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.)
Favorite Historical Drama: The Story of Ming Lan
There are so many historical dramas that take place in the palace, so this story about the children of officials was a nice change. I loved how smart Ming Lan is, and although initially I was skeptical of Zhao Liying in the role, she was great. The male lead is Zhao Liying’s now-husband Feng Shaofeng, and there’s a happy ending (yay!). (Available on Viki & YouTube.)
Favorite Romantic Comedy: My Girlfriend is an Alien
With a science fiction twist, My Girlfriend is an Alien was charming and fun. Wan Peng shines as the titular alien, managing to be likable instead of cringe-inducing. Aside from an alien trying to adapt to human life, there’s also childhood trauma, kidnapping, and a talking turtle. (Available on YouTube.)
Honorable Mention: Lucky’s First Love (aka The World Owes Me A First Love) is about a gaming startup CEO and his first employee. Having known each other for so long, they’re slow to realize that they have feelings for each other. The leads are cute together but the reason I didn’t enjoy this more is because it stressed me out how many other characters are obstacles for their relationship. (Available on Viki.)
Honorable Mention: Put Your Head On My Shoulder is about true college students who become roommates due to their mothers being friends. As they each pursue their interests and careers, they fall for each other. It started out really great, but in the latter half I found their failure to communicate to be extremely frustrating. (Available on Viki, Netflix, and YouTube.)
Favorite Romantic Drama: Unrequited Love
Unrequited Love is also set in college, but offers a maturity and thoughtfulness that I didn’t see in Put Your Head On My Shoulder. The female lead has had a crush on the male lead for many years, but they don’t meet until college. There are many different threads about relationships. This drama made me laugh and moved me. (Available on Netflix.)
Honorable Mention: I loved the two main characters in Crocodile and Plover Bird, and the way their relationship grows. It’s nice to see a pair who support each other’s dreams. The downside to this drama is that the first couple episodes are slightly cringe-y and there are a lot of action parts due to a mysterious party trying to sabotage the male lead’s scientific project. There’s also a side couple that is realistic but also somewhat frustrating to watch. Also, I hadn’t seen Chen Bolin since the 2011 Taiwanese drama In Time With You, and I forgot how much I liked him as an actor! (Available on Viki & YouTube.)
Favorite Youth-to-Adulthood Drama: Le Coup de Foudre
What I mean by ‘youth-to-adulthood’ is that this drama follows our main characters from their high school years through their early post-college years. The smart, serious male lead & not-so-smart female lead dynamic is one of my least favorites, but Janice Wu’s Qiao Yi is kind-hearted and determined, and it’s clear that Zhang Yujian’s Yan Mo likes her. The four supporting characters were also all fun to watch. (Available on Viki & YouTube.)
Most Dramatic: To Be With You
Holy moly, are you looking for DRAMA? Family secrets, murder, kidnapping… To Be With You is wild and addictive. The first half was great, as I loved seeing Mei Ya and Ou Yang fall in love, but the latter half just became a series of twists and turns. I’d still recommend it though, because it was very entertaining. (Available on YouTube, but no English subtitles. I recapped episodes 44-65 but the images may be incorrect/missing due to site issues from a while back.)
Most Tragic: Goodbye, My Princess
Although I didn’t totally love Goodbye, My Princess, Peng Xiao Ran was charming as the titular princess who is a doomed to the tragic fate of marrying the very person who destroyed her family. When she discovers the truth, it’s a heart-wrenching, difficult situation for the once-bubbly and spirited princess. (Director’s Cut available on Viki, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube.)
Favorite Family-Centric Drama: All Is Well
I clearly primarily watch idol/young adult dramas, and only watched All Is Well because my parents wanted to. This drama is about three adult siblings taking care of their elderly father after their mother passes away. The oldest brother lives in America and hasn’t been back in many years, the other brother was always favored by their mother, and the their sister, is estranged from the family. I felt like this drama gave me a better understanding of the older generation. However, the sister has a substantial business/work-related storyline that I was sometimes bored of. (Available on YouTube.)
Worst Drama of 2019: Well Intended Love
This is on Netflix and I absolutely do not recommend it. Although it begins with promise, there is a twist to the story that I absolutely cannot condone. It’s manipulative and disturbing, and made it impossible for me to root for a relationship between the two main characters. I dropped the drama shortly after the twist when the actions that followed the reveal continued to be appalling.
What was your favorite drama of 2019? Did I miss out on a drama that you loved? Let me know in the comments!