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Muscles Are Meaningless

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"The strength of the flesh is as nothing. Shall I... demonstrate?"
Inner-Moka Akashiya, Rosario + Vampire

In Real Life, a person's physique, if not their physical size, is generally a dependable indicator of their physical strength. Muscle strength (force applied in Newtons) is proportional to the 'physiological cross-sectional area' (PCSA) or the total number of fascicles of the muscle.note  All things being equal, more muscle translates to more strength.

In fiction, all bets are off. Muscles? Who needs 'em?

The Pintsized Powerhouse is able to physically outperform heavily-muscled guys ten times his size and is more than capable of sending them flying with a single punch, physics be damned. A thin, wiry character may have no difficulty lifting or punching way above their weight class. This is generally done to show just how badass they really are. Usually lampshaded by Super-Strength, and often more dubiously by a Charles Atlas Superpower. Alternatively, The Big Guy may not be very strong at all, but usually his strength is simply dwarfed in comparison. The Big Guy being physically dominated is usually a Giant Mook or similarly unimportant character. Generally, when it comes to important Big Guys, Muscles Are Meaningful.

Weaker characters beating the stronger characters is often a demonstration of the fact that skill and other factors can trump strength in a fight, which is Truth in Television to a certain degree, but their methods have nothing to do with this trope.

There are several related tropes:

  • Mind over Matter. A psychic uses telekinesis to augment his own physical strength.
  • Inner Power. It's a common spiritual idea that inner strength equates physical strength. This is often used as a justification in universes where the spirit is the true source of a character's strength. This is famously known as qi (or ch'i) in Chinese gongfu (kung fu) philosophy.
  • Weak, but Skilled. The weaker character is more powerful because of superior technique. This can work as a believable justification until people start shattering mountains and punching out giant monsters.
  • Bishōnen + Beauty Equals Goodness. You can't have your Pretty Boy hero grow huge muscles without risking certain death at the hands of the Fan Girls ... and some of the Fanboys.
  • Crossing the Bishōnen Line: A character with multiple forms may get more beastly and muscular, only to suddenly take on a form where they're less heavily built, sometimes losing quite a lot of muscle in the process. Don't take these forms for granted, since they're often still strong enough to punch you across the room.
  • Super-Strength. Characters may have big muscles in comic books to denote being super strong, but elsewhere this is often an exception. Sometimes even in comic books. In general, a "super strong" character with an average or only moderately buff physique will easily beat down even the most burly "normal".
  • Rule of Cool
  • Fake Muscles
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon. Muscles on women tend to be seen as unattractive and most creators care more about making their female characters attractive than their male ones. Hence women who can bench-press cars won't even be as cut as a typical athlete, let alone have the muscle mass that'd actually be necessary to perform that feat. Though even men with Super-Strength are more likely to have a swimmer's build than a Hulk-like physiquenote , let alone the kind of large barrel-chested build real-life power lifters have (which hardly resembles what a body builder has).
  • Pretty Princess Powerhouse. The "pretty" part goes hand-in-hand with No Guy Wants an Amazon above. The "powerhouse" doesn't always refer to brute strength, but when it does, it often fits here.
  • Glass Cannon: A more realistic take on this trope. A character may have insane offensive skills due to their strength and maybe speed/agility/reflex, but their lack of muscle doesn't favor the character defensively once hit.
  • Supernatural Ancestry: The character might not have an ounce of muscle on them, but they can trace their family tree to otherworldly or even divine origins, thus explaining their absurd strength.

Note that this trope is specifically about instances in which the person with the seemingly weaker body possesses more actual strength than a heavily muscled opponent. This does not include characters who only win because of other characteristics that make them superior to their enemies, like speed or weapon proficiency. It's a common occurrence in Fighting Games that a speedy character is considered superior to the Mighty Glacier due to their speed and ability to perform Combos, but they only fit here if they are not only faster, but their attacks actually pack more of a punch as well.

Contrast Stout Strength, where the character has the muscle, he just has fat on top of it as well, and Muscles Are Meaningful, where the muscles DO make a difference. When it appears on comic book heroes, it is always a case of Heroic Build. Compare and contrast Clark Kent Outfit, when a character looks meek... until he takes his shirt off, and it's revealed that he has abs of steel.

See also: Bishōnen Line, Cute Bruiser, Little Miss Badass, and Amazonian Beauty for specific character design examples. May overlap with The Gift, Hard Work Hardly Works, and Waif-Fu. See Monstrosity Equals Weakness for when this, and the other side of it, is the case across the board.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Batman himself is experienced and Genre Savvy enough to be fully aware of this, even remarking on it when the situation calls for it. Once, when he hiding in the shadows and preparing to take down a drug dealer, he glanced at the man's two bodyguards and immediately dismissed them.
      Batman: Big guys. They've packed on a lot of muscle. Absolutely meaningless unless they've got fighting skills to go with it. Judging by the fact that they have callouses on their palms, from lifting weights, and none on their knuckles from practicing strikes, I don't think these two have spent any time learning how to throw a punch.
    • The first three Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake) were drawn as skinny teenage boys who could still fight the crime of Gotham as effectively as Batman himself. As they grew older, they gained more muscular builds, though not to the extent that Batman and Superman are usually drawn as having. Only Damian plays this trope straight being a small child capable of killing a grown man with a finger.
    • Depending on the Writer, The Joker is a beanpole who can go toe to toe with trained ninja martial artist-Batman. Sometimes, the Joker even draws strength from pain.
    • Cassandra Cain is noted as being far stronger (and faster) than even a highly athletic girl her size should be. This is mostly down to her martial arts training. She very rarely lets loose, but when she does she is fully capable of punching a recently-zombified Joey N'Bobo in half, kicking through brick walls, shattering three-inch-thick glass, and throwing around 8-foot tall metahumans.
    • Fellow Batgirls Barbara Gordon and Stephanie Brown are also usually very skinny but can keep up with males Bat-Family members easily.
  • Black Widow is a slim woman who is often dwarfed by her male peers yet thanks to a Super Serum can snap a man's neck with one kick and once ripped off a lizard man's tail and swung it around. In a similar vein, Mockingbird is a slim lady who thanks to some enhancements can dent steel with her bare hands.
  • Superman:
    • Averted with Power Girl, who is often drawn with a bodybuilder's level of muscularity.
    • This trope is so common that, when Supergirl returned in 2004, her solo book's writers were easily able to tease the fan base with the idea that the slender 16-year-old girl might be stronger than her fully-grown, powerfully built cousin Superman.
    • In her first solo book Kara met a bunch of guys who were larger than her. Neither of them could move planets (which she did back in the Bronze Age).
    • In Supergirl: Being Super Kara's friend Jen is taller and brawnier. However, Kara can bench press vehicles.
    • At some point during The Killers of Krypton, an alien tries to bully Supergirl. He is twice as tall as her, his arms are twice as thick as hers, and he is easily taken down anyway.
    • In the Escape from the Phantom Zone crossover, one of the minions of the Big Bad Xa-Du is a muscle-bound giant who absolutely dwarfs Supergirl and Batgirl. They knock him out with two punches (keep in mind Supergirl was depowered at the time).
    • This applies to Kryptonian children, too—see, for example, Superman's foster-son Chris in Last Son.
    • The third Superboy, Jonathan Samuel Kent, is a fairly normal-looking ten-year-old. Being Kryptonian, he casually tosses aside Olympic-level athletes like Robin and regularly takes on super strong villains. During the Black Dawn arc, his inhibitors were undone by Manchester Black, making him powerful enough to stagger Superman himself.
  • Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel/Captain Marvel while reasonably buff under the pen of some artists is generally smaller than She-Hulk. Nevertheless, Carol can toss meteorite around, lift trains and even punch over the hulking Thanos. Justified in later comics as its revealed Carol is a Half-Human Hybrid with her mother being a Kree.
    • Carol’s foes and evil counterparts such as Doctor Minerva and Moonstone just as incredibly strong despite being just as petite.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • In Planet Hulk, Hulk's wife Caiera is a slim alien woman (smaller than both Green and Red She-Hulks) yet thanks to the Old Power she can enough channel super strength to lift well over 100 tons match her husband in strength.
    • Hulk himself dips into this in Immortal Hulk as he one point gets his muscles taken away by Absorbing Man and loses barely a margin of his strength. At another point, he’s changed back into Bruce Banner but has Joe Fixit (Grey Hulk)’s persona and is still strong enough to overpower Psycho for Hire Bushwhacker. Although it’s still made clear he is far stronger with his Hulk-physique.
  • She-Hulk: Zig-zagged with She-Hulk. Much like Wonder Woman or Power Girl whether she’s skinny, Amazonian Beauty or monstrously muscular is entirely Depending on the Artist, but the most recognisably iconic version of her is the fourth wall breaking green supermodel who can lift well over 100 tons and match her cousin and Thor in strength. The Avengers (Jason Aaron) averted this by making a Jen a ogress for a good while, though she eventually went back to her skinnier look.
  • Batman: Crimson Mist: Though now little more than a walking skeleton, the now-vampiric Batman is nonetheless strong enough to easily overpower Killer Croc and nearly kill him.
  • Similar to the Immortal Hulk example The Juggernaut was at one point literally had all his skin and internal organs removed by the Evil Sorcerer D'Spayre but to the latter’s horror Jugs still kept kicking his ass even as a giant red skeleton because nothing stops The Juggernaut.
  • Fawcett's (and later DC's) character Captain Marvel Jr. looks about 12 and has a spindly physique, but thanks to the Shazam! powers is one of the world's strongest heroes. Artist Mike Raboy used to draw young Mr. Freeman as a Dickensian waif — he based his appearance on Freddie Bartholomew — whichever form he was in.
  • Zig-zagged with Ghost Rider as Depending on the Artist it’s just his head that’s a flaming skull while his body is drawn to be buff. Other artists play this straight Ghost Rider is a walking skeleton with demonic super strength who can go toe to toe with Hulk and Thor.
  • Spider-Man possesses incredible strength but also has a thin physique that earned him the nickname "Puny Parker". When Peter is shirtless or in the skin-tight Spider-Man outfit he's typically drawn as having a decent physique, just one more befitting a gymnast or runner rather than the bulk of someone with a lot of upper body strength. Captain America, for example, has much larger arm and chest muscles despite Spider-Man being several times stronger. Stan Lee was even asked in a letter, why none of Peter's classmates could see how muscular he is. Lee replied that if Peter's peers felt his arms they would understand how strong he is; the Clark Kent Outfit is in effect for Peter. One of Flash Thompson's friends actually feels Peter's bicep and then tries to warn Flash before he fights Peter in a boxing match, but Flash just laughs it off. To his cost. It also Depending on the Artist, as the likes of Mark Bagely and Sara Pichelli draw Spidey super skinny while others such as Todd McFarlane and Ryan Ottley draw him as reasonably buff.
    • Carnage is as lean as Spider-Man and tiny compared to Venom yet he’s far stronger than both of them being able to toss them around like beach balls.
    • Norman Osborn is usually depicted as a skinny middle-aged businessman, yet he can match the super strong Spidey blow for blow thanks to the Goblin Serum. Although artists usually have him be well built when he’s in the Green Goblin outfit.
    • Several Spider-Women are incredibly strong despite their supermodel physiques, Jessica Drew in particular can lift 7 tons as well as stagger Spidey and Spider-Gwen can crush cars and villains through brick walls. Subverted with Spider-Girl who explicitly has only half the strength of her father in his prime.
    • Black Cat, generally willowy as any other comic book hottie, thanks getting empowered can lift well over 800 lbs and lift regular people such as MJ off the ground one-handed.
    • During Spider-Island, Pete's then love interest Carlie Cooper got spider powers with everyone else. Though her physique hadn't changed her spider strength is still evident without demonstrating it because her muscles were all rock hard.
  • The Flash much like Spidey is rarely drawn as super muscular which is fitting given his superpower allows to hit hard and go up against gods without needing to be physically strong. Some writers however make Flash out to be a Fragile Speedster to compensate though as popular science explains Flash gathers more mass the faster he goes making him a Lightning Bruiser. This also applies to other Flashes such as Wally West, Bart Allen, and Iris West II who are generally skinny but all super power thanks to the Speed Force.
  • The Mighty Thor:
    • All Asgardians since they’re divine extradimensional beings can lift well over 30 tons no matter how physically fit they are. This means Lady Sif, Amora and Valkyrie (who look no different like slim human women) can match massive monsters and superhuman opponents. Amora herself lampshades this in Secret Wars (1984), stating she could physically crush mere mortals between her fingers, she just doesn’t want get her hands dirty. Though unfortunately for Amora, she made that Badass Boast to She-Hulk who is anything but mere.
    • Loki in contrast to his hunky brother Thor is usually a beanpole. However he’s still a Frost Giant with Asgardian attributes meaning he can lift 50 tons, punch a building over and repeatedly hold his own against his bro even without using magical buffs.
    • Volstagg an obese, boisterous Miles Gloriosus. Nonetheless he can lift well over 50 tons and fight powerful gods and monsters on a regular basis.
    • Dark Elves are generally as lean as most Elves in fiction but still incredibly strong, in particular Malekeith and Lady Wazira (Thor’s Dark Elf lover) are capable of equaling Asgardains. Although some comics depict Malekeith as pretty beefy.
    • Thor himself in Thor: Son of Asgard is a skinny blonde teenager... who can kill a dragon and throw around opponents twice his size.
    • Donald Blake, when he becomes Thor’s Enemy Without in Thor (2021) is able to take on the entire Asgardain army and overpower Beta-Ray Bill, despite being built.. well like a skinny doctor.
  • X-Men tend to zig-zag this, on one hand a lot of the X-Men have Mutant abilities that compensate for lack of physical prowess but then, on the other hand, the Danger Room tends to bulk them right up. As a result, even the physically weaker X-Men (Cyclops, Gambit, etc) can hold their own against aliens, gods, and other heroes.
    • Storm is the first real example of this, though she’s more robust than Jean and barely shy of six feet tall on her calluses Storm is still rather willowy, compared most of her male colleagues. Somehow this doesn’t stop Storm from doing the Bridal Carry to Wolverine and Colossus (who are very heavy) as well as flipping grown men over, trouncing another woman in a Knife Fight and pulling Stonewall out of the water with one arm.
    • Nightcrawler is one of the few male X-Men who isn’t buff in the slightest and yet he can still hoist Calisto above his head one handed and overpower Sabertooth in close quarters combat. Though his Teleport Spam tends to even the playing field.
    • Psylocke: slim supermodel physique, once carried a 90-pound flail with one hand and a baby in the other. Psylocke also once kicked Sabretooth in the gut so hard his feet left the ground. Though it’s clear Psylocke usually prefers using her telekinetic powers over raw melee.
    • Rogue is drawn as an athletic woman, but rarely with muscles anywhere approximating what she can do. Justified in that she stole the strength powers from another hero. Funnily enough, when Rogue uses the powers of Hulk or She-Hulk, her body’s bulks up significantly as well her skin going green.
    • X-23 is one the few people smaller than Wolverine but she’s twice as savage and can kill opponents many times her size and strength.
    • Mystique has gone up against the muscly Wolverine and countless other powerhouses despite being quite willowy. Though it’s strongly implied her Voluntary Shapeshifting can make her stronger.
  • Runaways's Molly Hayes. Or "Princess Powerful". Just do not call her "Bruiser". Her strength appears to be psionic in nature, based on the Battle Aura matching the visual cue of her parents' telepathic abilities.
  • Gamora is drawn with average build for an athletic woman and even She-Hulk at her leanest is buffer than her. Yet she’s incredibly strong and deadly having years Training from Hell from her father Thanos and has cybernetic upgrades to boot.
    • Similarly Nebula and Promixa Midnight while more toned compared to most alien women, are still far stronger and powerful than their builds suggest. Corvus Glaive (Midnight’s husband) has a hunched withered-looking physique yet him and his wife causally fight and overpower the Hulk in Infinity.
  • Violet Paige, the title character of Mother Panic, possesses Super-Strength but has no significant muscle tone.
  • Red Sonja's signature Chainmail Bikini shows off her slim build, but she's canonically stronger than six men and routinely beats heavily-muscled opponents in melee combat.
  • As if Lucky Luke's ridiculous skills with guns weren't enough, he also sends opponents much bigger than himself flying away in fistfights with inexplicably powerful haymakers.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Knuckles and Mighty are both roughly the same size as Sonic (Knuckles is a little shorter) but possess incredible strength. In Mighty's case, he was given super strength by Mammoth Mogul, while Knuckles was experimented on at birth.
  • The Ultimates: Herr Kleiser, an alien disguised as a human, looks like an average toned human man, but he can fight well against Captain America and the Hulk.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • The eponymous character is occasionally drawn with a with a fairly muscular build, but even when depicted with a slender frame is still one of the strongest heroes in the DC Universe, with Superman generally being the only hero who can rival her. Justified as Diana is an Amazon with divine powers
    • This also applies to other primary Amazon characters such as Artemis of the Bana-Migdhall and the Wonder Girls, Donna Troy, Cassie Sandsmark and Yara Flor. However, Artemis has also been drawn as Amazonian Beauty at times, just like Diana.

