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Xianxia (traditional Chinese: 仙俠; simplified Chinese: 仙侠; pinyin: xiānxiá; lit. 'immortal heroes') is a genre of Chinese fantasy heavily inspired by Chinese mythology and influenced by philosophies of Taoism, Chan Buddhism, Chinese martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese folk religion, Chinese alchemy, other traditional elements of Chinese culture,[1] and the wuxia genre.


The characters forming xianxia are xiān () and xiá (). A xian is a being from Chinese mythology, particularly from Taoist legends, that can be one or more of these things: a powerful spirit, a god, a zhenren (真人), and/or someone who has obtained immortality or extraordinary longevity through self-cultivation to become a transcendent being.

Xiá is usually translated as 'hero' or 'vigilante', but specifically implies a person who is brave, chivalrous, righteous and defiant.[1] The character was originally used as one of the characters in the word "wuxia and was transferred to the word xianxia to make it apparent that the modern xianxia genre was inspired by the popularity and several other elements, including powers gained from qi manipulation, of wuxia.


The stories usually revolve around the adventure/growth of a magical practitioner or a mortal person who gets entangled in supernatural affairs, and include elements such as gods and immortals, spirits, demons, ghosts and mythical creatures. These stories are usually "Chinese fantasy rooted in...Taoism, Buddhism", other Chinese mythological elements and tropes,[2] and shenmo fiction.


The xianxia genre also includes the popular subgenre known as "cultivation" or "training" (Chinese: 修炼/修煉; pinyin: xiūliàn; 修真; xiūzhēn; 'training to reach the "True" state'; 修行; xiūxíng; 'training as an ascetic monk'; 修仙; xiūxiān; 'training to become a xian (immortal)'. In the 21st century, this subgenre became popular with the advent of online publishing, with sites such as Qidian.com,[3] Zongheng.com, and 17k.com giving a platform for authors to reach wide audiences with high-volume, serialized content. It was popularized outside of China primarily by fan translations in the early 2000s. Novels such as Stellar Transformations, Coiling Dragon, Martial God Asura, and I Shall Seal the Heavens led to a boom in such fan translations.[4] This genre is also a staple of Chinese television shows, films, manhua (comics), donghua (animation), and games.

In these stories protagonists are usually "cultivators" or "practitioners" (修心者; xiūxīnzhě; 修士; xiūshì; or 修仙者; xiūxiānzhě) who seek to become immortal beings called xian. Along the way, they attain eternal life, supernatural powers, and incredible levels of strength. The fictional theme of cultivation or immortal arts practice in xianxia is heavily based on the real-life meditation practice of qigong.

Chinese xianxia web novels of the often contain action themes[5] and are one of the most popular genres among male readers[citation needed]. There are novels with stories featuring female cultivators gaining popularity that could be popular with female readers.[6]


There are many ancient Chinese texts that could be classified as xianxia, such as the Classic of Mountains and Seas from the Warring States period.[7] Xianxia novels were popularized during the Republic of China period, but it was the 1932 novel Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu that sparked the modern popularity of the genre.[8]

In the 2010s and 2020s, many wuxia and xianxia novels have discussed topics such as neoliberalism and alternatives to what is seen as a stagnant world order brought about by magic and/or religious organizations.[3]

Films and television[edit]

Perhaps one of the earliest successful xianxia films was the 1983 Hong Kong film Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, which was followed up by the 2001 film The Legend of Zu.[9]

Overall, television shows are more numerous than films when it comes to xianxia adaptations.[10]

Some of the most popular and successful Chinese TV series in recent times are of the xianxia genre, such as Ashes of Love, The Journey of Flower, Eternal Love, The Untamed, Love Between Fairy and Devil and Till The End Of The Moon.[11][12] It is worth noting these notable dramas are adapted from popular novels published on the website Jinjiang Literature City (晋江文学城). In addition, there are also dramas adapted from popular video games such as Chinese Paladin, Chinese Paladin 3 and Swords of Legends.[13] The already existing fandom of xianxia source material has led to increased exposure and anticipation.

