by Cho Na, October 22, 2021
337

INTRODUCTION

A while back, my fellow MDLer and co-writer MattPeddlesden wrote the article 10 Most Popular Shows Round-up! However, the search for drama popularity was done without a filter, so all dramas covered ended up being K-dramas since those are the result when you search for overall top shows on MDL. In the comment section, there is an inquiry on dramas from other countries since you will not see a non-Korean popular drama using the search feature UNTIL page 3. That is the most popular Chinese drama on MDL Love O2O (2016). Therefore, to follow up that article with one on dramas from another country, I wrote this observational article. I call it The Big 10, on top 10 and 10 most popular Chinese dramas on MDL. Besides an overall list, I'll also break down the popularity and rank based on modern and historical categories, with extra info on 5 Republican Era dramas.

Since dramas sorted by 'Top Ranked' or 'Top Rated' generate the same result, I will combine both in one observation category. When you see the list, you may think of two questions:

  • Why does the rank jump in a few numbers? That is because it uses an overall ranking system that includes dramas from other countries, in which K-dramas are predominant.
  • How are the dramas ranked? For example, there are two dramas with the same ratings, but one is ranked above the other. Below is the answer from MDL FAQ:

For a disclaimer, all dramas listed below are taken from a search result on October 11, 2021. On the day I submitted this article for editing. When you read this article, you will see a slightly different drama, rank, or numbers on the lists, because of the time span from article editing to publishing date. The difference may specifically apply for the top-ranked/rated dramas, and I will explain the reason below.

This observation article doesn't review each drama listed, or it will be a super long article. It just gives you a glimpse of what's best and what's hyped out there in Chinese dramaland on MDL-earth (make note: not Middle-earth!). And perhaps to add more dramas into your PTW list, lol. So, let's begin!


TOP 10 RANKED/RATED DRAMAS

Overall Top 10 Ranked/Rated Dramas

Nirvana in Fire (2015) - Ranked: #9  |  Ratings 9.1
The Untamed (2019) - Ranked: #11  |  Ratings: 9.1
Go Ahead (2020) - Ranked: #17  |  Ratings: 9.0
Joy of Life (2019) - Ranked: #18  |  Ratings: 9.0
Eternal Love (2017) Ranked: #39  |  Ratings: 8.9
The Story of Ming Lan (2018) - Ranked: #44  |  Ratings: 8.9
You Are My Glory (2021) - Ranked: #50  |  Ratings: 8.8
Love and Redemption (2020) - Ranked: #60  |   Ratings: 8.8
Hikaru no Go (2020) - Ranked: #64  |  Ratings: 8.8
Story of Yanxi Palace (2018) - Ranked: #80  |  Ratings: 8.7

From the list, I noticed three interesting aspects:

First, 7 out of 10 are historical dramas. Why so many historical dramas? The answer is easy because historical drama is a unique selling point of Chinese entertainment. They produce a lot of them! Thanks to the existence of Hengdian World Studios, the famous Chinese film and TV studio that provides shooting bases with a historical setting.

Up to the data collection date, there are 253 historical and 396 modern C-dramas aired on MDL (ratio 1:1.6), in contrast to 102 historical and 1150 modern K-dramas (ratio 1:11).

Second, why there are more good high-rated historical dramas than modern ones? Since audiences also evaluate production aspects like martial art action, costume, prop, cinematography, setting, or CGI in historical dramas that may not apply in modern ones. For example, the third-best C-drama Go Ahead doesn't have the above aspects for the audience to rate highly. Its high ratings were received mainly from the plot, acting, and editing aspects. Historical dramas that are mediocre in the plot, acting, or editing but excellent in other production aspects may likely rate highly. 

Finally, I noticed the fact there is a 2021 released drama, You Are My Glory, that just finished airing on August 16, 2021. The addition of new dramas into the Top Ranked/Rated list makes it ever-changing from time to time. In contrast, the 10 Most Popular Dramas list is more stable. I will explain the reason later in the article.  

