"I became a comedian because I was the only Asian in my high school... that failed math."
— Dat Phan, Vietnamese stand-up comedian.
Pretty much any South or East Asian character in western media who isn't a martial artist or a gangster will be highly intelligent or unusually geeky...if not both. If done clearly and more on the intelligent side than geeky, this will be an exaggeration of the Brainy Brunette
The polar opposite
of this, becoming more common in recent years, is the Asian Airhead
— an almost Always Female
character archetype centering on an Asian girl who is gorgeous, popular, thoroughly Americanized and dumb as a brick
The reasoning behind this stereotype is that most Asian cultures regard education and smarts as very important things
. Children are expected to study very hard to obtain good grades and get into good schools. This also means that "nerdiness" is viewed more positively in these cultures (as evidence of studying hard, rather than too hard as it is usually perceived in American popular culture).
The possible Trope Codifier
was Japanese leader Hideki Tojo, who wore glasses and had an overbite like so many stereotypical nerds, and was portrayed as very
nerdy in World War II
Allied propaganda. In fact, you could argue that the classic Nerd archetype is a combination of how Jewish people (supposedly) talk with how Japanese people (supposedly) look.
See also Bollywood Nerd
and Jewish and Nerdy
. The Other Wiki
has an article on the "model minority
" stereotype from which this trope is derived. Contrast All Asians Know Martial Arts
, as most Asian and Nerdy characters lack the athletic ability for martial arts. For related tropes, see Nerd
and Black and Nerdy
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Anime and Manga
- As anime and manga are Asian-dominated mediums, their Asian characters are likely to be less stereotypical than those found in West-dominated media. They'll still have nerdy characters, but they will be mixed in with more non-nerdy Asian characters.
- Axis Powers Hetalia, although its anthropomorphic characters are based on National Stereotypes. The Asian nations who fit this trope are Im Yong Soo/South Korea (said to love gaming and the Internet) and Kiku Honda/Japan (shown to be a Teen Genius / Gadgeteer Genius and something of an Otaku), and even then it isn't the main focus of their characters; Korea is best known as a Know-Nothing Know-It-All Annoying Younger Sibling with his gaming interest mentioned only on his profile. Japan's nerdy qualities are only brought up now and then. (However, in High School A.U. Fanfiction, Japan is typically portrayed as one of the most intelligent students in his class by fans.)
- Their sister Taiwan is a less obvious example, but apparently she's an anime fan and she cosplays in the 2011 and 2013 Halloween events.
- Reversed, possibly consciously, in Black Lagoon: the central team's techie is the only white member.
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle:
- Subverted by Cindy Kim and her East Asian Club. They appear to be straight-laced nerds, but turn out to be drug-using party animals.
- Bruce (Masi Oka's character) in the 2008 Get Smart movie. Of course, he was flanked by two geeky white men: Lloyd and Max himself. Also, in the direct-to-video spin off Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control, Bruce is apparently more successful with the ladies than Lloyd.
- Data from The Goonies is this in full 80's glory.
- The 1981 film The Cannonball Run featured a pair of racers of indeterminate Asian origin (one of whom was played by Jackie Chan!). Their car is a 1980-81 Subaru hatchback modified to a James Bond-esque gizmo-mobile which even turns into a submersible at one point. The humor is pretty gentle for 1981, although their high-speed, unsubtitled dialogue and exaggerated facial expressions are definitely unfortunate. Something of a Reverse Funny Aneurysm considering Subaru's later rallying success. The only thing missing is that the movie car is black instead of blue-and-yellow.
- Sixteen Candles. Long Duk Dong - though it's subverted by the time the film is over, as he's gone into Full Wacky Pseudo-Stoner Mode.
- Also, Lau in The Dark Knight was hired by the mobs to launder their money because he was "good at calculations". This, with a few other examples above, grates on the nerves of Shirt Guy Dom. In particular, he was an accountant who lived in a country where he couldn't really be touched by the US. Still fits this trope, but it's justified.
- The "Asian Nerds" in Mean Girls. Averted by the "Cool Asians."
- Takashi in the first Revenge of the Nerds.
- Lawrence in School of Rock "I can't be in the band! I'm not cool enough!"
- Doctor Matsumoto in Robot Jox.
- Subverted in 21 and Over. At first, we're led to believe that Jeff Chang is a straight-A student who tutors people in science. We later find out that he's on the verge of failing out of college and is being tutored in science.
