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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 his weight class. This is generally done to show just how badass he or she really is. 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:

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, Boobs of Steel, 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 a when this, and the other side of it, is case across the board.


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  • Dragon Ball, of course. It's justified by ki control, as well as skill and technique, taking precedence over sheer muscle mass, and it's is a recurring theme among opponents and transformations.
    • Right from the beginning, Goku could destroy rocks as a child when he was still the size of a watermelon and had stubby arms like a baby. Both he and Krillin easily outpower the building-sized wrestler types that appear in the preliminaries of the Tenkaichi Budokai thanks to Roshi's training as well (although one could argue that they're fat rather than muscly).
    • Tao Pai-Pai was the first lethal demonstration of this trope: he's able to kill General Blue, who is quite well-built and proved to be a constant thorn in the sides of our heroes, with nothing but a taught tongue to the temple despite being much older and slimmer than him.
    • There's also very early on the contrast between Vegeta and Nappa. Nappa, who's huge and brawny appearance was used to emphasize his power and dominance over a 4ft tall man and a child not even six. Naturally, he beats them both with ease. However, as giant as Nappa is, he is less than half as strong as the short, then scrawny Vegeta, and is later evenly matched by Goku, who while buff, is only half to one third his size.
    • Some villains go with this trope: Frieza's final form is far less bulky and scrawny compared to his second and third form and even Krillin said he looks weaker than before. This was because Toriyama wanted to subvert the expectations that villains got bigger as they got more powerful forms. But then when fighting Super Saiyan Goku, Frieza gets more muscle in his 100% power form anyway, ruining the idea somewhat. Kid Buu has no muscle mass but was the strongest antagonist at the end of Dragon Ball Z (not helped by his liquid-like body mass).
      • Android 17 and 18 are skinny as hell, but 18 specifically was able to smash the muscle clad Vegeta through a solid rock wall with one strike of her slender arm.
    • This trope is actually addressed as a plot point in the Cell Saga. Vegeta and Future Trunks had reached a certain ascended version of the basic Super Saiyan, but while it was an insane increase of power, the sheer muscle mass slowed them down too much to actually land a blow on their opponent. Trunks made the mistake of using the ascended form against Cell and got his ass handed to him because of this weakness, but Vegeta recognized this and didn't use it in his own fight with him.
    • Probably the most striking example, though, is Mr. Satan, who's legitimately strong, extremely muscular, and has a Badass Mustache, but happens to be in a series where ki power beats muscle power ten times out of ten.
    • Videl is actually one of the straightest examples of this, as even before she learned basic ki manipulation she was at least as strong as her father Mr. Satan, despite being a slender teenage girl with none of his huge muscles. As for why Gohan doesn't accidentally snap her in half, it's probably for the same reason real-life weightlifting champions can pet a kitten or pick up an egg without crushing it. Controlling your strength to use only the amount you want to for the task at hand is not difficult.
    • Beerus from Battle of Gods has very little muscle mass and looks like a sickly purple humanoid sphynx cat and he's the most powerful being in the universe. Well, he's not as powerful as Whis, who is also not very muscular.
      • Goku in his Super Saiyan God form as noted by Master Roshi has less muscle mass than any of his other forms, even when he's normal, but still was his most powerful form at the time.
    • Pan is just four years old when she competes in her first martial arts tournament, and she's sent up against a very muscular man. She defeats him easily, so easily that it freaks Uub out (who, unbeknownst to him, is vastly stronger than Pan). In Super Pan has Saiyan strength even as a baby.
    • Most of the Dragon Ball adult male fighters, though, are actually very bulky and muscular, albiet not overly so unless powering up. Any more bulky and they would be the Giant!
    • Another notable example is introduced in Super: Cabba is a Saiyan (from a parallel universe) with no visible musculature at all, looking like a scrawny teenager, yet in a tournament fight he proves to be an even match for Vegeta, not considering transformations. By this time Vegeta is a lot more bulky than described above, has been training under a Physical God for some time, and recently supposed that he was probably about as physically strong as it is possible for a Saiyan to get.
    • Averted with big time with Broly as he’s now canonically the strongest Saiyan and even in base form he’s got the upper body of Charles Atlas. Hulking Out causes Broly to have more muscle mass than Goku and Vegeta combined, though he's Unskilled, but Strong to balance things out.
  • One Piece invoke this frequently, the common Giant Mook or Boisterous Weakling will get the piss knocked out them by underestimating or bullying the main heores, e.g Luffy vs Bellamy in Jaya or Luffy vs Gladiator in Dressorsa.
    • The CP9 have the huge guys like Blueno, Kumadori and Fukuro but they’re actually the weaker members. By far the most powerful guys in the team are the lean and average-sized Rob Lucci, Kaku and Jabra. Though the aforementioned trio subvert this as they each have a Zoan Super Mode which them makes bigger.
      • Blueno spells this trope out when The Big Guy Tilestone hits him with a metal sledgehammer and Bluneo smashes the hammer like it's paper.
    Blueno: Are those muscles just for show?
    • Luffy's small arms are justified since he is made of rubber and can inflate them whenever he wants like when fighting Crocodile (where his bicep became larger than his head). Zoro, on the other hand, is just plain crazy. When he flexes, his arms become the size of his torso then when they're relaxed they are normal size. Sanji would seem play this trope as he can smash down buildings but looks like a bean pole, but it's a case of Clark Kent Outfit for him.
    • Franky is massive compared the three previous mentioned (especially after the time skip) and while he is a super strong Cyborg he's still quite significantly weaker than Luffy, Zoro and Sanji who have crazier Super Strength. The aforementioned Rob Lucci (whose a beanpole compared to Franky) was able to send to the cyborg flying across the room with a single kick. Though Franky does make it up for strength with technology (the Monster Trio can't shoot exploding laser beams) but Franky is still humble enough to say that the trio are "strongest" in the crew in Thriller Bark. Averted when Franky fought Nero though, being a lean Fragile Speedster wasn't doing Nero any favors against Franky.
    • Chopper's "Heavy Point" increases his strength by quite a margin but (like Franky) he has comparatively less super strength than the average-sized Monster Trio, given the lean Sanji could effortlessly overpower Heavy Point Chopper with one arm in Water 7. Averted with Chopper "Arm Point" and "Monster Point" where the muscle/size boost drastically improves his strength to point where he effectively defeats stronger opponents and can even stun a Big Bad like Shiki (in Movie 10). Played straight with Chibi-Chopper who carry huge iron balls with his stubby arms in Whole Cake Island arc.
