"Aren't you scared?" "Oh, yeah. But while I'm mouthing off, I'm Feisty Heroine. Nothing bad happens to Feisty Heroine."
— Wisdom # 6
Plucky means 'brave and optimistic'.
You might be able to pile life complications onto this young woman/girl, to the point where the audience would forgive her if she just refused to go on. She might even have an episode or so where she doesthrow in the towel, because human beings can only take so much of what the universe is handing out for her. But the Plucky Girl always comes back. That's the bravery part.
The optimistic part is the rest of it. This character leans toward the sane version of The Pollyanna, blending the agency of the Action Girl with the sweetness and wise charm of the Spirited Young Lady, while exhibiting a strong sense of optimism and an unassailable spirit that differentiates her from the grimness of a Determinator. You can beat her, but damned if she'll let you break her.
Male versions exist, but they tend to be closer to Determinator territory instead, because men always have to beMANLY.
Candace White "Candy" Andree from Candy Candy. She has her breakdowns, but as soon as she's back to her feet, she comes back stronger than ever.
Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket can be seen as a deconstruction. She still is optimistic despite being orphaned, temporarily homeless, and living in a tent, bullied in the past, and helping a whole DysfunctionJunction with their trauma. Then we learn that this is her way of dealing with all the pain in her life - she's not exactly a Stepford Smiler, as she is sincerely happy often, but she also uses it as a way to keep from succumbing to grief and accepting that her mom is gone. And then... it's reconstructed: when a maddened and despaired Akito tries to definitely break her as the members of the Dysfunction Junction are being released of their curses.... Tohru aknowledges that not so strong part of herself, accepts it, and manages to kindly speak to Akito and offer her kindness as well. This finally breaks the vicious cycle that has trapped the Sohma clan, and even when Tohru is severely injured after falling off the cliff she's standing, it kickstarts Akito's Heel-Face Turn, and helps Tohru herself to deal with her own suffering.
Elenore Baker from Madlax is pretty much this the entire series.
Sayaka Yumi from Mazinger Z: Her mother was dead. Her father cared for her, but he was Married to the Job and nearly never was there for her. the guy she liked was a sexist jerk (okay, Jerk with a Heart of Gold). One of her classmates was a borderline Stalker with a Crush. And her country -and the whole world- was under attack of a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds and Mad Scientist who took lessons from Hitler. And she still was brave, hopeful and optimistic, not allowing anything got her down for long -she had several Heroic BSOD moments, but they did not last long-, and trusting they would win and things would get better, not matter what.
Sora Naegino from Kaleido Star practically embodies this trope. No matter how much Training from Hell she is put through or what sort of abuse she receives, she always manages to pull through using sheer optimism and determination. And if she feels her strength sapping away, she will soon recover it. It's also kind of a plot point, as if she stays down for too long, she will stop seeing Fairy Companion Fool and completely lose her chance.
May Wong becomes this once she gets over her Jerk Ass phase. Anna Heart, Mia Guillem, Rosetta Passel and Katie Taylor are already there, and the backstory gives us Sophie Oswald.
Also Yoko, who went on and stayed as a cheerful, reliable and protective Cool Big Sis despite all the shit that happened to the Dai-Guren Brigade.
Keiko Yukimura from YuYu Hakusho. While she's usually a Neutral Female, it's pretty amazing she pulls through after all the traumatizing events her boyfriends' life/career puts her in. In the manga, she didn't hesitate to ask to be taken to the Dark Tournament when she found out Yusuke had gone there. She may be a bit frailer in the anime, but she still does her best to be there for her friends when needed. To different degrees there's also Yukina, Shizuru, Botan, Ayame, Hinageshi from The Movie, Kokou, Natsume, the Lady Doctor aka Yuusuke's ancestor and Mukuro.
Naruto: Hinata Hyuuga. Her other theme aside of her crush for Naruto is her self-improvement and shredding her Fragile Flower side. She's one of the first people to adopt Naruto's ninja way: knowing that he's watching, she refuses to give up against Neji despite severe injuries, even standing up one last time after the referee ends the match to keep her from getting killed.
And she reaffirmed her pluckiness by doing what she could to protect Naruto from Pain, fully knowing that this might be her last stand. The manga made it both awesome and heartbreaking, the anime made it doubly awesome.
Also Sakura.. See her fights vs Ino (where she deliberately pressed Ino's Berserk Button to avoid getting sympathy and broke Ino's Mind Switch Jutsu) and Sasori (where she got serious injuries and kept fighting anyway).
Relena Peacecraft, Hilde Schbeiker, Sally Po, Cathy Bloom, Long Meiran and Lucrezia Noin from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.
A lighter example is Mileina Vashti, almost always plucky and happy despite being caught in the middle of a war. She lives to tell. Also Mileina's Onee-sama and fellow Bridge Bunny, Feldt Grace. She gets very broken in season 1, then some more in season 2, but also pulls through and lives.
Cleao Everlasting from Sorcerer Stabber Orphen will not let Orphen go kill himself before he returns her the Sword of Baltanders that her father gave her before dying, and which he needs for a very important quest. So what if she has to tag along with him and his apprentice Majic despite all the dangers it'll bring to her? She will follow them, become the Team Mom, and pull through no matter what.
