In the realm of pop culture, a new era of heroes has emerged, shining a spotlight on strong female nerd characters who defy stereotypes and inspire audiences. These characters, from the galaxy-traveling Rey in Star Wars to the indefatigable Agent Peggy Carter, bring depth, intelligence, and strength to their narratives. They’re not just side characters; they’re leading figures, driving their stories forward with brains, bravery, and a hefty dose of nerdiness. These women are breaking barriers, proving that heroism isn’t confined to physical prowess alone but is also found in the sharpness of the mind and the courage of the spirit.
The rise of nerdy girl characters in movies, TV shows, and books reflects a broader cultural shift towards embracing diversity and complexity in character development. Rey, with her natural affinity for the Force and her journey of self-discovery, embodies the spirit of adventure and resilience. Meanwhile, Agent Peggy Carter, with her quick wit and unwavering determination, redefines what it means to be a hero in a male-dominated field. These characters, among others, are not just part of the narrative; they are the narrative, captivating audiences with their intellect, strength, and undeniable nerdiness. They challenge the status quo, offering young viewers and readers alike role models who are as relatable as they are aspirational.
1Rey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Rey is the Star Wars character all us ladies have been waiting for. In a movie already being compared to A New Hope, Rey is the Luke Skywalker equivalent. She’s complex, badass, and incredibly talented — someone figuring out how to use the Force pretty much on her own? And that person is a woman? This is a happy fever dream for every Star Wars fan who lamented the slim pickings of female representation in the franchise thus far. Rey is set up to be the star moving forward, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Why She’s a Strong Character
First off, she’s super resourceful. Living alone on the desert planet of Jakku, she’s had to learn how to fend for herself from a young age. She’s a scavenger, a mechanic, and a pilot, which means she’s got a ton of skills that make her independent and self-reliant.
Then there’s her emotional strength. Rey has been waiting for her family to return for years, but she doesn’t let that hold her back. She’s got hopes and dreams, and when the opportunity arises, she takes the leap and joins Finn and BB-8 on their quest. She’s not afraid to step out of her comfort zone and take on new challenges, even if it means facing her deepest fears and insecurities.
Also, let’s talk about her combat skills. Rey is a natural when it comes to hand-to-hand combat and using a lightsaber. She holds her own against Kylo Ren, who’s been trained in the dark arts for years. That’s no small feat! She’s not just a damsel in distress; she’s a fighter who can stand her ground.
And you can’t ignore her leadership qualities. Throughout the series, Rey shows that she’s more than capable of making tough decisions and leading the way. Whether it’s flying the Millennium Falcon through tight spaces or figuring out the next move in a life-or-death situation, she’s got the chops to lead.
Last but not least, Rey’s character evolves. She’s not static; she grows stronger with each challenge she faces. She learns from her experiences, questions her place in the larger narrative, and seeks to understand her own identity. That makes her relatable and inspiring, not just as a female character, but as a human being.
2Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Oh, Kimmy, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Earnest, resourceful, and (of course) strong as hell, Kimmy leaped onto the screen and into our hearts. I spent most of March humming her theme song and searching for adult-sized light-up shoes. Despite being held captive in an incredibly stressful situation for years, Kimmy has retained her sense of self and her love of the world. No matter what, she finds a way to make life wonderful and gave us some of the most solid advice we’ve received this year: take everything ten seconds at a time. (Runner up: looking at yourself with Hashbrown: No Filter.)
Why She’s On This List
Kimmy’s got this unshakable spirit that makes her a strong female character. She faces challenges head-on and doesn’t let setbacks keep her down. Whether it’s navigating the complexities of modern life in New York City or dealing with her traumatic past, she’s got a can-do attitude that’s super inspiring.
Another thing that sets Kimmy apart is her emotional intelligence. She’s empathetic and kind, always looking out for her friends and even complete strangers. She’s not just strong for herself; she lifts others up, too.
Also, let’s not forget her sense of humor. Kimmy uses humor as a coping mechanism, sure, but it also makes her relatable and human. She shows us that it’s okay to laugh at yourself and find joy, even when life throws curveballs your way.
3Agent Peggy Carter, Agent Carter
While not strictly a new character due to her appearance in Captain America and flashbacks in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Peggy Carter finally received her own show in 2015, and it was so fantastic that we had to include her. Peggy is incredibly competent, staying one step ahead of her fellow agents in the SSR and saving the day.