- The Green Hornet Serials. This incarnation of Kato is a scientist and inventor. In one episode, Britt asks Kato to examine the superweapon they just retrieved from the crooks to see how it works. In another, when Britt needs to check on a scientist, his first idea is to send Kato over to talk inventions (and Kato's delighted to do so).
- Due to his ancestry, Keanu Reeves frequently plays with this trope, being (for example) a "jock" in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and a "nerd" in The Matrix.
- The early John Cusack comedy Better Off Dead combined this with Jewish and Nerdy by having an Asian immigrant learn English by watching ABC's Wide World of Sports, and thus talk constantly in Howard Cosell's distinctive nasal voice.
- Peter, one of David's friends and fellow birders in A Birders Guide To Everything.
Live Action TV
- John Cho's character Henry on Selfie is the more grown-up, non academic version of this trope, being an intelligent Workaholic who is good at his job and almost obsessed with it.
- Hiro in Heroes. It helps that he's played by Masi Oka, who's a genuine article geek.
- Cody's nerdy Asian girlfriend from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She even takes A.P. lunch. She's also extremely competitive, as during one episode whenever Cody one-upped her she stomped on his foot. It only worked once, the next time she hurt herself because he was wearing steel-toed boots.
- This was double subverted in the weirdest way possible in Degrassi Junior High, where Yick Yu, a dorky bespectacled Asian kid, had to work extra hard in class to break the stereotype (that apparently exists in the Degrassi world) of Asians as dimwitted jocks. Uh, what?
- Originally to be played straight, but the actor complained.
- Grant Imahara of Mythbusters.
- Grant plays up to this stereotype. He builds robots for fun and in the jailhouse rope episode had pi on his "prisoner" outfit as a "prisoner number". At least he's not a stereotypical bespectacled dork; he's very handsome (see picture above). When they tested lie detectors, Grant was asked if he had ever thought of building a robot girlfriend. He said "no", and the machine flagged it as a lie.
- He tweeted a photo of himself dressed as Spock, and played Sulu in the fan series Star Trek Continues.
- When he was inducted into the 501st Legion (think Civil War reenactors, only with Stormtroopers) he attended his ceremony dressed as the Tenth Doctor.
- Toshiko Sato in Torchwood.
- The 2009 live-action Scooby Doo Continuity Reboot has cast a Japanese-American actress as Velma. However there was no effort to change the character into an Asian, and furthermore, when she's in the Velma costume, you wouldn't know she's Asian.◊
- While she's thoroughly Americanized and acts like an Asian Airhead, Zoe from the short lived Knight Rider 2008 series speaks 9 languages and is a genius at computers.
- Evelyn Kwong from Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide is the smartest person at James K. Polk besides Cookie, leading to a lot of competition. She subverts a lot of the accompanying tropes that go with this though, she's competitive, rude, loud, mean and a sometimes Stalker with a Crush.
- Vince Masuka of Dexter. However, he subverts some of the stereotypes by showing interest in and, occasionally, success with women.
- And by not being very Asian, except in appearance.
- The Amazing Race prefers to cast this type of Asian team. They generally speak Chinese, too.
- Lt. Tao of The Closer is probably second only to Imahara in how incredibly this trope he is on contemporary TV.
- Averted in the Disney Channel movie Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. Wendy herself averts this trope, but because of the film's title falls into the stereotype of martial artist. Her brother, however, averts both stereotypes as a popular and somewhat dim jock.
- In Community, the school's Math Club appears to be comprised solely of this trope, as lampshaded when Jeff and Chang are pinned down by them during a paintball tournament:
Relax. I have a plan. [louder]
Hey, Math Club! I'm Asian! Are you guys Asian? Math Club Member:
... That's pretty racist, dude. Chang:
That wasn't a no! I'm coming over!
- Played with in regards to Trini in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers as she is shown to be a good student though the biggest nerd in the group is Billy - she was his Translator Buddy early in the series. She's more like a combination of Billy and Valley Girl Kimberly.
- Paul in The Nine Lives of Chloe King
- Glenn from both iterations of the The Walking Dead is a subversion, possibly a slight Deconstruction of most of the older Asian stereotypes. Before the outbreak, he was very far from the innocent, quietly nerdy Asian archetype. In fact, he never spoke to his parents, and was so far in debt from college and other purposes, he had to resort to car theft with his friends, and various low-paying jobs such as pizza delivery to make ends meet. After the outbreak, he quickly becomes the Guile Hero of his survivor group, as a comparatively rational thinker with a preference for sneaking around the walkers.
