[[quoteright:223:[[TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/paper_tiger_1985.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:223:But it still loses to the [[RockPaperScissors Scissor Lizard]].]]

->''"In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of; it is a [[TropeNamer paper tiger]]. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain."''
-->-- '''UsefulNotes/MaoZedong'''

Subtrope of MoreThanMeetsTheEye. A character is not as tough as their physical appearance and/or personality suggests. Basically the opposite of HiddenBadass (though they ''can'' go the route of the CowardlyLion or the CorneredRattlesnake).

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of a Chinese phrase, meaning something that seems as threatening as a tiger, but is really harmless. This Chinese colloquialism is similar to the English phrase "its bark is worse than its bite".

The phrase is an ancient one in Chinese culture, but sources differ as to when it entered the English vocabulary. It is found translated to English as early as 1836, in a work by John Francis Davis.

!!This usually falls under the following subtropes:

[[index]]
* BigBadWannabe\\
Not the evil overlord they seem to be.
* DirtyCoward\\
Acts imposing but is shown to be a coward when confronted.
* FaceOfAThug \\
Because GoodIsImpotent in fiction, they are likely to be this.
* FakeUltimateHero\\
If they are supposed to be a mighty hero.
* FakeUltimateMook \\
If they are in a video game, then they're probably one of these. The AnticlimaxBoss is likely to be this as well.
* FauxActionGirl\\
If they are a woman with a reputation as a fighter, but none of the skills to back it up.
* MilesGloriosus\\
If they brag about being a badass but prove to be a coward when faced with real danger.
[[/index]]

