Chinese historical dramas are some of the most versatile dramas in the world. They are so elegant, and stylish and encompass many different genres in one. Some can be based on historical events, while others can take place in another world and contain fantasy elements.
Beautiful costumes and set design, crazy fight choreography with people defying gravity, and incredible original soundtracks are the cherries on top. There is probably a period drama series about whatever plot you can think of.
*Updated: June 2, 2022: This list now includes the top 40 best Chinese historical dramas to sink your teeth into, from time travel to ancient curses and magical armor.
1. Scarlet Heart 2 (2014, Rakuten VIKI, Tang Ren Theatre)
As a standalone Chinese historical drama, this movie is an average tale of a poor girl with a love triangle. However, it seems like a step backward because it is a sequel to 2011’s Scarlet Heart. This was a way to appease fans from the film’s ending rather than a standalone sequel.
Seeing Liu Shi Shi as Zhang Xiao and Nicky Wu as Yin Zheng in a modern-day setting would work in theory. However, the lackluster plot just drags everything out. Compared to the original tv series, the love story is underdeveloped.
2. The Wolf Princess (2021, Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki)
What happens when you mix werewolves and ancient China’s aristocracy? The Wolf Princess! Whilst looking for her father, Ling Long (Connie Kang) develops a split personality after being bitten by a wolf. Ling is accused of theft by aristocrat Yan Qing (Jason Gu). Together, they set out to prove her innocence. Both main leads are hilarious and play off each other well in the first part of the film.
The dual personality element was fun to watch, and Kang does distinguish between the two. However, the plot gets confusing, and the tsundere act from Long gets annoying. The cinematography is excellent, but the CG is awkward. This is a drama that does not take itself seriously. So, have fun watching it.
3. Serenade of Peaceful Joy (2020, Rakuten Viki)
The Chinese period drama accounts for what it was like to be the Emperor. Serenade of Peaceful Joy tells the story of Emperor Zhao Zhen (Wang Kai) who faces tough decisions in court and his family when he finds out his true parentage. Kai portrays a complex character. He wants to be virtuous and fair, but things are always more complicated when a throne and politics are involved. There is no clear good guy or bad guy here.
Instead, the social customs of the times trap many of the characters. This is most prevalent in the story of Princess Fukang, Zhao Huirou (Ren Min). Forced into a loveless marriage, she is a disgrace for wanting her own life. Despite the beautiful set and costumes, this is a sad tale of the gilded cage of royalty.
4. Court Lady (2021, Rakuten Viki)
Love, at first sight, is a powerful thing in this historical Chinese romance drama. Court Lady begins with our main protagonist Sheng Chu Mu (Xu Kai), falling head over heels for Fu Rou (Li Yitong). He then changes his slacker ways to be worthy of her love. However, Fu Rou is sent from her family business to the Royal Court due to her skill as a seamstress and talent in embroidery. While this sounds like a light romantic drama, it soon becomes serious.
The romance between the two main characters is constantly pushed to the side for the main plot, which involves surviving the Royal Palace. It would have been higher on this list if they stuck to the main protagonist’s story wanting to improve himself to win the love of his life.
5. King’s War, Legend of Chu and Han (2012, Netflix)
The film tells the story (with some historical inaccuracies) of the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the establishment of the Han Dynasty. This Chinese historical Drama was directed by the famous director Gao Xixi, the same director of Three Dragons. This is a big-budget production, with famous actors such as Chen Daoming, Peter Ho, Yihong Duan, Yixiao Li, and Lan Qin on the cast. Notably, Chen Daoming does a fantastic job as Liu Bang, the commoner who became Emperor Gaozu of Han.
The wuxia drama takes us right into the thick of the action, with bloody battles which splatter blood onto the lens and obscure the shot. However, the CGI used in the aerial shots looks so dated and out of place. King’s War (Legend of Chu and Han) is 80 episodes long, with some episodes being dragged out. However, it was still an enjoyable watch.
6. The Legend of Hao Lan (2019, Pluto TV)
This is the literal definition of rags to riches story (based on real-life). The Legend of Hao Lan tells the story of a woman called Li Hao Lan. After being sold to her future business partner Lu Buwei. They enter the palace and rise through the ranks. Hao Lan becomes Empress Dowager, known as Queen Dowager Zhao. Buwei also gains influence and power along the way.
Wu Jinyan as Li Hao Lan and Nie Yuan as Lü Buwei play off each other brilliantly. They both have solid moments and work well as a team, some of the best color tonings in cinematography out of this list. Nothing is too harsh or flashy.