Now that you know historical dramas are predominant in the top 10 ranked/rated overall list, you may be curious about what if the list is divided into historical and modern drama categories?


Top 10 Ranked/Rated Historical Dramas

Nirvana in Fire (2015) - Ranked: #9  |  Ratings 9.1
The Untamed (2019) - Ranked: #11  |  Ratings: 9.1
Joy of Life (2019) - Ranked: #18  |  Ratings: 9.0
Eternal Love (2017) Ranked: #39  |  Ratings: 8.9
The Story of Ming Lan (2018) - Ranked: #44  |  Ratings: 8.9
Love and Redemption (2020) - Ranked: #60  |   Ratings: 8.8
Story of Yanxi Palace (2018) - Ranked: #80  |  Ratings: 8.7
One and Only (2021) - Ranked: #106  |  Ratings: 8.7
The Long Ballad (2021) - Ranked: #113  |  Ratings: 8.7
Ashes of Love (2018) - Ranked: #118  |   Ratings: 8.7

On the left are 7 historical dramas from the above list plus 3 additions to make the Top 10 Ranked/ Rated Historical Dramas. We noticed the newest drama, One and Only, that recently finished airing on August 27, 2021, made into the top 10. We know now this is a fluctuating list since it may change in the following months.

Now you may ask: what's the reason for knowing this Top 10 if it's ever-changing? Simple. If you want to watch a historical C-drama and don't have much time, or it's your first time, wouldn't you look at the top 10 list to pick one? Therefore, you may not feel it's a time waste, having rated high, most likely you'll love the drama and find it great!


Top 10 Ranked/Rated Modern Dramas

Go Ahead (2020) - Ranked: #17  |  Ratings: 9.0
You Are My Glory (2021) - Ranked: #50  |  Ratings: 8.8
Hikaru no Go (2020) - Ranked: #64  |  Ratings: 8.8
Falling Into Your Smile (2021) - Ranked: #98  |   Ratings: 8.7
You Are My Hero (2021) - Ranked: #125  |   Ratings: 8.7
The King’s Avatar (2019) - Ranked: #181  |   Ratings: 8.6
Our Secret (2021) - Ranked: #185  |   Ratings: 8.6
My Little Happiness (2021) - Ranked: #207  |   Ratings: 8.6
Le Coup de Foudre (2019) - Ranked: #208  |   Ratings: 8.6
The Day of Becoming You (2021) - Ranked: #209  |  Ratings: 8.6



For those who don't like watching historical dramas, above is the list of the top 10 ranked/rated dramas. Same as in historical dramas, the list is also fluctuating because Our Secret recently finished on August 26, 2021.

That's for the list of top 10 ranked/rated Chinese dramas. Now let's check out the 10 most popular ones. The list is entirely a different animal!


10 MOST POPULAR DRAMAS

Overall 10 Most Popular Dramas

Love O2O (2016) - Popularity: #46  |  Watchers: 60,767+
The Untamed (2019) - Popularity: #66  |  Watchers: 53,808+
Meteor Garden (2018) - Popularity: #68  |  Watchers: 53,120+
Put Your Head on My Shoulder (2019) - Popularity: #94  | Watchers: 43,774+
A Love So Beautiful (2017) - Popularity: #99  |  Watchers: 43,081+
Accidentally in Love (2018) - Popularity: #130  |  Watchers: 37,116+
Go Go Squid! (2019) - Popularity: #166  |  Watchers: 32,297+
Eternal Love (2017) - Popularity: #183  |  Watchers: 30,506+
Well-Intended Love (2019) - Popularity: #191  |  Watchers: 29,850+

Ashes of Love (2018) - Popularity: #197  |  Watchers: 28,965+

I also noticed three interesting aspects from the above list:

First, contrary to the top 10 ranked/rated dramas, 7 out of 10 are modern ones. Why is it so different? Possibly because modern dramas are easier to watch than historical dramas. I'll give you my example. It took me three tries to finally completed The Untamed. The first episodes are so slow I fell asleep. Another example is Eternal Love. I was introduced to the drama quite early on my dramaland journey. I had to watch it using a drama recap, a character chart, and a plot outline, or I would have completely turned off with so many characters, different names, and three lifetimes. If you have never watched historical C-dramas, don't be afraid to try. By keep watching them, eventually, you won't need that supplemental guidance to help you watch a historical drama.

