May is Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month.
While AAPI actors and characters are still underrepresented, the TV landscape is making strides when it comes to all different types of diversity onscreen, including representing AAPI characters and showcasing them well.
Many of these characters have broken grounds, subverted common racial tropes, and are the wonderfully complex, lovable, and/or positive portrayals that we need.
We wanted to commemorate this month by compiling a list of some of our favorites.
Check it out, and feel free to add your own below.
Miggy – Single Parents
Miggy is the youngest parent on the tragically canceled Single Parents, and he had a knack for stealing a scene. But it was such a refreshing change of pace to have the Asian-American male as the lovably dimwitted, fashionable, tatted up, and coolest character out of the bunch.
He’s hot, kindhearted, and often requires the guidance of others, but he’s so in tune with his emotions, and in so many ways, he subverts some of the more traditional depictions of Korean men on TV. Miggy is a total hipster dudebro, and on him, the trope looks hella good.
Devon – The Resident
The beauty of Devon Pravesh, outside of his actual attractiveness — the man is gorgeous, is that he’s a multifaceted character as a doctor, friend, and romantic partner.
His identity as a first-generation Indian-America is part of his characterization without him getting reduced to that, and it realistically crops up throughout his daily life as one of Chastain’s finest.
He’s allowed to be messy, and flawed; he’s a compassionate, smart, and funny character, and even though his romantic life is a hot mess when it’s shown, there’s still value and importance in actually depicting him as romantically viable.
He’s a very real, grounded character with dimension.
Katherine – A Million Little Things
Katherine Saville is a perfect example of a series starting off depicting a standard racial trope and then slowly turning it on its head. Initially, she came across as a stoic, unfeeling Ice Queen. However, as the series progressed, Katherine was revealed as a layered, complex, wonderful character.
Grace Park gives one of the most compelling and nuanced performances of the series. Katherine’s emotional journey as she copes with the loss of a friend, isolation from most of her peers, her husband’s infidelity and love child, and motherhood while working a full-time demanding job is a wonderfully complex depiction of womanhood.
And the series manages to infuse all of that with hints of how her culture influences her. From the casual use of Korean when speaking to her mom, to unpacking why she compartmentalizes feelings or strives for perfection, or how her identity affected her experiences at work.
Katherine is such a relatable and aspirational character.
The Huangs – Fresh Off the Boat
Fresh off the Boat is a groundbreaking series for the mere fact that it exclusively focused on a Chinese-American family and primarily starred Asian-Americans. It joined the ranks of other ABC sitcoms showcasing the everyday life of a family with a specific identity and culture.
Via FOB, viewers could not only relate to another American family, but better understand aspects of a culture they otherwise didn’t belong to or relate, and in the end, conclude that while there are many differences, we all aren’t that dissimilar after all.
Travis – Station 19
Sadly, there are still so few AAPI queer characters on TV, so it’s something special when we can acknowledge the handful of them that exist and move us.
Travis is heroic, as a firefighter, it comes with the job, but it’s a natural instinct for him that predated his days of fighting fires and treating others. He’s an EMT with a compassion that will move you to tears towards those he saves.
He’s a widow who lost the love of his life and is still making space in his life for the potential of loving someone again. After his origin story revealed his struggle to deal with his parents accepting his sexuality, it made you love him more and appreciate the importance of stories like his being told.
Joan Watson – Elementary
Lucy Liu is a legend, and most of her characters are equally as iconic. Joan Watson is no exception. Not only does she play a gender-bent version of Sherlock’s partner, Watson, but she’s an Asian-American, and both aspects of her identity help make this rendition of Watson fresher and a standout.
Joan’s shift from a medical doctor to an exceptional investigator is such an aspiring journey, and she carved out a place and name for herself all the way earning the respect and utter devotion of a classic misanthrope.
Joan Watson is all the goals.
White Rose – Mr. Robot
Whiterose is one of the most radical, provocative characters on this list. It’s suitable that she belongs to a series that is very much the same and some.
On a series that reshaped what it means to explore identity, Whiterose is a unique character who captured an experience you seldom see for any community, let alone the AAPI one.
While a villainess, she was so complex and rich. And her motivations and desires made for captivating storytelling, especially when the series explored how dueling identities as a trans woman and an Asian person intersected and diverged.
Cristina Yang – Grey’s Anatomy
Can you even have a list celebrating some of the most influential and important AAPI characters and not include Cristina Yang? It would be akin to blasphemy.