7. The Legend of Qin (2015, Rakuten Viki)
The Chinese period drama is based on the Warring State Period (475–221 BC), The Legend of Qin begins with a failed assassination attempt on the Emperor of the Qin. The failed assassin, Jing Ke (Le Geng), hires Gai Nie (Yi Lu) to protect his son (Jiang Jinfu). Now, all three are public enemy number 1. There are a lot of fantasy elements. From manipulating the elements to mystical sword fighting, it is all great CGI. If you are a fan of these types of fantasy, then you know what to expect.
There are some great CGI moments, but then there are shots that ruin the immersion. I don’t care for the romance, but the actors do a great job. The character Tian Ming is annoying. He is pretty stubborn and not that bright at times. This is no criticism of Jiang Jinfu. He acts well throughout the drama.
8. The Advisors Alliance (2017, China Zone YouTube)
The Advisor’s Alliance is based on the life of Sima Yi (Wu Xiu Bo), an advisor who helped Cao Pi (Li Chen) usurp the imperial throne during the Three Kingdom era. The acting from both the prominent cast members and the supporting cast is some of the best you will see in dramas. This is a veteran cast with years of experience, and it shows. These historical Chinese characters feel so real, which is pretty rare considering the genre. Small details make the story seem real, like slowly updating the army’s tactics over many battles.
The mature setting of war is beautifully captured. As the series is split into two parts with over 40 episodes each, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
9. The Sword and the Brocade (2021, Amazon Prime)
A tale about finding love in an arranged marriage. That being said, do not expect a damsel in distress from our female lead. Luo Shi Yi Niang (Tan Song Yun) is the daughter of a concubine, set with her plan to create her destiny. Her marriage to General Xu Ling Yi (Wallace Chen) starts awkwardly. Slowly, they get closer to managing their household. Their romance has many funny moments as they struggle to connect. Whilst Chen does come off wooden, as the tv series goes on, there is a nuance to his portrayal of a loyal, wise, and mature duke. In turn, Shi Yi Niang learns to manage the household. Importance is placed on embroidery.
The Sword and the Brocade is a spectacular visual film with beautiful clothing items that are embraided, especially on the female characters. The set designs, especially the pavilion, are just as pretty.
10. Legend of Fu Yao (2018, Amazon Prime)
Fantasy films are a real treat to watch. The costumes are exquisite and not bound by periods. The fight choreography and other fantasy elements are exaggerated; they envelop entirely screen and scene. It’s really interesting to watch a Chinese historical drama that has all of these, and it is a real treat. This is a big production with renowned martial arts choreographer Li Cai, art director Shao Changyong (Nirvana in Fire), and designer Stanley Cheung. There are so many crazy fight scenes and element manipulation going on. The world is expansive and detailed, with plot twists coming everywhere.
One of the good things about this show is the various messages of determination and following your dreams throughout the plot and characters. However, Fuyao is a Mary Sue at times. It’s a power fantasy and an enjoyable one at that.
11. Scarlet Heart 1 (2011, Rakuten Viki)
Even after a decade since its original airtime, Scarlet Heart is still one of the most viewed and highly rated as one of the best historical Chinese dramas. Zhang Xiao suffers from a car crash, and her consciousness travels back in time to her ancestor Maer’tai Ruoxi (both played by Liu Shi Shi). Whilst she tries to find her way back home, she falls for the 8th prince Yinsi (Kevin Cheng). Knowing history grants the 4th prince Yinzhen (played by Nicky Wu) the throne, she tries to change it. This results in significant consequences.
Aside from the fantastic set and costume design, the OST, composed by Raymond Wong, Hu Ge, Alan Dawa Dolma, Cecilia Liu, and Ivy Yan, is so memorable. This old Chinese drama is based on a Korean adaptation (Scarlet Heart: Moon Lovers) it stuck with audiences and is still worth a watch today.
12. The Rebel Princess (2021, Amazon Prime)
The first thing that grabs your attention is the sheer beauty of The Rebel Princess. This is one of the most visual historical Chinese dramas on this list. The production value is vast, with custom cities in indoor studies and fully functioning rivers.
From the set design to the costumes and the action scenes, The Rebel Princess does not disappoint in the realistic aspect as well. This is boosted by veteran actors such as Zhang Zi Yi and Zhou Yiwei as the protagonists. However, the plot does not live up to this excellent production. The romance between the characters Ah Wu and Xiao Qi, is awkward at first. Also, Wu is meant to be 15, played by the then 38-year-old actress. It completely ruins the story’s immersion as she does not look the part. Still, there are some genuinely sweet moments between them. My main issue with this film is its length. It drags on for so long, and it’s hard to get back into it once you’ve zoned out.
