Chinese period dramas are among our favourite genres of shows to binge-watch.
To be honest, the lines get a little blurred with the many different sub-genres. For clarity, we’re including wuxia (martial arts) and xianxia (fantasy) into the period drama genre, just because if we’re immersing ourselves into a world of billowing dresses and unnaturally long hair, then we might as well go all out here.
There are many reasons why we love it — besides a compelling love story, there are themes of politics, backstabbing, loyalty, and tons of action-packed warring scenes that keep us on an emotional roller coaster at all times. Plus, it always helps that the characters are usually dressed in stunning outfits too. K-dramas might offer all these and more, but there’s something refreshing about watching a drama unfold in a setting that’s not Seoul or a palace in the Joseon Dynasty.
If you’re craving a break from K-dramas or spine-chilling serial killer shows like Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer series, these Chinese period dramas are the perfect option. You’ll have to get started yourself to see why we’re hooked, and to help you along your binge-watching journey, we’ve listed 11 of our top picks you can stream now. Read on for the full list.
(Main and featured image: Eternal Love/ Netflix)
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore
The best Chinese period dramas to get hooked on right now:
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Scarlet Heart, a 2011 drama based on the novel Bu Bu Jing Xin, created a buzz when it first came out. It was one of the first few television series with the element of a time slip, and was so popular it resulted in a Korean remake of the drama as well. Here, the 35-episode show tells the tale of 21st-century Zhang Xiao, who time-travelled to the Qing Dynasty during Emperor Kangxi’s reign. Now known as Ma’er’tai Ruoxi, she meets some of the Emperor’s sons after a string of events, most of whom are in the battle for the throne. Friendships, love, and betrayal continue to unfold, and you’ll find yourself rooting for the camp of fourteenth prince or fourth prince.
One of the newest period dramas to have been released of late, Love Between Fairy and Devil stars Dylan Wang of Meteor Garden fame and Esther Yu, former member of THE9. After an accidental mishap resulting in Orchid (Yu) freeing the Demon Lord (Wang), the two seemed to have swapped bodies. As they both try to undo the soul-swapping spell, love – you can already guess it – begins to work its magic too.
Who can forget the hype that Story of Yanxi Palace brought about in 2018? We loved every second of the 70 episodes of mystery, drama, and unthinkable plot twists surrounding Wei Yingluo, palace maid in the court of the Qianlong Emperor who wanted to avenge her sister. While love does play a part in the story, we’re really just here for the gripping plot and next-level scheming throughout. If you love outspoken, intelligent female protagonists, you’re bound to fall for Wei Yingluo’s character.
Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace was constantly pitted against Story of Yanxi Palace as both shows were set in the same time period with Qianlong Emperor helming the throne and other characters overlapping as well. If Story of Yanxi Palace focused more on the schemes, Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace highlights Emperor Qianlong’s relationship with Ulunara Ruyi, and offers a different perspective of the villains in the harem. Besides, eye-candy Wallace Huo as Emperor Qianlong? We’re already big fans.
Who Rules the World is a must-watch for those who enjoy the wuxia sub-genre. Here, the story uncovers the relationship between two legendary martial art heroes, Hei Fengxi (Yang Yang) and Bai Fengxi (Zhao Lu Si), both of whom lead double lives as a prince and a princess in their respective states. They find love as they navigate ways to their conquer internal struggles with their sect and state, against the backdrop of a war to unify and rule all six states.
Zhao Lusi from Who Rules the World plays a main character once again in the recently released Love Like The Galaxy. Here, she takes on the role as Cheng Shaoshang, the street-smart and charming daughter of a military family, who catches the eye of Ling Bu Yi, the emperor’s stoic adopted son. A good balance of love, vengeance, humour, and interesting side stories, this was definitely one of our favourites this year. We’re making time to rewatch this masterpiece as we type this out.
The King’s Woman is set during the Warring States Era, starring Gongsun Li (Dilraba Dilmurat) and Ying Zheng (Vin Zhang). Gongsun Li, who is pregnant with her childhood lover’s child, is promised to Ying Zheng in exchange for a life-saving antidote. Ying Zheng pr0mises to treat her son as his own, and Gongsun Li falls for his merciful and gentle side. Assassinations and misunderstandings ensue (of course), and this is one worth watching for the brilliant character portrayal by both leads.
The Untamed is a fan favourite, and for several reasons. The story, adapted from the novel Mo Dao Zu Shi by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, follows the adventures of two soulmates who travel to solve a series of mysteries. While the original novel depicted a BL story between the two main male characters (played by Xiao Zhan and Wang Yi Bo in the show), the producers turned to subtler ways of presenting the relationship between the pair due to China’s ban of LGBT portrayals.
The Sword and the Brocade revolves around General Xu Ling Yi (Wallace Chung) and the concubine’s daughter Shi Yi Niang (Tan Song Yun). Set in the Ming Dynasty, the kind and intelligent Shi Yi Niang marries the cold and upright General Xu Ling Yi to honour a promise by her dying sister, and she overcomes trials and tribulations — and his heart, duh — in this arranged marriage. It’s not the most exciting Chinese period drama as compared to the others on this list, but we particularly enjoyed the values of female empowerment and optimism that Shi Yi Niang portrayed in the show.
A happy-go-lucky grape fairy who turns out to be the heir to the Floral Realm, an arrogant phoenix set to ascend the throne to the Heavenly Realm, and a series of unfortunate affairs (quite literally) passed down from their parents — what could possibly go wrong? Ashes of Love is a 63-episode series with plenty of greed and revenge intertwined with a tale of love that transcends heaven and earth, and we enjoyed this one for its good balance of lighthearted and serious scenes throughout.
The title Eternal Love really speaks for itself here; deities Bai Qian (Yang Mi) and Ye Hua (Mark Chao) have to stand the test of love over the period of three lifetimes, and this fast-paced drama packed with heartbreak and swoon-worthy scenes ranks high in our list of the best Chinese period dramas to watch. What can we say? We’re suckers for a good love story.