Humanity is just plain less cool than the other sapient peoples of the universe. By any standard one cares to choose, aliens of any type are greater than or equal to humanity, with the occasional weak point, often due to their Bizarre Alien Biology.
This makes sense in the case of aliens landing on Earth; you have to be pretty self-assured in your own abilities to risk landing on a rock dominated by near-hairless apes with nuclear weapons and a history of murdering each other for any number of reasons. One would assume that a weaker alien — at least one without massively compensatory technology — would just keep right on flying, and go land on a planet full of Smurfs.
Even in Space Opera, where humans do most of the landing, it's rare to encounter a species that is inferior to humanity in all ways; the Cargo Cult are usually not advanced technologically or mentally, but they may very well be stronger and tougher than their so-called god.
In comics, nearly every alien is outright superpowered. Of course, almost all major characters in mainstream comics are super, so that's not so illustrative.
This is also a staple of Tabletop Games and other fantasy games, where humanity is almost always the "Middle Race", with no one attribute that stands out, but instead a balance of all stats and abilities as they are usually the basis of the design of all other main races.
Just to add to the insult, they all live longer than humans, too.
One thing humans can do to balance the scales, apparently, is mate with any of these superior species to create Half Human Hybrids with those traits. Sometimes even humans that were only raised by aliens are likely to somehow "inherit" abilities from their foster parents, or at least to pick things up as learned skills. The more "human" the alien is, the greater the apparent tendency to give them superpowers.
This may be because aliens in fiction are, more often than not, either outwardly indistinguishable from humans or just humans with stuff tacked on. No actor would put up with the makeup artist taking parts away.
As if all the above wasn't humiliating enough, aliens also are viewed as (or view themselves as) morally stronger than weak-principled humans who do such unthinkable things as murder, rape, pillage and hate. Thus, they have the ethical imperative to put them all on trial for their crimes if they so desire. Apparently, humans are the ONLY sentient race in the whole universe who've ever killed one of their own kind in anger; nobody ever questions this.
Point any of this out in the presence of the hero, though, and you're likely to get yourself a Patrick Stewart Speech. Sometimes the speech is justified; often even the physically superior aliens will admit that Humans Are Special for having accomplished so much with so little.
On the other hand, sometimes human "inferiority" isn't necessarily a bad thing. While humans might lack the strengths of the aliens in question, they might also lack its weaknesses. More than anything, humans are adaptable, oftentimes moreso than the supposedly "superior" races. Unless you take into account that many of these weaknesses are usually very rare, while they can bathe in stuff that can kill humans in seconds.
This trope may be invoked as well by Physical Gods, demons and magic or supernatural entities. Instead of "Puny Earthlings", they will usually call us "Puny mortals", but the rest is basically the same.
In Fantasy that uses the Tolkienian archetypes for non-human races, elves are typically longer-lived, more graceful and refined, wiser and better with magic than humans. Dwarves are also longer-lived, are physically tougher and often have superior technology, frequently Steampunkish compared to what others have.
This trope is common because, even among Earthly life forms, most people (and intellectuals/writers) believe humans are squishy wizards who hold an obvious advantage only in intelligence. Other animals are always faster, stronger, tougher and more agile than a human. In truth, humanity stacks up decently enough against many individual species rather than the vague "animal kingdom" amalgam that it is most often compared to, but quite badly against other predators in everything except for endurance. It is in fact likely that a human (even prehistoric) deprived of their intelligence and thus ability to manufacture tools, clothing, and shelter would rapidly die from starvation and exposure. Other predators rely purely on their innate physical abilities. The fact that intelligence and the manual dexterity to apply it are simply our "innate physical abilities" doesn't change the fact that it seems like "cheating" to weigh such abilities against pure muscle, speed, or agility.
Compare and contrast Being Human Sucks, which is where humans think they suck compare to the aliens. Contrast Humanity Is Superior, Humans Are Special, Humans Are Cthulhu, and Humans Are Warriors. See also Humans Are the Real Monsters, Humans Are Morons, Humans Are Average, and Insignificant Little Blue Planet.
Not to be confused with Earthlings.
- Dragon Ball, on the whole, plays around a lot with this trope, with the human race at large mostly playing it straight. Most humans (and talking, bipedal Funny Animals) are completely, pitifully underpowered compared to the plot relevant characters and races that pop up once the series goes intergalactic. Case in point: the term "power level" was used liberally in the first season of Dragon Ball Z; the higher someone's "power level," the stronger they were. An average human's power level is 5. The first villain we encounter when power levels are introduced in the series has a power level of 1,200. Add the Sorting Algorithm of Evil into the mix and you've got yourself a race that has apparently survived its entire existence on little more than a wing and a prayer. And a few superpowered defenders, obviously.
- The trope then gets subverted, however, as various things imply that Earth is fairly average on a cosmic scale: A baby Saiyan was considered enough to destroy the civilization of an average planet on their own, yet Goku faced a number of challenging human foes well into his teenage years. It's just that Saiyans, Namekians, and Frieza's race, which make up most of the story, are abnormally strong to the standard of just about any other planet. Even the stronger members of the Frieza Force are all stated to be abnormally strong mutants to their race.
- However, for some reason human/Saiyan hybrids have the potential to be far more powerful than both races. It's implied to be because (and this is humanities strong point) human's potential for growth is far stronger than nearly any other race. Yes, most humans are pretty wimpy, but guys like Krillin or Tien were able to get themselves to thousands of times stronger than they once were. Combine that with a Saiyan's inhuman power and you get guys like Goten and Trunks, who aren't even ten years old and could already compete with Namek Saga Frieza, the one-time ruler of the Universe.
- It is also worth noting that the few humans who fight alongside the Saiyans (Tien, Krillin, Yamcha, Master Roshi and even Chiaotzu) are some of the strongest fighters in the universe, magnitudes more powerful than the old Saiyans or Frieza's Elite but unfortunately the series focuses on the small pool of warriors that are many times stronger than even that. During the Saiyan invasion, Krillin oneshotted several Saibamen (each of them as strong as a standard Saiyan Warrior). During Resurrection F Roshi, Krillin and Tien are no less effective in plowing through an army of Alien warriors than their more powerful peers. In the Moro arc of Super, even Yamcha is strong enough to curb-stomp some of the escaped Galactic Patrol prisoners, who were terrifying space pirates feared the universe over.
- Androids 17, 18 and 20 are also extremely powerful, capable of fighting even Super Saiyans and Namekians. They're admittedly Cyborgs, but are, however, made entirely out of Earthly materials (as far as is known) as well as being designed by an Eartling scientist, so the point still stands.
- Humans not being that weak is all but explicitly stated during the Universe Survival Saga, where over half the team chosen to defend the survival of Universe 7 is human. One of them is admittedly half-Saiyan, and two more are the aforementoined superpowered cyborgs, but Tien, Krillin, and Master Roshi all earned their spots on a team that the narrator himself outright declares "Universe 7's best". And the last warrior standing is Android 17, outlasting even such monsters as Goku, a Legendary Super Saiyan, and the warrior stronger than even the Gods of Destruction.
- Also, on a sidenote, Earth's civilisation actually seems rather developed compared to the others that we get to see. Some of the technology developed by Bulma and Dr. Gero is amongst the most advanced in the universe, and humourously enough Earth's cuisine is considered by Beerus and Whis alike to be the greatest in the Universe; so much so that Beerus' brother Champa gets jealous when paying a visit to Universe 7.
- In Haruhi Suzumiya, there are possibly-omniscient aliens capable of Rewriting Reality and surviving attacks which would kill a normal human... of course, this is softened somewhat by the fact that the most powerful being in the series is an otherwise normal human girl, or at least she would be if she knew of her powers. Her existence also caused a group of humans to gain Psychic Powers, though...
- In Lyrical Nanoha, practically every world out there has access to Magitek... with one of the few exceptions being Earth. Earthlings have zero magic culture since the vast majority of them have diddly squat magic capabilities. However, as though following some strange law of averages to balance all the puny earthlings, it's mentioned that when the exceedingly rare Earth mages are found, they tend to be sickeningly powerful ones like Nanoha, Hayate, and Gil Graham.
- In Outlaw Star, there was an episode where there was an alien being resembling a cactus that had the power to influence and control everything living around them. Subverted in that when its power didn't work, it was completely helpless. This led to a less-than-dignified death delivered by the hands...er, feet of the waifish Melfina.
- The Incubators from Puella Magi Madoka Magica have no problem sacrificing the entire Earth and everyone in it in order to extract all the energy needed to keep the universe running. They outright compare us to cattle. In Rebellion, however, the situation is turned on its head—Homura becomes so powerful that she turns the Incubators into helpless punching bags, as they belatedly declare human emotions too dangerous to control.
- In Fairy Tail, most dragons believed this, seeing humans at best as funny talking entertainment like pets or amusing snacks, and they honestly didn't get why there was a subset of their own kind that disagreed and believed Humans Are Special. This ended up causing a Dragon Civil War where the pro-coexistence side fought an outnumbered battle against their brethren that ended when said dragons taught humans Dragon Magic to create the first Dragon Slayers and even the odds...and then one of those humans who hated dragons ended up causing the virtual extinction of dragons while simultaneously and ironically turning into one and declaring himself the Dragon King.