    Fan Works 
  • Zig-zagged in Amazing Fantasy. The spider bite made the formerly scrawny Izuku ripped and athletic for a fourteen-year-old, quickly outpacing all of his middle school peers in almost every physical activity. But his wiry, acrobatic build is hardly indicative of his ability to carry refrigerators with one hand or bench press ten tons.
  • Fate/Harem Antics: Par for the course with Servants, who all have Super-Strength. For specific examples, Gunner/Oda Nobunaga and Temptress/Elizabeth Bathory are both less than five feet tall and have the bodies of children, but their opponents quickly learn they pack a lot of punch in hand to hand combat and should not be taken lightly.
  • This highlights Sam's power in iFight Crime With Victorious — having her power prevents her from gaining extra muscle mass. Ricky Flame on the other hand can, and exercises regularly to increase his superhuman strength.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku is described as having the physique of a toothpick compared to the hulking Kendo Rappa. Of course, he's Kryptonian. One of his first on-screen feats of strength was kicking a soda can hard enough to accidentally hit All Might on the other side of a city and his classmates fully expect him to be able to stop a moving train. He begins to subvert this when he builds some muscle after training for ten months to get into U.A. At that point, he surprises himself when his love taps hit harder than most other Super-Strength Quirks even when he's actively trying to lose.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Pike Queen Lucy is rather tall and has a slender figure. While enjoying a day at a local indoor pool, a muscular guy tries to hit on her very aggressively, and her response is knocking him to the ground by kicking him in the ankles and throwing him into the pool effortlessly.
  • In Risk It All, Soul-Crushing Strike is able to put out bone-crushing force no matter how strong Ren is. Even when he's Nothing but Skin and Bones, it's able to knock the teeth out of the man who tried to kill him.
  • Zig-zagged with Fu (the Nanabi jinchuriki) in Son of the Sannin. During Part I, she's short and scrawny, yet she exhibits a degree of Super-Strength and Super-Toughness leagues above that of her peers and on par with Kage-level powerhouses like A or Tsunade. While she does develop an Amazonian Beauty physique after the timeskip, it's later revealed to be a side effect of having Chomei sealed inside her for her entire life (similar to how beetles and other bugs in real life are able to lift weights several times above their own).
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: Jasmine has a very feminine (though fit) body. And yet she has the most impressive physical feat seen so far when in her introductory scene she effortlessly drives her foot (through a street with a single stomp without even seeming to be trying to. This and other smaller examples suggest that she has more power in her "girly" muscles than characters with more defined muscles like Duncan or Brick.
  • Lampshaded in White Noise. Weiss doesn't initially believe that the lithe Yang could be a good bodyguard for her. She's muscular but not muscular enough looking. As it turns out, Yang's stronger than she looks.
  • With Strings Attached:
    • Paul absolutely exemplifies this trope. He looks like a skinny normal guy (he lost some weight during his �depression era�), but don't get into a tug of war with him....
    • John qualifies when he's wearing his illusion cloak, which makes him look like his normal skinny Earth self.

  • Sorcery! does this with the Strength Spell, which boosts the spellcaster's strength to more than six times as usual... and turns out to be utterly meaningless in most of the situations it was cast. Trying to use this spell when fighting a flock of flying fish, and the narration states that there are too many fishes for the spell to have any effect, note  while using it on the blob-like Mucalytics will have the book stating the increased strength of the player can't affect the Mucalytic's blob-like muscle mass. What's even worse is that by the time players gain access the Strength Spell (by obtaining Fire Water in the third book), they already have means to other attacking spells, like fireball, thunderbolt, razor edge, speed, and several others which works far better than the strength spell.

