On September 16, 2021, China’s NRTA (National Radio and Television Administration), or the government body responsible for determining what airs and what does not, released a notice saying it was “determined to boycott the trend of Danmei adaptations”, also known as Dangai, among other things.
This is part of a sweeping motion by the Chinese government to “clean up” and reform various sectors including corporate giants like Tencent and Alibaba, technology, education, and the entertainment industry.
What you need to know to understand this “boycott” is that this year brought a great purge to the Chinese entertainment industry. Several famous and popular stars including Wu Yifan (Kris Wu), Zheng Shuang, Huo Zun, Zhang Zhehan (actor who interpreted Zhou Zishou in Word of Honor), and Zhao Wei (known for her hit drama My Fair Princess), etc… were embroiled in massive scandals.
Zheng Shuang was involved in a series of surrogacy (illegal in China), tax evasion, Ying-Yang contracts, and child abandonment scandals, Huo Zun accused of serial cheating, Wu Yifan was detained due to r*pe accusations, Zhang Zhehan was accused of being pro-imperial Japan after pictures of him visiting the infamous Yasukuni shrine resurfaced online, Zhao Wei’s name was scrubbed from the Chinese internet and disappeared for a while without reason, etc…
The main takeaway is that this year was not a good one in the Chinese entertainment industry.
To “cleanse” the entertainment industry, the NRTA, as well as other government agencies, released a series of regulations (Qinglang Campaign) to control obsessive fan behavior, promote good social values, socialism, putting a limit to how much money a celebrity can get paid in China, banning fundraising for birthday gifts and the like, banning idol audition survival shows, making idols responsible for their fans’ behavior, and promote a “correct beauty standard”. This last part is the controversial one that I will be focusing on.
What Danmei/Dangai fans need to know:
China introduced “morality guidelines” for TV broadcasters and private streaming companies.
No effeminate men, girly guns, little fresh meat, sissy idols and actors, and “abnormal aesthetics”.
This means that no idol or actor should be promoted that has a traditionally feminine appearance. For example, no long hair, bright colored hair, nail polish, earrings, excessive and notable makeup, no dresses, skirts, or overly feminine clothing, no mannerisms or gestures that are also considered traditionally feminine, etc…
The NRTA released a notice saying that it would be “boycotting (among other things) the trend of Danmei adaptations.
Some say that the reason why this happened is because of companies and capitalists jumping in the bandwagon to make Danmei adaptations after how incredibly popular and profitable they became while diluting core socialist values and saturating the market.
Others say that this is clearly an excuse to push for homophobic and sexist legislation.
When a genre of drama gets too popular in China, harems, court intrigue, time traveling, Danmei adaptations, etc, the NRTA comes in to stop it. An explanation they put out for this is so that the market does not become saturated with the same genre of dramas which can lower the quality of dramas in general.
Many Chinese people, particularly women, are outraged because the terms “effeminate” and “sissy” are thrown around as a negative adjective. They are asking why is a man exhibiting traditionally feminine mannerisms and appearance considered beneath one that is more masculine. Why is feminine qualities inferior and undesirable?
Others are asking who gets to determine what is feminine and masculine as well as how that is determined in the first place.
Feminizing terms such as “baby” and “wife” to refer to men (idols and/or actors) are banned when promoting dramas.
The most recent news is that the NRTA will introduce 3 rounds of reviews. This means that, in order for a drama to pass, it must be reviewed 3 times.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Danmei Adaptations?
Danmei adaptations have not been completely banned. However, expect to see less air per year and be scrubbed of noticeable “bromance” to the degree we saw in Word of Honor.
What the NRTA is concerned with is how popular that genre has become, how many Danmei adaptations are being made, the marketing that promotes same-sex CPs, the fan culture of Danmei works, and the feminization of the male actors.
Curve your expectations for how much chemistry you will be seeing in the future in Danmei adaptions, unless a production wants to be particularly risky, I doubt we will have anything close to what we had before in other adaptations.
After reading a whole lot of danmeis by several different authors, I find the difference mindsets on morality by three of the most popular ones sort of funny :
MXTX: actions have consequences and when ppl have power those consequences might be terrible even if the intentions are good. Still staying true in one's heart is important. Also, fuck mob mentality, social media and peer pressure, and celeb internet culture. Anonymous masses are vultures and they can both be terrible on their own or easily manipulated and weaponized. (this last part is really the metaphoric message of the novels, not a reference to any lead actor’s scandals...which makes the whole irl thing even more ironic...and yes I know I’m using it wrong but if Alanis Morisette can, so can I).