Belarus is described as one by Russia. But he quickly adds: "Inabadway".
Resident Lady of War Vietnam is one too, as her profile says she's "a very headstrong woman" and that "there are many strong women in her history".
Taiwan gets her profile in the fourth manga volume ("An island girl nation with a headstrong and easygoing personality!") She shows it via cheering up Vietnam, teasing her brothers, and interacting with all of them as an equal. "It's okay, us Taiwanese don't believe in bad fortunes!" It's confirmed by her Image Song, "Poipoipoi". 'Poi' means "poof", and it's used in-context as "making problems and bad luck go POOF!"
Even Monaco, the resident Ojou has shades of this with sketches of her in armor and having her profile describe her as someone who worries a lot, but gives off a proud impression. She also has an attitude like this when it comes to poker.
Belgium, too. She sometimes frets over her Aloof Big Brother Netherlands, but most of the time she keeps her bright smile and her teasing, cheerful behavior no matter what.
THE example in the series, however, is Hungary. Shown clearly not just in the profile, but in her interaction with pretty much everyone: she takes her Meido position in stride despite how it's not exactly easy, fights the aforementioned Prussia without hesitation, refuses to stay put when someone she dislikes is around...
Maya Kitajima and Ayumi Himekawa from Glass Mask. The first decides to fulfill her dream of being an actress despite how odds always go against her, the latter refuses to have things handed to her and wants be famous for her own merits.
Winry Rockbell and May Chang from Fullmetal Alchemist. Riza Hawkeye and Izumi Curtis are adult versions.
All of the girls in Bokurano have their plucky moments, specially Anko Tokosumi, Kana Ushiro and Youko Machi.
Fatal Fury: Despite being helpless in combat and painfully knowing it, Sulia Gaudeamus keeps going on and doing her best to help Terry, Joe, Andy and Mai stop her evil brother, Laocorn, and save him from himself. And if she has to commit suicide to save him... she will.
Mai is this too, despite her bad luck in battles. More noticeable in the games, tho.
And Kim's wife, Myenungsuk. In a subtle Crowning Moment Of Awesome, when Kim was in the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle, she kept her cool and her trust in him, refusing to cry and break down for the sake of him and their kids as well as herself.
Code Geass: Kallen Kouzuki When faced against the now practically superhuman Suzaku, she fights him to a standstill, reducing * both * of their machines to scrap before finally destroying Suzaku's machine with the very last blow she has left before her machine shuts down. Suzaku even wonders aloud how he can't beat her, even with his "live" Geass.
Euphemia li Britannia and Shirley Fenette also count. Doesn't work as well, though.
Saori Kido aka Athena, Miho, Aquila Marin, Shunrei, Princess Flair and little Helen (the two last from filler anime arcs) of Saint Seiya.
Many girls from Mahou Sensei Negima! qualify, but Nodoka surpasses them all. Every time she's encountered an enemy, despite having no combat skills whatsoever, her first reaction is to get out her artifact and fight, even when up against opponents completely out of her league, even when everyone else is panicking, lost in despair, or running away, even when she only just figured out that magic even exists. In the middle of the battle between Fate's party and Ala Alba at Ostia instead of retreating with the rest of the party she forced Kotarou to take her right in front of Fate so she could get his true name and then interrogated him as he was attempting to petrify her. And of course, when everything went wrong and several of her friends were erased from existence right in front of her by one of the most powerful characters in the entire series she gets up, steals HIS artifact, downloads the instruction manual from his brain, and teleports away so she can tell the rest of Ala Alba they're taking the battle to the enemy.
Katsuhiro Otomo's early manga Domu: A Child's Dream gave us Etsuko, a little girl with immense Psychic Powers she uses to battle a Psychopathic ManchildSerial Killer. All the while she is spunky and headstrong, first responding to seeing him psychically manipulate a baby to fall off the roof of the apartment complex with, "What an awful brat you are! Really now?!" and scaring the old man by using her powers to rattle the bench he is sitting on.
Nadja Applefield from Ashitano Nadja. Sweet Lords, Nadja is some plucky girl and then more.
In Pokémon Special, when told that the boy who rescued her two years ago has gone missing (and hasn't seen since), Yellow immediately agrees to go out and look for him despite the fact that she barely knows anything about Pokemon battling.
Blue could also count. She's usually upbeat and optimistic despite having some of the worst luck ever. Especially at the beginning of the FRLG arc, where her parents disappear right in front of her.
Wendy Garret of GUN×SWORD has all the stubbornness of the Determinator combined with a sometimes inordinate amount of optimism. The introductory narrative to the second episode explicitly indicates that Wendy symbolizes hope in opposition to the despair of her partner, Van, but it wouldn't be hard to figure that out without the narration.
Aura of Corsair boisterous, opinionated, and quick-tempered, and remains so even after she is kidnapped and threatened with execution.
Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Behind that soft and caring exterior lies a will of iron and a girl who will stand up to the devil herself for the sake of those she loves.
