What constitutes “the best” when we talk about female animation voice actors? Is it the iconic characters they play, the genre, or the production house? Does it boil down to whether they’re prolific or appear in a single iconic role? Disney, Warner Brothers, Pixar, Adult Swim, Anime – you name it – women need to work twice as hard for less than half the jobs a male actor might. Some of the most successful actresses in voice over have made their careers out of portraying male characters and have had to adapt to fit roles they usually wouldn’t be considered for in the first place – all to find work in the voice over industry.
However we choose to define it, whenever we hear the female characters voiced in TV and film, we tend to forget just how difficult animated mediums are to break into. Often, all their hard work goes unrecognized – ironically, partly because of how great they are at their jobs.
So when it comes to animated TV and film, instead of simply calling this post The Best Female Animation Voice Actors, I’ll be casting a slightly wider net. We’ll explore different interpretations of what we might consider the best between North America and Japan. Here are six of the best female voice actors you’d never recognize and five honorable mentions of female characters voiced by A-Listers.
Six of the Best Female Animation Voice Actors Who Play Iconic Male Voices
There have been a lot of online lists going up recently that talk about some of the best female characters voiced by men, and I thought it was only fitting to add my list of iconic male characters voiced by women.
When we see cartoon characters on the TV screen, it’s easy to forget that there are real people behind the voices; it’s even easier never to suspect that the voice actor behind a role isn’t even the same gender as the character they portray. When we look at an animated series like South Park, where some of our favorite female characters voiced are actually men like the show’s creator, Trey Parker, or even Bob’s Burgers, where many female characters are male actors, it speaks volumes to the effect a different set of vocal qualities can bring to the table – especially in the field of comedy.
The same goes for the actors who provide male voices.
The truth is, while it’s less common than hearing female roles voiced by men, there are a lot of male animated characters voiced by women, and most of us would never realize it. Be they a flying squirrel, a boy genius, or a troublemaking kid with a catchphrase – all of these memorable animated friends we see on video are voiced by women, and the average person probably couldn’t tell the difference.
And that’s just in the mainstream North American industry – Japan is a totally different story.
We grow up with voices coming out of the tv, but we never honestly know who they are until someone spells it out for us. Television shows like The Simpsons have been on the air for 33 years, and most people would never suspect that the voice actor who plays Bart Simpson is a woman, nor would they ever realize how many male voices they hear are female.
Three Male Characters in Animation Surprisingly Portrayed by Female Actors
As a voice actor, range is everything; it doesn’t matter if it’s a short video or an entire movie; the job is to bring a script to life. Having been in the industry for 30 years, I tell people outside the voiceover world that having a great voice isn’t everything and it takes more to become a successful voice actor. It takes practiced patience, sheer determination, and an intelligent approach to cut it in this industry. The ability to adapt your voice and transform it into a character of the opposite gender for over a decade – let alone eight is remarkable.
Rocky – Voiced by June Foray – The Cartoon Queen of Voice Acting
This one is a bit of a throwback, but June Foray’s generation-spanning role as the plucky squirrel named Rocky dates back to The Bullwinkle Show in 1959. An entire lifetime and several iterations of the character later, she reprised the iconic role on the big screen for the last time on film in 2014.
While she’s most notably credited with playing the role of Rocky for several decades, Foray’s first and most enduring voice over performance lasted a collective 87 years on The Looney Tunes. Iconically known for her role as Granny, she began her career as a child actor in 1930 at 12 and continued working the rest of her life as one of the most prominent, albeit least recognized, women in voice over. Sadly, Foray went largely uncredited for the bulk of her roles. However, some noteworthy performances include Natasha Fatale, Jerry ( Tom and Jerry). She also voiced countless uncredited spots in programs like Scooby Doo, The Powerpuff Girls, The Pink Panther Show, George of the Jungle, The Twilight Zone, and many more.