In some ways, she’s arguably more popular than Meredith Grey herself, appealing to millions of fans as the ambitious, dedicated, headstrong, snarky, and dark surgeon.
Her unwavering, and unapologetic ambition and power, are unparalleled.
Ravi Chakrabarti – iZombie
Dr. Tall, Dark, British, and at times partially zombie, is the most beloved character on iZombie. He’s the most tried and true, loyal character.
Ravi is an innovator and pioneer, but also the comedic relief and has so much heart. He had a way of occupying so many spaces without ever getting pigeonholed into one designated position. And one of the most inspirational characters on the series.
Alex Parrish – Quantico
Priyanka Chopra made history as the first South Asian to lead an American series. While there were questionable choices, particularly in making the lead, a brown woman, a suspect in a terrorist plot — the first season’s initial premise, the history-making series was a hit.
Alex Parrish is fierce, determined, and relentless. Her devotion to a country that was accusing her of being a terrorist was both surreal and poignant. And it was amazing to watch the savvy, beautiful FBI/CIA agent fight crime, conspiracy, and terrorism, like an action heroine.
Howie/Chimney – 9-1-1
Howie/Chimney may just be the heart of the team, in addition to being a fan-favorite. We’re accustomed to seeing AAPI characters as doctors, so it’s refreshing to see a character who is helping others and saving lives but as a first responder instead.
And Chimney’s journey toward becoming one of the house’s most beloved firefighters was an illuminating one when the series gave us a centric episode of his backstory rife with highs, lows, hardships, discrimination, love, friendship, and perseverance.
We see him battle life and death situations and experiences, he’s the most supportive friend, and the epitome of boyfriend goals. And one of the most well-rounded and developed characters in the 9-1-1 franchise.
Kira Yukimura – Teen Wolf
Kira’s departure was one of the most disappointing things to happen in the series. It left a bad taste in some fans’ mouths that they shuffled her off, with no closure, after her familial history and its connection to the latest mythological villain was complete.
However, the usage of Japanese mythology led to one of the series’ best storylines, and Kira’s discovery that she was a kitsune made her a lovely addition to Scott’s pack. Her romantic relationship with Scott almost rivaled that of his first love and was beautifully depicted as well.
And Kira was a smart, sweet, awkward badass character who learned how to wield her power and embrace her heritage.
Mateo, Sandra, & Cheyenne – Superstore
Superstore is one of the most authentically diverse series on the air. Each of their characters feels, looks, and acts like real people that you’d encounter every day.
Mateo shines as a gay former undocumented Filipino immigrant. There are only a couple of Filipino characters on American TV, so his portrayal is instrumental in creating a space for others to seen and represented beyond a punchline.
Sandra is a scene-stealer as the awkward, soft-spoken, plus-sized employee whose sweet and almost naive demeanor is endearing, and Cheyenne as the fun-loving ditz will make you smile.
Vijay Kapoor – New Amsterdam
Who doesn’t love Kapoor? He’s the purest character in the series. As the eldest doctor of the core group, he’s often depicted as someone who treats patients at his own pace and in his own way. But he brings wisdom and efficiency to New Amsterdam that only he could pull off.
He’s a proud man of faith, and his Hinduism is incorporated into the series in unexpectedly delightful ways. Kapoor isn’t reduced to his heritage and culture, but it’s organically weaved into the series in such a realistic manner that it’s touching.
Lucy Chen – The Rookie
You will not find a more kickass character on The Rookie than Lucy Chen. She’s a pint-sized force of nature and one of the best of the rookies. She’s confident, smart and savvy, and strong-willed.
She’s also vulnerable, emotionally open, and she’s a survivor. She’s given room to have an emotional range, and it’s something that’s notable and appreciated.
Josh Chan – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Another one of the only few Filipino characters on American TV, Josh got to operate the coveted titled of romantic male lead for the main character.
It’s something that you rarely see. One of the most notable installments of the series was where Josh spent the holiday with his family, and the series normalized the depiction of a Filipino family and their culture being shown on TV.
Josh as a character who is strong in his Catholic faith and the values his parents instilled in him. He’s personable, charming, and handsome. He has a natural charisma that draws people in, but it doesn’t get more amusing than the realistic portrayal of how families like his coddle, cater and spoil him.