Compare with FeetOfClay, which is when they purposely claim to be more Badass then they are, Contrast this to BadassOnPaper, where the character isn't very impressive in person but actually performed all the impressive feats that are the basis for his or her reputation, MuggingTheMonster for the complete opposite (finding that a weak looking individual is much more dangerous than they seem) and TheWorfEffect, as it seems that this applies to the Worf him/herself in context, whereas TheWorfEffect refers to the over-arching phenomenon of "stock 'tough' character handed ass by tougher one."
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!!Other examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime]]
* ''Manga/OnePiece'':
** Bellamy the Hyena bullies other pirates on the island of Jaya and has spring-based powers with enough concussive force to destroy buildings. Protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and his first mate Roronoa Zoro let themselves get beat up by Bellamy, under the idea that he has not wronged them. [[MuggingTheMonster Once he does]], however, Luffy challenges him, and Bellamy gets stopped cold with [[OneHitKO a single punch]]. While Bellamy was strong, Luffy and Zoro were way out of his league, and he ignored all evidence to the contrary. This includes finding both Luffy and Zoro's wanted posters, and then immediately dismissing them as fakes, despite the fact that their bounties were both much higher than his own.
** The fake Straw Hats, who talk a good game while nobody spotted the ruse, but they fall apart even faster than the crews they'd hoodwinked when push comes to shove. Luffy uses Conqueror's Haki to knock the fake Straw Hats out all at once, and then the fake Luffy gets knocked out later, exposing the ruse.
* ''Manga/DragonBall''
** In the English Funimation dub, Majin Buu calls Vegito exactly this during their fight. He is very much mistaken though.
** Zigzags with Hercule Satan. For an [[{{Muggle}} ordinary human]], he is quite powerful and would have been a contender in the original ''Dragon Ball''. However, [[CantCatchUp he is horribly weak compared to the monsters]] in ''Z''. That doesn't stop him from boasting about his strength and challenging the likes of Cell and Buu, both beings so powerful that they can kill him without even looking at him. Hercule is also dismissive of the previous champion, Goku, calling him a paper tiger more or less. Still, Hercule has [[CowardlyLion the heart of a true hero, if nothing else]].
** In the original ''Manga/{{Dragonball}}'', Oolong is this in his first appearance. He uses his transformation magic to intimidate people, but as he himself notes using transformation magic to become a powerful monster doesn't give you the ''abilities'' of that monster.
** Zoonama pulled the same trick in ''Anime/DragonballGT'', intimidating a nearby town by claiming he could cause earthquakes, when in reality he only had the ability to ''predict'' them.
* Raijuta Isurugi from ''Manga/RurouniKenshin'' boasts all the time about his skills at kenjutsu, and how it should always be a murderous technique. In the end, he's revealed to be a phony SoreLoser who never actually killed someone.
* The Military Police Brigade in ''Manga/AttackOnTitan'' only accept the top ten recruits of each trainee class so their members are inherently the best and brightest the military has to offer. But their tendency to neglect their training and serious duties has left them the least capable branch and Jean noted when [[spoiler:on a mission to save the captured Eren, its members are easily devoured]]. In comparison, the Survey Corps and the Garrison are more experienced and prepared to fight Titans.
* ''{{VideoGame/Medabots}}'' features Banisher. Looks badass, sounds badass, decked out with cool weapons, and in general gives off an ImplacableMan vibe. Too bad his weapons and tactics are [[CripplingOverspecialization expressly designed]] for ''counter''attacks only, not to mention his armor being next too useless. In their first battle, Metabee ends up taking him down with ''a single shot'', as Banisher had to wait for Metabee to make the first move and didn't expect him have such a strong gun.
* In ''Anime/GundamBuildFightersTry'', the Gundam Tryon 3, a Double Zeta Gundam made up to be like a Super Robot, was declared this by its first opponent in the Gunpla Battle Nationals. It easily proved it ''wasn't''.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The Seven-Faced Widow in ''ComicBook/BigTroubleInLittleChina'' is a PhonyPsychic who turns out to have very little power at all, certainly far less than people believe. She has managed to kill or drive mad numerous opponents in her time, but only because they were all too scared to challenge her directly, instead steering clear so she could manipulate and destroy them from afar. When Jack does challenge her directly she proves unable to accomplish much of anything at all.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Fan Fiction]]
* In ''[[http://www.tthfanfic.org/Story-24680-5/Semet+A+White+Knight+in+Bayville.htm A White Knight in Bayville]]'', [[WesternAnimation/XMenEvolution Mystique]] turns into "The Thing with Teeth" while fighting [[Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer Xander]]. But while it's great for scaring her minions, Xander is an experienced demon hunter and punches her in it's weak point, causing Mystique to collapse in pain.
