"The masses have erred, but my Dao is TRUE! PERENNIAL WILL!"
July 7, 2017 4:59 AM   Subscribe

When people think of Wuxia novels, we might think of titans like Louis Cha, but serialised wuxia and fantasy novels are really big business in China. Fantastic genres are, in fact, some of the most popular of all electronically published Chinese fiction (genre categories here), earning authors rabid fanbases and millions of readers. Of course it's not all fun and games (thanks CCP!). Don't read putonghua? Not a problem, heaps of english translations are popping up.

Even better, a lot of the offerings on these sites are free to read, asking only for donations.

Wuxia World has a swathe of translated Chinese fantasy, both completed and in progress.

Gravity Tales isn't far behind (and they do Korean!)

There's some more on Shiroyuki Translations, too.

Be warned, Chinese serial fiction proportions make your average Dickens novel look like a haiku, with word counts in the millions (between 3 and 5 is typical!).

So where to start?

Novel Updates is kinda like a GoodReads of translated Asian fiction, and their rankings could help you dive in.

You can also head over to the Mobile Reads, Reddit (another good recommendation thread), the Wuxia World Forums, or this interesting blog entry.

Or you could start with Coiling Dragon, the first series that was ever fully translated (21 books, eat your heart out Robert Jordan!).

It may not be for everyone, but it has struck a chord with many, plus it was written by I Eat Tomatoes, and could help you kick your cocaine habit - it might just be the introduction to this powerful and prolix world that you need!
posted by smoke (8 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic post--I've read The Deer and The Cauldron and just in the past few weeks picked up The Eleventh Son, both as print editions, but I had no idea there were so many more options available online. Thanks!
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:59 AM on July 7, 2017

Despite my upbringing steeped in wuxia movies, I only started to know the comics once local houses brought the classics in and translated them. And even then I only knew them in the periphery because by then I couldn't keep up with the serialisations. Regardless, it wasn't Aaron Kwok alone that made me excited for the Storm Riders movie.

Anyway, I was trying to get a China friend of mine to start watching rogue one at least, for Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, but she started with TFA and couldn't make heads or tails about star wars, because that wasn't her cultural reference at all, until I told her to imagine the Jedi as chi practitioners and the force as white people dao. Understanding them as wuxia stories really went a long way.

Fantastic post btw!
posted by cendawanita at 7:02 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Found epub versions of a couple of the popular ones with some googling -- I Shall Seal the Heavens, Coiling Dragon, Against the Gods. Really cool post, can't wait to jump in.
posted by Rinku at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wuxia is just so great, even when the story or translation isn't all that technically good, there's always something that makes me say "what was that?!" Plus, fun characters, really brisk pacing, and dizzying plot turns. The only thing that makes me sad is when people stop translating in the middle of the story…

Clearly, the requirements for college graduation should include: finish your damn translations!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on July 7, 2017

I've had some pretty gross reactions to some Wuxia novels. However, I DID start reading it pretty late in life, so perhaps the standard tropes are not for me: fairly low characterization, high plot involvement, and fast story pace/power creep. I started by choosing a few that were extremely popular, and those turned out to have a heavy element of wish fulfillment in several ways:

1. An extremely weak protagonist that due to whatever plot devices gains ridiculous strength quickly
2. Overly pessimistic nameless and needlessly evil antagonists, that are respectively amazed and totally crushed, often extremely excessively.
3. Often throwing whatever female characters exist at the protagonist, who often has irresistable sexual magnetism, usually through reincarnation/time fuckery and prior knowledge
4. Taking sexual advantage, of both plots and innocent characters. Also public gender relations, where you can see the author's preconceived bias seeping in

I either lose interest over time... or suddenly stop because of 4. I did feel gross for a week or two after stopping one.

As of now, the only obviously Chinese online webnovels that I read, are comedies with female protagonists. The Wuxia one I enjoy (that still has some sexual humor that can be hit or miss, and is more enjoyable if you know what other wuxia is often like) is My Disciple Died Yet Again.
posted by halifix at 10:47 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've bounced hard off most of the Chinese webnovels I've tried. Forty Millenniums of Cultivation is the only one I still read, although the licensed English translator is sadly inferior to the fan translator. The magitek universe and the obvious Warhammer 40k inspiration is part of it, but it's also the only xianxia story I've read where the problem of a society split between semi-immortal Cultivators and standard humans is addressed at all.
posted by dragoon at 12:22 PM on July 7, 2017

I love Jin Yong novels! I started reading them as a way of practicing/learning Chinese. They're quite good for intermediate Chinese learners; I've read 2 of the books in the Condor trilogy and am almost finished with the last book.

Reading these books, I actually think they were amazingly progressive for their time - keeping in mind they were written in 1950s Hong Kong. Female characters are as physically powerful and martially skilled (or even more so) than male characters. The female co-protagonist of the 1st book, Huang Rong, is way smarter than Guo Jing, and more than capable of taking care of herself. The 2nd book has the protagonist falling in love with his older teacher, which would have been pretty scandalous at the time (even somewhat today, Macron has raised more than a few eyebrows in the US). And I'm pretty sure all 3 books pass the Bechdel test.

For anyone who wants to read them in Chinese, I find the Pleco Reader is really really useful for this; it can convert any webpage into plaintext, and tapping to get definitions is super convenient. I don't know how anyone learning Chinese ever read anything without it.
posted by pravit at 6:40 PM on July 7, 2017

Why are English translations of Louis Cha novels so hard to get? Could the cheapest version of The Deer and The Cauldron (Book 1) really be $63?
posted by gwint at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2017

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