15 great Chinese dramas to binge on

Before squid game exploded to No. 1 in 94 countries, with 142 million viewers and more 3 billion minutes watched, History of Yanxi Palace was in 70 countries with 700 million viewers in a single day, reaching over 15 billion views and becoming Google’s most searched show of 2018, even if Google is not available in China.

Yet most Americans have never heard of it.

Propelled by Netflix’s push for global dominance, Americans are discovering a taste for international content. A standard 97% of US Netflix subscribers watched non-English content last year. Interest in Korean dramas has doubled in the last two years, while the anime increased 50% from 2019 to 2020. Asia representative more than half of Netflix new subscriber base, expect more success from South Korea and Japan.

But what about the second largest entertainment creator of a market where Netflix does not operate?

Can Chinese entertainment take off?

Kuek Yu-Chuang, Vice President of International Affairs at iQiyi, China’s largest streaming platform, thinks so. “Global demand signals became clear in 2018 with Yanxi, and the sampling continues to grow. Over the past two years, more than half of US respondents have tried Chinese shows according to iQiyi’s recent poll. Monthly active users, watch time and video views of Chinese content have doubled in North America this year, according to statistics shared by iQiyi with WIRED.

“Chinese shows haven’t been picked up or recommended by Netflix’s 214 million members worldwide, which is why we haven’t seen the same breakthrough as with Korean or Japanese content,” says Julia Alexander. , senior strategic analyst at Parrot Analytics.

Larry Namer, founder of E! Entertainment TV Networks and chairman of Metan Global Entertainment, expects China to have more global hits. “In some ways, there is more room to take risks in China than in the United States, despite the government. You’re limited in some shows, but it’s wide open in others.

How we made this list

For this list, WIRED drew inspiration from American and Chinese reviews and contributions from Chinese television creators and marketers: Ting Chen, screenwriter; Zijin Chen, author and screenwriter; Frank Jiang, CEO of Shanghai Yingyuan Culture & Technology; Jun Ni, screenwriter and associate professor of film and television, The Central Academy of Drama; Rui Ma, Marketing Director of New Studios Media Co; and Dai Ying, SVP and GM of Original Drama Division at iQiyi.

Recommendations are split: 60% Modern Drama, 15% Period (1900-1990), and 25% Historical Drama, based on the 2020 breakdown of 415 scripted web and TV dramas. [LT3]. Our recommendations span every genre and include individual, family and societal stories, and we’ve focused on publicly available shows in the US and Europe.

Without further ado, here’s a C-drama watch list of the most recommended shows of the past nine years.

Looking for epic, high-stakes viewing?

Nirvana on fire 琅琊榜

It is a must see. Subversive Wuxia (ancient martial arts history) with a physically frail leader who lost his martial arts ability. It’s set in 6th-century China, and Mei Chang Su, a brilliant strategist, secretly helps Prince Jing, the most unlikely son, fight for the throne in order to clear his family’s name. This is based on a novel by Hai Yan, one of China’s most popular authors, which is not widely available in English, like most of the source novels on this list. “The quintessential C-drama about honor, courage, and sacrifice,” says iQiyi’s Dai Ying, “which remains the second-highest-rated C-drama.” “Visually stunning. An epic yet personal story about how we live, how we die, and what matters,” says Liv Fowler, writer and fan of the series.

15 great Chinese dramas to binge on

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