Meatbun: Okay, the protagonist is scum. Not just regular scum. Psychotic Genocidal Totalitarian scum (also very into BDSM). Do you think he's bad in the first chapters? Oh he gets worse. Do you feel like stabbing him yet? Good! Only he is the biggest victim of them all and he is now horrified with his actions and bc actions matter regardless of personal excuses, he's gonna suffer with that knowledge forever. Suffer along as the lead pines, despairs and crawls on his path of redemption and neither you nor the characters will ever truly emotionally recover. Conclusion: If you honestly repent then there is a chance at redemption no matter the crime (how very catholic).
Priest: Be Gay, Do Crimes, Have Fun Storming the Castle!, Murder Parties for all! No need to feel bad, or sorry. Just find a kindred ruthless bf, stir shit up and then retire together into a little cottage somewhere. The world is chaos, do what yo gotta do to survive, don't sweat it. The ends justify the means. Morality is optional, a strong sense of patriotism is advised (" For the Greater Good/ The greater good"), being utterly devoted to your loved one is mandatory tho!
So, English-Speaking Danmei Fandom, You Want to Support Authors...
...and so do I, so here’s my dumb white English-more-or-less-only (I speak a small amount of Japanese...it vaguely sort of kind of helps) speaking ass, doing a little homework that hopefully will help others? This is not exhaustive, not complete, not better than resources others have made, but I checked things I personally cared about, and since I’ve done the research, I figure I might as well toss the info out into the wild.
First - as Suika linked, HERE IS AN AMAZING GUIDE TO HELP YOU MAKE A JJWXC ACCOUNT and it teaches you how to use it. It was created by Shoko Translates and it’s incredibly clear and easy to use and you should use it and trust anything they say over literally anything in this post, because I only have the vaguest idea what I’m talking about but they know their shit.
Google translate on Chrome works decently to make the site English...but doesn’t work well in any other respect; overall it functions WAY better on Firefox even if it’s umpteen times harder to figure out what anything says.
Use the guide to make your account; I couldn’t get it to successfully send my phone a text, but I had zero problems when I switched to e-mail. Chrome translate is definitely easier for making the actual account, but then it’s better to switch.
Once you’ve got the account and you log in...
...so, I have no idea what either of those two I’ve circled say (USE THE LINKED GUIDE, IT’LL TELL YOU) but I know that if you click either of them, you get a huge list of authors and book titles, with genre notes, hits, publication date, etc. More importantly, you get a search bar - you can see it right below my silly black circle.
Congratulations, you can now find the things you want to support using search! The first option in the search drop down is book, and it brings up the actual book but also a lot of superfluous stuff. I had way better luck searching by author, which is the second option on the drop down menu.
Now that you know how to search - when I sat down with this today, my goal wasn’t yet to actually pay for anything, I just wanted a sense of how many points things would cost, and I wanted to be able to look that up. So, that’s this post’s goal, and sorry I’m a little disjointed in presenting that out, I got like no sleep last night. Anyway. The point is, based on that link I provided (DID YOU USE IT YET? YOU SHOULD):
10,000 points on JJWXC cost approximately USD 17. Convert as needed for your own currency. Or, one point costs 0.17 cents. (To be clear: that's about 2 tenths of a cent, not 17 cents.)
With that basic conversion, once you have an account, you can see how many points things cost, and therefore calculate how much they’d cost you in $$$ to support the author. Anyway, I haven’t actually figured out ANY of the money parts of this yet, because I wanted to figure out how many points the books I would want to support were before I even attempted money stuff. My thinking with this post was - if you, like me, were holding back cause you were wondering about expense...well, here, have some answers about expense, and probably in a day or four I’ll sit down and try to figure out the money part, and I’ll do another post then. Or, you can just use that guide I linked. Cause that’s what I’m going to do.
So, what/who do you want to support?
