Rachel Paige
December 26, 2014 9:00 am

Sometimes I think about what I’m grateful for, and while maybe this doesn’t rate alongside amazing parents or good health or surviving goldfish, one of the things that makes me happy right now is living in a pop cultural world populated with complex female characters. Gone (or at least on their way out) are the days when ladies are forced into a handful of boring roles, destined to be rescued by a dashing, clever fella at the end. Now I actually recognize people in movies and TV as my friends, moms, and confidantes. How awesome is that? With the year coming to a close, there are lots of standout moments from some of our favorite fictional females. I narrowed it down to a few that were truly noteworthy. Here’s to 2015 having double, triple, quadruple these numbers.

Dolores Umbridge got a backstory.

Sure, she’s not Woman of the Year material, but Dolores Umbridge holds a tiny special place in our heart for her role in the Harry Potter saga. Master of imagination J.K. Rowling released a short Umbridge story this year on Halloween, which gave us lots of juicy information about her upbringing and what exactly led her to be the pink-clad, cat-loving woman we know today. Maybe next we’ll get the expanded history of Bellatrix Lestrange?

Claire was, is, and will remain the whole show on Outlander.

A time-traveling female nurse who winds up in Scotland in the mid-1700s? And falls in love with a brave Scottish warrior? Sign us all up for this one, which many—including myself—hail as the more female-centric version of Game of Thrones. While GoT has their fair share of awesome lady characters, Outlander has a singular female lead. It’s based on the books of the same name, which are written by Diana Gabaldon. More girl-powered medieval pieces, please! (Or at least more episodes of Outlander, which will return this spring.)

Jane the Virgin and star Gina Rodriguez turned out to be awesome.

I’ll admit that I thought Jane the Virgin was destined to fail based solely on the title alone. Damn, did it surprise us. It might be a show about a New Age immaculate conception, but it has got so much heart and soul, thanks to breakout star, Gina Rodriguez. Not only is Jane someone we completely root for, but Rodriguez is determined to break all Hispanic stereotypes on television—and she’s doing a pretty good job of it so far.

Maura Pfefferman came out to her family on Transparent.

If you’re looking for something to binge over the holiday break, move Transparent to the top of your list. It’s about one Los Angeles family and basically every character is on a journey to self-discovery. An all-grown-up Gaby Hoffmann is great as the youngest daughter who’s struggling to stop being a spoiled brat, and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein is her very cool best friend, but Jeffrey Tambor is the best as Maura, a trans woman who is finally working up the courage to tell her family that she will no longer live her life as Mort. It’s funny and heartbreaking and the soundtrack is awesome, and it’s the one show this year that everybody really needs to see.

Lady Edith carved out her own path on Downton Abbey.

All hail Lady Edith, our feminist hero from 1920s England. While Lady Mary is off wooing suitors and learning how to handle Downton’s land and estate, Lady Edith not only traveled—by herself!—to London quite a few times, but she became a writer, found true love, got pregnant, and (spoiler alert) decided to keep the baby, too. You do you, Edith, because we’re rooting for you 100% of the way.

Veronica Mars cleared her epic love Logan of murder.

To us, Veronica actually was the cool girl in high school. To everyone else in Neptune, California, she was poison. But, regardless, we loved her for her fierce determination, witty comebacks, and unyielding ability to always do what’s right. When Veronica Mars (the TV show) was criminally canceled, we lost a friend. But thanks to everyone on the internet (yay, Kickstarter crowd-funding!), Veronica came back, and to the big screen, ready to solve crimes and tangle with Logan all over again.

Donna makes an unapologetic decision in Obvious Child.

While it’s billed as a romantic comedy, Obvious Child takes on way more than just the normal meet-cute shenanigans. As Donna, Jenny Slate managed to do something we don’t really see that often in movies: Offer an honest look at what dating is really like in 2014. To say much more about some of the challenges her character confronts might spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but she’s definitely not in it just for the laughs.

Wonder Woman snagged a female director.

In what is simply an awesome move on the part of DC Comics and Warner Bros., Michelle MacLaren was hired to helm the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. This is a big deal for lots of reasons, one of the main ones being that MacLaren now has the keys to a potentially huge franchise. Not only is Wonder Woman a feminist icon, but now there’s a ladyboss calling the shots behind the scenes? Lets hope this leads to way more female-driven superhero movies, because I’m getting kind of tired of all the mans.

Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig “hate the sport” in We Are the Best! 

Please say you saw We Are the Best!, because it is probably one of the coolest movies of the year. Director Lukas Moodysson adapted this story from a graphic novel written by his wife, Coco, and it’s about three girls who start a punk band in Sweden in 1982, in part just to spite some sexist dudes at their youth center. But soon, music becomes a form of catharsis. When they hate gym class, they write about it, and it’s fumbling and formidable at the same time.

[Images: “Harry Potter” via; “Outlander” via; “Jane the Virgin” via; “Transparent” via; “Downton Abbey” via; “Veronica Mars” via; “Obvious Child” via; “Wonder Woman” via; “We Are the Best” via]