A snap opinion poll showed the centrist candidate was seen as the most convincing among the five top contenders in a marathon televised debate on Monday after clashing on immigration and Europe with Le Pen.
Macron, the 39-year-old former economy minister who is untested at the ballot box, had the most to lose in his first major debate - and the first ever of the main candidates before the first round of voting - but he held his ground.
Macron boosted the view he would win France's presidency over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen who has run on an anti-euro message.
Millions of voters are still undecided after five years of unpopular Socialist rule under Francois Hollande, marked by high unemployment, low growth and a spate of jihadist attacks that has killed over 230 people.
Later in the debate, Front National leader Ms Le Pen mocked Mr Macron, saying his comments were "completely empty".
"(Le Pen's) visit can be explained by a tacit support of the favourite candidate of the presidential elections and the continuity of France's African policy, which undermines the hope of the African youth and consolidates dictatorships in place", Halata said earlier this week.
The Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, took issue with Le Pen's claim that public schools were racked with violence, calling her remarks "nauseating".
The markets have been nervous about the possibility of a Le Pen victory as she has pledged to take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on European Union membership.
While polls show that Le Pen would finish in the top two at the first round on April 23, they also show that she would be handily beaten in the May 7 runoff by either Macron or Fillon.
For the run-off, the polls predicted Macron would comfortably beat Le Pen.
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Le Pen's main challenge was to appear credible on economic policy, but she stressed security and immigration issues.
Le Pen retorted: "That's called Project Fear, Mr Fillon".
But the scandal, which has dominated the campaign for weeks, occupied relatively little time in the debate.
One thing that's been interesting to watch is Francois Fillon.
The Quotidien TV show said on Monday that Le Roux had paid a combined total of 55,000 euros ($59,455) between 2009 and 2016 to his two daughters as parliamentary assistants during summer vacations, starting from when they were 15 and 16.
Macron, a former investment banker, came under criticism for private donations made to his campaign when Hamon suggested he could fall under the influence of lobbies in the pharmaceutical, banking or oil industry. "I pledge to be controlled by no one", he said.
Emmanuel Macron really went into this debate very much untested.
Macron was relatively unknown before he introduced a series of reforms during his time as the economy minister in 2015, which chipped away at the "French social model", of the 35-hour workweek.
Known as a passionate advocate of France who wants to follow Britain out of the EU, Le Pen vowed that she will not become "the vice chancellor of Madame Merkel" or "the salesperson for a multinational group".