Wuxia, Xianxia, and Other Stories

So rather than anime, lately I’ve been spending a lot of my leisure time reading Chinese web novels, Korean, and very occasionally, Japanese light novels. For some strange reason that I’m nonetheless grateful for, there’s an entire cottage industry around people taking donations to translate these posts from the Chinese (or Korean/Japanese) into more-or-less English. Of course, if they’re not Chinese, they’re not Wuxia or Xianxia, two terms which I’d never heard of before I started reading them. Full definitions and a lot more can be found on WuxiaWorld, but the short version is that Wuxia is “low fantasy:” it literally means “Martial Heroes”. Fictional stories about regular humans who can achieve supernatural fighting ability through Chinese martial arts training and internal energy cultivation. Xianxia is “high fantasy:” it literally means “Immortal Heroes”. Fictional stories featuring magic, demons, ghosts, immortals, and a great deal of Chinese folklore/mythology. Xuanhuan is more fairy-tale (though darker); it literally means “Mysterious Fantasy”. A broad genre of fictional stories which remixes Chinese folklore/mythology with foreign elements & settings.

Having ignored the website (except for hurricane blogging) for months now, I’m finally going to write a few reviews of the stories I’ve been reading. Bear in mind that the Chinese stories are extremely formulaic. Some are little more than collections of tropes peculiar to the form. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the hero will be:

  1. Male (well, there are romance and other stories, but we’re talking about the heroic stuff here)x
  2. Considered trash by most of his clan, or the village.
  3. Lucks into fortune that changes his fate.
  4. Part of a world where everyone advances through “cultivation” (meditation, battle, and/or magical alchemy/medicine)
  5. Keeps having incredible coincidences that favor him.
  6. Have a rule-breaking power that makes him able to fight over his level
  7. Be faced by a succession of ever-more powerful opponents
  8. If about to be defeated, always lucks out/survives in some way
  9. Live on planets with a surface area the bigger than the sun
  10. Measured by an exacting system with ranks and names for each level — which will change whenever the author wants it to.
  11. Wanted by all the women (well, that could just be the stories I’ve selected)
  12. Probably reincarnated from our world.

That’s not all. The stories tend to be rather violent, with people fighting to the death at the drop of a hat, even the teenagers (way different from wussy power-of-friendship Japanese heroes!). Some of the worst offending authors must have depopulated their worlds. (Well, actually one did. Several times.) Others merely depopulate the leaders; one just offed about a thousand top experts in the world, but don’t worry, plenty more to be found. Enemies seem to have a limited repertoire: They viciously attack and when tables get turned by the hero, they accuse him of being the aggressor. “Are you seeking death?” “You brat, how dare you!” “I, your father, will teach you not to be so bold!” etc. etc. Logic plays little part, and if the hero actually has to be the evil aggressor, then the author makes sure it’s clear that the targets deserve it. Oh, and the hero’s women are always the hottest babes ever; each one more beautiful than the others. I can’t explain it; I’m rolling my eyes as I read this stuff, and yet read it I do. It’s the textual equivalent of Nartuo, except the quality isn’t as high. And it’s a lot more violent. And sometimes there’s sex.

So, onto specific stories below the fold…

Battle Through The Heavens: The absolute winner for worst trope abuser. Xiao Yan is at first a transplant from modern Earth, but the author dropped this quickly. He starts out at the third level of the lowest grade, having regressed from the ninth level. His fiancee disowns him, shortly after which he finds that the ghost in the heirloom ring from his mother has been responsible for his fall — and will now lead him to a meteoric rise. Currently over 1400 chapters. Xiao has left a dozen beauties in his wake, married one, and has his true love waiting, while a third is happy to just follow him around pining, and a fourth hero-worships him. Invariably, whatever Xiao Yan’s level, no matter how high, opponents just a little higher start falling from the sky. This is the story that killed a thousand top experts in a single battle, yet within a few chapters it starts raining even higher powered experts. Since after all, the hero advanced, he needs a new tier of opposition.

Heavenly Jewel Change: Possibly the best harem, because it’s been kept small. Though it’s less than 200 chapters so far; let’s give Zhou Weiquing time. His luck was being a spin-off from the author’s prior series. A major battle (from another series) in which a monster barely escaped across dimensions caused it to enter Zhou’s world and merge with him, lying half-dead because his fiancee tried to kill him in a rage (what is it with these bitchy women ending marriage agreements?). Then he lucks into a method of cultivating that’s so dangerous, only he can do it. Thus starts the rise of the most shameless, perverted (i.e.: woman-chasing) hero, with a mission to rise to the top — and drag his tiny home empire with him. Some humor, especially involving his shamelessness with women. Also, the power rankings, attributes, and classes are fairly unique within this genre. Two people nominally at the same level could be completely mismatched based on how their attributes interact and are reinforced by their magical skills.

Everyone Else is a Returnee: One of the top-rated stories on the web; it’s actually a Korean web novel. Yoo Il Han is the ultimate loner, because people just don’t notice him. He’s so un-noticeable that even God overlooks him when removing all of humanity to other worlds because of an oncoming magical upheaval and time stoppage. Because he got left behind — and isn’t aging, God sends a guardian angel to watch over him on Earth. Only things go wrong, instead of a ten year time stop, it becomes 1000 years, and having nothing better to do, Il Han masters every skill on Earth. Every. Single. One. Then everyone comes back — along with magic, and invasions of magical creatures. The ultimate invisible skill-master warrior becomes the linchpin of, first Korea’s, and then the world’s defense as four cosmic factions vie for control of our reality. The harem is quite platonic for hundreds of chapters — he’s not dense, he’s just… avoiding the subject, and not all the romance turns out the way one expects. There’s a great deal of humor in this series, and tropes are followed, lamp-shaded, mocked, or shredded, constantly. Slapstick humor is often a part, but in the background. Be warned, if you’re a serious practicing Christian, this story, and it’s unique mythology, are not for you.