      • Usopp bulks up during the Time Skip and is more visibly muscular than Luffy and Sanji, but Usopp still doesn't have quarter of their strength and can be easily beaten by Franky. Oda also states Usopp will always be the weakest crewmate which means even the lithe Nami could beat him up if she wanted to. Still Usopp can lift far greater weights than any normal human could, as One Piece Stampede shows.
    • Also, Robin is a tall, slight woman with the strength of an above-average athlete, which is pretty weak compared to some of the monsters of the series. However, she easily makes up for it with her Devil Fruit ability, which allows her to break your back effortlessly.
    Robin: Power. Speed. Against me, they mean nothing.
    • Same as Robin, Nami has a surprising amount of strength despite having a super model physique. In the early series she could carry a sack of gold (which can weigh tons) around, in Water 7 she can long jump over buildings with no trouble. Nami is capable of bringing down foes with a Megaton Punch or a flurry of kicks (as seen Enies Lobby anime). On Weatheria, Nami showed she was capable of running extremely quickly while carrying both a heavy bag much larger than herself and also the Wizard Haredas with great ease. In Zou Nami single handedly brought down Mink Wanda with nothing but her staff, though Wanda was weakened.
    • This applies to the admirals, Kizaru being the most prominent example; they are among the most powerful of antagonists, but all three are very thin for their height. In the case of Kizaru, however, there's a justification for this. He can move at the speed of light — with that sort of power you're always going to hit hard regardless of how much muscle you have, if only due to sheer speed.
    • Out of the Whitebeard Pirates, Marco has the least muscle mass and is far smaller than his captain, but he's also Whitebeard's Number Two and has one of the strongest Zoan-type Devil Fruits the Mythical Zoan-model Phoenix.
    • Before Alvida ate her Devil Fruit she had decent Stout Strength (being able to wield a large iron club), but she's still strong after eating even though it made her much skinnier (and more attractive).
    • The introduction of Amazon Lily featured a refreshing subversion. A lithe, beautiful woman duels a gorilla-sized lady-gonk in hand-to-hand combat. The gorilla beats the snot out of her slender, delicate opponent.
      • Though Boa Hancock the Empress of said Amazon Lily plays straight having a super model physique but still strong enough to smash stone with her bare legs and take down Pacifista effortlessly.
    • Carrot in her Sulong form is still petite as ever but still has enough Super Strength rip off a ship’s rudder and even crack the ground with her Super Speed. Earlier she carried heavy iron balls (chained to her feet) alongside Chopper.
    • Subverted with most of Charlotte Family and Big Mom Pirates as a lot of them are muscular powerhouses like Katakuri, Oven and Cracker as well as Statuesque Stunners like Smoothie and Cinnamon; and that's not mentioning the insane Stout Strength of Big Mom herself. But there are a few examples of this:
      • Perospero is 50 years old and looks like a stiff breeze would knock him over, and yet he physically overpowers Pedro a Jaguar Mink with little effort and then shrugs off a massive explosion.
      • Amande the Master Swordswoman of the Big Mom Pirates has the typical supermodel physique but add in her Long Neck and she looks very fragile, but the first time we see her in a fight she bisects a massive tree monster with ease. Easily the strongest female sword-user seen post time-skip.
      • Tamago though he's not a child of Big Mom like previous examples is very strong despite being built like a egg with legs.
    • Asura Doji from Wano is a fat and lazy samurai who can Speed Blitz Jack “The Droughtin seconds.
      • From the same arc there’s Hyogoro a tiny old man who makes up for his size with enhanced Busoshoku Haki which helps him beat far larger foes.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho deals with this a lot. In one of the first arcs, it's specifically shown that physical strength is different (and weaker) than spiritual strength. If you see someone who is muscular in a fight, chances are he'll be relatively weak (with the exception of Younger Toguro). Particularly addressed in the final Tournament fight, when Yusuke reveals his Spirit Cuffs, and the flashback to when he got them shows him trying to tear them apart, to no avail. Genkai comments that it measures spiritual energy, NOT physical, so knock it off. In another sense, as various characters get stronger they don't gain much in physical size; they retain the same basic body style that they start the show with.
  • Hunter × Hunter (by the same Mangaka) has even more fun with this- the two Kid Hero protagonists are skinny 12-year-olds- and at the start of the series, Killua can bench somewhere in the range of 16 tonnes. A later chapter gleefully lampshades this- the two of them decide to go work out to keep their edge. The next panel has them waving around barbells with weights larger than their entire bodies in a rather offhanded manner while casually conversing about their current job, as a gym full of goggle-eyed bodybuilders looks on.
  • Berserk, subverts this with the The Hero Guts who is ridiculously muscly, but plays it straight with others.
    • Griffith as a human was a complete beanpole but still able to block and parry Gut's massive greatsword with one arm; he even sliced off Nosferatu Zodd's arm while Guts could only cut into Zodd's wrist. Though to be fair Guts was weakened.
    • Casca has some muscles, especially compared to other women but she's no powerhouse, still she's able to slice men and demons apart with ease.
    • Serpico has very little muscle mass and is about as skinny as Griffith in his shirtless scene, but Serpico still can rip apart demons and even duel Guts evenly (thanks to being a Combat Pragmatist).
    • Isidro has some muscly arms for a kid though he's not quite ripped as Guts was at his age nevertheless Isidro can cut up Trolls and other lesser horrors.
    • Slan has no muscle mass at all and she's the most powerful female in the series, she defeated Guts with one attack, though in her case this is due to Slan being a member of the God Hand.
  • Last Order: Final Fantasy VII has Zack and Cloud who despite their stature can both wield the iconic BFS and slice through steel and people like butter, Zack at one point crushes a Shrina Solider's armour with just Good Old Fisticuffs. Averted when the petite 15 year old Tifa tries to fight the imposing full grown Sephiroth, it doesn't last long.
  • In Fruits Basket, both Yuki and Kyo are skinny bishounens... but they have the strength to practically kill each other and destroy Shigure's house. Also, Kagura is an innocent-looking girl, but can rip out trees by their trunks and swing them around as weapons.
    • Natsuki Takaya (the artist) actually acknowledges this in an aside from the manga: by all rights, the characters should be more muscular-looking than they are, and it's mainly a design preference that they're not (skinny bishounen and cute girls). In addition, Kagura likely derives her inhuman strength from somewhere else.
