Danvers over Ms. Marvel. Maybe not. We just wanted her on the list. Even if she wasn’t already, we’re betting that Ms. Marvel will soon be considered as one of the most popular superheroines with Brie Larson about to take the lead on the upcoming film. Although Carol Danvers first appeared in comics in 1968, she didn’t become Ms. Marvel until 1977. Unlike the other heroines on this list who share a name with a more popular male character, Ms. Marvel is much more popular than her male counterpart, Captain Marvell. She’s one of the only superheroines to ever outlast the male version. Ms. Marvel has been on both sides of the progressive coin. She’s been criticized for being too passive and too much a “damsel in distress,” but she’s also been considered a major contributor in the women’s rights movement.
12. Sailor Moon
Spawned from the serialized manga that was born in 1991, Sailor Moon is the titular hero who introduced Japanese artwork to an entire generation of North Americans. Since its creation, the Sailor Moon manga series has become one of the most popular in the world, selling more than 35 million copies. The anime series, which began in 1992 in Japan, ran for five years and 200 episodes. Incredibly, the television show Sailor Moon was as popular for men as it was with women and is a major reason why manga and anime have become so popular on our side of the world.
Despite the fact that Storm is relatively new, first appearing in 1975, and the fact that she is only a member of the X-Men, she has become one of the most popular and most recognizable superheroines in the world. It certainly helps that her film versions, as played by Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp, have been well-received. Next to Professor Xavier, Storm has the highest position on the team, acting as leader in both the comics and the films. That’s quite a rise through the ranks for the hero who started out as a young kid on a revamped X-Men team. Even more importantly, Storm is the first woman of color to play hero as well. Even to this day, there are few women of color that have followed in her footsteps, proving how monumental her creation was and still is.
10. The Wasp
Even though we only got glimpses of the Wasp in the Ant-Man film, we would be foolish to exclude this superheroine from the list. Janet Van Dyne or the Wasp is one of the most important Marvel characters out there. She was a founding member of the Avengers. Hell, she was the one who named the team and was its first female member. She would go on to lead the team on several different occasions, and some would say she did it best. Only Captain America has led the team for a longer period of time than the Wasp, and she’s one of the longest-serving members. In terms of cultural relevance, The Wasp is important because of how her role as wife (and abused wife, no less) was treated. She was rarely without a voice of her own or autonomy. We hope that the upcoming film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, does her character justice.
Like many of the superheroines on this list, She-Hulk has taken a backseat to her more popular male counterpart, her cousin The Hulk. Even still, since she was created in 1980, she’s been a part of all the major Marvel teams, and she’s been in some of the most famous and popular comic book arcs. Perhaps most famously, She-Hulk was one of the first superheroes to popularize breaking the fourth wall. Before Deadpool was created in 1991, She-Hulk was the major player who was aware of her existence as a comic book character. Unlike the Hulk, She-Hulk embraces her gamma radiation infliction. Although her beginnings had the character change into the She-Hulk, she eventually took on the green persona full-time, living with it every day.
8. Black Widow
OK, so Black Widow doesn’t have superpowers, but she might as well have them. She’s a total bada*s, and her training and ability to handle herself in a fight are so overblown that she should be considered a superheroine. In the comics, Black Widow has bounced around since she first showed up in 1964. She had a solo title, she was a villain, and she’s been a fan favorite for a long time. Still, most of Black Widow’s success has come because of her more recent onscreen portrayals. First appearing in Iron Man 2, Black Widow is a founding member of the MCU Avengers. With the talented Scarlett Johansson at the controls, Natasha Romanov has become one of the central female superheroes out there. Comic book purists might have something to say about her making the list over some others who have more of a legacy in print, but there’s no way anyone can deny that movie and television have an impact on the way we view these characters, especially today.