* While facing several Naruto-like creatures ([[YourWorstNightmare born of a genjutsu bringing people's worst fears to life]]) in ''[[https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3665921/48/Black-Flames-Dance-In-The-Wind-Rise-of-Naruto Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto]]'', Naruto's female clone Akiko outright calls them Paper Tigers once she realizes that since they're born of civilians fear of Naruto (know nothing of what he's capable of), said creatures simply fight like drunken civilians.
* Lex Luthor uses this trope by name in ''[[https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6438802/21/A-Spark-of-Genius A Spark of Genius]]'' when describing the new superpower Romania, claiming it's leader The Leviathan won't act against Krasnia just for knocking down some of it's defensive towers. He's wrong (Romania conquers Krasnia within an hour of their attack) but he was also likely just trying to pacify the rebels he was dealing with.
* In Fanfic/PokemonResetBloodlines The Sensational Sisters' strongest team is actually extremely weak due to months of inactivity. Despite containing the likes of Cloyster, Poliwrath, and Kingdra, Ash considers it more of a challenging second gym battle than an eighth gym battle like it's supposed to be
* ''Literature/AmericasStepbrotherAmericasEnemyTwoPointZero'': Despite being one of the most terrifying totalitarian regimes in all fiction, Oceania is reduced to a ridiculous pushover when faced with the UsefulNotes/YanksWithTanks circa 2014. As the ForeverWar between the three superstates is just a song-and-dance routine meant to waste resources, fought by poorly armed and poorly motivated conscripts backed up by cumbersome SchizoTech vehicles, and ZergRush is the only tactic the Oceanian leadership seem capable of using, even though time and time again [[CurbStompBattle they just die in droves at minimal cost to their American opponents]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:{{Film}} - Live Action]]
* The nihilists in ''Film/TheBigLebowski''. Despite them appearing dangerous, threatening to [[GroinAttack cut off the Dude's "johnson"]] and cutting off a toe, they're completely useless in an actual fight, with Walter taking out all three of them effortlessly. [[spoiler:They never even performed any of the ruthless crimes they claimed]].
* ''Film/TheWizardOfOz'' (1939). When the Cowardly Lion first appears he acts in an aggressive manner, charging the group and challenging them to a fight. When he tries to attack Toto, Dorothy smacks him on the nose and he starts crying. Granted, the Cowardly Lion also turns out to be a CrouchingMoronHiddenBadass later on.
* In ''Film/TheNakedGun'', one of the members of the council of evil calls America "a paper tiger."
* Eponymous ''Film/PaperTiger'' where the boastful British private tutor Ray Bradbury [[spoiler:loses his cool and is ultimately, extremely humiliated but finally redeems himself in the eyes of his student Koichi Kagoyama when, faced with immense danger that would cripple anyone with fear, his innate courage begins to shine to his own disbelief]].
* In ''Film/MrSmithGoesToWashington'', the press corps call Jefferson Smith a "paper tiger" to his face, telling him that he was only appointed to fill a seat in the Senate and vote the way Senator Payne wants him to, which chafes the idealistic young senator.
* ''Film/TheShawshankRedemption'': Byron Hadley, is an abusive prison guard who beats a helpless, terrified inmate to death. [[spoiler: However, when he was dragged off to prison for his crimes, he apparently broke down and cried]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film - Animation]]
* From ''WesternAnimation/JimmyNeutronBoyGenius'', Nick Dean. He's the ultimate cool dude, the girls all dig him, and he's supposed to be tough. His part of the plan is to take care of the BigBad while the others rescue their parents. One look at [[{{Kaiju}} his competition]], though, and he {{screams like a little girl}}.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:LiveActionTV]]
* ''Series/{{Survivor}}'':
** Osten Taylor from ''Pearl Islands'' was a buff bodybuilder who had absolutely no idea how to rough it out in nature, almost drowned in a challenge, became convinced that a ''pelican'' was out to get him, and ended up being the first contestant to quit ''Survivor''.
** Crystal Cox in ''Gabon'', the six-foot-three Olympic gold medalist who had one of ''the'' single worst athletic performances in the series, culminating in her missing a slam dunk on a basketball hoop that's shorter than she is.
* NBC’s ''Series/{{One World}}'': ex-delinquent Jane ended up feeling this way. Normally strong, tough, streetwise, with a smart mouth, a camping trip with their guardian and the other girls brought out a side of her she never really expected: being terrified of puny little creatures and ''insects'' of the woods.
* ''Series/TheUltimateFighter'': Occasionally a fighter will look very formidable in the gym, or at least talk a good game, only for him to completely underperform during his fight.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:NewspaperComics]]
* Parodied/discussed in ''ComicStrip/CalvinAndHobbes''. Calvin comes across the term in a book he's reading for homework and asks his tiger Hobbes what the definition is. [[KnownothingKnowItAll Hobbes responds that]] it's a tiger with a newspaper route, much like a paperboy. One BeatPanel later:
-->'''Calvin:''' ''"...This book makes no sense at all."''
[[/folder]]