  • Bleach: Used many times due to the fact the characters use spiritual energy to fight. As a result, size can be meaningless in the face of who has the most spiritual power and the most skill to maximise their spiritual power. This can be seen in the zanpakutou and the Menos Grande. A shinigami zanpakutou can look like a completely normal sword but it's sealing enormous power and therefore cannot be used to gauge the strength of the shinigami that wields it. The weakest class of Menos Grande is the Gillian. It's also the biggest type of hollow that can be found. The strongest is the Vasto Lorde, which is no bigger than the average human.

    The most dramatic example is Yammy, the 10th Espada. He is physically the largest Espada and can keep getting bigger. As 0th Espada, he's by far the most powerful, too. However, he lacks the skill to apply his power, something that's heavily lampshaded in the manga. As a result, when he fights a captain tag-team while in his largest and most powerful form, the captains, who do know how to use skill to harness their power, curb-stomp him.
  • This is all over the place in the Tournament Arc of Mahou Sensei Negima!. Just of the eight of eighty we see get through the qualifying royales seven of them are either a slender young woman, a child, or both (physically, at least), and the other one that was an adult male wasn't at all buff. All of them completely trash all but one of the other divisions, which consisted of eighteen other people which were nearly entirely heavily muscled (if not flat-out gigantic) adult men. Many of them weren't even using any special powers like ki or magic. Anyone of above-average size or build who isn't Jack Rakan exists solely to get their ass kicked by someone skinnier and more attractive for the sake of said person looking cool.
  • Present in Fushigi Yuugi. Even with all the superpowered warriors, there isn't a single highly muscular character. What else would you expect from a shoujo Reverse Harem anime?
    • A specific case of this is Nuriko, whose power is super strength, yet he's skinny enough to convincingly crossdress as a woman.
  • Kyohei and Sunako from The Wallflower. Both are very waifish, and both can easily beat down crowds of enemies when they need to.
  • L from Death Note, who is 5'8" and weighs 110 lbs, is quite strong, and fights using capoeira. He even states at one point in the series, while in a serious fight with Light Yagami, that he is stronger than he looks.
  • Soul Eater uses the combination of a healthy 'mind, body, and soul' to define strength and point out that it's not purely down to physical power. Characters who are shown to be extremely strong physically do not always appear as such; Maka and Kid for example, though the latter has the excuse of being a god. It doesn't hurt to be muscular, however, as characters like Black Star (especially) and Stein show.
    • Averted when Maka and Black Star (who while muscular, is still just a child) take on Free, a werewolf. A big and muscular adult male, Free dominated them in battle, despite the fact that he had been rusty after being imprisoned for 800 years.
    • Averted with Crona and his symbiotic weapon, Ragnarok. When they first appear, they are unbeatable for Maka and Soul, and Ragnarok's huge muscles and large size certainly helped him and Crona in battle. Later the two fight Kid and seem evenly matched with him, which is actually quite impressive, as Kid is a god and the son of Lord Death, a shinigami.
      • Also, when Ragnarok loses his great muscle mass when his soul is cleansed, he and Crona are noticeably weaker, but still not to underestimated.
  • InuYasha:
    • Inuyasha is pretty trim under that kimono, but he can uproot large trees and use them as weapons, pick up and carry a bolder larger than he is tall, etc. Even for a hanyo, InuYasha is incredibly strong, stronger than many full Youkai.
    • His brother Sesshomaru counts as well. The very first thing we see Sesh pull in the manga is placing his hand lightly on a big, muscular man's head... and ripping it clean off without even a hint of effort. He's not any less muscular than Inuyasha (both of them do have some muscle tone, which is more than can be said of many Bishōnen), but he isn't any more so, either. Word of God states that Sesshoumaru's one arm strength alone is equal to Inuyasha's whole strength.
    • This is true for all youkai and hanyou, because they are always superhumanly strong, no matter what they look like. In InuYasha the Movie: Fire on the Mystic Island , a hanyou child effortlessly broke a branch that was as thick as a human arm.
  • Somewhat averted, somewhat played with in Naruto. While some characters use special chakra-based abilities to have Super Strength (just look at Sakura and her teacher, Tsunade (whose trademark ability is her raw strength). Barely a muscle on their slim bodies (except for their bosoms), but they can beat down mooks fifty times their size!), the characters known for being physically strong are usually HUGE. A, Killer Bee, and Chouji come to mind. There ARE exceptions, like Rock Lee (who is much stronger than his muscles would suggest, and DOESN'T use chakra to make up for it).
    • Sakura and Tsunade's hard hitting explicitly doesn't have anything to do with muscles, as it's actually them gathering chakra into their fists and blasting it all out on impact. Most of their actual physical ability involves heightened agility to avoid getting hit. When it comes to raw physical strength, the strongest tend to be pretty big guys (Choji and his father, Jirobo, Jugo, the Raikage) or use some form of body modification (Kakuzu, cursed seal user, Naruto and Jiraiya in Sage Mode) except for Mighty Guy and Rock Lee, who tend towards the "defined, but lean" in the style of Bruce Lee (see below) as they value both speed and strength. It's outright (and hilariously) subverted when Sasuke (who's really rather scrawny) tries to kick Killer Bee (who is quite large, tall, and muscular)... and it does absolutely nothing.
      • However, in one of the first filler episodes Sakura rips up a ship's mast and uses it to beat the bad guys off the vessel. This is before she began her training with Tsunade, you understand. It was a big ship.
    • Tsunade, due to being a hybrid of a Senju and a Uzumaki (both clans with massive amount of pure physical ability and vitality) has incredibly high natural physical strength. So much so that without chakra she could lift and wield Gamabunta's sword after being seriously worn out...and when she enhances her strength with chakra she can bust through Madara's Susano'o.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple:
    • Kensei Ma. The man is probably barely 4 feet and is the eldest of the masters (barring the Old Master Hayato himself), making him very scrawny. He seems to be of the Weak, but Skilled category, but he's capable of delivering devastating punches at close range, with apparently barely any technique involved.
    • Averted by Master Hayato; He's the biggest, tallest and most muscular of all the masters, and actually is strongest of all the masters, not to mention the most skilled.
    • This is the entire basis of the Kushinada Jujitsu style, which focuses on such extremely presice control of an opponent's center of gravity that the motto of the style is "100% skill no strength". as expected all practitioners including it's creator are women.
  • Of course, Saint Seiya has this in spades. Cassios and Docrates, two enormous towers of sheer muscle (Shaina's disciple and one of the Pope's acolytes, respectively) are humbled by skinny 15 year-olds Seiya and Hyoga. Most noticeable in that Cassios' fist is as large as Seiya himself, but the latter can easily stop Cassios' punch with his open palm. Without even using his Cosmo (or leverage, for that matter.)
