I can’t remember when exactly I started getting into Chinese internet novels. I’ve been watching Asian dramas for years, and I think I started learning about Chinese novels around the time when Bu Bu Jing Xing was popular back in 2011 and I dug around the internet for novel translations (and failed to find ’em). I think I really got into it two years ago or less, back when I was still in Singapore. I’m already a fan of period stories, movies and dramas so I very easily joined the world of fan translations. I love being immersed in different cultures and different worlds. It doesn’t matter if it’s Western or Asian. I consume them as fast as I consume chocolate bars, sometimes unhealthily.
A lot of the stories that I’ve read have a mix of xianxia, Chinese folk lore, romance, history, and fantasy (time travel has been very popular especially around the time of Bu Bu Jing Xin). Because they are fan-translated, it brings me back to high school when licensed English-translated manga were rare and I hung around IRC downloading fan scanlations (scanned translations). Things made by fans bring more fans together so there’s a great community around novel translations — enough for me to recognize names of popular translators who’ve been pursuing this passion around 2014 or earlier. It’s also very easy to pick up some abbreviations people in the community use:
- HE – Happy Ending: this is very helpful when looking for my next read because there are a lot of stories that are just so tragic. Sometimes I just don’t want my heart twisted and pinched after a long, busy day, you know?
- MC – Main Character: all the stories I read have female protagonists. With the exception of Ever Night, I read female-centric stories exclusively.
- ML – Main Lead: a number of stories also have reverse harem. Sometimes readers want to know who the Main Lead is so they can safely pick the right ship to jump. Shipping wars in the novel community aren’t intense like shipping wars in the K-drama community because the ML is usually easier to spot. Second Lead Syndrome is quite rare, but! but there are a few stories where I half-shipped for the second lead, heh.
- BL / GL / GB – Boy’s Love, Girl’s Love, Girl/Boy: relationship types, depending on your interest. I’m into heterosexual stories so…I can only name GB novels.
The xianxia elements of the stories make it very creative and different from the usual fantasy stories I’ve read in the past. Humans, spirits, and gods exist in different realms but within similar worlds. There’s a concept of cultivation to achieve immortality, trials to gain more strength, and sometimes there are rules to abide by (i.e. forbidden love between a teacher and his/her disciple). There’s a glossary to know these terms individually, but it’s pleasant to learn them just through world-building in different novels.
I’ve never talked to anyone much about this not-so-secret interest of mine, until a good friend asked me what I was doing on Christmas. We have similar tastes so I was super excited to share that I did nothing but read Chinese novels, hahaha, then proceeded to ask if she wanted recommendations. I would’ve sent her links to novels even if she said no anyway!
(I was just super ecstatic to bring at least one soul to my dark side.)
I started my recommendations with stories that progressively went longer because it might be hard to justify reading 50 chapters when you’re not sure it’s your type of thing yet. These are some of my favorite shorter stories; the plots are simple without political intrigue. They’re just good stories overall, not too deep but not shallow either. The characters leave me a deep impression despite the simple plot, usually because of their loyalty or patience or strength in character.
Our Second Master – It’s a story of second chances, and it’s very short (7 chapters). It’s a story of character growth from the point of view of the protagonist, although the protagonist stays constant / the same throughout the story.
Sansheng, Death Exists Not at the River of Oblivion by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang – This is a lovely short xianxia story. Sansheng, a stone spirit, tries to seduce the God Of War in his 3 lifetimes in the human world as part of his tribulation. Her story is simple but touching, and I’ve re-read this more than twice already.
Mulberry Song by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang – Only 4 chapters short, it’s a story about two people and sacrifices made to win a kingdom. Hm, I could describe this as bittersweet with some angst, and their story is explored bit by bit through some flashbacks.
More than 10 chapters
Seven Unfortunate Lifetimes All Due to a Moment of Impulse – Somewhat similar, but very different, from Sansheng’s story. Xiao Xiang Zi and Chu Kong are like oil and water and are eventually punished to spend 7 lifetimes in the human realm together. Some of the lifetimes have really gut me, but there are a lot of funny and cute moments as well.
My Mister Ostrich by 含胭 – With around 100+ chapters, it’s a long coming of age story of two kids: Gu Mingxi and Pang Qian. An accident during their childhood cost Gu Mingxi his arms, so he had a lot of difficulty growing up. Because of this, the story isn’t exactly a light read but Gu Mingxi and Pang Qian experienced so much growth, starting from their carefree childhood to the complexities of adulthood. The original translator’s site is down, but you can google the novel title and there will be a number of links with the English copy of the novel.
Heavy Sweetness Ash-Like Frost by Dian Xian – This xianxia novel has a very popular drama adaptation, Ashes of Love. Jin Mi has been fed by the Unfeeling Pill by her mother before her mother died and was imprisoned within Shui Jing for ten thousand years to prevent her from a predestined fate. But only four thousand years passed when the Phoenix Fire Deity accidentally entered Shui Jing, thus triggering a series of events that would lead Jin Mi to her destiny. There’s a lot about the drama version that I preferred, but the novel adds an extra layer to some of the characters (mainly Night, the Phoenix Fire Deity’s brother). With less than 30 chapters, this is a good read especially if you’re keen to check out the drama.
Journey of Flower by Fresh Guo Guo (chapters 1-91, subsequent chapters) – with 139 chapters, this is quite an epic story about Hua Qian’gu and her master, Bai Zihua. This is a tragic romance that has the classic tropes: powerful but cold male lead, easy to root for female lead, and reverse harem, haha. I don’t think the story is very deep — Hua Qian’gu for one was victim of infatuation at first sight. But the main characters were written in a compelling way, and Bai Zihua is such a complex and sometimes frustrating character. Because Bai Zihua has a strong sense of responsibility to the world, he could not love Hua Qian’gu. A teacher/disciple relationship is forbidden to begin with, but Hua Qian’gu nevertheless gives and sacrifices for her shifu (teacher). But tragedy isn’t tragedy if their story isn’t laced with misunderstandings and regrets. Hua Qian’gu is as unwavering and loyal to her shifu as he is to the world. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, so I might just pick it up again sometime soon. This is hard to recommend because the translations are a mix of chapter summaries and direct translations, with missing chapters near the end. It might be best to read this while watching the drama at the same time to fill the gaps.
Long breaks like forced leaves imposed by employers during Christmas Holidays *cough* is a good time to marathon novels. I can stay in bed all day just reading, heh. I have a shorter list of modern stories that I could recommend, and a few novels that I’m waiting for translations to finish. Because it takes time and dedication to translate from Mandarin to English, I have the deepest respect for translators who are doing these passion projects. Some of them simply love the author’s work so much that they want to make it available for more people so fans could talk about their favorite characters together. Some use it as a way to improve their Chinese as well, which is tough and just amazing! I’ve wanted to learn some Mandarin myself because of this, since a lot of the novels are available as audio books, but I lack the dedication to learn so I’ve been relying on these translations instead.
I’ll probably make another list for modern stories at a later time. But for now, happy reading!