She treats even those who are rude to her with incredible grace and has the ability to best them in a fight as a backup plan. Hayley Atwell was able to make the character truly develop in only eight episodes — I can’t wait to see what season 2 will bring. Peggy Carter is one of the best Marvel female characters.
Why She’s a Strong Character
One of the first things you’ll notice about her is that she can seriously hold her own in a fight. She’s trained in hand-to-hand combat and is a sharpshooter to boot. She’s not the damsel in distress; she’s often the one saving the day.
But it’s not just her physical prowess that sets her apart. Peggy is incredibly intelligent, always thinking two steps ahead of her enemies. She’s a strategist and her intelligence is never overshadowed by the men around her, which is a big deal. She’s also a born leader. In her own TV series, Agent Carter, she’s the one calling the shots and leading missions. She’s not afraid to go against orders if she believes it’s the right thing to do, and people respect her for it.
Emotional strength is another one of her standout qualities. She goes through a lot, especially with losing Steve Rogers, but she doesn’t let her emotions dictate her actions. She knows how to grieve and move on, which is easier said than done. And speaking of Steve Rogers, while their love story is epic, it doesn’t define her. She has her own career, her own missions, and her own identity outside of any man.
What’s also cool about Peggy is that she breaks stereotypes. The story is set in the 1940s, and she’s out there proving that women are just as capable as men. She challenges the sexist norms of her time and shows that women can excel in roles traditionally reserved for men. She’s got a strong moral compass too. She stands up for what she believes in, even if it’s unpopular, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind.
Last but not least, Peggy is a complex character. She’s not a one-dimensional “strong female character” but a well-rounded individual with her own set of strengths and weaknesses. This makes her relatable and real, and it’s one of the reasons why she’s such a standout character not just in the Marvel universe but in media in general.
4Angie Martinelli, Agent Carter
Peggy wouldn’t have gotten through her mission to prove Howard Stark innocent if it hadn’t been for Angie Martinelli. From helping Peggy find a place to live to giving the performance of a lifetime to prevent the SSR from discovering their MIA agent, Angie’s humor and sensible nature give Peggy a solid bedrock of support. She lends a nice comedic element to what is often a rather serious show and is a precious cinnamon bun to be protected at all costs.
5Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa was the runaway hit in Mad Max: Fury Road. While the movie was technically about Max himself, Furiosa was far and away the true hero. She is a true feminist, intent on protecting the women (and men) around her and doing a damn good job at it! Furiosa drives much of the action, besting everyone with only one arm and receiving the honor of taking out Immortan Joe and saving the day. Imperator Furiosa was one of the most interesting female movie characters of the year, which is why she belongs on this list.
6Nomi Marks, Sense8
Political blogger and hacktivist Nomi has the sort of security in her self-identity that many of us wish we could have. She knows exactly who she is, what she wants, and what she stands for — and she stays loyal to it, even when the going gets tough. Nomi’s skills are incredibly vital to all the sensates, opening up access to places in incredibly creative ways. (Honorary mention goes to her badass girlfriend, Amanita).
7Sun Bak, Sense8
Where Nomi does much of the behind the scenes mental work, Sun’s skills are firmly in the physical world. She has incredible control over her body and her mind. Intelligent and loyal, Sun is even willing to go to prison for the sake of her family and the company they worked to build.
She is highly skilled in martial arts, taking down multiple men without a single ounce of hesitation. Her calm demeanor also anchors the other sensates, some of whom can be very emotional. Yet somehow, she’s one of the most badass female characters on this list.
8Kara Zor-El, Supergirl
I will admit that despite being more of a Marvel fan, I am unabashedly in love with Kara and CBS’ Supergirl. Kara is a character truly driven by the need to help people — I would certainly say that she would be Sorted into Hufflepuff. Juggling her job at CatCo with her superhero work with the DEO is no easy feat, but Kara (for the most part) pulls it off with aplomb. She has proven to be as selfless as they come and just as good a hero as her cousin Superman, even if she sometimes feels the weight of his shadow.
9Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Alex Danvers is more than just Supergirl’s adoptive sister. She is a bioengineer, a skilled markswoman, and is an expert at hand-to-hand combat. Although Alex is initially against Kara working as Supergirl, she eventually comes around and works to support her sister.
Sharing her martial arts knowledge, she shows Kara that you can’t simply rely on powers- you must work hard to develop every skill you have.
