These Brilliant Women Book Characters Are Our Fictional Favorites

Women and girl characters from television and film get a lot of love. From our childhood Disney movie heroines like Mulan to the ladies of Yellowjackets, there’s always been a wide variety of gals to fall in love with. Whether they are good or, ahem, not-so-good, there are a plethora of reasons why their stories are etched in our hearts. They inspire us to become better versions of ourselves and to stand up for what is just. We gather the strength to believe in our unique journeys despite naysayers. But, the profound impact of comic, novel, and other print women and girl characters is equally powerful.

They were often the first fictional loves of our lives, springing to unique form in our heads and sparking our burgeoning imaginations. Or, perhaps they entered our consciousness later in life, infusing us with hope and wisdom in the midst of thrilling entertainment. They reflect us in some way, for better or worse, or provide a gateway towards a potentially greater future. That is, if we dare to follow their path. The women of Nerdist love a great show or movie. But books will always have a place in our hearts and homes. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating a few of our favorite book characters.

Feyre Archeon (A Court of Thorns and Roses)
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“I would not be weak, or helpless again I would not, could not be broken.”

Feyre Archeron took a journey across the A Court of Thorns and Roses book series by Sarah J. Maas. First, we followed her as a mortal. She became the sole provider for her three sisters and her father after their mother’s death and carried the weight of that pressure. Then she got sent to Prythian, the land of faery. Look, did Sarah J. Maas put Feyre through some unnecessary sh*t? Yes. But Feyre rebounded. She healed.

Feyre’s resilience and loyalty to her friends speaks to me. I don’t have the Night Court or High Fae magic to help me get by. But if she can go through all that emotional abuse and come out in one piece? Albeit, bruised and traumatized, but still in one piece. Well, then I can do hard things. I can put myself on the line for those I love. -Amy Ratcliffe

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice)

I admit to watching more content than I read, and Elizabeth Bennet is a character who shines both on the page and on the screen. My go-to reason for loving her is the strength she shows when Lady Catherine says, “Upon my word, you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person.” I have heard some version of this criticism throughout my personal and professional life. I’d like to say I am as unflappable as Eliza, but it took me years to perfect a version of “Who else’s opinion would I give?”

The book is a delight, one of few I read repeatedly. Every book, TV, and movie adaptation, retelling, and unauthorized sequel is interesting, if not transcendent. How many other female characters are so mindfully written that they can stand up to appearances in zombie stories, graphic novels, Bollywood, rom-coms set in every modern decade, murder mysteries, fanfiction crossovers, gender swaps, and small town holiday movies? The appeal of Elizabeth Bennet is indeed a truth universally acknowledged. -Melissa Miller

Lila Cerullo (My Brilliant Friend)
cover of my Brilliant friend book
Europa Editions

As a fan of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend series, I quickly gravitated toward one of the two main female protagonists, Lila Cerullo. The quartet follows the life-long, tumultuous friendship between Lila and Elena, by whom the story is told. It often details how small privileges can afford gigantic payoffs, and also, what happens when one is not afforded such privileges.

They both come from an impoverished neighborhood in Naples. They at the top of their class, but Lila’s wit is just slightly sharper than Elena’s. This is why it is an utter devastation when she is forced to leave school by her parents, while Elena’s education is prioritized by hers. Lila faces irrevocable hardships in her life because of this convergence in their stories. Lila is forced into an abusive marriage, while Elena is encouraged to pursue university studies. But Lila’s dogged ambition and cleverness that exceeds everyone else’s is what keeps her afloat. What inspires me most about her, ultimately, is how in spite of all the turmoil that works to drown her, Lila always, always, elects resistance. -Ariel Kling 

Kyōko Otonashi (Maison Ikkoku)
photo of Kyōko Otonashi

There are so many brilliant women in fiction it was hard for me to pick just one. But if there’s a single figure and book series that has brought me the most joy over the past few years, it’s undoubtedly Kyōko from Rumiko Takahashi’s slice of life manga Maison Ikkoku. Kyōko is a young widow who takes over a boarding house full of eccentric tenants. Kyōko is kind, thoughtful, and romantic. She’s often interior but loves to let loose and is never afraid to be angry and show her emotions. I adore not only Takahashi’s beautifully imagined, soft, and hilarious character designs but also her saucy, silly, and rambunctious representation of being a young woman lost and trying to find her way. -Rosie Knight

MacKenzie “Mac” Coyle (Paper Girls)
comic book image of Mac from Paper Girls riding her bike at night
Image Comics

Paper Girls is easily one of my favorite comic book series of all-time. It is a story about life, death, friendship, and identity all wrapped up in a creative time travel adventure. Each of the four titular paper girls have their own unique, compelling qualities, but the character of Mac is by far my favorite. While there are plenty of surface level things to admire and appreciate about the tough, confident nature of the character, where Mac truly shines is in her overall arc.