Priest (search for author: priest)
镇魂 (Zhen Hun/Guardian). Point cost: 1,742. In USD: $2.96
天涯客 (Tian Ya Ke/Faraway Wanderers/Word of Honor). Point cost: 943. In USD: $1.60
有匪 (You Fei/Legend of Fei). Point cost: 3,031. In USD: $5.15
默读 (Mo Du). Point cost: 3,506. In USD: $5.96
杀破狼 (Sha Po Lang). Point cost: 2,673. In USD: $4.54
七爷 (Qi Ye/Lord Seventh). Point cost: 934. In USD: $1.59
(This is not an exhaustive list, but you can search for others - the Priest Wikipedia page gives a full list of Chinese names, translations, adaptations, etc.)
墨香铜臭 (Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, search for author: 墨香铜臭)
天官赐福 (Tian Guan Ci Fu/Heaven Official’s Blessing). Point cost: 5,270. In USD: $8.96
If 魔道祖师 (Mo Dao Zu Shi/The Untamed) and 人渣反派自救系统 (Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong/The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System/Scum System/Scum Villain) are on there, I wasn’t able to find them - someone who knows more than I, and has the time to the research right now, will have to explain more to help with those, but for starters, they’re on the publishers website - Scum Villain; MDZS)
肉包不吃肉 (Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou/Meatbun Doesn’t Eat Meat, search for author: 肉包不吃肉)
二哈和他的白猫师尊 (Er Ha He Ta De Bai Mao Shizun/The Husky and His White Cat Shizun/Hao Yixing/Immortality). Point cost: 7,246. In USD: $12.32
余污 (Yu Wu/Remnants of Filth). Point cost: 4,245. In USD: $7.22
梦溪石 (Meng Xi Shi, search for author: 梦溪石)
千秋 (Qianqiu/Thousand Autumns). Point cost: 2,783. In USD: $4.73
(There are many others.)
漫漫何其多 (Man Man He Qi Duo, search for author: 漫漫何其多)
当年万里觅封侯 (Dangnian Wanli Mi Feng Hou/Those Years in Quest of Honor Mine). Point cost: 1,551. In USD: $2.64
(Again, there are many others.)
I could go add titles for years, but, well, it’s my post, and these are the stories I was most interested in supporting personally. Doing ALL this research, AND writing it up for this post, took me less than an hour, and once you’re in the website and have bought points, you can select all chapters with a single click, it’ll tell you the final point cost, and with another click - bam, you’re done, you’ve bought the raws. You’ve supported the original creator. You’ve done what translators have been begging us to do for ages. And, if it’s a story that’s not all out yet - you’ve got the raws! You can mtl them! You can read them before the translators are done! Or, if you’ve got a fave author? You can read their work in progress! You can learn what’s coming next! Even without speaking Chinese (I don’t speak a word of Chinese!!!) there is NO DOWNSIDE HERE.
(also, can I point out how INCREDIBLY SMALL some of these dollar amounts are? Some of ya’ll are acting like this is bank-breaking, I mean seriously, COME ON.)
Google is your friend. Find the carrd for your fave. Copy and paste the author’s name in Chinese. Use the JJWXC search. Find the thing. Support it.
English danmei fandom, this is our chance to do better.
PLEASE, can we do fricken better??? It’s so easy. And so cheap. And these fandoms have brought so many of us so much joy.
Can I just say that like, “I love you” is nice and neat and fine and all. But like, have you seen:
“I am forever your most devoted believer.”
“To me, the one basking in infinite glory is you; the one fallen from grace is also you. What matters is you, not the state of you.”
“If I could, I would have you use me as your stepping stone, the bridge you take apart after crossing, the corpse bones you need to trample to climb up, the sinner who deserved the butchering of a million knives. But, I know you wouldn’t allow it.”
And also consider:
“As long as you say a word, even a sea of flame, or a mountain of swords, I will still charge ahead.”