Why She’s A Strong Character
- She’s a Badass: First off, Alex is a skilled fighter and a top-notch agent at the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations). She’s not just there to play second fiddle to Supergirl; she holds her own in battles and often saves the day.
- Emotional Strength: She’s not just physically strong; she’s emotionally resilient too. Alex goes through a lot, from coming out as gay to dealing with family drama. She faces her fears and challenges head-on, and that takes guts.
- Complex Relationships: Her relationship with her sister Kara (aka Supergirl) is super nuanced. They support each other, but they also have their disagreements and conflicts. It’s not just a one-note sisterly bond; it’s complex and real.
- Leadership Skills: Alex eventually becomes the director of the DEO. She’s not just following orders; she’s the one making the tough calls. And she does it with a sense of responsibility and fairness.
- Personal Growth: Over the seasons, you can see her grow as a person. She comes to terms with her sexuality, becomes more confident in her role at the DEO, and even explores the idea of motherhood. She’s not static; she evolves.
- Representation: Alex’s coming-out story was a big deal because it added much-needed LGBTQ+ representation to mainstream TV. It was handled with sensitivity and depth, making her a role model for many.
- Vulnerability: Even though she’s tough as nails, Alex isn’t afraid to show her vulnerable side. Whether it’s her struggles with her dad’s betrayal or her romantic relationships, she’s open about her feelings, making her relatable.
- Intelligence: Let’s not forget, she’s super smart! Whether it’s medical know-how or understanding alien tech, Alex brings brains to the brawn.
10Liv Moore, iZombie
One can argue that Liv Moore got the short end of the stick. Others may argue that her punny name destined her to life as a zombie. A promising medical student with a perfect life and wonderful fiancée, Liv’s run-in with a zombie leaves her undead and changes her trajectory profoundly. Somehow she still manages to pick up the pieces of her life and carve out some semblance of normalcy well, as normal as life as a zombie can be. Her perseverance and determination to help others is admirable. Working at the morgue allows her access to brains, and the strange aftereffects and visions allow her to help get justice for those who did not get a second chance as she did.
11Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones
There is no world where this list wouldn’t include Jessica Jones. Her story sucked me in so much that I binge-watched the entire first season in two days. (Usually, I take a much more sedate pace of around a week.) Jessica’s story is one of triumph — dealing with physical and mental rape and somehow managing to pick herself up and come out on top. She is acerbic and barbed the majority of the time but allows herself to let down her guard a little around those she cares about. Jessica is the quintessential knight errant who may not always make the best choices for herself but does her best to make good decisions for others.
12Trish Walker, Jessica Jones
As with Peggy and Angie, Trish provides the perfect counterpart to Jessica. Where Jessica is prickly and hides away from trauma, Trish does the opposite: she maintains her positive attitude and works her ass off to protect herself by upping her security and learning self-defense. Trish is often the driving force for Jessica, having been the first person Jessica worked to protect and the one who pushes her to go after Kilgrave. Like many of the ladies on this list, her intelligence and loyalty make her a fantastic character worthy of this list despite playing a supporting role.
13Alex Parrish, Quantico
Okay, so this may not be the nerdiest of choices. However, Alex Parrish is one of the strongest female characters currently on tv. She is arguably the most intelligent of the crème de la crème at Quantico, talented at physical combat, and is on track to become one of the FBI’s finest agents. Someone is working against her, and I’ve found her race to prove herself innocent of a terrorist bombing to be fascinating and only a little predictable.
14Joy, Inside Out
Joy is pure happiness. Her literal purpose in life is to make a little girl happy — what could be better than that? She saw the opportunity in any challenge but ultimately proved that she had a lot to learn when it came to letting other emotions take the reins. She eventually got it, realizing that joy is much more poignant and beautiful for having experienced other emotions, not reduced by them, which is just one of the many reasons we loved Inside Out.
15Sadness, Inside Out
Oh, Sadness. You plucked every damn heartstring I have. Seen through Joy’s lens, Sadness is initially regarded as annoying and unhelpful, fit only to be placed in a corner reading information on brain function. However, throughout her and Joy’s journey through Riley’s brain, she proves that she is invaluable.
Sadness not only contains a vast wealth of knowledge on how Riley’s brain works but also has knowledge of how to handle the difficult emotions. Incredibly compassionate and understanding, it is Sadness who helps Bing Bong get past his grief and keep everyone moving back to headquarters.