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Strong Flesh, Weak Steel

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"Steel isn't strong, boy... flesssh is stronger."
Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian (1982)

In certain kinds of games, it is inexplicably easier to destroy something made of armored steel, like a tank, than to destroy an ostensibly flesh and blood character (often a boss of some sort), even without specialized weaponry. Compare Invulnerable Knuckles, Made of Iron. When applied to weapons rather than opponents, it is Guns Are Worthless. You know this trope is active when the best way to defend a structure is for a character to stand in front of it and take the damage as a meat-shield. This can lead to comic relief when someone starts smashing and smashing but the person either feels no pain or feels tons of pain but no respite.

There may be a (tiny) grain of Truth in Television here: living beings regenerate, albeit slowly, but steel is incapable of regenerating all by itself.

Not to be confused with the philosophy in Conan the Barbarian, which is more of a spin off of brains over brawns, and the role of the individual's own power against any weapon which they could wield or be used against them. Usually a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation. The Chunky Salsa Rule is a reaction to this. Played straight with Mecha-Mooks, but almost always averted with Mechanical Monsters.


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    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • A conflict very common when the colours Green and Blue are pitted against each other - the former, which represents life and "nature", is so good at dealing with metallic things that the latter, which represents innovation and is associated with technology, can only defend itself by countering spells. Phyrexia, however, just takes the Body Horror middle ground, fusing artifice with life in horrific and deadly ways.
    • Artifact creatures can be killed by anything that can kill an artifact or anything that can kill a creature, making them generally more vulnerable than "flesh and blood" creatures.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Tanks can be destroyed by one shot from a weapon with high enough strength to penetrate the armour, while monstrous creatures usually take at least 4 shots, as they have several Wounds and are usually tough enough to not be instakilled by normal weapons. Same applies for any multi-Wound model that has immune to instant death rule.
    • Furthermore, any glancing or penetrating hits will at least keep the tank from shooting, whereas multi-wound infantry and monstrous creature units can take repeated damaging hits with no effect until they lose their last wound and experience a Critical Existence Failure.
    • Averted with the Void Missile Apocalypse Weapon, which specifically points out only an invulnerable Save can save you from being completely erased from existence, since it pretty much wipes you away from reality, along with a good chunk of the earth you were standing on. Being Made of Iron or having extremely awesome Bling of War does not help when you are thrown into a Negative Space Wedgie. Similarly, being crushed by a titan's foot also ignores the Eternal Warrior rule (immune to instant death) since you are now just a smear on the titan's shoe. Both of these only do marginally more damage to Tanks (in some cases the tank has a higher survival chance if it has good enough armor).
      • The last part is rather funny since fluff repeatedly mentioned that Space Marine in Terminator armor will survive being stepped by Titan.
    • Poison and sniper weapons specifically avert this, usually having a strength value too low to harm tanks at allnote  but are highly effective against monstrous creatures as they completely ignore the monster's toughness value (and, in the case of most poison weapons, a ridiculous amount of attacks).
    • Generally averted by Iron Hands, whose motto is "Flesh is weak!". Something their "father" and Primarch Ferrus Manus did not support at all mind you.
  • In Advanced Squad Leader, this is zig-zagged. Tanks are usually destroyed by the first successful attack against them, while fire at infantry that hasn't been damaged before usually has no effect other than sending them on a rout and keeping them out of combat for some time. But if you don't have any specialized anti-tank weapons handy, tanks are nigh-invulnerable.
  • Always true to some extent in Dungeons & Dragons thanks to Hit Points, but it's particularly notable in 4th Edition. According to the DMG, a Large iron statue should have about 120 hit points, a total easily achievable by the time a character leaves Heroic levels, and lower than a Solo goblin. A statue that's actually fighting back (an Iron Golem), however, has Hit Points of almost 400.
    • 3rd Edition attempted an aversion with Hardness scores. Inanimate objects had Hardness, which automatically reduced damage by that amount - so that iron statue might have Hardness 5, meaning the average blow from a sword or axe wouldn't scratch it. A golem might have so many more hit points than a statue of the same size because hit points function as an abstraction of health, Plot Armor, fatigue, and lots of little factors, more than they reflect just durability.