  • The Prince of Tennis: Toyama Kintaro was twelve years old, not even five feet tall... and was able to drive a golf ball farther than a college student with a 5-iron that he bent with his bare hands.
  • 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 that 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 that 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 happened, he got up and walked halfway across Ikebukuro to Shinra's house to have the bullets removed.
  • Pokémon Adventures: Bruno of the Kanto Elite Four is a muscled powerhouse who trains alongside his Pokémon, always searches for the next big fight (Lorelei interferes when he faces Red, much to his chagrin before he gets brainwashed), and poses the Kanto Dex Holders no end of trouble. His disciple, Hoenn's Brawly, looks to have half the muscle he does, but has the same level of strength, which he pools with his determination to outmuscle Mack's Mind Rape when Groudon goes on a Magma-assisted rampage in Mossdeep.
    • On the subject of Gym Leaders, Chuck and Bruno are on the big end, the former knowing a vast array of martial arts and takes up the same Fighting Gym Leader habit of training with his Pokémon. In case you think he sucks as a teacher, one of his disciples is Blue, who while not demonstrating his talents in martial arts on-panel is hardly a slouch at commanding Pokémon. And if Brawly wasn't "scrawny" enough, then Maylene of Sinnoh manages to top that, being a skinny teenaged Pettanko who can cross blows with a Riolu - which, as we know, grows into Lucario, which is (literally) Made of Iron. You can expect to see bad things happening to Team Galactic should she have to get involved.
    • Many of the Dex Holders themselves manage to perform feats of physical excellence, but the majority of them are a result of being drunk on Heroic Resolve. And then there's Sapphire, whose feats of strength and heroism speak for themselves.
      • Hell, even Green may be stronger than she appears. At age 11, she once held onto her flying Jigglypuff with one hand while the other arm was hoisting up Red.
  • Hareta from Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure! is absurdly powerful for a kid his age but has no muscles (probably considering he's prepubescent). At one point he flipped a Rhyperior, which is over 600 pounds and a rock Pokémon.
  • While we're on the subject of Pokémon, Ash Ketchum is also quite strong for his age despite having little in the way of muscles. In "Holiday Hi-Jynx", he pulled along a raft carrying Pikachu, Misty, Brock and a Jynx while swimming through really cold water. In "Mass Hip-po-sis", he's seen multiple times carrying the 109.1-pound hippopotamus Pokémon Hippopotas on his head. For a whole arc in the Johto saga, he's often carrying around a Larvitar, which is a 158.7-pound baby kaiju. But his ultimate feat of strength comes from the third-generation episode "Pinch Healing", where Ash throws a log in order to save a Bagon. This log is estimated to weigh 1,385 pounds.
  • In Pretty Face, Rando was in a coma for a year and his muscles shrank for not using them. Strangely enough, despite this, his physical strength didn't go down at all.
  • The strongest characters in AIKI are pretty muscular... but only on the middle of the size scale. The strongest women barely have any. The trope itself is invoked when Joukyuu informs Hou Mei of why she's doing badly in a fight against an opponent who's much smaller - she's too muscular and it's slowing her down. She leaves for a time to train, returning noticeably slimmer and much faster.
    • Averted later in AIKI-S with Cassandra, who is a literal Amazon at 8 feet tall with the physique of a bodybuilder. Her physique actually helps her go toe-to-toe against the protagonist, Joukyuu, who had so far been seen wiping the floor with everybody.
  • Played straight twice in Shaman King, first with the characters itself. Being a big guy in Shaman King is meaningless since power in the series is all about Mind over Matter, or more precisely soul over matter. Secondly with the spirit powers itself. During most of the series, when a character gained a power-up, they would start to summon building-sized spirit Battle Aura called O.S.. Then during the final part of the series, the Big Bad says that making those gigantic things was pure waste of power. In the end they fight with much more powerful, yet much smaller O.S.-es.
  • The mages in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha universe are extremely strong physically, but it doesn't show much in their physique. In the beginning of season two, the nine-year old Nanoha protected herself from attacks from both sides, holding the shields apart with her bare hands in a Star Wars-like double-Advancing Wall of Doom manner. Both attacks had the momentum to blow a hole in an average building and eventually made Nanoha sink ankle-deep into the concrete floor. And that's a nine-year old girl with no excessive muscle mass. Powerhouses like Signum could probably punch holes in reinforced concrete with just those sleek, sexy hands of theirs. (This probably has to do with the series' target demographic, which prefers cute girls to muscular warriors.)
  • Claymore has this in spades. All Claymore warriors are lithe killing machines powered by Yoma blood inside them. The only exception is Undine, but it is revealed that she built up the muscle mass on purpose in attempt to improve her own self-confidence. In the flashbacks, she is shown with her original, (seemingly) frail constitution.
  • Project A-ko: The eponymous Eiko Magami looks like an ordinary schoolgirl but is a Person of Mass Destruction.
    • Justified: she's the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman. No, really.
  • Yakitate!! Japan's Azuma Kazuma, he may not be as muscular as his other two teammates (Kawachi and Suwabara). But his bread baking skills beat his opponents into submission.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • Downplayed with Sanosuke Sagara, a lean hand-to-hand combat fighter. Yet he's strong enough to lift a heavy zanbato and clash with muscular monk Anji. However it's downplayed because while he lacks muscles relative to the strength he can wield, his body is still well-built with plenty of muscles in his V-Cut abs and relatively quite broad arms so its not so much muscles are meaningless but rather he's a classic example of powerlifting (aka "functional strength") over a hypertrophy approach to strength building. His fight with Anji quite averts it because Anji only lost because he surrendered after finally listening to Sanosuke's message but despite receiving so many blows he was tanking Sanosuke's attack and it was obvious that despite a overdrawn brutal battle, Anji would have won with the direction the fight was going. Anji also blatantly overpowers other opponents who are lean like Sanosuke but far smaller and less muscular than Anji. Anti-hero Saito, who can beat Sanosuke into a bloody pulp, and Shishio, who has enough power to send Sanosuke flying, are also quite slender.
    • Averted with Seijuro Hiko, Kenshin's master, who seems a tall and slender man... until he takes off his coat, revealing a huge muscled body. Word of God says that some fangirls were disappointed at him not being a Bishounen.
    • It's also deconstructed with Kenshin himself, who's a small slender man unlike Hiko, and thus not really suited for his style of fighting at all. By the end of the series he's unable to fight as well as he once was because of the strain on his body.