Joanna Chang – Burden of Truth
Joanna is a strong-willed and hyperfocused lawyer who pours her heart and soul into her work. She could easily come across cold and distant, as she has the vibe of most who are emotionally repressed, but Kreuk brings parity to her character.
It results in Joanna being an underrated and complex character leading a series that falls criminally below the radar.
Mary Hamilton – Batwoman
An engaging member of Team Batwoman, you can argue that she’s every bit as vital and heroic as Batwoman herself, and she barely gets the credit for it.
She’s brilliant, quick on her feet, and motivated. Mary running an underground medical center to treat those who would otherwise slip through the cracks tells you everything you need to know about her and why she’s one of the greatest characters.
May & Daisy – Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has not one but two prominent AAPI characters, both badass women in their own right who have had incredible arcs throughout the season.
May comes across on the rigid, tacit side, but she has such a maternal presence on the series that softens her up from the stereotypical non-feeling fighter, and Daisy’s arc is a convoluted, fascinating arc that has driven the series.
Devi – Never Have I Ever
Devi is the perfect teen-heroine who happens to be of South Asian descent, and the importance of that is not on viewers. She’s smart, nerdy, and ambitious, but she’s also bold and larger than life.
The balance of something as traditional as the nerdy role with such a confident, young woman who knows what she wants and goes after it makes her an engrossing and unique character.
Edrisa – Prodigal Son
Keiko Agena is an icon. Period.
She steals the heck out of her scenes as the lovable, winsome medical examiner, Edrisa Tanaka. She’s bubbly, positive, nerdy, and wonderfully weird.
She’s such a quirky character, but she’s one with depth, and it’s in her serious moments that reveal a woman who is passionate about her work, deeply philosophical, and humane.
She has a wisdom and slight jadedness beneath her cheerful exterior, and it makes her a more complex character than what initially meets the eye.
Henry Higgins – Selfie
John Cho is another legend, and it came as no surprise that he was the first person to break a glass ceiling for Asian-American representation on TV.
The tragically cut short Selfie was the first American series with an Asian male as the romantic lead. Henry’s chemistry with Eliza was off the charts, and on the surface, he seemed as if he was an uptight, stuffy character, but it turned out he was much cooler than he let on.
Henry was a bit of a nerd, but he also knew how to have a good time, and there was a nuanced approach to his character that was surprising for a half-hour comedy.
Alice – Good Trouble
Quirky, delightfully awkward, funny, and the quintessential mom friend, Alice is the one person at the Coterie that everyone loves. She makes it hard not to adore her.
She’s also one of the few queer AAPI characters on TV, and she has one of the best ongoing arcs exploring her sexuality with relationships dealing with typical ups and downs of any couple and queer issues too.
Alice coming out to her traditional, conservative parents was quality viewing. And her earnest quest to pursue a stand-up comedy career is a delightfully original premise.
Monty – The 100
Monty is an intelligent character who puts his intellect to good use by helping those he cares about. His display of humanity and nonviolence within a series where it’s prevalent makes him stand out from many of the others.
As an intuitive, loyal, and likable character with a protective streak, he’s some of the most positive representation on the series.
Audrey Lim & Alex Park – The Good Doctor
Audrey Lim is a total BAMF. She’s not only one of the best doctors at the hospital, but she is also the person who runs it. Fierce, no-nonsense, and bold, Audrey is a real leader. The series even allowed her to balance out her personal and professional life, and she has agency and is allowed to be powerful and feminine in equal measure.
Park is a character with many layers to him as well. He’s not the standard doctor trope; as someone who made a career shift from law enforcement to medicine, he often has a unique outlook that sets him apart from others. He’s allowed to be pigheaded, unlikable, and flawed while still interesting.
Ellie Chu – The Half of It
This Netflix movie caught many people’s attention by showcasing a different type of love story.
The quiet complexity of Ellie’s character is some of the most extraordinary work. As an immigrant with a father who highly-skilled father who barely spoke English, she captured the trials and triumphs of immigrant kid taking on responsibilities at a young age.
She’s an acerbic, poetic, smart, and socially challenged lesbian teen whose growth made for one of the best coming of age stories in decades.
Glenn Rhee – The Walking Dead
Glenn Rhee will forever go down as one of The Walking Dead’s most beloved characters. He was kind, loyal, and brave. He was one of the most honorable and moral characters in the series, and he never lost that during his entire tenure of the series, even if the face of unspeakable tragedies and trials.