- Dr Chi Park, third-generation team member on House, is an over-achieving meganekko. In a twist of events, she's asked resident Chick Magnet Robert Chase out on a date, and he's said yes.
- In the short-lived Some of My Best Friends, Camp Gay Vern attempts to fix a broken TV. Another character dubiously asks if he can really fix it, and he responds, "Hello! I'm Asian!" Turns out he has no clue.
- Kevin Tran in Supernatural. In his first episode, he's introduced playing the cello in his bedroom (which is filled with honors and awards). When his phone starts ringing, he doesn't pick up until a timed alarm on his computer tells him practice time is over, at which point he starts talking to his nearly-as-nerdy girlfriend. Then he gets hit by a celestial lightning bolt and appointed translator of the Word of God. Of all the things to happen on exam day...
- Suki from Tower Prep. Justified in that the series takes place at a school for the gifted.
- Alex from Kid Nation.
- Andy in Nowhere Boys. The character was created by Tony Ayres, who himself has an Asian background. It consequently has a realistic portrayal of a kid from a Singaporean migrant family, rather than a shallow stereotype.
- Scott Fuller from From Dusk Till Dawn was adopted from China. He’s also fluent in Elvish and uses ''Frack'' as a swear word.
- Kelly Miyahara, a member of Jeopardy's "Clue Crew", a set of assistants who present video clues at times. Also contestant Arthur Chu, an 11-day champion on the show who quickly became notorious for his unorthodox playing style.
- Firewire in Zoey 101. The rest of his clique is white though.
- When asked if he could hack a computer, Sgt. Wu on Grimm said, "Please, I'm Asian!"
- Dr. Seth Park on Open Heart. He makes a makes a level-up joke when London delivers him a patient’s urine sample and sarcastically says “mission complete”.
- I Love Bees has nerdy medical student Hiroyuki, roommate of the Middle Eastern and Nerdy protagonist Kamal.
- Asok the Intern in Dilbert. Scott Adams has said that if he keeps getting complaints about stereotyping, he'll make Asok a drug dealer.
- The sibling pair of Phoebe and Eugene in Foxtrot.
- Chinese stand-up comedian Joe Wong, with his slight frame, wire-rimmed glasses and strong accent reinforcing his background as a chemical engineer who graduated from two universities in China before furthering his studies at Rice University in Texas and is never afraid to portray himself as a Funny Foreigner in his routines. Some of his material deals with the perception of all Asians as this trope.
- Vietnamese-American comedian Dat Phan, as evidenced by the page quote.
- The entire point of the song 'Nobody's Asian in the movies' by Maurissa Tancharoen from the Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog musical commentary, Commentary! The Musical. The song ends with "I'm gonna go play with my violin and... math!"
- Possibly a jokey jab at the lead actress of Dr Horrible, Felicia Day, who is not Asian but was a violin performance/math double major.
- One article from The Onion interviewed a pair of Asian students who, due to lazy and stupid behavior, were praised for breaking stereotypes.
- Generator (Jade Sinclair) of the Whateley Universe is the Crazy Awesome variant of this. She once invented real, working shoulder angels. The campus nearly didn't survive.
- Kim and Kam from Class of 3000.
- Toshi, one of Steve's friends in American Dad!, is a highly intelligent Asian. Who talks in Japanese all the time and wants to kill, humiliate or mutilate Steve, usually.
- Averted by Jerk Jock Vince Chung, who is "so cool that you forget he's Asian."
- Averted in Danny Phantom, where the most visible Asian student is a friendly, but dimwitted jock.
- Same in The Spectacular Spider Man, with Kenny "King" Kong.
- This is a Race Lift. In the Ultimate Universe (he doesn't exist in the main Marvel verse) Kong is Caucasian.
- The Chang Triplets from The Proud Family.
- Averted in W.I.T.C.H. with Hay Lin, who is an artist and a bit of a scatterbrain. But also shown with nerd of the team being Taranee who is half-Asian.
- Averted in 6teen with the character of Nikki Wong, who, while certainly not stupid, is somewhat lazy, and also happens to be a Snark Knight.
- Kin Kujira from Grojband
- Candy Chiu on Gravity Falls, oh so much!