  • Battletech: Destroying an infantry squad using anti-'mech weapons can sometimes take longer than destroying another 'mech with them. This is because, per the rules of the game, a successful attack against an infantry squad kills a single soldier and only one soldier, with the assumption that the whole squad was taking cover and only one of them got turned into chunky salsa by the 100 kg explosive shell you just shot at him. Weapons designed for Anti-Infantry duty (machine guns and flamethrowers) ignore this rule and kill additional soldiers per hit, making them much more useful for infantry hunting (but usually too weak to meaningfully damage 'mech armour).

    Video Games 
  • The most obvious example are games like Haze or darkSector which feature armoured vehicles with fixed hitpoints but a player character with regenerating hitpoints. While the tank can only take a tank's worth of damage, ever, you're still safely moving along even after taking enough hits across the last thirty minutes to destroy Brazil.
    • And even escalated in the latter's Spiritual Successor, Warframe, where one of the eponymous Warframes, Nidus, has no armor or other obvious technological elements, unlike most of them, yet can stand up to sustained gunfire indefinitely due to its combination of regeneration rate and armor, whilst virtually no enemy (many of which are obviously mechanical) can regenerate at all.
  • Many First-Person Shooters featuring Ludicrous Gibs require explosives to actually gib the body whereas let you bust a hole in a concrete wall using a knife or even your own foot.
  • In Hidden and Dangerous, an enemy soldier could keep fighting even after taking two high-powered rifle rounds to the throat, only dying after the third hit. A Tiger tank could be destroyed with a single hand grenade.
  • In Noblemen: 1896 by Foursaken Media, vehicles have the highest level of armor so it's hard to scratch them with normal firearms. Vehicles also have very good levels of health, but a number of organic units rival or exceed them such as the undead, Paladins or Tesla soldier types. For example the heavily armoured Georgeson Tank has 125 armour and 1800 health at Level 9. The War Elephants have a decent 50 armour, but they got 7500 health and this is a unit incapable of getting experience. So the tank is more difficult to hurt, but when it does take damage it'll go down much earlier than the War Elephant.
  • Warcraft III has different armor and attack classes. The armor classes are Unarmored, Light, Medium, Heavy, Fortified, and Hero; the attack classes are Normal, Piercing, Siege, Magic, Hero, and Chaos. Each attack class is usually effective only against certain defense classes and has reduced efficiency against others. For instance, Siege attacks are effective against buildings and unarmored units, but hardly useful against units with medium armor and heroes. Interestingly, some units with the "unarmored" armor type still have armor rating for balance reasons.
    • This was done to mitigate a problem in the two earlier titles, where a building could be taken out by archers as efficiently as siege catapults.
    • And most of the mechanical units in the game are, indeed, more fragile than biological units. Demolishers, Glaive Throwers, Meat Wagons, Obsidian Statues and Flying Machines are all fragile, easily killed units. Mechanical units' only real advantage is that they cannot be targeted by most offensive spells, although that also means that most healing spells don't benefit them. And although they can be repaired by workers(at a cost), they don't naturally heal over time like biological units do. However, this is averted with the Dwarven Steam Tank/Engine which has a lot of health and heavy fortified armor, the kind that is normally only found on buildings.
      • This has actually carried over into World of Warcraft. The battlegrounds Strand of the Ancients and Isle of Conquest, and the outdoor BG Wintergrasp all included or relied upon the use of several of the above vehicles to achieve certain objectives, the problem was that while player HP and power increased over the course of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack they were introduced, the vehicles themselves' power and Hp remained static and constant. By the end of WotLK, several of these vehicles were so far behind in terms of health - particularly the Glaives, which had about 35,000 health (about as much as a player) but utterly lacked any of the PCs defensive options or stats - they could be literally two-shot by any well-geared player. This made these BGs rather frustrating, particularly if you were relying on those Glaives, as even with a strong and vigilant escort force, both available Glaives could be obliterated by a single Rogue or Feral Druid attacking from stealth. The current expansion pack, Cataclysm, has significantly buffed all these vehicles' damage and health to the point where a single player can no longer easily wipe out a Demolisher in under ten seconds, but it remains to be seen whether increasing PC power will bring us back to where we were at the end of WotLK.