- While The DCU is probably the king of this trope thanks to Superman et al., it's rather surprisingly averted in Green Lantern Corps: there are a multitude of alien races, some of which are just plain better than humans, but most of which have their own advantages and disadvantages (one race has no concept of sound, another has no sight, one member is a sentient planet, another is a sentient strain of smallpox, and so on.) Humans do still get picked on, though (you can thank Hal for that one).
- It's also worth noting highly powerful superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, etc, really don't take kindly to other superpowered beings scoffing at the supposed lameness of humans (said scoffers usually have to eat their words due to good ol' human scrappiness winning out against high odds, and the protective heroes delivering smug "I told you so"'s.)
- Superman also claims without hesitation that Batman is the most dangerous man on the planet. Not Luthor, not Supes himself, but Batman. And Batman's too good of a friend to turn Supes into a liar.
- Starfire from Teen Titans is an alien who humans see as having superpowers; she has the ability to fly, learn foreign languages through skin contact, superhuman strength and endurance, and the ability to shoot energy beams. However, all but the last of these is standard issue for her species.
- The Legion of Super-Heroes had multitudes of Human Aliens, each race with a specific power, but later Retcon and Continuity Reboot gave them a Meta Origin as Phlebotinum Rebel Transplanted Humans. Subverted by the one Badass Normal Earthling on the team, Karate Kid, who can trounce more powerful beings using martial arts and knowledge of pressure points.
- While the Marvel Universe has less of this trope than DC, most aliens are still super-powered in some way. The most commonly seen aliens are the shapeshifting Skrulls and Dire Wraiths, the Kree and the Shi'Ar who both have greater strength and stamina than humans, and the Watchers and Celestials— fuggeddaboudit. Although the Incredible Hulk is an Earthling himself, "HULK SMASH PUNY HUMANS!"
- In ElfQuest not only do the elven main characters look down on humans because the elves all have incredible looks, lifespan and abilities, the readers so it seems, are expected to agree with them. All humans can be tricked by elves in a way a five year old wouldn't fall for in real life, and all the non-evil humans kiss the feet of the elves in that Can't Argue with Elves way.
- In most comic book continuities though, the advantage humans have over the other races is that earth will have a ridiculously high concentration of humans with superpowers. There may be a whole planet of hawkmen, or a whole planet of shapeshifters, but humans are the ones that spontaneously mutate superpowers through random accidents or X-genes. Aliens with superhero level abilities will almost never have any variety in powers and conversely will have common weaknesses. And then there are the many humans, both good and evil, who will use their scientific abilities to create weapons and armor to even the odds when they fight their alien foes. The likes of Iron Man and Doctor Doom might not have the same fancy innate abilities as the Skrulls or the Shi'ar, but they're easily a match when it comes to intelligence and science smarts.
- In fact, the DC Comics Crisis Crossover Invasion! was precisely about this fact: The alien Dominators wanted to exploit human superbeings to conquer the universe, but had to trick other alien races into helping capture them first, on the excuse that humans are troublesome, genetic freaks.
- Unfortunately, the bad side of this trope is that extraterrestrial heroes ranging from Superman to Sleepwalker have to deal with human villains that use their science smarts and/or tendency to acquire genetic mutations to fight the heroic aliens on even terms. There's a reason Lex Luthor is Superman's Arch-Enemy, after all.
- In Invincible this is both played straight and subverted - several aliens are more powerful than humans, especially the Viltrumites (who are like humans.... but with mustaches, a strict warrior culture, superpowers and really long life spans). One Viltrumite, Omni-Man, proved to be Earth's most powerful superhero and individual in general during his tenure as a superhero. But at one point there is an alien race with much shorter lifespans, and Allen the Alien is considered superpowered by his own race's standards.
- Shakara: After the Earth is harvested by a Horde of Alien Locusts, the last human is captured and brought to a slave market. The sellers only included the puny earthling as a novelty because he's the Last of His Kind. After getting too snarky with a much bigger alien, his head is immediately crushed.
- The Ultimates: The Chitauri are not as hammy about this as other comic book aliens, but they still use insults like "human cow" and "walking cancer cells".
- Child of the Storm has most species out in the universe, and most of the supernatural creatures on Earth, believe this and be consistently baffled at Asgard's habit of sticking up for humanity and warning everyone else to steer clear - which, since Earth is a magic infested Death World inhabited by a dominant species that seems happiest when killing something (usually each other), most are happy to do. However, the various supernatural creatures are aware of Muggle Power and keep up the masquerade out of fear, even if they won't admit it, and Asgard believes that Humanity Is Young and that Humans Are Special, seeking to nurture its potential. It is notable that those aliens exposed to humanity long term, such as a few Kryptonians (most famously, Jor-El), and Captain Mar-Vell, tend to develop similar attitudes.
- It is also implied that humanity has an unrivalled capacity to produce people with powerful superhuman abilities, from nigh godlike beings to those who are more restricted, but plenty deadly up close, with Loki considering the Winter Soldier, someone who is mostly human, to be the deadliest assassin in the Nine Realms. And that's all leaving aside the interest of the Phoenix...
- A botched attempt happens in Naga Eyes. Riku the naga goes on and on about how humans are weak compared to nagas. This would be all fine and well, if it weren't for the fact that a naga's life seems to consist of little more than lying around and eating a random passers-by or two.
- Chatoyance's interpretation of the ponies from her Conversion Bureau has them with superpowers (Earth ponies get Super Strength, pegasi get flight and unicorns get magic), a lifespan of centuries, extremely durable bodies, reincarnation and a "Can't Argue with Elves" attitude.
- Discussed in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Xenophilia. Lero keeps finding himself at the receiving end of such thinking (made worse by the inverted social norms resulting from sex disproportion in pony society - the mares keep trying to protect him). He finally snaps when threatened by an unicorn mare of another herd, whose stallion was giving Lero's a hard time: he lectures her in how while he may be weak in pony standards, he's not helpless, which he showcases by holding her up on her hind legs by her neck while speaking in a scarily sweet tone of voice. Rainbow Dash takes note on how he's taking care not to hurt her while he does so, and how easily he could do it.
- Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath loved this and used it extensively in their series of Star Trek fan novels, both amateur and professionally published. To them, Vulcans including Spock were much stronger physically and capable of greater telepathic abilities than in canon, and Spock had been holding back and playing down his superness to co-exist alongside his human crewmates. When legendary Vulcan explorer Savaj came on board in The Prometheus Design, he talked Spock into revealing his true nature and Spock ended up going into something called "Vulcan command mode", literally at one point leaping a tall building (well, a wall anyway) in a single bound. He then took command and ordered "instant, unqualified, unargued obedience" from all the crew. We are told (and shown, in Fate of the Phoenix) that on Vulcanoid worlds, humans cannot even push buttons, open doors or turn on faucets.
- In the controversial humour fic XCOM: Enemy Unthreatening, the Ethereals and their slave races attempt to invade Equestria, only to fall prey to a comedy of errors. Oh, and the moon-controlling princess of theirs.
- Mass Effect: Human Revolution is a peculiar subversion in that prominent human figures think Being Human Sucks, but the aliens don't think Earthlings are Puny and are in fact secretly scared.
- In Opening Dangerous Gates, a Tengu goes on a tirade on how inferior humans are to his kind. For one thing, his kind have many, many senses and can still function if their sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch were cut off, unlike a human.
- In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Kryptonian tech is light-years ahead of conventional Earth tech and both K.E.L.E.X. and Jor-El refer to Earth as primitive when compared to Krypton. Mister Mxyzptlk refers to Earth as a "little dirtball" and is only interested in it because Izuku, a super strong alien, happens to call it home.
- Parodied in Spaced Invaders, in a scene where the small band of Martians leave their ship and threaten to blow up the Earth with their supposed super-weapon, until it's pointed out to them that their ship would be destroyed as well. The Martians flee in disorder:
"'Prepare to die, Earth scum, prepare to die, Earth scum!' I'll make sure they carve that on your tombstone!"
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "Do your worst, inferior one!" Downplayed in that the aliens only advantage is their more advanced technology than the human protagonists. That, and, said aliens mainly use the technology for bizarre stage performances rather than to take over the world.
- One of the kids in Race to Witch Mountain can phase through solid matter as well as harden the molecules in his body so a truck that's about to hit him, does so — and then FLIPS INTO THE AIR, crumpling the front in the process. The earlier films which this one happens to share a name with had Human Aliens with an array of Psychic Powers, more like Zenna Henderson's The People.note
- Zig-zagged with E.T.. The titular alien has the ability to form empathic bonds, perform psychokinesis, make flowers grow, and heal with a touch... but he's not only so small that an adult human could punt him, but Earth's environment physically sickens him.
- Lampshaded and averted in Howard the Duck, where the title character must explain a geeky human scientist ally that, no, he can't burn a hole in a piece of wood with his gaze, no, he can't fly, and no, he doesn't have Super Strength.
- The unnamed aliens in The Abyss have the ability to control water, with remarkable precision. They also seem to have psychic abilities.
