You would think that the Bechdel test, popularized by comic artist Alison Bechdel, would be an easy test to pass, but sadly, that is not the case. Instead of focusing on the things that don’t pass the Bechdel test, however, let’s celebrate things that do. Anime in particular can be problematic in its treatment of women, but there’s a lot of anime that not only pass the Bechdel test, but also feature a diverse cast of female characters who have meaningful relationships with one another. If you’re looking for anime where the girls are more than just girlfriends and have their own time to shine, you should definitely check out these shows.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena
It would be a crime not to include Revolutionary Girl Utena on this list. For many, this dark anime is a beacon of feminist and yuri shoujo. The story follows junior high student Utena Tenjou, who was saved by a prince as a young girl. Instead of wanting to become his princess, however, she decided to grow up to become a prince herself. After defending a friend’s honor, the chivalrous Utena somehow finds herself in the middle of a dueling system run by the student council. The prize? A mysterious, soft-spoken young girl named Anthy. Infuriated that a woman is being used as a prize, Utena “wins” Anthy and tries to help her gain agency. The series is full of twists, intriguing characters, heavy symbolism, and some of the most bizarre scenes you’ll ever witness in anime (A kickboxing kangaroo? Check!). Despite Utena’s oddity, at its core is a show about women saving each other, and it’s one of the most poignant anime out there.
- Sailor Moon
If Utena is the beacon of feminist anime, then Sailor Moon is the gateway. There is no better-known magical girl anime, and for good reason. Not only do the sailor scouts kick bad guy butt, but they are also allowed to be girls. The heroines have distinct personalities and are extremely relatable to an adolescent audience. For example, the protagonist Usagi (aka Sailor Moon) hates school, loves to eat, spends most of her time playing video games, and cries a lot. Although a good portion of the show focuses on Usagi’s romance with her boyfriend Mamoru (the ridiculously boring Tuxedo Mask), the hetero romance takes a back seat to the female relationships, both platonic and romantic. Sailor Moon may be targeted toward kids, but if you want a shoujo about female friendship that’s not as dark as Utena, revisit this childhood classic.
- Azumanga Daioh
If you really want to avoid any deep thinking whatsoever and just want a slice-of-life show about girls, Azumanga Daioh is for you. This anime follows the antics of a group of high school friends and their teachers, all women. In fact, there are only two named male characters: one is a creepy teacher who breathes loudly (think Brainy from Hey Arnold!) and the other is a cat who is the “father” of one of the girls. If that doesn’t give you an idea for how silly the show is right there, then I don’t know what will. There’s not that much to Azumanga Daioh other than the daily mishaps of some very weird girls, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable to watch.
- Princess Jellyfish
Princess Jellyfish is Azumanga Daioh turned up a notch. This show also follows the antics of a very bizarre group of girls, but possesses the emotional depth and drama that Azumanga Daioh lacks. Tsukimi Kurashita, the jellyfish-loving heroine, lives in a co-op for otaku women who all have their own quirks and special interests (one is obsessed with trains, another with actors from action movies, another with traditional Japanese culture, etc.). They all have severe social anxiety and never want to leave the house, but when they are threatened with eviction, they enlist the help of a savvy crossdresser named Kuranosuke. This anime is one of my personal favorites because it has such wonderful female characters, and it celebrates individuality and accepting people for who they are. It’s a short, sweet, feel-good anime.
- Princess Tutu
If you think a ballerina magical girl anime could never be epic, then prepare to be proven wrong. Princess Tutu take everything you know about fairy tales and completely deconstructs it. At a glimpse, it may seem like a typical shoujo anime with a cute but clumsy heroine, a handsome prince, a villainous rival love interest, and a dancing anteater (okay, maybe that’s not exactly typical), but it slowly unravels into a story like no other. In addition, the relationship between the heroine Duck (yes, she is actually a duck. Sort of.) and her rival Rue doesn’t go the cliché route: by the middle of the series, Duck is more concerned with helping Rue than winning the love of the prince. But saying any more would spoil the journey that is Princess Tutu, an anime that proves dancing and saving others with kindness is just as epic—if not more so—than throwing energy balls and screaming.
The Slayers series follows the adventures of the feisty sorceress Lina Inverse and her band of silly sidekicks as she destroys evil, steals from pretty much everyone, and eats her way to victory. Think a fantasy version of The Legend of Korra but without morals. Although action packed, Slayers is mostly known for its truly memorable characters. It’s also one of the most gender-balanced anime out there, which makes it especially noteworthy considering the series started in 1995. All of the characters, male and female, good and evil, get their time to shine. Lina’s relationships with her companions are also hilarious, particularly the one between her and her first travelling companion, Naga. While more recent seasons of the show have fallen flat when it comes to character development and humor, the older seasons and movies are definitely worth it if you want strong female characters, fantasy-action, and plenty of laughs.
- Little Witch Academia
Although this series only consists of two movies so far, it’s definitely worth checking out. The movies are basically about an all-girls Hogwarts, and Kagari Akko, the heroine, is more like Neville Longbottom than Harry Potter. But together with her friends, she helps defeat whatever is threatening the school. While the first movie sets the stage for Akko developing her powers, the second movie focuses on her friendships with the geeky Lotte and gloomy Sucy. The movies are utterly adorable and can be enjoyed by anime fans of all ages. Hopefully there will be more in the future!
- Pretty much any Hayao Miyazaki movie
It’s not secret that Minerva loves Miyazaki’s movies, but we can’t help it—there’s just so much to love. One thing to love in particular is the diversity of female characters and their compelling relationships. I cannot think of a single Miyazaki movie that fails to pass the Bechdel test. His movies are so grand, yet he portrays people with such charming simplicity, showing them growing and bouncing off each other. He also has this habit of having unlikely pairs of women stick up for each other, like the badass pirate matriarch Dola and Sheeta in Castle in the Sky, Sophie and The Witch of the Waste in Howl’s Moving Castle, San and her adoptive wolf mother Moro in Princess Mononoke, the list goes on. Miyazaki movies prove that you don’t need to shove action chicks in the audience’s face to portray women in an empowering light.
While these are my top recommendations for anime that pass the Bechdel test, there are still more out there! Some other recommendations I’ve received over the years and still have yet to check out are Wandering Son, El Cazador de la Bruja, Fullmetal Alchemist, Psychopass, and Puella Madoka Magica. Leave your own recommendations in the comments!
Image of Utena via Strange Wonderful. Image of Sailor Moon via Madman Entertainment. Image of Azumanga Daioh via Azumanga Daioh Wikia. Image of Princess Jellyfish via Living Myth. Image of Princess Tutu via Amazon. Image of the Slayers via gameindustry.com. Image of Little Witch Academia via myanimelist. Image of Kiki via flickeringmyth.com.