Chinese web novels became popular in the last 20 years, gaining international fans who have come to love Chinese historical fiction, martial arts centered stories and magical fantasy.
Want to read about a world where humans gain superhuman abilities through martial arts or internal energy cultivation? Look into the Chinese genre of wuxia.
What about a story where immortality is possible to achieve through cultivation and martial arts training influenced by Daoism? Look into xianxia.
Rather than portraying heroes as the main characters, Chinese novels are often stories about a scheming protagonist who has to plot and use their wits to save their families or attain their goal. Here are 5 recommendations for newcomers to dive into the realm of Chinese web novels.
1. “The Earth is Online”
“The Earth is Online” is a web novel written by Mo Chen Huan. It was officially published on a Chinese-language website called Jinjiang Literature City — also known as jjwxc. Since 2017, an unofficial translation group by the name of Rainbow Turtle Translations has released English translations on Novel Updates. Both the original and translated version have been completed with 245 chapters.
Set in modern-day China, the novel begins with mysterious black phantom towers appearing all around the world, floating above the cities. The appearance creates an international stir. Is it the aliens? The apocalypse? What is the purpose of these black towers?
The buzz dies down in six months as people become used to it. Life returns to normal and people treat the towers as part of the skyline. Until one day, things take a turn for the worst.
Forced by the black towers, Tang Mo and the world population enter into games, playing for their survival. As a librarian who loves to play strategy games with an online friend, the protagonist’s monotonous life takes a turn as he must use his wits to survive the black towers’ deadly games, which are inspired by famous fairy tales and real-life virtual games, such as Cinderella and Mario.
This web novel also takes the role of a slow burning romance between Tang Mo and another male character that appears later in the narrative. If you like action and adventure, I highly recommend this novel.
2. “Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator”
“Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator” is a romance web novel written by Xue Shan Lan. It was published in 2016 on a Chinese-language site with 17,000 subscribers before volare novels picked it up and released English translations. “Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator” has been completed in both Chinese and English, standing at 709 chapters.
Novel Updates defines transmigration as the process in which a character “inhabits an existing person’s body after migrating across worlds. It differs from reincarnation in that the person is not literally born again.”
In the web novel, Chu Lian finds herself in the body of the female lead from a romance novel that she was reading. Excited at the opportunity to be with He Changdi — who she deems Mr. Right — Chu Lian devotes her life cherishing the man. The female lead in the novel had squandered the potential love affair with a series of extramarital affairs and schemes.
Instead of receiving the kind man she had come to love in the novel, Chu Lian gets a taciturn man who refuses to touch her on their wedding night. What happened?
Annoyed at this rejection by the man that she loved, Chu Lian vows to live her days as the female lead as comfortable as possible for a married woman in ancient China.
The title “Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator” reveals Chu Lian’s status as the transmigrator — and He Changdi’s status as the reincarnator. If you love dramatic irony and the theme of miscommunication, I’d highly recommend this as both characters’ interactions are colored by their foreknowledge.
3. “A Slight Smile is Very Charming”
“A Slight Smile is Very Charming,” written by Gu Man, was originally published in 2008 on jjwxc; many translations groups, including Dreams of Jianghu and Lil’ Bliss, have published English translations on Novel Updates. The series has been completely translated standing at 48 chapters and some extras.
It tells a love story between Bei Wei Wei and Xiao Nai — two computer science undergraduates who share a love for an online game called “Dreams of Jianghu.”
One day, Bei Wei Wei gets a message from her in-game husband, Zhen Shui Wu Xiang, stating that he wants to divorce. Apparently, he wants to marry another female player in the game for her beauty that she has in real life.
Although disappointed for the loss of an in-game training partner, she brushes the matter off. At least, until the top-ranking player Yi Xiao Nai He offers her a marriage proposal following her ex-husband’s elaborate wedding ceremony. Bei Wei Wei says yes. And while their relationship begins online, it continues offline once the two characters meet.
If you love sweet, tooth-rotting moments, then this web novel is the one for you. I’d highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves reading stories about gaming as the story goes in depth about Bei Wei Wei’s interactions with other players, including her fights and quests.
My one concern for newcomers to the genre, however, are the translations. I prefer Dream of Jianghu’s translation, but they often leave some words untranslated, such as nicknames or titles. If you’re unfamiliar with the Mandarin Chinese language, I would suggest the translations done by Lil’ Bliss because it translates most, if not all, of the words.
4. “The Reborn Otaku’s Code of Practice for the Apocalypse”
“The Reborn Otaku’s Code of Practice for the Apocalypse” is a post-apocalyptic web novel written by Nuan He. It was officially published in 2016 on jjwxc before Oz’s Corner translated the first chapter. Another translating group by the name of WhiteMoon x BlackSun picked up the project for the rest of the novel. It has been completely translated with 259 chapters to date.
Ten years after the zombie apocalypse, Luo Xun dies. And then he wakes up in his bed, three months before the apocalypse happens. With the knowledge of what’s to come, Luo Xun sets out to prepare himself by securing a house in a safe zone and the means to be self-sufficient.
On Nov. 28, the world falls into chaos once again. People wake up as zombies or develop supernatural powers. Some people, like Luo Xun, remain as ordinary humans.
His only goal is to survive and live his second life as comfortably as possible after the hardships he had to endure in his first life. He never intends for a chance encounter with a metal-user named Yan Fei. But his solitary life suddenly grows into a life of two and, eventually, a family of choice. The romance between Luo Xun and Yan Fei is a slow burn. The author truly takes the time to develop their relationship.
What I love about this web novel is the protagonist Luo Xun. He’s sensible and pragmatic; he doesn’t rush off into danger with no plans. I also find Luo Xun relatable in his desire for stability in his life. Rather than scheming to get more power, he’s content with what he has, which is refreshing.
If you like a calm protagonist like Luo Xun, then this web novel is up your alley; I’d highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves a this type of protagonist and if you’re into romance then there’s an added bonus to reading the series.
5. “To Be a Virtuous Wife”
“To Be a Virtuous Wife” is a romance web novel written by Yue Xia Die Ying. It was published in 2013 on jjwxc before Dreams of Jianghu picked up the translation project. The series has been completely translated, standing at 123 chapters.
Qu Qing Ju wakes up one day and finds herself displaced in time. She’s also married to the second son of the Emperor, He Heng.
As the official wife, Qu Qing Ju is forced to wade through inner court politics with her husband’s other wives and concubines.
Rather than succumbing to the expectations of a virtuous wife, Qu Qing Ju chooses to live her life in comfort and satisfaction. In essence, her motto is YOLO: You only live once.
“To Be a Virtuous Wife” incorporates common tropes seen in Chinese historical stories — a time-traveling female protagonist forced to deal with a handsome male lead and his struggles for succession. However, I like that the author chooses to portray the relationship between Qu Qing Ju and He Heng in a realistic way.
This novel is not a fairy tale. Instead, it’s a romance between two people who grow to respect one another as individuals and eventually come to love one another. Qu Qing Ju has self-respect and her own life philosophy, so I love how the story doesn’t try to take away her identity for the sake of romance.
Chinese historical fiction often uses pre-modern terms and titles, which might be difficult to go through as a newcomer to the genre. However, don’t be discouraged. The translator takes the time to define unknown terms in footnotes. The translation group also has a glossary of terms available for the novel on their site.