Hitomi Shizuki is referred as such by her seiyuu Ryōko Shintani, as well as by Aoi Yuki (Madoka) and Chiwa Saito (Homura). She's an interesting example in how this trope has both strengths and flaws: she always smiles and tries to be there for her friends, but THE time Hitomi tries to directly resolve a conflict via making both Sayaka and herself face their shared feelings for Kamijou, she commits a huge mistake.
After many, many ordeals and Break the Cutie episodes, both Rukia Kuchiki and Orihime Inoue from Bleach end up graduating into this at different times.
Other plucky girls in this series are: Karin Kurosaki, Tatsuki Arisawa, Chizuru Honshou, Yoruichi Shihouin, Sui-Feng, Yachiru Kusachiji, Nanao Ise, Rangiku Matsumoto, Hiyori Sarugaki, Lisa Yadomaru, Mashiro Kuna, Tia Harribel and her Amazon Brigade (whose Villainous Valor was praised by Yamamoto before he nearly killed them), Senna from the first movie, Homura from the third movie, and recently Jackie Tristan and Riruka Dokugamine. As an Older and Wiser version, we have Hikio Kirifune.
In the Everything But The Rain arc, Masaki Kurosaki is this through and through. In a more quiet way, we may also count Kanae Katagiri.
As of episode 21, Kaede Kaburagi has graduated into this. So her beloved father was framed and she has just found out he's a superhero? Kaede immediately decides to go help him with her budding powers. And this is a ten year old girl.
All the females in Fairy Tail: Erza, Lucy, Mirajane, Ur, etc..
Ohana Matsumae, the main character of Hanasaku Iroha, is an interesting take on this Trope in that her pluckiness is presented as both a weakness and a strength. On one hand, her optimism and sincere desire to help people lets her accomplish some good things, but on the flipside her tendency to dive headfirst into something without a solid gameplan does backfire on her from time to time.
Sakura Kinomoto of Cardcaptor Sakura to some extent. While she is rather determined and frequently shows little concern for her own well being, her disposition better resembles that of a real child under such situations, as such she does actually show fearand break down at times, relying on her friends' support to recover her strength.
More straight up examples: Canon Foreigner Li Meiling and especially Sakura's best friend Tomoyo Daidouji.
Madoka Kyouno from Rinne no Lagrange, going so far as to sing in the cockpit during a mecha battle... the same battle in which she deliberately tries to keep collateral damage to areas she knows to be empty of bystanders (such as the lot of a recently demolished house or a shop that had gone out of business the week before). Considering the genre she's in, she angsts remarkably little - and even when she does, she shrugs it off quickly and jumps right back to the other extreme on the optimist-realist scale.
It is later revealed that she wasn't always like this: after her mother's death, Madoka was a depressed wreck until her cousin inspired her into the energetic girl always ready to help everyone regardless of what needs to be doing. Truly, Madoka's motto in life is Jumped at the Call: she doesn't pilot because she has to, she pilots because she wants to help.
Lakshu from Tenkuu Senki Shurato. She can't fight, the Goddess she serves upon is Taken Into Granite, her cursh and her friends get hurt and/or die as they try to restore her... And Lakshu will help no matter what.
Nanami Momozono from Kamisama Kiss. Her defining character trait, besides Chronic Hero Syndrome, is that she likes to see other people happy and will go out of her way to make them happy. Even if it means that she has to get hurt or sacrifice something to make it so.
Sanae Nakazawa, Yukari Nishimoto, Kumi Sugimoto, Machiko Machida and especially Maki Akamine from Captain Tsubasa.
While Ryuko Matoi from Kill la Kill is more of a female Determinator, her Only Friend Mako Mankanshoku is this through and through. She always comes out of any situation with a smile on her face, no matter what. She's pushed to her limits when sharing a stand with the demoted Elite Four while cheering Ryuko on during the King of the Hill Final Battle, resorting in her cheering for herself so she won't crack under the pressure.
Kiku Takane from Ring Ni Kakero, who will always support and look after her little brother Ryuuji and work hard to guide him through their shared dream of reaching the World Boxing Championship.
Hajime Ichinose from Gatchaman Crowds. She's actually so cheerful and strongwilled that she can get Berg Katze to back off her case, simply because they is no darkness in her heart.
Kagome Higurashi from InuYasha. She's got self-esteem problems, is the reincarnation of a priestess who Came Back Wrong, her love interest can be a real jerk despite having a good heart, her friends have huge troubles of their own... and yet she stands by them no matter what. Sure, she has more than one breakdown, but she still stands by her friends is more concerned with her love life and her grades.
Rin, too. She may not be much use in a fight, but let's face it, she's brave as hell. Heck, the first time she meets Sesshomauru she doesn't run screaming when he snarls at her but actually dumps water on him; and when Jaken's sick she climbs a mountain filled with demons to find a cure for him, without a second thought.
In Attack on Titan, Sasha Blouse's energetic disposition and pluckiness lands her here. As emphasized in her introduction: Shadis sentenced her to run until she collapses, and she does it without complaint. What got her upset was being denied any dinner. Sasha later has several brushes with death, but never loses her optimistic nature.
