Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
"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.
open/close all folders
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.
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.
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."
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).
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.
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 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.
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:
Chang: 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!
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
Jenny from My Sims has an Asian appearance. Her Interests are Geeky and Studious. More specifically, she "is president of five science fiction clubs, seven video game clans, and a prolific fan fiction author."
Mei Ling from the Metal Gear series is a Chinese-American data analyst going to MIT at the time Metal Gear Solid game takes place.
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!
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.
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.
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 then knowledge and intelligence at times. That is the essential difference which can blind side those unfamiliar of what Asian values are.