13. The Longest Day in Chang’an (2019, Apple TV)
This film is a breath of fresh air. We get a fast-paced mystery and espionage story. During the Tang Dynasty, our main protagonists, Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jia Yin) and Li Bi (Jackson Yee) have 24 hours to foil a terrorist plot against the empire. While the frequent flashbacks can get boring, they come into play to understand the characters and the consequences of their actions.
As everything is set within 24 hours, you must pay attention to not miss critical details. The dialogue is hilariously witty at times, and the set design is just gorgeous, incorporating historically accurate landscapes and buildings into the show. If you like fast-paced mysteries, give this drama a go.
14. The Long Ballad (2021, Rakuten Viki)
The simplest way to describe this Chinese historical drama is by quoting the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Li Chang Ge (Dilraba Dilmurat) is a warrior and a military strategist searching for revenge. However, after a defeat against the Ashile Tribe, she becomes a military strategist for Ashile Sun (Leo Wu). Through this, both learn about the real meaning of war.
Both characters develop away from each other and learn to be a team. This makes the romance naturally build-up and enjoyable to watch. With realistic and grounded action scenes, beautiful cinematography, costume design, and character development for multiple characters, even non-romance fans will like this drama.
15. Story of Yanxi Palace (2018, Amazon Prime)
In the 6th year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, Wei Ying Luo (Wu Jinyan) enters the palace to uncover the mystery behind her sister’s rape and murder. However, things are never easy when the royal court is involved. There’s a reason this was the most popular period drama in 2018. Wei Ying Lou is one of the most exciting protagonists in Chinese history. She wants answers, and she’s not afraid of getting her hands bloody to get them. Wu Jin Yan plays the intelligent and cunning heroine perfectly. Even better, she learns through her mistakes and traumas.
Because of Wu Jin, you want to know more about the palace. The plot gets even more interesting as new developments occur. The supporting cast is just as good as Wu Jin Yan. The relationships she builds are dynamic and feel organic.
16. The Story of Ming Lan (2018, Rakuten Viki)
If you want to watch a Chinese film with a power couple and slow-burn romance, look no further than The Story of Ming Lan. Zhao Li Ying plays Sheng Ming Lan, the sixth daughter of an official by his 2nd concubine. Ming Lan has learned to hide her intelligence from her mother’s death and play the role.
This perfectly juxtaposes Feng Shao Feng’s Gu Ting Ye, a blunt but genius son of the Marquis of Ningyuan. Both are seen as the failure of their families, so it is even more satisfying to see them become a team and succeed. It also doesn’t hurt that the actors and actresses were married when this drama was filmed, so naturally, they had chemistry. You won’t regret watching this historical drama.
17. Joy of Life (2019, Amazon Prime)
From the first episode of this Chinese historical drama tv series, you can tell it will be a unique one. Joy of Life sees Fan Xian, a man born in the 21st century, reincarnated in the ancient empire of Southern Qing. As the illegitimate son of the Emperor (played by Chen Daoming), he is born with a death mark. As he still retains memories of the 21st century, Fan Xian must navigate politics, martial arts, and romance to survive the Palace.
The casting is on point, with Zhang Ruoyun as the misplaced main lead. The story takes full advantage of his knowledge of the 21st century being out of place, as he is considered weird and odd. This also leads to some hilarious scenes. Multiple storylines and mysteries intertwine with one another, meaning there is something for everyone in this drama.
18. Word of Honor (2021, Netflix)
Here’s a drama that has been causing waves. An adaptation of Faraway Wanderers by Priest, Word of Honor became an overnight sensation.
The two leads in this drama, Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing, are more like anti-heroes than straight-up heroes. Whilst they both have different motives, they team up to uncover a conspiracy in the world of martial arts. The connection between Zhou Zishu (Zhang Zhehan) and Wen Kexing (Gong Jun) is the key to this period drama’s success. You can’t imagine other actors in their place as their ‘friendship’ grows. The other part of this shows success is its fight choreography and incorporation of martial arts into developing the plot and characters. With an excellent supporting cast and hilarious back and forth between the two leads, this is a drama you can watch repeatedly.
19. Nirvana In Fire (2015, Amazon Prime)
Revenge is a dish best served cold, even more so when death is looming over you. Based on the book Lang ya bang, Lu Shu (played by Hu Ge) seeks revenge and justice for his family, who were framed as traitors. Lu Shu survived but was poisoned by the Poison of the Bitter Flame. Treatment changed his appearance and weakened his resistance to the cold. Now, under the alias Mei Changsu, he returns with allies to seek justice and find out the truth before the poison kills him.