  • Something like the above two examples tends to crop up in pretty much all Real-Time Strategy games for balance reasons, but Total Annihilation and its Spiritual Successor Supreme Commander neatly avert this trope by making specialised weapons effective even though they do the same amount of damage to all targets. For example, anti-air missiles do very low damage to anything, making them pretty useless against ground forces, but are the only things fast enough to hit planes (which have very few hit points); meanwhile anti-armor rockets are good against big tanks because they do huge damage, but are too slow-firing to be of use against small, faster units.
    • The anti-air missiles used in Total Annihilation were fairly overpowered however. Even doing low damage to anything not an aircraft, they had both a high fire rate, long range, and tracking abilities, which meant they could be used en masse as not inconsiderable defensive line.
  • Fairly evident in the Time Crisis series, when dealing with bosses. Most enemies go down in one or two shots, despite many wearing body armour. Several, wearing heavy armour, can take longer. Tanks and Vehicles can be blown up with several rounds of ammo. Meanwhile, some bosses (notably the second Level boss in Game 2, the first level boss in Game 3, and the second level boss in Game 4) often don't wear anything beyond a simple shirt or tank top. Despite this, they can take hundreds upon hundreds of shots to kill, and can endure grenade rounds to the face. The second level boss in Game 4 is particularly aggravating, since even after emptying nearly all your machine gun and shotgun ammo into him, it takes a punch to finally knock him out. And he still taunts you with information on the Big Bad's plan before passing out.
  • A variation on this theme may be the tendency of early racing games to have a car plowing into the spectating crowd being the equivalent of it crashing into a tree or solid mountain wall.
  • Team Fortress 2. A Heavy has more HP than a fully upgraded, twin-machine gun and rocket-spewing sentry gun. In fact, the best way to defend a particular location is to have a Heavy rely on a dispenser for health and ammo, the sentry for additional firepower, and protect both structures with his body when necessary.
    • Heck, a flesh and blood character can be healed with a sandwich, a medical kit, a dispenser, and the Medic's weapon which may or may not make them healthy as much as just restore lost health. How do you heal a Sentry? Smack it with a wrench faster than the other team can shoot at it.
      • On the other hand, a sentry can't be taken out with a headshot or backstab (and don't incur additional damage from critical hits in general).
      • Also a sentry will always be where you place is and doesn't quit or get bored. Not mention it is an aimbot and is the perfect counter and perhaps only true counter for decent scouts, who could normally avoid or even kill a heavy.
    • On a more literal note, the Heavy can equip spiked brass knuckles and they do less damage than his own fists, yet somehow let him punch faster.
    • The Fists of Steel reduces ranged weapon damage coming at the Heavy wearing them, but also increases melee damage that the heavy takes, which sort of make it dance back and forth with this trope as it results in the heavy taking little damage from a rocket to the face, but can be killed by a few smacks with a fish. As if plastering "FISH KILL!" in front of the death notice didn't make getting killed by that fish embarassing enough.
  • The Empire at War abuses this trope to the fullest with its heroes classes (based on major and minor characters in the Star Wars movies) - in particular the Jedi and Sith characters which can indeed be used as meat shields. AT-ATs can mow over enemy vehicles but are practically useless against enemy infantry unless they deploy their own, and Star Destroyers without TIE Fighter escort are pretty much fodder for any Y-Wings around.
    • It should be noted that in the series proper fighters are a severe threat to capital ships (to the point were the Empire manufactured vessels designed specifically to kill fighters) and AT-ATs generally are useless against infantry due to their piss-poor range of fire, but as this isn't represented in the game itself this still qualifies.
  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, it's possible to destroy the motorized Armored Personnel Carriers being used by the Big Bad to defend Chernobyl by stabbing them once with a knife.
    • It goes further than that; any human enemy, no matter how well armored, goes down in one stab with the knife. An arena match actually forces you to kill a Powered Armored stalker in this fashion.
    • Inversely, not all mutants can be killed in one hit with the knife. Since they have high damaging melee attacks, it's better just to shoot them, but the blood suckers will die from 1 stab of the knife while they can take a full assault rifle mag to kill and the fact that they are mostly invisible and use claws to attack you makes the knife a good weapon to choose.
    • All this happens because the knife does a crapload of damage against everything. It's because of bugs like this that there aren't more vehicles in the game.
