Tamara Weston
December 28, 2014 6:00 am

As usual, this year in television had its ups and downs. There were some strong debuts and even stronger veterans, but more important than the shows we did (or didn’t) like, are the characters we followed—the real reason we watch TV to begin with. And, lucky for us, there were some awesome female characters who really spiced things up this year and got us totally hooked. These characters are more than just lovable—they’re strong, empowering, and some are downright badass. So, here goes our top picks, in no particular order:

Arya Stark, Game of Thrones

As the Hound’s prisoner, Arya immediately learned she needed to toughen up to survive. In season four, she becomes even more headstrong and resolute about seeking revenge upon all those who have wronged her. When she and the Hound run into some Lannister men, including the one who stole her prized sword, Arya defends herself and fights for justice. Her emotional strength and cunningness is what ultimately help her escape her captor, and there’s no question Arya’s unyielding courage will eventually reunite her with what remains of House Stark. Also? She’s about 13.

Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler, Broad City

In just one season, Abbi and Ilana, enriched our lives with much-needed laughter. Their self-deprecating humor, and the way they approach everything with so much frickin’ chutzpah—I mean, they practically beg us not to take life too seriously. And neither can exist without the other. Their friendship is the source of their confidence, and it gives them the courage to face life’s most challenging moments. What could be more awesome than that?

Joan Holloway, Mad Men

Since the series inception, we’ve always known Joan was so much more than just a pretty (OK, beautiful) face. We’ve seen her grow into a more self-assured and independent woman over time, and this year she seriously earned our respect when she stepped up her game by ditching her role as an office manager to become a full-fledged account executive and partner with more savvy and business acumen than anyone ever gives her credit for. She also rejects a marriage proposal from a gay colleague who offers her stability in exchange for being his beard. They deserve real love, she tells him. You said it, girl.

Poussey Washington, Orange is the New Black

She may have slipped under our radar in the first season as Taystee’s BFF, but this year, Poussey proved she’s a force to be reckoned with and she totally won our hearts. When she faces physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a conniving inmate, Lee, she doesn’t lose sight of her morals or her faith in the people she cares about most. I literally want her to be my best friend.

Virginia Johnson, Masters of Sex

As a divorced woman in the ’60s, Virginia struggles to find a work/life balance that we are still searching for today. Smart, determined, and ambitious, she refuses to let societal norms dictate who she is. She’s also totally unashamed about her liberal outlook on sexuality, and is empowered by the meaning she finds in her work. Virginia is a modern woman in her time and ours, too.

Fiona Gallagher, Shameless

Fiona isn’t necessarily the nicest person in the world, nor does she have the best judgment, but the way she steps up to her responsibility as the eldest of the Gallagher children is commendable. Even during her stint in jail this season we see that commitment and fierce love shine through. There’s no question she leads a much rougher life than most female characters on TV, which is why her resilience and resourcefulness make her such a badass. That, and she can drink pretty much anyone under the table.

Jessica Pearson, Suits

There are few characters that can rival the ladyboss prowess of Jessica Pearson. She manages one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City and commands respect wherever she goes without ever really raising her voice because every word she utters has purpose. She never loses her cool, even when people try to test her limits, but she also won’t let anyone forget who’s commander-in-chief. She constantly takes the moral high ground in sticky situations, and expects the rest of her team to do the same. Basically I wouldn’t be surprised if she started ruling the world. Actually, I’d be very happy about that.

Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin

In just one season, Jane has quickly become one of the most effortlessly relatable female role models for young women everywhere. This girl’s got principals and a good heart, and she’s also dealing with some major adult issues for a 23-year-old adult woman, like being accidentally artificially inseminated by her doctor. But Jane doesn’t let anything—not the unplanned pregnancy or the guys in her life—get in the way of her career and core values. So maybe some of the scenarios we’ve seen are borderline telenovela-esque, but Jane approaches each challenge with maturity and is wise beyond her years, breaking gender and ethnic stereotypes along the way.

[Images via and here.]

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