Let's face it: Girls are still sorely underrepresented on TV. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, nearly three-quarters of speaking parts in kids' entertainment are male characters. And even when girls do make appearances on-screen, they're sexualized or shown as less capable than their male counterparts.
But it's not all bad. The last few years have brought a handful of fantastic female protagonists who have authentic stories to tell. These picks show girls and women working together — not against each other — to have fun, learn stuff and prove that they're much more than eye candy. And because TV that's good for girls is also good for boys, these shows can be winners for the whole family.
Puffin Rock, 3+, Netflix Oona and her baby brother, Baba, make all kinds of discoveries as they explore the beautiful island of Puffin Rock. Oona is sweet, adventurous, and patient with Baba even when he's a bit of a pest. This gentle show fosters curiosity about nature, and Oona learns lots of lessons as she plays with other friendly island creatures.
Doc McStuffins, 4+, Disney Junior Doc wants to follow in her doctor mom's footsteps, so she opens up her own practice (for stuffed animals, of course). Beyond being a great role model for girls, Doc also teaches basic health and hygiene to a preschool audience.
Lily's Driftwood Bay, 4+, Sprout Lily and her friends use treasures from nature, including shells, feathers, and, yes, driftwood, to create and spark imaginative adventures in this artistic series. It also shows a warm relationship between Lily and her single dad.
Just Add Magic, 5+, Amazon Prime A magical cookbook opens up a door to mystery for young Kelly and her two best friends. Did it have anything to do with her grandmother's death? Why are the recipe results always mixed? Family traditions and friendship are explored in this sweet show with solid, non-sassy kid performances.
Odd Squad, 5+, PBS In this smartly written educational series, crack team Olive and Otto solve math-related mysteries as part of a government bureau manned entirely by hilarious kids. With a diverse cast, an equal number of male and female characters, and awesome grown-up guest stars, it's a must-watch.
Annedroids, 6+, Amazon Prime In this delightful STEM-based series, neighborhood kids Nick and Shania discover a new friend when they wander into a junkyard; Anne is a free-spirited kid scientist who's aces at making robots. Gender doesn't matter in Anne's workshop, and the trio learn from their mistakes as they work together to perfect new creations.
The Kicks, 6+, Amazon Prime Self-confident, goal-oriented soccer enthusiast Devin is thrown for a loop when her new town's team, the Kicks, is, well, not so great. Luckily, they're ready for a leader to give them a spark, and Devin finds herself taking on the role. Based on a series of books by real-life soccer star Alex Morgan, this sporty show is a great choice for tween girls.
Clarissa Explains It All, 8+, streaming With unfulfilling choices for tween girls dominating the airwaves, why not go back to a classic that did it right? With tons of '90s nostalgia (Doc Martens and jeans shorts, for starters) and a spunky, smart protagonist, Clarissa will definitely appeal to a new generation of girls.
Project Runway Junior, 11+, Lifetime We promise we're not recommending this because it's about sewing. Creatively inclined tweens will be inspired by the perseverance and hard work displayed by this competition show's contestants and the positive feedback from the judges, and parents will appreciate the lack of drama.
Supergirl, 11+, CBS Superman's cousin Kara has been hiding her powers for a long time, but when some evil forces show up in National City, she embraces her destiny. Kara is refreshing and real as she deals with the usual life challenges (a thankless day job, living under the shadow of her older sister) as well as the ones that crop up when you're busy saving the world.
Bee and Puppycat, 13+, streaming In this bizarre but adorable animated series created by Adventure Time's Natasha Allegri, a quirky young woman ends up working at an intergalactic temp agency with her partner in crime, Puppycat (who is as advertised), discovering that work challenges are pretty much the same wherever you go. Teens will love the weird, non sequitur humor.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, 14+, CW Don't let the name fool you -- this zany show is great for teens old enough to understand the satire underneath the goofy but determined Rebecca's cross-country journey to reunite with her summer camp boyfriend, Josh. Bonus: It's a musical!
iZombie, 14+, CW If your teen girls like to keep things on the macabre side, iZombie's brain-eating coroner Liv could be their new favorite heroine. This paranormal police procedural from the folks behind "Veronica Mars" has the edginess of Buffy combined with humor and an earnestness not often found in zombie shows, and Liv is a well-rounded character who will warm your heart (while she's eating everyone else's).
Parks and Recreation, 14+, streaming Sadly, this series came to a close, but the ever-optimistic Leslie Knope won't be stopped so easily. You can stream this show about a close-knit local team of government employees, many of whom are women, caring for each other and cracking up viewers in the process.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 14+, Netflix Since she was held captive by a creepy cult for her formative years, you'd think Kimmy would have a big chip on her shoulder. Instead, she's thrilled to discover how the world has changed, and her enthusiasm for freedom and life is infectious. Unlikely female friendships develop as Kimmy navigates New York armed only with her purple backpack and an unstoppable attitude.