1. Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)
Leslie Knope is a force to be reckoned with as a woman in politics, but in a scandalous way. Leslie attacks you with her smarts, her wit, her kindness, and her unwillingness to back down from a fight no matter how absurd the opposition is. She’s insanely motivated when it comes taking care of her friends and the town of Pawnee. Even when the odds are stacked against her, she faces her challenge head on. Whether or not she wins almost doesn’t matter. With the help of her friends, Leslie has the ability to stand right back up and push on to reach another goal.
2. Liz Lemon (30 Rock)
A lot of us women writers and creators feel like we emulate Liz Lemon one way or another. She’s funny, tenacious, sympathetic, manic, she has no problem seeking help when she truly needs it, and she’s never sorry for the things that define her. In fact, she embraces her flaws almost as much as she embraces her strengths. Then there’s her inhuman ability to snack constantly. Liz Lemon is our spirit guide for a reason.
3. Tina and Louise Belcher (Bob’s Burgers)
As far as female cartoon characters go, these ladies are my absolute favorite. Louise is the youngest, most delightfully insane member of the Belcher family. She’s the type who calls it like she sees it, and will never ever take any of your crap. Expect dire consequences if you ever get on her bad side — you’ll most definitely wake up with horny beetles on your face.
Though she certainly sounds like the Eeyore of the group, Tina is surprisingly self-aware and proclaims to be a “smart, strong, sensual woman.” She freely admits her love of boy’s butts and erotic fan fiction and doesn’t seem to care if anyone else is creeped out by it. Sure she has her fair share of insecurities, but what teen doesn’t? She’s just like the rest of us; she puts on her bra, one boob at a time.
4. Sarah Manning and Clones (Orphan Black)
First of all, Tatiana Maslany is a spectacular actress and deserves all the awards. Seriously. Over the course of two seasons, she’s played how many different personalties on Orphan Black? C’mon, that’s crazy talent right there. Her main character, Sarah Manning, is the most engaging out of all the other clones she plays. She was originally a selfish character who only looked out for herself. But once Sarah found herself in the middle of an illegal cloning experiment with eight other lookalikes, she knew had to get her sh*t together if she wanted to protect her family and find out just what the hell is going on.
5. Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars)
There are very few CW-esque TV shows with female characters that are inspiring enough to maintain a dedicated following seven years after the series ends. Veronica Mars is that rare bird. She was our modern-day Nancy Drew with lots more snark in her repertoire. She undoubtedly bested the town pros, but every now and then she gets knocked down by typical teenage cockiness and naivety. And maybe the occasional crush driving her crazy.
6. River Song (Doctor Who)
Also known as Melody Pond, or “Child of the TARDIS,” River was one of the few people entrusted with the Doctor’s deepest secrets. She’s also half Time Lord — she was conceived by Amy Pond and Rory while traveling inside the TARDIS through a time vortex. She’s intelligent, resourceful, stubborn, witty, flirtatious, and fearless. She was deeply in love with the Doctor, despite her being trained by the Silence to kill him. In her previous incarnations, River was reckless and selfish. However, she later matured into someone fiercely loyal, willing to sacrifice herself and her remaining regenerations to save the Doctor a number of times. It almost goes without saying that every time River enters the scene, some serious stuff is about to go down.
7. Nikita (Nikita)
Nikita’s a spy, an assassin, and a soldier. She survived a drug addiction, she escaped a lethal black ops organization run by the government, and she kicked said organization’s ass and took it over. All this while saving the world more times than you can count. That is, assuming you haven’t tallied up all the episodes… And then there’s Maggie Q. If you looked up the phrase “Beautiful but deadly” in the dictionary of common colloquialisms, her picture would be right beside it.
8. Sarah Connor (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)
Sarah Connor is the mother of all mothers. Her existence is solely to protect her son so that he can save humanity from getting wiped out by killer robots. Every step, every choice she makes is to make sure John survives. Now, we know how this sounds: her life has no purpose if she’s not protecting John; she’s just a popular emulation of the fierce lioness trope. Yes, she’s a lioness. A lioness who is assertive, intelligent, complicated, self-reliant, and a survivor. And she’s a damn surgeon with a gun. Mic. Drop.
9. Zoe Washburne (Firefly)
Joss Whedon took the warrior woman trope and gave it a neat little twist for Zoe: she’s married. As a soldier, Zoe’s strong, confident, self-assured, intimidating. Sometimes she can come off as hard and almost masculine, but she’s able to make that seamless switch over to femininity when it comes to taking care of some of the more gentler crew members. When it comes to Kaylee, she plays the big sister, discussing dresses and the like. With Wash, she’s a loving and caring wife. Loyalty to the cause and to her comrades was may have been what used to keep her going during the war, but now she has a family in Wash and in the Firefly crew. Love is what drives her now. Would you want to go up against that? Yeah, me neither.