  • Qiang Jin Jiu: Shen Zechuan is so thin and frail-looking that people dismiss him as weak and sickly, but he's able to hold his own in a fight with Xiao Chiye, who's considerably taller and more muscular than him.
  • Justified with Titan from Corpies, and most high-end strongmen for that matter. While Titan does look like an oversized bodybuilder, he still appears far weaker than he actually is.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures — Guido is getting the "size doesn't matter in a fight" lecture from a drill sergeant, and muses that this only works if the little guy is very skillful while the big guy is very UN-skillful. He then proceeds to break the arm of the drill instructor, who had been planning to use him as a tackle dummy.
  • In Power of Two (part of the "Fine Structure" series at Things of Interest), it's noted that people who get superpowers don't look any different, and the narrator muses that "We don't even know if you gain anything from working out when you have these abilities".
  • Justified in Codex Alera. Earth crafting explicitly provides strength but not extra mass, allowing skilled Earth Crafters to use weapons far too large and heavy for anyone else to use, although if they lose contact with the ground they lose their strength. Similarly, Air Crafting provides speed without any physical changes, meaning that you can move incredibly fast, but if you actually hit something moving at that speed you're probably going to hurt yourself. One character breaks their own wrist when delivering an Air Crafting boosted slap.
  • Sherlock Holmes is tall and wiry, but he is also extremely strong. After a burly man threatens him in "The Speckled Band" by bending an iron poker, Holmes casually straightens it.
  • Ditto Erast Fandorin. Except that he has the justifying bonus of having been trained in ninjutsu for six years, meaning he can kill pretty much anything with his bare hands while hiding his strength under frail, bishie looks..
  • Redwall: Continuity Drift makes it hard to tell whether the animal characters are supposed to be human-sized, animal-sized, or somewhere in between, but it's pretty clear that animals which are smaller in the real world tend to be at least a little smaller within the canon than animals which are larger in the real world. It seems to be a rule that the small cute animals are the good guys and therefore more likely to win in any given fight. Mice versus rats is okay, but when a squirrel can fight a wolverine to a standstill it looks a tad odd.
    • The size difference between animals appears to have decreased between books. The original had Cluny vs. Matthias and Cluny was far larger, and Constance was even bigger than he was, indicating a roughly accurate size difference that continued through the early books. About halfway through the series or so the difference seems to have changed from a normal person fighting a T. Rex to a smallish person fighting a tiger or something. Actual physical strength doesn't appear to be different except in extreme cases like badgers etc.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Dumbledore, a seemly frail 140-year-old man, could lift 14-year-old Harry off the ground at the end of Goblet of Fire. In similar fashion, Aunty Muriel, a 107-year-old Witch, can swing a chair around and sit down quickly despite needing other people to assist her in walking earlier. Both times Harry marvels at the elderly people's strength. This is justified as Wizards Live Longer and could still be fit long after their prime.
  • Elves and Riders in the Inheritance Cycle are often capable of feats of strength (and speed and magic too) beyond that of most humans, including humans with way bigger muscles. Eragon himself notes this in Brisingr by comparing his muscles to his cousin Roran's much larger muscles.
  • Pippi Longstocking is perhaps the most famous example of this trope in literature. She can lift one of the area's strongest men... when the man is lifting 100-lb weights, and Pippi herself, as the article's image shows, has ridiculously skinny limbs.
    • Her dad has Stout Strength, and when they meet they throw each other up in the air. When they playfully test each other in Pippi Goes on Board they're about even.
  • This trope is also used in the Dragaera novels. Dragaerans average about a foot taller than normal humans (or "Easterners", as they call them) and are stronger in spite of rarely having visibly muscular builds.
  • First played straight in Graceling Realm, as Katsa's extreme talent, flexibility, and speed make her too badass for strength to matter much, but subverted once she meets another Graced fighter, though of course Po's Grace is a bit more complex than that, and realizes her size and relative weakness do disadvantage her.
  • The Doctor, in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures, can easily carry a grown man around, has threatened one of his companions with the fact he could break any bone in said companion's body (he was really stressed out at the time), and once stabbed a guy with his thumb. He's 5'8", "slight", and "bony".
    'Except that it took someone very strong to kill Macleb,' Cage said. 'To me that means a Canvine.'
    The Doctor shook his head. 'Not necessarily.'
    The Doctor turned and looked her dead in the eye. 'Would you say I'm very strong?' he asked.
    This seemed to amuse her. 'Not really.'
    But the Doctor was serious. 'Strange,' he said quietly, 'because I could break you in half as easy as sneeze.'
    There was silence for a moment. Awkward silence.
  • The Seventh Doctor in the Doctor Who New Adventures, while not being as physically active as his older counterpart, is often described as having an uncanny strength, and the grip of a bear, when need be. He's 5'6" and of a small build.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Yoko Akia. She is 4 feet 8 inches (1.46304 metres) tall, she weighs 90 pounds (40.82 kilograms), and just about everything about her is tiny. She can flatten just about anybody bigger, more muscular and weightier than her in a fight and her fellow Sisters and Vigilantes call her "the 90-pound stick of dynamite"! In the book Lethal Justice, Yoko (who supposedly has a brown belt) spars against Harry Wong, who is likely a Bruce Lee Expy, has a black belt, is bigger than her, has more muscle than her, and could supposedly flatten her without difficulty. Instead, the little "porcelain doll" (as Harry described her) ended up pinning him to the ground. Harry afterwards admits to Jack Emery that that was the first time he was ever pinned to the ground!
  • Mistborn: those who can burn pewter gain Super-Strength but no muscle mass. Vin, a 5-foot-nothing skinny girl, can beat the living crap out of several large men at once when burning pewter. Ham theorizes that her lack of bulk allows her to take greater advantage of pewter's dexterity boost, where a muscular build only gets the strength. However, in standard Thugs, the one with more natural muscle is stronger.
  • Stated in The Kingkiller Chronicle with the matriarchal Adem culture of warrior-philosophers. The hero's female mentor states that women are better fighters than men because they are more moral and therefore understand their fighting style better. The hero asks about men's superior reach and strength, which the mentor dismisses as irrelevant. Since Adem are far and away the most skilled warriors in the world, their views are apparently justified.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Loras Tyrell is still a teenager and frequently described as slender and feminine in appearance, yet he's one of the best fighters in the Seven Kingdoms and is seen kicking ass with full plate and battleaxe in one scene. It's worth noting that references to how badass he is generally seem to be in regards to his skill, particularly his swordsmanship, rather than his strength. Larger characters like the Cleganes, Umbers, or (younger) Robert Baratheon have their remarkable size strength referenced far more often.
  • Dorina Basarab (a.k.a. Dory) from Karen Chance's second series describes herself as small and curvy. Vampires often underestimate her because she appears cute and harmless. She is still, however, a 500-year-old dhampyr who can easily tussle with all but the most powerful of vampires and other supernatural creatures. During one of her "berserker rages", two First-level Masters could barely hold her down and are implied to only have managed because one is her father who has incredible mental abilities and hundreds of years of experience in dealing with her. It was revealed in the third book of her series that her "berserker rages" are a result of her extremely old and powerful vampiric blood taking over, as she is normally in human mode.
  • In Those That Wake's sequel, What We Become, once he gains access to the neuropleth the wizened Old Man becomes obscenely strong.
  • The Mortal Instruments has the shadowhunters. Although many of them are quite muscular, they are much stronger than a muscular human could ever be. This is all the more true for werewolves, vampires, and even fairies, who are also much stronger than they look.
  • The titular and iconic Dracula isn’t described as a musclebound powerhouse (like he is in Marvel comics) just an older moustachioed European man. Whose hand grip could by “crush steel” according to Jonathan Harker and later throws a man to the floor so hard he dies, Professor Helsing states Dracula has the strength of twenty men.
  • The demigods in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard are teenagers. With the exception of Frank Zhang, none of them are particularly muscular. Still, they fight monsters and are much stronger, faster, and more resilient than humans. Even Leo Valdez, who is rather weak compared to the other demigods, is still much stronger than a normal person.
  • Tarzan is described more than once by Edgar Rice Burroughs as being muscled "more like Apollo than Hercules". Since Lord Greystoke is also a Lightning Bruiser (as well as a Genius Bruiser), his is a Charles Atlas Superpower resulting from his unusual upbringing and his good genes — really good, as explored in the biography Tarzan Alive by Philip José Farmer.
    • One story that really plays up the contrast between Tarzan's physique and more "normal" strongmen is Tarzan and the City of Gold. Tarzan must battle Phobeg, who is muscled like Hercules, and the strongest man in Cathne (as far as Phobeg's concerned, the world). Phobeg is an experienced warrior, but when he meets the Lord of the Jungle, "he greatly under-estimated the strength of the symmetrical muscles that flowed so smoothly beneath the bronzed hide." Let's let Phobeg tell the outcome: "If a man can pick Phobeg up and toss him around as though he were a baby, Phobeg is willing to be his slave."
  • Justified and lampshaded in Wearing the Cape. "Atlas"-type powers (basically resulting in flying bricks: super-strength, toughness and flight) explicitly do not change the body's shape, leaving the short, slender, female protagonist (Astra) looking like "an underdeveloped teenage Tinkerbell." Many Atlas types wear padded costumes to make them look more impressive. Other breakthrough types do change the body, though.
  • Downplayed in The Faraway Paladin. Will is muscular under his clothes thanks to Blood's training, but his leaner physique doesn't correlate to his raw physical strength that lets him powerbomb a wyvern to death. Lampshaded by Meneldor, who wonders what the hell Will ate as a kid to get so strong. He also notices that muscle mass and strength aren't directly correlated in this world, though this also means that he's not going to get as muscled and impressive-looking as he likes no matter how much he trains.
    Menel: [watching Will train] Same monstrous strength, as usual... You'd never know just by looking at you.
    Will: [annoyed] But I want people to know just by looking at me...
    Menel: People like you though, isn't that enough?
    Will: People long for what they don't have!
  • Zig-Zagging Trope in The Hero Who Returned Remains the Strongest in the Modern World. Daiki's current baseline is already far beyond any normal human thanks to the strength he gained as a hero in another world. As a result, he can easily beat up his old bullies despite retaining his old scrawny physique after deactivating all of his skills. But after using Enhance Physical Ability, his muscles grow considerably into a more proper Heroic Build, multiplying his Super-Strength manifold in the process.
  • Who's the strongest character in Durarara!!? Is it Simon, the huge black Russian sushi tout known to be capable of lifting men his size with one hand? Nope, it's Shizuo the skinny, blonde ex-bartender... a skinny, blonde ex-bartender who can throw vending machines four stories high. This is due to the fact that, beyond lacking the mental limiters most people have to keep them from ripping their body apart via overexertion, most of Shizuo's muscular structure is so dense and compact that most bladed weapons have trouble penetrating it beyond a centimeter.
    • It's stated in the anime that Simon is better than Shizuo in a one-on-one fight. He's the only one who can stop Shizuo's rampages, albeit with some trouble; he does it and comes out with some bruises and a black eye. Shizuo is stated to be better in a street fight, however, due to an advantage in speed and his nigh invulnerability.
      • His body is that awesome because he literally broke every single bone in his body multiple times in his youth, due to the super-strength and Hair-Trigger Temper. After breaking so many times, his bones won't break anymore. On top of that, his pain receptors broke down from overburdening, and he feels no pain. In one of the last episodes, he got shot in the back and in the hip from behind, and thought he slipped in the mud. When he realized what had happened, he got up and walked halfway across Ikebukuro to Shinra's house to have the bullets removed.
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, the physical strength is determined by the level at which the adventurer is. A slender 5 level boy can easily defeat a beefy man at level 2 and is physically stronger than he is.
  • High School D×D largely averts this. Although muscles don't necessarily correlate with power (there's a lot of very dangerous Squishy Wizard types), it does match with physicality. Magic-oriented characters like Rias and Akeno tend to be rather soft and very curvy, the physical fighters like Xenovia and Irina have more fit physiques, and Pint-Sized Powerhouse Glacier Waif Koneko is all wiry muscle with almost no body fat. Issei notes in his narration that all his own training since becoming a Devil (no Hard Work Hardly Works here) has taken him from an average layabout highschooler to rather chiseled, but his more technique-oriented sparring partner Kiba remains noticeably leaner.
  • I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level takes place in an RPG Mechanics 'Verse where one's stats are completely unrelated to one's build. The protagonist is a top-level Witch with the body of a petite seventeen-year-old girl, but can still swing around a full-grown dragon by the tail.
  • In the Cradle Series, one's strength is almost entirely based on one's advancement level. In the first book, Lindon, a tall and broad 15-year-old, is physically weaker than the eight-year-olds he fights and needs a cheat technique to win. Sha Miara is a young girl who's a Monarch, one of the strongest beings on the planet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5's Minbari are stronger then they look. Lennier picks someone up by the throat and holds him with his arm held straight and level and not bracing himself whole calmly explaining that although looking much like a human, he really is an alien.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Buffy is a human magically endowed with demon-like physical strength to balance out the super-strength of demonic opponents. While Buffy herself is tiny, some of her predecessors are physically larger with basically the same power level. Some Wizards did it.
    • Vampires in this series are like that as well.
    • Considering that the super strength of both Slayers and demons is mystically endowed size doesn't matter at all. The strength is clearly not in the muscles.
    • Faith is slightly more physically imposing than Buffy, and her fighting style favors powerful strikes. She still shouldn't be able to hit like a truck without Slayer powers.
    • Also true of Connor. He is very thin and has no noticeable muscles but has enhanced speed and agility, lightning-fast reflexes, and can punch a demon across a parking lot without even trying.
    • J. August Richards said in an Angel commentary that he didn't like having to describe his role in the group as "the muscle" when later in the same episode he's seen shirtless and has no discernible muscles. And his character was a non-powered human, so he doesn't even have the excuse that A Wizard Did It.
    • In general, half-demons appear to be very strong, regardless of how muscular they are. While the Groosalugg has quite visible muscles, it is still much stronger than a human. But Billy Blim, Darrow Steele, and Whistler do not look very strong but are superhumanly strong.
  • In Chuck, a new version of the Intersect computer can upload martial arts skills into a user's brain, giving guys with Geek Physiques the ability to beat up trained soldiers without any change in muscle size.
  • Discussed in Corner Gas when Brent explains to Lacey that arm size doesn't directly translate to arm wrestling victory... well, unless they're Lacey-small.
  • X5-series transgenic supersoldiers in Dark Angel, frequently seen beating the crap out of men twice their size. While Zack is fairly bulky, Max and Alec have roughly the same level of enhanced physical prowess as he does and more slender frames.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is occasionally shown to have this ability. The Fourth Doctor once karate-chopped a brick in half, and the Eighth dented a heavy steel door in the process of knocking it off its hinges. This is because Gallifreyans are optimized to balanced perfection via genetic engineering as an entire race, meaning they are the perfect beings you can be while also being jack-of-all-trades, and fitting in among the other species, most of which are humanoids. Hence they have genetically optimized muscles, which are way more compact than humans have, enabling them to even lift androids made out of different alloys off the floor by their neck, singlehandedly.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: The Flag-Smasher super soldiers received a version of the serum that grants enhanced strength without obvious changes to the user's physique, allowing them to look completely normal until they start tossing foes around like rag dolls.
  • River Tam from Firefly. Physically, she's small and slight, but since she's a genius, has psychic abilities, and was honed to be an assassin at the Alliance Academy, she can kick all kinds of ass without breaking a sweat.
  • In Friends, Monica is noted to be "freakishly strong", despite her size.
  • Game of Thrones: Loras is considered one of the best knights in the Seven Kingdoms, yet his shirtless scene shows that he's slender and not particularly muscular.
  • Heroes: Niki/Jessica Sanders, Knox, Mohinder, and a soldier who was injected with the Super Serum all get Super-Strength.
  • In iCarly, Sam Puckett is apparently strong enough to manhandle anyone she needs to, despite Jennette McCurdy, who plays her, being absolutely tiny. Freddie Benson, after his actor, Nathan Kress, gained a ton of muscle, lost an arm-wrestling match with her, despite it being clear his arm is nearly twice as thick as hers.
  • Kamen Rider Build: Ryuga Banjo is a former pro-boxer and all his fighting skills are based around punching hard. When it doesn't work, he punches harder. The only reason why he can't be described as a sack of bones is that that would take away the only possible description of his brother in arms, Sento Kiryu. Ryuga's lack of visible muscles is even lampshaded in-universe once.
  • Kamen Rider Zi-O: Geiz Myokoin is taller than Ryuga, but still as skinny and definitely shouldn't be able to knock Another Rider down with barehanded punch or lodge a butter (blunt) knife into the wooden counter.
  • In the long-forgotten 1970s live-action Saturday morning comedy series The Kids from C.A.P.E.R., small-statured Bugs was the one with Super-Strength.
    Hey, you're really strong, Bugs!
    Yeah, and would you believe I used to have a weak back?
    When did you ever have a weak back?
    Oh, about a week back.
  • Elliot from Scrubs has "fingers like biceps", and can force a nearly-closed elevator door back open with her pinky finger. J.D. thinks, "Oh no! Elliot has the pinky-strength of a rock-climbing jazz pianist!" She is also shown to have absurdly strong thighs, to the point that she can break lunch trays with them.
  • Star Trek:
    • Vulcans (and their kin, the Romulans and the Remans) are twice as strong as humans — Spock has effortlessly wiped the floor with Kirk at least two times in the series.
    • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data doesn't appear particularly strong on the outside... but, as an android, he's actually one of the strongest beings in Starfleet. His strength is shown initially in "Encounter at Farpoint" when he lifts Wesley with one hand effortlessly. Later, when a Klingon tries to challenge him in their version of arm-wrestling (B'aht Qul), Data wins instantly, at which point the angry Klingon tries to headbutt him and is staggered by the impact. Data points out that his skull is made of the same stuff they use to make starship hulls. Even Borg drones, possessing technology that far exceeds the Federation, are easily defeated by Data in unarmed combat, as seen when an assimilated Picard tries to escape de-assimilation, only for his arm to be easily held in place by Data. Another example is when he find himself stranded on an alien planet, and lifts a large anvil that had fallen on a man with ease. And all of this while also being one of the smartest beings in Starfleet!
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Lynda Carter had the physique of the beauty pageant champion that she was. This didn't stop Wonder Woman from stopping a tank with her bare hands, breaking a boulder in two with one blow, and tossing an entire group of football players across the room at the same time. For starters.
    • As well as Wonder Girl, their mother, Hippolyta, and every Amazon on Paradise Island had the physique of a pin-up girl, yet every one of them could toss a Nazi soldier through the air into a river ("The Feminum Mystique"), lift a car ("The New, Original Wonder Woman"), or easily overpower thugs ("Wonder Woman in Hollywood").