Glenn is the character that others looked up to and aspired to be. He left such a lasting impression on anyone he encountered, and the importance of his goodness isn’t lost.
Jason & Tahani – The Good Place
Jason and Tahani are two totally different types of characters, but that versatility is part of why their representation is so necessary in the first place.
Jason is another example of the dudebro that you don’t typically see portrayed onscreen. He’s almost childlike in his depiction, and a bit of an eccentric as well. But that’s all part of what makes his character absorbing.
Tahani is one of the most overtly good characters on the series, and that is as meaningful as it is positive in regard to representation. She’s equal parts beauty and brains, but she balances it out with being a genuinely decent, alluring person as well.
George – Nancy Drew
A devoted sister who will stop at nothing to protect those she cares about, outspoken, secretive, and a bit of a tomboy, George is a prototype you don’t exactly see often for most AAPI characters on TV, and that’s what made her a perfect candidate for this list.
She’s an imperfect character whose life is a bit on the messy side, but she puts up a good front. And she has a pivotal role in Nancy’s Drew crew.
Gordon Katsumoto – Magnum P.I.
Gordon is a gem of a character, and he’s a fan-favorite of the series. He has worked like hell to get to his position and is often depicted as a confident, hardworking individual who knows how to get what he wants.
He’s a by the books cop, and it causes him to clash with Magnum often, but it’s also why he’s so pivotal to the series. He balances him out, and they make an effective team as a result.
Sun Bak & Kala Dandekar – Sense8
Sense8 had some of the richest, most diverse, and compelling characters on TV. The global series had characters from all walks of life linked together as one, with a beautiful message about unity and oneness.
Sun is a character who could’ve come across one-note, once again as the stoic woman who doesn’t allow herself to feel, but she’s protective, loyal, and has a strong sense of honor and duty.
Meanwhile, Kala is such an inspiring character as she perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a person of science and faith. She’s compassionate and passionate, and both women are like two sides of the same coin.
Ethan Choi – Chicago Med
Ethan is a man of honor and duty. He lives to serve, something that came up when he served in the military and does now as he serves others as a doctor.
He’s as compassionate as he is self-righteous. He’s reckless and always willing to put his life on the line for the betterment of others. He’s not a perfect character, but those imperfections are what make him so distinctly human and relatable.
Lara Jean Covey – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Bubbly, sweet, and enthusiastic, Lara Jean Covey is another character who nails the coming of age story for young girls. But what set hers apart from most is how her culture was expertly woven into her story from holidays, to customs, to food and beverages, and other traditions.
Lara Jean has the classic Girl Next Door vibe. It’s something not traditionally shown for young Asian-American girls, so from her hobbies to her love life, and her friendships, and family experiences, Lara Jean is a wonderful representation and she resonates with many.
Lane – Gilmore Girls
Arguably the most relatable teen of the series, Lane was the originator of the Asian teen girl on network TV. Her character paved the way for many after her, including some of the girls who are on this list. Lane was a warm, funny, likable character and a breath of fresh air particularly during a time when it was rare to see characters like her.
Lane’s mother had a bit of a hold on her, and she grew up in a household with a traditional, strict mother, and her experience felt real and relatable.
It was also gratifying to see this young woman grapple with her identity and expectations — torn between what her mother wanted for her and what she would have preferred for herself.
Saya – Deadly Class
A dedicated student who excelled at a school of assassins, Saya was a product of the Yakuza and highly-skilled. However, despite an environment that fostered rivalry and tension amongst the students of all walks of life, she was loyal and always willing to fight and protect those close to her, despite their conflicting affiliations.
She was a bit of a teacher’s pet, savvy, strong, smart, and a force to be reckoned with, but beneath her tough exterior, there was a softness to her as well. She was another nuanced and complex character.
Eve Polastri – Killing Eve
What an utterly complex and captivating character, yes? Sandra Oh is a gift that keeps giving which is why her role on Killing Eve is worth mentioning as well. Eve is a woman who slowly comes to grips with her dark side, and she takes viewers on the ride with her.
Her twisted obsession with Villanelle leads her down a dark, exciting path where she gets to explore her baser instincts and better understand herself, and it’s such an unconventional and awe-inspiring role.
Over to you, TV Fanatics. Who are some of your favorite AAPI characters who inspire or intrigue you? Which characters do you feel are positive Asian representation? Hit the comments below.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.