WE CAN DO IT!1 of 12In 2017, Jean Grey is getting her first-ever solo ongoing series. Though the series stars the younger version of the first X-Woman, it still marks a significant Marvel milestone – and it got us thinking about the amazing legacy of female superheroes
When Newsarama sat down to make this list, it became clear that there was no way to list every female superhero worthy of inclusion - you'll notice some big names like Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel, Catwoman, and Black Canary didn't make the cut, just to name a few, nor did more recent success stories like Jessica Jones who, while popular, has yet to make an all-time mark. So we decided to settle on picking out the ten characters that best embody the breadth of female heroes in comic books for all time.
We also chose to include only superheroes, leaving out truly important characters such as Lois Lane, Red Sonja, and Archie Comics' Betty & Veronica.
Female superheroes aren't a novelty - they're vital characters that represent a growing segment of comic book readership. Here are ten of the best examples of female superheroes who are great characters - well-rounded, powerful, and in the right hands, some of the most interesting superheroes in comic books.
And if you like this, you can always check out our earlier countdown of Top Female Supervillains for the other side of the coin.
Supergirl2 of 12Supergirl may have started out as a spin-off character from Superman, but for many fans, she’s become so much more than that. DC’s Maid of Might represents a certain element of femininity that is often glossed over in fiction – the balance of girlish glee and emotional exploration with confidence and physical power.
Too often female characters must be one or the other, ultra-feminine or super-powerful, but Supergirl - who possesses all the strength of her cousin Superman while facing all the issues of a young woman - is at her best when writers strike a true balance between both sides of that coin, letting her be a real Supergirl.
That dynamic plays an important role in the CW’s Supergirl, a show that places a slightly older Kara in the central role and embraces her femininity without shying away from her ability to kick ass.
Kitty Pryde3 of 12The young female hero is an important archetype in comic book, and one for which we considered many representatives, including DC’s Donna Troy and Starfire. In the end, however, Kitty Pryde is the candidate that best represents the heroic ingénue, serving as the window into the X-Men for an entire generation of fans.
Kitty may have been a superhero from very early on, but she was also a regular teenager with interests, attitudes, and character dynamics that made her a perfect POV character for the intense soap opera of the X-Men. But even more than that, Kitty has been able to grow and adapt in a way most comic book characters – let alone female comic book characters – are never allowed to do.
Comic book fans have watched Kitty grow from an excitable teenager, to a competent superhero, to a ninja and espionage expert.
Now, after a brief stint with the Guardians of the Galaxy, she'll graduate to leading her own X-Men team in X-Men: Gold as part of Marvel's "ResurrXion" line.
Black Widow4 of 12Black Widow has been around as a character since the ‘60’s, but it’s only recently that she’s become a particularly prominent heroine in the Marvel Universe, thanks in large part to her role as a founding member of the cinematic Avengers.
But the fact that her recent success has mostly been due to her onscreen adventures doesn’t discount her role in comic books, either. Though she started out as a villain, it wasn’t long before Black Widow became an Avenger, a career she’s balanced with her black ops work alongside S.H.I.E.L.D. and on her own, even leading the team for a time.
She’s also anchored several ongoing series, the most recent of which boasts the fan favorite creative team of Chris Samnee and Mark Waid at the wheel. Her cinematic counterpart most recently appeared in this past summer’s Captain America: Civil War.
She-Hulk5 of 12In some ways, She-Hulk is the ultimate expression of feminine power. She’s indestructible, super-strong, and without inhibition – all of this with the mind of a high-powered attorney wrapped inside those unparalleled green muscles.
And while she may seem like a typical spin-off character (obviously riffing on her somewhat more famous cousin Bruce Banner), She-Hulk takes the concept of a gamma-irradiated hero to a totally different level, embracing her alter ego and living life to the fullest.
In some ways, She-Hulk also broke other boundaries – her John Byrne-penned ongoing series introduced an indestructible, fourth-wall-breaking hero with a sense of humor years before Deadpool grew a similar schtick.
She-Hulk was Deadpool before there even was a Deadpool.
Wasp6 of 12Janet Van Dyne was not only the first female Avenger, and a founder, but also the hero who named the team when they first formed. Though she started out as something of a sidekick to her on-again-off-again (currently off-again) paramour Hank Pym, Janet quickly became a hero in her own right, leading the Avengers several times, and often acting as the team’s moral center.