    Myths & Religion 
  • Native American Mythology: In Guatuso mythology, hummingbirds are attributed a huge strength contradictory to its small size. An example is given in the story about how the Gods decided to exile the Sun from this world, and, since there was no one who could take it to the sky they created a hummingbird to take charge of this task.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Professional Wrestling usually averts this trope, but when WWE had The Hurricane, he would often chokeslam wrestlers several times his own size. (The chokeslam normally being reserved for huge wrestlers.) Hey, he is supposed to be a Super Hero, after all. However this was only the case when he was a good guy; when he first entered the WWE as a villain, it was played for laughs.
  • Chris Benoit. Part of his "Silent But Violent" persona was that he was ridiculously strong for his size and able to perform power moves on wrestlers literally twice his size.
  • In one of his books Mick Foley once wrote that when a wrestler had a less than stellar physique, the commentators would often cover for the wrestler's ability to throw guys around by claiming they had exceptional tendon strength. In some cases, such as with Dan "The Beast" Severn, it was true.
  • While it is normal for lightweight wrestlers to be squashed by the big guys there are plenty of cases where the smaller guys (and girls) can get the win against them. This can normally only be done with high flyers who rely on hit-and-run type tactics. ECW's Little Spike Dudley made a career of this as a "Giant-Killer," who would run into the ring, low-blow his opponent and hit the Acid Drop (running-up-turnbuckles bulldog) and pin the big guy in about 15 seconds or so.
  • If you're a muscular WWE Diva then it's not wise to assume the Waif-Fu girls will be an easy win. Just ask Beth Phoenix.
  • Another classic example: Tazz. All of 5'9 in a sport dominated by guys who average 6'5 at least, and without a really heavily significant definition in arms or legs. He did, however, have a build normally associated with lumberjacks. He was known as the "Human Suplex Machine" and was able to fling guys a foot taller and 100+ pounds heavier than him. Like his namesake, he was also prone to yelling at you before dropping you on your head.
  • David Otunga and Wade Barrett actually addressed this in the finale of the first season of NXT. Otunga (who is a bodybuilder) was teasing Barrett (who is a bare-knuckle fighter) about looking a little weak compared to him. Barrett promptly shot back, saying what amounted to, "You train to look pretty, I train to fight."

    Tabletop Games 
  • The New World of Darkness plays this trope both ways. Many of the splats are physiologically human or at least somewhat human, so there is at least a decent correlation between their strength and their muscle mass. On the other hand:
    • Vampires' bodies are preserved at the moment of their Embrace, but they can still increase their physical capabilities and boost them further through Disciplines so that 90-pound wisp of a girl might be as strong as she looks — or she might be an elder that can tear someone's head off before they ever see her running at them.
    • Mages can augment their bodies magically, giving themselves superhuman strength and speed without any visible sign.
    • Prometheans are made of dead flesh animated by the Divine Fire, so muscle counts for something, but their Refinements let them smash conventional human limits out of the ballpark with a wielded telephone pole if they train up.
    • Demons, spirits, and Abyssal entities can manifest physically, but their bodies are more symbolic than indicative of their power. Nobody should ever believe that the gawky, emaciated Prince in Tattersnote  can't thoroughly ruin their day if they get within reach of its scrawny arms.
  • Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution:
    • Even if an esper and a human have the exact same physique, the esper can still be markedly stronger than they are, because espers have a higher stat cap. Naturally, this goes double for somakinetics, since their powers come from gravity manipulation. Additionally, because not everyone has a body type that will bulk up with exercise, they can be relatively small and super-humanly strong.
    • There's a picture in the book of a woman (who is both quite muscular AND a somakinetic) winning an arm-wrestling match against a man twice her size.
    • There's also a picture of an out-of-shape looking man lifting a car above his head.
  • In Exalted, the physical prowess of an Exalt is more linked to the way Essence empowers his body than to the amount of muscles. This is especially true for supernatural Strength level; someone with Strength 6 or 7 will usually look very strong, but not more than any well-built guy although he can casually bend thick steel bars, punch metal-reinforced doors out of their frames or lift horses.
    • Also, the Celestial Exaltation is usually bestowed upon physically hale individuals in the prime of life, but it is not unheard of that it chooses unusually young (13-15 years old) or old (up to around 65) hosts. So this little girl or that old man can actually be a chosen of the Sun able to fight 20 elite soldiers and win without a sweat.
  • In In Nomine Satanis / Magna Veritas, players play angels and demons who borrow the body of humans, and the body they get is basically the one that are available when they get incarnated, so there is no relationship between the abilities of the angel/demon and the appearance of the body. This skinny blonde can be a warlike angel and master swordsman able to cut through legions of demons, and that cute little boy can be a powerful demon that will casually break your neck the first time you look away.
  • Warhammer has this to some extent, when one compares the physiques of the miniatures for warriors with the same Strength (S) characteristic. A standard Orc warrior, for instance, has a Strength value of 3, which is the norm, despite that Orc model having gigantic muscular arms bigger than a man's torso. An elite High Elf White Lion Axeman, however, has a Strength of 4, despite the model's slender and willowy frame. Admittedly the biggest disparities tend to come with non-human characters and could be chalked up to their peculiar biology or magical nature, but it is still noticeable with human models too. Normally proportioned Empire State Troops, for instance, have the same S3 as Chaos Marauders, who are all built like Arnie in the wrong aspect ratio.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Kroot may not look as strong as Space Marines and Orks due to their slim bodies, but they will fool you. Their muscles work by rapidly contracting, snapping, and whipping like elastic. They may not have a lot of lifting strength compared to the previously mentioned examples, but if they whack you, you will feel it, and they're fast too, so they can keep up with other races. According to Word of God, their design was inspired by Maasai warriors, who tend to be tall and lithe.
    • In the same vein, the Eldar. Eldar look downright puny compared to humans, but, naturally, their musculature systems are very efficient and that makes them just as strong as we are. As a demonstration, this is a Catachan Jungle Fighter, and this is an Eldar Farseer. They're both Strength 3.
  • Aberrant has Mega-Strength as one standard power, but since all Nova abilities are subconscious quantum effects, it has literally nothing to do with actual muscular strength, so you don't have to have big muscles if you don't want to. A lot of Mega-Strong Novas do have big muscles, but it's more because they think they should have them, not because they need to.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: 3.5 has a rather infamous splatbook called Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, which is an attempt to help shorten the gap between meleers and spellcasters through the usage of maneuvers, which are kind of like spells. One of the ninth-level maneuvers, Tornado Throw, fits this trope perfectly, as you can have a rather spindly human take a running start and hurl a dragon to the moon.
    • D&D zig-zags this trope. "Giant brute" monsters in most editions had great strength, especially compared to humans. In early editions, the specific strength granted by magic belts was named for the type of giant it made you the equal of. Later editions (3.0 on) give all enemies strength scores, unlike earlier editions, and this means monsters can easily far exceed human abilities. Some monsters follow this trope and can look less powerful than they are, while others are bulging with very usable muscles. The 3.5 edition Marilith, for example, has arms the size of a normal woman but a strength score that most giants would envy. However, this trope is in effect in most editions for player characters, whose height and weight can be rolled or chosen by the player. The player isn't forced to pick numbers that make sense for the character's implied build, and the dice will be just random. Then magic gets involved and all bets are off. This is especially true starting in 3.0 edition, due to racial maximums for ability scores haveing been removed, and thus 50 lb halfling can potentially be stronger than a 300 lb half-orc (it's not easy to achieve, but it's doable).
  • Aspect in Nobilis allows Nobles and other miraculous beings to bypass their largely vestigial mortal bodies and call upon miraculous strength, agility, and intelligence. One sample Noble, Rook Catchfly, is "stuck" as a nine-year-old girl; her Aspect score of 4 is enough that, without spending MP or breaking a sweat, she could beat up SEAL Team 6 and take their lunch money.
  • Many of the more human-looking empyreal lords and Demon Lords and Archdevils in Pathfinder are far stronger than a mortal humanoid of their size and build. But then, they are demigods and not limited by normal rules of biology.

