The world of animation is full of women who kick-ass for reasons ranging from their strong will to their fighting prowess — and sometimes it's just nice to recognize them. This is far from a complete list, but below (in no particular order) are a smattering of the most awesome female characters in animated shows and movies.
Feel free to add your own in the comments, and know that I tried to only take one character per franchise. But if you think I picked the wrong character from a show, let's hash it out in the comments.
Olivier Armstrong — Full Metal Alchemist
This woman is scarier than any homunculus, in an endearing way. The commander of Fort Briggs, she commands absolute loyalty and excellence from her soldiers. Anyone who can't keep up is told to get the fuck out, and she even berates her extremely strong brother for being a wimp. Plus she fights for the side of justice no matter what, rebuffing an attempt at corruption while feigning interest all along.
Kim Possible — Kim Possible
She always gets the job done, saving the world from evil while balancing school and cheerleading. Also, Sheego, a super-powered badass in her own right, constantly gets trounced by KP despite what should be an obvious advantage.
Merida — Brave
She'll shoot for her own hand, damn it, and she'll win. Despite making questionable decisions when it comes to witchy pastries, Merida is a fearless young woman with an adventurous soul. When she's not busy being the best archer on her side of the Atlantic, she climbs giant mountains and unites warring clans.
Elsa — Frozen
Anna is great and all, but Elsa's powers make her far more awesome. She has enough raw strength to lock her entire country in perpetual winter. Also she can create fucking life out of nothing.
Elastigirl — The Incredibles
As a mother, she rocks — but as a superhero, she rocks even harder. Proving that Mr. Fantastic isn't the only stretchy hero worth acclaim, she saves her family and fought hard to prove that women could make good supers too.
Vanellope Von Schweetz — Wreck It Ralph
The life of a glitch is hard, until you learn to harness the awesome powers and realize you were a princess all along. Regardless, Vanellope refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to fulfilling her dream of racing, and she goes from being an inept first-time driver to a pro in no time at all.
EVE — Wall-E
Robots totally have genders (sometimes), and EVE is definitely a badass, robo girl. She's got deadly plasma cannons and a no-nonsense attitude, plus she helps Wall-E return humanity to the Earth. Also she saves his life, which is pretty neat.
Flame Princess — Adventure Time
Though her alignment is in question from her first introduction, she has clearly proven to be a force for good in more recent episodes. And now, with a fully-baked Cinnamon Bun at her side, she rules the Flame Kingdom with a fair, firm, and kind hand. Just don't piss her off, though, because she is strong enough to destroy the world.
Toph — Avatar The Last Airbender
Being blind ain't no thang to Toph, one of the strongest Earth benders in the whole world. Not only did she meaningfully contribute to the Avatar's training, she invented a brand new kind of bending. Shit like that is basically unheard of — proving once and for all that she's the best.
Numbuh Five — The Kids Next Door
The KND is an organization full of capable girls, but few are as talented as Numbuh Five. She's super chill, capable of handling extremely stressful situations with perfect poise. And despite her sister's age advantage, Numbuh Five goes toe to toe with her on a regular basis. Plus she totally pulls of speaking in the third person, which is a feat few are capable of.
Leela — Futurama
As the intrepid captain of Planet Express' delivery ship, Leela has a lot of responsibilities. And despite being a sensitive woman who just wants to be accepted, she's more than happy to shove a big, black boot up your ass if you give her lip. She's always saving everyone's life and is the only consistently competent member of the crew.
Gretchen — Recess
You'd thought I'd put Spinelli, didn't you? Well, while the toughest Ashley is certainly a badass, she pales in comparison to Gretchen's raw genius. She has invented crazy advanced technology for a fourth grader and once hacked into NASA's databases. Basically, every adult in 3rd Street School should be scared shitless of the infinite intellect of Gretchen Grundler.
Garnet — Steven Universe
Her sisters are totally capable guardians too, but Garnet just kicks all kinds of ass. While beating enemies down with her gauntleted fists, she can predict coming emergencies with her third eye. One episode showed she's good (maybe too good) at everything she tries, but she's not arrogant in the slightest.
