Fans of Studio Ghibli are well aware that Hayao Miyazaki adores creating well-written girls and women to lead his films. His characters are vibrant and powerful, unforgettable and compelling. They face struggles huge and insurmountable, but also personal and intimate.
In going over his body of work, many heroines stand out for their own unique reasons. Some for incredible moments while others for the overall way we relate to them. Not all of these characters are the main heroines of their film nor are all of them created by Hayao Miyazaki. However, these ladies of Studio Ghibli rank among the best for how much of an impact they left on audiences once the final credits rolled. While in no way definitive, here are the 10 best Studio Ghibli heroines -- ranked.
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10 Marnie (When Marnie Was There)
There are several characters that could have been here, but there is something so hypnotic about Marnie that she inevitably appeared on this list.
When Marnie Was There is a later Ghibli film featuring a girl named Anna, who, while staying with relatives, encounters an enigmatic girl named Marnie in an abandoned mansion. As the story progresses, Anna starts to learn Marnie isn't all that she appears to be. The mystery surrounding Marnie, as well as the answers and how they pertain to Anna, are at once tragic and haunting.
9 Gina (Porco Rosso)
Another less-watched Studio Ghibli seen, Porco Rosso stars a WWI pilot cursed to become an anthropomorphic pig. He is challenged to a plane race by a rival ace pilot who seeks to win the heart of Porco's friend, Gina.
Gina would, in any other story, be a bland woman who exists as a prize to be won rather than her own character. What makes Gina so memorable, however, is that Miyazaki creates this character who is surrounded by pig-headed men but not defined by then. She does what she wants.
8 Sheeta (Castle in the Sky)
As Castle in the Sky is one of Studio Ghibli's best films, it follows that its protagonist, Sheeta, is one of Ghibli's best heroines. Sheeta is an enigmatic girl who is wanted by the villains for reasons that become known over the course of the story. Her journey starts with her as a MacGuffin for everyone -- or, at least, the jewel around her neck. It ends with her being a messiah figure.
She starts the story more as a compelling plot point, but ends it being one of Miyazaki's most lovable heroines. In particular, her last stand is a profoundly powerful scene.
7 Haru (The Cat Returns)
The Cat Returns is a smaller Studio Ghibli feature, but it features one of its best heroines in the form of Haru. Her simple story starts with her as a shy, introverted girl who can talk to cats. One act of kindness and one bit of miscommunication later, she ends up being whisked away to a cat kingdom, where she is caught up in a story of marriage and transformation, all in order to discover her true self.
What makes Haru so compelling is how simple her journey is, in essence. There is the adventure aspect, yes, but there is also the personal journey, which leads to some beautiful memories of kindness. Haru's journey is simple (as simple as any story involving cat kingdoms can be) but also meaningful to anyone who has lost track of who they are as a person.
6 Chihiro (Spirited Away)
Chihiro is one of Studio Ghibli's most well-known heroines in one of their most well-known movies. It is tempting to place her on top. But, in this case, there are simply better individual characters in Studio Ghibli's films.
But that said, Chihiro is an incredibly interesting character. Much like Haru, she starts as a girl with personal flaws who, in the process of finding out a personal truth about herself (this time, her name, which she needs to save her parents), she grows as a person. What makes Chihiro's journey so memorable is how she starts off as a selfish, immature child, but, over the course of her journeys, learns how to care for the world around her. She learns sacrifice. She becomes aware of how man's actions have damaged the world around her. Chihiro's story is far larger than her, but it is through her that audiences learn what she learns.
5 Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
Nausicaa is one of Studio Ghibli's earliest heroines -- in fact, she predates the studio. In many respects, Nausicaa isn't a great character. She is very one-note, never deviates from that path, and doesn't really grow or change as a character, since, in many ways, she starts out thinking one thing and thinks that same thing come the end of the story.
But what makes Nausicaa one of the best Studio Ghibli heroines is her determination. She experiences pain and horror, and, in order to save the worlds of man and nature, puts herself in danger. And she isn't shown to be particularly strong. If anything, Nausicaa's softness is her strength.
4 Shizuku (Whisper of the Heart)
Shizuku may not strike audiences immediately as among the best Studio Ghibli heroines. She isn't particularly strong. She doesn't save the world. She just writes, does a song, and falls in love. There are other Ghibli characters who do the same.
What makes Shizuku so incredible, however, is how sincere and powerful her story is. Every action she takes, every reaction she has to the world around her, feels real. It feels tangible. From her fantasies to just hearing feedback on her writing, Shizuku radiates humanity. Very rarely are characters written with such intimate familiarity as Shizuku is. And that makes her profound.
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3 Kiki (Kiki's Delivery Service)
Kiki is the heroine in one of the most well-known Studio Ghibli films. Iconic, beloved, unforgettable... but there's more to Kiki than just her position in pop culture. She isn't just one of the first Studio Ghibli heroines children met. She's also one of their best.
Much like Shizuku, Kiki's strength comes in how Miyazaki presents her humanity as a character to the audience. While she can fly on a broom, her adversities are very human. Because of this, she is more sympathetic to audiences than, say, Nausicaa. Most of us will never have to save the world. A lot of us can relate to Kiki coming home after a long day and just falling on the bed. That kind of moment is what gives her such a profound impact on audiences.
2 San (Princess Mononoke)
San may not be the best Studio Ghibli heroine, but she is by far the most bad-ass one.
San, adopted by Wolf Gods, wages a one-woman war on humanity, and fights this war with extreme prejudice. She hates humanity so much she even rejects the notion that she's a human, instead, calling herself a wolf. Over the course of the narrative, however, her hatred for mankind is tested, challenged, and, ultimately, the only way for her to save the forest is for her to develop a far more nuanced view of life.
Of all the Studio Ghibli heroines, San is by far the most epic. She seems relentless in her battle, but also has moments of soft humanity that balance out her harder, violent edges. She is a three-dimensional character, but is built up to be this cold, savage warrior long before audiences really understand her. Or even see her face. If not for the heroine above her, she'd be the best. However...
1 Sophie (Howl's Moving Castle)
Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle is the best Studio Ghibli heroine. Hands down. It isn't even a close call.
Sophie starts the story as an insecure girl who is convinced of her own plainness, who, after angering the Witch of the Waste, is transformed into an old woman. Being liberated from her concerns of being beautiful oddly brings Sophie a sort of self-peace which allows her, for the first time in her life, to be herself.
And from there, she sets off on a journey, dealing with demons, witches, and government bodies, all while falling in love and becoming her true self, no longer restrained by her desire to be a proper young lady.
While Howl's Moving Castle isn't Miyazaki's best film, what ties the film together is Sophie's personal journey. The events around her are really secondary and don't always make sense. Sophie's journey of self-actualization takes priority over every other plot element in the film.
Sophie -- human, powerful, and sympathetic. Easily the best Studio Ghibli heroine.