- In Alien Nation, Sam "George" Francisco strongly implied that Tenctonese penises were bigger than the human variety (or smaller, since condoms won't fit either way). Not to mention their great strength, stamina, durability, ability to survive in environments humans can't, extra hearts, and if they overdose on an extraterrestrial narcotic, they transform into murderous, supercharged berserker versions of themselves. But they do have a strange weakness or two: Water with high salinity burns them like sulphuric acid burns naked mole rats and they get stinking drunk from sour milk.
- "I am Prince of Space! Don't you realize your weapons have no effect on me?" In the original, he wasn't bulletproof at all, which is why he dodges their weapons. For some inexplicable reason, Immune to Bullets was added in the translation.
- Emperor Ming from Flash Gordon is often associated with his threat exclamation of "Pathetic/Puny Earthlings! Who will save you now!?". To answer that, we have this line from the theme song: "FLASH! AH-HA!!"
- Inverted in Aliens in the Attic. The aliens are a foot tall and are repeatedly outsmarted by children. They still call them Puny Humans though.
- Played straight and inverted with the Prawns in District 9, as they have superior physical strength, speed, and size, and have a vast majority of highly advanced technologies that humans can never use. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop the humans from dumping them in a slum and outright treating them worse than dirt. This (apparently) is due to their need to be commanded by a member of their leader caste, which have all died out before the other Prawns could escape the downed vessel. This doesn't mean they're unintelligent, however, as the Prawns could be just as, if not more, intelligent than humans, it's just that the survivors are the drone caste members, and they don't have the drive to use their resources to liberate themselves from the humans.
- The Na'Vi in Avatar are nearly twice the size of humans, and even more strong, fast and agile on their home turf - not the mention the ability to neurally link with other lifeforms via a 'plug' in their hair. Although the humans definitely have the technological advantage, and even then the Na'Vi seem to take to guns pretty quickly...
- Neil Gaiman used to tell about receiving a script for a potential movie adaptation of Sandman. He read until he came to a scene where Morpheus is attacked by soldiers while proclaiming "Puny humans! Your weapons cannot harm Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams!" at which point he put the script down and refused to read even one page further.
- Man of Steel does a good job of showcasing just how hopelessly outmatched humans are against Kryptonians. At this point, nothing on Earth is prepared to deal with threats of this scale and magnitude. It's also suggested that much of Superman's strength and speed is a natural result of Kryptonian physiology being on a lower gravity planet. His Super Senses, flight and Heat Vision is his biology soaking in the yellow sun radiation. This is one of the first times that not all of his powers are either one or the other.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy says this to the heroes of the film near the end. Unlike most other examples, he's doing it in disbelief, because the heroes are performing an act that (to him) is Beyond the Impossible, holding the Power Stone without getting disintegrated.
- Captain Marvel: When a Kree scans Fury, the scanner says that his threat level is "low-to-none", and Fury reacts in disbelief. Minn-Erva doesn't seem to think very highly of Earth's civilization, either, if her pithy comment on it is anything to go by.
- Inverted in The Avengers (2012), where after experiencing a tiny fraction of humanity's military power (a fighter-launched tactical nuke), The Dragon tells his Galactic Conqueror boss that invading Earth "is to court death." This is more less beared out in films like Infinity War (where Thanos's army is exterminated on Earth, with the highest kill count going to War Machine and his ordinary guns) and Ragnarok (where Hela's realm-conquering zombie army is wasted en masse by two M-16s taken from a gun show in "Tex-Ass"). Homecoming even has some blue-collar mechanics modifying captured alien gear to be far more effective than it ever was in the aliens' hands.
- The Men in Black films make a serious case of this when they point out they avoid using universal translators because human thought is considered an infectious disease by some aliens. Further shown in the novelization when two race are about to attack each other with Earth in the middle, because the humans aren't considered sentient life and thus consider the planet uninhabited.
- In Starship Troopers, the Bugs warrior drones can take an entire magazine of ammunition (or more as drama demands) and still keep fighting. Whereas a drone can easily pick up a Mobile Infantry trooper and rip him in half. During the Battle of Klendathu, three troopers have to concentrate fire into one Bug to kill it, and it still manages to kill two of them. However later in the film, troopers learn to aim for the brain case in the back which allows them to kill a drone with one shot, and this is subverted during big, dramatic battle sequences where the drones need to drop... well, like bugs.
- Paul: While the eponymous alien is smaller than humans, he has invisibility and healing powers.
- Predator: The predator species is both technologically more advanced than humans as well as physically hulking Lightning Bruiser types. They hunt humans like game animals.
- Subverted when one takes a closer look. Human's adaptability and perseverance makes them a formidable prey when they aren't being ambushed, as we have repeatedly seen throughout the series. Predators have even been known to relinquish their technological advantages in favor of an even fight with certain humans they deem strong enough or worthy of respect.
- And outright Averted in the Alien vs. Predator novels. "Kainde Amedah" ("Hard Meat", or the Xenomorph) is a favourite prey among youngbloods... but "Pyode Amedah" ("Soft Meat", guess who) is strictly forbidden to youngbloods; only distinguished Predators who have claimed trophies from certain other challenging prey can ask for permission to attend a human hunt.
- The Thing (1982): The alien has knowledge of advanced technology, as evidenced by its flying saucer (and its attempt to build another ship with scrap parts). More importantly, it can shapeshift into virtually any organic form and spread itself to take over and replace other life forms, to the point that all the humans on the arctic base realize that letting this single specimen into the wider world would be an extinction-level catastrophe for all life on Earth.
- Exploited in Transformers Film Series: humans are effective fighting Transformers because they're puny; their small size allows them to hide in cover and pop up to fire a few Sabot rounds at a Decepticon.
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- Arguably an Unbuilt Trope by Tolkien himself. His elves may be all kinds of badass (although their superiority is usually more alluded to than spelled out in loving detail), but they're at least as capable of making a mess of things as humans are — and they are bound to the world that humans get to leave behind after death. More than just as good in fact; The Silmarillion is essentially the story of Morgoth sitting on his throne while the Elves find new ways to screw each other over.
- Tolkien's work comes close to an outright inversion. While the Elves are longer-lived and generally stronger/faster than humans (albeit not to a ridiculous extent), all other sapient races are decisively inferior in many ways. This impression has generally been lost in pop culture due to the live-action films giving all the below a hefty dose of Adaptational Badass.
- Orcs/Goblins, dwarves, and hobbits are all much smaller and physically weaker than Men (with Hobbits averaging 3'6, Dwarves 4'6 to 5'0, and Orcs/Goblins around the same as Dwarves with some variance by subpopulation), while seemingly being less capable of large-scale organization without divine guidance (the Orcs/Goblins are mostly reduced to bands without Sauron and his servants, while Hobbits don't seem to have any real social organization period above the town level). It's not for nothing that the best Orc soldiers are the ones that resulted from Orc/Man crossbreeds - or, if you believe Treebeard's speculation, are just corrupted Men. Heck, even a proud and skilled Dwarf warrior like Gimli would rather not fight Men if he can help it, commenting that Dunlending hillmen "seemed over large for me" when justifying why he didn't intervene against some of them. All three races live longer than Men and seem to have better endurance, but that hardly cancels out their other disadvantages.
- Great Eagles, Wargs, and Ents are technically physical superior to a Man in terms of raw strength and speed, but they're still only about on the level of a large predator individually (e.g. a lion or bear) and, critically, lack opposable thumbs. The Windlord doesn't even want to risk flying above the lands of Men because he's worried about his people being taken down by farmers with bows.
- Animorphs has an interesting variation — though the aliens are far more advanced, it seems to have only been because of a head start. The Andalites took three times as long as humans to go from heavier-than-air flight to landing on the moon. (One wonders what things would've been like a few decades after the end of the series, considering that by then, humanity's first faster-than-light spacecraft was under construction.) Another thing that scares the wits out of some aliens is sheer numbers. ("You mean five million, Sub-Visser?")
- Speaking of the Andalites, they have insanely weak arms, so much that one is shocked that a human child can throw a rock.
- Indeed, of all the major alien species in Animorphs, only the Ellimist has any claim to being entirely superior to humanity. Yeerks are useless without a host; Gedds are barely sentient, weak and clumsy; Hork-Bajir aren't terribly bright on average (seers being the exception) and appear to age faster (though they're no joke in physical matters); and Taxxons can't control their own hunger.
- The inversion is Older Than Radio, and almost older than the core trope itself. In the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Earthman transported to the lower gravity of "Barsoom" has remarkable strength, leaping abilities, and endurance.
- Robert Zubrin's The Holy Land. Of course, they're all humans, but the Earthling humans have terrible hygiene, are shorter and less physically fit, and have absolutely no Psychic Powers.
- Inverted in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Spacehounds of IPC: the inhabitants of Saturn's moon, Titan, can't stand the "dreadful temperatures" and "crushing pressure" on Saturn's surface. To the human protagonists, meanwhile, it's basically a midsummer's day.
- Referenced in The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. Humans are slower and weaker than most other alien races, which is why they no longer use unaltered humans as soldiers. (They prefer instead to use genetically engineered Super Soldiers with transplanted minds.)