Nirvana in Fire is one of the few dramas granted a sequel and a third sequel is currently in development. The story and characters are compelling; they stick with you long after the final credits roll.
20. Winter Begonia (2020, Rakuten Viki)
Beijing Opera and the meaning of having someone to watch your back are the core tenants of this Chinese historical drama. The film follows Shang Xirui (Zheng Yin), a talented Beijing opera looking for his big break. He soon gets a chance, as he impresses Cheng Fengtai (Huang Xiao Ming), a wealthy businessman. Together, they build a theatre and begin training other performers (who are entertaining in their own right). Soon, they must fight to preserve this during the beginning of the Japanese invasion.
The team went to great lengths to get the Pecking Opera right, even hiring 90-year-old Peking Opera performing artist Bi Guyun as a drama consultant. Each component feels authentic to the 1930s, such as the extravagant costumes, the color toning, and the music. Speaking of music, the OST is one of the best produced. It brought traditional Chinese art and culture to the mainstream media and did it justice. You will not regret watching this drama.
21. The Imperial Coroner (2021, Rakuten Viki)
Firstly, we are transported to late-Tang Dynasty China in The Imperial Coroner. Chi Chi (played by Su Xiao Tong) dreams of being in the best corner of the land – meaning she must get an appointment at the Imperial Palace. There, she makes an alliance with Imperial Prince Xiao Jin Yu (played by Wang Zi Qi) to solve the mysteries of the palace. As both characters strive to prove themselves, they become entangled in a long-term conspiracy that could have dire consequences. This series is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Qing Xian Ya Tou.
We have talked about many period dramas with some mystery elements. However, this historical Chinese drama is so well written that the mystery keeps you on your toes. The attention to detail placed in the clues and red herrings will keep you guessing who the culprit is. The excellent plot is further from our two leads. The beginning and development of their partnership is another highlight. This then makes viewers more interested in the romance between the two. If you want a well-written mystery and a comedic duo, I recommend The Imperial Coroner.
22. Legend of Awakening (2020, Rakuten Viki)
We go from a period drama straight into a new fantasy world with Legend of Awakening. In the harsh world of the Five Dynasties and the Ten Kingdoms, humans use both magic and martial arts against supernatural evils. Two orphans, Lu Ping (played by Chen Fei Yu) and Su Tang (played by Deng En Xi), escape their imprisonment, only to be taken in as students by the dean of an academy to hone their skills as martial artists. They meet fellow students Xi Fan (played by Dylan Xiong) and Mo Lin (played by Yu Yi Je). Together, the four compete with other academies and hone their skills to take on the forces of evil. This series is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Hu Die Lan.
This historical series is a mixed bag, according to reviews. Judging by the premise and trailer, it gives viewers an exciting look into a thrilling world, daring competition, and a team with each character having an individual goal. The characters are one thing universally praised, with praise going to Chen Fei Yu’s acting chops. Also, whilst the graphics are not as good as others on this list, there are some beautiful moments throughout the drama. Most complaints, however, come from the pacing of the plot and the power progression of the characters. Some viewers complained that the story dragged out and did not live up to the potential this series could have had. You need to watch this series and make your mind up (as with all other series).
23. The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty (2020, Rakuten Viki)
As the name suggests, we return to the Chinese historical dramas with The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty. In the 15th century, this drama followed senior government official Tang Fan (played by Darren Chen) and martial arts specialist guardsman Sui Zhou (played by Fu Meng Bo) to investigate the murder of Tang Fan’s landlord. What starts as a suspicious murder becomes even more significant as evidence of a planned bloody coup. This series is based on the 2015 novel The Fourteenth Year of Chenghua by Meng Xi Shi.
This drama’s core is the romance (or, as Chinese censorship would say, ‘bromance’) between Tang Fan and Sui Zhou. They are sometimes a comedic mess as both their skills and personalities clash. The natural chemistry between Darren Chen and Fu Meng Bo makes this romance one that keeps you interested throughout the show’s run. This shows that the less you know going in, the better the experiences (especially with the humor). With Jackie Chan as a producer of this series, you see the action cinematography will be top-notch. Combined with the beautiful setting, developed characters, excellent plot, and superb OST, you will not regret watching The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty.
24. Dreaming Back to the Qin Dynasty (2019, Rakuten Viki)
C-dramas love their time-traveling romances! Dreaming Back to the Qing Dynasty sees Ming Wei (played by Landy Li) get transported from her modern life to the Qing Dynasty. She crosses paths with multiple historical figures, including the 13th Prince, Yin Xiang (played by Wang An Yu). Sounds familiar? This is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jin Zi. This novel also inspired the 2011 hit show Scarlet Heart.