Mikasa Ackerman — Attack on Titan
After losing her family at a young age, Mikasa decided she'd protect those she cared about. This led her to follow Eren Yaeger into the Survey Corps despite being one of the most capable recruits in her class (she could have easily qualified for the military police). With her 3D maneuver gear, she's a force to be reckoned with, easily taking down titans despite being a relatively new soldier.
Erza Scarlett — Fairy Tail
A master of weapons and armor, Erza is one of the strongest mages in the entire guild. She refuses to give up and has a load-out ready for any situation. Rarely beaten in a fair fight (or even dirty ones), Erza is also a mentor to many of the guild's younger members. Also she's really comfortable with her body, which is also something to be admired.
Sherry Belmont — Zatch Bell
As the human partner to the runner up of the demon-child competition, Sherry is a complete badass. Having trained with Brago first hand, she's strong, smart, and agile. Despite coming from a wealthy family that demanded unrealistic levels of perfection, she bounced back from a suicide attempt to save her best friend and make a fantastic human partner.
Mandy — The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
She tricked the Grim Reaper into being her slave and her smile destroys the world as we know it. Plus with the right tools, she could conquer the world. And even though she could destroy Billy effortlessly, she keeps him around because she cares about him. (Very) Deep down.
Lana — Archer
Despite putting up with endless shit from the entire ISIS team, Lana is a capable spy and a confidant woman (most of the time). Unlike Archer who mostly lucks into success, Lana gets the job done the right way (more often). And when Cyril cheats on her multiple times, she kicks him to the curb without a second thought. Also her giant hands will could probably crush your head.
Elisa Maza — Gargoyles
The only NYPD detective badass enough to warrant honorary gargoyle status, Elisa was a constant force of awesomeness throughout the series. She always came through for the clan when it mattered, saving them on multiple occasions. Plus her closeness with Goliath was basically the anchor for the entire series.
Buttercup — The Powerpuff Girls
Blossom is the leader and Bubbles is the cute one, but Buttercup is the one that unrelentingly kicks ass. She'll happily get her hands dirty, solving problems with her fists before her words. What's more, she's also the catalyst that convinced her sisters to use their powers to fight evil. So basically, the day is always saved thanks to Buttercup.
Raven — Teen Titans
Sometimes chanting, often brooding, and always awesome, Raven is one of the team's best members. She has an iron will and is constantly forced to resist the demonic impulses that want her to serve her father. And not only is she powerful naturally, she studies magic to diversify her abilities.
M'gann M'orzz — Young Justice
Despite having some initial insecurities, M'gann eventually grows into a powerful and confident woman. The Martian Manhunter also states that she may be the most powerful telepath he's ever seen, and she proves her worth there multiple times. Not only can she completely shatter someone's mind — she can rebuild it. If that's not enough, she takes in the orphaned son of her favorite actress as a little brother and won the favor of the dreamy Superboy.
Wonder Woman — Justice League Unlimited
I mean, she's Wonder Woman. If you seriously don't know why she's badass then you need to explore your roots more. Princess Diana is one of the old guard, almost as powerful as the over-powered Superman. And with her independent and assertive personality, she is one woman you don't want to mess with.
Seras Victoria — Hellsing
Brave from birth, Seras was always going to be a force for good. But when an encounter with Alucard and another vampire went south, she was turned into a potential instrument of evil. That potentially goes largely untapped until the end of the series when she becomes a fully-fledged vampire, but Seras quickly makes up for the wasted time. And 30 years after the bulk of the story, she looks to be a powerful and confident member of the Hellsing Organization.
Yoko Littner — Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
As one of the major catalysts for the adventures of Simon and Kamina, Yoko is a huge part of team Dai-Gurren. She helps keep everyone in line and isn't afraid to fight gunmen with just a rifle (which she's a damn good shot with). And what's more, she's so awesome that the primal source of coolness (Kamina) fell for her.
Miu — Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
Despite being a kid, Miu is one of the best martial artists around — a true spitting heir to the abilities of her father and grandpa. She's a sweet girl too, but you have to be careful around her. Years of fighting have honed her instincts to the point where she'll automatically kick your ass if you get to close.
Asuka Langley Soryu — Neon Genesis Evangelion
Ok, so she has some attitude — but that's one of the things that's great about Asuka. She knows she's a good Evangelion pilot and isn't afraid to let others know. And when the angels come knocking, she rarely bats an eyelash before lunging into the fray to defend humanity. Aside from Kaji, she always gets what she wants, too.