Second, none of these dramas is new, being the latest from 2019. This is the opposite of the Top 10 ranked/rated list, which contains 2020 and 2021 releases. It tells you that popular drama ranks are cumulative. Two only ways to take off the popularity of a drama are by either delete it from your list or put it into your Not Interested list. So now you know why the overall most popular dramas on the MDL list is considered as old, with the last release year being from 2018!

Finally, you will find out that being popular doesn't mean high rated. In this list, Well-Intended Love is rated 7.6. For a Chinese drama, a below 8 rating is regarded as low. You'll find out why such drama can be popular in the following observation. 


10 Most Popular Modern Dramas


Love O2O (2016) - Popularity: #46  |  Watchers: 60,767+
Meteor Garden (2018) - Popularity: #68  |  Watchers: 53,120+
Put Your Head on My Shoulder (2019) - Popularity: #94  | Watchers: 43,774+
A Love So Beautiful (2017) - Popularity: #99  |  Watchers: 43,081+
Accidentally in Love (2018) - Popularity: #130  |  Watchers: 37,116+
Go Go Squid! (2019) - Popularity: #166  |  Watchers: 32,297+
Well-Intended Love (2019) - Popularity: #191  |  Watchers: 29,850+
Love Me If You Dare (2015) - Popularity: #217  |   Watchers: 26,987+
Addicted Heroin (2016) - Popularity: #228  |  Watchers: 25,799+
Boss & Me (2014)  |  Popularity: #242  |  Watchers: 24,551+




Now, how Well-Intended Love with ratings 7.6 can be so popular with 29000+ watchers? On MDL, watchers mean every member who plans to watch, put on hold, is currently watching, dropped, or completed the drama. See the pie chart for the drama. The purple slice represents the percentage of 1896 watchers who dropped the drama (5.6%). So even though many people don't like it and end up dropping it, Well-Intended Love is one of the 10 most popular C-dramas on MDL when the data is taken.   

10 Most Popular Historical Dramas

The Untamed (2019) - Popularity: #66  |  Watchers: 53,808+
Eternal Love (2017) - Popularity: #183  |  Watchers: 30,506+
Ashes of Love (2018) - Popularity: #197  |  Watchers: 28,965+
The Romance of Tiger and Rose (2020) - Popularity: #310  |  Watchers: 21,184+
Word of Honor (2021) - Popularity: #350  |  Watchers: 19,226+
Nirvana in Fire (2015) -  Popularity: #395  |  Watchers: 17,587+
The Eternal Love (2017) - Popularity: #409  |  Watchers: 17,306+
Legend of Fu Yao (2018) - Popularity: #433  |  Watchers: 16,778+
The Princess Wei Young (2016) - Popularity: #487  |  Watchers: 15,415+
Eternal Love of Dream (2020) - Popularity: #492  |  Watchers: 15,343+


When I ran the search for this category, the drama that showed up for number 9 was actually not The Princess Wei Young but Arsenal Military Academy (2019). Although it's a historical show, this drama is actually a Republican Era drama. I will explain the sub-genre later.

Two interesting things I observed from this list: one is a 2021 Word of Honor that made it into the popular list because it's an adaptation from a BL novel Faraway Wanderers by popular Chinese author Priest. Second, all 10 dramas are rated above 8.0, with The Eternal Love being the lowest rating at 8.2.


