The whole point of fantasy is to smash boundaries, and one of the most enduring archetypes that does just that is the female barbarian, who can swing a sword and cleave a skull just as well as her male counterparts. Come with us as we quantify every lady berserker in history, using a complex series of rating mechanisms that no ordinary broadsword could handle.
No, not the “Hips Don’t Lie” singer. DC Comics has always experimented with other genres outside of superheroes, and during the 70s put out a bunch of sword & sorcery titles. Warlord was created by the great Mike Grell and told the story of a Vietnam War pilot who flew through a hole in the Earth to the kingdom of Skartaris. One of his allies there is Shakira, a nubile barbarian woman with the ability to shapeshift into a black cat. She’s a fantastic combatant in either form but loses a few barbarian cred points for using highfaluting weapons like guns.
13. Mira & Mara
Two for one in this entry. Sorceress is a 1982 cheapie that stars real-life Playboy Playmate twins Leigh and Lynette Harris as Mira and Mara, a pair of girls who are set to be sacrificed so their father, the evil wizard Traigon, can keep his powers. Who exactly the sorceress is doesn’t get explained – their mom, maybe? – But the two girls get raised in the barbarian tradition by the warrior Krona. They proceed to kick a bunch of ass, but unfortunately, their best fight scene has them both dressed as boys, so Sorceress loses a few points. They do pop some arrows into Daddy’s back at the end of the flick, though.
12. Tyris Flare
The female playable character in the Golden Axe series, Tyris Flare was raised a princess until the armies of the rapacious Death Adder savaged her kingdom and murdered her parents. She found shelter with an Amazonian tribe who taught her the ways of the blade, and her powerful fire magic can wreak havoc on the battlefield if you kill enough gnomes for potions. Her lack of any other distinguishable character drops her down towards the bottom half of the list though.
11. Wild One
Masters Of The Universe was probably the peak of barbarian sensibility on TV, but the cartoon didn’t really boast too many female villains. It inspired a knock-off line of toys from Galoob called Golden Girl, and that brought us one of the only female barbarian action figures ever released. “Wild One” was an axe-wielding crony of the evil Dragon Queen, and although the toy line never got a TV show to expand on its mythology, we have to give her props for her wild face paint, hair wraps, and Gene Simmons-esque boots.
The world of webcomics is a great place for less popular genres to flourish, and J.E. Draft’s The Chronicles Of Zona shows that female barbarians are still a going concern. Princess Zona Zonn-Ipola is a buxom warrior who protects a weedy loser from Southern California warped to her fantasy kingdom. She’s got all of the trademark qualities of a classic barbarian heroine – an insatiable appetite for sex and violence, a strong moral code, and a leather bikini. It’s obvious that she’s a major wish-fulfillment fantasy for her creator, though, which knocks her down a point or two.
Amazonian warrior Hundra is the last survivor of her tribe when they get slaughtered by rapacious barbarians, and with vengeance on her mind, she seeks advice from a seer who tells her to get pregnant after she slaughters them all. What follows is bizarre and unconventional swords & sandals epic that feature seriously weird supporting characters. For all of her legendary badassery, Hundra doesn’t do all that much in the movie but manages to inspire a revolt of enslaved women, which is a pretty alpha female move.
1988’s Sword Of Sodan let players take control of female barbarian Shardan or her brother… Brodan. Cool name, bro. The duo hacked and slashed their way through multiple side-scrolling stages on their quest to dethrone the evil Zoras. The game sold a stunning 55,000 copies on the Commodore Amiga, but in the pantheon of female barbarians, Shardan rests pretty near the bottom. It was cool to have a sword-swinging woman as a playable character, but she doesn’t have much in the way of personality.
7. Queen Amethea
The titular character of sleazy 85 fantasy film Barbarian Queen is pressed into a life of sword-swinging violence after her wedding is interrupted by evil forces. Her climactic moment comes when a jailer is attempting to force himself on her, so she uses her muscled thighs to painfully crush his penis and then throws him into a pool of acid. She loses a few points because Amethea actually loses the film’s climactic battle, only to be saved when the evil king’s concubine stabs him in the back.
The 1970s were probably the prime period for barbarian action, and over in England starting in 1978 daily readers of the Sun were treated to the adventures of Axa, written by Donne Avenell and drawn by the singular-named Romero. One of many futuristic barbarians, the titular Axa got bored of sterile life inside a domed city and made her way to the wasteland beyond, where she threw on a fur bikini and got into all kinds of scrapes. Axa’s pretty low on the list because she was marketed more on sex appeal than combat skills, although she did have a remarkably long run, even showing up in a mobile phone game in 2011.
The Diablo series has spawned a rich fantasy universe, and when the design for the female barbarian in the third installment dropped Blizzard nailed it. Sonya, as the character is incarnated in Heroes of the Storm, is a lowkey thicc berserker who lays down some tremendous carnage on the battlefield. She hails from a nomadic tribe that ravages the steppes, repelling any who dare enter their territory. It’s fair to say that Sonya is the top barbarian woman in the world of video games.
One of the first warrior women to ever hit the pages of the pulps, C.L. Moore, described Jirel of Joiry as “tall as most men and as savage as the wildest of them.” The warrior queen of ancient France stared in a pile of stories during the 1930s, penned by Moore (one of the first female science-fantasy writers, who worked under a gender-neutral pen name for that very reason). They took the heroine on mysterious journeys into dark supernatural realms where victory was won by emotion and empathy just as often as by bloodlust and the sword. Jirel laid the groundwork for barbarian queens to come and deserves her spot.
The protagonist of YA comic Princess Ugg is a young barbarianess who enrolls in a boarding school for princesses so she can learn how to stop her people’s endless warfare. Right there we’ve got a pretty compelling concept for a heroine. Ulga doesn’t push the sex appeal that we typically get from a sword-swinging she-devil, instead delivering a complex and nuanced portrait of a young woman balancing bloodlust and responsibility. She certainly kicks ass when it counts, though, and isn’t afraid to lop off limbs and set heads flying.
The debate over whether Xena, Warrior Princess qualifies as a true barbarian is a tale as old as time. Let’s settle that now: she is. OK? Now on to why she deserves the second to highest spot on this list. Xena epitomizes so many barbarian values. She’s nomadic, unstoppable with sword or chakram, and lives by a moral code forged in the flames of a sadistic past. Her adventures make her one of the most visible barbarians in pop culture history, and she inspired a whole generation of ass-kicking women across all genres.
1. Red Sonja
As created by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja is barely a footnote in Conan lore, but thanks to the efforts of Roy Thomas at Marvel she’s become objectively the greatest female barbarian of all time. The crimson-haired swordswoman was lovingly brought to life by the pen of Frank Thorne and has enjoyed a storied publishing career since, most recently in a successful series written by Gail Simone. Sonja really laid the groundwork for so much of what we consider a female barbarian to be, and we don’t see her being dethroned from the top of this list anytime soon.