Yuan first gained attention with his role as Yang Kang in The Legend of the Condor Heroes (2008). His portrayal of the character, who was initially thought to be an antagonist as portrayed him in previous film and television adaptations, instead was reinterpreted as a morally ambiguous and romantic antihero, leaving a deep impression on many people. His earned widespread recognition with his role as the thirteenth prince in the hit time-slip historical drama, Scarlet Heart (2011).
Yuan earned positive acclaim for his performance in the period drama, Ordinary World (2015), based off the same novel by Lu Yi; and won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Ox Awards. He also won the Best Actor award at the Huading Awards for his role in the historical romance drama Singing All Along (2016) co-starring Ruby Lin.