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If you claim you’ve never, ever, in the whole course of your life, wanted to be a princess, I officially refuse to believe you. Princesses are awesome, and lately, contrary to the old fairy tales, and more often than not, they outshine their respective princes. The list of memorable princess characters in literature and cinema is long, and today we’ll be focusing on the not just sweet girls we can find in the world of anime.
Anime definitely isn’t lacking in the princess department, and there’s a surprising variety of different personalities: from the sweet to smart, from fragile to tough, and from the kind that needs saving to the kind that prefers to tackle things on her own, all the above are included. Not only damsels in distress, in other words. In fact, princesses have been some of the strongest female characters we’ve seen in anime, and many of the characters on this list have inspired countless of girls (and guys, too) to pursue their dreams and reach their goals, regardless of whatever the people surrounding them are thinking.
Admittedly, we’ve been liberal when it comes to the ‘princess’ label: some of the entries aren’t referred to as princesses, but their roles fit perfectly with the ‘princess’ stereotype. But please let that slide and bear with us as we give you the top ten anime princesses!
10) Princess Ren Hakuei from Magi The Labyrinth of Magic
Drawing inspiration from the classic Arabian story-collection One Thousand and One Nights, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is set in a fantasy world where one, if he or she manages to survive a quest through one of the many ‘Dungeons’, can acquire the magical abilities of so-called Djinns.
Although not a main character, princess Hakuei Ren stands out as both a capable army commander who controls her own corps in the army of the Kou Empire, as well as being able to summon powerful tornadoes through her Djinn.
Echoing the personality of other characters of a certain famous anime studio that you may or may not encounter upon scrolling further down the list, Ren Hakuei noted for her strong will and bravery, but also has second doubts commanding an army due to her pacifist leanings.
9) Piña Co Lada from Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
Named after the popular Puerto Rican cocktail made from pineapple, coconut and rum, princess Piña Co Lada lives up to her name – though it uncertain whether she likes getting caught in the rain, feeling the ocean or the taste of champagne (obscure song reference, check), she is certainly sweet.
As the princess of a kingdom of another dimension that launches a devastating fail of an attack on present-day Japan, she pushes for a diplomatic solution to the problem, thereby playing an important part in this cross-dimensional conflict.
While most of the other princesses on this list probably are the objects of many an otaku’s desire, Pina Col is actually an otaku herself, as she fell in love with a certain brand of boys’ love. Maybe that’s the kind of soft power Japan should focus on in the future?
8) Princess May Chang from Fullmetal Alchemist
In the immensely popular reboot of the original Full Metal Alchemist, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric encounters princess May Chang of the Xing-empire, the series equivalent to ancient China.
May is short of growth and carries a pet panda named Xiao-Mei (little sister in Chinese), but despite her cutesy appearance and age – she is eleven at the start of the series – as well as her tendency to be a bit too over-imaginative, she is an independent character who also possesses powerful martial arts as well as being able to perform Alkahestry, the Xing equivalent of Alchemy.
One might say she embodies a perception Japanese often have of Chinese woman as more powerful, independent and generally stronger than the Japanese.
7) Princess Cornelia from Code Geass
While there are at least four different princesses in 2006’s Code Geass, Cornelia li Britannia stand out as the most interesting. Originally an antagonist, she later takes a more neutral role, and is characterized by her cold demeanor and military-strategic brilliance. She also has one of the hottest rides of the princesses on the list – a customized Gloucester.
Known for brute force and ruthlessness, she has a soft spot for her own soldier, among which she is held in high regard, and has a strong sense of honor. After her little sister Euphemia gets murdered, she becomes bent on seeking revenge and gives away her royalty to solve the riddle of her murder.
6) Arima Ahiru from Princess Tutu
The most fairy tale-ish princesses on the list, Tutu Ahiru is actually a duck – Ahiru meaning domestic duck in Japanese – but gains the ability to transform after receiving a magic pendant from the ghost of a writer of a tale named The Prince and The Raven, because she’s head over heels with the prince who, together with the evil raven, managed to escape the tale and come into the real world. (Sounds random? Well, fairy tales weren’t supposed to make sense, were they?)
Initially she can only transform into an ordinary human girl, but is later able to take the form of Princess Tutu, an elegant ballerina, all because she desperately wants to see Mytho, the aforementioned prince, smile. Princess Tutu is certainly unlike the other figures on this list in that she’s a girly magical girl, with labels such as ‘kind’ and ‘helpful’ fitting to her personality, but is interesting in the fact that she still retains some of her duck-like traits in her human form, to great comic effect.
