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What We Loved About Kids' Media in 2023

Our Best of 2023 lists reflect on the hits and misses of representation and celebrate memorable female characters and filmmakers, from Barbie to Ahsoka.

Collage of strong women from 2023 media, including Barbie and Ahsoka.

We know that media profoundly affects kids' social, emotional, and physical development. That's part of the reason why it's important for kids to be exposed to inspiring stories about innovative, influential women—to reinforce the fact that women can do anything and everything.

As our ratings and reviews team looked across our picks for our annual Best Of lists in movies, TV shows, podcasts, books, and games, we were encouraged when we found positive trends around female representation in 2023. We've also identified some areas for growth that the media industry could address in 2024 to help build on these positive trends and further elevate representation of women.

Theatrical Movies

The best kids' movies in the cineplex in 2023 had many strong female characters. As actor Randall Park said earlier this year, "Barbie is this massive blockbuster, and the idea is: Make more movies about toys? No—make more movies by and about women!" If there's one thing we can take away from the success of Greta Gerwig's pink anti-patriarchy manifesto, it's that women's stories are great and they deserve to be told. Several of our other favorite movies in theaters this year feature strong women, too, from fiery Ember in Pixar's Elemental to the always capable Spider-Gwen in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Behind the camera, the stats unfortunately show a bit of backsliding. Of the 111 directors hired to make the 100 top-grossing movies in 2022, just 9% were women. But it's still worth celebrating the memorable female characters and filmmakers we did see in the spotlight this year. And women are making gains in the indie movie market, with titles like Bottoms, Joy Ride, and Aftersun being well received. Other notable female-led and female-directed movies from 2023 include Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Cocaine Bear, Polite Society, Past Lives, and Saltburn.

"What I'd like to see more of in the coming year is to keep our foot on the gas pedal, not let box office disappointments like The Marvels prevent studios from supporting female-directed action movies, and to keep supporting different women directors," said Li Lai, our senior director of content.

Meanwhile, of the 18 titles on our U.K./international "Best Of" movie list, six were directed by women (Blue Jean, Rye Lane, The Lesson, Polite Society, Scrapper, and The Royal Hotel). Five were directorial feature debuts (The Royal Hotel being the exception), and, encouragingly, nearly all were made by women from historically marginalized groups: women of color, LGBTQ+ identities, and lower-income backgrounds. Danny Brogan, executive editor and head of streaming, shared that "this diversity is reflected in the originality of the storytelling, highlighting that there are new and important films waiting to be made if studios are prepared to provide the opportunities." We'd like to see more diversity across the board; women of color and LGBTQ+ people are still underrepresented on our screens.

Streaming Content

After previous years of marked progress, 2023 was a year of more incremental change in female representation on TV. But progress isn't always linear, and viewers still met lots of outstanding female characters this year. Some of our favorites include Jedi knight Ahsoka, the all-Native Hawaiian competitors of Surf Girls Hawai'i, the confident chemist in Lessons in Chemistry, the gender-flipped characters in the Adventure Time miniseries Fionna and Cake, and Snoopy's One-of-a-Kind Marcie.

Over on the streaming movie side, we recognized several female-focused films with our Common Sense Selection seal for quality and impact in family entertainment, including Heart of Stone and Nimona. Women in these films are portrayed as leaders, tech wizards, physically strong and nimble, smart, and reliable. These films also tell realistic stories of coming-of-age challenges for girls.

Books

When it comes to books, female characters are taking center stage across the board, from The Skull's fearless and kind friend to Warrior Girl Unearthed's fierce Perry Firekeeper-Birch. These girl and young women characters have wide appeal for readers of all genders and ages.

"The fact that so many female-led kids' books have been bestsellers proves that strong female representation is good for business, too," said Mandie Caroll, our editor of books.

Several of our other favorite books for kids and teens this year feature memorable female characters and offered innovative takes on familiar themes. The classic friendship tale got a quirky, spooky spin in the picture book The Skull, while middle grade and YA novels-in-verse remained popular, such as Something Like Home, which handles parental drug abuse with great care, and We Are All So Good at Smiling, a fairy tale about mental health and grief. You Are Here, a middle grade novel about identity and belonging, has an inventive format—interweaving stories written by 12 Asian American authors. And for a stunning, nuanced, action-packed heist drama, it doesn't get better than the aforementioned Warrior Girl Unearthed, which follows an Objibwe teenager's efforts to right historical and modern crimes against her community.