  • In Ranma ½, the only two characters who have really visible muscle are Genma Saotome (who is not only a Dirty Coward, but actually comes off as Stout Strength and Acrofatic because his muscles and baggy gi make him pretty barrel-shaped) and Pantyhose Taro... the latter only when he takes on his Mix-and-Match Critters super-form (which, admittedly, outclasses everyone that isn't an Old Master.) Everyone else is capable of fits of Super Strength while being, at most, leanly toned looking. Even Ryoga, while thicker-chested then Ranma, still looks pretty scrawny with just a T-shirt on.
  • Averted humorously in Stand Alone Complex when Batou, jokingly, tells the Major she should switch to a male prosthetic body like his because it would give her more strength. She challenges him on the spot and he brings his fists up ready to spar. She hacks his brain and makes him punch himself out, proving she doesn't need more strength when she has her far more effective brain.
  • Pretty much all Magical Girl Warrior anime, from Sailor Moon to Pretty Cure, give their heroines Super Strength upon transformation without significant changes to muscle mass or tone.
  • Played with in Sailor Moon: on one hand, while Makoto Kino is muscular, or "meaty", according to Word of God, Minako Aino is actually a short who not only has no problem kicking the significantly bigger Makoto across the room, but she can use a sword almost as big as her to kill the Big Bad, has destroyed multiple youma with a single kick, and can Flash Step and follow up with a kick capable of throwing larger opponents across the room (what she did to Makoto), and the latter all without transforming; on the other hand Makoto is the physically strongest of the Sailor Senshi, Minako is simply far more skilled and a bit muscular herself, simply not enough for it to show clearly.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, Inner Moka is capable of taking down opponents that are larger and more muscular than her with ease. Her sister Kokoa can lift and swing a huge mace seemingly without any effort. Justified as it is a vampire's special ability: they can turn their Yoki, which is already pretty high being S-Class Youkai and all, into physical strength.
  • Vash The Stampede from Trigun has a scarecrow physique and yet he can knock over the hulking Monev the Gale with a kick the face, wield Wolfwood’s BFG, deflect a canonball with his foot and physically carry Meryl and Milly (whose a big girl) through the desert for days. It could be a subversion though, as Vash underneath his red coat is quite muscly (we also see him work out briefly) and since Vash is a humanoid Plant he definitely has superhuman strength along with his other Plant powers.
    • Like Vash, Nicolas D Wolfwood has greater strength than his average build would suggest. Wolfwood’s justification is that he’s actually a genetically modified Tyke Bomb.
    • Milly Thompson while she is very tall is still by no means an Amazonian Beauty so unlike Vash or Wolfwood she has no real exuse for being able wield her BFG.
    • The strongest members of of the Gung-Ho-Guns are usually the smaller and leaner ones while the bigger ones that rely on brute force are dispatched quickly by Vash and pals.
  • Black Lagoon: Dutch, the Lagoon Company's leader, is a fairly muscular guy but gets easily overpowered by the thinner Roberta. Ultimately, the much more trim Revy is the only match for her.
  • In Koihime†Musou very few characters are drawn muscle-bound but some of the smallest characters are among the strongest. Chouhi is only as tall as Kannu's chest but can carry a battering ram plus the half dozen or so people using it with one arm. While suffering from a cold. Kyocho is similarly a very small-sized character with no visible muscle but uses a kendama with a huge metal ball that must weigh as much as she does in combat. Both easily qualify as Pintsized Powerhouses.
  • Just about every single Shoujo that involves action, including the male characters and even in series that don't have the supernatural excuse. You can be a pretty boy and still have a good amount of muscle but not in shoujo.
  • In Fairy Tail, size and muscle mass is hardly ever an indicator of strength, barring a few exceptions like Gildarts. The incredibly thin Sol was able to overpower Elfman with ease, and so could Mirajane.
  • Ivica Tanović, the commander of the Pied Piper Team in Eureka Seven AO, is an extremely tall and imposing man, but still looks awfully skinny for the Super Strength feats he routinely displays.
  • In Eyeshield 21, there are some effective players that doesn't have much mass, like Hayato Akaba and the Poseidons players. Also players who looks strong, but their stamina and endurance just don't make it, like Amino Cyborgs.
  • While the more powerful martial artists in Fist of the North Star are muscular men, they can easily tear apart King Kong sized thugs who are even more muscular than them; Kenshiro didn't even break a sweat killing off the much taller and buffer Zeed.
    • Mamyia has a physique closer to a supermodel compared to the Heroic Build of Kenshiro or Rei, but Mamyia can still break a man’s skull with her knee and wreck Mooks alongside the boys. She’s still physically overpowered by huge bad guys like Kiba Daio however subverting this trope a good deal.
  • Shizuka Fujiyama, head engineer of the Daiku Maryu in Gaiking: Legend of Daiku Maryu, has no apparent musculature whatsoever, yet is able to very easily lift at least three of the incredibly heavy metal plates that the other members struggle to even lift one of.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Subverted with Mikasa. She is one of the most powerful fighters on the show and strong enough to carry her brother over her shoulder, among other things, but usually appears pretty tiny. That is, until you catch a glimpse of how absolutely ripped she is under that uniform.
    • Levi is short and scrawny, but is even faster, stronger, and tougher than Mikasa.
  • Blue Exorcist has the titular character of Okumura Rin. Compared to other characters (like Ryuji who uses a freaking bazooka with his muscles) Rin is deceptively slender. It appears to be a family trait; Amaimon is ridiculously skinny but can break your arm with a finger poke while Mephisto can hold back both Amaimon and a berserk Rin casually and even hold a conversation at the same time.
  • 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.
  • In Rage of Bahamut: Genesis it is also played straight. Amira is a young girl, but at the same time strong enough to lift an adult man with only one hand. Apart from that, she can effortlessly defeat a huge monster with only one blow. As a nephilim she is probably much stronger than any human.
  • The anime Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic has Morgiana. She looks like a young girl who is not particularly strong, but she is by far one of the strongest characters in the anime. Their kicks are strong enough to even destroy metal.
  • In Urusei Yatsura we have Asuka a small slender teenage girl who possesses incredible strength, she can effortlessly beat up men several times her size, even big beefy ones, she can also do things like tear the armor off tanks, wield huge weapons, and tear down trees, even a simple hug from her is enough to crush a person's spine. She gets it from her mother who has a similar body type.
  • Justified in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. The dragons explicitly use magic to supplement their strength while in their human forms. If they lack any mana to power themselves, then they won't be any stronger than their physique would suggest (something demonstrated during Kanna's introduction when she was only able to ineffectually pound on Kobayashi's chest).