Tomoka Osakada from The Prince of Tennis never ever loses her smile, her stubborness, and her will to support Seigaku and her beloved Ryoma through thick and thin. An Tachibana from Fudomine is somewhat more serious, but she's not to be trifled with either.
Batman: Stephanie Brown, the third Batgirl. Her ex-con of a father is starting to cause trouble again? Her mother's an addict? Her dad's trying to kill her? The father of her baby abandons her and she almost dies during delivery? The boy she's got her eyes on and who happens to be Robin's not interested in her? Batman tries to get her to quit being a crimefighter again and again - then fires her as Robin? She gets tortured, humiliated and almost killed and is forced to leave Gotham to heal? ... C'mon, you don't actually think that's gonna stop her, do you?
Jubilee. From about middle school age on life has constantly tried to crap all over her but not the murder of her parents, homelessness, being separated from her surrogate father figure, being captured and tortured by anti-mutant government initiatives, having the boy you have a crush on blown up, being crucified, losing her powers, or being turned into a vampire will stop her from forging ahead and realizing that life's what you make of it, so why not make it fun.
Mockingbird of The Avengers. While she's more cynical than most examples, this is at least justified by the fact that she's suffered more hardships than any other female character in Marvel's publication. She was framed for corruption, shot and nearly killed by overzealous SHIELD agents, had her home blown up and was nearly beaten to death, was raped, later her husband broke up with her because she killed the rapist, she seemingly died only to instead have been abducted by aliens and faced a disturbed stalker she was forced to kill while it took the appearance of her ex-husband, she reunited with the same husband only for the previous rapist to return and her mother gets shot because of her, ending with her and her ex breaking up once more, before being followed by her being fatally shot and revived via a super-drug that grants her eternal youth (cursing her to outlive everyone she cares about) to the most recent events of her being left behind enemy lines with no memory, where she's eventually brainwashed and has it revealed that her entire life may, in fact, have been a lie. While it's unclear how this will go, it should be noted that, prior to that, she was at her happiest in years.
Annabelle Lennox in the Transformers fanfic Black Crayons. She's sweet and friendly, but she can be as brave and stubborn as her parents (or Ironhide) when she needs to. She sneaks her way into a warzone because she thought she needed to be there. Keep in mind that she's six years old at the time.
Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph has enough spirit to power a jet fighter, reacts to her circumstances as The Pollyanna and is the Determinator in her dream of becoming a racer. She's probably this trope PERSONIFIED, because after all the bullying and abuse she's been through, she's still optimistic and happy. Wow.
Anna from Frozen. The traits that define her are her sheer optimism and energy.
Wendy's daughter Jane from Peter Pan: Return To Neverland is this Played for Drama. She strives to be a Plucky Girl but has forgotten what it means to be a child, since she comes from the England of World War II - so she has all the practicality but none of the enthusiasm. By the end, she has recovered her spirits and has morphed into a straight example of it.
The girl Micha from a German film Stahlnetz: PSI. She is kidnapped for ransom which her family cannot pay as it's not actuall rich and cannot escape on her own, but she still holds herself with dignity until the very end, (though she slowly begins to resign, but in her situation, it's hard not to; and she still doesn't break).
The title character of The Journey Of Natty Gann is bound and determined to find her father, and nothing is going to keep her from doing it, no matter how many people tell her that he abandoned her. She hops trains and hitchhikes from Chicago to Seattle, with little idea of exactly where her father is beyond "somewhere in Washington".
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) in Labyrinth won't give up her attempts to solve the Goblin King's seemingly-impossible maze and retrieve her baby brother.
Scheherezade, the protagonist from the Framing Device of Arabian Nights, so much that she has a gambit named after her. She volunteers to marry King Shahryar (a madman who hates women and has ordered all his previous wives executed after the first one cheated on him) as part of a plan to cure his insanity - and she succeeds, becoming his Queen.
Tortall Universe: Daine is probably the most obvious example. Her house was burned by raiders, her family killed and she survived only by accident, she was almost raped/murdered by an ex-suitor of her mother's, and was Raised by Wolves — all before the book starts. She then proceeds to demonstrate a great deal of ass-kicking, particularly so in the later books; in the third one, after she is told that the Emperor killed Numair, she proceeds to wake up an army of fossilized dinosaurs and rip the everloving shit out of the palace. She's not done. In the fourth book, after even more tragedy occurs, she kills Ozorne with only a badger claw, naked, and entirely out of magic. Yeowch.
Sandry, from the Circle of Magic universe by the same author, tends to come across as the sweet, optimistic one of the four, but she survived several days alone in a dark, concealed room, with only a basket of embroidery thread for company while half the city died of plague around her, and when once again trappen in the dark (by an earthquake, no less) she is the one who figures out how to get herself and her friends out (though they all participate.)
Roald Dahl's Matilda is ignored by her parents and terrorised by the awful Miss Trunchbull, and just 6-7 years old. So what's a little super-smart girl to do? Obviously, play some 'subduing' pranks on your boastful, corrupt father to take him down a peg, then develop your latent psychokinetic powers to help that nice teacher who recognised your genius.
Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series occasionally teeters on the border between "Plucky Girl" and "Sociopathic Hero Girl".
Maree Mallory of Deep Secret has "sheer if not-always-nice pluck" as one of her defining character traits. How much of a fighter is she? At one point, she permanently loses half her soul. Most people die within hours of this happening. Maree not only fights back, she walks miles to recover in Babylon. To put things in perspective, the only other person to survive this that we know of? A powerful and charismatic emperor who once conquered eleven different core universes and untold others.
Mavra Chang from Jack Chalker's Well World series absolutely refuses to give up despite all of the Body Horror inflicted on her — seemingly cripplng mutations and body modifications only seem to make her even more determined. Hell, Mavra's probably ar her most dangerous when she doesn't even have any hands.
Lia in Skinned by Robin Wasserman. Despite getting in a car accident, having her brain put in an android, her friends abandoning her, her sister sleeping with her boyfriend, and people believing she doesn't deserve to exist, she still keeps going.
All of the important female characters in Sword of Truth, but especially Kahlan, Cara, and Nicci.
Enola Holmes is the definition of this, eventually. It does take her running away from home with her brother, Sherlock Holmes, hunting her to force her into finishing school, and finding that she's a great detective herself at the age of 14. At the end, Sherlock and Mycroft are agape at how capable she is for her age.
Arya Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. This becomes less appealing and more creepy as the story goes on though, as the goals Arya persists in achieving pretty much amount to mass murder. Her sister Sansa, too, who manages to stay cool even when life seems more and more persistent to break her.
Don't forget the eponymous Momo in the novel of Michael Ende. The evil men actually take over the world, but she still attempts to save it. She even dares giving one of the grey men a Care Bear Stare while she's left by all her friends.
The Chalet School is full of these, to the point where you wonder if it's a requirement to get into the school. Joey Bettany - who shares more than a few similarities with another Jo mentioned above - is but one example. Childhood illness, running away from the Nazis, war, her husband Jack being temporarily MIA, the deaths of friends, a shedload of children...nothing will keep her down for long. And then there's Corney Flower, Biddy O'Ryan, Daisy Venables, Mary-Lou Trelawney, Carola Johnstone, Len Maynard...the list goes on.
In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, Istra, aka Psyche, is this. To the extent that she angers her older sister, Orual, for not being worried about being offered to a local god as a "bride", saying the god might actually be nice. It turns out Istra is right, and everything works out in the end.
Stephanie Plum from One For the Money and the following books by Janet Evanovich. Faces down homicidal rapists and madmen with pluck, snark, and heavy coats of mascara. Interestingly enough, she's not entirely plucky - pretty much every time she's in direct danger, she's a terrified, blubbering wreck. She deserves the moniker because, even when she's out of her depth, terrified, and facing fates too horrible to consider, she doesn't give up.
Ninevah "Nin" Redstone from Seven Sorcerers by Caro King. Her Motto is "Have Courage and never give up!" She confronts a Bogeyman while armed only with a toohbrush and goes insane lengths to rescue her brother, along with everybody else needing help
Beatrice Löwenström in Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt is a tough girl, but it seems like the Universe itself is out to break her down. But once the worst is over, she gets over it and moves on.
Illiana Henriksdotter in "Betvingade" has a tyrannical father and a cold-hearted mother, who never show her any love. But it never seems to bother her that much, and once she gets married, she pretty much puts her abusive parents behind her.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features Dorothy, a resourceful, smart little girl who is willing to slap lions in the face and learns not to be afraif by the Wicked Witch of the West.
In Smallville, as much as we love to see one of Chloe Sullivan's manyBreak the Cutie moments, she always pulls herself together to help Clark at the end of the day. Season eight, "Abyss", "Bride" and "Legion", for instance. She has her memory slowly destroyed, making her gradually forgetting everything and everyone, attacked at her wedding, Jimmy almost dies, she is kidnapped by Doomsday to be possessed by Brainiac, and the Legion is about to kill her before Clark rushes in. She is up and about almost unnaturally quickly after the ordeal. And that isn't even half of it.
Audrey Parker Of Haven: A young FBI agent who is sent to the small town of Haven, Maine to capture a killer but stays to solve the terrifying "Troubles" that afflict the town and to find her long lost mother and learn to be a "small town cop." Being cocooned alive, almost driving off a cliff and dealing with super powered freaks of nature only makes her pissed and/or more determined. Also a very capable Action Girl but could be considered a Broken Bird at times because of the emotional distance she keeps from people.
Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars, the unflappable young PI who is roofied and date-raped, best friend is killed, family splits up, ostracized by her old friends, yet somehow trudges through and comes out mostly on top. And her relationships? Suspected murderer of best friend, and also a man who could possibly be her biological brother (he's not). Well, let's just say she's incredibly determined.