- In the Known Space universe by Larry Niven, Humans have been regularly at war with a race, the Kzin, described in various books as being walking, talking, 700 pound tigers. Even more impressive, humans begin the conflict as a nearly pacifist race, having been turned into near sheep by the ruling UN. They owe much of their survival to wild innovation and what the Kzin disparagingly refer to as "monkey curiosity". Good old humanity is somewhat helped by a hyper paranoid race called the Puppeteers, who like them enough to slowly sell them (or rather, arrange to have sold to them) faster than light technology.
- Used for satiric purposes in Voltaire (the philosopher, not the musician)'s short story Micromegas, which involves two colossal aliens, one from Saturn and the other from Sirius, visiting Earth. The Saturnian mourns that he has only 72 senses in comparison to the Sirian's nearly 1,000 senses. And Micromegas states that he met creatures far superior to himself.
- Alan Dean Foster:
- Inverted in The Damned trilogy, where humans are among the toughest sons of bitches in the galaxy, and are better at war than any other species. Humans also have natural immunity to Mind Control, and when they're rewired to remove that ability, and then unwired, can demonstrate said mind control (and then pass it on to their children).
- Averted with the thranx in the Humanx Commonwealth novels, as these insectoids have as many physical disadvantages (easily drowned, bad climbers, limbless juveniles) as advantages (extra legs, good senses, tough exoskeleton) over humans.
- The eponymous Stranger in Stranger in a Strange Land qualifies as "humans raised by aliens pick up abilities as learned skills from their foster parents". It could look like the "inherited" variety, until it's shown that he can teach these skills to ordinary Terrans.
- Lilith's Brood: Compared to humans, the Oankali are stronger, tougher, and longer-lived; have superior senses and vastly more efficient metabolisms; are more mentally stable; and are much more technologically advanced; to say nothing of their ability to Heal, kill, or perform comprehensive genetic engineering with a touch.
- A minor (Grannan) character in the Star Wars Expanded Universe Black Fleet trilogy comments that X-wings are designed for human tolerances, prompting Admiral Ackbar to comment that it's "frustrating to be held back by their limitations."
- Darth Plagueis says this to Palpatine during his training: "Hard to tell (how long the training will take). Humans are their own worst enemies. Your body isn't meant to withstand real punishment. It is easily injured and slow to heal. Your olfactory and tactile senses are relatively acute, but your auditory and visual senses are extremely limited".
- Gulliver's Travels features a race of Giants and a race of morally and intellectually superior horses.
- The "humans are the only race ever to be put on trial" thing is at least averted in Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novel, Have Space Suit Will Travel. Humanity does end up being judged by the Council of Superpowered Aliens; however, this trial comes right on the tail of another race being put on trial, so it seems to be a fairly routine procedure. And the other aliens which are indisputably worse get thrown in the wastebin, whereas the human race is still considered redeemable.
- In a short story by Sergey Lukyanenko, three alien ships arrive to Earth and demand that humans move as many as they can into the polar regions, so that the aliens can settle most of Earth. The main character is a diplomat sent to negotiate with the alien representative, who turns out to be a pretty decent guy, regretful of having to do this. However, their homeworld is threatened by a black hole, and habitable planets are rare. In the end, though, the alien gladly informs the diplomat that they managed to terraform Venus and stop the black hole, all within a few weeks of arriving to Earth. He also remembers his grandfather who discovered the wheel. Furthermore, he offers to give their ships to humans, as they are now obsolete, and explains that the reason humans were never conquered by another race is because their "so pathetic."
- Used to a minor extent in C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series. The alien atevi are bigger (and thus stronger) than humans, have superior hearing and night-vision, are much better at math, have the innate ability to instantly and accurately count things, and once they count something they have a Photographic Memory of the resulting number.
- In Gordon R. Dickson's novel Spatial Delivery, the two alien races who come into play are both giants compared to humans. A member of the species who act as the antagonists of the story (enormous beings from a high-gravity planet) once showed up to the Olympic Games on Earth and casually proceeded to break several human track and field records in quick succession without even trying, just to show his contempt.
- If anything this is played straighter in the Discworld books than in most non-parody fantasy. Most sapient races are flat out better than humans: dwarfs are tougher, stronger and live longer (though the stronger bit is more due to them working out by constant mining. Carrot is a human raised by dwarves and his strength is described as a dwarf scaled to 200%), trolls and golems are near indestructible and incredibly strong (and trolls are incredibly intelligent when in cooler temperatures), vampires have all their standard strengths and can even learn to replace their lust for blood, pictsies are unbelievably strong and ferocious (gnomes are described as being as strong as a human despite being half the size of a Barbie doll) and orcs can only be called superbeings.
- Subverted in The Tommyknockers by Stephen King. While the title aliens have a natural skill for adapting human technology into all kinds of weird sci-fi devices, they also prove to be much more short-sighted and psychotic than humans. They also can't really seem to think of any constructive purpose for their technology, whereas humanity's scientific advances have often improved quality of life.
- In Eight Worlds a race of aliens kick humanity off Earth to protect dolphins and whales. They plan on forcing humanity to live between star systems has they have to many other alien races.
- In The Lost Regiment series, life sucks for most humans on the planet Valennia. Transplanted there from Earth against their will, stuck in a Medieval Stasis, and engaging in brack-breaking labors, all they have to look forward to is to have 20% of them be selected to be slaughtered and eaten by the true masters of Valennia, the 10-foot-tall Human Aliens who see themselves are the chosen race and engaged in a never-ending circle around the planet, taking tribute from the human cities they pass. Anyone who tries to resist is wiped out by the numerous hordes. It's not until the arrival of American Civil War soldiers with muskets and cannons does some hope appear for the average human on Valennia. After all, even a Tugar can fall from a rifle whose range rivals that of the famed Tugar warbows.
- Minor example in David Weber's In Fury Born. Of the three know races in the setting humans are probably the weakest on a purely physical level. The Quarn are native to a very high gravity environment and the Rish (or the female's at least) are simply much bigger than humans. Humanity makes up the difference by most of them being able to interface directly with their computer systems in a way the Rish just can't, giving them an edge in space combat, and by being Weak, but Skilled in ground combat. It's not an issue with the Quarn since they're a Proud Merchant Race and rather friendly to humanity.
- The narrator of Micromégas often mentions in passing how large and long-lived the aliens are.
- In The Four Horsemen Universe, there are 37 species that commonly contract out as mercenaries, and of those species, the only one less physically imposing than a human is a Flatar (who resemble one-foot chipmunks and can still deliver a nasty bite that easily goes septic, even without guns). After the Alpha Contracts ended with only four of the original 100 human companies returning home, an engineer at Mitsubishi developed the first generation of CASPer as a way to even the odds.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians and it's two sequel series take the Puny Mortals approach. For the most part, normal humans can't even perceive anything supernatural because of the Weirdness Censor provided by the Mist, so they generally have no idea if a monster or god is standing right in front of them. Most supernatural forces consider them laughably unimportant or, in the case of monsters and titans, convenient prey or playthings. It says a lot about humanity's place in the world when the magical weapons used by the heroes can take down monsters and titans, but pass right through normal people because humans aren't "important enough" for the weapons to hurt them.
- Quest for Fire contains a rare example set in the distant past (100,000 years ago to be exact) rather than the future. Despite their marginally more sophisticated technology, anatomically modern humans can barely compete with the physically stronger and more agressive archaic human species. The man-eating Kzamm and even the diminutive Red dwarves have massacred them enough times that they've become an Endangered Species.
- Space Academy Dropouts: Earth has only been part of the Galactic Community for two hundred years and is still playing catch-up in technology as well as military forces. Ironically, due to Ancient Aliens kidnapping humans and settling them, Earth isn't even the most advanced or powerful planet populated by humans.
- ''Space Force by Jeremy Robinson: Played With. The alien Chote are far stronger and more technologically advanced than humanity. Their armor is also immune to Earth weapons. However, the average Chote is much stupider than the soldiers of Space Force.
- Alien Nation depicts the Newcomers as generally better in most ways: physically stronger (they were labor slaves) and able to learn in years what took humans decades, with the vulnerability to salt water as the only major downside. This created a lot of resentment among human supremacists.
- Generally downplayed in Star Trek.
- The most commonly seen alien races would probably be the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and Ferengi. Of that list, Cardassians are about as strong/tough/long-lived as humans, Klingons have redundant organs and live twince as long (though their warrior culture tends to cut their lives short), Vulcans and Romulans are roughly thrice as strong as an equivalently-sized human and live twice as long, and the Ferengi are smaller and weaker, though that wasn't true in their first appearance.note Occasionally, Klingons will be stated to be stronger than humans, but this is purely an Informed Attribute and they generally get whupped in fistfights. Various other Human Aliens and Rubber-Forehead Aliens are also consistently treated as equivalent to humans.
- Deep Space Nine inverts it with the Jem'Hadar, who despite being a genetically-engineered soldier race and the main troops of the most prominent antagonist faction, are only about on par with humans physically (going by the many fistfights we get to see) and rarely live past a whopping twenty years.
- Star Trek: Voyager's Kes belongs to a species that only has a nine-year lifespan, but her species is also telepathic, has photographic memory and mature very fast, and can Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: Slightly more true in Enterprise where humanity is the new comer to the galactic stage. Almost everyone has more advanced technology than Earth and is initally considered a negligible threat to older powers like the Klingons and Romulans. However, humanity is often able to punch above their weight through ingenuity and creative thinking and are able to advance their technology at a rapid pace, a fact that alarms their enemies and start taking Earth as a serious threat. Even their Vulcan allies admit humanity scares them because they were able to achieve in a century what took them over a millennia.
