In no particular order:
Zoë Washburne (Firefly): Of all Joss Whedon’s supposedly strong female characters, Zoë’s the only one I actually like. Strong and practically Amazonian, she still manages to stay feminine while being totally bad-ass. So many similar characters give up their girliness in order to be taken seriously; Zoe doesn’t ask for her position, she doesn’t try to prove herself worthy of it…she just is and there is no room to challenge that. She’s happily married (Serenity never happened; I’m in denial; shush) to a charming man who makes her laugh and loves her just as madly as she loves him. Oh, and she’s got mad gun skillz, great hair, and makes leather vests look even cooler than they already do.
Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins): In case the rest of this list didn’t display it, I really admire competence… and there is no one more ‘practically perfect’ than Mary. She’s good with difficult kids and can easily handle cantankerous adults. She can sing and dance and fly (with the aid of an umbrella or smoke and clouds or just for tea). She is magical and mysterious and can even talk to animals (both real and animated and artificial/attached to said umbrella’s handle). And she’s gorgeous and British and exists in book, movie and musical form because her awesomeness cannot be contained in just one medium.
Ororo Munroe/Storm (X-Men): Her back story is more like a fairy tale than a comic book heroine’s. She’s descended from a long line of African witch-princesses (yeah, you read that correctly: witch-princesses). She’s orphaned in Cairo and becomes a master-thief, is briefly worshipped as a goddess and then recruited to the X-men. In the 80’s, she temporarily sported a mowhawk and wore all leather…and actually managed to pull it off. I’ve always been impressed by her personality: serene, subtly bad-ass, elegant, and always impressive. Her ability to control the weather makes her one of the most powerful mutants, and I love the way she also uses it in unexpected ways (Ex: breathe underwater through electrolysis, see the universe in terms of energy patterns, flash freeze people, fly, sense the world’s weather patterns, etc). She speaks three languages fluently, once picked a lock with her teeth while having the mental state of an infant, and carries an ancestral ruby that allows for interdimensional transportation when combined with her lightning.
Olivia Joules (Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination): She’s the only chick-lit heroine I’ve ever been able to relate to; I guess it’s just because we’re already alike and I want to be more like her. Instinctively, both of us tend towards ridiculous explanations for everyday things, and then have to talk ourselves back to more rational/less imaginative possibilities. She’s a British reporter (yay, accent!) who then becomes a spy for MI-6; she speaks several languages and has natural spy skills rather than acquiring them through years of special training. She’s also got this homemade emergency kit that she carries around with her but hasn’t had a chance to use much, which I totally admire (Nooo, of course I don’t have a similar ‘In Case of Apocalypse’ bag in my car. That would be silly…I haven’t finished packing it yet.) When the book becomes a movie, I want her to be played by Rachel McAdams.
Diana Palmer-Walker (The Phantom): Although she’s just the wife of a superhero, she’s not just a traditional damsel in distress. For one, they knew each other as kids, before he was officially working as the Phantom, and fell in love with him for him rather than his secret identity. And, yes, as the love interest, she has been kidnapped, like, a billion times (most of which were by cheesy villains who wanted to marry her) but she’s not wimpy while waiting for rescue. She’s got black belts in various martial arts, amazing blue-black hair, an Olympic medal in diving, speaks multiple languages, fences semi-professionally, had twins in skull cave in the jungle without pain-reducing drugs, was a nurse and is now the Deputy Director of the UN.
Runner-ups: Alanna of Trebond (Song of the Lioness Quartet), Juniper Lee (The Life and Times of Juniper Lee), Polgara the Sorceress (The Belgariad), Lt. Colonel Sarah Mackenzie (JAG), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)