[[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."''
-->-- '''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 [[WizardOfOz cowardly lion route]]).

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". [[YouWouldntLikeMeWhenImAngry Still...]]

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]]
* FaceOfAThug \\
Because GoodIsImpotent in fiction, they are likely to be this.
* FakeUltimateHero\\
If they are supposed to be a mighty hero.
** BigBadWannabe\\
...or a formidable villain.
* 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.
** SmallNameBigEgo
[[/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 [[spoiler: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, including finding both of their wanted posters and then immediately dismissing them as fakes.
** Another example would be the fake Straw Hats, who talk a good game while nobody spotted the ruse, but who fall apart even faster than the (rather powerful) crews they'd hoodwinked when push comes to shove. Luffy uses Conqueror's Haki to knock them all out once, and then the fake Luffy gets knocked out, exposing the ruse. Especially those [[BuriedAlive left to the tender mercies of]] [[AxCrazy Caribou]].
* In the English Funimation dub for [[Manga/DragonBall Dragon Ball Z]], Majin Buu calls Vegito exactly this during their fight. He is very much mistaken though.
* Raijuta Isurugi from ''{{Rurouni Kenshin}}'' 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.

[[/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:Besides, that toe they cut off? It belonged to one of the nihilists' girlfriend.]]
* ''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 ''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.

[[/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: Live Action TV ]]

* Osten Taylor from ''Series/{{Survivor}}: 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.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Newspaper Comics ]]

* Parodied 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: Tabletop RPG ]]

* ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'' supplement ''Acute Paranoia'', adventure "The Harder They Clone". The doorman at a nightclub looks like a character in ''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: Video Games ]]

* 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.
** Part of this can be attributed to the prejudice Loghain faces from being a former commoner. While his RagsToRiches story has made him popular with the people, his fellow nobles actively despise both him and his daughter. It doesn't help that his main political ally is ''Howe'', a despicable noble simply in it for a power grab, who's openly disliked by everyone. The fact that they plot the destruction of [[BigGood the Cousland household]] at the start killed any chance of them being able to sway others to their side.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Web Comics ]]

* 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?

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* 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 ''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.
** [[spoiler:Season 4 ''might'' have subverted this. Though friendly enough to the ones he's not guarding, he was the one thing keeping Lord Tirek, the worst and most dangerous villain to appear yet, from escaping Tartarus.]]

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