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Extremely common in superhero comics, for obvious reasons. By way of an example, Batman is a large and powerfully built man. Wonder Woman is a slim and athletic woman (Depending on the Artist), obviously a lot lighter than him. Guess which one can bench press a tank.
    • 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.
    • Originally Robin (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake) were drawn as skinny teenage boys but still can fight the crime of Gotham as effectively as Batman himself. Averted later as Dick, Jason and Tim have muscular builds as they grew older. Only Damian plays this trope straight being a small child capable of killing a grown man with a finger.
    • The Joker is a beanpole who can go toe to toe with trained ninja martial artist-Batman, and to make matters worse the Joker draws strength from pain.
    • Cassandra Cain is noted in the comics as being far stronger (and faster) than even a highly athletic girl her size should be. This is mostly down to her 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.
      • Barbra Gordon and Stephanie Brown are also usually pretty skinnier but can keep up with males Bat-Family members easily.
  • The fourth Superboy, Jon Kent, is a fairly normal-looking ten-year-old. Being Kryptonian, he casually toss 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.
  • Averted with some super-strong heroines; She-Hulk and Power Girl (to name two) are typically drawn with a body-builder's level of muscularity, being among the rare believers in the idea that just because you already have super-strength doesn't mean you can't benefit from pumping some iron to get even stronger. But much like Wonder Woman, it depends on the artist. There are times She-Hulk is drawn without muscles. Of course, even at their biggest her muscles are nothing compared to her cousin.
    • So common in fact that when Kara Zor-El -Supergirl- returned in 2004, writers were easily able to tease the fan base with the idea that the slender 16 year old girl might be stronger than her full grown powerfully built cousin Superman.
    • In her first solo book Kara met a bunch of guys. All of them were buff and 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.
    • This applies to Kryptonian children, too—see, for example, Superman's foster-son Chris in Last Son.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Spider-Man possesses incredible strength but also possesses 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.
  • 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 (Cycolps, 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 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 Sabertooth in the gut so hard his feet left the ground. Though it’s clear Psylocke 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.
    • X23 is one the few people smaller than Wolverine but she’s twice as savage and can kill opponents many times her size and strength.
  • 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.
  • 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 fly away in fistfights with inexplicably powerful haymakers.
  • In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Paul in With Strings Attached 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Zigzagged 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.
  • 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.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Incredibles invokes this frequently.
    • Elstagirl is very small (though shapely) compared to her husband Mr Incredible and other supers, yet utilizing her elasticity she can easily knock dozens of burly dudes (even shoving a bunch armed guards in a closet), throw a manhole over around, stop a train and generally be a Action Mom.
    • Frozone is also much less burly than most heroes shown and focuses on using his An Ice Person powers but he can still carry multiple people over his shoulder inside a burning building.
    • Dash is a small boy who can staggar and knock over full grown men with his Super Speed as well tank punches.
    • Voyd in Incredibles 2 is far stronger than her figure would suggest, able to knock Violet around like a ragdoll.
  • In Kung Fu Panda, all of the Furious Five seem to have about the same amount of strength. It seems semi-plausible (Tigress is the biggest and seems to be the strongest), until you get to Mantis, who is an actual praying mantis. He has no problem throwing Po around. And though he does struggle to hold up the rope bridge that all the others plus Tai Lung are fighting on, he still holds out a lot longer than he reasonably should have.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Astrid doesn't seem to have much muscle mass at all, and yet she can still hurl giant hammers with enough force to knock out dragons. She can also push her scrawny Love Interest Hiccup around like rag doll. Subverted in the sequel where Hiccup has bulked up and is bigger than her.
  • In Tangled, Rapunzel can haul a grown woman up the height of the tower, without so much as a pulley, and inflict serious damage with her frying pan. And remains a slight little waif.
  • Disney's Hercules was small and gangly in his youth but already possessed Super Strength thanks to his godly parentage. He does grow into a properly Heroic Build after training, but the demonstrable difference is more of control than power.
  • Played with in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; while the slim teenagers like Miles and Gwen have enough Super Strength to break stone and send baddies flying with their blows, comparatively they aren’t as strong as all three versions of adult Peter Parker who can physically stop trains, smash villains through walls, hold buildings together, and pull/punch cars around. Spider-Strength likely gets Stronger with Age.
    • Spider-Ham and Peni Parker are superhumanly strong despite being a respectively a small cartoon pig and small Japanese cartoon girl.
  • Although it isn't really focused on, just noted in passing, Peter Pan is really strong but built like an ordinary pre-teen.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Miller's Crossing: The Bruiser of a Mook duo rolls up his sleeves to administer a warning beatdown on Tom, giving him a sporting chance to remove his own coat. Tom uses that chance to swing a chair into the bruiser's face. The bruiser whimpers and waddles from the room, pathetically nursing a bloody nose. A second later, the tiny old man slams open the door, speed-marches toward Tom, and his fist hardly fills the screen before blackout.
  • Justified in The Matrix by the obvious:
    Morpheus: Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?
    Neo: (shakes his head)
    Morpheus: You think that's air you're breathing now?
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has Optimus Prime dominating Megatron in battle, despite Prime being smaller and getting beat up by the latter in the first film. Justified in that Prime was distracted by his fear of collateral damage in the first film, whereas he can cut loose with no problems in the second.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Averted with most of the Kryptonians in Man of Steel with Superman and Zod being muscle bound, however played straight with Faora (Zod's Dragon) who is smaller and more petite than her male colleagues but still capable of throwing the muscly sun-powered Superman around. Ursa in Superman II is of the same mold.
    • Wonder Woman is the best example of this. Some of the Fan Dumb were initially against Gal Gadot's casting as Diana in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. On the one hand, she was Miss Israel in 2004, which fits Diana's canonical designation as the World's Most Beautiful Woman. On the other hand, while she's certainly not willowy, neither is she the very defined Amazonian Beauty which is often depicted in present-day comics. The complaining died down when Gal turned out to be very good at playing this trope in both Batman v Superman and her solo movie, looking and acting like a warrior goddess despite being smaller than, for example, Ben Affleck as the genetically gifted and incredibly well trained, but still human and mortal, Batman. Possibly her service in the Israel Defense Forces had something to do with this. Of course, it is clear Gal Gadot did bulk up to play Diana.
    • Echantress from Suicide Squad at one point beats up most of the cast despite being a comparatively smaller woman. Though being controlled by Eldritch Abomination is obviously a strength boost.