- Doctor Who: Both as an excuse by the invading alien menace to do whatever they please, and as a reason by the Doctor as to why they defend Earthlings. The Doctor themself believes in this tropenote . The Ninth Doctor occasionally called humans "stupid apes" and Twelve declared Earth to be the "Planet of the pudding brains".
- Similarly to the Legion of Super-Heroes, on Smallville, every single familiar-looking alien race shown had some kind of superpowers, and most are also much stronger and tougher than humans.
- Power Rangers plays this utterly straight. humans have tiny lifespans measured in (at extremes) centuries rather than millions of years, have no innate superpowers or weaponry, can't grow several hundred feet tall on demand like most species seem to be able to, anything more complex than a morpher that they make is either really buggy or made with large amounts of outside help (if not borrowed entirely), and their only native tribe of mages that hasn't wiped itself out lives in a pocket dimension, rarely coming out (and are led by an alien witch, no less). Somehow, despite this utter lack of talent, ability, or luck, humanity (specifically, California) has managed to turn back armed invasion by more or less the entire known universe, with minimal amounts of aid.
- Mork from Mork & Mindy looks human, but also has powers.
- In Farscape, humans are lacking compared to a great many species, especially in terms of life spans. However, this is not played completely straight, as humans have a much greater heat tolerance compared to Sebaceans. Furthermore, at least some of these superiorities may not be natural, as Sebaceans have greater eyesight and lifespan (though not heat resistance), and yet they are implied to be the descendants of humans.
- In the Peacekeeper War miniseries, Sebaceans are revealed to be genetically altered humans, created to be the muscle for the great peacemaker aliens. Things went slightly wrong when these aliens got sealed away and left the Peacekeepers on their own.
- "Crackers Don't Matter" is made of this trope. Thanks to a light-based Hate Plague inflicted by the Villain of the Week, Moya's crew start losing their minds and get rather snippy with each other. Amusingly, the terrible eyesight that Humans have compared to the other species that they had previously mocked Crichton for, ends up saving their lives, since Crichton proves must more resistant than everyone else to the Hate Plague's effects. As a result, he mockingly declares that this is proof that "Humans. Are. Superior!"
- Crichton is hardly an example of an average human, though. With a Ph.D. in astrophysics, he is smarter than anyone else aboard. He just like to play up the "dumb human" image. What he lacks is knowledge about that part of the galaxy.
- The Human Aliens of Roswell have various superpowers.
- Averted in the Stargate-verse. Humans have been able to grievously upset a power balance that has stood for thousands of years and kick the collective butts of many an advanced species.
- Specifically, the Goa'uld are stupid egomaniacs with a god complex and powerful but highly inefficient technology that only a handful of them even partially understand. The Asgard are physically about as strong as an infant. The Tok'ra are a dying race due to limited supplies of host bodies and the death of their only "queen" rendering them incapable of reproduction. The Replicators (Milky Way) aren't really sentient (at first). Pretty much everyone else is either human or a Reality Warper.
- Every alien species in the Ultra Series (including the Ultramen themselves). Humans can't become kaiju-sized at will, shoot lasers from their hands and/or eyes, command giant monsters without losing control of them, mind control or take over the bodies of others, change form, or do virtually every other power that the various alien invaders have. Fortunately, humanity does always have the Ultras on their side and a Badass Crew to support them against the evil aliens.
- Babylon 5: Humans are behind the other major races technologically (except possibly the Narn), which was brought into sharp relief when they were Curb Stomped in their war with the Minbari. The Minbari are also shown to be physically stronger than humans, with even the shrimpy Lennier performing a Neck Lift on multiple characters. However, the show does occasionally show that Humans Are Special in a wide number of ways.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel:
- Demon variant, where both vampires and demons look down on humans, even though vampires themselves are the lowest of the low to many demon races (though some individual vampires are strong enough few demons would dare say it to their faces), and demon races are all likely tainted with humanity anyway. Both types are stronger, faster and have various supernatural abilities.
- Illyria's habit of likening people to vermin, apes, plankton, amoebas, slime...
- In beginning of episode 12 of the documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage ("Encyclopedia Galactica"), Carl Sagan narrates, "In the vastness of the Cosmos there must be other civilizations far older and more advanced than ours."
- Gwar believes they're above humanity. In fact, they believe ANY species is above humanity.
- A nineteenth-century newspaper cartoon lampoons the then-recent theory of evolution by postulating a world in which humans have died out, replaced by "ichthyosauri" which inexplicably came back from extinction. An ichthyosaur professor shows his students a human skull, stating that due to the human's weak jaws and claws, it was unknown how it ever obtained food.
- Garfield: Garfield is called a "puny earthling" by a pair of invading aliens. Unfortunately, for them, they're snowmen in the middle of summer.
- In second edition Dungeons & Dragons, non-human player characters were restricted in terms of what levels they could reach in what class on the basis that it was the only way to avert this trope: it was explained that no-one would want to play a human if they could play some other race with cool abilities and take what classes and reach what levels they liked. It was also stated that since humans were so short-lived, the other races would rule the world because they could use their long life span to gather lots of experience and rise to high levels. It was one of those weird things back in the day that was stated to be completely essential and just ignored later on. In the 3rd edition, humans continued to have similar adaptability as their strength, but without such huge limitations on everyone else.
- Inverted in the post-apocalyptic Tabletop Game Gamma World. Humans that survived the nuclear apocalypse unaltered are assumed to be of incredibly hardy genetic material. They are much more resilient than other races (though they lack the super-powers and cool mutations of others). A later Dragon article insisted that the "pure strain humans" were actually products of a few centuries of genetic engineering, a la Star Trek Augments. Humans who hadn't received such gene therapy were total wimps by contrast, and were the ancestors of the game's human mutants, lacking the mislabeled "pure strain's" resistance to radioactive mutagens.
- Warhammer 40,000 is a particularly strong example, where an unaugmented human is among the weakest, most pathetic things on the battlefield. Orks are stronger, more resourceful and ridiculously hard to both kill individually and wipe out as a whole. Eldar are faster, longer-lived, more intelligent (or act it), universally psychic and with ludicrously advanced technology. Humans have three things going for them: the comprehensively superhuman Space Marines, above and beyond most other races' footsoldiers, the best Tanks (and Biggest Humongous Mechas) in the setting, and sheer numbers; the one resource the Imperium is never, ever short of is manpower. (Of course, this tends to lead to... wastefulness.)
- Played almost depressingly straight in Exalted. The player characters are among the eponymous Exalted, humans given the ability to perform superhuman feats of magic and badassery by virtue of having received a sliver of divine power (the source of which determines what type of Exalted they are). Those humans who don't get chosen are pretty much at the bottom of the world's sentient totem pole; their main use, as far as many gods and even Exalted are concerned, is that they're good at offering prayers and sacrifices and make useful pawns. What's worse is that they were specifically designed to be that way.
- Call of Cthulhu is somewhat unsurprisingly in love with this trope — humans are wimps compared to even most "lesser" races of the Mythos and by all appearances the only species in the universe that can suffer significant mental harm from as much as encountering members of another one (or pretty much anything else disturbing humanity's fragile peace of mind).
- In Halo, humans are not only inferior to the Covenant in numbers and technology, but most of the latter's member races are also physically superior; an Elite or Brute is dramatically stronger, tougher, and faster than a human, while a Covenant Hunter is pretty much a walking artillery unit, able to wipe out normal humans by the squad, and can only really be stopped by heavy weapons. Only the Powered Armor-wearing superhuman SPARTANs are able to physically even match the Elites and Brutes.
- Just how puny the Earthlings are compared with those species depends on which sources you look at, and which characters are involved; elite "normal" humans like the ODSTs are often shown in the expanded universe to be able to put up a good fight against Elites and Brutes, and even in the games, regular Marines can often hold their own, depending on difficulty level, weapons equipped, and positioning.
- It's also worth noting that the majority of the Covenant's soldiers are Grunts, Jackals, and Drones, who are generally little better than Cannon Fodder, with the Grunts in particular being completely outclassed by your average human soldier; Halo: Contact Harvest even shows a newly-trained 72-man colonial militia company (not even proper Marines or Army troopers) able to hold its own against a roughly 170-strong Covenant force (the vast majority of it made up of Grunts and Drones, with only a small pack of ten Brutes).
- Earthlings are also puny in a literal sense; with the exception of the Grunts (who can grow as short as 4'6"), every other race in the Haloverse are much bigger than humans, with even the lightly-built Jackals averaging well over 6 feet tall, while Elites, Brutes, and Hunters completely dwarf even the 7-foot SPARTANs. And even Grunts have enough strength to disembowel humans.
- During the initial skirmishes of the war, Elites initially mistook the Powered Armor of human forces for the thick natural carapace of a race of resilient Insectoid Aliens. When they cracked open the armour of fallen marines, they were unimpressed by the squishy, slight creatures inside and made comparisons of humans to intestinal parasites. The Sangheili translation for parasite, "nishum", stuck.