- Futurama: "A Big Piece Of Garbage". Professor Wernstrum requests a group of interns, and that most of them be Chinese. Likely because it makes him look smarter (or so it has been suggested by tie-in comics) Subverted by Amy Wong and family, who are either dense or clumsy, or both.
- Though Amy seems to be more of a Genius Ditz than a straight-up Asian Airhead, now that she's finally got her degree. Her research even managed to doom and save the Earth!
- Phoebe Heyerdahl from Hey Arnold!.
- Tom Chan in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and to a lesser extent his brother Alan.
- There's a minor character in South Park named Kevin Stoley. He's a Chinese-American and is quite a Star Wars nerd. Barely more than a Living Prop, we don't know his intellect though.
- There's also the rather weird fact that other than explicitly saying he's Chinese-American, nothing else implies this, including surname or appearance. It's not like South Park is usually subtle with this sort of thing...
- Mandark from Dexter's Laboratory is stated to be half-Japanese. His mother, Oceanbird, subverts the trope and his little sister Olga is shown to be more of a ballet prodigy.
- Kevin's friend George Bang from Mission Hill
- Ace Nakamura, the resident tech-whiz and linguistics nerd on Pelswick.
- Lee Ping, the main character of Detentionaire, is a downplayed example. He gets good grades and used to be on the Mathletes team, but it rarely affects the plot and he uses more Street Smarts and intuition than anything to help him get out of messes. He acts and looks almost nothing like a stereotypical nerd and apparently only joined the Mathletes in the first place because his mom made him do it. Mrs. Ping is, incidentally, a math teacher at his school, and is probably at least in part responsible for his good grades.
- Yung Lee from Mike Tyson Mysteries.
- One of India's biggest exports is IT graduates. Who then become parents who accept no less than A's from their children so then they can compete with other IT graduates.
- Frequently an Enforced Trope (albeit unintentionally), as 80% of the scholarships for Asians are for those wishing to become doctors, lawyers, or scientists. The 20% of scholarships for ANY other field are taken so quickly that some people think all Asian scholarships are for those three fields.
- Because of this stereotype, discrimination against Asians is very prevalent in higher education as they are thought of as taking up enrollment slots since they are too smart for others to compete. Infamously, statistics have shown that Ivy League schools in the US have implicitly capped the percentage of Asian enrollment - the reverse of affirmative action practices for blacks and Hispanics. Maclean's magazine in Canada had their "Too Asian?" article which received major backlash across the country for reporting that Asians take away university culture from white students because they are overly focused on their studies. This is part of a wider Double Standard in which a white person's success will be attributed to a strong work ethic while similar successes coming from an Asian person will be attributed to them being overworked in some way (e.g. the Education Mama, an oppressive state training regime, an "overachiever" personality).
- There are also less scholarships tailored specifically for Asians because of the belief that they'll go to college whether they have a scholarship or not.
- South Koreans, Japanese and more recently Chinese and Taiwanese are often assumed to be at least one step higher on the competitive gaming ladder than any Western gamer. The common explanation is that they apply their traditional determination, dedication and competitive nature to videogames as well as (or in lieu of) Real Life. As with other generalizations, however, the truth of this belief varies from person to person.
- On the flip side, the general social trends of Eastern cultures which emphasize the group over the individual tends to result in typically more successful groups. In the space of modern genres like the MMO, this attitude can prove fairly dominating.
- Dr. David Oh, flight director of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, has to stay on Mars time (24h40min days) for the job. So his entire family went on Mars time and his son is keeping a blog about it.
- One of the roots of East Asia's Education Mama culture was the Chinese Imperial Examination, an extremely difficult test to obtain a prestigious and well-paid government position. Only five percent of test-takers passed - those that did, though, pretty much lifted his entire family to the upper class.
- Japan tends to be extremely fond of the Game of Nerds. Individual people vary, of course, but as a whole the nation is surprisingly into the Western sport.
- Miss Jessica Lee, whose yearbook quote was "Flourine uranium carbon potassium bismuth technetium helium sulfur germanium thulium oxygen neon yttrium." Look up the chemical symbols for each of those to see what she was trying to say.
- Asian cultures (East or South) place a higher importance on education then what most non-Asian Americans are used to seeing; American school culture can push individuality and creativity more than knowledge and intelligence at times. That is the essential difference which can blind side those unfamiliar of what Asian values are.