This show has a lot to live up to, given its legacy. First, the costumes and setting are breathtakingly beautiful. The OSTs are also good. To give this show a different feel by mixing the modern time with the Qing time. The use of quantum physics intensifies the feeling of two lovers trapped in other times. This is not usually seen in this type of drama, so it was refreshing and opened the plot to possibilities. However, many viewers say this drama did not live up to that potential. Others loved it. Once again, you need to check it out rather than listen to reviews. It’s a unique C-drama that takes star-cross lovers to the next level.
25. Dr. Cutie (2020, Rakuten Viki)
Can a tale of revenge lead to romance? Yeah, and comedy too! Dr. Cutie follows
Shen Zhao Er (played by Sun Qian). After corrupt royal officials frame her father for a crime he did not commit, he and his family are sentenced to death. Being the sole survivor, Zhao Er seeks revenge disguised as a royal physician named Tian Qi. Because of her excellent skills, she is assigned to serve General Ji Heng (played by Huang Jun Jie). However, palace life always has its secrets and plots to discover.
This is a mixed series with the mystery and revenge storylines. The back and forth between the ‘male’ imperial physician Tian Qi and General Ji Heng are at the forefront of this drama. There are plenty of hilarious moments, and the romance feels organic in its development. In comparison to other historical dramas on this list, this is very light-hearted. Of course, there are some dramatic moments, but it is not as heavy as the others. The goal of revenge is never honestly forgotten by the female lead. Even when General Ji Heng discovers her real identity, this does not stop her. Overall, Dr. Cutie is good if you are looking for a light-hearted show with some dramatic flair.
26. Legend of Yun Xi (2018, Rakuten Viki)
Like our previous entry, this drama is a romcom featuring the love story between a doctor and a royal (seriously, what’s with every royal wanting to marry a doctor? We can’t blame them, though.) In a world consisting of three separate kingdoms, Han Yun Xi (played by Ju Jing Yi) is a doctor who marries Prince Qin of Tianning, Long Feiye (played by Zhang Zhe Han). Young and naïve, Han Yun Xi is thrown into the dangers of palace life. Whilst she is an exceptional potion maker, she might not have what it takes to survive the poisons of palace life. This drama is based on the 2015 novel Poison Genius Consort by Jie Mo.
That got a bit dramatic summary there, didn’t it? In all seriousness, there are some moments when you will cry a lot, so grab tissues if you will watch this drama. Yun Xi is a polarising character. There are moments where we see her kindness, courage, and skills as a physician. But then, her mother’s bracelet does most of the work for her, which leaves her feeling underutilized. It would have been better without the bracelet. This realm does contain magic, and this gets twisted. So be aware of that.
The highlight of this show, however, was the royal family. Though the royals are only supporting characters, they add so much depth and drama. The cast did a fantastic job and had significant props for the set and costume designers. There is the dreaded love triangle, so look out for that and some very questionable plot choices. However, this is a Chinese historical drama that is still entertaining despite its flaws.
27. Lost Love in Times (2017, Rakuten Viki)
If Dreaming Back to the Qin Dynasty was about couples going to different points in time to be with one another, this love story is one crossing parallel universes.
Love Lost in Times follows the powerful enchantress Qing Chen (played by Liu Shi Shi), part of an elite group of magicians who protect the Imperial family. However, it is forbidden for an enchantress to have intimate relationships with the imperial family, as it could lead to disaster. Any guesses about what happened next? Yep! Qing Chen falls in love with Imperial Prince Yuan Ling (played by William Chan). This led to disaster as, on Yuan Ling’s coronation, a bloody coup incited by his brother led to a bloody battle and death for the throne. Using a magic stone to travel to an alternate world, Qing Chen is determined to prevent that from happening by not falling in love with Prince Yuan Ling. That is a lot harder than it sounds.
If you are a sucker for forbidden romance like we are, you need to watch Lost Love in Times. This is long for a drama, so be aware of some padding. It does drag on in the middle part. However, the raw chemistry between Liu Shi Shi and William Chen is powerful. Also, when done right, the concept of a forbidden romance is hard to beat.
It is done right here! The battle in Qing Chen between carrying out her mission or following her heart is portrayed excellently by Liu Shi Shi. It also does not help as the OST drama perfectly matches these feelings in notable moments. The fight scenes with the magical components are pretty good, and the overall setting is attractive. The concept of time traveling here is not as well explained or expanded upon. Personally, it would have benefited the show more to see how the time-traveling affected the world more. However, if you want to have a forbidden romance that will have you crying tears of joy and pain, watch Lost Love in Times.