5) Himemiya Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena
Long before Frozen, we had Revolutionary Girl Utena. Or, that is, Japan had Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series where the prince vs princess motif is used and critically investigated, but which unfortunately remains criminally overlooked in the rest of the world.
Although the symbol-heavy and sometimes obscure scenes most likely prevented it from inspiring young girls to be strong and independent like Frozen and Sailor Moon, its intriguing plot and characters challenged the way we grownups thought about gender roles, among other things.
Main character Tenjou Utena is a girl with a tragic past, who, after being consoled by a mysterious prince when she was a child, later decides to become a prince herself. As Utena arrives at Ohtori Academy, a mysterious high school with critique-worthy management, she meets Himemiya Anthy, the so-called Rose Bride, who is doomed to be the slave of the champion of the school’s sword dueling league.
Utena joins the competition to protect the mysterious Anthy, who represents the submissive and passive often found in such fairy tales, but can she, and does she actually really desire to be set free?
4) Angelise Ikaruga “Ange” Misurugi from Cross Ange
The first few episodes of this mecca anime left many wondering whether there were anything more to Cross Ange than blatant fan-service and exploitation, but ultimately most people agreed that there were more to the erstwhile princess Angelise Ikaruga “Ange” Misurugi than initially met the eye.
In an Animal-Farm-meets-Harry-Potter universe where the “Norma” – people who can’t use magic – are abused and oppressed, Angelise falls from grace after it is revealed that she cannot use magic, or ‘mana’ as the series call it.
Stripped from her title, exiled, and forced to live with the commoners, Angeline (or “Angie”, as she calls herself) is forced to reflect on issues related to identity, as she now belongs to a people she used to despised when she was a princess.
3) San/Princess Mononoke from Princess Mononoke
Protagonist Ashitaka, the last prince of his tribe, meets an puzzling girl, whom he later learns was raised by wolves, and is none other than the princess of the Wolf Gods. She’s on nature’s side in this environmentalist epos, putting her at odds with the movie’s main antagonist, Lady Eboshi of Irontown.
The other iconic Miyazaki princess, San or princess Mononoke clearly draws on Nausicaä, in that both movies has a strong female character that show a strong love for nature, as well courageous, selfless behavior.
While Nausicaä got her name from an idealistic character from Homer’s Odyssey, ‘Mononoke’ is similar to Yokai, a kind of monster in Japanese folklore, and their personality differ in a similar way: In contrast to Nausicaä’s ‘humanity’, San is preoccupied with protecting nature, and identifies more with nature than with humankind. Her role in the movie also differs from that of Nausicaä, and it is ultimately Ashitaka that is responsible for making peace between the human and the natural world.
The love-story element is more pronounced in Princess Mononoke, and some might, depending to what generation you belong to, be reminded of either Pocahontas or Neytiri.
2) Tsukino Usagi/Sailor Moon Princess Serenity (Sailor Moon)
As this series, to my great frustration, didn’t reach the particular corner of Europe where I happened to be born and raised, I get incredibly jealous every time I hear Americans sharing their fond Sailor Moon childhood memories.
In this definitive Magical Girl anime by the same name, protagonist Tsukino Usagi is just a normal school girl before a black cat named Luna discovers that it is actually her destiny to take the role as Sailor Moon, and thereby defending the earth against evil.
Differing from for example Ghibli’s princesses, Sailor Moon wasn’t the feminist idol she eventually came to be from the very start, in the beginning she was rather reluctant and often filled with self-doubt, and had to be rescued by Tuxedo Mask more than once.
Gradually, however, her character develops as she gets more mature, and while her feminist credentials has been contested more than once, she undoubtedly inspired a whole generation of young (and not so young) girls, and certainly also boys, both in Japan and internationally.
Hayao Miyazaki has given us some of the best female characters we know in this reactionary genre known as Japanese anime probably will see in a long time, and not few of those were princesses, as will be evident by the fact that three of them are included on this very list.
She is in many ways the ultimate Miyazaki heroine: She can fight, and even kill if the circumstances absolutely requires it, but what she really wants is for humanity and nature to coexist peacefully, values for which she is willing to bravely fight. Not only an idealist, though, also possesses first-class diplomatic and leadership ability, hindering the outbreak of a probably devastating war and basically singlehandedly saving the world.
Often considered the first movie of Studio Ghibli (although it wasn’t yet created at the time of the movie), Nausicaä laid the blueprint for characters in later Ghibli movies, and, princess or not, female or not, remains one of the most memorable anime characters of all time.
There you have it, and if you need more proof that princesses aren’t all weak and ‘girly’, then I honestly don’t know how I should go about pleasing you. But, there are certainly a few that slipped away, and if your king’s daughter was left out, please let us know in the comments!