  • In Crysis, enemy Nanosuit soldiers can survive multiple rocket launcher shots to the face, whereas enemy helicopters and tanks explode after 2 or 3 rockets. The North Korean General himself can shrug off several rocket launcher shots before dying (although you're not supposed to have a rocket launcher when you fight him).
    • With that said, he can be killed with one well-thrown barrel. Thank god for physics kills.
  • The old game Airborne Ranger had a realistic weapons system, where a LAW rocket pretty much meant death for anything you shot it at. The limiter was simple space/weight logistics. Your guy only had enough room in his pack for two or three rockets, at the cost of more practical equipment.
  • Mostly justified in BioShock, where the Little Sisters, girls all around the age of four or five, are invulnerable to attacks that kill genetically altered adults, combat bots, and the massively armored Big Daddies. This is due to the sea slug which the game is based around, which seems to live symbiotically within the Little Sisters, automatically repairing any and all damage to the girls.
  • The original Soldier of Fortune had one character, the final boss, who could survive an inhuman amounts of bullets, handwaved by the fact he was wearing a full-body suit of metal armor.
    • In Soldier of Fortune: Payback, every couple of levels ended in a boss fight against a rival soldier who could soak 2 or 3 clips of assault rifle fire before croaking (none of said bosses are even wearing body armor, and include a chick in a tank top and a guy in a business suit). Particularly egregious were the final 2 bosses, who took that sort of ridiculous punishment from your guns while being able to kill you in one or two shots with his.
  • In Deus Ex: Invisible War, during the final battle on Liberty Island, the Knight Templar Saman (leader of the Templars, natch, and the character closest to being the game's Big Bad), an unaugmented, bog-standard human, can survive about as much damage as his minions, who are wearing heavy Powered Armor suits.
  • In Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty, a sniper shot to any part of your armored super-soldier body would kill you. Your marine allies with their much less advanced armor could survive multiple shots. To a lesser degree, this holds true in later Halo games too.
  • There's an ability named Strong Flesh Weak Steel in Dawn of War II. It lets a Space Marine Force Commander stun vehicles for over 5 seconds. Though, while armed with a Power Fist, so it kinda works.
    • The game series is otherwise an excellent showcase of this trope. All weapons have a set damage value against different armour types (that ultimately makes the visible damage values moot), and antitank weapons tend to do little, if any, damage to things that are not tanks. The crowning example is the Eldar Fire Dragon (a high-tier antitank infantry unit with a fusion gun), whose damage per second against infantry is measured in single digits; less than most factions' scout units. Rockets are a middleground: they do comparatively little damage against infantry and miss half the time, but they are useful for providing knockback.
    • This is mostly in the original Dawn of War game and its expansions; by Dawn of War II, you'll see weapons doing about what you'd expect (lascannons making unarmored infantry explode into a fine, red mist, for instance) but make up for it in rate of fire; lascannons and plasma cannons will only fire once every two to three seconds and are useless against hordes, while heavy bolters actually do less damage per shot than normal ones but tend to fire about 3 or 4 times as fast depending on the individual weapon's modifiers.
  • See: Mother 3, where a tank can be disposed of by hitting it but a tree may well murder you (when it explodes).
  • In Pokémon, the fleshy Fighting type is strong against the Rock and Steel types. Steel does normal damage against Fighting rather than being weaker against it, though.
  • In X-COM: UFO Defense, veteran soldiers are far more powerful and harder to kill than tanks, because soldiers gain experience and tanks don't.
    • In the 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it is possible to set up operatives so they are significantly tougher than the Alloy SHIV tanks.
  • [PROTOTYPE], supersoldiers are sort of this trope; they can take 5+ hits from an anti-tank rocket launcher, while M1 Abrams tanks take 1 or 2 to destroy. However, unlike tanks, supersoldiers are vulnerable to small arms fire. For the most part, this trope is all justified though, as all strong flesh targets have superpowers. Non-powered flesh creatures die easier than tanks and such.
    • It's played straight with Specialist Cross, whose status as a boss enemy let's him shrug off dozens of attacks that individually can crack a tank. The devs have stated that he's not superpowered and that this is a case of Gameplay Story Segregation.
  • Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid takes as much damage from a sniper rifle bullet to the big toe as she takes from being hit flush in the chest with a remote-controlled missile. And in the sequel, a Stinger missile inflicts the same damage on a Harrier jet as on Vamp, who is not only unarmored but shirtless.
