Every day is superhero day at Inverse, but today, April 28th, marks National Superhero Day for everyone else. Created by Marvel employees in 1995, the celebration has adopted by doughnut chains and anyone else who wants to celebrate their tights-wearing heroes.
Comic book fandom spans people of all races, but unfortunately just like every other character in American media, most superheroes are white. Especially on TV and in film — even when, as in the case for the upcoming Doctor Strange film, the characters are originally a different race.
By the same token, it’s difficult for anyone who isn’t a hardcore fan to name an Asian superhero. Those curious have had to ask experts on Reddit. In fact, as Umapagan Ampikaipakan argues in the New York Times, the mere idea of an “Asian Superhero” is a cultural paradox.
“Try to adapt the superhero … conventions to an Asian context and the genre collapses under the weight of traditional Asian values: humility, self-effacement, respect for elders and communal harmony,” Ampikaipakan wrote. “How can an Asian superhero take down the bad guy without embarrassing both the bad guy’s family and his own? The Asian comic superhero is a contradiction in terms.”
Ampikaipakan isn’t wrong about some cultural differences, but in recent years Marvel, DC, and other publishes have created a number of kick-ass superheroes of Asian descent, American or otherwise, who shatter stereotypes and are anything but meek and mild. If you’re looking for Asian superheroes who soar, look no further. These are some of the coolest.
Part of Marvel’s Spider-Family, Silk is the super-name of Cindy Moon, a teenager bitten by the same spider that fanged Peter Parker. Forced to live in isolation for ten years, Cindy re-emerged after 2014’s Spider-Verse — a massive crossover series where all the different Spider-Men and Spider-Women worked together to fend off annihilation — and now swings across Midtown looking for the whereabouts of her family.
A prominent member of the X-Men, especially in the ‘90s, young Jubilee is a mutant who possesses the power to create pyrotechnics and plasmoids from her hands. She’s also able to harness the power of Duran Duran’s early hits. Introduced in Uncanny X-Men #244 in 1989, she’ll be portrayed by Lana Condor in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.
She’s spent time as a villain (mainly in August’s Suicide Squad), but Tatsu Yamashiro is also the soft-spoken but deadly Katana in DC Comics. Tatsu wields an enchanted samurai sword, which takes the souls of those it kills Though she does err on the stereotypical side, as she’s been portrayed in recent comics and in the TV series Arrow, she’s still a badass superhero.
While saving Bruce Banner after Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars, teenage genius Amadeus Cho absorbs Bruce’s gamma radiation to become the new Hulk, and he’s now smashing buildings and beasts in his ongoing series, Totally Awesome Hulk from Greg Pak. A bro in board shorts, Amadeus treats his Hulk unlike nervous Banner has, who’s been a bit Jekyll & Hyde towards his inner beast. For Amadeus, being the Hulk is a joy ride.
Marvel and DC aren’t the only ones who make superheroes, you know. Created by legendary sci-fi director Eiji Tsuburaya and his company Tsuburaya Productions, Ultraman debuted on Japanese TV in 1966 and has since become an enduring icon.
Ultraman is a hundred-foot wrestler from another planet who endows his powers to ace pilot Shin Hayata (kind of like a Japanese Hal Jordan), who protects the world from giant alien kaiju threatening to destroy the planet. Fifty years later and Ultraman continues with the next iteration, Ultraman Orb, premiering this July as part of the character’s 50th anniversary.
In 2014, G. Willow Wilson and Marvel editor Sana Amanat introduced Kamala Khan to the Marvel Universe, and she immediately became a sensation. A teenager in Jersey City, Kamala dreams of a bigger life than what her Pakistani-American parents have in mind for her.
One night while breaking curfew, a Terrigen bomb explodes and unlocks Kamala’s Inhuman abilities. During her transformation, she hallucinates her hero Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, who lets her inherit her previous superhero identity, Ms. Marvel.
Arguably the best ongoing series in Marvel’s entire current library, Ms. Marvel is a must read for everyone.