7. Jean Grey
In 1963, Jean Grey was born and became the first woman on the X-Men. She went under the name Marvel Girl and was easily the weakest of the bunch. Then, something important happened. In the ’70s, Jean Grey was made into the most powerful member of the team. From that point on, Jean Grey became one of the most important members and a true fan favorite. Over time, Jean Grey got so powerful, particularly with the birth of the Dark Phoenix, that the creators feared they had gone too far. She’s now one of the most powerful characters ever created. Jean has seen many changes over the years, but she has always remained one of the central elements of the X-Men. In the films, Famke Janssen and Sophie Turner have both played the character very well and done nothing but boost her image in the public eye.
Maybe Batgirl’s role in the Joel Schumacher film, Batman and Robin, soured your taste for Batgirl a little bit, but that was by no fault of Alicia Silverstone. Besides, even if we wanted it to, that role couldn’t change our opinion of Barbara Gordon. Now, Batgirl first came about in 1961, but we, like most fans, connect most with the 1967 recreation. In the later years, Batgirl was paralyzed by The Joker, and she took on the mantle of the Oracle. That’s two-for-one value right there. Batgirl has an incredible legacy in other forms of media as well. She’s appeared in virtually every TV series and every film series in some form or another. She was also a strong voice in the women’s liberation movement and made librarians both sexy and cool. Now, with a solo film on the docket set to be directed by Joss Whedon, we fully expect that Batgirl’s popularity is going to explode. If there was ever going to be a male director do justice for a female character, it’s Whedon.
Spider-Girl might be one of the more forgotten heroines on this list, but we won’t be making that mistake. Even though she’s one of the younger characters in terms of publication history, first created in 1998, Spider-Girl was the longest-running comic book with a female lead in Marvel’s rich history. That’s quite the accomplishment. She’s been a major force behind activating a new generation of comic fans, especially when it comes to young female readers. For more than a decade, the Spider-Girl comic was in circulation. It has since been relaunched under two different titles. She may not have the history, but her influence is undeniable.
4. Black Canary
If you’re not the biggest comic book fan, the name Black Canary might not have the cache as some of the others on this list, but she’s been one of the most central female figures in both comic books and television for years now. In 1947, The Black Canary was created, making her one of the first superheroines ever designed. In the beginning, she had no superpowers but that would soon change. On television, the Black Canary has been a recurring character in several shows, including Arrow, Birds of Prey, Smallville, Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Young Justice. Whether you recognize her properly or not, Black Canary is one of the most legendary superheroines there is.
Designed as Superman’s cousin, Supergirl has always lived in Superman’s shadow. However, she is still one of the most popular female superheroes around. After all, most superheroes, regardless of gender, pale in comparison to the man of steel. Although there were similar characters before her, even characters with similar names, Supergirl has played a prominent role in DC comics since her creation in 1959. She’s had two of her own comic book titles, has been featured in films (although we may like to forget those), and now has her own TV show on CBS, Supergirl, which is part of the Arrowverse. Supergirl has proven her value.
2. Buffy Summers
Before Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show changed our lives, Kristy Swanson was kicking butts as the titular heroine in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both incarnations were great, but it’s tough to compete with the television show. As the lead on what is arguably one of the best shows in history, Buffy totally flipped the trope of the helpless female character on its head. The show dealt with true female issues without ever alienating the male audience. Buffy isn’t just one of the best superheroines of all time, she’s one of the best superheroes. Period.
1. Wonder Woman
Although you might try to argue that there is contemporary bias in having Wonder Woman this high on the list, that’s crazy talk. Since 1942 (with only a brief halt), Wonder Woman has held her own title. She’s a founding member of the Justice League and one of the most influential women in pop culture. She is also responsible for shattering many of the restrictions female characters faced and mocked the tropes that handcuffed women in comics from the early days. On television, the Lynda Carter-led Wonder Woman TV series was hugely popular and helped solidify the character as one of, if not the, ultimate superheroine. Recently, we got the Wonder Woman film, which has been by far the best of the DC Extended Universe to date. It smashed records for female-directed and female-led films and only served to empower the character more. When we think of a superheroine, the name Wonder Woman is always the first that comes to mind. For that reason alone, she deserves to top the list. When you consider everything the character has done, the distance between Wonder Woman and every other superheroine chasing her for top spot is enormous.
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