- Humanity is also completely outclassed in space combat; most of their victories occur only when they manage to outnumber the Covenant by at least three to one, and even then they usually end up taking more casualties than they inflict. Indeed, human victories on the ground usually merely serve as delaying actions to cover for mass evacuations, since the almost-inevitably victorious Covenant fleet will generally just proceed to "glass" the planet from space. However, there are a handful of space battles where a well-led or well-fortified human force manages to either defeat or heavily damage a numerically superior Covenant fleet, examples including a skirmish between the UNSC Iroquois and four Covenant ships, the Battle of Reach, and the Battle of Onyx. The greatest "victory" that's seen in the games themselves is the battle over Halo in the original game, where one human capital ship, the Pillar of Autumn, manages to take out four Covenant ships before getting overrun (though that was because the Covenant fleet was holding back). It's also an inverse case of the usual air-and-ground consideration, as victory on the ground - blowing up Halo itself - almost completely destroys the Covenant fleet.
- This is no longer the case, though, as of Halo 4. Improvements in technology have allowed any veteran soldier or promising recruit to be "upgraded" to a SPARTAN-IV Super Soldier without spending decades in training, and even the UNSC's standard equipment has largely closed the gap with the Covenant's. Additionally, the UNSC Infinity is superior to any Covenant ship, incorporating human, Covenant, and Forerunner tech. True, there's only one Infinity, but the former Covenant has become fractured and diminished due to its own civil wars, and humans are in a much better position to upgrade even their existing ships with new/rediscovered/stolen tech, with most of the former Covenant races' own scientific know-how having been suppressed when their empire was still intact.
- Of course, it should be remembered that Badass Normal is also in full effect at the same time.
- The backstory averts it; prehistoric humanity at one point had an interstellar empire which nearly equaled that of the Forerunners (before the latter defeated and devolved them), making them one of the four most advanced species in the history of the Milky Way. Even in the current era, humanity was one of the most advanced species in the galaxy. The reason the Covenant appear superior is because their lead species, the Prophets, hijacked a cache of Forerunner technology, including a sapient race of biological computers that ran the Covenant's whole military-industrial complex. Prior to their assimilations into the Covenant, the Grunts were technologically on par with humanity circa the 19th century, the Brutes and Prophets were on par with humanity circa the early 20th century, and the Jackals, Drones, and Hunters were on par with humanity circa the 22nd century. Only the Elites got to around 25th century humanity's level natively. When said biocomputers disappear after Halo 3 and the Covenant collapses, most of the technology they used to have can't be reproduced and all the species that made up the Covenant fall hard on the technological scale.
- Used to interesting effect in M.U.L.E., where a starting monetary penalty marks humans as the "Expert Race", intended for use only to handicap experienced players.
- This actually comes with its own slightly-balancing advantage — Starting out in last place means that, until you start rising up the ranks, none of the harmful random "help or hurt a single player" events will ever happen to you. If an event happens, you will always get a beneficial one — anything from a few units of sellable goods to a free plot of land.
- Pretty much any alien in Half-Life is physically superior to the Earth equivalent. In the first game, the weakest members of the Nihilanth's army were capable of breaking steel doors with their bare hands (claws?) and hurling electricity (and as evidenced in Episode Two have the potential for so much more) while the Nihilanth itself possessed enough psychic might to keep open a dimensional rift by itself. The Earthlings made up for this with technological prowess, as the Nihilanth's forces largely revolved around Organic Technology and natural racial abilities. This could be considered an inversion actually, as despite the aliens' physical superiority it was pretty clear they couldn't stand up to the United States alone, let alone the whole Earth. However, afterwards, the non-sapient Xen beasts (mostly Antlions) overran the planet, killing off a ton of native Earth fauna and forcing humans to barricade themselves in their cities.
- The Combine play this completely straight. Though there is no indication of physical superiority, they are technologically advanced enough to conquer the planet within hours and their leaders are psychically almost as powerful as the Nihilanth. And the G-Man, whatever he is, is basically Nyarlathotep. This was the same empire responsible for destroying the Nihilanth's species and conquering the sentient Xenians (later known as Vortigaunts). The only thing humans have going for them against the Combine is superior teleportation technology, a few Badass Normals and the walking superweapon that is Gordon Freeman.
- The Metroid series has (among others) the psychic Chozo and their adopted human, series protagonist Samus Aran. Granted, they did infuse her with their DNA so she could survive on their planet, and a lot of her more badass moves come from the combat suit they modified for her... but even out of the suit, she can jump twice her own height, among other things. In fact, she's had a total of three different species somehow combined with her, and each one has given her special powers, though one of them did give her a weakness to cold which she eventually overcame by absorbing a particular X Parasite.
- Fate/stay night features Gilgamesh, the most powerful heroic spirit in existence and the first and greatest king of history, who happens to be 2/3s God. His ego is so gigantic it might just suffocate you if you are in proximity of Gil, if he even allows you to look at him. Ultimately his pride serves as his downfall in all 3 routes, but if he was actually willing to go all out, he could take on every creature in the world´s powers combined. He is so arrogant that he rarely even wields his endless array of weapons, he SHOOTS them at you, and only wields his actual weapon Ea against worthy opponents (the ones we have seen so far are Saber, Shirou after Gil got put on the defensive, Fate/Zero's Rider and a town's worth of evil spirits).
- Double Subversion in Dragon Ball Online where humans are a main playable race and fend for themselves with superior KI techniques. Then the Head Director clarified that the Humans were actually Saiyan Hybrids descended from Goku and Vegeta, while actual humans are still irrelevant when it comes to saving the world.
- Partially subverted in [PROTOTYPE], as Mercer has been casually slashing and punching his way through the human military for the first parts of the game....but then he meets Specialist Cross.
- The US Army and Blackwatch do a pretty good job fighting normal infected and hunters and could have end it all much faster if Alex didn't kept killing them by the truck loads.
- Actually, after Blackwatch and Alex manage to kill Elizabeth Greene, the tide finally starts turning against the Infected. The problem is the fact that, with Greene dead, General Randall decides to go ahead with nuking Manhattan, given that his only reason for delaying at all was to retrieve her for still more experiments.
- The US Army and Blackwatch do a pretty good job fighting normal infected and hunters and could have end it all much faster if Alex didn't kept killing them by the truck loads.
- In Iji, humanity is considered a pest at worst by both of the two alien races. To the point that the Tasen, upon invading, hardly bothered looking at human "neoweapon" research because it was still horrendously inferior to even their outdated weapons.
- Sword of the Stars has a bad case of this. Humans are either physically or mentally inferior to practically every other species in the galaxy and a one-on-one fight 'au naturelle' of your average human vs. your average pretty much everything will put the human in a disadvantage. Fortunately, Sword of the Stars is a 4X game, and human ships are no worse than those of their fellow species — and when you take into account that human boarding- and planetary assault crews have Powered Armor and special training, the odds are more equal.
- Downplayed in Mass Effect. While aliens like the asari are naturally powerful psychics and can live for centuries and the krogan are exceptionally strong and durable and potentially live for centuries, humans generally form the "middle tier" of races, with several being generally weaker than them both physically and politically.
- That said, the trope does get played straight (though also for laughs) in the sequel:
Wrex: Now, Shepard. What brings you here? How's the Normandy?
Shepard: Destroyed in a Collector surprise attack. I ended up spaced.
Wrex: Well, you look good. Ah, the benefits of a redundant nervous system!
Shepard: Yeah... humans don't have that.
Wrex: Oh. It must have been painful, then.
- On a grand scale, humanity's government is fairly powerful, but not the most powerful. The human Systems Alliance is a major power in the galaxy, even stronger than several pre-established ones like the batarians, but are still far weaker than the turians, asari, geth, and salarians economically, militarily, technologically, and demographically.
- Notably, a few alien races live significantly shorter lifespans than humans. Salarians only live to be about forty, and vorcha only have twenty, and the former, at least, are generally physically weaker than humans. They do compensate by the salarians having an advanced metabolism that allows them to get by with only an hour of sleep a day and leads to an overclocked nervous system, and the vorcha can adapt to almost any environment, and can regenerate. Still, that's a lifespan of only a fraction of the average human.
- Turians can survive more radiation that a human, having evolved a metallic carapace to compensate for their homeworld's weaker magnetic field. However, human food is toxic to them (averting No Biochemical Barriers), like their's is for humans. Also, they're too dense to float. They have similar lifespans to humans, and are only slightly stronger than a human of equivalent weight,note though they also generally outsize humans by a fair bit.note
- According to Grunt's tank imprint, it's actually the quarians who are one of the more hardier species in the galaxy compared to krogan. Their physical robustness is however offset by their severely weakened immune systems.
- In a purely physical sense, humans are puny. The turians, vorcha, and quarians are all tougher and stronger, the krogan ridiculously more so. Even the physically weak asari, with their natural biotics, could be considered tougher since they can shield themselves. But in the Mass Effect world (much like in Real Life), guns are an excellent equalizer, and humans are decidedly not puny when it comes to strategy, tactics and reflexes.
- This is the assessment of Humanity by the Leviathan... except for Shepard.