28. The Rise of Phoenixes (2018, Netflix)
If there is one thing any historical Chinese drama has shown us, fictional or not, palace life is full of schemes, betrayal, power grabs, and treachery around every corner. Ning Yi (played by Chen Kun) has learned this through the death of his mother. Hiding behind a carefree façade, Ning Yi has secretly established an information network with Qingming Academy’s headmaster Xi. Alongside him is Feng Zhiwei (played by Ni Ni), a cross-dressing woman who becomes the Ultimate Scholar. Together, they face palace life and get ready to strike their enemies down.
We have previously talked about The Rise of Phoenixes on other lists about c-dramas. Forgive us for once again blushing over this political drama. This is one of those dramas where you don’t forget about it once you have watched it. The characters, especially our central trio, get so much development, and every scheme we come across is so detailed and excellently written. The top-notch acting from the cast sucks you in immediately. The hilarious moments then juxtapose the tragedy of the ending, which makes sense. We repeat this statement. The Rise of Phoenixes is an easy recommendation for a c-drama.
29. Ever Night (2018, Rakuten Viki)
Historical C-dramas really like their revenge plots. Ning Que (played by Chen Fei Yu) is the sole survivor of the General Li household after a brutal attack from an opposing general. He rescues a baby from a pile of corpses and names her Sang Sang (played by Song Yi Ren). When Sang Sang falls ill, it is discovered she is the reincarnation of Yong Ye, a being prophesied to bring utter chaos to the world. Ning Que is desperate to save Sang Sang, no matter the cost. This drama is based on the 2011 novel Jiang Ye by Mao Nie, it also has produced a Chines anime with the same name.
This is an unexpected gem of a drama. Reportedly, the novel is a massive hit in China, meaning this adaptation was highly anticipated. The cinematography is next level, something you see on the big screen. Every shot is beautiful. Ning Que is more anti-hero than the typical protagonist, a breath of fresh air. However, the soft spot he has for Sang Sang underneath his otherwise sarcastic and arrogant exterior makes their relationship so sweet. They are a pair who would watch the world burn for one another, and it is entertaining as all hell. The fight scenes are some of the bests in recent years, boosted by the natural landscapes and excellent CGI. Do we need to say more?
30. The Romance of Tiger and Rose (2020, Rakuten Viki)
Chen Xiao Qian (played by Zhao Lusi) is an aspiring screenwriter about to film her first play. However, after multiple criticisms from her lead male actor Han Ming Xing (played by Ding Yuxi), Xiao Qian enters a deep sleep after making corrections. However, when she wakes up, she realizes she is now the hated third princess, Chen Qianqian, who is to die by Han Shuo (also played by Ding Yuxi). Using her prior knowledge, her goal is now to get her two leads together and complete the story.
The idea of waking up in a parallel world is a familiar isekai story plot. Yet, there has not been a show like this one since. Part of what made this was the gender-centric cities, where depending on the gender, one gender was stronger than the other. The concept is intriguing and uncomfortable at times, as characters are discriminated against based on gender. Besides that, the excellent acting and raw chemistry between our leads, costumes, and fight scenes also make this a drama worth watching.
31. Princess Agents (2017)
The series is set in the chaotic times of the Wei dynasty. Chu Qiao (Zhao Li Ying), a strong and righteous woman, becomes a servant to Prince Yu Wen Yue (Lin Gengxin), a cold intelligent heir to the powerful Yu Wen family. Yu begins to train her as a spy in a series of strict training, and he unexpectedly falls in love with her.
Whilst watching this show, you will notice that the supporting cast is much more interesting. Zhao Li Ying’s performance as a badass brilliant warrior is graceful and full of conviction. Lin Gengxin manages to step out of the cold emotionless trope and creates a heartfelt protagonist. The chemistry between Lin and Zhao is amazing.
32. The Wind Blows from Long Xi (2022, Rakuten Viki)
Ok, now we are diving into ancient China with The Wind Blows from Long Xi. In 228 of the Common Era, the Shu army is decimated by the Wei army. Through an investigation, they discover someone is spreading misinformation to the military. Shu intelligent believes it is spy Chen Gong (played by Chen Kun). Thus, Shu sends spy Xun Xu (played by Bai Yu) to track him down. However, the mission changes as the spies discover the culprit might be a spy codenamed ‘Candle Dragon’. With this enemy now planning to steal blueprints for a new crossbow that could change the tide of the war, Chen Gong and Xun Xu must team up to save their kingdoms from this threat.
