Follow TV Tropes


Asian and Nerdy

Go To
Grant Imahara, MythBuster and Patron Saint of this trope, with a typical creation.

"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 East Asian character in western media who isn't a martial artist or a gangster will be highly intelligent and/or unusually geeky. 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, 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). For this reason, this character is all but guaranteed to have an Education Mama.


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.

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, though it's possible for these two tropes to overlap. For the South Asian subtrope, see Bollywood Nerd. For related tropes, see Nerd, Jewish and Nerdy, and Black and Nerdy.



    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

  • 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 assumption of this trope is how the eight other people sitting around him also failed math.

    Comic Books 
  • Sharri Barrnett, the Filipino programmer in Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool.
  • Ryan Choi, who takes up Ray Palmer's mantle as The Atom, and also works at the same university.
  • Tan and Patel, Spot's tech-support colleagues in iZombie, are heavy examples.
  • Amadeus Cho of the Marvel Universe, who is one of the smartest people in the world.
  • Nicco Cho from the Judd Winnick run of Power Girl. He is an expert hacker and invented a pair of nanotech devices disguised as earrings that allow him to communicate directly with Power Girl while she is in the field and see what she sees. They have also been used to actively scan her opponents for weaknesses.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Big Hero 6:
    • Hiro Hamada and his brother Tadashi, who are half-Japanese and both robotics prodigies.
    • Gogo is Korean and also a skilled mechanical engineer.
  • Over the Moon: Fei Fei is at the top of her class and also manages to build a functioning rocket all on her own.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle:
    • Harold.
    • 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. Jackie returns in the sequel, this time as the team engineer for Mitsubishi and paired up with driver Richard Kiel.
  • 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 Birder's Guide to Everything.
  • The 2009 live-action Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins Continuity Reboot has cast a Japanese-American actress as Velma. However despite being a Race Lift this isn't noted at all, and furthermore, when she's in the Velma costume, you wouldn't know she's Asian.
  • 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.
  • Deconstructed in Better Luck Tomorrow. The protagonists are all high-achieving Asian American teens, who use their goody-two-shoes appearance to get away with a number of crimes, while they secretly live a wild party lifestyle. This rebellion is a response to the pressure of the role they're expected to play as top students- as the protagonist puts it
    Ben: I enjoyed doing things I couldn't put on my college application.
  • Ellie in The Half of It is introverted, has excellent grades, wears huge glasses, plays the guitar and keyboard, and writes essays as a side hustle.

  • Aversion: Claudia Kishi of The Baby-Sitters Club: artsy but terrible in all her other subjects. Her sister definitely qualifies, though.
  • Fear Street: Phoebe is Japanese-American and probably the third or fourth smartest student in her class, although she's also a cheerleader.
  • Matt Scudder's occasional hacker-for-hire Jimmy Hong.
  • Cheater/Dennis Woo of Hidden Talents.
  • In The Hunger Games, everyone in District 3 is implied to be Asian. While the books don't specify the races of many characters (which is justified, as the setting is a dystopian America After the End, so the racial definitions of modern society aren't the same), Beetee and Wiress from from District 3 are described as having black hair, ashen skin, and small builds, traits which are common for the rest of their District. (The Catching Fire movie averted this by making the former black and the latter white—Beetee even gets the black-sounding surname of Latier.)
  • Averted and defied In-Universe by Elijah The Golden Feather, who complains about people who think he's "smart" because of this trope when in reality his grades are pretty mediocre.
  • Jenny from The Cornersville Trace Mythos.
  • Stacey Chen from Val McDermid's Tony Hill books.
  • Noah Giancoli in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.
  • Twoflower in the Discworld books is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of this, as well as a Japanese Tourist.
  • Janine Cho from Miracle Creek was practically ignored as a child so her parents could focus on her brother, their firstborn son. She rebelled by throwing herself into her studies, eventually becoming a doctor, while her brother dropped out of college to become an actor. She laughs at the irony: her rebellion against Korean gender stereotypes led her right into the white American stereotype of brilliant, overachieving Asians.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Never Have I Ever: Devi is Indian, gets top grades, and even plays the harp.
  • 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, Barbara, 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. Barbara also counts as Jewish and Nerdy.
  • 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 is the team's shy, nerdy tech person.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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, and James Holzhauer, a 32-day champion who held the sixteen highest one-day scores by the time he was defeated.
  • 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”.
  • Wang from Space: Above and Beyond is an unusual variant of this: he's specifically a baseball nerd. In one episode his parents send him a piece of sod from Yankee Stadium, and he's able to guess which part of the field it comes from by the smell.
  • Zach from School of Rock though downplayed. He gets good grades and has very strict parents who dislike their son's interest in rock, preferring him to study classical music.
  • Doctor Kitasato in Charite, though the trait isn't too pronounced seeing as all the non-Asian scientists and doctors in the series are, of course, just as nerdy.
  • Averted on Bones for the most part. Angela is half Chinese and a gifted computer tech person, but she avoids the nerd stereotypes. She’s outgoing, confident,flirty and embraces her sexuality.


  • Sean Liu-Ogden in Peter Fenton’s Abandon All Hope initially comes off as a straight (even exaggerated) example being an engineering major at an Ivy League school after having been Valedictorian and National Honors Society President in high school, but the archetype is deconstructed as it’s revealed Sean put all the pressure on himself to be successful in these areas to differentiate himself from his parents, who are an A-List Actress and Director. He resents that the only Ivy he could get into was the school his father went to.