  • StarCraft. Zerg Ultralisks are significantly harder to kill than Terran Siege Tanks. However, Tanks are available earlier and have huge long-ranged cannons on top.
    • And judging from the trailer for "Heart of the Swarm" Ultralisks are big enough to step on Siege Tanks.
  • With the exception of the Final Boss, the Gargantua is by far the most powerful enemy in Half-Life, more resilient than even the tanks and helicopters and completely immune to the player's weaponry except for explosives. Sort-of-kind-of justified in that it's massive, heavily armored and maybe engineered specifically for combat by the invading aliens. The Antlion Guard in Half-Life 2 however has no justification for being able to laugh off multiple explosions to the face.
  • Taken to absurd extreme in Wolfschanze - a rather poorly made WWII FPS from the same makers of Mortyr 2093-1944 - in which you can take out a tank by kicking it enough times. One Polish magazine that reviewed it dubbed the game "a Chuck Norris simulator" after the fact.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy and its stage destructibility. Lunar rock formations, the core of the planet, ancient shrines to an elder god, a laboratory dedicated to profaning everything good in the world, and the castle of the shrieking damned versus some mortal schmuck who, sixteen times out of twenty-two, isn't even wearing metal armor? Malevolent Architecture doesn't stand a snowball's chance.
  • Used to ridiculous levels in the Wild ARMs series - characters will trade dozens of bullets, usually hitting, but in the next cutscene, the loser will be kneeling or knocked out instead of the intended profuse bleeding and eventual death.
  • Fallout Tactics: Due to the game's damage calculation engine, you cause more damage with your bare hands than with steel brass knuckles.
    • Especially if the character in question is a Super Mutant. One of the critical hit phrases is "Torn in half like a phone book."
  • In World of Warcraft this trope comes into play with the Vrykul, giants of living stone and iron that are killed in large numbers by fleshy beings. One of their generals (and one who actually is tougher than any player, if only because he's a boss) has a This Cannot Be! reaction to a lethal encounter with this trope.
    General Bjarngrim: How can it be...? Flesh is not... stronger!
  • Sabin from Final Fantasy VI.
    Motherfucker suplexed a train!
  • In Assassin's Creed games, the plate-armoured knight and Brute Elite Mooks are not much more resilient than their less-armoured allies against unarmed combat. Then again you are playing as an Assassin, who seem to be trained more in using precision strikes than brute force. Even if you are using a big honkin' sabre.
  • At the beginning of Mass Effect, the Mako mechanized infantry vehicle is pretty durable and has good weaponry compared to Shepard and his/her crew. As you approach the game's level cap, however, you'll find that it's easier and worth more XP (the Mako penalizes 60% of your XP) to drive to the battlefield, hop out of the Mako, and engage enemies on foot. This is mostly due to the fact that the Mako handles like a drunken rhino due to its lousy controls and mediocre navigation (have fun going up mountains), has a poor defense system and can't aim lower than the horizon, along with a below average aiming system and shields that take up to 5 minutes to recharge after a fight.
    • The metal based Geth enemies throughout the series are less durable than their flesh and blood counterparts.
  • Planescape: Torment: Inverted by Zerthimon's Scripture of Steel, which tells of the prophet's encounter with a corpse whose head had been bisected by an axe, leading him to the realization that while the Illithids know flesh, they do not know steel...
Dak'kon: "Steel marks flesh, but flesh cannot mark steel."
  • Streets of Rage makes heavy use of this. In addition to being able to smash in iron drums with a simple punch from the very first game, the second game introduces robotic enemies (although they at least have a lot of hit points). The third game takes this even farther by introducing a lot more robotic enemies as well as a scene where you need to fight off a bulldozer! While the bulldozer cannot be defeated, a single punch (or kick) will force it to back off for a few seconds.
  • Tribes: Ascend has this in certain aspects. Some explosive weapons can deal over twice the damage to armored assets than to playable characters. This can lead to situations where you can kill a heavy-class enemy riding around on a vehicle such as a Grav Cycle in one shot, whereas that same enemy could take two direct hits with a Spinfusor and live. On the other hand, some weapons capable of one-shotting certain enemies would require several direct hits to base assets in order to completely destroy them and vehicles take no damage at all from bullets.
