I watched over 20 Chinese dramas that aired in 2019, and these are my recommendations. I’ve included links to where you can watch these dramas with English subtitles.
Favorite Drama of the Year: Joy of Life
With an intricate plot, Joy of Life balances humor and wit with intensity and emotion. Zhang Ruoyun stars as Fan Xian, who somehow has modern-day knowledge. When he is summoned to the capital for an arranged marriage, he gets pulled into court politics despite his intention to live a carefree life. A historical drama has never made me laugh so hard while also keeping me guessing. 100% recommend, and I’m eagerly awaiting the second season. (Available on Viki & YouTube.)
Most Popular Dramas: Go Go Squid! and The Untamed
These were both immensely popular and very solid dramas.
I didn’t expect a drama about cybersecurity competitions to be so fun, but Li Xian was perfect in Go Go Squid! as the driven, serious, and socially awkward boss of Team K&K. This is a drama about pursuing your dream, and I loved how his relationship with his former teammates and his mentorship of his young Team K&K members were a major part of the story. I actually felt that his relationship with Yang Zi’s character was the weakest part of the drama. (Available on Viki & YouTube.)
The Untamed was SO popular that I had to check it out, and I quickly understood why. Xiao Zhan is magnetic as the carefree and kind-hearted Wei Wuxian, and Wang Yibo is lovable as the stoic, principled Lan Wangji. The bond between them is deeply moving, and their theme song makes me want to weep every time I hear it. I did think there was a stretch from around episode 30-40 where the story was too slow. (Available on Viki, Netflix, and YouTube.)
I’m calling this a “first impressions” post but I’ve actually watched all 20 episodes of Rebirth of Shopping Addict that have aired so far, which is exactly half. I’ve been watching on YouTube without subtitles but it looks like it’s being subtitled on this channel. This is the first 2020 drama I’m watching because I’m always on the lookout for a fun rom-com.
Note: there are no spoilers in this post! Anything mentioned is in the trailer, or is a minor detail.
First of all, the first two episodes are fairly cringey. The premise of this drama is that Gao Yang is a spoiled and privileged young woman with a shopping addiction who suddenly finds herself alone and penniless when her father’s company goes bankrupt and he flees the country. Gao Yang is played by Meng Ziyi, who you may recognize from last year’s extremely-popular drama The Untamed, and I credit her with being a major reason I kept watching despite the initial cringeyness.
Meng Ziyi is charming and likable, but her character Gao Yang sometimes drives me crazy. On one hand, I love the storylines where Gao Yang comes up with creative ideas, shows how diligently she can work, and enthusiastically faces any challenges that are thrown at her. Once she loses her wealth, she realizes that her entire life has centered around it and must find her independence, confidence, and talents. But on the other hand, this isn’t a true riches-to-rags story because things quickly work out for Gao Yang and she continues to make questionable financial decisions.
Also known as The World Owes Me A First Love, this 24-episode modern drama is available with English subtitles on Viki. It stars Xing Zhao Lin, best known for The Eternal Love, as Xia Ke, the CEO of a gaming startup, and Bai Lu, best known for The Legends and Arsenal Military Academy, as Xing Yun, the startup’s first employee.
I like that this drama doesn’t begin with our two leads meeting, but after they’ve worked together for a couple years. Since they already know each other so well, Lucky’s First Love is about overcoming familiarity and realizing that you’ve fallen in love with someone who is already by your side.
That being said, it takes quite some time for the romance between Xia Ke and Xing Yun to develop. In the beginning (and this is not a spoiler since it the storyline happens immediately), Xing Yun dates someone else and since it’s her first time dating, she’s not familiar with what to expect. There are huge red flags that she rationalizes due to her lack of experience. I was cringing so hard. Then almost immediately afterward this storyline, there’s another “obstacle” between her and Xing Yun, and it was even worse. Although most reviewers called this drama “light and fluffy” it actually stressed me out because I was waiting so long for them to get together.
However, I did for the most part enjoy the supporting characters and there were a lot of humorous moments. Although Xing Zhao Lin’s acting isn’t always that great, and Bai Lu’s wig gets a little annoying (it just drives me crazy that she has that center braid hairstyle the entire way through!), I thought the two of them had good chemistry and I loved their scenes together.
If you haven’t watched this drama, here’s the trailer:
Additional thoughts with some minor spoilers follow!
Mountains and Ocean aired in September 2019 and stars Zhuang Da Fei (aka Sabrina Zhuang) as Xia Rui Ning, a girl from a rich family and Ma Xin Yu as Shen Zhen, the daughter of a woman who works for the Xia family, who pays for her tuition to the same university. There is a bitter rivalry between the two of them. Huang Sheng Chi and Fan Zhi Xin also star as two brothers, Ye Lin and Ye Miao; Rui Ning has a crush on one brother, while the other falls in love with her. This drama is available with English subtitles on YouTube.
