The Top 20 Best Chinese Historical Dramas

best chinese historical dramas

Chinese historical dramas are some of the most versatile dramas in the world. They are so elegant, 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.

We list the top 20 best Chinese historical dramas to sink your teeth into, from time travel to ancient curses and magical armor.

20/20. Scarlet Heart 2 (2014)

Best Chinese Historical Dramas
“Scarlet Heart 2”

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.

Available on: Rakuten VIKI, Tang Ren Theatre

19/20. The Wolf Princess (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Wolf Princess”

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.

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

18/20. Serenade of Peaceful Joy (2020)

best chinese historical dramas
“Serenade of Peaceful Joy”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

17/20. Court Lady (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“Court Lady”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

16/20. King’s War (Legend of Chu and Han) (2012)

best chinese historical dramas
“King’s War, Legend of Chu and Han”

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.

Available on: Netflix

15/20. The Legend of Hao Lan (2019)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Legend of Hao Lan”

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.

14/20. The Legend of Qin (2015)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Legend of Qin”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

13/20. The Advisors Alliance (2017)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Advisors Alliance”

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. 

Avaliable on: Rakuten Viki, China Zone (YouTube)

12/20. The Sword and the Brocade (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Sword and the Brocade”

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.

See also:

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

11/20. Legend of Fu Yao (2018)

best chinese historical dramas
“Legend of Fu Yao”

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.

See also: The Top 20 Martial Artists in Movies and TV Shows

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

10/20. Scarlet Heart 1 (2011)

best chinese historical dramas
“Scarlet Heart 1”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

9/20. The Rebel Princess (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Rebel Princess”

The first thing that grabs your attention is the sheer beauty of The Rebel Princess. This is one of the most visual 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 on 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 their 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.

However, 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.

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

8/20. The Longest Day in Chang’an (2019)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Longest Day in Chang’an”

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.

See also: 13 Best Movies Like Caligula To Satisfy Your Senses

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki, Apple TV

7/20. The Long Ballad (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Long Ballad”

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.

See also: 8+ Best Movies Like Mulan: Women Warriors

Available on: Rakuten Viki

6/20. Story of Yanxi Palace (2018)

best chinese historical dramas
“Story of Yanxi Palace”

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 her, 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.

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

5/20. The Story of Ming Lan (2018)

best chinese historical dramas
“The Story of Ming Lan”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

4/20. Joy of Life (2019)

best chinese historical dramas
“Joy of Life”

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.

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.

Available on: Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki

3/20. Word of Honor (2021)

best chinese historical dramas
“Word of Honor”

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.

Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Rakuten Viki and YOUKU

2/20. Nirvana In Fire (2015)

best chinese historical dramas
“Nirvana In Fire”

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 currently in development. The story and characters are compelling; they stick with you long after the final credits roll.

See also: The Best 10 Epic Movies Like 300

Available on: Amazon Prime, YouTube

1/20. Winter Begonia (2020)

best chinese historical dramas
“Winter Begonia”

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.

Available on: Rakuten Viki

Which is your favorite historical Chinese drama?

Select your favorite historical Chinese drama below

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