21 TV Shows With Strong, Complicated Female Leads

by Jordana Lipsitz
Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

No matter how hard we ladies try to stay strong, sometimes the patriarchy is capable of bringing down any gal. It's inevitable in this flawed world that occasinally, something will go down that makes you feel small and weak. When that happens, I find it's best to watch TV shows featuring a strong female lead (or two or three) to lift my spirits. For example, if some dude tells me, "Smile girl, you look like someone broke your heart," while I'm casually walking down the street, I might fume and not say anything, but I'll crack open Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I get home to feel inspired again. Or sometimes, when I'm feeling down about the world or, recently, about the de-funding of Title X, I'll head to Scandal so I can live in a world where women has some real pull in Washington, D.C.

Though we may all try to be women who never take anyone's patriarchal nonsense, nobody's perfect and it's not always easy to stay powerful and strong in a "man's world" that constantly tells us that we are not strong and powerful. Thank goodness we've got some television that aims to remind us that we are capable women who can do anything we put our minds to.


'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'

There is truly nothing that compares to the empowerment one can feel while watching Buffy and her equally badass gal pals take on demons and the everyday traumas of life. Nothing.


'The Legend Of Korra'

As the Avatar, Korra can control all four elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. It really doesn't get much stronger than that. While she has difficulties with her powers and the evil that's consistently out to get her, with the help of her friends and family, she manages to be one of the greatest Avatars her world has ever seen. Get it, Korr.



Selina Meyer is not only the most hilarious part of this political satire about life in the country's executive branch, she's also got the most gumption. While she makes a lot of mistakes, I can't help but want to live in a world where President Meyer is in control — at least sometimes.



While Issa from HBO's Insecure doesn't always make the best decisions, she's also a very empathetic character. She might be flawed, but that's the best part about her. Strong doesn't mean perfect.


'Veronica Mars'

She solves mysteries, she subverts the status quo in the shady and cliquey town of Neptune, and she constantly fights to deal with her own emotional baggage. Veronica Mars is just the character you need when "the man" is getting you down.


'Grace And Frankie'

How does getting two strong, female leads for the price of one sound? When their lawyer husbands leave them for each other, Grace and Frankie could have huddled in their Malibu beach house and moped for the rest of their lives. Instead, they start new romantic relationships, design a vibrator for geriatric women, and continue to live their lives the best way they know how. That's the kind of strength I need to see.


'Fresh Off The Boat'

Jessica Huang's tough love approach to parenting her three boys and handling her goofy husband is truly empowering. Though she at first struggles with the Florida scene when she and her family move from D.C, her persistence and confidence help her through.


'30 Rock'

Liz Lemon might not think she's strong, but not just anyone can be a head writer of a popular sketch show. Watching Lemon work through her problems is oodles of fun, relatable, and inspiring.



Her personal life might be more than a little messy, but Olivia Pope is great at her job as a "fixer" in the scandal-heavy Washington, D.C. Despite many social life difficulties and job-related struggles, Pope always stays on top of her game.


'Parks And Recreation'

Leslie Knope is a dedicated government official, friend, and breakfast fan. She accomplishes more in one day than most of us can in a week. Get some Knope in when you're feeling like you're incapable of getting anything done. because her can-do attitude will surely change your tune.


'How To Get Away With Murder'

While Annalise Keating is bold and seemingly unbreakable in the courtroom, she deals with a lot of dramatic personal struggles. Still, she is a force to be reckoned with and does not apologize for herself and her actions, which is a valuable skill to emulate.


'Jessica Jones'

Not only is Jessica Jones strong in the superhero sense of the word, she also refuses to take nonsense from anyone. She's got her issues, but she works every day to attempt to make the world a better place.



Daria doesn't waste time worrying about what her classmates and fellow citizens of the suburban town of Lawndale think. The sarcastic teen does what she wishes and doesn't have regard for people trying to bring her down. I wish high school me had Daria.


'Downton Abbey'

Lady Mary Talbot might not be the *sweetest* character in the history of the world, but it's not really her job to be quiet and kind. She does what she wants, when she wants, and works hard to keep her family estate running. That's the sort of behavior to emulate.



Cookie Lyon does what she has to do to get ahead and seems to have no regrets about the matter. Not only does she rule her roost with an iron fist, she looks fantastic doing it — the hip hop mogul's fashion is seriously on point.


'Steven Universe'

Though this animated show for children (but also totally for grownups) is named after the male lead, Steven, the women he runs with are the real heroes. The show has a complicated mythology involving "gems" who protect the earth, but that mythology provides one of the most powerful ensembles of female good guys the animated world has ever seen.


'Game Of Thrones'

GoT has a whole host of female leads who have overcome great adversity to get where they are by the end of Season 6. While a lot of their conflicts have been difficult to watch, these struggles make their successes all the more exciting to see.


'Adventure Time'

While Finn the Human is the main character of this series, his princess friends are a tad more impressive. Not only are both Marceline and Princess Bubblegum talented musicians who have the weight of their respective kingdoms on their shoulders, they also have mad skills in various fields like science and sass.



Liv Moore doesn't let anything get in her way, even being undead. When life gives her lemons (AKA zombie-hood) she makes lemonade (AKA solving murders) as a freelance "psychic" for the Seattle political department. Really, she's just getting flashbacks from eating the victim's brains, but hey, that's not for everybody to know.


'Orange Is The New Black'

OITNB covers strong women from every walk of life, with different creeds, different cultures, and different crimes that landed them in Litchfield Penitentiary. One minute, you're wondering how the characters could possibly survive the latest hurdle, the next you're whooping with joy at their successes.


'Broad City'

Women don't have to be serious to be strong. Ilana and Abbi are just ordinary (and super funny) girls living it up in the big city, but that doesn't mean they aren't also tenacious. Maybe they aren't running the country, but the broads are being strong in the average human way — staying true to themselves and dealing with their everyday struggles.

With all these great options for strong, complex women in television, you need never feel down-hearted again. Anytime you feel your inner goddess fading, head over to one of these shows to remind yourself how confident, funny, powerful, and inspiring women, including yourself, can be.