Leviathan: None have possessed the strength in previous Cycles. Your own species could be destroyed with a single thought. But you are different. I have witnessed your actions in this Cycle: the destruction of Sovereign; the fall of the Collectors. The Reapers perceive you as a threat. And I must understand why?!
- That said, the trope does get played straight (though also for laughs) in the sequel:
- Albion also averts this. The feline Iskai seem pretty impressive at first, being tall, extremely fast and agile, possessing prehensile tails that allow them to wield an additional weapon, and being quasi-immortal (albeit at great cost) on top of it. But it's soon revealed that from their perspective, humans are enormously strong and sturdy, and 'can live to an incredible age' - Iskai's natural lifespan isn't much longer than 40-50 years at most, and the aforementioned quasi-immortality method is available only to a handful of highly respected individuals. Ultimately, Iskai are Fragile Speedsters, while humans are Mighty Glaciers - neither better than the other, they complement each other well on your team.
- Humans in Gensoukyou, the setting of Touhou, are quite a bit weaker than and generally at the mercy of the youkai (fortunately, nowadays youkai are more concerned with tea parties than eating humans), only able to thwart the pathetically weak and deeply stupid fairies who share their status as native terrans. Even the handful of humans that can effectively fight youkai are not quite normal:
- Reimu has special powers from the Hakurei bloodline, and has been noted to be closer to a senninnote than a regular human. Marisa acts like a youkainote , and most of her power comes from magical mushrooms and magical devices. Sakuya may well not be human. Youmu is half yuureinote . Keine is a were-hakutaku, though it's not clear how much of her power comes from this. Kaguya and Mokou are immortals with a thousand or so years of experience. Eirin is insanely old, and may be a godnote . Sanae is a god in addition to being humannote and is helped by a couple of gods. Sakuya has the ability to increase or decrease the flow of time with her magical watch and the reflexes required to make good use of those abilities. Clownpiece is an example of a fairy capable of fighting youkai on an even footing, but only by being directly enhanced by the abilities of her patron goddess.
- This trope is most of all exemplified with the Lunarians who are stronger, smarter, wiser, more technologically advanced and more magically adept than 99% of all youkai and 100% of all humans on top of being both immortal and pure. However, them being "pure" does not mean that they are "nice", it merely means that they are untouched by impurity and, by extention, death and it's been outright stated that they've considered "purifying" the Earth numerous times just to prevent us from spreading the existence of mortality beyond the boundaries of our own planet.
- It is later revealed that the Lunarians created the youkai to terroize humanity from the Moon and stifle their ability to possibly venture there, making this setup fit the first definition of the trope.
- Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars: All humans have to use equipment or cybernetics to fight, the Scrin spit corrosive chemicals, control minds and fire energy out of their bodies. On the other hand, Scrin are critically dependent on Tiberium and Tiberium radiation for survival; without it they will literally shrivel up and stop moving, and they seeded Earth with the stuff specifically to harvest ever more of the precious material. Kane goes so far as to call them "a cult of addiction in the guise of a species", implicitly comparing their entire invasion to a druggie sticking up their neighbors for money.
- At the epilogue of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Demise makes several comments about how the humans from his glory days spent their time cowering in their caves at the mere sight of him and fled to their goddess Hylia for protection. He even mocks Hylia for abandoning her divine form for that of Zelda (this is after eating her soul), and yet he finds it curious that their kind begot the likes of Link and Groose. He even commends Link when he finally goes down.
"You stand as a paragon of your kind, human. You fight unlike any human or demon I have ever faced."
- This is both inverted and played straight in XCOM: Enemy Unknown; human troops are stronger than Sectoids, but mostly on par with Thin Men and Floaters, and the bad guys only get stronger from there. Humans, however, have the ability to adapt and overcome their physical failings, and Colonel-level XCOM trooper with Titan Armor has more health than every enemy in the game except for the Sectopod. Combine that with human ingenuity in using and adapting alien technology and potentially psionic abilities, and humans are less capable at specific functions than most aliens, but more widely capable in general: an Ethereal has only psionic abilities to fight with, but can't use weapons, whereas a human soldier can use less powerful psionic abilities, as well as weapons, grenades and class abilities. It turns out that human generic exceptionalism is the ideal trait: when coupled with mental capability, humans good-but-not-great physical capability is better than the exceptional traits with startling deficits of the other races, which is what drew the Ethereals to Earth to begin with. They need a new "host" to replace their degenerating bodies, and none of the species they've encountered has had ability to accomodate an astounding mind in a physically capable body. The Ethereals even note during the final assault on the Temple Ship that most of their more impressive specimens have been massively altered at the cybernetic and genetic levels to get something that exceeds the human form.
- Proven true in XCOM 2, where the ultimate enemy in the game isn't some hulking brute or massive war machine, but rather a human-like Avatar that houses an Ethereal mind. In fact, most of the alien races in XCOM 2 have been modified by adding human genetics, making them more adaptable and dangerous.
- In of the early Protoss missions in Starcraft: Brood War, they encounter a blockade set up by the United Earth Directorate. Artanis voices this trope when flabbergasted that Zeratul has concerns over attacking these Terrans. Zeratul is very quick to put him in his place.
Artanis: Have faith, Zeratul! You speak as if you fear these humans! Was it not we who slew the dreaded Overmind?
Zeratul: That we did, young one, but we did so with the help of the humans. Do not be so quick to underestimate them.
- This comes full circle in Starcraft II Legacy Of The Void where it is Artanis who defies this trope, when his decision to help the humans is put into question.
- Pretty much humans in Star Control. Until the arrival of the Chenjesu to their outpost in the minor planet Ceres they lived with no FTL travel and totally oblivious to the conflict that was shaping in this corner of the Milky Way with the Ur-Quan's arrival, and were seen by the Ilwrath as ideal prey animals being weak and helpless. Their strength was to produce hundreds of (slow and vulnerable) warships armed with lots of nuclear missiles and defeating using Precursor technology both Ur-Quan species, as well as restoring the Alliance.
- Stellaris: When playing as an alien species, Earth may sometimes spawn on the map with humans at a pre-space flight technological level. You could find them in the middle of World War II and crush the combined military might of the entire planet with a few legions of Super Soldiers. In other cases, Earth will spawn as a Tomb World ravaged by nuclear war and populated by sentient evolved cockroaches, and humans are just a distant memory.
- Xenoblade Chronicles X: It appears that humanity is very far south of the average tech level of the universe. All life on Earth is wiped out as a side effect of a battle in orbit between two warring alien powers (though we later learn that at least a portion of one side of the conflict was deliberately targeting Earth). Humanity only survived by a rushed evacuation of the homeworld into unknown space, and even the technology to do that was gifted by a friendly alien... on their own, humans would have been screwed. The leaders of humanity are later dismayed to find out that the multi-species alien army that very nearly caused humanity's extinction is considered nothing more than a minor crime syndicate by the ruling governments of local space (which, incidentally, encompasses multiple galaxies).
- The Elder Scrolls provides a fantasy example. The lesser Daedra, a catch-all term for the denizens of Oblivion, the infinite void surrounding Mundus (the mortal realm), are vaguely demonic inter-dimensional beings frequently found in service to the Daedric Princes. They possess Complete Immortality, and if their physical forms are slain, their spirits ("animus") simply returns to Oblivion to reform. Despite being an extremely varied group, one thing that the lesser Daedra near-universally believe is that they are unquestionably superior to mortals.
- Each race in FTL: Faster Than Light has some advantage and sometimes two, including being fireproof, immune to suffocation, able to use telepathy, repair quickly, provide power to rooms and so on. Humans have the ability to learn quicker, which only arrived in the advanced edition.
- AI War: Fleet Command: The AI certainly thinks humanity's a bunch of trash, as does the CORE that it was built from. The sequel reveals this applies to the point that, when considering and creating a task force made of genetic experiments made from conquered races and cybernetic implants, it didn't add a single human element even as it added those of a race that is completely inept at actual battle other than "stay far away". It saw battle potential in those as artillery and snipers, and yet it didn't even consider humans in the the mixture; that is how low it finds us. Which likely makes later losses to human remnants a painful affair.
- Destroy All Humans! Takes this trope and runs with it. Humans are routinely portrayed as weak, dimwitted, and quick to panic. The local police force pose little threat to Crypto and the army being dangerous only in large numbers or if Crypto gets careless. Only Majestic seems to show any signs of competency, having reverse engineered some Furon technology, giving their agents advanced energy weapons and enhancing some with psychic powers. Even still, they're woefully inferior to Crypto's weapons and abilities and he eventually conquers the entire United States right out from under everyone's noses.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: The Nemesite Empire has legally owned Earth for eons. They consider humans part of the local wildlife (because humans don't have interstellar space travel yet) and have designated Earth as a nature preserve. While Voluptua clearly rather likes humans, she's never above patronizing humans a little.
- Outsider: Because humans only became spacefaring in very recent times — the setting's major species were already in space during Earth's medieval period — humans lag far behind everyone else in everything, from their highly outdated armed forces and technology to simply lacking the other cultures' sheer numbers. This becomes unpleasantly clear for Jardin when he witnesses a border skirmish between a small, under-strength Loroi strike group and a much larger, but still partial, Umiak force — and the strike group itself still contains more ships than the totality of humanity's combined space forces, and many of its vessels are armed with weapons that can one-shot a mid-sized human ship.