    Video Games 
  • Jenny from MySims 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.
  • Ling-Ling Johnson from Guilty Party is The Smart Guy in a group that's already pretty clever, and in addition to being a cracking good Kid Detective, she's a Gadgeteer Genius who designed portable lie detectors.
  • Jung Park in Rainbow Six: Vegas is a South Korean electronics specialist. He carries the radio, does all the hacking and can recognize a Farraday Cage from thirty paces. He's also a former member of the South Korean 707th-- also known as the "White Tigers"--and is a crack shot with his G36C.
  • Yoko Suzuki, a former Umbrella researcher from Resident Evil: Outbreak.
  • Hannah, Nikhil, and Jake from Yearning: A Gay Story are all Asian (albeit of different nationalities: Hannah is Chinese, Nikhil is Indian, and Jake is Thai) computer science students who excel at classes and geek out over board games. Hannah in particular is said to have parents who expect her to get straight As and takes on a triple major in mathematics and Japanese in the epilogue.
  • Subverted in Disco Elysium, where Kim Kitsuragi is stereotyped as being a nerd due to his Seolite ancestry and dependence on Nerd Glasses, and is assigned demeaning, geeky jobs by his employers (such as working with children, or assuming he will be good at playing pinball as it was invented in Seol). However, he is perfectly elegant and cool in a way your player character will never achieve. During his debriefing of your player character at the end of the first day, the player character's internal monologue might start fanboying over how cool Kim is, and may even ask him how he got to be that way, or even realise it's something Kim cultivated to protect himself from this stereotype. He does have some nerdy interests - in particular, he loves playing civilisation-building board games and gets excited when the player starts popping out play tokens - but his need to counter this stereotype forces him to act a little defensive about this side of himself. If the player is playing a Dumb Muscle Harry, they will also have the option to call Kim a "bino" (a nerd), which Kim mostly ignores.

    Web Animation 
  • Vivi Yukino from Mystery Skulls Animated is a Japanese horror and mystery enthusiast that works in a store that deals exclusively in horror themed novels and comic books and leads her own Scooby-Doo esque group of paranormal investigators.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Kim and Kam Chin from Class of 3000— but mostly Kam, who is more bookish and reserved than his twin sister.
  • Toshi, one of Steve's friends in American Dad!, is a highly intelligent Asian. Who speaks 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 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's technically half-Asian.
  • Kin Kujira from Grojband is the band's Smart Guy and a Gadgeteer Genius, although his kooky personality means that he more frequently leans into being a Ditzy Genius. Subverted by his twin brother Kon, who is more of a Genius Ditz.
  • Gravity Falls has Mabel's friend Candy Chiu, a dorky Korean girl who wears glasses and, in the episode "Roadside Attraction", displays some Awesomeness by Analysis when helping her friends escape from a monster.
  • Futurama:
    • "A Big Piece Of Garbage". Professor Wernstrom 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).
    • Amy Wong, though she's often shown to be dense and clumsy. She seems to be more of a Genius Ditz than a straight-up Asian Airhead, and she's introduced early on as a graduate student in applied physics and an intern working for Professor Farnsworth . now that she's finally got her doctorate degree. In "That Darn Katz!", her research even managed to both doom and save the Earth!
  • Phoebe Heyerdahl from Hey Arnold!. Technically she's half-Asian, because her mother's white while her father's Japanese.
  • 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 while his (apparently later retconned) little sister Olga is shown to be more of a ballet prodigy than an academic 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.
  • Yung Lee from Mike Tyson Mysteries.
  • Sheldon Lee from My Life as a Teenage Robot a Gadgeteer Genius who has a crush on the main character partly because she's a robot.
  • Many war time cartoons like Tokio Jokio, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips and The Ducktators depict the Japanese as pathetic small wimps with glasses.
  • Blkmrkt, the 11-year-old Playful Hacker from Major Lazer.
  • Chloe Park from We Bare Bears, a little girl of Korean descent who's already attending college. Though her unusual intelligence is attributed to being a Child Prodigy who was just smart enough to be able to skip middle and high school, rather than her Asian ethnicity.
  • Macie from As Told by Ginger is half-Asian and fits in a non-typical way. She's not presented as particularly studious or smart, instead she is an unpopular, neurotic Band Geek.
  • Love from Kuu Kuu Harajuku.
  • Family Guy pokes fun at this trope often, such as when Peter tried using an elementary-age Asian boy as a calculator for a math test.
  • The main characters of Lou and Lou: Safety Patrol, Lou and Louise, are of Asian descent, know a lot about safety, and aren't shy about sharing their knowledge with those in need of it.
  • Downplayed with Trixie from The Fairly Oddparents. She is predominantly an Asian Airhead, but she's also been shown to be a comics and superhero fangirl in "The Boy That Would Be Queen".
  • Tatsu from DC Super Hero Girls just moved from Japan. She's an academic and athletic Ace, only just barely bested by Diana Prince (AKA Wonder Woman).
  • Amphibia has Marcy Wu, a dorky teenage girl who, while rather scatterbrained, is also extremely smart and her time in Newtopia molded her into a formidable warrior.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • Many games that Eastern players dominate are Eastern-developed, and naturally are either released in Asian countries before anywhere else or remain exclusive to those countries, or are Mobile Phone Gamesnote , resulting in a skill gap between Eastern and Western players and the stereotype that being Asian automatically makes one proficient at video games.
    • 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. The game is also very popular in South Korea and Taiwan.
  • Jessica Lee, whose yearbook quote was "Fluorine 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. note 
  • Asian cultures (East or South) place a higher importance on education than 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.
  • Invoked by 2020 US Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, the American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants:
    "I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump because I am his opposite, and the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!"


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: