Favorite characters are difficult to choose, as I'm sure you all know, and there are so many characters that I love who will not be included on this list. Still, I'm going to update you on which characters I now look up to and love most. Since there are so many, this post is going to be a two-parter, with female characters first and male characters next week.
Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch, is a Marvel superhero (and sometimes, villain). She's been in the comics since 1964, and was introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2015.
Wanda has a troubled past. In the MCU, she and her twin brother, Pietro, were orphaned at the age of 10 in a bomb strike. The bomb was originally created by Stark Industries, the tech company owned by future Avenger Tony Stark. After the bombing, the twins became political protestors for peace in their turmoiled Eastern European home of Sokovia.
During these protests, when they were in their late teens, Wanda and Pietro were approached by HYDRA, a Nazi group then disguised as the Avengers' support team. HYDRA promised to grant the twins the power they needed to "make things right." So Wanda and Pietro became part of a human experiment using the Mind Gem, an immensely powerful but little understood Infinity Stone. In the end, they were the only survivors of the experiment. Pietro gained superspeed, while Wanda developed energy manipulation powers that include telekinesis, telepathy, and mind control.
I've talked before about why Wanda speaks so much to me. For one thing, Wanda's characterization doesn't buy into the Strong Female Character trope that's been pushed forward so long by a sexist narrative. She's a complex heroine who demonstrates various qualities that are considered traditionally "feminine," including strength that doesn't come from physical prowess. That isn't to say that good, complex heroines can't be tomboyish or physical strong. However, those aspects have become part of a damaging stereotype, and for me personally, they just don't resonate.
In truth, Wanda Maximoff may be the closest representation to myself that I've ever seen in popular culture. She's fierce and powerful, but her abilities don't rely on physical strength. Instead, her power comes from her mind and soul, which means that, if Wanda became physically disabled like I am, she could still be an Avenger. Her powers are also exactly the kind that I've always felt drawn to, as an empathetic person suffering from mental illness. Indeed, telepathy and the like are often used as metaphors for mental illness in sci-fi/fantasy. Additionally, despite her troubled past and immense power, Wanda is a compassionate person who wants to make a positive difference in the world. She's devoted to her family, doesn't spurn romance, and often wears dresses and jewelry. Just like me!
Basically, Wanda is the bomb, and I adore her.
Padme is a member of the Star Wars universe and the mother of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. But Padme was also so much more than that.
Padme Amidala became queen of the planet Naboo at the age of 14, which is already enough to make her legit. Immediately after her coronation, she and her planet faced the Trade Federation Blockage, and Padme had to use her intelligence and the resources on hand to solve the crisis. She created an alliance between the human population of Naboo, which she ruled, and the Gungan water people, who had long been rejected by the humans, by showing a trust and respect for the Gungans that no human ever had.
After her term as queen, Padme was nominated as the Naboo Senator for the Republic. Her political choices led to repeated assassination attempts, which led to her reintroduction to Anakin Skywalker. From childhood, Padme had been taught to seek the welfare of others, so, naturally, Anakin's emotional turmoil attracted her compassion. She was also drawn to his determination to create a better universe as a Jedi, particularly for other slaves like he once had been. As they spent more time together, they fell in love. Padme worried a great deal about how their relationship might divert them both from their duties to the greater good, but in the end, she decided to secretly marry Anakin.
However, multiple factors machinated into place by a devious Sith Lord led to the destruction of the Republic, which Padme and other Senators on her side were unable to stop and ended up watching in horror and despair. Anakin himself became a tool of the rising Empire and of the Dark Side. Padme's attempts to convince him to turn back to the Light also failed, and after giving birth to the twins, Padme died.
Though I believe Padme ought to have been given a better ending, I've loved her from the moment I saw The Phantom Menace (I think I was 11 or so?). Padme was capable in a physical fight, but her true power lay in her intelligence and her compassion, which guided her in her political decisions. She was a lifelong advocate for peace, democracy, and marginalized people. Her moral compass was so strong that, even when it broke her, she could not turn to the Dark along with her husband. Like Wanda, Padme also possessed many "feminine" qualities: a devotion to her husband and future children and an eye for fashion, along with her power in non-physical areas.
All in all, Padme is queen, and no one can convince me otherwise.
Rose Tyler was the Doctor's first companion in the new rendition of Doctor Who, which began in 2005. She met him when he blew up the store she worked in while trying to destroy mannequins that had been taken over by an alien consciousness. By the end of the episode Rose had decided to run away with the Doctor to explore all time and space in the TARDIS. In her adventures, Rose found the greater meaning to her life that she had been searching for: protecting others on a universal scale.
She also, at one point, took the TARDIS's deadly and extremely powerful energy into herself and became the combined goddess-like entity known as Bad Wolf, who destroyed a bunch of evil aliens and saved the Doctor and was basically just boss.
As their adventures continued, Rose and the Doctor fell in love. But after two seasons of adventures with two iterations of the Doctor, Rose became trapped in a different universe. Later, after years of hard work, she found a way to return to the Doctor's universe. Ultimately, she was sent back to the alternate universe with a duplicate of the Doctor accidentally created by regeneration energy and a seed that would allow them to grow a new TARDIS of their own.