  • The Punisher. One of Ma Gnucci's sons is noted as wearing kevlar, so chest shots won't work. It still takes many shots to the head to bring him down.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Most of the enemies are robotic, and the characters don't usually use any weapons but their own bodies, so this is in full effect. Even in regards to story, the flesh-and-blood characters seem to be quite a bit more durable than robots.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Not as much of an example as Sonic, since there are less robotic enemies, but a Ground Pound is usually enough to take out a robot.
  • In the Command & Conquer series, a recurring gameplay motif is that shells damage tanks and buildings, while bullets damage infantry. This means that tanks will require multiple shots from their main gun to kill even a single infantryman and will likely kill him quicker by running him over, while a machine-gun using hummer can kill its weight in basic infantry easily. Similarly bazooka-using infantry counter tanks, but not regular foot soldiers. There are still some oddities about this, however, such as Grenadiers; effective against infantry and buildings and somewhat effective against vehicles, but also violently explosive, or Tesla Troopers who are effective against vehicles and infantry, but less useful against buildings.
    • Command & Conquer: Renegade has a very complicated system of armours and weapons to emulate this sort of thing from the RTS games. Buildings as well typically have Master Control Terminals that can be destroyed with a single pack of C4 to kill the building rather than slowly dealing external damage. This, of course, still results in things like Made of Iron bosses who can tank a shot from a hand-held Ion Cannon to the face, while at earlier points in the game you'd been given opportunities to destroy buggies and helicopters with a chaingun, harvesting silos with a flamethrower, and helipads with a pistol.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 gets particularly weird with this when it comes to its version of the veterancy system introduced in Tiberian Sun. Elite units get boosts to their fire rate and damage, as well as Regenerating Health, and except in cases of extreme Crippling Overspecialization, these boosts usually turn normal matchups on their head. A normal one-on-one shootout between, say, a Conscript and a Grizzly tank will end with the Grizzly slightly damaged and the Conscript dead but will take a minute or two; if the Conscript is Elite, it'll take even longer to do so but he'll actually be able to win just through sheer endurance granted by his regeneration, while if the Grizzly is Elite, he'll be able to instantly paste the Conscript with his tank cannon that now fires in two-shot bursts and blows what it shoots up so hard they create miniature mushroom clouds at the point of impact. Similarly, static defenses like the sentry gun will usually make minced meat out of GIs no matter how many you throw at it, but if the whole squad is Elite they'll tear it and its owner's entire base to shreds in about a minute or two - and if you position them right, they may even be able to slightly outrange that noticeably larger sentry gun with their own personal machine gun.
  • Oni: In a game full of plasma weapons, mercury-tipped sniper arrows and good old fashioned pistols, the most dangerous weapons are still Konoko's fists. She also takes more damage from enemy melee attacks than from their firearms.


    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • A bullet to Goku's head makes him say "Ouch!", and an axe to the head gives him a headache - shattering the axe. He blocks rocket-propelled grenades with his arms, jumps through steel-lined floors head-first, destroys the Terminator with a ki blast, and dispatches wave after wave of tanks and helicopters like it's nothing.
    • Averted with super-suits and the mechanical androids, but those stop working as Goku gets stronger and the villains are forced to hire more muscle. In Dragon Ball Z, Dr. Gero finally learns from previous mistakes and actually starts making his death machines out of flesh instead of steel. By that point, Goku's flesh can literally withstand attacks that would blow up the planet.
  • Bleach has the Big Bad's conquered soldier force, the Arrancar, whose skin has the defence Hierro (lit. Iron, the name of the element) that is impenetrable by blades to the point one of them, Grimmjow, stops Ichigo's sword with his bare arm and looks for all the world like he merely swatted a spider.
  • Fairy Tail: Attacks that blow up buildings, leave huge craters in the ground or even rearrange the geography can have a mage survive standing in the centre of it with nothing more than bruises if the mage is tough enough or a complete No-Sell for the truly powerful ones.
  • The Thirteen Episode Anime Metal Fighter Miku revolved around a fictionalized version of the All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling league with Powered Armor known as "Metal Suits". By the end of the series, both the heroine Miku and the reigning champion Aquamarine realize that the Charles Atlas Superpowers from their training mean that the Metal Suits are holding them back, repeatedly breaking from their own blows if they aren't careful. Both of them deliberately destroy their suits during the course of their championship battle, and the ringside announcer says that the battle only became more intense afterwards.