This premise of enemy spies turning allies against a common threat is not new. However, we usually associate this with modern-day spies, who have access to today’s gadgets. When this concept is put in the past, there’s usually some element of supernatural being, magic possession, or genius levels of intellect in our protagonist. None of that is here! The tension is raised so high, and it is refreshing to see pure spy work in 228 CE with the tools and the character’s intelligence. Be warned! You must pay attention throughout this historical show. There is no solid good guy/bad guy. Everyone is morally grey, which enhances this show’s charms. The cast was excellent, the plot was woven together, always to leave you on the edge of your seat, and the scenery was fantastic. Watch The Wind Blows from Longxi for an excellent spy drama with no magic way out.
33. Luoyang (2021, Rakuten Viki)
Next, we are taken to the Zhou dynasty (around 650AD) in Luoyang. In this drama, three characters from different backgrounds get embroiled one way or another in uncovering a deadly scheme capable of destroying the city of Luoyang. Gao Bingzhu (played by Huang Xuan) is investigating the death of his friend five years earlier when he is soon suspected of another murder. Whilst running away, he meets Baili Hongyi (played by Wang Yibo), looking for the person responsible for his father’s poisoning. Palace guard Wu Siyue (played by Victoria Song) soon joins them after.
We have a crime drama set in Ancient China. Based on the novel of the same name by Ma Bo Yong. For those of you who may not know, Ma Bo Yong also wrote the book adapted into the historical film The Longest Day in Chang’an (2019). In both dramas, you must pay attention. The plot moves fast, with many twists and turns along the way. The production value for this drama is enormous, from the star-studded cast to the insane level of detail in the setting. It’s almost as if the crew constructed a whole city rather than just sets. The characters each get some story and connect very well.
34. Novoland: Pearl Eclipse (Amazon, 2021)
Mermaids and the powers of their tears are essential for the next historical drama. If one can make a Naga mermaid cry, it will turn into pearls. By threatening to kill her, Hai Shi (played by Yang Mi) is used by her father to bait the mermaids into crying. These tears then pay the village’s taxes. However, her father is killed during a fishing trip, and her town is ransacked. On her way for revenge against the emperor, she meets Fang Zhu (played by William Chen), an official of the Imperial court. He agrees to train her if she hides her identity and acts like a boy. Years later, Hai Shi entered the royal military and now she is a badass female assassin. Will she get her revenge? Or will something change her?
This Chinese historical drama is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Xiao Ru Se. C-dramas, as of late, have gone all out for their production quality. The cinematography is beautiful, and the fight sequences are satisfying to watch. Hai Sun is not afraid to get her hands and dress bloody if needed. However, what sells this drama is the relationships that develop between characters. The romance between Hai Shi and Fang Zhu is top tier. There are as many fluffy moments as genuine heart-breaking moments, especially near the end. This is a tragic love story with so many layers to unpack.
35. Who Rules the World (Amazon, 2022)
This is a love story between a prince and a princess on their journey to travel the world to become better martial art fighters. Hei Fengxi (played by Yang Yang) is the second prince of Yongzhou and head of Fountain Abode. Bai Fengxi (played by Zhao Lusi) is the disciple of the Tian Shuang Sect and the princess of Qingzhou. This drama is based on the wuxia romance novel Let’s Try the World by Qing Lengyue.
Of course, there is more to this drama than this summary. The series takes its time developing the romance, getting the main characters to fall in love with one another. The rivalry and banter between the two leads are hilarious, especially at the show’s beginning. Both actors have natural chemistry, so the slow romance feels normal. It’s also nice that this is a balanced and healthy relationship. Besides romance, there is more to this drama than meets the eye. Want to know what I’m talking about? Watch Who Rules the World!
36. Snow Eagle Lord (2022)
What makes a hero? For most, it’s the ability to step up and do what needs to be done at the moment to protect the ones you love. Set in a fantasy world based in mainland China, Dongbo Xueying (played by Xu Kai) strives to save his parents, whom the Mo Yang Tribe arrested. To do so, he battles all sorts of evils. Joining him on his quest is Yu Jingqiu (played by Gulnezer Bextiyar), a girl of divine descent. Together, they face multiple challenges and become heroes. This drama is an adaptation of the web novel Xue Ying Ling Zhu by Wo Chi Xi Hong Shi.