Relationship with other genres[edit]

Xianxia is often compared to the wuxia (武侠; 'martial hero') genre, and the two share many similarities – both being set in a quasi-historical ancient China, featuring larger-than-life human protagonists, and struggles between good and evil. The main difference is that xianxia generally has much more metaphysical themes. The genre has a heavier focus on spiritual growth and mastery of superpowers, pursuit for eternal existence, fates and reincarnations, multiple realms of reality, and interaction with legendary creatures and spirits. Wuxia, by contrast, is grounded in the human world with few supernatural elements and mainly emphasizes martial arts, personal vendetta, treasure hunting, social justice,[3] radical politics,[3] and power struggles.

Other variants of similar Chinese high fantasy exist as well, such as shenmo (神魔), which generally refers high fantasy works that focuses more on deities, demons and other supernatural beings rather than humans; xuanhuan (玄幻; 'mysterious fantasy') generally refers to high-magic fantasy works that dispense with Taoist elements and have a less realistic setting; and qihuan (奇幻; 'strange fantasy' or 'exotic fantasy') are Chinese works set in a more explicitly Western-style fantasy setting, although generally keeping a Chinese mythological influence.[14]


As xianxia novels have become more popular worldwide, other genres have been influenced by it, such as Progression Fantasy and LitRPG, including authors such as Will Wight and Andrew Rowe who have written Cradle and Arcane Ascension, which draw on common themes found in xianxia.[better source needed][15][16]

In popular culture[edit]

Film and television[edit]

Video games[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "General Glossary of Terms". WuxiaWorld. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  2. ^ Nguyen, Deanna (13 December 2021). "Donghua Chinese Animation to Watch First on Funimation". Funimation Blog. Funimation. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d Ni, Zhange (2 January 2020). "Xiuzhen (Immortality Cultivation) Fantasy: Science, Religion, and the Novels of Magic/Superstition in Contemporary China". Religions. 11 (1): 25. doi:10.3390/rel11010025. hdl:10919/96386.
  4. ^ Yin, Yijun (15 October 2019). "The Chinese E-Publishers Making an Epic Journey to the West". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  5. ^ Chew, Matthew Ming-tak (2020). "Discovering the digital Stephen Chow: The transborder influence of Chow's films on the Chinese Internet in the 2010s". Global Media and China. 5 (2): 124–137. doi:10.1177/2059436420928058. ISSN 2059-4364.
  6. ^ "Xianxia Female Protagonist". Light Novels AI. 3 December 2023.
  7. ^ "没读《山海经》之前,我天真地以为它可能是一本讲山和海的小说". Sohu (in Chinese). 26 February 2021.
  8. ^ "《蜀山剑侠传》民国第一仙侠小说,金庸、古龙、萧鼎的启蒙老师". Sohu (in Chinese). 2 September 2018.
  9. ^ Rauscher, Andreas (2013). "Strange Hybrids from a Hong Kong Studio". In Ritzer, Ivo; Schulze, Peter W. (eds.). Genre Hybridisation: Global Cinematic Flow. Marburger Schriften zur Medienforschung. Vol. 44. Marburg: Schüren. pp. 265–266. doi:10.5771/9783741000416-265. ISBN 978-3-89472-863-2.[verification needed]
  10. ^ "Popularity and Future of Xianxia Fantasy Dramas Assessed at TV Forum". stvf.com. Shanghai Television Festival. 9 June 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  11. ^ "随着《三生三世十里桃花》的爆火,他们也红了!". Sohu (in Chinese). 10 February 2017.
  12. ^ "2023第一仙侠《长月烬明》屡破纪录,优酷"仙侠剧第一厂牌"实至名归". Sohu (in Chinese). 9 April 2023.
  13. ^ "仙侠剧《仙剑奇侠传三》好看吗?主演胡歌的演技如何呢". Netease (in Chinese). 7 April 2018.
  14. ^ Bai, Jeremy (2020). Understanding Chinese Fantasy Genres: A primer for wuxia, xianxia, and xuanhuan. Independently published. ISBN 979-8577559489.
  15. ^ Salao, Cole (20 July 2021). "Xianxia: Your Guide to Cultivation Fantasy". TCK Publishing. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  16. ^ Rowe, Andrew (26 February 2019). "Progression Fantasy – A New Subgenre Concept". Andrew Rowe. Retrieved 8 March 2024.