“I truly no longer have any strength left to place someone else in my heart.”
alright so originally i wrote this for twitter, but i felt like tumblr could benefit from it too. today we're finally getting the long awaited "deconstruction of racism in the danmei fandom" post. and lemme preface this by saying- i'm chinese-american. i'm nblm. i do, in fact, have the cultural and historical background to know what i am talking about. so let's get into it.
this is gonna be a long post, because we have a lot to talk about. first, racism doesn't have to be as blatant as calling me a chink, or saying all asians look the same, or not wanting to consume asian media, or making ching chong jokes.racism can be as subtle towards asians as it can towards any other race. if you think i shouldn't have to say that, join the club, bc same.
second, racism towards asians, especially in the west, has a long history of being overlooked and accepted. now, let's talk about how racism dictates some of the takes you see in the fandom. firstly, what originally inspired this thread- the mxtx rumors and the jokes being made about her and censorship. now, obvs some ppl are gonna say that they were just jokes made in poor taste. and, sure. but they were jokes made in poor taste, steeped in racism. the jokes being made about mxtx going to jail happen bc ppl do not view her as a real person. not rlly. she’s an author, sure, the author of one of their favorite novels, but she’s not, like. a person with thoughts and feelings and a life. and that sort of casual lack of humanhood and agency given to danmei authors is rooted in the severely racist dehumanization of asians that’s prevalent in the west. this is something that can be seen other places, too- a good example being when parasite was notably nominated for every oscar category *except* the acting ones.
it's this lack of personhood, this lack of agency, that allows ppl to have takes like "censorship isn't actually bad, and here's why". yes, this is a real take that i saw. this take argues that the cql is better than mdzs, bc it is "softer and less graphic". in general, a lot of ppl have the take that mxtx's works in particular are too graphic, with problematic sexual elements. now, i've talked before about how that's a homophobic take bc gay relationships should also be allowed to be messy. but it's also deeply entrenched in racism. it's why white gays can have the take "this is Problematique and here's why" and claim it's not homophobic.
racism against asians has long since created a trend of sexualizing them- thinking asian men are sexy while also removing their sexual agency. asian men can be sexy, but they can't actually *have sex*. not explicitly. there's a historical, real world element to this. "not fats no femmes no asians" could definitely be seen on ppls grindr profiles, back in the day. asians can be sexy, sure. look at kpop boys. but they can't be sexual. they’re infantilized. they have to remain pure and wholesome, or they're dragged as problematic and homophobic and fetishizing, a word that's thrown around so often it's practically lost meaning. fetishizing is my ex-bf telling me i'm sexy bc* i'm asian, it’s bl/yaoi fans approaching a gay couple on the bus and gushing over how "cute and yaoi they are." fetishizing is *not* showing your 2 male main charas having explicit sex. if it is, then every white fan in danmei is fetishizing asians.
but i digress- back to the point about racism. the fact that ppl can argue about censorship shows that they, as a whole, aren't considering the ramifications of censorship on the literal country it exists in, and it's citizens. i, obvs, do not live in china. but i've got relatives who do, and who did. i've got relatives who fled china. not everything is about you and the media you want to consume. and then, of course, there's the casual racism. the everyday racism. the racism that lies in things like saying all the names are too similar and it's hard to keep track of them. the racism in saying things like "i'm just here to have fun,,,like sure, i'd persevere through dostoevsky, but this is danmei", as if danmei is somehow inferior, as if danmei isn't meant to be critically engaged with, as if danmei doesn’t tackle and critically explore some of the deepest and darkest issues.
asian media is often presented that way, from kung fu movies to danmei. there is a type of racism, of eurocentrism, that exists in the belief that western media has deeper, more engaging morals. asian media is more "fun". asian media is almost entirely based on morals and deep thought, it's just not based in western ones. for example, two of my favorite authors are haruki murakami and kazuo ishiguro. both are japanese authors, who's works i've heard westerners describe as weird and without a point, when in fact they are simply telling stories with innately eastern asian morals and teachings. it's the same type of racism that causes ppl to make jokes about asian food, to not view it as a craft the same way they do french food. it's asian- it must be "less than", be inferior, be inherently not worth as much.
casual racism about asians is normalized, which isn't a word i use often. it’s normalized to the point where ppl don’t even realize they have that sort of implicit bias, and we know ppl don’t rlly come on the internet to think critically. but unintentional racism is still racism. it still has an impact, still does damage. ppl need to think intentionally and critically in how they consume and interact with media not made for them, but they don’t, instead choosing to come in with their preexisting biases, and bc of that, it's easy for fandom members to dismiss the cultural concerns of chinese ppl within the fandom. it's easy, for example, to say "calling them martial brothers is incest apologism", ignoring the inherent cultural roots of martial brothers.