Vicki, the First Doctor companion from Doctor Who. She was orphaned by a space accident, and we meet her after she's been stranded on an isolated desert planet awaiting a rescue mission while being psychologically terrorised by a repugnant monster with unclear motivations who turns out to be a man she thought was her friend in disguise - she'd still been making the best of it, by befriending the local wildlife. After the Doctor takes her on she will have occasional scenes where she will remind the others of what she's lost and that the Doctor is now her only family, but is mostly resolute and cheerful, happy to take the lead in a crisis (like in "The Space Museum"), and with a big scoop of Nightmare Fetishist and Fluffy Tamer to boot.
Lampshaded in "The Unicorn and the Wasp". when the Doctor introduces himself to the guests at a 1926 dinner party as a Scotland Yard detective and Donna as "The plucky young woman who helps me out."
Donna: 'The plucky young woman who helps me out'? Doctor: No policewomen in 1926. Donna: I'll pluck you in a minute!
Djaq from Robin Hood originates from the Holy Land which is being torn apart by war in which she lost her father, mother and twin brother. She was then enslaved and brought to England in chains, all the while hiding her gender from her jailers. When she's rescued by Robin Hood, her fellow prisoners abandon her while she's helping out the outlaws. Yet she joins the gang, contributing her skills as a scientist and a medic to the country that is at war with her own, overcoming race and gender prejudices, and proceeding to kick ass all over the place whilst keeping her rather wicked sense of humor, resulting in one of the few times in which a character with obvious Mary Sue qualities manages to be imminently likeable.
Miki Momozono/Goggle Pink from Dai Sentai Goggle Five. She gets hit massively with a fatal bomb that nearly killed her, yet she still dragged her body to get up so her friends and Kid Sidekick won't worry about her. Then she gets trapped in a devil diary, is tied up and the diary gets burned from the outside (which would burn her eventually), and her friends can't get her out, only able to watch as she burns. Instead, she escapes from the book on her own using just her wits and brains, delivers a condemning speech to those who trapped her (and dozens of innocent kids), then proceeds to kick ass.
Subverted by Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess. She starts off plucky, but in season 4, she joins the church of the One True God, throws in the towel, her staff and her joy. she becomes a determinator and never comes back. Lampshaded in an episode set in modern time. Mad Scientist raids Xena and Gabrielle's tomb and clones them. Gabrielle is plucky, Mad Scientist turns her into a determinator. Fan complains, Mad Scientist says you will only ever see plucky Gabrielle in the repeats of Seasons 1-3 - "Only in the re-runs."
The titular character in Dong Yi never gives up on, or breakdown over whatever she is doing, even when the odds are completely against her.
Carmen Carrillo from Carrusel. She may not have the best family situation at first (though It Gets Better). But she always makes sure to study and do well in school, so that someday she can go to college and obtain a career. Plus she is always nice to everyone. She is very prim and proper- while always remaining determined, so her being ladylike and staying out of trouble may be a not so obvious way of remaining strong so that she can achieve her goals.
Princess Aurora in Once Upon a Time, lampshaded when she is called this by her kidnapper, Cora, when Aurora flatly refuses to play along with her games.
Gretel/Ava is driven by her faith that she'll find her father again. In Storybrooke, she's managed to take care of herself and little brother while hiding the fact that their parents are missing, and in the Enchanted Forest, she even manages to stand up to Regina by telling her that family will always find each other. At the end of "True North," the two children are reunited with their father.
Susan Grey from The Bletchley Circle is the driving force behind the investigation, the one who gets the band back together.
Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries, no matter how many times she's abused, tortured, neglected or looses someone she loves, she always holds her head high, smiles and is there for her friends.
Religion and Mythology
Antigone from Greek Mythology, who refuses to abandon her father Oedipus even after learningthe truthof her birth. She also defies her uncle Creon when he orders to not give burial to her brother's corpse, and prefers execution rather than renouncing to her beliefs.
Many Christian martyrologies have tales about young and not-so-young girls who choose torture and death rather than renouncing to their beliefs and worshipping non-Christian Gods, and many of them are described as plucky to the extreme.
For that matter, the Blessed Virgin Mary is this to Catholics, oh so very much.
Swanhilde from Coppelia. She's unwilling to take Franz's sudden abandonment down and desert him when it turns out that he's in danger of losing his own soul. So she will go into Dr. Coppelius's home to see what's going on with her own eyes and later protect Franz as much as she can once Coppelia's Robot Girl nature is revealed
Seisen's first generation: Adean, Briggid, Tailto until she's horribly broken, Ferry, Mahnya, Raquesis, Sylvia and Ayra. Dew is The One Guy, sorta.
Seisen's second generation: Lana (and Mana), Patty (and Daisy), Fee (and Femina), Nanna (and Janne), Altena, Larcei (and Radney), Leen (and Laylea). On the enemy side, we have the Anti-Villain Ishtar. On the rare male example side, there's Corple (and Sharlow) and specially Seliph.
Nino the Mage/Sage from Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword. Oh poor little innocent, sweet, freaking determined Nino.
Lyndis/Lyn, Louise, Priscilla, Serra, Farina, Fiora and Rebecca, too. A good part of Florina's Character Development comes from her doing what she can to become one. If you want rare male examples, look no further than Sain, Guy and Wil.