Podcasts

Kids' podcasts have set a positive standard when it comes to strong and diverse representation of women, not only through the characters and hosts featured in each show, but in the talent that creates, produces, and edits behind the scenes. Each year they set the bar higher, and 2023 was no exception. Many of the podcasts on our Best of 2023 list feature strong female lead characters of varying backgrounds.

In What's Poppin' Penny, a young Jamaican American girl learns about her ancestors and cultural traditions, and navigates the complicated emotions of grief after the death of her grandpa. 5 Minute Mysteries with Kiddy Casey centers around a young female detective who uses her knowledge of science and history to solve fun-filled mysteries. Best friends Lucy and Mina join forces to solve a spooky mystery and slay the day in Mina and Lucy's Guide to Slaying Dracula. The Rebel Girls franchise released yet another empowering audio series for young girls, this time focused on advice and guidance for tween and teen girls in the talk-show format Rebel Girls: Growing Up Powerful. And let's not forget the beloved sister duo Anna and Elsa, who expand their chilling adventures into the world of podcasts in Disney Frozen: Forces of Nature.

"What I'd love to see more of next year is an expansion of this representation, with more Indigenous, Latina, and Asian female leads breaking stereotypes and reflecting the vast experiences of young listeners around the world," said Laura Ordoñez, senior editor, head of digital content and curation.

Games

The video game space has historically perpetuated harmful stereotypes and reflected unrealistic body expectations when it comes to representation of women. This issue is gaining more notoriety in the gaming world, and although there's still a long way to go, there were some wins in some of the games featured in our Best of 2023 video games list.

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 stands out the most, with strong, diverse female characters who defy many tired video game stereotypes. Miles' friend is a woman of color who's deaf and communicates with other characters using sign language, another is a queer female character, and you can play as multiple female characters, all of whom have their own unique identities and strengths. Wild Hearts is another great game that implements strong gender inclusion, allowing players to create their own characters, choosing their gender, what they look like, and their pronouns.

That said, the industry still has work to do, especially considering that there are more girl gamers than ever before. Ordoñez hopes that 2024 will bring significant catch-up, with inclusive representation of women in games, reflecting different abilities and body types, and fewer sexualized female characters.

Spanish Media

In 2023, we saw more Latinos in highly visible roles. That definitely includes Puerto Rican/Afro-Latina actor Rosario Dawson, who starred in Ahsoka, the first female-led Star Wars series. Common Sense Media's Spanish-language editor Mary Aviles also notes that Freeridge offers a satisfying view of coming of age from a female point of view. Its characters, Gloria, Ines, and Demi, deal with the events of growing up, including boys, jealousy, and misunderstandings, but they're also ambitious and want to get good grades, lead their clubs at school, and, above all, grow up. For younger audiences, Alma Goes to Puerto Rico is a charming series in which the main character, a girl, models problem-solving and social and emotional skills.

This year, we also had the first major movie dedicated exclusively to a Latino superhero: Blue Beetle, who is part of the DC Extended Universe. The female characters in this movie are depicted as intelligent, brave, and independently capable. These highly visible roles are translating to authentic entertainment for all kinds of mainstream audiences, with an extra layer of importance for Latino and Spanish-speaking families.

Like every year, 2023 had both notable hits and disappointing misses in female representation, but there's a lot here to be encouraged by, and we can't wait to see what's coming in 2024.

Check out all of our favorite media picks of 2023.

Betsy Bozdech

Betsy's experiences working in online parenting and entertainment content were the perfect preparation for her role as Common Sense's editorial director. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1997, she began her editorial career at BabyCenter.com and then served as an editor at Reel.com, Emode.com, and AOL's Digital City before working as the site content manager at Netflix for three years -- and then joining Common Sense Media in 2006. She's a lifelong movie and TV fan (favorites include The Princess Bride, 30 Rock, Some Like It Hot, Saturday Night Live, and Star Wars) and is delighted to have a job that makes keeping up on celebrity and pop culture news a necessity -- which, in turn, helps give her (a little) cred with her two kids.

In her role at Common Sense, Betsy has had the privilege of moderating a Comic-Con panel, serving as a juror for the San Francisco Film Festival, touring the set of Imagination Movers, interviewing filmmakers like The Good Dinosaur's Peter Sohn, and much more. She is also a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

Follow her on Twitter.