Ryoko — Tenchi Muyo!
Space pirates: awesome. Space ship that turns into adorable rabbit thing: awesome. Magic gems that give her amazing powers: awesome. Basically, Ryoko can single handedly decimate planets and a teenage boy's heart without much effort. And without Ayeka getting in the way, she'd surely have won Tenchi's affections.
Sailor Mars — Sailor Moon
All of the Sailor Senshi are great, but Rei is a special case. She gets the power of fire and has natural psychic abilities that may have nothing to do with her Sailor ones. She's also as fiery as her powers and doesn't let Usagi's bratty attitude slide.
Mulan — Mulan
For bringing honor to all of China and proving that a woman is capable of serving in a war, Mulan will always be celebrated as a hero. She may suck at impersonating a dude, but her quick mind and ingenuity helps her defeat Shan Yu. If you ask me, her reflection shows a total badass.
San — Princess Mononoke
San takes the raised by wolves cliché to a whole other level—she was raised by the wolf god. That alone has to count for something, but all that wolf-god mothering endowed her with some other awesome traits. For one, she doesn't let anyone mess with the forest, and will kill any offenders. Also, she has a cool mask and spear.
Jasmine — Aladdin
Much like Merida, Jasmine refused to let anyone else determine whom she would marry. She threw out suitor after suitor until Aladdin swept her off her feet in the streets of Agrabah. Then there's her loyal pet Raja the tiger, a massive predator who looks out for her always. Also, she stands up to Jafar despite how powerful he becomes, using her feminine wiles to exploit one of the sorcerer's only weaknesses.
Genkai — Yu Yu Hakusho
For an old bat, Genkai is the shit. From the moment she's introduced we know that she's powerful, as dozens of capable fighters gathered just in hopes she would train them. And once Yuske proves worthy of her tutelage, she really shows how awesome she is. She's a capable fighter who invented a number of powerful techniques and she can tell age to fuck off and return to her physical peak for a time. Also, she won the dark tournament before with the Toguro brothers, proving she's one of the strongest humans of all time.
Tsunade — Naruto
As a gambler, Tsunade sucks, but in all other aspects she's pretty beastly. As the granddaughter of the first Hokage, she comes from a powerful line of shinobi — and that shows. Before everyone's power levels got out of control, she was the strongest character in the whole series, capable of punching a hole through damn near anything with the right motivation. She's one of the legendary Sannin and eventually becomes Hokage herself. Oh, and she's the best medical ninja around, so she's well rounded.
Yoruichi Shihouin — Bleach
Proving cats are badass, Yoruichi is one of the most underrated shinigami in the history of soul society. Not only was she the former captain of the 2nd division and leader of the Stealth Force, but she managed to fight a super-powered Aizen without getting obliterated. Not only that, but personally trained the most powerful shinigami (Ichigo) in his early days. She kicks ass and indirectly saved soul society a number of times.
Wyldstyle — The Lego Movie
With the way she builds, Wyldstyle should have totally been the special (if the special was really a thing). Still, even without some prophetic title, she kicks all kinds of ass throughout the movie. She's a master-builder with speed and style, whipping up whatever she needs to overcome her obstacles. And despite an initial weakness for self-absorbed, bat-obsessed men, Wyldstyle eventually realizes she deserves to be treated well and dumps one of the most awesome men of all time (something that requires just as much awesomeness).
Maka Albarn — Soul Eater
The creator of the last Death Scythe, Maka is a capable Meister who can dispatch anything from evil spirits to witches. She also has a host of rare abilities that make her an even more potent fighter, and she has a kind heart. And when it comes to dealing with the encroaching madness that plagues basically everyone in the story, Maka fends it off like it's no big deal.
Anna Asakura — Shaman King
When Anna tells you to do something, fucking do it right away without waiting. Refusing means gambling your wellbeing. Not only is Anna a powerful shaman in her own right, she used to be able to summon powerful oni with nothing but a thought. Also she stole spirits away from the man who would become basically God, and that's pretty impressive. Plus she loves Yoh so much that she'll always push him to be better than he was before.