Rise of the Asian American Himbo

Representation of AA+PI masculinity and sexuality is evolving—and it's about damn time

Words by Vandana Pawa

The first time society heard the word “himbo” was in 1988. The introduction to the concept was in The Washington Post by a movie critic, eventually leading to the term being defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an attractive but vacuous man,” and the last few decades we’ve spent getting to know the concept have proven to be life-changing in the larger landscape of pop-culture. Over time, an increased focus has been placed on the himbo’s body composition in conjunction with their personality: he must be muscular, beefy, and strongbut he must achieve all this without compromising kindness, good intentions, and respect for others. Film and television in the West has provided us with a buffet of white himbos, like Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum, and Noah Centineo, all of whom serve ultimate looks alongside goofiness and endearing foolishness. However, recent years have actually shown the rise of the Asian himbo, evidencing a serious shift in the archetype of how Asian men are being represented in media.

Stereotypical American representations of Asian masculinity have formerly been rooted in passivity, with these characters often having asexual body types and being seen as highly intelligent with zero sex appeal. But with the rise of the Asian himbo, the vision is beginning to shift. Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza in The Good Place was a golden example of the mainstream himbo, and Darren Barnet as Paxton Hall-Yoshida in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever has carried the torch to younger Gen Z audiences. While desirability isn’t everything, we can’t understate the impact that it has on access to pop culture and opportunity in the creative landscape.

The K-pop industry also has a number of himbos that are taking over social media. With muscly members of boy groups performing as often as they do, K-pop fans have been providing the Internet with endless edits of their favorites paired with the viral audio of SZA’s original song that debuted on SNLBig Boys” (a himbo anthem of sorts). Notable K-himbos include soloist Wonho, ONEUS member Leedo, KARD member Big Matthew, and EXO member Kai. The complexity of the Asian himbo compounds here, when we take into account that these men are showcasing typical expressions of femininity as well; Kai himself is a muse for YSL Beauty, comfortably embodying softness and grace as he dons lip gloss and nail polish for the camera.

With himbos permeating the entertainment sphere, opportunity is abundant for men who appreciate both gym-going and tenderness to share their glory on social media, from featuring their adorable cats in their videos to reminding you to take your shoes off in their homes. Surprisingly enough, the himbo has become a clear marker in the shift of what is allowed for Asians in popular culture. We’re grateful, to say the least.

Published on February 21, 2023

Words by Vandana Pawa

Vandana Pawa is a New York based culture and fashion writer, currently working as a programs curator at the Asian American Writers' Workshop. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @vandanaiscool.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.