I Shall Seal the Heavens Total of 1614 chapters, and the only one in this list that’s complete. Epic scale adventure spanning — well, that would give the ending away. Meng Hao just wants to be a scholar and enter the Imperial Service. Forcibly kidnapped into a somewhat brutal cult, he meets a beautiful, but cold senior initiate with whom his life becomes intertwined in a slow romance that lasts centuries. This is probably the single best of the Chinese novels I’ve read, because the author didn’t slavishly follow most of the tropes. Some, but more often I predicted certain events, only to be surprised when the author went in an entirely different direction. Although the story is divided into ten “books” in reality each seems to follow three major arcs in his life. Meng Hao does not win every fight — he loses very badly at times, and while he has great fortune, he also suffers great tragedy. Given that every chapter is from 2,000 to 5,000 characters (in Chinese) long, it’s going to take Robert Jordan levels of commitment to get through it. I have no intention of going back and re-reading it, but it was definitely worth the once-through. Also, this author is rather prolific. Like Asimov’s later Foundation stories, this one serves to unify several other universes previously written. (One of which is still underway: Renegade Immortal.)

Reincarnation Of The Strongest Sword Underway, about 160+ chapters so far, and I have no intention of reading it whatsoever. Advertised as a blatant rip-off of SAO, with the names changed, it even uses Kirito and Asuna on the cover art. Well, that might be the translator doing it, and the blurb attached to it has changed to play down the SAO angle. I don’t know. Pass.

World of Warcraft: Foreign Realm Domination: Another I haven’t read, but I’m listing here because of the hilarity of Chinese disregard for IP rights. “Xiao Yu who was a student in the modern earth accidentally trespasses to another world and becomes a lord of a territory. Facing unfavorable situation, he vows to take back family business, build his new territory, kill all those who covet his wealth and dominate the world!” It actually has absolutely nothing to do with WoW, but hey — name! Sucker readers!

Harry Potter and the Secret Treasure: Also unread– see above. Nothing to do with Harry himself, but it is essentially a Potter fanfic. “To put it simply, it’s about a teenager named Ivan Mason, who reincarnated into the magical world of Harry Potter and goes to school at Hogwarts!” So I guess China has Marty Stus as well.

Beauty and the Bodyguard: Modern day, but with touches of Wuxia. Ok, lets translate it like this: Souske Sagara as a mystic bodyguard to super-rich bitches Tessa and her best friend Kaname. Except Tessa’s a classic angry tsundere and Kaname likes throwing matches onto gasoline. Oh, and while going back to look up Tessa’s name, I read that a fourth FMP series is in the works for 2018. Nice! Oh, these books. No, Lin Yi, the Souske-equivalent is just as dense but too OP vs. the opposition. Who, frankly, took stupid pills. Lots of them.

Release that Witch: Another reincarnation across worlds, approaching 600 chapters. If you ever read The Cross-Time Engineer series, you might like this one. Unfortunately it is a far weaker entry in the genre. Roland Wimbledon (ex-Chinese Earther) has to out-develop and out-grow his rivals for the throne, in time to defeat a demon invasion that will destroy all the human countries. I think the writing is better at showing the technical impediments to creating a modern society out of a medieval one (though it’s dependent on the witches, a point-source failure waiting to happen), but it’s far, far worse in the social and political sphere. Such is understandable, as it’s coming from within China. The author obviously has to portray nobles as bad (hence replacement of one by the protagonist; a good drone of the not-really-Communist-Hive), ignore any political plurality or impulse to self-rule, and promote the creation of public welfare and civic spirit through essentially capitalistic means (where is all this money coming from???). What’s Roland’s succession plan? He deliberately develops a relationship with a woman who cannot give him children, so no inheritance of his Kingly title. This doesn’t resemble any large communist nation in east Asia led by a single person, not at all. /sarc Also, the geography of this land is just impossible. One thing though, intrigue is rife, and the backstory has some surprising turns in it. Semi-obvious: Show ▼

I can’t help but feel that the magic in this world exists solely to be the protaganist’s “rule-breaker” ability.

Well, i was going to add some more, but I’m feeling poorly (missing a lot of work), so I’m just going to end it here.

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4 Responses to Wuxia, Xianxia, and Other Stories

  1. Mauser says:

    That’s a LOT of chapters! (I assume they’re fairly short).

    In a way, it sounds a lot like another Genre that is selling hugely on Amazon called “LitRPG” And it’s exactly what it says on the tin. some are more explicit than others, but there’s stats and rules and such inherent in the settings.

  2. Ubu Roi says:

    Well, I said 2-5,000 Chinese characters, but what the translator said was two to five thousand words. Since that’s effectively the same thing after translation, a 1,500 chapter novel averaging 3,500 words/chapter would be 5,250,000 words. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series averaged 700k each, IIRC.

    The difference is, Robert Jordan and most Western authors polish their work; these guys just churn it out and if they make a mistake, or find they need to retcon something, enh. Hence the constant use and abuse of tropes.

    I’m not sure what the financial impetus is on the Chinese side, but I checked the Patreon page of one translator, thinking I’d throw him a few bucks. According to the monthly pledge levels, he’s making $40,000. Not per annum. Per. Month. He apparently has the approval and assistance of the author, though he’s said nothing I’m aware of on financial arrangements.

  3. Mauser says:

    Good god! I sure hope the author is bringing in that kind of cash too! Is this the only thing the Translator is working on?

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