Despite being one of the foremost women in voice over, you’d be surprised to learn that Foray only won nine awards over her lifetime. Her contributions to TV and film received the honor of immortalization on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an Annie Award named after her – which she won.
Bart Simpson – Voiced by Nancy Cartwright
We all know the loveable character of Bart Simpson; even if you’ve somehow never seen the Simpsons, he’s been on the air for longer than most people currently applying for mortgages have been alive. Nancy Cartwright has maintained her most notable role with flawless form for the last three decades and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Her portrayal of Bart Simpson has won several awards, most notably an Annie Award for Best Performance Voice Acting in the Field of Animation and a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Voice Over Performance.
Timmy Turner – Voiced by Tara Strong
Anyone who grew up in the early 2000s might remember The Fairly Odd Parents, but they’ll never guess that the voice acting for Timmy Turner is performed by the incredible Tara Strong. She’s been nominated for five Annie Awards for her work in The PowerPuff Girls, The Fairly Odd Parents, The Little Mermaid II, and Unikitty.
Three Beloved Japanese Female Animation Voice Actors Who Star in Leading Male Anime Roles
In the voice over world, English dubbing for anime is one of the worst paying voice over jobs any of us can get, but in Japan, it’s an entirely different story. As looked down on as anime dubbing is in North America, Japanese voice actors like Masako Nozawa are internationally revered with massive fan bases and parody dubbers on Youtube. The last pay tribute to her name through social media handles.
While it’s somewhat less common in the North American market for a voice actress to portray a male role, in Japan, it’s nearly become a tradition and an industry norm to hire one over a male actor. Unlike English animation dubbing that calls for harsher voices and prominent bass tones, Japanese audiences seem to respond better to the dynamic range of sounds female actors can bring to the table. If you’re an anime fan, chances are they voice most of your favorite characters.
Masako Nozawa – Son Goku – Dragon Ball
At 85 years of age, Masako Nozawa is still active and prolific in the voice acting world. Having appeared in 232 credited voice acting projects, she’s most famously known for voicing fan-favorite characters. These include Goku and his sons Gohan and Goten across all of the Dragon Ball properties (Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and Dragon Ball Super, as well as the movies).
With a love and passion for her craft that’s stood the test of time and set her apart from other voice actresses, it’s no surprise that Nozawa has held a special place in the hearts of fans and peers alike for nearly 50 years. In addition to her narration career, fans might recognize her from video games like Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, and Jump Force. To this day, Nozawa is considered a national treasure and remains a pillar of the Japanese voice over industry.
Junko Takeuchi – Naruto Uzumaki – Naruto
Best known for her work in Naruto, Naruto: Shippuden, and Boruto, Junko Takeuchi has voiced the titular character of Naruto Uzumaki for the last 15 years. Like Masako Nozawa, Takeuchi is one of the most beloved women in Japanese voice over and spends much of her career voicing many characters across the Shonen Jump properties produced by Toei and FUNimation. As popular as Takeuchi is for her role as Naruto, she’s also well-known for the voice of Gon Freecss in Hunter X Hunter and the video games.
Mayumi Tanaka – Monkey D. Luffy – One Piece
While we’re covering prolific voice actresses who’ve found fame amongst voicing male characters for over a decade, Mayumi Tanaka deserves an honorable mention.
In addition to performing voice over for the lead role, Monkey D. Luffy, in the long-lived pirate anime One Piece, she’s also played more than three different people in the DragonBall series over the last 40 years- as well as a parodied interpretation of Journey to the West as Son Goku and several of the One Piece video games.
Female Animation Voice Actors Honorable Mentions – Familiar Faces in VoiceOver
Whether we know it or not, these A-Listers played some of the most recognizable female characters in cartoons and animation. (Pictures Gallery Section)
- Mila Kunis as Meg Griffin in Family Guy
- Fergie as Sally Brown in Charlie Brown
- Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona in Shrek
- Meryl Streep as Felicity Fox in The Fantastic Mr. Fox
- Meg Ryan as Anastasia in Anastasia