It has been some time since we have made an overview of popular Chinese TV dramas to watch this season. It is high time to do an update, especially because – in the wake of China’s emerging COVID19 crisis in early February – there has been a peak in the already overwhelming popularity of TV dramas in China. Live streams and online shows have become people’s virtual stay-at-home “resort” to pass time and cope with anxiety and stress in times of corona.
While the stay-at-home orders have now been lifted and life is slowly returning back to normal, the popularity of some TV dramas has continued and even continues to grow.
We compiled a shortlist of China’s top TV dramas based on recent top search results on leading online video hosting platforms, including iQiyi, Sougou, 360Kan, and Baidu’s top charts for entertainment.
You can find most of the dramas with English subtitles available on YouTube. These are five of the shows that have been recently trending and are worth to catch up on!
1. Autumn Cicada (秋蝉 Qiū chán)
- Date: Produced in 2017 and premiered on May 4, 2020
- Genre: Action, historical, war
- About: This drama is set during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in 1941 and revolves around Ye Chong, a Communist agent disguised as a military officer, who goes to Hong Kong to help build the Japanese military presence in the area. With the sworn loyalty to his party and countrymen, Ye operates under the codename “autumn cicada” to leak important messages from inside the Japanese intelligence to his comrades outside.
- Context: The surrender of British Hong Kong to Japan on 25 December 1941, also known as “Black Christmas”, marks the beginning of the Imperial Japanese occupation of Hong Kong (香港日据时期). The occupation lasted for three years and eight months, until the Empire of Japan announced its surrender which brought WWII to an end.
- Also: Autumn Cicada is probably not just popular because of its theme – spy activities during WWII have been an ongoing theme in Chinese popular culture – but also because its storyline is set in Hong Kong, a place that has become the focus of everyone’s attention ever since the Hong Kong protests erupted last year.
- Link: Youtube
2. Hunting 猎狐 Liè hú
- Date: Produced in 2019 and premiered on April 14, 2020
- Genre: Thriller, crime
- About: Police agents Xia Yuan and Wu Jiaqi join hands to battle cross-border the financial crimes committed by Boling Wang, billionaire and chairman of Kerui Pharmaceutical Group.
- Context: The drama is based on China’s 2014 overseas campaign against corrupt officials, which was also called ‘Fox Hunt 2014′ or the ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ initiative. The campaign started on July 22, 2014, and had scored a victory with 428 economic criminals arrested from 60 countries and regions within 135 days.
- Also: Along with a domestic anti-corruption campaign named “beating the tiger” and “catching the flies,” the Fox Hunt initiative remains to be one of the largest crackdown campaigns on corruption China has ever seen.
- Link: Youtube (no English subs)
3. Legend of Awakening 天醒之路 Tiānxǐng zhī lù
- Date: Produced in 2018 and premiered on April 23, 2020
- Genre: Action, adventure, historical, romance, wuxia, fantasy
- About: In the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era (五代十国时期), the young Lu Ping escapes the haunted Shanghai Tower and discovers that he possesses a rare set of superpowers known as “six distinct souls.” Together with people he meets on his journey to defeat the evil forces in the martial arts world, Lu and his friends transcend to the legend of awakening.
- Context: The story is based on the fantasy novel of the same name by an online writer nicknamed Blue of Butterflies (蝴蝶蓝) on Starting Point Chinese Net (起点中文网), one of the largest reading and writing online communities in China. The story Legend of Awakening comes belongs to the Wuxia and Xianxia genres and is influenced by traditional Chinese elements including Chinese mythology, philosophy, and martial arts.
- Link: Youtube
4. Serenade of Peaceful Joy / Held in the Lonely Castle 清平乐 Qīngpíng yuè
- Date: Premiered on April 7
- Genre: Historical, Romance, Period Drama
- About: The drama revolves around the life of Zhao Zhen (赵祯), the fourth emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty, and his efforts to maintain a balance between governing the country during turbulent times and his love for his family.
- Context: The drama is based on Milan Lady’s novel Held in the Lonely Castle (孤城闭) which originally tells the poignant love story between Princess Fukang and eunuch Liang Huaiji.
- Link: YouTube
5. Intense Love 韫色过浓 Yùn sèguò nóng
- Date: Released in 2019 and premiered on May 2, 2020
- Genre: Comedy, Romance, Life
- About: Jinbei Su, a stunning actress, and Shiyun Zhou, a doctor, are set up by their parents to get married. Although they initially refuse to follow their parents’ wishes, they later realize that their romance might be part of their destiny.
- Context: This tv drama has stirred quite some excitement on Chinese social media, with 998,000 hashtagged posts on Weibo (#韫色过浓#), the topic page attracting more than 2.2 billion views. While some netizens found pleasure in the drama’s somewhat cheesy storylines, others criticized the show’s unrealistic beauty and social standards.
- Also: Shows like Intense Love may change in the future because of a new regulation issued by the National Radio and Television Administration on April 13 of this year in response to numerous problems underlying the TV industry. The new regulation states dramas cannot exceed 40 episodes along with a limitation on how much actors can be paid for their roles (#广电总局拟规定剧集不能超40集#). The TV dramas released prior to the issue of the regulation are still unaffected by the maximum 40-episode limitation.