25. Koichi Matsumoto (Entrepreneur)
Innovation and creativity can be found in every industry. It’s not just art or science, it’s also sex toys. TENGA founder Koichi Matsumoto used to be a mechanic that worked on Lamborghinis and Ferraris. But when there wasn’t enough money coming in, he decided to set his sights on something more lubricative, I mean, lucrative. Since then, he’s revolutionized the adult toy, from disposable cups to reusable eggs (you can bone an egg!) that have sold roughly 19 million units. In 2012, the Tenga 3D received the Red Dot Award for Product Design in Germany. Tenga also collaborated with brands like Huf, Married to the Mob, and Opening Ceremony for the “Respect Yourself Collection” to raise AIDS prevention awareness. If critics have anything to say about his product, Matsumoto would probably say ‘fuck them’, literally. -Dave
24. Robin Li (Entrepreneur)
In a country like China where labor is cheap and plenty, there’s a tendency to see people as expendable. Robin Li, Baidu CEO and 2nd richest man in China, doesn’t see it that way. He dedicates a third of his time in training individuals at Baidu, develops training systems, and is always on the lookout for recruits on school campuses. These practices are why Baidu is as successful as it is, and other business leaders are taking notes. Other achievements from the year include a new smartphone and being named Forbes China’s Best CEO for the year 2012. -Dave
23. Hideaki Anno (Director / Artist)
Neon Genesis Evangelion might be the greatest anime series of all time. So you can imagine how much fanboy-ing went down when it was announced that they would be retelling the story with a four-part film series called Rebuild of Evangelion a few years back. Up until this year, the response has been mostly positive, even with the inevitable loss of character development when you try to squeeze 26 episodes into four movies. In 2012, the film Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo dropped and earned the highest weekend box office. But it’s also the film that’s starting to confuse and sometimes upset fans and critics. If you’ve seen the ending to the original anime series, you know creator Hideaki Anno is prone to messing with fans deeply invested in the story, whether it’s intentional or not. Salute or do the Shinji ‘curl up into a ball and cry’ out of respect for Anno for always sticking to his guns and telling the story he wants to tell. -Dave
22. Jeff Yang (Writer)
Living in America as an Asian can make you feel different sometimes but at least we got our Professor X. As the writer for The Wall Street Journal‘s Tao Jones column, Yang covers all the big Asian interest stories, whether it’s PSY’s curious ascent or the Red Dawn-inspired racism on Twitter. But his articles are never anger-driven, just laden with mushroom-cloud-sized truth bombs about Asian America that would justify the dropping of microphones before exiting stages. Along with his articles, Yang also curated two exhibits at the Museum of Chinese in America and put together Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology (with Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma) to address and shatter them shits like the title suggests. So when you about to go Wolverine over some racist shit, keep calm, read Jeff Yang. -Dave
21. Yu Darvish (Baseball Player)
We’ve seen Japanese imports in baseball captivate an entire city (Hideo Nomo), frustrate everyone (Daisuke Matzusaka), and generally not work out (Kei Igawa). So excuse myself and every baseball fan for the skepticism when everyone spent last off-season fawning over Yu Darvish.
The Texas Rangers were not deterred, they did their homework, and committed millions to Darvish, adding him to a rotation on a World Series contending team.
Darvish did not run over the league, but as a rookie adjusting to a new country and a whole different level of competition, he more than held his own, going for 16 wins with a 221 strikeouts and a respectable ERA of 3.90.
He was selected to the All-Star team and earned the trust of his manager by the end of the year that he was tabbed to start the play-in game against Baltimore. He pitched well enough to win, but the team’s offense struggled and we didn’t get to see Darvish in the post-season in his rookie year.
There was nothing flashy or controversial about Darvish’s rookie season, and maybe that’s what made him so great, how he quietly blended in and became one of the most effective starting pitchers in the majors; a smooth transition indeed.
20. Imran Khan (Politician)
Imran Khan is a Pakistani national hero for leading the nation to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup. He was also an international playboy, getting with actresses all over the world. Nowadays, Khan is recognizable as ever but for different reasons. As leader of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) or PTI for short, Khan aims to become Pakistan’s next Prime Minister. The likelihood of Khan becoming PM in the next election or achieving his goal to end corruption in 19 days and terrorism in 90 is debatable. But the message of hope for the future of his country and influence he has on the young people of Pakistan is real. -Dave
19. Nonito Donaire (Boxer)
Is Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire the new face of boxing? Going undefeated in 2012, he won his last fight against Jorge Arce by way of a 3rd round KO improving his record to 31-1-0. He is regarded by the Ring and Bleacher Report as the #5 pound for pound boxer in the world as well as front runner for Fighter of the Year honors. After attaining the WBO Super Bantam Weight title this year, Donaire also became a champion in 4 separate weight classes, joining a group of elite boxers including Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr., and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. The heir apparent to the incumbent Pacquiao’s Filipino Boxing throne, Nonito Donaire is, in all likelihood, the future of boxing as a whole. Taking reign of the fanaticism that Filipino fans have previously reserved for Pacquiao, Donaire looks to further cement his place in boxing by taking on the undefeated Abner Mares or Guillermo Rigondeaux. -MUG
18. Eiichiro Oda (Manga Artist)
In an interview with the Weekly One Piece Newspaper, One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda says he wakes up at 5:00 am and works until 2:00 am, and repeats that cycle. It ain’t easy running the most popular, best-selling manga series of all time (280 million volumes)! This year, the franchise put out a video game (One Piece: Pirate Warriors) and the 12th One Piece film (One Piece Film Z), which Oda oversaw. Those are major accomplishments, but Oda gets a big salute for doing it for the kids. In another interview this year, Oda felt One Piece was the best way for him to help children through the Japanese earthquake. And in the One Piece world, he’s been tackling subjects like racism and drug abuse. True nakama. -Dave
17. Erik Spolestra (Coach)
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwayne Wade in Miami, their roster seemed set to dominate for an entire decade, and questions quickly turned to Erik Spolestra, the still young head coach who many thought would be too raw and inexperienced to handle the pressures of managing his stars.