[[folder:TabletopRPG]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'' supplement ''Acute Paranoia'', adventure "The Harder They Clone". The doorman at a nightclub looks like a character in ''Film/TheRoadWarrior'': huge, black leather tunic, rippling muscles, and scars. It turns out the {{PC}}s can easily kill him since he's unarmed and unarmored.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:VideoGames]]
* Drakath from ''VideoGame/DragonFable'' looks and sounds tough, with a cool cape, neat sword, and quickly established rivalry with the player character. After an introduction fight, he proceeds to spend the rest of the story arc [[ButtMonkey constantly being embarrassed, outwitted, terrified, and handily defeated.]] Even his boss [[BigBad Sepulchure]] regularly screws with him. [[spoiler: Does a 180 and becomes a KnightOfCerebus after fusing with the Ultimate Orb and becoming a giant dragon of darkness.]]
* From ''VideoGame/TalesOfMonkeyIsland'', Bugeye is a bald, tattooed pirate who disrespects the main character and generally talks tough. But once you need to get information out of him, you find that the slightest bit of pressure will make him squeal.
* Sir Prancelot of Scufflewick from ''VideoGame/{{Drakensang}}'': he wears a full plate armor, has a cool winged helmet and wields a large two-handed sword. He's also a complete wimp [[SmallNameBigEgo who won't admit his failures]] and runs away from ''goblins''.
* In ''VideoGame/AceCombat3Electrosphere'', UPEO itself is regarded as one of these, especially highlighted in the mission "Paper Tiger". To further push the point, their planes are obsolete hand-me-downs from both [[MegaCorp General Resource and Neucom]], which are the only things making them anywhere near a relevant military force that can keep the two corporations in check.
* The Nali of ''VideoGame/{{Unreal}}'' are 7 feet tall, have four arms, and are quite muscular. They are also completely incapable of fighting and get easily destroyed by anything that attacks them.
* The [[SmallNameBigEgo Batarian Hegemony]] in ''Franchise/MassEffect'' is said to be this. They're a rogue state that's essentially Space North Korea, and the only way they can effectively war with anyone is hiring terrorists and pirates to launch proxy attacks on human colonies, which caused the Skyllian Blitz and the Battle of Torfan. Though in the past they annexed an independent asari colony and shelled a salarian planet, by the time ''VideoGame/MassEffect3'' rolls around they're the first race to be [[CurbStompBattle curb-stomped by the Reapers]], though considering it's ''[[EldritchAbomination the Reapers]]'' it goes without saying.
* It's pretty clear [[BigBadWannabe Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir]] in ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins'' is not the political powerhouse he might portray himself as. Highever is openly rioting against him, Redcliffe and nearly the entire Bannorn is warring against him, and according to Bodahn, the Darkspawn burn down Gwaren, his own fief, leaving him with Denerim under his military occupation and Amaranthine, which ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOriginsAwakening'' reveals was increasingly divided because of what Arl Howe did. Actually losing to him at the Landsmeet pretty much requires the Warden to actively avoid the political sidequests, or for them to go out of their way to be a jerk to people they're trying to win over.
* Behemoths in ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyXIII'' look threatening when first encountered, with their large size and 20,000 hit points. They turn out to be easy to stagger, and it is also easy to perform sneak attacks on them.
''VideoGame/TalesOfVesperia'' (PS3) has a skit where Flynn is cooking, and when they rely on Estelle to change cooking duty to her, she gives out a shout of determination that she won't let everyone down... only when she approaches Flynn, he tells her that the food will be ready. Estelle does nothing but nods as she weakly steps away from him.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Visual Novels]]
* ''VisualNovel/{{Danganronpa}} 2'' has Gundam Tanaka, the self-proclaimed "Overlord of Ice", who grandiosely threatens anyone who mocks him...and that's all he does. He's not even a BigBadWannabe, because he does absolutely nothing villainous [[spoiler:until the fourth chapter, and even then the other characters doubt his actions were maliciously motivated]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:WebComics]]
* In ''Webcomic/{{Minion}}'', Count Antonie's [[OurVampiresAreDifferent vampiric]] powers make it nigh-impossible to kill him...but merely beating him up is dead easy.
* ''ComicBook/BuckGodotZapGunForHire'' had [[http://www.airshipentertainment.com/buckcomic.php?date=20080327 this]]:
--> '''Buck''': Amazing what a rep lets you get away with, eh?
* King of ''WebComic/OnePunchMan'' fame. In addition to inadvertently taking credit for the actions of the protagonist (meaning people think he can kill giant monsters with one punch), his always stoic expression and RuggedScar make him so intimidating that not even the S-ranked heroes dare to get on his bad side. But really he's just a weak and cowardly {{Otaku}}.
* ''Webcomic/TheSanityCircus'': Steven is one of a race seemingly created to combat the Scarecrows, and after the skill shown by Luther already it seems that he is just as talented himself. He certainly has no trouble painting himself as the best thing under the Sun. However, when he finally comes face-to-face with Posey, he freezes on the spot before turning and running for his life, abandoning Fletch and Attley.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
* Played for laughs in ''WebAnimation/OneMinuteMelee'' where {{Joke Character}}s Hercule[=/=]Mr. Satan from ''Anime/DragonBallZ'' and Dan Hibiki from ''Franchise/StreetFighter'' get into a confrontation. Both are unsure if they could take the other guy, but both also don't want to have to back down and have their reputation destroyed. The result is two paper tigers egging each other on and trying to outbluff each other until they have no choice but to fight it out. [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYqigle1AyU Enjoy]].
* Interestingly, when the aforementioned two meet in ''WebVideo/DeathBattle'', this is one of the deciding factors in determining a victor. [[spoiler: Despite both men being way out of their league in their respective canons, Mr. Satan can actually back up his talk as he's strong enough to pull three buses, punch through the side of one and tear a phone book in half in addition to being a legitimate World Tournament Champion. Dan, however, cannot back up his talk as all of his attacks are pathetically weak and his one canonical win -- against Sagat -- was done out of ''pity'' to prevent him for continuing his suicidal RoaringRampageOfRevenge.]]
* In ''WebAnimation/DragonBallZAbridged'', when Vegeta and Freeza start fighting, the latter scoffs at the former's power, claiming that it was "a paper tiger against a storm".
[[/folder]]