This c-drama hasn’t yet come out, but it is already creating hype. Just for background info, the web novel is viral. This is not the first adaptation, as there is a 3D animation with multiple seasons. Back to this upcoming drama, it looks like it will be another high-budget production with elegant costumes and props. Undoubtedly, the CGI will also be some of the best in the business. Both actors have impressive resumes. Xu Kai is famous as Fuheng in the Story of Yanxi Palace. Gulnezer Bextiyar has also appeared in numerous action films such as Dynasty Warriors and Fighter of the Dynasty. We recommend looking out for this one when it comes out, I’ll be sure to update with my review.
37. Immortal Samsara (Dramapanda, 2022)
Another upcoming Chinese historical drama and another novel adaptation! Adapted from the novel Chen Xiang Ru Xie by Su Mo, Immortal Samsara is like no other. Our protagonist is Yan Dan (played by Yang Zi), the only descendant of the Four-Leaved Scorpion. This means her entire being is a trove of medicines. Being in a human form for 1000 years, there is only one trial she must face- the trial of love. After spending 800 years forgetting about her last love Lord Ying Yuan, she meets a new man Yu Mo (played by Ray Chang). However, she is soon reunited with her old lover’s reincarnation, Tang Zhou (played by Cheng Yi). Together, they must locate four ancient artifacts and uncover the mysteries of evil.
There’s going to be a love triangle, isn’t there? Great. All that aside, this is a very unusual premise. The concept of a being pretending to be human is a plot point the writers should take full advantage of. The teaser shots already look stunning, with a beautiful color palette. This drama is also a reunion of sorts, as Cheng Mi and Yang Zi have worked together before in The Legend of Chusen. I recommend keeping your eyes open for this drama with an intriguing premise and an impressive cast.
38. Doulou Continent (2021, Rakuten Viki)
Based on the anime of the same name by Tang Jia San Shao, Douluo Continent tells the story of Tang San (played by Zhan Xiao). At the age of 16, the talented and witty Tang San is sent to Nuoding Academy to learn how to be a great soul master. Through the training, he befriends Xiao Wu (played by Wu Xuanyi). However, after their powers grow, they then go to Shrek Academy. Here, they both find themselves in the middle of an imperial power struggle, and unveiling lost secrets such as the death of Tang San’s mother.
What’s not to like about Douluo Continent? It has a Straightforward Plot, characters that develop individually as well as in a team, and visual effects, not even some high-budget films get. Finally, it has genuine friendship and romance.
39. My Heroic Husband (2021)
If there is one thing Historical c-dramas have taught us, karma will bite you in the butt! That is the case with our protagonist Ning Yi (played by Guo Qi Lin). Before, he was an entrepreneur in modern-day China who undercut his business partner. When he swore revenge in the next life, the businessman woke up in Ning Yi’s body. Ning Yi is about to be married into the family of a cloth merchant and become a matrilocal husband. At first, he hesitates and tries to escape. However, after meeting his bride-to-be, Su Tan Er (played by Song Yi), he changes his mind. Now, he fights for his family, using his business tact to make their cloth business the most successful.
So, this time-traveling cliché can happen to male characters too! In all seriousness, the business side of the plot is riveting. Modern ideas that seem normal to us are bought in ancient China, where they are seen as revolutionary. It’s hilarious, with witty dialogue, a premise of ordinary ideas being seen as revolutionary, and a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. Some viewers have said that you need to understand specific cultural things to get the mood fully. But this is still hilarious regardless of that, with scenes like the first night. If you’re looking for a good laugh, watch My Heroic Husband.
40. Royal Feast (Dramapanda, 2022)
Finally! We get to talk about a historical Chinese drama with an empathizes on food! During the Ming Dynasty, a young girl named Yao Zijin (played by Wu Jin Yan) entered the palace as a maid of the food bureau. Yao Zijin wants only one thing to perfect her craft. This is her journey through the reign of three emperors. During that time, You Zijin also makes friends and even becomes romantically involved with Zhu Zhanji (played by Xu Kai).
Do not watch this when you are hungry or dieting! This historical Chinese drama goes a lot into the cooking and hierarchy of the palace, where an official sat determined what sort of food he would eat. The higher the official, the more luxurious the food was.
This is also a tale many of us working people can relate to. Yao Zijin gets promoted but doesn’t understand what the subject of her work, ‘food’, is to her. The romance between Wu Jin Yan and Xu Kai is natural (probably because they have been lovers before in Story of Yanxi Palace). The food shots are mouth-watering and are presented so elegantly. Whilst the cinematography did not stick out like others on this list had, there’s a certain charm to the series due to the color pallet. This is a tale of passion, love, food, and determination. There’s very little not to like here.
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