Without giving too much away, her character serves as a moving exploration of the humanity of death and how we cope with it. Not only does Mac come to terms with her own mortality in a beautiful and touching way, but in the process learns to fully and truly embrace who she is and those she cares about, learning to love no only others, but herself. They’re not just paper girls, they’re friends. -Alison Mattingly

Michonne Hawthorne (The Walking Dead comics) 
color comic cover of Michonne from The Walking Dead with two walkers on chains
Image Comics

Long before Danai Gurira brought Michonne to life in The Walking Dead’s TV series, I fell in love with the character through Robert Kirkman’s stellar apocalypse comic saga. Michonne embodies many traits I aspire to have as a woman. She’s passionate, resourceful, pragmatic when necessary, loving but firm, and a skilled katana-wielding badass who can take down her foes with a single swing. (Still working on that last one.) Her ability to survey a situation, make sharp decisions on the fly, go to unprecedented lengths to survive, and operate alone yet be a clutch team player makes her the real MVP of this universe. Yes, I said it and I stand on that ‘til this day.

Michonne rejects the label of being “strong,” which is often thrust upon Black women’s shoulders. Instead, she wants to be simply seen as human, feel genuine love, build authentic friendships, and have a sense of belonging. Oprah once said these loving words about her best friend Gayle King: “…she is the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I don’t know a better person.” This is exactly how I feel about Michonne. Cheers to a lawyer, leader, and former loner who reclaims herself in a world where all constructs are stripped away and rebuilt. –Tai Gooden

Nancy Drew (Nancy Drew mystery series) 
Nancy Drew, clutching a stone wall, holds a flashlight up a staircase in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.
Grosset & Dunlap

When I think about the characters I admire most, I generally gravitate to the characters of my youth and the characters that shaped me. Yes, they include the likes of Ramona Quimby to the ladies of The Baby-Sitter’s Club. And, of course, Jo March. But Nancy Drew is elementary school Meg’s queen. The Nancy Drew novels introduced me to mysteries with a smart, driven detective taking on thieves and blackmailers without missing a beat. I was obviously hooked. So much so that I was that child who wrote Nancy Drew “novels” for class in elementary school.

Stratemeyer Syndicate—a.k.a. the company behind “Carolyn Keene”—abided by a very rote formula.  Hence the aforementioned seven-year-old’s attempt to replicate it for the class. I admired Nancy’s tenacity, the drive that occasionally got her into trouble—or danger—and her unwillingness to give up. And when Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys teamed up? That was my Avengers. Not all aspects of the novels have aged particularly well, requiring some updates since their first publication. But Nancy remains the blueprint for the formerly precocious girl to ambitious lady detective pipeline. -Meaghan Kirby

Artemis (Greek mythology)
photo of Greek goddess Artemis
New York Public Library

As a nerdy kid ™, Greek myths were some of the first stories I got my hands on. The cleaned-up versions, anyway… Well, as cleaned up as Greek myths can get. I was definitely a mythology child and buried myself deep in the various supernatural stories and worlds that myths had to offer. But of all the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, one spoke to me more than anyone, the goddess Artemis.

Although I didn’t know the extent of it then, in many ways, Artemis truly is my patron goddess. A fierce protector of women, Artemis values her independence and her freedom above all else and she won’t compromise on that point for anyone. And those who try to get her to change her ways do not meet happy ends. (I don’t, of course, condone turning men into stags and hunting them, of course not…)

Though the nitty-gritty of Greek myths may not have aged particularly well, shall we say, the beautiful part of these stories is what they give to readers as they are adapted and passed down over the course of centuries. For me, Artemis has always represented a wild freedom and an aspirational carelessness. She offers a reminder to be fearless and always true to yourself. And, though fierce, as the goddess of the Moon, she always brings light in the dark.  -Ro Rusak

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