    Video Games 
  • Pick any One-Hit-Point Wonder Nintendo Hard 80s/early 90s game where you play a bare-chested, supermuscloid juggernaut. (Karnov, Ikari Warriors, Contra, Smash TV, Total Carnage). Not only do the muscles never come into play (you use guns and the like), but if you touch even the weakest, skinniest mook, YOU ARE DEAD.
  • Makoto Nanaya of BlazBlue, despite being a squirrel girl who only weighs 49 kilograms (108 pounds), is one of the most powerful characters in the game, able to do a lot of physical damage with just her fists. This is not Gameplay and Story Segregation either. In one cutscene she drops from the air and leaves a large crater where she punched the ground and, to further let you know how powerful she is, she effortlessly picks up and carries off an unconscious Tsubaki like she's a rag doll.
  • In Borderlands 2, melee damage is largely independent of muscles. While Krieg (a Walking Shirtless Scene with washboard abs whose pecs have pecs) is a devastating melee combatant, so is Zer0 (an extremely noodly space ninja). As for carrying capacity and weapon weight, neither matters at all — the only relevant trait for that is inventory slots, which are bought with Eridium from the black market. This means that Gaige (a 5'4", slightly built Mad Scientist in her late teens) can carry just as many enormous Torgue rocket launchers and shotguns around as Salvador (same height, but a massive steroid abuser); the sole edge Sal's habit gives him is that he can dual-wield them, he can't stuff any more in his backpack.
  • Jimmy Hopkins in Bully. He's short and isn't muscular at all, yet can take on guys nearly twice his size in a fight.
  • Extremely apparent in City of Heroes and City of Villains. A player making a Brute or Tanker character can take Super Strength, War Mace, or Battle Axe and the strength of the attacks will be the same whether you're an 8-foot high hulking man or a thin 4-foot tall girl.
  • In a word, Disgaea. Someone who looks like this should not even be capable of lifting the sword he is holding, much less be able to deal absurdly high amounts of damage, lift and throw ten significantly larger people at once, or blow up planets.
  • Fenris of Dragon Age II is an elf, which in this game means very thin and lanky, but specializes in two-handed weapons which not only include greatswords but hammers and axes as well. Helps that he has Lyrium laced throughout his body.
    • A Female Hawke specializing in wielding two-handed weapons also falls into this trope, being less muscular than her male counterpart. Her proficiency with these weapons is somewhat justifiable however, due to both her and her brother Carver being trained in swordsmanship from a young age by their father, as well as being one of the few survivors of King Cailan's Army at Ostagar.
    • Statistically speaking, this happens when a mage takes the Arcane Warrior specialization. It changes the prerequisite attribute for equipping armor and weapons from Strength to Magic.
  • Two such bosses appears in Dusty Revenge. Reddo the bull for instance is a pile of muscles, and an easy Warm-Up Boss that Dusty the rabbit can easily beat up. There's also a massive Killer Gorilla named Tongada, who despite his size is still nowhere as durable as later bosses (like Amelia, a slender cheetah or Aliciaconda the snake).
  • Ensemble Stars! gives us two characters stated to be extremely strong: Kuro, who is at least very tall and does seem to possess some bulk in depending on the card (though it tends to taken further by fan artists), and Souma, who is right in the middle in terms of height and is, if anything, quite slender (Kanata describes him once as being limber, like a flying fish). His strength is explained by him always carrying around a real sword and practising with it every morning, but he certainly doesn't look it.
  • Fate/EXTRA: Saber Nero is less than 5 feet tall and skinny as a rail. As a Servant, she has Super-Strength, but back when she was alive, she was an ordinary human with no special abilities. Yet one time in her original life, she fought a lion naked and killed it with her bare hands by strangling it to death, simply because she wanted to reenact the story of Hercules vs the Nemean Lion.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Female characters in Final Fantasy V have slightly higher Magic stats and male characters have slightly higher physical stats (and the androgynous Faris is in the middle), but the difference is only a few points and well overwhelmed by the statistical bonuses gained by equipping a Job. Based on how she is written as having magic powers outside of the Crystal's gifts, Krile was probably intended to be a magic user, but it's just as easy to turn her into an axe demon or martial arts champ.
    • Final Fantasy VI has Terra and Celes, who look like dainty, slim women and wield big swords. While not the physically strongest members of the party, they're the two most reliable Jack of All Stats characters the player gets and have access to the game's best weapons. Both are considered unusually strong in the game's story, as well. Justified in that Celes has been magically enhanced and Terra is not human.
    • Final Fantasy VII:
      • Cloud. He's 5'7", making him the shortest human male in the cast. Also, while having well-defined muscles, he is much smaller than Barret. Yet he's significantly stronger than anyone else in the party, carries a BFS like it's a feather, and in Advent Children he carries Barret one-handed at high speed. Justified in that he's been enhanced via magical techniques. His actual degree of musculature varies on the specific portrayal — it caused some minor backlash when Final Fantasy VII Remake was first announced, in which Cloud is less muscular than he's usually portrayed and very, very thin. Many fans thought this was silly, but many others thought it was appropriate for his history and character at that point. Cloud was buffed up significantly from this for the final game, but he was modelled to have the physique of 'a male ballet dancer' to indicate a slim body but with astonishing core strength. Funnily enough, Tetsuya Nomura drew Cloud with huge biceps in Smash Bros 4 promo art while his initial design for Cloud was far more lean. In the Remake, this is referenced when a huge, muscular Jerk Jock named Ronnie mocks Cloud for being skinny while Jules warns Ronnie not to underestimate him. Cloud faces Ronnie in a squat contest and defeats him.
      • Tifa Lockhart, who looks like a waif but can keep pace with Jenova-enhanced Super Soldiers, and unlike Cloud, she has nothing going for her but her martial arts training. Though in the remake Tifa does have defined abdominals, which is something but judging by fan reactions they wish she was more ripped.
      • Yuffie much like Tifa is quite skinny, but unlike Ms Lockhart, Yuffie doesn’t even have a toned physique. Yet as seen in the original game and Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade Yuffie is fully capable of taking down monsters and foes who dwarf her in size.
    • Amusingly, Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII has the highest unmodified Strength stat in the game at level 100. She's stronger than Ward.
    • Final Fantasy X:
      • The game offers a huge amount of stat and skill customization for each character through the Sphere Grid, letting any character take on any role if they put in the effort (other than Yuna's summoning, which is locked to her for plot reasons). These stat changes do not affect the characters' appearance in any way whatsoever, which means that a properly-trained Yuna can hit harder than the rest of the party (including Tidus and Auron) by meekly bopping the enemy with her staff.
      • Tidus is the smallest male character, but he's capable of lifting a grown man off the ground by the collar. Apparently you need to be super human to play blitzball.
    • Noctis in Final Fantasy XV is on the scrawny side and dwarfed by Gladiolus, but he's also the Master of All, proficient with all kinds of ridiculous weaponry (including BFSes bigger than his entire body), and physically tough. This is a side effect of his heightened magical powers, and it is hinted at numerous times that using so much magic to maintain his strength causes him various health problems.
  • In the third Gears of War installment features Female COG's to the mix, who have normal/slender builds. This is a very blatant contrast to the average Male COG and Locust drone, who are huge and muscular, easily outweighing the Female COGS by more than 100%. This has no effect on their effectiveness in combat, with female cogs just as easily dragging around heavy weapons, and going toe to toe in HTH combat. Very blatant in this screenshot where a female COG bayonets a Locust and actually lifts off the ground. Note that the locust's arms are about as big as her torso.
  • God of War (PS4): The Stranger is a string bean compared to the wall of meat that is Kratos, but he's still able to perform feats of strength that no mortal should be capable of, like punching Kratos over his house. That's because he's not a mortal; he's the Nordic god of light Baldur.
  • God of War Ragnarök: Kratos' son Atreus brings this up when he notes he is approaching his father in strength, yet is still skinny, eagerly asking when he will grow muscles like Kratos. Kratos points out that to those with godly heritage, strength has nothing to do with muscle mass since it comes from magic. The reason why Kratos is muscular is because he worked out simply because he wanted to. If Atreus wants to be buff, he'll have work for it.
  • One of the augmentations the Spartans received in the Halo universe was a thyroid implant that increases their muscular density significantly, which is one way to get around the real-life limitations mentioned in the page description. This would be a justification, except that Spartan-IIs are also "7-foot-tall walking tanks" even without their strength-enhancing Powered Armor (Halo: The Fall of Reach describes them as already having adult Olympic-level physiques at age 14). Nonetheless, when a 14-year old John-117 was still recovering from the thyroid implant, he was already physically far superior to a quartet of bigger ODST special forces soldiers, who made the mistake of trying to push him around...
    • Kat is the easily the smallest member of Noble Team in Halo: Reach and Spartan IIIs in general (unless the player is also a female spartan), but Kat still has all the superhuman abilities that the Spartan Program benefit. Overall the female Spartans are less bulky than male spartans in Halo Reach, and Kat in particularity has feminine attributes but regardless they are no less physically strong than their male peers.
      • Also it's worth noting all the normal-sized Spartan IIIs in Noble Team are just as strong as the huge Spartan II Jorge who's received the same augmentations as John 117 aka Master Chief (who is smaller than Jorge).
  • As the result of an Emergency Transformation gone wrong, Gauldoth from Heroes of Might and Magic IV has a frail-looking undead arm that is powerful enough to break someone's neck.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Sora, like most Kid Heroes, is short and has skinny stick limbs, their twiggyness only emphasized by his clothes and big shoes—yet he regularly beats the tar out of adult men and Mooks several times his size. This is lampshaded early on in the first game, with Jafar openly stating that "the boy's strength is not his own". It's implied that a combination of the Keyblade's magic and The Power of Friendship is what allows him to kick so much ass. Lampshaded again in 3D when Xigbar tries to use it as a way to break Sora's resolve. Sora doesn't really care; he just sees this as proof that his friends are his power, which is something he's believed all along.
    • For a villainous example, NPC Axel, especially the superboss version, should not be able to deal the damage he does with a frame like his. The same goes with Larxene and Saix.
  • Legacy of Kain: Physically, Raziel is barely more than a walking skeleton, but, as the Elder God states, he's actually stronger as a wraith than he was as a vampire. He can easily push and pull massive stone pillars and overpower vampires.
  • The second boss of The Legend of Tian-ding is The Dreaded killing machine, Nakamura Michiaki, who despite being the most muscular boss in the game turns out to be quite the pushover, his muscles hardly benefiting his health and he goes down easier than later, skinnier bosses.
  • Link from The Legend of Zelda is generally on the small side and, even as an adult, doesn't get much bulkier than "wiry Bishōnen" (and, if you're willing to go outside canon and take SoulCalibur II as a visual reference, barely grazes even five feet). He also generally lacks any superpowers beyond an absurd level of courage and maybe a few acquired spells. So how is it that the guy can fight toe-to-toe with the hulking Big Bad or spontaneously perform backflips while wearing chainmail?
  • Like a Dragon:
    • Unlike the rest of the protagonists, Akiyama and Tanimura are pretty lacking in the muscle department. This is mostly reflected in their combat styles, with Akiyama as a kick-based Fragile Speedster and Tanimura relying on his enemy's strength via countering and parries. That said, this doesn't stop them from making use of Heat Actions that rely on brute strength, like slamming bicycles down on their opponents, throwing them off a rooftop, or grabbing them by the neck and swinging them horizontally against a telephone pole.
    • Miss Tatsu from Yakuza 0 is a notably slim woman, yet she's a Mighty Glacier in possession of the Beast style, focusing on brutal and powerful moves like haymakers, charges, and slams. She passes the style onto Kiryu, who can use it to pick up motorcycles and send them crashing down on opponents.
  • In Madden NFL and its sister series NCAA Football, height and weight matter very little with regard to how well players block or shed blocks — only the ratings (including Strength) matter, logic (or physics) be damned. Inverted in some installments, which see height and weight as the primary determining factor.
  • Female Shepard Mass Effect, unlike her reasonably built male counterpart, is something of a waif when out of armor. Nonetheless, this doesn't stop her punching krogan to death if she gets close enough. Due to the Lazarus Project in the second game, Shepard has been outfitted in cybernetic implants and a reinforced skeletal structure, allowing her to fire sniper rifles and shotguns designed by Geth and Krogan, which generate enough recoil to shatter every bone in a normal human's arm.
    • Prior to the Super-Soldier treatment, an In-Universe explanation for this trope was the presence of genetic enhancements in all Alliance soldiers, including Shepard, that make them considerably stronger than they appear, and all combat armor has a built-in exoskeleton. Also, it's worth noting that neither the male nor female Shepard does much heavy lifting in the first game, sticking to firearms and grenades instead. Hard melee attacks were introduced in Mass Effect 2.
    • In the second game, an over-amorous Turian makes the mistake of hitting on an asari and a Female Shepard, before insulting them. Cue the sound of him being beaten to a pulp offscreen, then thrown clean across the room. Made even more amusing if Shepard's wearing the cocktail dress from Kasumi's DLC at the time.
    • Even more obvious in Citadel where you get the chance to beat Vega at pull-ups, with a whopping score of 182
  • Mega Man allows you to gain the same strength as Gutsman, a boss robot at least twice your size. The strength Mega Man shows at the end of the fifth game needs to be seen. The former is justified by his nature as a robot as well as his power set, but the latter case is absolutely ludicrous for a robot designed to be a lab assistant. In its spinoffs, Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force, both versions of the title character show surprising strength despite their thin frames, wielding weaponry as large or larger than they are with ease. This is taken further in the anime, where the first action scenes have them punching out a Navi twice their size and catching a falling train car with ease respectively. Even without Gutsman's strength, Mega Man can stop Wily's tower collapsing on him and Dr Light despite being so small compared to the Robot Masters.
  • The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater seems the be built like an average woman, but is capable of firing an assault rifle with one hand and carrying Davy Crockett miniature nuclear platform weighing 300kg around effortlessly.
  • Mike Shadow: I Paid for It!: Mike can lift some really heavy objects and deal powerful blows despite being rather spindly.
  • Max from Nintendo Wars was an inversion in his first appearance, but fit this trope as time went on. He got progressively buffer in his in-game portraits, but his units got less of a damage boost later on as well.
  • In Octopath Traveler II, several characters comment on how tall and muscular Osvald is, and he explains to Partitio that he finds exercise to be helpful for improving his focus and discipline when it comes to research. However, stat-wise, Osvald is a Squishy Wizard Scholar. Meanwhile, Hikari is the shortest and smallest male character, and he starts off as a more physically-inclined Warrior.
  • While Pokémon mostly averts this trope (many Fighting-Types look pretty muscular, for example), there are a few straight examples.
    • The Meditite and Marill lines have stick-arms and are chubby-looking rodents, respectively, but they can both have the Pure/Huge Power abilities, which double their physical attack stats, allowing them to hit nearly as hard as some Olympus Mons.
    • Cinccino also counts. It’s a small, cute chinchilla-like Pokémon with a soft scarf. Despite this, its attack stat is a fairly high 95.
  • Played with in [PROTOTYPE]. Standard human-sized Alex can lift cars and kick helicopters apart with about 3 hits and the Supreme Hunter is a fair powerhouse despite not being much bigger. This is justified as both actually weigh far more than they appear on the surface. On the other hand, the standard human-sized Infected don't pose much threat in melee, Alex's Musclemass power (Exactly What It Says on the Tin) noticeably increases his melee power, and the various Elite Mooks that do pose a problem in melee are hulking bruisers towering over Alex.
  • Little Mac from Punch-Out!! isn't even five feet tall and weighs a little over a hundred pounds, but he can defeat a variety of legendary heavyweight boxers such as Mike Tyson himself. Played with in that Little Mac has significantly less attack power, and stamina than the other opponents, but wins due to the player exploiting the bosses mistakes, and fighting patterns.
  • Resident Evil zig-zags this trope.
    • The remake of Resident Evil subverts it with Jill and Chris, where Chris's larger frame allows him to take more abuse and handle heavier weapons better than Jill. While Chris can effortlessly fire the magnum and the shotgun from the hip, Jill stumbles with each shot from the magnum and has to fire the shotgun from the shoulder.
    • In later games, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and Ada Wong play this straight despite their waif physiques with all three women are able to kick away massive monsters with their melee skill, Jill and Claire are seen using the massive grenade launchers, mini-guns and RPGs. Ada and Jill, in particular, have crazy She-Fu and acrobatic skills being capable of jumping long distances and doing ninja flips and this was before Jill was injected with Psycho Serum that gave her superhuman power BTW.
      • Though Resident Evil 4 subverts this with Ada, as she can't use the huge burly shotguns that Leon gets in the main game and instead uses a smaller and easier to handle one. This contrasts with Jill and Claire who can handle large firearms no problem despite lacking the upper body strength of the male characters in the series.
    • In Resident Evil 2 (Remake) Claire (a skinny college girl) effortlessly wields a Mini-Gun that likely weighs over 85 lbs to kill the G-Creature during the Final Battle of her scenario.
    • Probably one of the most awesome and Narm moments in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is the option to have regular-sized Jill Valentine push the Hulk-sized Nemesis off a bridge into a chasm. Resident Evil 3 (Remake) has a moment even more ridiculous where Jill (who is just as skinny as in the original game) pick up the massive and heavy Railgun like it's light furniture to finish off Nemesis.
    • The small Rebecca Chambers plays this straight in Resident Evil 0 able to use the heavy weapons like the grenade launcher and RPG though averted somewhat as Rebecca is forced to take a step back after firing it while Billy can stand still and fire it faster than her.
    • Leon S. Kennedy is the most prominent male example as physically he's not nearly as muscular as Chris Redfield or Billy Cohen, but nevertheless Leon can still: crush a zombie's head with his foot (or kick it off), suplex a man so hard his head explodes, hold the combined weight of a giant bio-monster and a grown woman, keep a mutant shark's jaws open with his bare hands, stagger a mutated antagonist with an axe kick and perhaps most impressively equal Chris in a hand to hand fight.
    • Sherry Birkin in RE6 has plenty of agile She-Fu moments, but Helena Harper actually deserves acknowledgment for how strong she is despite being smaller than Leon. She even helps him push a boulder over at one point.
    • Albert Wesker plays this trope even better than Leon, no overly huge muscle mass at all and he's up against Chris boulder puncher Redfield armed only with a handgun. However, Wesker has Super-Strength, Super-Speed and Super-Reflexes so Chris is absolutely demolished in almost every single fight until he exploits Wesker's Psycho Serum and dumps him in a volcano in Resident Evil 5. It's also worth noting Chris gained the muscular build solely for purpose of fighting Wesker, and even then it wasn't enough as Wesker can Neck Lift Chris's 220 lb ass off the ground one-handed.
    • Lady Dimitrescu from Resident Evil Village while very tall isn’t muscular like the previous pursuers such as Mr X or Nemesis, yet she can still Neck Lift Ethan showing she’s incredibly strong. This is thanks to Big Bad Mother Miranda, mutating Dimitrescu with a parasite that makes her strong and vampire-like.
  • In Saints Row 2, the Boss's appearance is purely aesthetic and thus a tiny, thin woman is capable of ripping a payphone out of the sidewalk and beating someone with it or stepping into an underground fightclub and delivering a Neck Snap finisher to a man three times her size.
  • In Saints Row: The Third, at your complete whim you can change your hulking, muscular beast of a character to a stick-like bishie twerp on the spot via plastic surgery, but you can still drop kick grown men, throw people across a highway, and manhandle a brute with a baseball bat like it's no big deal.
  • Shantae can effortlessly sprint through miles of monster-infested forest while carrying someone bridal-style, despite having the physique of a scrawny teenager girl.
  • Knuckles in Sonic The Hedgehog is roughly the same size as Sonic and has skinny arms like the rest of the characters, but has the power to match the likes of Vector, Storm, Big, Omega, Wario, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong.
  • Mostly averted with the World Warriors of Street Fighter as almost all of them are bulky as hell, including the female characters such as Chun-Li, Cammy, and especially R.Mika. Though a few characters play this straight.
    • Fei Long easily one of the least muscular males of the Street Fighter 2 cast, though since he’s modeled after Bruce Lee who epitomised this trope it’s fitting.
    • Sakura Kasugano helped by the fact she’s a schoolgirl in most of the games. Weighing in at only 115 lbs Sakura can nevertheless give veterans a hard time and even use the Hadoken with little training. Though Sakura's win quotes against Zangief signifies just how screwed she’d be without her Ki Manipulation, or if he ever got a hold of her which subverts this trope.
      • The same can be said of Karen, Elena, Ibuki, and Menat. The Heroic Build is gifted to males while the women are more petite with a few obvious exceptions.
    • Juri while not willowy isn’t as muscular as Chun-Li but she’s still presented as one of the deadliest women in the series, being able to knock around muscular guys like Rashid and Vega around with ease. In Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind Juri actually beats the ripped Guile with a single strong kick.
    • Dhalsim deserves a very special mention as he was technically the first male example of muscles are meaningless in Street Fighter being an emaciated Yogi. So it’s all the more glorious in SFV when Dhalsim tanks Evil Ryu’s Satsui no Hado punch to the back like it’s nothing. The shock of it is enough to snap Ryu out of the murderous intent.
  • Sammy "Skate" Hunter, the iconic Kid Hero of Streets of Rage, is by all accounts a Fragile Speedster underaged kid... whom can toss all variants of the notably heavy Bongo enemy around with as much ease as Max Thunder, who is at least three hundred pounds of pure muscle and near-zero agility to compensate. In most of the games, none of the other adult characters are capable of the same feat: Bongo will just fall on them for some serious crushing damage. Averted with regards to normal enemies, though, as Sammy is the only character who can't throw an opponent using his strength alone. While even the short but muscular Blaze can throw out a suplex or three, Skate's only actual throw comes from flipping over the opponent and using the momentum and leverage to toss them forward.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Mario can do things like lift Bowser by the tail, spin him around swiftly and throw him across an arena with just his arms in Super Mario 64, despite being a short, somewhat pudgy guy. Also applies to Luigi, who's a bit thinner overall but nearly as strong. However, in proportion to their size, Mario and Luigi do have the thickest legs and second-thickest arms out of the humanoid characters. They still don't appear to be very muscular, though.
    • Toad is an even better example; he's the shortest out of everyone that is selectable in Super Mario Bros. 2, but he's capable of pulling out throwable vegetables out of the ground the fastest, especially considering that Peach and Luigi in comparison take a considerable amount of time to do the same. Also Yoshi can beat Bowser around with the same ease that Mario can.
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee:
    • The Fragile Speedster Fox is not only possibly the fastest character, he also has two of the most powerful KO-moves in his up-aerial and up-smash, the latter of which is the second-most powerful of its sort in the whole game, easily beating the much slower up-smashes of Donkey Kong and Ganondorf in terms of raw power. And the strongest up-smash? Pikachu's.
    • Who has the strongest of all moves in the game? Is it Captain Falcon? Nah. Is it Donkey Kong? Nope. Is it Mewtwo? You're getting warmer. Surprisingly, it's Jigglypuff, which already unsettling seeing that she's a small Pokémon who's almost literally a balloon, is even weirder because she is the second smallest Pokémon in the game. Although her down-special move, Rest, is hard to connect and, if done wrong, can leave her sleeping and an incredibly easy target, if done correctly, she can send an opponent with at least only 50% damage flying off stage.
  • Most fist fighters and two-handed weapon users in Tales Series tend to fall into this category.
    • Colette and Presea from Tales of Symphonia are, among other things, both shown to be capable of carrying things larger and heavier than themselves with ease despite being devoid of any noticeable muscle. This extends into gameplay in the latter's case, who wields enormous axes with ground shattering force.
    • Senel from Tales of Legendia looks to be of slightly above average musculature at best, but is nonetheless capable of throwing around monsters about three times bigger than himself with ease.
    • Karol from Tales of Vesperia wields hammers with heads almost as big as himself along with swords and axes that are twice his height and is a simple 12-year-old boy. He does have a possible justification in the form of the blastia on his handbag, though.
  • While not as scrawny as some of the other video game characters listed, in Team Fortress 2, the Scout is able to send enemies flying with a baseball bat, including the Heavy.
  • In Tyranny, at least for the human characters, between Verse and Eb. Eb is an Amazonian Beauty and actually a mage (albeit a relatively tough one), while smaller and more slender Verse is a Blood Knight who dishes out incredible physical damage with dual-wielded swords or her bow. Likewise, thanks to Character Customization, the Fatebinder can share a body model with Sirin (a teenage girl) and still be a Mighty Glacier, no problem.
  • Undertale:
    • Undyne is strong enough to suplex boulders and looks plenty muscular while in armor, but once she takes it off, she's surprisingly spindly. Oddly, it's not even in a generally-seen-as-attractive sort of way; she seems to have been designed that way just because.
    • The player character is a small child but can take on monsters much larger and stronger than themselves. Admittedly, it's all-but-outright stated that this is because monsters have less to worry about from physical harm than they do the Killing Intent behind it.
  • Create a male draenei or orc mage in World of Warcraft, and you've got a Glass Cannon whom a boss can easily one-shot. However, due to all characters of any given race and sex using the same model, he'll still be huge and beefy. Roll a female blood elf paladin, on the other hand...your character appears to weigh less than her weapon but is probably a Mighty Glacier.
    • Or a gnome, who in many cases will be swinging weapons larger than themselves, and is just as capable as a tauren of tearing you to shreds.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Exaggerated with Sena and Lanz. Sena boasts about being able to lift more than her bodyweight, which would be more impressive if she didn't look like she were five stone soaking wet. Lanz is twice her size, works out just as much, is on the same level of strength... and uses a "Power Frame" to augment himself to get there. It's not just Gameplay and Story Segregation either, and Lanz mentions flat-out the Agnians are physically stronger than Kevesi, hence the latter using power frames to boost their soldiers. This seems to be because Agnians are descended from, among other races, Blades; having some Living Weapon in your ancestry probably skews things a bit.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Sakura Ogami is an extremely muscular Brawn Hilda, yet during one of her Free Time Events, she tells Makoto Naegi that muscles are meaningless if you don't know how to use them and lack skills. She also says that training every muscle is more important than training individual ones and building too much muscle could make them stiff.
  • Nasuverse:
    • Fate/stay night:
      • Saber is a little over five feet tall and is built like a somewhat toned fourteen-year-old, and yet is capable of parrying blows from a ten-foot-tall crazed Berserker. This is because of her Mana Burst ability, where she consumes magic to perform superhuman feats of strength and endurance. When she's suffering from mana deprivation, she's about as weak as she looks. It is explicitly stated that without magical energy she is weaker than Shirou and Rin in terms of physical strength.
      • When Saber fights Assassin, she comments that he's unusually strong for such a skinny guy.
    • Kinda averted in Tsukihime. Arc and Saber are stated to be as weak as they appear if not for their high levels of supernatural magical energies. Then again, it does fit this trope in that muscles are meaningless compared to magical energies, and just about everyone that matters uses magical energies.
  • Galaxy Angel:
    • Ranpha Franboise is a martial artist, and the most athletic and physically strongest member of the Moon Angel Wing, evidenced by how easily she's able to Megaton Punch Tact in Eternal Lovers. Despite this, she has a very slender and feminine figure.
    • In the TV adaptation, her comrade Forte Stollen is similar, being no beefier than anyone else but displaying superhuman strength (some scenes indicate that she's even stronger than Ranpha in this version).
  • Despite being a prized underground fighter and noted by many for his physical prowess, Akira from Spirit Hunter: NG isn't bulky at all. Lampshaded by Hazuki when she's amazed at how strong he is for being a 'beanpole', and wonders if he's even human.