In Fuuin no Tsurugi, set 20 years later, Princess Lilina is this and some more. Makes sense since her dad is Lord Hectorand her mom can either be Lyn, Farina or Florina. Other than her, we have: Clarine, Ellen, Princess Guinevere, Thany, Thite, Lalum, Sue, Milady and Fir. Adult versions include: Echidna, Igrene, Cecilia and Niime. "Mayfly" versions include the dragon FaRare male examples include Lugh, one of Nino's sons and The Hero Roy whose mom can be either Fiora or Lyn.
Princess Tana from Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. So plucky that she refuses to stay on the sidelines even when her brother Innes demands her to do so, helps both Eirika and Ephraim as much as she can despite her limited battle experience, can convince the very distraught Cormag to defect with words aloneand hook up with him if they have an A support, and pulls Ephraim out of his Heroic BSOD after he sees that he can't bring Lyon back and loses one of the stones to him.
Eirika, too. Despite her naivete and seeing her kingdom and others go down, she keeps going on.
And L'Arachel, too. So plucky that she can bring Eirika out of an Heroic BSODwhen she has to assume that Lyon's too far gone to be truly saved, after his Superpowered Evil Side uses him to steal the MacGuffin from her.
Also Natasha and Amelia. Both young ladies come from Grado, an Empire that is starting to invade and threaten other countries, but they decide to fight back and join Eirika and/or Ephraim's groups so they can save the world and Grado itself.
Fire Emblem Awakening gives us several too: a female Avatar (default name: Robin), Sully, Lissa, Maribelle, Nowi, Tharja (in a... strange way, that is), Cordelia, Sumia (who's normally more of a Submissive Badass), Emmeryn (specially when she fearlessly goes through an Heroic Suicide to stop an upcoming war, Say'ri and the grown-up Tiki. And maybe Ke'ri, if Lon'qu's testimony is to be believed.) And let's not forget the male Avatar, Prince Chrom, Stahl, Vaike, Henry, Donnel and Ricken as Rare Male Examples.
From the second generation there's Sully's daughter Kjelle, Sumia's daughter Cynthia, Nowi's daughter Nah, Tharja's daughter Noire (in herownway) and Chrom's daughter Lucina. And we also have some rare male examples like Olivia's son Inigo and Lissa's son Owain. Oh, and Morgan counts in here whether as a boy or a girl unless they get corrupted by Grima after the death of his Avatar mom/dad.
The title character of the freeware action/adventure Iji is a teenage girl who wakes up six months after an alien attack kills her family to discover that scientists have implanted nanotech in her to combat the invaders, but her only support is her little brother Dan, who has grown bloodthirsty, cynical and emotionally distant. Even after she discovers that humanity is on the brink of extinction and the earth is a charred husk, she presses on with the mission Dan gives her. This first quest fails miserably, the second makes the situation even worse, and, depending on the player's actions, Iji fails to save her brother from an assassin, which traumatizes her horribly. And yet she still carries on. The player can choose to play her as an Action Girl or pacifist; regardless, the final boss is awed by her determination.
From No One Lives Forever we get Cate Archer, superspy extraordinaire. Almost the entirety of UNITY believes a woman can't be a proper spy, her mentor is killed, every single agent has died before her, she's continually put on missions often promised to be simple but always end up extremely dangerous, and she's being sabotaged. Of course this doesn't stop her. She gets bonus points for having been a very successful cat burglar, starting out when she was just a teenager.
Sigrun of Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening is unusually cheerful for being a member of a group of Death Seekers with the goal of achieving a Heroic Sacrifice, joking that she'll try harder next time whenever she gets through a battle. During party banter with Nathaniel, she states that being Wangsty about it doesn't really help her much, and demonstrates that it would just get annoying really fast.
Leliana in Origins lives through a tremendous amount of nastystuff, yet comes out of it stubborn, courageous, and possibly the sweetest girl you will ever meet.
Krile from Final Fantasy V. She's already an orphan when you meet her. Then watches her grandfather die right in front of her. Then his spirit tells her she needs to take his place in defeating the warlock that just killed him. And she does, while still being cheerful enough to poke fun at the hero and pioneer the role that would appear in every numbered Final Fantasy after her.
Tifa Lockhart, Aerith Gansborough and Yuffie Kisaragi from Final Fantasy VII, but specially Aerith.
Selphie Tilmitt from Final Fantasy VIII. Her original home was destroyed, many of her friends were killed, the world was about to end, and she still maintained her plucky attitude and sense of humor. Worryingly, she's also always the first one to propose an excessively violent solution to a problem, such as skinning a Moomba to use as a disguise for escaping captivity.
"Blow it to smithereens with a rocket launcher! BOOOOOM!"
The female protagonist route added to Persona 3 in the PSP version turns the player character into one. The darker the game's plot gets, the more determinedly upbeat her dialogue options become.
All of the Persona 4 girls show different shades of this after their Shadows are dealt with. Special mention goes to Rise Kujikawa, who took control of her Persona, Himiko, right after the Shadow Rise fight.
And beating them all out is Maya Amano from Persona 2 who's catchphrase is "Let's think positive!" She remains upbeat throughout the game, serves as a Team Mom for the group, and gets promoted to Protagonist in Eternal Punishment.