When crafting this list, it came down to putting either Wasp or Captain Marvel in this spot. And while Captain Marvel may be more prominent now, her trajectory has been spotty, taking her from being a damsel in distress, to a perpetual victim, to leading the Avengers and her own intergalactic defense team, while Wasp’s arc has been far more consistent. Add to that her historical significance, and it’s easy to see why she’s one of the greatest female heroes ever to grace the printed page.
And while viewers got a glimpse of Janet Van Dyne in action in Ant-Man, she's said to be taking on a more prominent (and eponymous) role in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp with Janet’s daughter Hope Van Dyne taking on the mantle.
An All-New, All-Different Wasp - Janet Van Dyne's apparent stepdaughter - took the mantle this summer in the pages of All-New, All-Different Avengers with a trajectory towards an ongoing series, The Unstoppable Wasp.
Jean Grey7 of 12Jean Grey was the first X-Woman, and even bore the name of her publishing company as Marvel Girl before transitioning to her Phoenix identity in the ‘70’s. But she’s more than just the first female mutant superhero – she’s also emblematic of the entire X-Men franchise, and one of the most complex, well developed characters in comic books.
She may have started out in the typical Marvel superheroine model, but later adventures saw Jean develop a level of depth that many ensemble cast members never achieve. Between her ever developing relationship with Scott Summers, her vast and terrifying power levels, her descent into madness as the Dark Phoenix, and her penchant for self-sacrifice and redemption, Jean experienced more in her tenure as a hero than almost anyone.
Of course, a Phoenix can only rise from the ashes so many times, and her final death at the hands of Magneto seems to have stuck – though her time-displaced younger self has become a central figure in the X-Men once again, and will lead the first ever Jean Grey ongoing series in "ResurrXion."
Batgirl8 of 12Barbara Gordon is unique among female heroes, and superheroes in general, for having not one but two vastly different and very successful superhero careers.
Barbara started out as Batgirl, using her wits, her incredible intelligence, and her physical capabilities to earn Batman’s trust as an ally and protégé. However, after years of fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, a violent encounter with the Joker left her paralyzed – but not deterred.
Though her physical challenges sometimes (not always) kept her off the streets, Barbara turned to her intelligence to make a difference. Taking on the mantle of Oracle, Barbara became the information hub for Batman’s entire network and lead the all-female superhero team the Birds of Prey.
Now she’s back in action as Batgirl, her injuries having finally been reversed, and is also leading a new team of Birds of Prey as part DC’s Rebirth.
Storm9 of 12Storm started as the X-Men’s ingénue, a young heroine who was one of the rookie mutants recruited when the original team went missing. Alongside other X-Men mainstays like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus, Storm rose through the ranks becoming not just a seasoned hero, but a mentor to her fellow mutants, and now serves as the Headmistress of Xavier’s school, and the leader of the X-Men.
Storm is also the first major female hero of color – a distinction that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering how important she’s remained in both X-Men and Marvel lore. Fans saw a new side of Storm when Alexandra Shipp took over the role of a younger version of the character in the recent film X-Men: Apocalypse.
Invisible Woman10 of 12Marvel’s first superheroine may not have the highest profile of the characters on this list, but Sue Storm set the pace for modern female heroes – and still occupies a fairly unique place in comic books.
While its true that early stories didn’t exactly serve Sue particularly well, she developed into the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four, serving as Marvel’s first family’s de facto – and literal – mother. And that may be one of the most crucial aspects of her character.
While Sue Storm is powerful in her own right – many writers have said she’s got the most raw power of anyone on the FF – she also represents an important aspect of womanhood that many female heroes have sacrificed or had used against them – motherhood.
That Sue can serve as one of the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe (and it’s first female hero) while simultaneously raising two children and shepherding the growth of many more through the Future Foundation can’t be understated.
Plus, it takes a pretty amazing woman to stand up to a blowhard like Reed Richards.
Wonder Woman11 of 12Diana of Themiscyra represents the best of mankind, and of womanhood. Strong, compassionate, fearless, and independent, as Wonder Woman Diana is a pillar of the Justice League and one of the greatest heroes and warriors in the entire DC Universe.
And though her real world origins are complex, William Moulton Marston and his collaborators Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne created an equally complex character who would grow to become a feminist icon and the character that almost anyone in the world thinks of when you say “female superhero”.
Now, Wonder Woman is finally getting her due having made her live action movie debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just in time for her 75th anniversary, before starring in her own solo film in 2017.
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