Chinese historical dramas have become a popular genre worldwide, with their elaborate production designs, authentic costumes, and fascinating narratives. These dramas typically cover ancient dynasties and periods, often infusing elements of romance, fantasy, and action. Whether set in the ancient Tang Dynasty or embroiled in political conflict, Chinese television dramas have a growing market of consumers both in China and abroad. Here is a list of the best Chinese historical dramas to binge-watch, each with its own unique features that make it worth watching.
Princess Wei Young
Princess Wei Young is a drama set during the era of Northern and Southern Dynasties in Chinese history. It tells the story of a princess named Feng Xin’er, played by Tiffany Tang, who escapes from a massacre of the royal family. Forced to live in exile, she assumes the identity of a woman who helped her, Li Wei Young, and attempts to start life anew. However, her journey is not easy, and she catches the eye of another prince, played by Luo Jin. Initially receiving mixed reviews, Princess Wei Young eventually grew a dedicated fanbase.
Empress of China
Fan Bingbing leads the historical drama Empress of China, which was one of the most expensive Chinese television series ever produced, costing almost the equivalent of $50 million. Set during the Tang Dynasty, the show tells the epic story of Wu Ruyi, a 14-year-old who enters the palace with dreams of serving the Emperor as a Consort. She eventually works her way up to become the Empress of China, but not without struggles. The palace is full of schemes, betrayal, and accusations, providing enough drama to captivate viewers.
Eternal Love, released in 2017, is based on a xianxia novel, a genre of high fantasy influenced by Taoism, Chinese mythology, and cultural elements native to the region. Zhe Yan brings Bai Qian to the sacred Kunlun Mountain in Chinese mythology, and Bai Qian becomes the God of War. Life as a God is not perfect, and as she trains to become the ideal warrior, another jealous deity kidnaps Bai Qian. This kick-starts an epic journey full of romance and deceit, ultimately becoming a smash hit online with Chinese and foreign audiences alike.
Scarlet Heart, released in 2011, became so popular that it spawned a Korean remake starring the singer IU. The drama tells the story of a contemporary woman who finds herself accidentally sent back in time to the Qing Dynasty. She assumes the identity of her incarnate and must become involved with the everyday court life of the Emperor and his sons. As she tries to adjust to this new era and way of living, she finds herself falling in love with one of the Emperor’s sons, complicating things even further.
After 50 episodes, The Untamed finishes strong in the genre of historical dramas in China. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji are complete opposites, but they are soulmates. However, there is a quick twist introduced to this story: Wei Wuxian is killed before the events of the series, so when he finds himself resurrected, there remains the question of why he was killed to begin with. The Untamed is a classic story of good versus bad magic, but unfortunately, the show was forced to erase the LGBTQ+ elements from the source material to pass censorship.
Nirvana in Fire
Nirvana in Fire tells the story of a royal family that is destroyed by a conspiracy. Mei Changsu, played by Hu Ge, is the sole survivor of the family and spends his life seeking revenge against those who wronged him. The show is a masterful blend of strategy, politics, and revenge, with superb acting and beautiful cinematography.
Legend of Fuyao
The epic historical drama, Legend of Fuyao, chronicles the remarkable journey of Fuyao (portrayed by Yang Mi), a tenacious and resolute woman born into humble beginnings. Her unwavering spirit and bravery lead her to embark on a perilous mission to retrieve the fragments of a mystical object, which holds the key to restoring harmony in the realm. Amidst her quest, she falls deeply in love with the Crown Prince of Wuji (played by Ethan Juan), and must deftly navigate through the treacherous waters of palace politics to safeguard their relationship.
Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace
Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, featuring Zhou Xun as the lead character, is a historical drama that recounts the story of Ruyi, who enters the palace as a concubine of Emperor Qianlong. Despite her intellect and elegance, she confronts various challenges in her pursuit to ascend as the Empress, including the maneuvering of rival concubines and the intricate court politics. The show stands out for its complex character portrayal and precise representation of court life during the Qing dynasty.
Story of Yanxi Palace
Story of Yanxi Palace is a historical drama set in the 18th century Qing dynasty. It tells the story of Wei Yingluo (Wu Jinyan), a palace maid who enters the Forbidden City with the goal of uncovering the truth behind her sister’s death. Along the way, she becomes entangled in the complex politics of the court, including the rivalry between the Empress and the concubines. The series is notable for its strong female characters and its intricate plot, which keeps viewers engaged from beginning to end.
Chinese historical dramas have gained worldwide popularity due to their captivating plots, intricate characters, and breathtaking visuals. These dramas cover a wide range of themes from the epic tales of emperors and empresses to the fantastical world of xianxia, providing a glimpse into China’s rich cultural and historical heritage. The aforementioned shows are only a small selection of the vast array of great productions available to those interested in exploring this genre.