I knew this drama had a love triangle (kind of a square, actually)—and even worse, with two brothers involved. I was curious though, so I skimmed through episode 1 and 5, and then skipped to 10 and watched to the end (episode 24).
The dramatic first scene should have told me everything I needed to know about this drama. In his car, Ye Miao pulls up to a stop in front of the gate of his family’s mansion right before he would have hit Rui Ning, who is standing there with her luggage. Then the drama rewinds to the events of six years ago. It’s clear from this opening scene that this is not a lighthearted romantic comedy. From what I saw, the love triangle was handled well, and the worst part of this drama is the irredeemable second female lead, Shen Zhen. It’s pretty obvious which brother Rui Ning falls in love with, and I thought their scenes together were cute. The other brother is also likable and doesn’t become an evil, jealous schemer.
However, the final four episodes take an extremely melodramatic turn. If you’re curious, I have recapped the final episodes below.
Deng Lun & Li Yi Tong’s new drama, also known as Begonia Rouge, is already on Prime Video! This Republican era drama is currently airing & concludes in December. » Watch Blossom in Heart on Prime Video
Legend of Yun Xi (2018)
This historical drama was one of my favorites last year, with one of my favorite heroines ever. Yun Xi (played by Ju Jing Yi) is smart, generous, and skilled with treating poisons. Her arranged marriage with Zhang Zhe Han’s character blossoms into true love. » Watch Legend of Yun Xi on Prime Video
The Disguiser (2015)
I don’t watch these Republican era spy dramas but if I did, I’d pick this one starring Hu Ge, Wang Kai, and several other familiar faces from Nirvana in Fire (my favorite drama of all time). » Watch The Disguiser on Prime Video
Love Better Than Immortality (2019)
Here’s a recent historical fantasy drama starring Zhao Lu Si from I Hear You and Oh! My Emperor and Li Hong Yi from Master Devil Do Not Kiss Me. (They also starred together in another drama this year called Prodigy Healer.) There’s a time travel aspect to the plot, as well as a love triangle. » Watch Love Better Than Immortality on Prime Video
Love Under The Moon (2019)
This 48-episode modern drama starring Victoria Song and Ou Hao seems slow, angsty, and sad… » Watch Love Under The Moon on Prime Video
Our Glamorous Time (2018)
I don’t actually recommend this one and dropped it at episode 25. It also seems that Amazon is missing the last 10 episodes (for a total of 50). This drama about the business partnership and romance between a sharp soldier and a talented fashion designer seemed promising initially but became nonsensical and convoluted. » Watch Our Glamorous Time on Prime Video
I’m pleasantly surprised by The Love by Hypnotic, a historical romance web drama currently airing on Tencent (concluding next week on November 13). The first few episodes had me laughing out loud non-stop, and I have reached episode 15 (out of 36) in just a few days. I’m watching on YouTube with English subtitles via Tencent Video. If you’re looking for a fun romance-centered historical drama, definitely give The Love by Hypnotic a try!
Li Ming Yue (played by Ling Mei Shi) is a princess from Xiyue who is brought to Beixuan to marry Li Qian (played by Alen Fang), a prince. Li Ming Yue has the ability of hypnosis, and after using it on Li Qian, he discovers that he is able to recover lost memories from his childhood.
For a historical drama, the plot so far has been very focused on their romance. Ming Yue is playful and spirited, in opposition to Li Qian’s calm and serious demeanor and their interactions are so fun to watch. Yes, I’ve seen so many dramas recently with cold/stony male leads, but I don’t consider Li Qian one of them because he does show emotions. (Also, the sleepwalking is hilarious.)
This was such a fun drama and despite some flaws, is one of my favorites of 2019.
The summary I’ve seen for My Girlfriend is an Alien makes it sound so bizarre but the basic premise is: the female lead, Chai Xiao Qi, is an alien who gets stuck on Earth unintentionally and needs to get her homing device back from the male lead, Fang Leng, a CEO who happens to suffer from a specific kind of amnesia that causes him to forget the women in his life when it rains.
Wan Peng and Hsu Thassapak were so great as the leads and had a lot of chemistry. I thought Wan Peng really pulled off the clueless boy-crazy alien without being annoying. (Maybe a hint of cringeyness at times, but overall I thought she was endearing!) They had plenty of cute moments and kissing scenes, and I laughed so hard when Xiao Qi kept trying to touch his chest. I really loved that this story wasn’t instalove for her (just instalust, lol), and she approached everything with a positive attitude.
I’ve seen a lot of Chinese dramas added to Amazon Prime Video this year, but it seems difficult to actually find them so I’ve put together this list of some notable dramas I’ve stumbled across on the site. There are a good number of dramas from this year & the past three years! (Please note: all Amazon links in this post are my affiliate links.)