[[folder:WesternAnimation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'', Hakoda tries to pick a fight with a tough-looking prison inmate by shoving him, but instead of fighting back the inmate says "that hurt my feelings!" Averted a few minutes later when someone starts a prison riot, causing that same inmate to scream, "Forget controlling my anger!" and rushes out to fight with everybody else.
* Dave from ''WesternAnimation/DaveTheBarbarian''. As the ThemeSong states, he's "huge, but a wimp".
* ''WesternAnimation/JohnnyBravo''. He's a pretty muscular-looking guy but he's always getting beaten up by the women he flirts with. Which is especially weird considering in the very first episode he was able to successfully wrestle A CROCODILE!
* Tiger in ''WesternAnimation/SkunkFu''. Formerly a powerful warrior, after losing to Dragon, he's become a cowering wimp.
* Cerberus from ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' (Yes, ''[[{{Hellhound}} that]]'' Cerberus). True he's a fierce three-headed monster ''quite literally from Tartarus'' that's the size of the average house, but all it takes to tame him is a belly rub and a friendly game of fetch.
* Major Man from ''WesternAnimation/ThePowerpuffGirls''. He's hugely muscular and has all the standard superpowers, but is reduced to a quivering wreck when put against a real threat and has to create fake ones.
* ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'': Bart develops a crush on his new next door neighbor Laura Powers. However, she instead falls for [[AllGirlsWantBadBoys the bully Jimbo Jones]]. Bart sends a knife-wielding Moe Syzslak after Jimbo, who tearfully begs for his life, prompting Laura to break up with him, having exposed himself as a weakling.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:RealLife]]
* Various "sports cars" released through the years are often sporty only in appearance, being mated to underpowered engines and awful chassis dynamics. The Pontiac Fiero is a prime example, with exotic and stylish bodywork reminiscent of an American Ferrari, but TheEighties smog regulation made it slow as molasses and it used the same suspension setup from GM's land yachts. It became the base for hundreds of kit cars to make it look like an actual Ferrari or other exotics, but more often than not leaves the mechanics completely unchanged. On the plus side, it's just as realistically "reliable" as a Ferrari [[TheAllegedCar thanks to the car's notorious reliability issues]] such as [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrari_458#Wheel-arch_adhesive_fires spontaneously bursting into flames]].
* In order to survive, many animals make themselves to be much more fearsome then they actually are. Many butterflies have eyespots on their wings to deter would-be predators (such as songbirds). Another example is the King Snake, which has a red, black and yellow pattern that's similar to the high venomous Coral Snake, but the King Snake itself is harmless to people. There's even a saying that goes with this: "Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, you're okay, jack." [[DontTryThisAtHome Please be aware that this phrase]] ''[[DontTryThisAtHome only]]'' [[DontTryThisAtHome applies to species native the US]]. In Central and South America, the different coral and king snake species are ''much'' harder to tell apart.
[[/folder]]
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