    Web Comics 
  • In Adventurers!, Webrunner explains that muscularity has no real relation to strength in RPG Mechanics 'Verse: "Often scrawny kids can be strong enough to destroy gods without getting any visible muscle tone."
  • El Goonish Shive: In the Parable NP arc, Dee Elsea sells cosmetic potions that have this effect, giving you the appearance of enormous muscles without the strength.
  • Erika and the Princes in Distress: Pita is short and appears rather scrawny. However, according to her function as a squire, she valiantly carries a huge backpack around for Erika and is able to lift and toss boulders around when she's angry.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Molly's alien pet Snookums is about the size of a basketball, but began as a giant monster before getting shrunk. He retains all his original mass, so the ground shakes when he hops around, and he can defeat much larger opponents simply by hopping into them.
  • The premise of One-Punch Man. With his suit on, he looks like a regular guy, despite having the power to kill every enemy with one punch. Slightly Averted when he is shown without any clothes.
  • The complete dependency on Shinsu in Tower of God. It is the one defining thing that power and muscle mass really means absolutely nothing. Not only does the Square-Cube Law come into effect, but being big is an entirely different problem when in some areas of the Tower because Shinsu, which acts as an air surrogate, can become as dense as water depending on its concentration. Thus, characters with high Shinsu resistance like Bam and Yuri Jahad have a huge advantage.
    • Yuri Jahad, and pretty much every other Princess of Jahad, is also a traditional case of being physically very strong while having a feminine frame. Other skilled Tower inhabitants, especially the damage-dealing Fishermen, can strengthen their body temporarily by reinforcing their body with Shinsu.

