11 of the Fiercest Animated TV Heroines From the '90s–'00s — A Definitive Ranking
When asked to think of our female role models, there are a few standard names that tend to jump to mind: Hillary Clinton or Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, Joan Jett or Kathleen Hanna — but rarely if ever do we look to the animated side of things. True, there are some cruddy examples to be had, say, in the early Disney princess canon, but those few questionable depictions shouldn't taint the rep of an entire genre. In fact, I'd be willing to wager that a good number of us television-happy millennials were schooled in the ways of womanhood — or, at least, kickass girlhood — primarily by the female protagonists of the '90s–'00s who came at us, cartoon-style, every Saturday morning, with their tales of middle school woe / supernatural sidekicks / compact mirrors that doubled as supercomputers.
Upon further examination, however, it's hard not to notice some strange mind-molding tropes lurking within even these cooler depictions: Red hair, for example, seems to be a hallmark of a True Individual — the word "spunky" comes to mind — while more acerbic verbal barbs tend to come standard with a pair of combat boots and/or a skull necklace. But hey, at least that subtle stereotyping is less icky than that of their daintily-wristed predecessors, right?
Of course, some of these heroines get more Internet love than others — I'm talking your Helga Patackis, your Angelica Pickleses, your Kim Possibles, Girls of the Powerpuff persuasion, et al. Even Doug has gotten somewhat of a reboot in recognition lately, at least partially due to Patty Mayonnaise's role on Orange Is the New Black . So in that vein, this list is for all of the unsung ladies of cartoon lore who gave us something badass to which we might aspire. May their excellence remind us all to continue Speaking Up and Being Ourselves™ — or, at least, to grab some red hairdye.
11. The Kanker Sisters (Ed, Edd n Eddy)
While the Eds dreamed up various brands of jawbreaker-related mischief, it was up to the Kanker Sistes to dream up ways to take them down, often in a rather Freudian display of kiss-chasing and/or and cootie-decrying. Really, though, the Kankers are most notable for their excellent hair, their raspy alto drawls, their cartoonish ability to use one another as props (e.g., umbrellas, oars — see above) — and, most importantly, their unflagging unwillingness to be ignored.
10. The Agents of WOOHP (Totally Spies!)
Take Cher Horowitz and friends, cast them in a latter day episode of Charlie's Angels, and you might end up with something like Totally Spies, a GirlPower™-style secret agent series that, through drawn in a technique near-identical to Japanese Manga, was in fact produced in Canada. Sure, Clover, Alex, and Sam may have been hit with a touch of the Valley Girl — okay, drawlingly so, nonfat lattés and all — but they did always get their man, and not just date-night-wise. Plus, their accessories were quite simply the best (see: laser lipsticks and suction-bottomed go-go boots among many, many more).
9. Maria Wong (Braceface)
With her red-streaked hair and her love for all extreme sports, Maria consistently stole the show from her best friend Sharon, the eponymous "Braceface." Even without magical headgear, she was just about always on point, candid and wise-cracking — and, bonus points, a prominent biracial character who called out her friends for their sometimes not-so-subtle prejudices.
8. Eliza Thornberry (The Wild Thornberrys)
While I'll confess to being more of a Debbie girl myself (the malaise! the plaid!), I can certainly appreciate the boost Eliza gave to all the budding nature-explorers out there — a girl unafraid to climb trees and skin knees and settle disputes among antelope herds.
7. Mandy (Grim & Evil / The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy)
With her scowly demeanor and icy wit, Mandy captured the fast-blackening hearts of every little girl out there who was just plain Over It. While the show overall tended to range from zany to nigh insufferable — I mean, its titular protagonist was a thickly Jamaican-accented Grim Reaper — Mandy's presence offered the welcome respite of pure, unadulterated Shade.
(Meanwhile, Breaking News: the Internet has since seen fit to create a series of fan-penned cartoons in which an all-grown-up Mandy dates Dib from Invader Zim — which, I don't know if I can express to you how vitally important this is, but I can at least wring my hands and emit a few high-volume nonsense syllables while nostalgia runs from my ears. And speaking of Zim, we'll get there soon enough...)
6. Joan of Arc (Clone High)
She rocked combat boots and cargo pants; she pined openly over her best friend, Abe(raham Lincoln); she repped feminism, agnosticism, vegetarianism, cynicism, and ill-advised dolphin tattoos. All in all, Joan was the best friend we wished we had during those dumb high school days — or, the girl we wished we could be when getting sloppily hit on by dinguses like JFK, so we could remember to hit them back.
5. Reggie (Rocket Power)
Not only did Reggie skate and surf and with purple hair to boot, but she also had a zine — a zine, you guys — proving her to be only the trues and bluest of riot grrrls.
4. Pepper Ann (Pepper Ann)
In addition to marching in her own parade and being much too cool for 7th grade, Pepper Ann also found time to consistently bend rules to her liking, hang out with her ever-feminist single mom, and find a sincerely impressive amount of things under her desk. Whether processing her feelings about her parents' divorce or savvily spoofing film noir, Pepper Ann was there with us every step of the way, flanked by perhaps the most excellent pair of friends in all of toondom (Nicky + Milo 4evr).
3. Spinelli (Recess)
Never since Pippi Longstocking has a horizontal hairdo looked so rad. With her penchant for pro-wrestling and no-nonsense 'tude, Spinelli was the undisputed king of the Recess hill (take that, King Bob) — with the one possible exception of Ms. Finster, of course.
2. Gaz (Invader Zim)
Because sure, Mandy was great, but no one gave little goth gamer girls hope quite like Gaz. Not only was she deadpan and skull-sporting, she also frequently outsmarted both Zim and Dib without even trying — and remember that episode where she straight-up slasher-style stalked some dude who tried to cut her in line for the latest edition of Game Slave? The dynamic of the show is pretty clear: The boys fumblingly thwart one other with all the bravado of confused puppies, while Gaz rolls her eyes and plays her GameBoy and is better than everyone and knows it. (Okay, Tak was pretty cool, too. But she was only in one episode; Gaz kicked ass and took names every day of the week.)
1. Macie Lightfoot (As Told By Ginger)
As per the show's title, we're clearly supposed to focus the aptly named redhead (yet another one!) Ginger — her writing prowess, her relatable popularity squabbles, her will-they-won't-they-oh-no-they-di'int with Darren and his unwieldy orthodontia. Still, there was one character on that show whose undeniable badassery trumped Ginger's and Dodie's and even no-nonsense Lois, and that character was Macie. Yes, bespectacled, panic-prone, perennially allergic Macie proved herself, in a single episode, to be the bastion of IDGAF integrity toward which every little girl should aspire — or, should I say, every Little Seal Girl.
In case you've forgotten (though I don't know how that could be possible): When faced with an upcoming talent show, Ginger, Dodie, and Macie agree to pay dramatic tribute to their childhood heroine, the Little Seal Girl — but, when the popular girls mock their routine, only Macie has the iron clad balls to follow through, basic bitches be damned, fuck all y'all fingers held high (but, like, symbolically, as this was still broadcast on Nickelodeon). And, lo and behold, she turns it out, in a ballad that will forever capture the hearts of a generation:
I'm a Little Seal Girl / Living in the real world / And it's so hard to get by / 'Cause seals can't even cry
In short, I am he, as you are he, as you are me, and we are all the Little Seal Girl.
We are all Macie Lightfoot.