  • Characters in One Piece routinely emerge from attacks that can punch through steel relatively unscathed, but one of the most blatant examples of this is in the Alabasta arc, during Zoro's fight with Mr. 1, where he is directly hit by an attack that slices the stone pillar behind him to ribbons but merely cuts his chest. After the fight, he even remarks that the wound isn't deep.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, after realizing his condition is the result of his organ transplant, Kaneki tries to stab himself to damage the organ. The kitchen knife harmlessly bends against his stomach, because ghoul flesh is too tough for conventional weapons to pierce. The CCG uses Quinque Steel, an alloy reinforced with melted down ghouls to make it strong enough to harm them, and employs weapons made from a ghoul's predatory organ to kill them.

    Comic Books 
  • Magnus Robot Fighter: This trope is a central conceit in a series where fleshy humans can dismantle robots with their bare hands. Various adaptions justify it to different extents: sometimes Magnus is just that good of a martial artist with hardened bone and knowledge of engineering weak points sometimes it helps because of inherited super strength.
  • Justified in Superman with Cyborg-Superman. He has Kryptonian powers and is a cyborg. His cybernetic components are weaker than his flesh, which makes sense considering Kryptonians have always been depicted as stronger and tougher than your average robot or cyborg.

    Film (Live-Action) 
  • In Ex Machina, the robot Ava is unable to beat Nathan in a clean fight even when she gets the jump on him, with Nathan effortlessly smashing her arm off in one blow. It's only because Kyoko stabs him that Nathan doesn't completely destroy Ava. The video we see of Nathan's earlier AI experiments also shows one of the robots he created smashing her arms to nubs as she pounds on her cell door pleading to be let out. Justified in that they weren't built as fighting machines, their sole purpose being to serve as robot vessels for a Turing Test; that, and Nathan is shown to be a fitness enthusiast who is absolutely jacked.

  • Star Wars:
    • Blaster rifles aren't steel, but this trope comes up in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. Luke, held captive by stormtroopers, is not sufficiently quiet, so one keeps hitting him with a blaster rifle even when Luke politely tells him not to. Finally Luke catches the business end of the rifle and it shatters.
    • Obi-Wan does something similar in the Novelization of Revenge of the Sith when he ends up in a wrestling match against the cyborg General Grievous.
      But Obi-Wan's arm had the Force to give it strength, and the general's arm only had the innate crystalline intermolecular structure of duranium alloy.
      Grievous's forearm bent like a cheap spoon.
    • In the New Jedi Order series the Yuuzhan Vong exclusively use Organic Technology that often outperforms the drytech of the New Republic, conquering or destroying vast stretches of the galaxy. Though in the final book it's noted that the Vong are running short on ships more quickly, since fabrication is faster than growth. They had able to build up a massive fleet prior to the invasion because the Yuuzhan Vong had been preparing for a very long time, and didn't really count on the war taking as long as it did, or how much of a fight the New Republic and Imperial Remnant would put up.
  • In Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series the Darwinists' "fabricated beasts" often seem to have the advantage over the Clankers' machines. I couple times the titular living airship takes on Clanker planes and zeppelins two-to-one and wins. Of course, it's packed with flechette bats and strafing hawks that can Zerg Rush the Clankers and breed reinforcements for the next battle.

    Real Life 
  • Bonesaws penetrate hard, rigid substances like plaster and bone, but not soft substance like flesh. This is because the saw doesn't spin, it vibrates back and forth within a very small space, chipping away at substances that do not give, but simply pushing back malleable substances.
  • Technically, bone is actually stronger than steel, by weight. It's just that steel is much (much) denser than bone, and so wins out on strength per volume. Thus, a hypothetical sci fi-style robot would indeed be tougher than a human, but also much heavier and so less energy efficient.
  • As noted above, flesh has the benefit of a natural Healing Factor. While metal structures require regular maintenance or replacement, as small damages accumulate, a squishy can go its entire life just relying on the natural self-repair protocols (of course, the fact that such beings still die suggests that the ability has its limits, but good luck getting a bridge or assembly-line robot to recover from a cracked limb without extensive outside aid).