A fierce warrior navigating a hostile, post-apocalyptic world in Into the Badlands. An ordinary teen with an extraordinary ability he uses to fight evil in American Dragon: Jake Long. A middle-class family chasing after the American Dream in Fresh Off the Boat. What each of these leading TV characters have in common is that they are of Asian descent.
However, if you had never heard of those shows before, you might have not realized that by those descriptions alone, would you? That is precisely what makes series like these, and the historical Margaret Cho-led sitcom All American Girl, some of greatest modern representations of Asian people on television. While the characters’ culture identity is important to their role, the plot remains universally appealing and, in some cases, even serves as a refreshing and entertaining way for audiences of other cultures to see things from a different perspective.
Of course, if all you are looking for is just a good thriller or comedy with a protagonist who also just happens to be of Asian descent, we got you covered there, too. The following are 12 memorable TV shows, from either the past or the present, that put people from all over the continent in the spotlight.
Fresh Off The Boat (2015-2020)
Loosely based on the memoir by celebrity chef Eddie Huang, Fresh Off The Boat chronicles the experiences of a Taiwanese-American family (led by Randall Park and Constance Wu as Louis and Jessica Huang) after moving from Washington D.C. into a predominantly white neighborhood in 1990s Orlando, Florida. Narrated by the author whose story inspired, this hit ABC sitcom has been referred to as an "Asian-American Wonder Years" for how it depicts the Huangs' cultural clashes in a raw and hilarious way.
After proving her worth as an action star in films like Mission: Impossible and Live Free or Die Hard, part-Vietnamese actress Maggie Q landed the lead role of this TV show inspired by Luc Besson's 1990 thriller La Femme Nikita. She plays the title character of a rogue assassin targeting the agency that made her a deadly threat in Nikita, which actually is the second English-language series based on the Golden Globe-nominated French film, adding yet another exciting chapter in ass-kicking women on television.
Speaking of ass-kicking women on television, Quantico stars Jamshedpur, India, native Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, an FBI agent who looks back on her days at the titular training facility in order to identify who framed her for a tragic bombing in New York City. The ABC thriller is a mix of fun, sexy character-driven subplots wrapped up in one ongoing intriguingly dark mystery only made better by Chopra's star-making performance.
Into The Badlands (2015-2019)
His penchant for martial arts makes Daniel Wu, born in California to parents from Shanghai, the perfect choice to play Sunny, who fights to survive in a feudalist, dystopian world in which guns outlawed, making impeccable hand-to-hand skills like his a dire necessity. From creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the duo behind Smallville, Into the Badlands, which Wu also produces, is one of the finest AMC series made for the post-apocalyptic comic book-loving crowd, even though it does not even originate from a comic.
The origin of this Cinemax original is a story decades in the making, not just because it is set during the Tong Wars of San Francisco's Chinatown in the late 1800s, but because it is based on a treatment written by Bruce Lee (yes, that Bruce Lee). Half-Japanese actor and Fast and Furious 6 star Andrew Koji leads a predominantly Asian cast in the Emmy-nominated Warrior, which has all the engrossing fact-based drama and masterfully shot fight scenes of raw brutality to be a dream come true for the history buff who also loves kung-fu.
As for literature buffs, especially those who idolize the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we have this modern day reinterpretation of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, just not the one with Benedict Cumberbatch. In addition to placing the English-born Holmes (Trainspotting star Johhny Lee Miller) in 21st Century New York City, CBS's Elementary really changes things up by pairing the detective with a sharp Asian-American woman named Dr. Joan Watson, played wonderfully by Kill Bill star and Emmy nominee Lucy Liu.
The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo (1996-1999)
Years before Dr. Joan Watson was investigating crimes in New York for grown-ups' entertainment, Shelby Woo was doing the same for children as one of Nickelodeon's first Asian-American heroines. Malaysian-born The Joy Luck Club star Irene Ng played the title character of The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo, a fourth wall-breaking young lady with a knack for solving family-friendly mysteries for the police department while living with her grandfather (Academy Award-nominee Pat Morita, better known as The Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi) in Boston.
The Mindy Project (2012-2017)
Following her dual role as a writer and star on The Office, Mindy Kaling created, and cast herself as the lead of, the delightfully romantic sitcom The Mindy Project, which ran on Fox for three seasons before Hulu picked it up for an additional three after cancellation. The Emmy-nominated actress, born Vera Mindy Chokalingam to Indian parents in Boston, actually based much of her character, a New York City OB/GYN, off of her mother who had the same profession.
Andi Mack (2017-2019)
One of the most groundbreaking moments to come out of Disney Channel was the debut of Andi Mack, the story of a half-Asian teenager (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) whose life is turned upside down by the discovery that her older sister, Bex (Lilan Bowen) is really her mother. The series is a refreshing throwback to the classic Disney Channel era as a dramedy that sheds light on real social issues, as well as a much-needed look forward, as the network's first live action series led by an Asian-American family and featuring an openly gay character, played by Joshua Rush.
American Dragon: Jake Long (2005-2007)
Speaking of classic Disney Channel (well, nostalgic, at least), in 2005, the network launched this animated series about an Asian-American boy (voiced by Dante Basco - Rufio in Hook) with a caucasian father unaware of the fact that the rest of his family is part dragon. Aside from its fantasy elements, American Dragon: Jake Long was another series from the children's network that aimed to reflect the reality of growing up, with the young titular hero's transformative, reptilian abilities serving as an engaging metaphor for that concept.
Killing Eve (2018-Present)
From creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve is about a bored MI5 security officer (Sandra Oh) whose dream-fulfilling assignment to track a dangerous assassin (Jodie Comer) takes an interesting turn when the adversaries gain a unique infatuation with each other. Oh won a Golden Globe for her performance in the title role of this highly acclaimed and thrilling black comedy, the second earned by the Korean-Canadian actress.
Kim’s Convenience (2016-Present)
Speaking of Korean-Canadians, such is the nationality of the family who are the main focus of this hidden sitcom gem that originates from the Great North. The title of Kim's Convenience, which is available on Netflix, refers to the one-stop shop ran by Appa Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) with his wife (Jean Yoon), son (Simu Liu), and daughter (Andrea Bang).
What do you think? Do these TV shows give the Asian populace the representation they deserve, or are there a few are that we may have missed which do an even better job? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates on cultural diversity in the media, as well as other great recommendations for movies and TV shows relating to various topics, here on CinemaBlend.