now, we're gonna get in to the current "drama". i do not ship chengxian. i think that even bears repeating. i Do Not ship chengxian. i have written them, in a modern au, as adopted brothers. but there is a real historical and culture relevance to the idea of martial brothers, of community, that westerners willfully refuse to hear, claiming instead that "you're disregarding adopted families!" no. that's not what's happening at all. what's happening is ppl are refusing to look at their own, western bias, and placing western values on an eastern idea. community raising of children, community family bonds without being adopted families, is important in east asian culture. there is a long history of community being whats important, and ppl don't get that you can be a "communal/community family" without being considered familial. jyl choosing to view wwx as her brother, bc he is a martial brother, and chengxian being in love, are things that can technically coexist. whether or not you choose to perceive them as such, refusing to acknowledge the real history of martial brothers, and scremaing "incest apologism" whenever someone tries to explain it, is inherently racist. it's you assuming you know my culture better than me. it's you assuming your western ideas are the only ones that exist. which is, at its core, the basis for most racism in the danmei fandom.
most racism in the danmei fandom comes from this idea that casual racism against asians isn't *really* racism, and therefore asians don't *really* get to have a say, and it shouldn't matter anyway bc we're lucky you're even engaging with danmei, with asian content, since it's shallow and inferior anyway. the racism comes from a place of moral superiority, of ownership, of this assumption that westerners are entitled to not just consume danmei but also bring their western lens and apply it to something that was never written for them in the first place.
'Sha Po Lang' (2021) releases promo posters
Tan Cianci - Gu Yun / Shen Shi Liu
Chen Zheyuan - Chang Geng
Li Hongyi - Shen Yi
Sun Anke - Chen Qingxu
Song Jiyang - Cao Chunhua
Dong Yanlei - Ge Pangxiao
Yu Chengen - Liao Ran
An adaptation from BL novel by Priest, in the age of the great Liang Dynasty, the Kingdom of Northern Xuan gained a short reprieve after a war. Chang Geng who resides in a small town, was attacked by a pack of wolves during an outing, but was saved by Shen Shiliu. To repay his kindness, Chang Geng acknowledges him as his foster-father. The enemy forces, the Heavenly Wolf tribe waited for an opportunity to invade and set off a war. In a critical moment, Chang Geng discovers that he is the fourth prince of Northern Xuan, and Shen Shiliu is Gu Yun, the commander of Xuan Tie army. Gu Yun defeated the Heavenly Wolf tribe, and escorted Chang Geng to the capital city.
The current Emperor of Northern Xuan passes away, and Li Feng ascended the throne as the new Emperor. However, his foundation is not yet stable. The ambitious Prince of Wei is eyeing his throne, and saw this as an opportunity to create a crisis. Li Feng, wary of Gu Yun’s military powerless, sends Gu Yun to guard to borders. Chang Geng also chooses to join the Linzhou Court, and followed the experts of the court around the world to travel and experience life. After several years, he grew up into a talented person with ambition and a talent for governing. At this time, Northern Xuan faces both internal and external problems. Chang Geng returns to the capital, and uses his knowledge and new-found skills, assists the Emperor in securing his reign. However, problems continuously pour in, such as rebellion within the inner-court officials, assassination of Li Feng and Jiang Nan being attacked by external forces. At last, Chang Geng manages to ascend the throne and resurrect Northern Bei, fulfilling his vision of world peace.
Mousie’s absolutely subjective, very biased Top 10 web novels list
Please note that this is hardly aiming to be objective, if one can even be properly objective about a work of fiction. It is 110% based on my preferences, which means this list is heavy on the angst and has nothing set in the modern day. It is also heavily danmei-centric, even though I read way more het romance than danmei, because for whatever reason, most of the danmei I’ve read has been insanely good.
10. Return of the Swallow - one of the two non-danmeis on this list. Smart and nuanced and with a large cast of characters. Our heroine is a long-lost daughter of the family that is brought back in and has to cope with familial struggles, crazy royals, court intrigue, invasion et al. It’s SO GOOD! There is romance with the sexy smart enemy general but honestly, it’s the heroine that is the main selling point for me.
9. Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator - the only other non-danmei novel on this list, this was my very first web novel and what drew me into this insanity. This is just a ton of fun, probably the lightest novel on this list, not an ounce of angst to be found. But it’s hilarious and features competent heroine and tsundere hero and I will always love it for opening a new world to me. Anyway, our heroine transmigrates into the novel as the female lead. Unlike the original lead though she doesn’t want to seek adventures and angst - she just wants to comfortably live with the wealthy, nice husband heroine has. Alas, said husband is no longer nice since he has previously lived this story where he was betrayed by FL and then transmigrated/reincarnated into the past. Oh well, the heroine opens up businesses and makes friends. And eventually, her husband realizes his wife is way different this time around. This actually doesn’t have much romance, not until close to the end, but this is so fun I don’t care.
8. Lord Seventh - I am only partway through this so far, but it’s already on the list because it’s smart and somehow intense AND laid-back (not sure how this works, but it does) and is honestly just a really really solid and smart period novel, with the OTP a cherry on top of a narrative sundae. Plus, I love the concept of MC deciding he is not going for his supposedly fated love - he’s tried for six lifetimes, always with disaster, and he’s just plain done and tired. When he opens his life in his seventh reincarnation and sees the person he would have given up the world for, he genuinely feels nothing at all. (Spoiler - his OTP is actually a barbarian shaman this time around, thank you Lord!)
7. Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (MDZS) - oh come on, how are you even on this tumblr if you don’t know MDZS/The Untamed? This was my very first danmei and it’s so much fun! I love everything about it - the unreliable narrator, the looping structure, the main OTP, Wei Wuxian’s laidback, traumatized insouciance, everything. Anyway, the plot in the event you somehow transported here from 2005 is that the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, Wei Wuxian, was defeated by the righteous sects over a decade ago and fell of a cliff to his death. Only now that same Wei Wuxian opens his eyes in another body and everything that was supposed to stay in the past starts again.
6. Heaven Official’s Blessing (TGCF) - people either love its meandering narrative, picaresque structure and cast of thousands, or find it a detriment compared to much more compact MDZS. I love it even more than MDZS for those very qualities. It does have a rock-solid, darling OTP, but what really elevates it to me are the MXTX trademark combo of snarky/light tone hiding a ton of trauma underneath, the insanely intricate world-building, and what it has to say about the nature of grace and goodness. Xie Lian is one of my top 5 web novel characters and probably in top 10 from anywhere. Oh, and while MXTX’s stuff is not as angsty for me as Meatbun’s or even Priest’s, there are always exceptions, and there is one chapter in this novel that pretty much broke me and sometimes I still flashback to it and feel unwell.
Anyway, what is it about? There is a commotion in the heavenly realm - Xie Lian, the Crown Prince of a long-destroyed kingdom, has ascended to Godhood. That in itself is not so exciting. However for Xie Lian this is the third time (!!!!) as he’s ascended and lost his godhood twice prior. And now, the biggest joke of the divine realm is back, throwing the heavenly realm into chaos. And elsewhere, Hua Cheng, one of the four most powerful demons of that Universe, sits up and takes notice.
5. Golden Stage - my perfect comfort novel. Probably the least angsty of any danmei novel on this list (which still means plenty angsty :P) It also has a dedicated, smart OTP that is an OTP for the bulk of the book - I think you will notice that in most of the novels in this list, I go for “OTP against the world” trope - I can’t stand love triangles and the same. Anyway, Fu Shen, is a famous general whose fame is making the emperor antsy. When he gets injured and can’t walk any more, the emperor gladly recalls him and marries him off to his most faithful court lackey, the head of sort of secret police, Yan Xiaohan. The emperor intends it both as a check on the general and a general spite move since the two men always clash in court whenever they meet. But not all is at is seems. They used to be friends a long time ago, had a falling out, and one of the loveliest parts of the novel is them finding their way to each other, but there is also finding the middle path between their two very different philosophies and ways of being, not to mention solving a conspiracy or dozen, and putting a new dynasty on the throne, among other things. It always makes me think, a little, of “if Mei Changsu x Jingyan were canon.”