CHINESE REPUBLICAN ERA DRAMAS

Finally, I want to talk a little about Chinese Republican Era dramas. The Republican Era in China is a historical period between 1912 to 1949 that took place after 1911's Xinhai Revolution. The revolution ended China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty. In this period, the government experienced constant changes in leadership. The economy was unstable as the country was marked by constant warfare between different regional warlord factions (source: Wikipedia). Chinese dramas depicting this dark historical period and usually are crime, politics, war, and/or military genres. Light-hearted Republican era dramas may have mystery, action, thriller, and/or business genres. Deaths are not uncommon in Republican era dramas.

Many people don't watch this sub-genre, even though they are C-drama watchers. The reasons can be the genres of Chinese Republican Era dramas are not favorable. Modern C-drama watchers may not like it because Republican Era dramas look outdated like what you see in your ancestor's photos. Historical C-drama watchers rather see flying people with supernatural powers. My first encounter with Republican era dramas was with Arsenal Military Academy (2019) that was not planned to watch. The trailer shows warlike shooting and fighting scenes with people in military uniforms, and I don't like war/military/political dramas. I was not familiar with the actors either. But when I saw screenshots of the drama's interesting costume and props in the Feed section, such as depicted below, I gave the drama a try, and I loved it. 

Since I just want to share a glimpse of Republican era dramas, below are the top-ranked/rated and most popular dramas from the sub-genre. Interestingly, it seems there is a tendency that the popular dramas are mostly also the top-ranked/rated ones. The reason is merely because there are few dramas of this sub-genre, in contrast with modern or historical (dynasty era) dramas. You can find more Republican era dramas here.


Top 5 Ranked/Rated Republican Era Dramas

Arsenal Military Academy (2019) - Ranked: #222    |  Ratings: 8.5
Winter Begonia (2020) - Ranked: #306    |  Ratings: 8.5
My Roommate Is a Detective (2020) - Ranked: #431   |  Ratings: 8.4
Killer And Healer (2021) - Ranked: #469   |  Ratings: 8.3
Detective L (2019) - Ranked: #700   |  Ratings: 8.2

5 Most Popular Republican Era Dramas

Arsenal Military Academy (2019) - Popularity: #478  |  Watchers: 15,677+
My Roommate Is a Detective (2020) - Popularity: #892  |  Watchers: 8,920+
Killer And Healer (2021) - Popularity: #1443  |  Watchers: 5,372+
Siege in Fog (2018) - Popularity: #1616  |  Watchers: 4,776+
Winter Begonia (2020) - Popularity: #1656  |  Watchers: 4,651+


CONCLUSION

When I was compiling these lists, I couldn't help making an imaginary checklist: "Yay, I watched this. Oh, I dropped that! Wow, this one made the list?" By the end of this article, I'm confident I don't have to watch what's up there raved by everyone and don't feel weird because of taste differences. I'm glad I don't have to follow the mainstream by watching what's popular out there in Chinese dramaland. Don't you think so? Therefore, if you want to try a C-drama and are adventurous, just jump into one. Or, if you're more cautious, read the reviews before dipping your toe into any.

That's all, guys, my humble observation on the Top 10 Ranked/Rated and 10 Most Popular C-dramas on MDL. I sincerely thanked MattPeddlesden, with his article, and Joke Bosveld-Tiddens for her inquiry on the 10 most popular dramas from other countries. They both gave me the idea to write this article. I may try to list other countries' dramas like this article, but I feel I have more knowledge of C-dramas since I watch them the most. We'll see. Thanks for reading, and happy watching!

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 10 CHINESE DRAMAS?

For those who are curious: the feature image depicting the beauty of Guilin, China. Guilin (桂林市) means "forest of sweet osmanthus". Its magical mountainous forms of karst topography. Sitting on a boat floating in Li River, I imagine being transported to the ancient world in a historical C-drama, embracing an adventure in jianghu world.

Acknowledgement and creditsThank you to the editors who edited this article.  I do not own any of the images; credits go to their respective owners. The images are from official drama posters, stills, and screenshots on MDL. Guilin images: trip.com and wallup.net.


Edited by: Cookie (1st editor), YW (2nd editor)

wuxia chinese dramas xianxia most popular top rated top ranked chinese republican dramas chinese historical dramas

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