    • Mera from Justice League and Aquaman is less buff than Wonder Woman, but she’s still an Atlantean, making her strong enough to physically defeat the heavily armoured Men-of-War.
    • The only male hero who isn't a super muscular powerhouse is The Flash in Justice League though his powers mean he hits hard without the need for muscle.
  • Justified for force users in Star Wars in that the force is much more powerful than mere physical strength and can even enhance it, which means that both Jedi and Sith don't need to be extremely fit in order to defeat an opponent twice their size or lift heavy objects that would crush a normal person.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is no beanpole, but he's nowhere near as muscular as Cap, Thor, or even Hawkeye. As seen in Iron Man 2, Tony does do boxing with his bodyguard Happy and can whack Whiplash on the head with a racecar door but aside from his suits of armor, wealth and extreme intelligence, he's just an average human. In Iron Man 3, Tony takes down a dozen guards with no Iron Man suit at all (though, in fairness, he is using ''heavily'' modified Home Depot gadgets) and in Captain America: Civil War, Tony briefly holds his own against Bucky using a combination of martial arts (Robert Downey Junior knows wing chun) and a wristwatch gauntlet. In Avengers: Infinity War Tony even physically grapples with the titan Thanos without his nanosuit. Sure he quickly gets beaten and impaled but the fact Tony remained conscious when the likes of Captain America and Hulk were taken out instantly by Thanos in a close quarters fight is a compliment to Tony’s fortitude.
    • Played very straight with Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Though she's got lithe figure, she can still take down Happy in one move and defeat an army of henchman in Iron Man 2. Natasha goes on to knock Hawkeye out cold and kills multiple Chitauri in The Avengers (2012) and most impressively holds her own against Bucky Barnes in Winter Soldier and Civil War despite his explicit Super Strength. Natasha also duels Promixa Midnight and grievously wounds Corvus Glaive, two very deadly children of Thanos, which means Black Widow may well be the strongest non-superpowered human woman in the MCU
    • Loki is probably the least muscular Asgardian/Ice Giant, or God for that matter, and is especially scrawny compared to his older brother Thor (thanks to him being played by Chris Hemsworth). However, as seen in Avengers, Loki can still effortlessly Neck Lift Tony Stark and throw him out a window as well as beat the very muscled Captain America around with ease. Plus, Loki can fight his brother Thor equally, as seen in the climax of his first movie and the first Avengers. Though he is still ultimately overpowered by his brother, the Hulk, and eventually Thanos.
      • Hela, Thor and Loki's older sister introduced in Ragnarok, is skinnier and smaller than Loki but she still mopped the floor with both her younger brothers. Took over Asgard single handedly and less we forget crushed Mjölnir (which is made from a dying star) in her barehand.
    • Bruce Banner when he isn't his near-unstoppable massive green alter-ego is a simple scientist who's shorter than Cap, Thor, and most of the cast (Mark Ruffalo ain't a big dude). Though in Ultron, Banner can still put Scarlet Witch in a headlock which she can't escape, and if she even attempted to...
      Wanda: I know you're angry.
      Banner: Oh, no, we're way past that. I could choke the life out of you and never change a shade.
    • Gamora, from Guardians of the Galaxy has the lithe, toned figure of the professionally trained dancer that Zoe Saldana is. She effortlessly overpowers Peter Quill, who's taller and bulkier than she is. Even more impressively in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, she stops Drax (played by WWE's Dave Bautista) from flying out of the airlock by holding onto his safety rope. She later picks up and fires a gun that's the size of a small car and has to weigh at least a metric ton. This is justified since Gamora has Bio-Augmentation and cybernetic upgrades. Nebula is just as thin as Gamora, but just as strong and more savage, though she's an outright Cyborg.
    • Played with in that, while she's stronger than any normal human or near-human species, she's far weaker than fellow teammate Drax (who effortlessly overpowers with one arm and nearly chokes her to death by accident), who has many times her muscle mass. Meanwhile, Drax himself gets overpowered by the tall and lean but (compared to Drax) much scrawnier Ronan.
      • Rocket can wield weapons bigger than he is, despite being a small Racoon. Like Gamora, this is justified due to Bio Augmentation.
    • Vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite being very tall, is actually quite lean and not as cut/ripped/jacked as Thor, Cap, etc. Still, Vision is one of the strongest Avengers as a true Flying Brick.
    • Hope van Dyne, aka Wasp 2, isn't developed like Scott, aka Antman (played by a bulked up Paul Rudd). But with one punch to the nose, she floors him quicker than the Scary Black Man who punched down Scott in jail.
    Hope: That's how you punch.
    • Peter Parker aka Spider-Man fits this trope better than the rest of the Avengers, thanks to being the youngest hero and making him a Pint-Sized Powerhouse. Like his comic counterpart, Tom Holland who plays Spidey is quite wiry; pretty trim under his clothes (as seen in Homecoming) but still nowhere near as massive as the rest of his male peers. But this is to Peter's advantage as Bucky quickly found out in Civil War when he tried to punch Spidey with his cybernetic arm and Spidey effortlessly caught his fist, something not even Cap could do. Spidey, when not holding ferries together, also has enough super strength to knock around Cull Obsidian and Thanos around despite being a quarter their size.
      • Lampshaded Out of Universe as several members of the cast in interviews lightheartedly tease Tom for being so small, but conversely they also marvel over how athletic he is.
    • Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok is shorter than Loki, but beats said demigod and captures him. She can even drag Thor around after knocking him out.
  • In The Guardian, a movie about the US Coast Guard's rescue swimmers, one of the candidates is extremely well built and is washed out on the first day due to cramping up during a swim. Kevin Costner's character dismisses him with a comment that muscle doesn't float. Truth In Television, as being a rescue swimmer is more about stamina than strength, and heavily muscled people tend to gas out quicker. Even NAVY Seals tend to have lean builds with a bit of flab.
  • Deadpool gives us an interesting case. While Angel Dust is a powerfully built woman (played by Gina Carano), she's still significantly smaller than Colossus, and lacks his organic steel skin. Despite this, she matches him in both strength and durability.
  • Played for laughs in The Gamers, a film based on a Tabletop Game where the player characters are at the mercy of the Random Number God. Faced with a locked gate, the muscular Barbarian Hero lands a Critical Failure and throws his back out, so the reedy elf forces it open without effort.
  • Barring Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!, none of the various Godzillas of the Millennium series have been as ripped as the Heisei and Monsterverse Godzillas — and are still no less powerful. In fact, the Godzilla of Final Wars is both the slimmest and, before the anime trilogy, arguably most powerful Godzilla.