Jardin's internal monologue: A full-scale clash between major fleets surely must involve many hundreds or even thousands of vessels, armed with weaponry that had made very short work of Bellarmine. I was having a hard time imagining how I was going to be able to make a case to the Loroi that Humanity could offer any kind of meaningful support in this war.
- Schlock Mercenary: Lampshaded when Schlock's unit is trying to come up with a way to use Schlock's various powers (Nigh-Invulnerability, reforming if destroyed, shape-shifting, and a couple of other things) to get past a military checkpoint. Schlock complains "Why does it have to be MY powers? To me, YOU guys are the aliens. Can't you use your 'Special human powers' to get us past it?"
- The only reason he has unusual abilities is that Carbosilicate Amorphs are descended from swarms of Nanomachines. The other naturally-evolved species have little or no physical advantage over humans, or if they do, it's minor, roughly balanced, and treated realistically (i.e. a four-armed alien who can only see in one direction ain't gonna aim weapons everywhich way at once).
- This trope is indeed justified and explored quite a bit; most of the stronger and more powerful species are artificial, such as Shlock himself and the uplifted apes and elephants.
- Either averted or downplayed with most non-artificial aliens. The Fobott'r are Multi-Armed and Dangerous but lack the coordination to quad-wield properly: the Frellenti are Fragile Speedsters with an Multipurpose Tongue but no normal hands. The Oafan are The Ageless and can back up memory in their skin, but are fragile Living Gasbag, and the Ob'enn are merely fluffy. Even the Unioc have superior vision as their only real plus over humanity. The only straight example is the Vorwhed, by virtue of being big.
- Averted by the aliens in A Game of Fools who, despite their fearsome appearance, have little advantage over humans besides their highly advanced technology, can be easily restrained with nothing but rope and a fair few are terrified at the very sight of humans (though they've gotten over the last one somewhat). Neeg also got the crap beaten out of him by an Old lady.
- Aylee and her species in Sluggy Freelance are not only capable of assuming different forms to suit their environment, but their collected arsenal of genetic tricks from unknown eons of consuming planets (which acts to justify this) allows those forms to have just about any useful attribute, though not all at once. Thus, Aylee apparently never needs to sleep or breathe (nor, possibly, go to the potty), and often has vastly superior physical abilities compared to humans as well as a powerful Healing Factor. Things like flight, breathing fire and emitting EMPs are also possible adaptations. She's also very talented at web design. In fact, she doesn't even believe humans are the dominant species on the planet; her logic on that point is rather strained, but clearly she's not impressed. On the other hand, she's socially awkward on Earth and dreadful in handling money, and sometimes leaves slime all over the place or eats unacceptable things.
- This trope appears in Homestuck, manifesting itself in a few different ways. Karkat Vantas compares himself to a god for assisting in the creation of the kids' universe. Many other trolls, like Sollux Captor and Tavros Nitram, have powers that would make them superhuman on Earth.
- In Mortasheen, humans are not very high on the food chain, usually ending up as either food, experimental subjects or sometimes pets, which is why the human civilization of Wreathe is so genocidal towards all the setting's monsters and mutants. Though, actual native Mortasheen humans are rather blase about this whole state of affairs, sometimes even volunteering for experiments to try and become something less vulnerable.
- The basic premise of They Are Smol is that humanity is the smallest, weakest species around, with the corollary that every other species views us as incredibly adorable. After an accidental invasion by one of the galactic powers, Earth is more-or-less cut off from alien visitation, making direct human-alien interaction rare; most of the stories involve a token human being placed on an alien ship, with the crew having to consciously restrain themselves from inadvertently harming the human.
- Pretty damn bad in Ben 10. To put it in context: the Omnitrix aliens are every sentient race Azmuth could get a sample of, plus every new alien encountered since then 'cause the Omnitrix can scan new ones. Throughout the original continuity we've only seen about 90 of the supposed 1,000,900 species that are in the Ominitrix, but given the device is supposed to be a random roster it's pretty improbable that every alien it picked just happened to have be superior to humans in one form or another. Humanity's only one appears to be the ability to breed with these aliens so their kids can have the alien superpowers.
- The only ones that are on par with humanity appeared in Omniverse, the fourth series, the franchise's eighth year, and by "on par" we really just mean "their powers aren't as cool as some of the others". One of them seems to be a giant living bouncy ball able to withstand any impact, and another could hypnotise people and came in handy defeating the antagonist in one episode.
- It gets pretty bad when the idea of a human having magical powers is treated as ridiculous while having similarly-themed energy-based superpowers inherited from the alien grandparent isn't. Later on learn that the human-appearing magic users Hex and Charmcaster come from another dimension. Humans can't use magic after all, or at least we've never seen it.
- Interestingly, one of the least superpowered races is that of Vilgax, the Big Bad. Most of his 'powers' come from technology. Separated from his arsenal, he's just (very, very, able-to-withstand-a-nuke) strong. Still, in "Vilgax Must Croak," that proved to make him a match for three alien bounty hunters in Iron Man-class Powered Armor.
- In Ultimate Alien, aliens get 'evolved' forms. A Ben from a possible future has an Ultimate form of his own, which is... using Omnitrix alien powers without transforming, as opposed there being something cool about humans to push Up to Eleven. Humans really do suck in the Ben 10 universe.
- On the "humans don't share their weaknesses" side, one alien superhero was nearly killed by... chocolate. And he was a Superman Expy to boot!
- In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command Mira's race has this attitude toward other races due to the natural power of Intangibility and their secondary Psychic Powers as a result of it. The Chlorm have an extreme version of this acting as if all sentient races are just Talking Animals. This results in putting them in their zoos, using them for product testing and having them do dumb tricks.
- In Futurama humanity has been effortlessly conquered by the Omicronians so often that they're now Genre Savvy enough to just surrender on the spot. Not only is their space fleet so strong they can conquer a solar system before breakfast, they're large enough to swallow humans whole and possess the key to immortality. For some reason they're huge fans of human pop culture, as well as horns.
- Humans have also had their asses handed to them by the Decapodians and the Brain Spawn. We can always blame Zapp Brannigan for the failures of the in-universe humans.
- Played with in that Earth is a third-rate military power, but seems to hold considerable cultural and economic influence through the wider galaxy. Earth is basically the Milky Way's equivalent of a Banana Republic or 1930's Fascist Italy, with a dash of Type 2 Eagleland for flavour.
- Parodied by Invader ZIM. Humans are pretty dumb, and Irkens have all kinds of superior technology...but for the most part, the Irkens are pretty dumb too. According to Word of God, the show's whole concept was founded on the inherent ridiculousness of a Higher Tech Alien too stupid to use his power correctly. There ARE individual Irkens who are extremely competent at planetary conquest and using all that advanced weaponry. It's just a crapshoot whether they actually get in a position to do so considering that all honor and authority in their society is bestowed based on height before any other standard. Zim is actually rather good at using it himself, he's just completely incompetent at target selection. (He once carried out one of the most devastating planetary assaults EVER performed by any Irken...he just forgot to travel from his homeworld to the target planet BEFORE unleashing planet-wide devastation.)
- Justice League:
- Hawkgirl and all other Thanagarians have super-strength and wings.
- And then there's Martian Manhunter and his Combo Platter Powers...
- And freakin' Superman...
- But Batman has the greatest superpower of all: he never gives up.
- Where Aquaman fits in this is a little weird. He and his entire race are capable of breathing air and water, and are strong and tough enough to effortlessly swim around in the deep ocean without issue, but Atlanteans are a Human Subspecies.
- Legion of Super-Heroes. While every other planet seems to spawn a race of superpowered people, Earthlings need to do it the old fashioned way with lab accidents and the like.
- Teen Titans (2003) has Starfire (and her sister Blackfire), who are super strong, can fly, can throw fireballs, learn languages by kissing and have inordinately high pain thresholds (including a tolerance for extreme temperatures). All of these powers are just... characteristics of Tamaranians, apparently.
- Played with in Transformers: Animated: While humans are definitely smaller and scrawnier than the giant Cybertronians, most Autobots are so freaked out by organic contamination that captain Fanzone actually managed to intimidate an informant into getting them what they needed just by threatening to drool on him.
- Subverted for laughs in The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror II". The aliens Kang and Kodos only invade Earth after humanity has voluntarily dissolved its militaries and destroyed all its weapons, leaving them helpless against the aliens' arsenal of wooden clubs and slingshots. The aliens even boast, "Your superior intellect is no match for our puny weapons!" They flee the planet when one human thinks to attack them with a wooden board that has a nail sticking out of it.
- The only known sapient alien race in Steven Universe is the gems, who are superhumanly strong, tough, and agile, capable of Voluntary Shapeshifting, don't age, don't need to eat, drink, or sleep, can replace their entire body if injured, have individualized powers or built-in weapons, and possess several other inherent advantages even separate from their incredibly advanced technology. Basically the only advantage humans have is that they can reproduce without draining planets dry of life energy. However, gems are an artificial species created by god-like alien beings, so it's not exactly a fair comparison—the few other (non-sapient) alien lifeforms shown aren't significantly more powerful than Earth life.