A guide for wuxia newbies

Allow me to start with how I fell into the depths of period drama addiction. Growing up, my dad would relive his younger days of reading wuxia novels by marathoning adaptations of HK serials. As his trusty sidekick, I was amazed by this fascinating world of swordplay and martial arts and my childhood heroes easily became the iconic characters created from Jin Yong’s imagination.

Back then, wuxia series were far from mainstream, yet my guilty pleasure grew far and wide, amassing a sizable collection of dramas that have become too many to count. Period dramas can be broadly classified into three categories even though most people usually lump everything historical under wuxia, myself included. 

Daniel Chan, Ariel Lin and Feng Shao Feng in popular cdrama Lan Ling Wang

Wuxia 武俠 is translated literally to martial hero with works of renowned authors Jin Yong and Gu Long almost synonymous to the genre, thereby sprouting an endless continuum of remakes and adaptations.

The genre is particularly appealing to me because it is not as far-fetched as xianxia but rather its characters are often well-versed in the art of fighting because of their practice of ‘chi’, a word that will surely ring a bell if you like Asian-infused action flicks. ‘Chi’ or ‘qi’ means air but it essentially signifies the life force that allows practitioners to perform all sorts of incredible feats, albeit amplified to an exaggerated extent. 
As a result, it is not uncommon to see kung fu manuals, fighting stances and then some inner energy transfer to save a life.

Chivalry is alive and kicking where people choose to live and die in the name of honor but I notice that this thinking is not restricted to wuxia but rather spans across most period dramas because apparently, people from the olden days are better versions of ourselves.

For my first pick, I recommend Lang Ling Wang (2013) 蘭陵王 starring Feng Shao Feng (Ice Fantasy), Ariel Lin, Daniel Chan, George Hu and many more. Lan Ling Wang is a beautifully-packaged romance drama with noticeable modern influences that also incorporates the charms of an wuxia.

Edited Mar. 2, 2016

I know that Lan Ling Wang is not exactly an wuxia in the truest sense and the comments against it are not unfounded, so I’m still in search for a newer better wuxia that could really serve as a nice introduction for anyone attempting the genre.

But for now, it doesn’t hurt that the Lan Ling Wang cast is made up of popular c-drama actors and actresses and the story highly addictive so I wasn’t surprised that it was widely-exported after its initial release. I apologize in advance though as Lan Ling Wang is not without its hair-pulling moments especially towards the middle of the series. Nevertheless, it makes for a very enjoyable watch and I hope you like it.

Hu Ge and Crystal Liu Yi Fei in ep1 of Chinese Paladin 1

Xianxia 仙俠 is translated literally to immortal hero. It is a newer sub-genre that has been getting a lot of love mainly from younger fans. Since that’s where you make the big bucks, production companies tend to make more and more such dramas that are also star-studded to boot.

Xianxia can encompass anything supernatural with the latest trend being adaptations of role-playing video games and the sky’s the limit in terms of subject matter that can include monsters, demons, fairies, magical realms, elixirs and what not. If the characters appear to fly in an wuxia, they literally fly in a xianxia.

For my second pick, I recommend Chinese Paladin 1 (2005) 仙劍奇俠傳 starring Hu Ge, Crystal Liu, Ady An and Eddie Peng. It might be a bit older but it is the first of its kind and the best one in my opinion catapulting the up-and-coming newbies from yonder years to international fame. 

Until now, xianxia is not my preferred genre and I can’t get over silly pet peeves like the characters being able to video chat via magical portals in a historical drama. However, I understand the innate appeal of an idol-cast so I continue to be hook, line and sinker’ed nonetheless, eagerly awaiting Chinese Paladin 5 like everyone else. 

Hu Ge and Wu Lei in ep 1 of popular cdrama Nirvana in Fire

Last but not the least is a made-up category that is just a catch-all for anything else. Off the top of my head are palace dramas, historical biopics and melodramas to name a few so for my third and final pick, I recommend Nirvana in Fire (2015) 瑯琊榜 starring Hu Ge and Liu Tao. 

I was torn between Scarlet Heart versus Nirvana in Fire despite the two being so different that they shouldn’t even be compared. What holds true is that both are extremely successful dramas and even though the former is more mainstream, I ultimately decided to go with Nirvana in Fire because it is too good to miss out.

Nirvana in Fire is a massive 54-episode revenge drama that is a masterpiece of epic proportions so brilliantly written and thought-provoking. Lest I run out of adjectives, I will let the drama speak for itself so please, please check it out. 

Bae Yong Joon in Legend aka Story of the First King


It might seem like I’m going off on a tangent but many years ago, my dad decided to buy DVDs to the 2007 k-drama called Story of the First King’s Four Gods aka Legend starring Bae Yong Joon and Lee Ji Ah. I won’t go needlessly wordy on this but it’s safe to say that like a happy kid who found a neighboring candy store, I started venturing into Korean period dramas aka sageuk 史劇 and never looked back. 


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