Heavy Sweetness (2018)
More commonly known as Ashes of Love or Heavy Sweetness, Ash-like Frost, this very pastel-heavy & hugely popular fantasy romance drama stars Yang Zi, Deng Lun, and Luo Yunxi. » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
This fantasy adventure drama spans multiple kingdoms & a very large cast of characters. Yang Mi was great as usual, but I found Ethan Juan a real scene-stealer with his cunning & charm. » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Love Me, If You Dare (2015)
Wallace Huo plays a criminal psychologist with a very high IQ but low EQ, who falls in love with his assistant, played by Sandra Ma, while solving some very violent cases. A must-watch for fans of crime thrillers! » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (2018)
Another Wallace Huo drama! I actually haven’t watched this, because it came out around the same time as The Story of Yanxi Palace, which kind of tells the same story but from a different perspective. I loved Yanxi Palace SO much that I just can’t root for Ruyi. » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
In Youth (2019)
Here’s a 2019 modern drama for you, about a group of young adults pursuing careers and love. The two leads, played by Zhang Yun Long and Qiao Xin, work at a PR firm. I loved the male lead’s tight-knit group of friends but I did skim through the middle portion of this drama. (Aside from Qiao Xin, the main cast are all rising stars in Yang Mi’s entertainment company, Jaywalk Studio.) » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
The Legend of Haolan (2019)
If you fell in love with Wu Jinyan after The Story of Yanxi Palace, this is her follow-up historical drama which I have heard great things about! I haven’t watched it yet because when it came out, I was still recovering from Yanxi Palace. » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Legend of Dragon Pearl (2017)
I confess that I’m not a huge Yang Zi fan but I actually liked her in this drama! Qin Jun Jie stars as the male lead and I thought they had great chemistry (also, they dated in real life). » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
The Flame’s Daughter (2018)
I didn’t finish watching this drama and I can’t remember why, but I was very intrigued by the pairing of Dilraba Dilmurat and Vic Chou (who I will always think of as Hua Ze Lei from Meteor Garden). The supporting cast is great and includes Vin Zhang and Liu Rui Lin (a lot of Jaywalk Studio faces here). » Watch on Amazon Prime Video
Conspiracy of Love is a 2019 iQiyi web drama consisting of 24-episodes. I previously wrote a recap of episodes 1-3. This is a suspense/mystery drama with a twist.
My immediate reaction upon finishing this drama was: wow, what did I just watch?? But not in the good way.
I really liked the first 9 episodes. When the story seemed to be about the female lead trying to uncover the truth/get revenge using all kinds of methods and entering a partnership with the male lead, it was enjoyable. They were an even, balanced match—both smart and driven, with their own goals. I thought they were a pretty cute pair. The male lead’s best friend is also a fun, kind-hearted character.
But after episode 9, the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and nonsensical. There are so many different people involved, their motives were murky (I never did understand Xia Yu Xuan), and a certain aspect was pretty far-fetched. From episodes 13-21, the plot just kept going back and forth with no progress, and then in episodes 22-23, the characters finally just flat-out explain everything. Even the final episode was disappointing; I was hoping for some fun scenes to reward me for getting through 23 episodes of ridiculousness. If you are watching for the romance, you’ll be especially frustrated. *sigh*
Note: On iQiyi, this drama is separated into two seasons of 12 episodes each.
I started watching the currently-airing web drama My Girlfriend is an Alien because I’m always curious about storylines involving aliens, and I am LOVING it. I have watched through episode 16 and despite things getting a tad repetitive in episodes 9-12, I’m still really enjoying it. The female lead is so charming, and since she’s not familiar with human norms you can’t really fault her for her behavior. There are so many scenes of her touching the male lead’s chest, lol.
The official translated summary is somewhat confusing, but the basic premise is that Chai Xiaoqi (played by Wan Peng) is an alien who gets stuck on Earth after she’s attracted by Fang Leng’s (played by Hsu Thassapak) hormones and saves him from a car explosion, becoming separated from her spaceship and losing her communication device in the process. In order to get the device back, she seeks him out. Fang Leng is a capable CEO who secretly suffers from a psychological condition that causes him to forget the women he’s met when it rains, and he enlists Chai Xiaoqi for help in treating his condition.
The other major characters include Chai Xiaoqi’s boss, who takes her in, and Fang Leng’s younger half-brother Fang Lie, who becomes a close friend of Xiaoqi’s. (If you watched Fall in Love, you’ll recognize Fang Lie! He’s played by the same actor who played An Yue Sheng. I feel like his acting has improved in this drama.) There’s also Fang Leng’s assistant and his doctor, his father and stepmother, and an old flame seeking to get back together with him. Oh, and Xiaoqi has a talking turtle.