So, it will be Le Pen vs. Macron in the May run-offs:
Mr Macron won 23.7%, while Ms Le Pen won 21.7%, French TV says.
The two saw off a strong challenge from centre-right François Fillon and the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, according to the projections.
The pair now face a run-off vote on 7 May.
Whoever wins the next round, the voting marks a shift away from the leftist and centre-right parties that have long dominated French politics.
Ms Le Pen leads the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant National Front party. She has attempted to soften the party’s tone and brought big gains in the 2015 regional elections.
Mr Macron served as economy minister under current President Francois Hollande. Despite his relative inexperience – he has never served as an MP – polls see him defeating Ms Le Pen in the second round.
He is also likely to attract support from the political establishment – soon after polls closed Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged all democrats to vote for him, Reuters news agency reports.
In other projections:
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose popularity surged on the back of strong debate performances, is tipped to win around 19.5% of the vote
- François Fillon, whose campaign was rocked by corruption allegations, is on the same mark
- Benoit Hamon of President Hollande’s Socialist party lags far behind on 6%