Female superheroes have been around almost as long as the genre itself, with Wonder Woman paving the way for a diverse group of characters as far back as the 1940s. On television, she also established a foothold alongside characters like The Mighty Isis and Electra Woman in the 1970s. Unfortunately, as superheroes disappeared from television in the 1980s, so too did these initial, beloved characters. With the big expansion of superhero television in the 21st Century, female superheroes returned, and it is nearly impossible to think of a series without a key superpowered woman in the cast. Granted, very few headline a series — currently, there is only one female-led superhero show — but their contributions often keep their shows running.
But who are the best on television right now? And is it their abilities, life experience, or strength of will that makes them great? Here are seven of the greatest female superheroes on television right now who prove it is a combination of all three factors that sets them apart from the rest.
Debut in Comics: Action Comics #252
Abilities: flight, super strength, super speed, invulnerability, heat vision, x-ray vision, super hearing
Certainly the most powerful of the female superheroes on television, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) also boasts the most diverse set of abilities. On a physical level, she can dish it out easily, but Kara’s most important power is often her sense of hope and empathy. She never wants to get into a brawl – in fact, she prefers to avoid it – and would rather make a foe her ally. This sometimes works out, as when Livewire (Brit Morgan) helped out on Kara’s mission to Fort Roz last year. And other times, as with season 3 nemesis Reign (Odette Annable), Kara’s appeals may fail to warm an evil heart, which forces a fight. Nonetheless, Kara’s opponents often mistake her hope as a weakness instead of the bedrock of her strengths.
Debut in Comics: n/a
Abilities: body switching
Let’s face it, Syd (Rachel Keller) has not had an easy go of it on FX’s Legion. When we meet her, she lives in extreme isolation, thanks to her cruel mutant ability – any skin-to-skin contact will see her consciousness transferred to the body of the person touching her. Nonetheless, she manages to find some semblance of a life with the people at Summerland and David Haller (Dan Stevens). Then he disappears for a year. During that time, she learns to control her ability as the Summerland group ally with Division 3, the government agency previously engaged in hunting them. And once David resurfaces and she learns his role in the coming apocalypse, she resolves to either heal him or kill him. David escalates things by trying to restore their previous love affair and assaulting her, but despite the complete betrayal, Syd bounces back and rededicates herself to the one action guaranteed to save the world. That resiliency, especially in the world of Legion, is a superpower in its own right.
Debut in Comics: Flash Comics #86 (as Dinah Drake)
Abilities: sonic cry, advanced combat training
Dinah Drake’s (Juliana Harkavy) sonic cry certainly came in handy when Team Arrow needed a new member to replace the deceased Black Canary, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). She also proved a worthy opponent to Laurel’s villainous Earth-2 counterpart, Black Siren (also Cassidy). But even if she was not a meta, Dinah would certainly be worthy to stand alongside the team as an accomplished fighter. With her staff, she’s almost unstoppable. She also has superb strength of character, as exemplified by her willingness to work with Black Siren – now pretending to be the Earth-1 Laurel and operating as the Star City District Attorney – and even moving past her culpability in the death of Dinah’s ex-boyfriend Vincent (Johann Urb). That strength takes on many forms, even as recently as this week’s episode, in which she finally admitted to the team that she can no longer use her cry. Though reluctant, her willingness to share illustrates her continued growth and is yet another reason why she will continue to be the Canary long after Team Arrow disintegrates — as noted in the 2040 flash-forwards.
Debut in Comics:The X-Men #49
Abilities: magnetic manipulation
Sure, Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont) may have spent most of the second season of The Gifted allied with the very questionable Inner Circle, but her willingness to admit her mistake in this regard puts her back on the right side, even if she stayed away from the remaining Mutant Underground characters. From the series’ first moments, Lorna was portrayed as one of the most powerful mutants around, thanks to an ability that can stop bullets, open fences, and even bring down an entire airplane, killing all of its passengers. That last point certainly set up a heel-turn, but as the show’s second year progressed, Lorna saw the downside of her actions and the horrifying real intent of Inner Circle’s plan to create a mutant homeland. Nonetheless, she acknowledged her errors and resolved to make amends. That resiliency is part of what makes Lorna one of the most interesting characters on the show, and doubly so as she remains strong while combating a chronic mental illness. Should the show continue in the Disney era of X-Men properties, it will be interesting to see how she juggles the roles of hero and mother. She would probably say they are the same thing.
Debut in Comics: Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #19 (as Caitlin Snow)
Abilities: ice generation and manipulation
This is a strange one, as Killer Frost is traditionally a villain. But The Flash took her on a curious journey as viewers discovered she is a distinct personality from her host, Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) – one dedicated to protecting Caitlin above all other concerns. Nonetheless, the pull toward selfish acts and quick answers was strong (see her alliance with Savitar in season 3), but as she and Caitlin learned to share one body, Frost also learned empathy. And then, she was seemingly gone for a time, and the absence affected Caitlin and the fans more acutely than anyone could predict. She eventually resurfaced with a resolve to be more of a team player — she’s a far cry from the woman who walked away from Team Flash at the end of season 3. Meanwhile, in the current season, her powers prove uniquely effective against Cicada (Chris Klein) as she is immune to his power-dampening dagger. It’s a good thing she decided to work with the group, otherwise their few successes against the meta serial killer would not have been possible.
Debut in Comics: My Greatest Adventure #80 (as Elasti-Girl)
Abilities: limited shape changing and mass exchange
Rita Farr (April Bowlby) is a ways from admitting this to herself, but she has the strength to lead a superhero team — even one as dysfunctional as a the Doom Patrol. On a purely physical level, she must have Supergirl levels of strength to maintain her human form. When out of control, she is a giant rolling mass capable of occupying an entire city block. Keeping that form in check requires tons of strength, to say nothing of mental fortitude. Sure, she still slips from time to time — with so much of her power devoted to retaining her idealized shape, the slightest emotional upset can weaken her resolve — but that’s the real challenge she faces in the first season of the show: accepting those mistakes as part of her path to becoming a strong and capable woman. Along the way, she might even figure out how to use her gelatinous form to stretch like her comic book counterpart. At that point, she will be more formidable than even Jane (Diane Guerrero) or Robotman (Brendan Fraser).
Debut in Comics: Shazam! #25 (as The Mighty Isis)
Abilities: air manipulation
When Zari (Tala Ashe) first joined the Waverider crew, she was sarcastic, reluctant to engage, and more of a hindrance to the mission than an asset. In short, she was a Legend in the making. She abused the ship’s food replication system to snack endlessly and played video games constantly in lieu of getting to know anybody. Nonetheless, she would also call out the other Legends for being slackers, and after getting caught in a time loop, she learned to care about them. She also began to involve herself in the mission, particularly once the group discovered the Air Totem that generates her abilities was tied to their opponent, the time demon Mallus. By the point the Legends found the other totems and unified them into a giant Cuddle Me Beebo doll to fight Mallus, she was definitely a member of the team. In the most recent season, Zari has continued to grow, taking on more responsibilities and even mentoring new recruit Charlie (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Well, mentoring after a fashion. And while she continues to grow as a hero — or as much of a hero as a Legend can be — she still finds time to snack.