Before the Doctor, Rose seemed destined for a menial life as a retail worker. She didn't seem to be particularly gifted in any area, but it turned out that she had the heart of an adventurer and a lot of determination. That, along with her compassion, guided her in her adventures with the Doctor, where they saved many people, planets, and even the universe itself. Rose also, like the other favorites on my list, didn't shy away from romance and took care with her appearance.
In other news, the episode where Rose was lost into the other universe is probably the TV episode that broke my heart the most. Every time I see it, I dissolve into a puddle of tears.
As listed in my original "favorite characters" post, Hermione is one of the central characters in the Harry Potter series. Born of non-magical parents (Muggles), Hermione jumped head-first into the Wizarding World and devoted herself to her magical education. Despite being sorted into Gryffindor, rather than my own intelligence-centered Ravenclaw, Hermione proved to be the best student in her class. She also proved her bravery and loyalty in her friendship with Harry and Ron, which ultimately pulled her into the conflict with Voldemort.
Hermione left school early because of the bounty on her head and became a vital part of the war against Voldemort and his followers. She used her intelligence and skill to fight for the rights of all magical and non-magical beings. She also, as others have pointed out, saved Harry's life repeatedly. Though her two best friends were male, she was also good friends with Ginny, and ultimately Luna as well, and as we all know, female friendships are underrepresented in fiction. Additionally, Hermione's romantic arc with Ron was my very first ship. In the end, according to the play J.K. Rowling later helped write, Hermione became the Minister of Magic over all of England's Wizarding World, which is super legit.
Hermione is pretty much a Smart Girl Icon, and as a Smart Girl myself, I do love her. She and I have a lot in common. However, I've always been bothered by the fact that she rejected spiritual and other unproven aspects of the magical world. I also kind of wince at how she often looked down on other female characters, either because they did have interest in the unknowable or because of their romantic interests. (Girls need to stick together and stand up for each other!)
Ultimately, if you combined Hermione with Luna Lovegood, who was much more open and spiritual (and also a Ravenclaw), you'd pretty much get my perfect Harry Potter character.
Speaking of perfect Harry Potter characters, let's talk about Minerva McGonagall! The Transfiguration professor during Harry's time at Hogwarts, Minerva was super duper legit. She was boss. And like Wanda, she has a tragic past, though we only know it from J.K. Rowling's writings on Pottermore.
Minerva was born to a Muggle reverend and a witch, who put off revealing the magical world to her husband until after Minerva's birth. This caused a lot of tension in the family. When Minerva went to Hogwarts, she was a rare Hatstall, meaning that the Sorting Hat struggled to decide whether she should be Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. She ended up in Gryffindor and proved herself to be immensely talented in both magic and Quidditch. She even became an Animagus, a wizard able to transform themselves into a specific animal at will: in her case, a tabby cat.
After Hogwarts, Minerva fell in love with a Muggle and was engaged to him, but thinking about the issues her family had growing up, she made a personally devastating decision to break off the relationship. She then joined the Ministry of Magic, but disliked how many of her colleagues had an anti-Muggle bias. So instead she took a job at Hogwarts, where she fit in much better and made many friends. She was particularly close with Albus Dumbledore, who helped her deal with her continuing heartbreak, although few others were privy to the depths of her suffering. She fought in the first war against Voldemort, during which the Muggle boy she loved and one of her brothers were killed. Afterwards, she accepted a proposal from a former Ministry colleague. Three years after they married, he too died, leaving Minerva alone again.
In her time as Transfiguration professor and Head of Gryffindor House, as seen in the Harry Potter books, Minerva continued to prove her intelligence, bravery, and resolve. Through a strict teacher, she could be very compassionate. Though often a stickler for rules, she was willing and ready to work her way around them or even outright break them when they went against her morals. She was also incredibly clever with her words (read: savage). She was once again a part of the war against Voldemort when he arose, and, again, was absolutely queen during battle. In one of the books, she took multiple Stunning curses to the chest and survived, and she also personally dueled Voldemort and survived. The stands she took against anyone abusing power were inspiring. After the time of the Harry Potter series, Minerva became the Headmistress of Hogwarts.
Though I hope to avoid all the romantic heartbreak Minerva suffered, I see a lot of myself in her. I don't consider myself terribly brave, but I do have a lot of resolve and intelligence. Minerva was almost Ravenclaw, which, as I said, is my own Hogwarts house. Her Animagus and her Patronus were both cats, and I adore cats. Minerva's steadfast morality and the fact that she experienced heartbreak and suffering also are relatable for me. And to top it all of, she had two younger brothers, just like me. I only hope that I can can begin to approach the awesomeness of her.
Of course, there are many other female characters whom I admire, both in terms of how they were written and in terms of who they are as people. Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, Luna Lovegood as mentioned above, Rey and Leia Organa from Star Wars, and Natasha Romanoff from the Marvel Cinematic Universe are certainly on the list. Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, the main character in The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy, is definitely worth mentioning, too. But the five highlighted above are the female characters whom I love and look up to the most.