Early on in the 2011 season, it looked that way. The team was playing .500 ball, and LeBron was brushing shoulders with him during timeouts. The team would turn it around, but fell short in the Finals. The seat was getting hotter for Spolestra.
But instead of wilting under the pressure, he came back last season with a new approach: to build the team around LeBron’s strengths. His approach ended with the team winning the NBA title, and Spolestra was more than happy to return to his home in the Philippines with the championship trophy.
He used to be the first Filipino-American coach in all of North American sports. Now, he’s just one of the brightest minds in all of basketball, no racial classification required. -Alex
16. Shigeru Miyamoto (VIdeo Game Designer)
No matter which gaming console you’re loyal to, there’s no denying Nintendo’s role as a leader. They were the first to usher in motion sensor gaming and this year, they’re the first to introduce a new generation of consoles, the Wii U. OG Video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto is the mastermind behind the new console and gamepad combination, and he hopes to revolutionize the gaming system’s role in the living room. Reviews are positive so far, noting a lot of potential for gameplay, including something for the more hardcore gamer. But the biggest win might be never having to pause a game to go to the bathroom. Revolutionary. -Dave
15. Jackie Chan (Actor)
101 movies. Jackie Chan has been in 101 movies! He’s done more than his share for the kung fu genre, pioneering the action comedy genre, and wow’ing audiences with death-defying stunts and bugged out concepts like the rollerblade suite in this year’s Chinese Zodiac. So nobody blamed him for announcing his retirement from action films at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. But we knew it wasn’t over. The 58-year-old legend clarified the statement later on his Facebook page saying he would only slow up the stunts a bit to take better care of his body. This month, he confirmed he’d be joining Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 3 and mentioned the possibility of a new Christ Tucker flick. Nah, it ain’t over and as long as he’s making movies, we’ll be watching. -Dave
14. Ang Lee (Director)
From gay cowboys and flying ninjas, to green men with anger-management issues, Ang Lee’s covered a lot in his 20 year career. After heading back east for 2007’s Lust, Caution, and losing his footing a few years later with the half-baked Taking Woodstock, the Taiwanese-born director returned to widespread acclaim with this month’s Life of Pi. Deciding to adapt the magical-realist tale of one boy and his tiger adrift at sea was a shrewd move perfectly suited to Lee’s talents, and with Oscar-buzz already overflowing, be sure to see this man’s name on next year’s list. -Giacomo
13. Jose Antonio Vargas (Journalist)
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas is a dreamer. After revealing himself as an undocumented immigrant in 2011, Vargas has become a leading advocate for the Dream Act. If it passes, it would allow all undocumented immigrants under 30 the opportunity to attain work permits and remain in the US legally. In June of 2012, Vargas was featured on the cover of TIME magazine and his accompanying cover story incited President Obama to announce that all deportations of those qualifying for the Dream Act would cease. Despite a recent arrest for driving without a valid license, Vargas has been able to avoid deportation by ICE officials and forward his advocacy for all undocumented immigrants working in the US. Since then, he has founded Define American, a charity group geared towards raising awareness to US immigration policies, and was named San Francisco State University’s alumnus of the year in 2012. -MUG
12. Jiro Ono (Chef)
The rest of the world got to know Jiro Ono in 2012 when his critically acclaimed documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, spread to film festivals and Netflix boxes everywhere. That unrelenting stubbornness for his craft that made him the most renowned sushi chef in the world was all on display and people found their new life coach in the senior citizen.
Jiro’s tiny restaurant is rated three Michelin stars and operates out of the basement of a subway station; that’s like Michelangelo painting the ceiling in your apartment. His twenty piece sushi symphony will run you a light four hundred dollars – but watch the documentary and convince us you’ll never eat a meal prepared by a chef whose only purpose in life is the perfection of his cuisine (damn right we’re being dramatic). At 86, Jiro has no plans to slow down or change up. Ask Jiro himself, and he’ll tell you he hasn’t even mastered his art yet. But as long as there’s still fresh fish, and air in his lungs, he’ll be on that never-ending quest. -Charlie
11. Steve Yeun (Actor)
No matter how bloody it gets on The Walking Dead you’re rooting for Steven Yuen. Best know for his role as Glenn on the wildly successful AMC zombie thriller, Yuen’s road to the small screen stardom has the archetypical features that would probably hinder most Asian-Americans from pursuing their bohemian dream: immigrant parents with traditional values and medical school wishes. Of course, he did the unimaginable and broke into the American mainstream under the auspiciousness of a TV series based on a hit comic book. With part 2 of season 3 on the horizons, Yuen embodies the underdog having to survive in a zombie-eat-dog world where the only thing left to rely on are instincts, common sense and a will to survive–what more could you possibly root for? – Jordan