Never Have I Ever

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31 Important TV Shows About the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience

Hollywood does not have a good track record of depicting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. They’ve traditionally been marginalized as the sidekicks to a (white, male) crime-fighter or have been stereotyped as punchlines or comic relief in sitcoms.

But, especially as there has been a bigger push for diversity in storytelling on TV, some shows have stood out as more positive portrayals of AAPI characters. We’ve rounded up a list of some of them, which include Anna May Wong’s groundbreaking work in The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong (it was a part written just for her and aired in the 1950s!) and Pat Morita’s work in the short-lived comedy Mr. T and Tina (the Welcome Back, Kotter spin-off was one of the first to feature a predominantly Asian American cast).

More recent series on this list include Young Rock, which is based on the life of the half-Samoan Dwayne Johnson, and PEN15, where half-Japanese comedian Maya Erskine plays a version of younger herself — and cast her actual mother, Mutsuko Erskine, to play her mom. Ensemble shows, such as the medical dramas ERGrey’s Anatomy, and The Good Doctor; dramedy Orange Is the New Black; and comedy Silicon Valley are also included for their work in spotlighting AAPI roles. And the miniseries The Night Of was included because of its portrayal of the racism that so many AAPI people face — in this case, Riz Ahmed’s Pakistani American Naz Khan.

Other shows were left off the list mostly on a technicality; Lost’s Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), Sun (Yunjin Kim), and Sayid (Naveen Andrews) were not included simply because their characters were not Asian American. Whereas, London-set Killing Eve’s lead, Sandra Oh, is Korean Canadian, but her character, the titular Eve Polastri, is from Connecticut. As Oh herself deadpanned at the 2019 Emmy ceremony when she was nominated for best actress in a drama series, “It’s an honor just to be Asian.”

Recommended: 

Read on to learn more about some of the most important series about the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience.

Are there shows you think should be on the list? Tell us in the comments! 

Andi Mack (2017)

#31
Synopsis: Life goes from routine to a roller-coaster ride overnight for artistic teenager Andi Mack. It all happens on the eve... [More]

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#30

Synopsis: Nora Lum and her cousin struggle with young adulthood in Flushing, N.Y., with a little help from her father and... [More]

Black Sash (2003)

#28
Synopsis: Tom Chang, a disgraced ex-cop, attempts to rebuild his life as a martial-arts teacher and mentor to his teen students.... [More]

Dr. Ken (2015)
7%

#27
Synopsis: Doctor-turned-comedic actor Ken Jeong plays the titular character in this sitcom about a brilliant physician with a questionable bedside manner.... [More]

ER (1994)

#26
Synopsis: Set in Chicago, this medical drama deals with the personal and professional crises of the doctors in the emergency room... [More]

Fresh Off the Boat (2015)
94%

#25
Synopsis: Based on chef Eddie Huang's best-selling memoir of the same name, "Fresh Off the Boat" takes a humorous look at... [More]

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#24

#23
Synopsis: Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon who has savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join the surgical... [More]

Grey's Anatomy (2005)
84%

#22
Synopsis: The medical drama series focuses on a group of doctors at a hospital in Seattle, including several who began their... [More]

Killing Eve (2018)
89%

#21
Synopsis: Eve's life as a spy is not adding up to what she had hoped it would be when she started.... [More]

Kung Fu (2021)
86%

#20
Synopsis: A quarter-life crisis causes a young Chinese-American woman, Nicky Shen, to drop out of college and go on a life-changing... [More]

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#19

Master of None (2015)
93%

#18
Synopsis: Comic Aziz Ansari and writer Alan Yang are the creators of this Netflix-original comedy, which is loosely based on Ansari's... [More]

The Mindy Project (2012)
86%

#17
Synopsis: Mindy Lahiri is a successful, skilled doctor, but when she leaves the office, all bets are off. She aspires to... [More]

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#16

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#15

Never Have I Ever (2020)
95%

#14
Synopsis: The complicated life of a first-generation Indian-American teenager.... [More]

Nikita (2010)
85%

#13
Synopsis: Maggie Q stars as Nikita, a young woman who was rescued from death row by a secret government agency known... [More]

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#12

#11
Synopsis: Piper Chapman is a public relations executive with a career and a fiance when her past suddenly catches up to... [More]

PEN15 (2019)
97%

#10
Synopsis: This comedy series depicts middle school as it really happened. Comics Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play versions of themselves... [More]

Quantico (2015)
70%

#9
Synopsis: This thrilling drama from executive producers Michael Seitzman and Mark Gordon explores the lives of young government agents as they... [More]

#8
Synopsis: Sanjay Patel doesn't know the meaning of "uncool" or "impossible." The 12-year-old has great curiosity and excitement about the world.... [More]
Directed By: Will McRobb

Silicon Valley (2014)
94%

#7
Synopsis: Partially inspired by co-creator Mike Judge's experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer in the 1980s, this comedy series follows the... [More]

Sunnyside (2019)
36%

#6
Synopsis: Garrett Modi, the youngest Queens councilman ever elected, was a rising star in New York politics until he was pushed... [More]

The Terror: Infamy (2019)
81%

#5
Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: Real-world and supernatural horrors collide in Infamy, an exceptionally well-crafted ghost story that creeps under the skin and stays there.

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#4

Warrior (2019)
89%

#3
Synopsis: A crime drama that takes place in the latter half of the 19th century during brutal gang wars in San... [More]

Wu Assassins (2019)
83%

#2
Synopsis: An unassuming San Francisco chef becomes the latest in a line of assassins chosen to keep the mystical Wu powers... [More]

Young Rock (2021)

#1
Synopsis: As Dwayne Johnson runs for president in 2032, he takes a comedic look back at his extraordinary life through the... [More]

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