    Web Original 
  • In Entirely Presenting You, Alexis gets thinner and thinner as the story progresses, yet she boasts incredible super strength.
  • In RWBY, the main factor in strength is using one's Aura to augment it.
    • Yang Xiao Long has no discernible muscle mass, but she can effortlessly carry an amp four times her size, overpower the 6'11'' Junior, and punch mechas to pieces. In her case, it's even more justified than the norm for the series due to her Semblance.
    • Nora Valkyrie is rather petite, but she can smash through a stone bridge and once hit Yang hard enough to launch her into the sky. Like Yang, it's justified due to her semblance.
    • Jaune Arc started out so weak he couldn't even pull Pyrrha's spear out when it pinned his hood to a tree. When Pyrrha awakens his Aura abilities, he becomes strong enough to block strikes from monsters with one arm and has no increase in muscle.
    • Coco Adel is a svelte fashionista who fights with a minigun so large and overpowered it would likely make Arnie crap his pants. Her weapon's sheer size and weight barely seem to hinder her movement at all.
  • In evidence in Tales of MU, where many characters' strength comes from magic. The protagonist Mackenzie Blaise is among the stronger characters but appears to be an underdeveloped eighteen-year-old girl. Puddy is more muscular in appearance, but not enough to account for the fact that she's sometimes stronger than a dragon.
  • In the web fiction Whateley Universe, you certainly can't judge strength by muscle bulk, because everyone at the Superhero School Whateley Academy is a mutant including plenty of the teachers. Sensei Ito is a tiny little old man... who starts every term by demonstrating that he — an ordinary human with no mutant abilities — can beat the crap out of the most dangerous mutant in the room. Phase is five-foot-nothing and too skinny (he just grew three inches), but at full strength, he can dead-lift nearly two tons.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Aang is a small monk boy who can physically overpower grown men (including the Firelord) and support a goddamn boulder in his back without using bending. Since the Avatar is often considered a Physical God this isn’t too surprising.
    • The slender June beats some huge guy at arm wrestling easily.
    • Ty Lee is a slim (though quite buxom) teenage girl... who's also a Bare-Fisted Monk who defeated Katara, Sokka and even Azula with her martial art skills and has insane jumping skills that are so good that fanon has her pegged as being descended from Airbenders since her legs are just as skinny as her arms. Perhaps the best non-combat example is in the Beach Episode where she's carrying her beach supplies one-handed and a love-struck boy offers to carry them for her; cue her dropping the bags on him and the guy immediately folding under the weight that she was carrying effortlessly.
    • The sequel has a number of less muscular characters, often airbenders, kicking around people twice their size, but the most notable example would be Asami Sato, who is the resident Badass Normal and can handle herself against larger people and benders despite her slim figure, in stark contrast to Korra's physique. She manages to rip the railing off of a door while having her hands chained to it, then snarks about the shoddy workmanship.
  • While muscles were meaningful in the first two seasons of The Batman, the last few played this trope to a ludicrous extent thanks to Villain Decay. One blatant example was a Season 5 episode where Joker's hulking henchmen Punch and Judy get beaten up by a teenage Dick Grayson in two seconds flat, despite being mountains of muscle that stand head and shoulders taller than Batman.
  • Alucard in Castlevania You can see in his Shirtless Scene that he isn’t really muscly at all (female viewers likely won’t care) and he looks a pushover compared to the always shirtless muscular vampire God Brand (who's actually far weaker). Alucard regardless is still a Dhampyr who humiliated the more muscly Trevor Belmont by displaying his Super-Strength twice first when first fighting him and secondly when lifting rubble that Trevor could barely carry with ease. Played with however as while Alucard can easily physically overpower normal humans, monsters, and vampires when fighting his imposing father Dracula... he got his ass beat into next week (twice).
    • Carmilla is very petite, but she's still a vampire thus could knock the muscly God Brand down a staircase with a single kick. In Season 4 we see Carmilla go One-Woman Army on a horde of monsters most of which are twice her size.
    • Similarly another female vampire Lenore (who is tiny) could beat the shit out of Hector and perform a Neck Lift on him.
  • Class of 3000: Philly Phil is shown to be fairly physically strong despite being a borderline Noodle Person. Possibly justified, as he's a bass player and has to have some degree of strength to carry around a double bass plus the case.
  • Dave the Barbarian is a very tall muscular guy but he's a total wuss who can't fight worth a damn and always gets his ass kicked by people and animals smaller than him. His sister, Princess Candy has Super-Strength despite being a normal-looking teenage girl, though whether or not she's stronger than Dave is unknown, she's just the one willing to use it.
  • In DOTA: Dragon's Blood Mirana and Marci are pretty petite compared to their male companion Davion who has a Heroic Build. Yet in the majority of fights they get into, both women (but especially Marci) easily kick the asses of men way bigger than them.
  • Ed, Sarah, and Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy have virtually no muscles but are incredibly strong, but Rolf does when he flexes or becomes enraged.
  • Family Guy:
    • Stewie Griffin can brutalize adults and fire an automatic weapon with no recoil problems despite being a baby. And then he'll get his ass whooped by an infant younger than him.
    • Joe Swanson, in later years, has become wimpier despite the fact that he has muscles. It went to a point that he gave up a fight just because he was tripped off of his wheelchair.
  • Bamm-Bamm as an infant on The Flintstones. Later, he becomes a buff teen.
  • In a short of Dingbat and the Creeps which played in the Heathcliff Show, Sparerib is hired as a circus strongman after the ringer witnessed him lifting the stage platform with one arm. The kicker is that Sparerib is a skeleton with no muscles so to speak.
  • The Hollow: Adam's strength is well in excess of what his muscles should provide. Then again, he is in a video game, so...
  • Johnny Bravo, despite being a muscular Top-Heavy Guy, is regularly shown to be beaten by people at the most half his size.
  • June from KaBlam!. Judging by her usually adorable appearance, no one could believe that she's pretty buff.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Usually, Kim: perfectly willing and able to knock down men twice her size. Even discussed when she and Shego faced two huge wrestlers while Trapped in TV Land; "Well, this shouldn't be a problem."
    • Ron and Drakken's henchmen wear muscle-enhancing rings in "Ron The Man", but it's still Kim and Shego doing most of the fighting, maybe even more than usual.
    • Señor Senior Junior is the most buff-looking of the regular villains but doesn't get into fights. Maybe he doesn't want to mess up his hair.
    • In the Time Travel episode arc, future Drakken is a mass of muscle, but he gets swatted aside by Ron after Shego gloats about destroying Bueno Nacho.
  • The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: Juniper Lee displays remarkable super strength compared to her appearance. Justified in that she's the Te Xuan Ze and her super strength is magical.
  • Foghorn Leghorn of Looney Tunes is a large, powerfully-built rooster who is constantly getting his butt kicked by baby Henery Hawk! Of course, he has no problem picking on a dog his own size, as long as said dog isn't on the lookout.
  • All the ponies in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic seem to possess strength far beyond their size and figure, from earth ponies pulling a five-compartment train at full speed, to pegasi floating a moving car full of anvils, carts, and pianos.
    • In "A Dog and Pony Show", Rarity (one of the relatively weak unicorns) could pull a cart full of diamonds with ease while three Diamond Dogs could barely move it.
    • In "Dragonshy", a montage of the ponies getting ready to confront a dragon features Applejack's much larger brother Big Macintosh lifting a heavy set of saddle-bags onto her back with great effort. She sags under the sudden weight, but easily straightens up and leaps into the air. This may be meant to imply she's stronger than he is ("strong" is certainly a description associated with her) — but not necessarily since he does have to lift it with his neck muscles rather than whole body.
    • In "Hearts and Hooves Day", Big Macintosh is shown to be strong enough to tow an entire building, presumably having shorn it clear off its foundation. Likewise, in "Lesson Zero", he was shown to be strong enough to toss an entire mob of ponies — most of the town, in fact — off of him with just a shake of his frame. It's clear that, strong as Applejack is, her brother is stronger still.
    • Slight inconsistency about this is shown in that Twilight Sparkle can't move a plough without magic (unlike the larger stallions), but can carry around a rock several times her volume.
    • Partly Truth in Television. Ponies are known for possessing the ability to carry quite heavy loads, even those that match their body weight.
    • As of Seasons 4 and 5 it is fully justified with Earth Ponies. Their strength has been confirmed as being an inherent magical ability, along with unicorn magic and pegasus flight.
  • The Powerpuff Girls. They can defeat a muscular and super-intelligent talking monkey, several large criminals, the finest in technology and human advances that money could buy, an extremely muscular (and kinda fat) pink hillbilly monster who's only truly terrifying when he actually does flex his muscles, several giant robots, monsters, genetic mutations, and even Satan himself. Keep in mind that we're talking about three kindergarten girls.
  • In SilverHawks, Genius Bruiser twins Steelheart and Steelwill exemplify this perfectly. Steelwill is huge and brawny, to the point his facemask looks like a football helmet. Steelheart looks like a very athletic woman, but even she looks positively tiny next to her brother. And yet, they're equally strong and evenly matched in any physical contest, making Steelwill's towering bulk look... inefficient next to his sleeker, more compact sibling.
  • Mr. Slave from South Park is very muscular but he's a wimpy, effeminate, submissive, and emotionally fragile stereotypical gay guy.
  • Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a rather skinny teenage girl, yet she can break Bx-series Commando droids with a single kick, pull up Obi-Wan from the edge of a cliff, throw opponents much larger and bulkier than herself over her shoulder, and protect herself in hand-to-hand combat against two meters tall Lizard Folk. She can also effectively parry multiple simultaneous lightsaber strikes from the Cyborg General Grievous one-handed. She's also a Jedi, and considering Anakin's Papa Wolf tendencies, it wouldn't be out of character for him to teach her how to amplify her strength with the Force. It can be done, and this might be what happened, as up to about season two to mid-season three (pre-timeskip), she possessed strength normal for a girl her age, i.e. unable to lift Anakin, a 6'1" adult man (which she later did in Season Five).
  • Steven Universe:
    • Garnet is physically the strongest of the 4 Crystal Gems, but she has very thin arms. Case in point, Amethyst in her Purple Puma persona is very muscular and strong, yet Garnet has no problem dealing with her during their brief fight in "Tiger Millionaire".
    • Even the very small and skinny gems are (or at least can be) much stronger than humans. During a fight with Ronaldo (who had kidnapped Steven), Pearl effortlessly catches his punch, and he reacts as if he hit a brick wall, despite him being considerably larger than her.
    • Connie is incredibly skinny, even after Pearl's training gives her enough strength to use Rose's BFS and easily throw another child over her head.
  • Starfire from Teen Titans isn't noticeably muscular in build, yet she can bench more than Cyborg without difficulty. Her secret? "Boundless confidence!"
  • ThunderCats (1985): Referenced in the episode "The Book of Omens". As they prepare to face each other in unarmed combat, Lion-O points out Mumm-Ra's arms are skinny because he's a mummy. Mumm-Ra says, "It is not the strength of arms that will win this battle. It's the strength of will!"
  • Zig-zagged by Cody of Total Drama. He's able to knock out Duncan in one episode but can't even lift a cardboard box in another.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: Master Fung said to the monks "It's not the strength of one's size, but the size of one's strength that matters." Omi then relayed this message to them again only for Kimiko to say "But he's just a small bean."
  • Black Canary demonstrated this in Young Justice as she easily bested Superboy in a sparring match despite the fact that being half-Kryptonian, he was much stronger than her. This is mostly due to A) her being a highly-skilled fighter, and B) Superboy's anger clouded much of his judgement.