Maria Renard from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, doubled as a Badass in Distress. Right after being freed, you can control her all the way from where she's held captive to beat up Dracula all by herself and her pets (which is a case for most people anyway, since she's stronger and faster than Ricther.)
Chun Li. Oh my, Chun Li. The first Action Girl in fighting game history simply can't be less. Followed by Cammy White, "Rainbow" Mika Nanakawa, Sakura Kasugano, Karin Kanzuki, Elena, Ibuki, Maki Genryusai, Makoto, Rose, Ingrid...
In regards to non-fighting female charas, Yun's Hot-Blooded "non-girlfriend" Houmei is this; considering how calm she is when around her, her little sister Shaomei might count too. Eliza Masters can be considered to be an Older and Wiser version: we don't see a lot of her but she's almost always smiling and patient, and the mere fact that she's Happily Married to a dude who's very often fighting out there implies that she's got quite the patience.
While a number of BlazBlue girls qualify for this in some shape or form, Makoto Nanaya clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest. If she can stand to rebuild a positive outlook on life in the wake of a lifetime of wall-to-wall Fantastic Racism, you're going to need some heavy ordinance to break her down - physical injury, financial woes, mind games, a trip through the Boundary, and YuukiTerumi'smentalpenis don't work.
Kairi from Kingdom Hearts. She was prepared to take on Saixunarmed at one point, and Axel commented on her guts.
Quite a lot of the female characters from the Soul Series. Nearly every female character who has ever appeared in a Soul game is either this trope, or an Ice Queen. Cassandra, Xianghua and Talim are this big time, Sophitia and Seung Mina were this in their earliest incarnations but grew out of it to eventually become othertropes, and in the most recent game Soul Calibur V, Pyrrha (specially when she manages to pull herself together after years of Break the Cutie), Yan Leixia (who runs away to both refuse an Arranged Marriage and to seek for adventure) and Natsu (Taki's pupil and one of Leixia's travel partners).
In Tears To Tiara 2 we have Charis. The little girl around seven or eight years of age right smack in the middle of a war, has to abandon her home, and witness destruction, atrocities, and quite a number of monsters. And she never gives up and never stops being cheerful. At Eburon Hamil is about to charge suicidally into the Imperial ranks for a chance to takeIzebelwith him, before Tart points out to him Charis is going to follow him on his suicide charge, all cheerful and smiles. He stops himself to not get her killed.
The sisters Nakoruru and Rimururu from Samurai Shodown, as well as Cham-Cham.
Emi Ibarazaki from Katawa Shoujo, a young woman who lost her legs and her father in an horrifying accident, but around a year later she had already relearned to walk, and is the star of Yamaku High's track team. Once you pursue her route, though, it's a Deconstructed Trope. Emi knows that loss of a relationship is normal, and it is best to be strong and move on. However, at the same time, the same stubbornness that enables her to deal with her issues prevents Emi from growing close to anyone because she is afraid that the pain of loss will prevent her from moving onto the future. This prevents anyone from helping her when she does need it.
Nothing gets Hiyoko Tousaka down for long. Not even being unintentionally killed by her best friend/love interest and then cut up into pieces by a mad doctor keeps her from taking an active role in the plot and helping Ryouta when he needs it the most.
She did know. She was not in the least afraid. She was depending on a rattlesnake to live up to his share of the contract and rattle in time for her to move. The one characteristic an Irishman admires in a woman, above all others, is courage. Freckles worshiped anew.
From New Vindicators, there's Kirstie Arnett, also known as Parabola. While her Neo-Sapien powers can be useful, and she's not entirely helpless in a hand to hand fight, she's not quite an Action Girl and relies more on strength of character.
Princess Ilana in Sym-Bionic Titan. She's fairly cheerful, something of a Granola Girl and passionate about school-related activities. Although she is shown to worry about the state of the people on her planet.
Tinker Bell is portrayed as this in the Disney Fairies franchise. In her original film she was more of a Yandere, though she still showed traces of this when she fearlessly took a a bomb away from Peter and almost sacrificed herself to help him.
LaToya Jackson. She was in an abusive relationship for a decade and then suffered the loss of her brother. Yet when you watch her in interviews, she's the happiest she has ever been.
US Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug. In the Atlanta Olympic Games she gave the performance of her life, anchoring team USA — forever after nicknamed "The Magnificent Seven" — to its first-ever team gold medal. But the Americans' last rotation, vault, was a disaster. No gymnast — not even the fabled Shannon Miller — had managed to "stick the landing", and every step was another chip in their lead. Then disaster struck — Dominique Moceanu sat down her vault. Twice. Last to go, everything rested on Kerri — who sat down her first vault, severely spraining her ankle in an injury that normally renders someone unable to walk. But not Kerri, who stood up, shook it off, limped back to the start of the runway, and vaulted again. This time, she stuck it — on one foot — and ensured that team USA would indeed win gold. Then she crumpled to the mat in agony, and had to be carried by her coach to the podium so she could stand with the rest of her team.