Trini, the Yellow Ranger
“Lightning hands and a peaceful soul.” That was how alien sage Zordon described Trini, in the unaired pilot to the cheesy ‘90s phenom, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It was a description that stayed true throughout Trini’s stint as the Yellow Ranger, and though her color of spandex inspires jokes today, Trini was an icon of diversity in the ancient, bygone time of 1993.
Bucking stereotypes and never exploited into a sex figure, for the brief year and a half she piloted the Sabre-Tooth Tiger, the Vietnamese superhero inspired a whole generation of children still looking for heroes today.
What Trini did for Asian girls, Korean-American teen from Stone Canyon Adam Park did for Asian men a year later. Replacing a retired Zack Taylor from his superhero duties, Adam was the boyish and charming man in black who made women swoon wherever he went — sometimes by accident!
While Asian men are still emasculated by mainstream TV and movies, Adam Park roundhouse kicked preconceived notions and inspired a whole generation of Asian bros to do the same. Thanks, Adam.
Kamen Rider Black
This show, a throwback from ‘80s Japan, is obscure, but fun. On the night of their 19th birthday, stepbrothers Kotaro Minami and Nobuhiko Akizuki were kidnapped by Gorgom King to become his warriors of doom, the Century Kings, who will fight to death to become his next successor. Before the brainwash process was complete, Kotaro escaped and vowed to save his brother, fully transformed into the cyborg nightmare Shadow Moon.
Altered during a solar eclipse, Kotaro uses his powers to become Kamen Rider Black, a descendant of the legendary Kamen Rider, another superhero icon in Japan. But unlike his cheesier ancestor, Kotaro as Kamen Rider Black was a darker hero with a sleeker motorcycle and a way cooler theme song.
Artemis (Young Justice)
Though her backstory is a bit complicated to follow in the DC comics in which it plays out, in the cult animated series Young Justice, which aired on Cartoon Network, Artemis was a rebel archer who took over as the Green Arrow’s protege when Roy Harper, a.k.a. Speedy, went off on his own.
Brash and arrogant, but independent and resourceful, Artemis (voiced by Stephanie Lemelin) went on to become one of the most beloved characters in an already fan-favorite series as she tried to carve her own legacy, overshadowed by the mistakes her Asian mother made as the super-criminal Huntress in Gotham City.
Daisy “Skye” Johnson (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Orphaned at a young age, Skye (played by Chloe Bennet) was a master hacktivist recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. a year after the Avengers saved New York from Loki’s invasion. Soon, she unlocks her Inhuman powers and discovers her real name, Daisy, born to an Inhuman mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) and a human father, Calvin Zabo (Kyle MachLachlan).
Once an incapable techie who only excelled behind a keyboard, Daisy — who may soon adopt the name “Quake” — is now in full control of her powers and is confident in her place in S.H.I.E.L.D. Though, her current predicament in Season 3 (as a puppet for Hive) is a bit worrisome.
Honorable Mention: Agent May
She’s technically not a superhero, but I’m too scared of “The Cavalry” to exclude her from this list.
“Yatta!” The time-traveling swordsman of NBC’s cult series Heroes brought fanboy enthusiasm to a world on the brink of evolution’s next big step. Played by Masi Oka, Hiro Nakamura did his best to prevent the end of the world and, to various degrees, failed.
Even with a full revival series, Heroes didn’t last long enough to live up to its full potential. But Hiro still means something to those who remember him.
Still waiting to make his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jimmy Woo is a secret agent who leads the crack galactic team Agents of Atlas. Created way back in 1956 when most Asian portrayals were gross — I’m sorry, “exotic” — Marvel writers Al Feldstein and Joe Maneely refused to let Agent Jimmy Woo adhere to stereotypes. To see Woo at his best, pick up Jeff Parker’s 2009 series Agents of Atlas, set during Marvel’s Dark Reign saga.
Is Jack a superhero? Who cares. Phil LaMarr’s stoic but heroic prince — nicknamed “Jack” in Cartoon Network’s cult series Samurai Jack — is still one of the most outstanding Asian heroes in mainstream pop culture.
Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, Samurai Jack was a fusion of classic samurai films with cyberpunk, sword and sorcery epics, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi to create something almost revolutionary. Samurai Jack will return in 2016, so get hyped.