  • 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, 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 then 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 nothing 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 Barratheon 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 dhampir 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 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 men to floor so hard he dies, Professor Hellsing 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."

    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.
  • X-5 series transgenic supersoldiers in Dark Angel. While Zack is fairly bulky, Max and Alec have roughly the same level of enhanced physical prowess.
  • 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.
  • 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 sack of bones is because 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 bare handed 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.
    • Data's strength is shown initially in "Encounter at Farpoint" when he lifts Riker up. Later, when a Klingon tries to challenge him in their version of arm-wrestling (B'aht Qul), Data wins effortlessly, 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.
  • 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").

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Pro 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 wresting 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.
  • 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 
  • 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 and opponent with at least only 50% damage flying off stage.
  • This can be seen in MMORPGs as well. Since character appearances are purely aesthetic, a large muscular character could be defeated with ease by a smaller character.
    • 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 4-foot tall anorexic-looking girl.
    • 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 him/her self, and is just as capable as a tauren of tearing you to shreds.
    • Not just MMOs, any game with a customizable strength stat is susceptible to this because often the character model doesn't match the stats. Case in point, in Final Fantasy X, a properly-trained Yuna can do more physical damage than any other character, including Tidus and Auron. With a blunt stick, no less!
      • Try attacking a Behemoth with a levelled up Yuna doing 99999 damage. The wimpy sound she makes as she swings her staff just makes it that much stranger.
  • 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.
  • 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 screen shot where a female COG bayonets a Locust and actually lifts off the ground. Note that the locusts arms are about as big as her torso.
  • 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 or lift and throw ten significantly larger people at once.
    • Or blow up planets...
  • 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 Bonus Boss version, should not be able to deal the damage he does with a frame like his. The same goes with Larxene and Saix.
  • 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.
  • Link from The Legend of Zelda is generally on the small side and, even as an adult, doesn't get much bulkier than "wiry bishonen" (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 super powers 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?
  • 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 then the other opponents, but wins due to the player exploiting the bosses mistakes, and fighting patterns.
  • Mega Man allows you to gain the same strength as Gutsman, a boss robot at least twice your size. The strength Mega Man shows in 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 were a rag doll.
  • 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, the an In-Universe explanation for this trope was the presence of genetic enhancements in all Alliance soldier, 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 do 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 whooping score of 182
  • 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 whose received the same augmentations as John 117 aka Master Chief (whose smaller than Jorge).
  • 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 especially R.Mika. Though a few characters play this straight.
    • Fei Long easily the 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 her 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 muscular as Chun-Li but she’s still presented as one of the deadest women in the series able to knock around muscular guys like Rashid and Vega around. 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 a 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.
  • While not as scrawny as some of the other video game characters listed, in Team Fortress 2, the Scout is able to sending enemies flying with a baseball bat, including the Heavy.
  • 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 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Tidus in Final Fantasy X 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.
  • 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 specialising 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 then 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.
  • Amusingly, Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII has the highest unmodified Strength stat in the game at level 100. She's stronger than Ward.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Resident Evil zig-zags this trope.
    • Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield and Ada Wong play this straight despite their waif physiques with all three women are the 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 to Jill and Claire who can handle large firearms no problem despite lacking the upper body strength of the male characters in the series.
    • Probably one of the awesome and Narm moments in Resident Evil 3 is the option to have regular-sized Jill Valentine push the Hulk-sized Nemesis off a bridge into a chasm.
    • 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. Kenndy 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 a 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 muscles 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 then 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.
  • Shantae can effortlessly sprint through miles of monster-infested forest while carrying someone bridal-style, despite having the physique of a scrawny teenager girl.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 fanartists), 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.
  • In football series including Madden NFL and 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Sakura Oogami is an extremely muscular Brawn Hilda, yet during one of her Free Time Events, she tells 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 that 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.
  • 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.

  • Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance is a Killer Rabbit about the same size as a plushy, and about as soft. Doesn't stop him from kicking serious butt.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Iron Violet is a lithe young woman with vast superhuman strength.
  • The complete dependency on Shinsoo 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 Shinsoo, which acts as an air surrogate, can become as dense as water depending on its concentration. Thus, characters with high Shinsoo resistance like Baam and Yuri Zahard have a huge advantage.
    • Yuri Zahard, and pretty much every other Zahard Princess, 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 Shinsoo.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • 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 Entirely Presenting You, Alexis gets thinner and thinner as the story progresses, yet she boasts incredible super strength.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 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.
  • Bamm-Bamm as an infant on The Flintstones. Later, he becomes a buff teen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • June from KaBlam!. Judging by her usually adorable appearance, no one could believe that she's pretty buff.
  • 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.
    • The Boulder is a very large man who's muscles are so impressive that even he can't help but perform a muscle show and a pec dance for his audience. Aang even questions learning earthbending from this manly earthbender. He defeats every man and woman he battled at an underground earth tournament, all with barely a scratch. Then, who does he face last? Toph, a little blind girl. Guess who wins and becomes a main character.
    • In Toph's case, this relates specifically to her earthbending. She is clearly very strong for her size and age, often hurting her teammates, no pushovers themselves, with playful punches. However, situations where she lacks earthbending tend to emphasize her helplessness. This is partly because it takes away the Disability Superpower that allows her to bypass her blindness, but she never demonstrates superior martial arts skills when not aided by her earthbending.
    • Ty Lee is a slim (though quite buxom) teenage girl... whose also a Bare-Fisted Monk who defeated Katara, Sokka and even Azula with her martial art skills.
    • 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 worksmanship.
  • Johnny Bravo, despite being a muscular Top-Heavy Guy, is regularly shown to be beaten by people at the most half his size.
  • 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.
  • 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 (whose actually far weaker). Alucard regardless is still a Dhampir who humiliated the burly 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 single kick.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Starfire from Teen Titans isn't noticeably muscular in build, yet she can bench more than Cyborg without difficulty. Her secret? "Boundless confidence!"
  • 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 causes him to hurt himself 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Mr. Slave from South Park is very muscular but he's a wimpy, effeminate, submissive, and emotionally fragile stereotypical gay guy.
  • 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.
  • The Hollow: Adam strength is well in excess of what his muscles should provide. Then again, he is in a video game, so...
  • 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.

    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.
  • Humans 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 which require a lot of power over a short period of time and some are better at things which require less power over a longer period of time as a result of their genetics.
  • 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. At 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 perorming 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, its 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.


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