4. Sha Po Lang - if you like a lot of fantasy politics and world-building and steampunk with your novels, this one is for you. This one is VERY plot-heavy with smart, dedicated characters and a deconstruction of many traditional virtues - our protagonist Chang Geng, a long-lost son of the Emperor, is someone who wants to modernize the country but also take down the current emperor his brother for progress’ sake and the person he’s in love with is the general who saved him when he was a kid who is nominally his foster father. Anyway, the romance is mainly a garnish in this one, not even a big side dish, but the relationship between two smart, dedicated, deadly individuals with very different concepts of duty is fascinating long before it turns romantic. And if you like angst, while overall it’s not as angsty as e.g., Meatbun stuff, Chang Geng’s childhood is the stuff of nightmares and probably freaks me out more than anything else in any novel on this list, 2ha included.
3. To Rule In a Turbulent World (LSWW) - gay Minglan. No seriously. This is how I think of it. it’s a slice of life period novel with fascinating characters and setting that happens to have a gay OTP, not a romance in a period setting per se and I always prefer stories where the romance is not the only thing that is going on. It’s meticulously written and smart and deals with character development and somehow makes daily minutia fascinating. Our protagonist, You Miao, is the son of a fabulously wealthy merchant, sent to the capital to make connections and study. As the story starts, he sees his friend’s servants beating someone to death, feels bad, and buys him because, as we discover gradually and organically, You Miao may be wealthy and occasionally immature but he is a genuinely good person. The person he buys is a barbarian from beyond the wall, named Li Zhifeng. It’s touch and go if the man will survive but eventually he does and You Miao, who by then has to return home, gives him his papers and lets him go. However, LZF decides to stick with You Miao instead, both out of sense of debt for YM saving his life and because he genuinely likes him (and yet, there is no instalove on either of their parts, their bodies have fun a lot quicker than their souls.) Anyway, the two take up farming, get involved in the imperial exams and it’s the life of prosperity and peace, until an invasion happens and things go rapidly to hell. This is so nuanced, so smart (smart people in this actually ARE!) and has secondary characters who are just as complex as the mains (for example, I ended up adoring YM’s friend, the one who starts the plot by almost beating LZF to death for no reason) because the novel never forgets that few people are all villain. There is a lovely character arc or two - watching YM grow up and LZF thaw - there is the fact that You Miao is a unicorn in web novels being laid back and calm. This whole thing is a masterpiece.
2. Stains of Filth (Yuwu) - want the emotional hit of 2ha but want to read something half its length? Well, the author of 2ha is here to eviscerate you in a shorter amount of time. This has the beautiful world-building, plot twists that all make sense and, at the center of it all, an intense and all-consuming and gloriously painful relationship between two generals - one aristocratic loner Mo Xi, and the other gregarious former slave general Gu Mang. Once they were best friends and lovers, but when the novel starts, Gu Mang has long turned traitor and went to serve the enemy kingdom and has now been returned and Mo Xi, who now commands the remnants of his slave army, has to cope with the fact that he has never been able to get over the man who stabbed him through the heart. Literally. This novel has a gorgeously looping structure, with flashbacks interwoven into present storyline. There is so much love and longing and sacrifice in this that I am tearing up a bit just thinking of it. If you don’t love Mo Xi and Gu Mang, separately and together, by the end of it, you have no soul.
1. The Dumb Husky and His White Cat Shizun (2ha/erha) - if you’ve been following my tumblr for more than a hot second, you know my obsession with this novel. Honestly, even if I were to make a list of my top 10 novels of any kind, not just webnovels, this would be on the list. It has everything I want - a complicated, intricate plot with an insane amount of plot twists, all of which are both unexpected and make total sense, a rich and large cast of characters, a truly epic OTP that makes me bawl, emotional intensity that sometimes maxes even me out and so much character nuance and growth. Also, Moran is my favorite web novel character ever, hands down.
Anyway, the plot (or at least the way it first appears) is that the evil emperor of the cultivation world, Taxian Jun, kills himself at 32 and wakes up in the body of his 16 year old self, birth name Moran. Excited to get a redo, Moran wants to save his supposed true love Shimei, whose death the last go-around pushed him towards evil. He also wants to avoid entanglement with Chu Wanning, his shizun and sworn enemy in past life. And that’s all you are best off knowing, trust me. The only hint I am going to give is oooh boy the mother of all unreliable narrators has arrived!
The novel starts light and funny on boil the frog principle - if someone told me I would be full bawling multiple times with this novel, I’d have thought they were insane, but i swear my eyes hurt by the end of it. I started out being amused and/or disliking the mains and by the end I would die for either of them.