10. Melinda May (Agents of SHIELD)
Another warrior woman created by Joss Whedon and friends. She’s stern, calculating, intelligent, assertive, and loyal. Like Zoe, she’s fiercely loyal and will do whatever it takes to protect those in her charge. Unlike Zoe, Agent May is more rigid and withdrawn, and even comes off as rather harsh. We’ve yet to really know what turned her into this kind of person — Coulson said she used to be a fun and happy person — but we know it’s bad. Tragic history aside, May is damn good at her job. When she’s not scolding Coulson, she’s kicking ass and taking names. When a woman earns the nickname “Cavalry,” a word associated with a large group of people on horseback or armored vehicles, you know she means business. May might as well be the human personification of the scene where Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan comes to save Kirk and company against a platoon of pissed off Klingon.
11. Carol Peletier (The Walking Dead)
Carol went from being a meek, battered wife to one of Rick’s most useful assets. This lady has “survivor” written in her bones. Not just for herself, but for the greater good of her group. After Season 2, Carol noticeably evolves into a character who becomes more and more proficient with weapons, and becomes a leader type of her own as well. Her most notable actions come from Season 4 [SPOILERS]: she makes it her prerogative to train the youngsters how to protect themselves, she kills Karen and David to keep a deadly virus from spreading to the rest of the prison, and she kills Lizzie when she and Tyrese discover that the girl is a crazy sociopath. She’s come a long way compared to her comic book version. Thank goodness.
12. Michonne (The Walking Dead)
Oh, Michonne. Up until joining Rick’s group, she survived on her own with nothing but a katana and a pair of neutered Walkers at her side. She’s a melee fighter with no equal and a force to be reckoned with. At first, she was just the strong and silent type whose only emotion seemed to be anger. As time went on, however, she began opening up, easily becoming one of most compelling women on the show next to Carol. Out of all the characters we’ve met so far, Michonne’s past is the most messed up. Not only did her family die during the initial outbreak, but she had to use her significant other and his best friend as her dead companions in order to move through Walker hoards without attracting attention. That takes guts and a kind of resolve not just anyone can pull off.
13. The Ladies of The Game of Thrones
The political game in The Game of Thrones is a deadly one; it takes a special kind of person to play as well as survive. It’s also not just for the men. Cersei is a fierce and ruthless woman whose loyalty above all else lies with her family (except Tyrion). Marjory is a cunning player vying to become THE queen to whomever gets to sit on the Iron Throne. Daenerys is an idealist learning to become a just ruler so she can retake her family’s rightful place over the Seven Kingdoms. Arya Stark is a young girl whose only goal now is to survive and kill those who wronged her and her family. Sansa Stark is young woman caught in the middle of political intrigue and death who must learn to be just as cunning as everyone else in court if she doesn’t want to become another casualty in the fight for the throne. I could go on. The point is, each and everyone women on The Game of Thrones is seen as someone whose lives are affected by power. While the men are generally more direct with their actions, the women have to go in a more roundabout way to get what they want.
14. Sun-Hwa Kwon (Lost)
Kate may have gotten more screen time because of that gosh darn love triangle she kept finding herself in, but Sun was far more interesting to watch on Lost. She started out as a wife trying to escape her marriage; she went as far as learning English in secret to get a leg up on her husband and gain more independence. The island allowed Sun to evolve beyond her role as a quiet wife to a fierce protector who did everything on her own terms. Because of this evolution, she and Jin are able to find their love for each other once again and develop a deeper respect for one another. Of all the relationships on this show, Sun and Jin’s was easily the best and most heartbreaking.
15. Abbie Mills (Sleepy Hollow)
Firstly, can we please recognize the fact that Sleepy Hollow has the most diverse cast in a network TV drama? Not only that, but the female heroes are women of color. Lt. Abbie Mills fights against some serious supernaturals that would drive anyone insane. Sure she has to share the spotlight with Ichabod Crane, but Abbie’s the real hero of the show. She’ll face her deepest, darkest fears and get in some demon’s face if it means delaying the apocalypse just a little longer. Plus, she gets all the best lines.
16. Olivia Dunham (Fringe)
Saving the best for last, Olivia Dunham forever gets the topmost position in my vote largely because of this line to Broyles:
“I understand that you think I acted too emotionally. Putting aside the fact that men always say that about women they work with, I’ll get straight to the point: I am emotional. I do bring it into my work. It’s what motivates me. It’s what helps me get into the headspace of our victims, see what they’ve seen, even if I don’t want to, even if it horrifies me. And I think it makes me a better agent. If you have a problem with that, I’m sorry. You can fire me. But I hope you don’t.”
She’s so cool, they had to make two of her.