    Real Life 
  • Muscle implants. They are completely non-functional 'aesthetic muscles'.
  • Synthol Injections work for the same purpose; since they're relatively inexpensive and unlike steroids lack any regulation, there have been a lot of cases of people abusing them and getting horribly deformed bodies as a result, or even getting infections or blood circulation problems. Worst case scenario: they end up with doctors having to amputate the gangrenous limb.
  • The biceps and pectorals are the muscles that many people (erroneously) believe to make up the bulk of physical strength. In actuality, muscles like the Latissimus dorsi and triceps contribute far more to functional strength (especially the Latissimus dorsi). Bruce Lee is an excellent example of this: his biceps and chest were not abnormally large for a man his size, but his Latissimus dorsi were enormous.
  • Joseph Greenstein, known professionally as The Mighty Atom (and likely inspiring The Golden Age DC Comics character of that name, and Astro Boy's original name) weighed only 140 pounds. His feats included changing a tire without any tools, biting through nails and chains, lying on a bed of nails with a 14 piece Dixieland band playing on a board on his chest, and stopping a plane from taking off by clipping it to his hair. He first became interested in developing his body and mind when a jealous suitor of his wife shot him at near point-blank range between the eyes. The bullet broke his skin, but flattened itself against his skull.
  • Coelasquid breaks it down for you.
  • While having larger muscles — thus more muscle fibers - certainly increases strength, it's important to remember not all muscle fibers are created equal. This is especially noticeable when comparing two different species. Human muscle fibers are designed to have extremely high endurance rather than high peak strength; as a result, many animals, pound for pound, appear considerably stronger than humans do — chimpanzees, for instance, are roughly twice as strong as humans are for a given body weight. This is also why many animals seem very fast compared to humans. Even on a human-to-human basis, some people are better at things that require a lot of power over a short period of time and some are better at things that require less power over a longer period of time as a result of their genetics. Furthermore, faster metabolisms also increase muscle power, though at the cost of high food and oxygen demands and a higher body temperature. This is why hummingbirds have the strongest muscle fibers of all vertebrates.
  • The surge of adrenaline that occurs when someone is terrified can override the usual safety limits that stop us from contracting more than about 1/3 of a muscle's myofibrils at a time. This increases strength enormously, but at a cost: neither muscles nor tendons can tolerate such extreme tension without risk of injury, meaning that someone who uses all of that extra strength is likely to suffer tendon and muscle tears, or even broken bones.
  • While machines were adopted for weight training because they keep the weight from moving around in an unsafe manner, this has turned out to cause more injuries than traditional methods because it works out major muscle groups without also engaging stability muscles. In recent years, there's been a shift to "strongman"-style training with awkward loads (sandbags, water tubes, medicine balls, etc.) to give athletes control to back their strength.
  • Varya Akulova. Amazingly strong and has been lifting weights since a very young age. In her early teenage years, she could lift 350 kg (770 pounds) and herself only weighed 40 kg (88 pounds).
  • Abraham Lincoln was unusually tall and thin, but according to several sources, was quite a good wrestler in his youth.
  • Alain Robert, aka "French Spiderman", is, like many professional rock climbers, fairly short and lean, but also very strong and has a high level of endurance. In his autobiography, he recounts stories about how, during some of his short stays in jail, he won the respect of bigger and bulkier inmates by performing feats of strength such as doing forty one-handed push-ups in a row.
  • This is an interesting thing about performing a suplex in wrestling. Most women's centers of gravity are low, whereas most men's are higher. Men also tend to be taller than women on the whole. This means that it's potentially — if not, actually extremely — easy for a lot of womennote  to suplex the majority of men, even if they aren't physically strong. The same goes for short people to tall people — grab them under the butt (around the thighs) and then just lean back. It's a pure case of physics over strength. You can see a beautiful example of this here.
  • William Shatner noted in a tribute film that Leonard Nimoy really was enormously strong; he was a swimmer.
  • Some of the greatest knockout artist in boxing were fighters that didn't have big bulky muscles, but very lean well-toned arms that allowed the full range of punching power, Thomas "Hitman" Hearns and Aaron Pryor are just a few examples. In fact, it's proven that having big bulky muscles can actually be a setback and not an advantage for a boxer, with notable exceptions.
  • People can vary a lot in the speed at which their muscles contract. This stems from differences in people's nervous systems and doesn't increase strength in the most technical sense, but it has huge implications for how strength is expressed. Being able to apply strength quickly allows someone to lift heavier weights since higher acceleration makes the lift more efficient, and in combat sports, two equally muscular people with a large gap in neuro-muscular efficiency might show little difference in grappling force, but the more efficient fighter's strikes will have way more impact.
  • One of the reasons why your typical Martial Artist is less sculpted than a bodybuilder is because a lot of the power comes from launching toughened bone. When properly strengthened, human bone is about as strong as concrete. When wielding the guns, the muscles are the gunpowder, and the bones are the reusable bullets. That said, imagine launching a concrete pillar at high speeds with the power of your entire body.
  • Traditionalist Wing Chung masters say that martial artists shouldn't be big. Rather, they must be flexible and agile to be able to strike quickly and slip out of danger. Some are critical of Bruce Lee's physique, believing that his muscles were tightening his movements and preventing him from striking at full speed. Better to have loose, but strong, muscles that allow you to whip out your limbs.
  • While a certain level of physical capability is still desirable in modern militaries, mostly by having soldiers strong enough to carry all their required kit for combat operations on them and having the endurance to travel to where they are needed on foot when mechanised transport in unavailable or impractical for the terrain, in societies where civilians have easy access to firearms the normal rule of "biggest, strongest and most skilled wins" (most of the time) has been consigned to history. Unless you are using a ludicrous Hand Cannon or a large shotgun, nearly everyone in reasonable health is capable of handling and using a modern handgun. Beyond point blank range, having huge muscles and endurance and being skilled in hand to hand combat won't save you from being shot and modern body armour is likewise lightweight enough to again be worn by anyone in reasonable health. A sixty five year old granny who's spent time on the range can kill a twenty year old roided up muscle bound thug with her .38 revolver just as easily as he can shoot her. As too much musculature can actually slow you down (moving large heavy arms takes time, you can't beat Sir Isaac Newton) actually being less muscled can be an advantage in personal combat with firearms. It's usually who gets the first accurate hit on a non-armoured part of their opponent who wins.
  • Scott Adkins is on record that when he packs on the muscle to play Yuri Boyka, his role in the Undisputed series, he certainly looks more intimidating but the extra muscle mass actually makes it harder for him to pull off Boyka's signature acrobatic martial arts moves when filming fight scenes.
  • Most actual fighters point out that bodybuilders and gym rats wouldn’t be much use in a real fight, because functional muscle is different from VISIBLE muscle. While many fighters and sport players can be muscled, it’s much different from the “bodybuilder” physique. A telltale sign that someone’s muscles are just for show is when they can’t do basic lifting or stretching for regular tasks anymore, let alone actually FIGHTING.
  • When he was cast as James Bond, Roger Moore was criticized for not having a muscular physique. However, those who tusselled with him soon found out that he was very tough. Lee Marvin got into a real fight with Moore while shooting Shout at the Devilnote  and later remarked: "Moore may not look it, but he is built like granite."


Video Example(s):


Young Desumi Punch!

Daigo tells Fudo how even as a little girl, Desumi was ridiculously strong.

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5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / SuperStrongChild

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