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Wuxia Fantasy

What is Wuxia Fantasy?

Originating in China, Wuxia is action, adventure, and fantasy all rolled into one. Succinctly described as a martial art adventure. The term Wuxia can be translated as martial-arts chivalry or martial arts heroes. Wuxia as a genre has a long history and different schools that each have a distinctive take on the genre. The traditional camp follows Cufucian values, but after 1919, a modern version of Wuxia literature was born that breaks away from those values. The modern Wuxia has a protagonist that rejects the Chinese family system and is a symbol of personal freedom. Wuxia is a popular film genre, made famous in the mainstream west by the hit Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon. However, this form of literature and film has been popular in China for many years.


 MORE THAN A GAME

Protagonists of Wuxia stories are highly trained in martial arts, to the point that they seem capable of acts humans would otherwise be incapable of performing. They have a great sense of ethics and values like altruism, justice, individualism, honor, generosity, and reciprocity. Friendship is very important to the protagonist, or xia. Xias are not afraid to use force to achieve their goals. A fantastical Imperial China is often the setting. The adventure will take place in an imaginary world of rivers and lakes that has an almost supernatural or mythic atmosphere. The world accepts the fantastic as normal.

Wuxia is often a kind of romance and contains magic, elements of the supernatural, vengeance, secret societies, and well-developed value systems. And of course Martial Arts with the heroes often being Martial Artists with unsurpassed skill.

 

Other Features of Wuxia Fantasy

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  • Level of Magic

    Variable. Magical weapons, demons, gods, sorcerers, and fantastic creatures are common elements of a Wuxia tale but not a prerequisite. There is an overall mythic atmosphere.

  • Level of Grand Ideas and Social Implications

    Moderate. Wuxia stories can incorporate some strong philosophical ideas. Ideas about morality, honor, friendship, and the value of loyalty/reciprocity. Because the xia is a non-conformist who fights for justice the reader is exposed to the failures of government systems.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate. The xia has a long literary history and a specific characterization. Xias have an honor code, they are a force for good, they have a strong sense of morality and duty, they will use force when necessary, and they are incredibly adept at martial arts. 

    This very strong characterization may seem limiting. But, there are many types of xias and they all have their own story.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Moderate. As with all adventure stories, plot is an important part of Wuxia Fantasy and it is what keeps the story moving forward. Well written Wuxia Fantasy has intricate relationships that will often influence how a story's events unfold. On the whole though, these are tall tales that follow a relatively predictable plot line.

  • Level of Violence

    High. Martial arts are the core of this sub-genre; there will be some amazing fight scenes. Violence is not carnage and brutality though, and it has a noble or chivalrous purpose.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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    Heroic Fantasy. Both sub-genres feature heroes who accomplish great feats.

  • Sword and Sorcery. Wuxia is, in a simplistic sense, the Chinese version of Sword and Sorcery (even though the sword is not always the weapon of choice).

Wuxia Fantasy Isn’t For You If...

If you are reading a bad translation. Translations of Wuxia stories are sometimes abridged versions, which can diminish a lot of the depth these stories have. Moreover, some translations have not done a good job of preserving the mood of the story.

Popular Wuxia Fantasy
  • 1 Crane-Iron Series


    By Wang Dulu. A five-part epic series about the struggles of four generations of youxia. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is Dulu's most famous work because it was made into a feature film; it is the fourth installment of the serie.

  • 2 The Book and the Sword


    By Jin Yong, aka Louis Cha. One of the most accomplished and influential Wuxia writers and his stories have been adapted into many movies and television series. This story is a revival of the 18th century Manchu Emperor Qianlong legend. The book contains fantastical elements as well as secret societies, kungfu masters, a lost city, and a mysterious princess.

  • 3 The Seven Swords of Mount Heaven


    By Liang Yusheng. Pioneer of the new school of Wuxia. This story has inspired television versions. A heroic tale with a sense of legacy and helping the poor and oppressed.

  • 4 A Dream of Red Mansions


    By Cao Xueqin. A tragic and romantic tale that chronicles a noble family in the 18th century.

  • 5 Journey to the West


    By Cheng'en Wu. A fantastical Buddhist tale of epic proportions. Gods, demons, and humans make up the cast of characters. It is based on traditional Chinese folktales and has a mythic quality.

  • 6 Outlaws of the Marsh or The Water Margin


    By Shi Nai'an. This classic story chronicles the story of 108 bandits who lead an uprising during the Song Dynasty.

  • 7 The Tian-Guan Duo Heroes


    By Zeng Feng, aka Chen Yu-hui. A contemporary female Wuxia novelist, this is her debut novel. It does not yet have an official translation.

  • 8 Celebrating the Remaining Life


    By Maoni. A Wuxia writer that has made a name of himself for publishing on the internet. This is a reincarnation story where a person dies and is reborn with all the memories of the previous life.

  • 9 The Eleventh Son


    By Gu Long. Blends a bit of mystery and intrigue into the story and his style has influences from Japanese and Western literature. This story has complicated romances, intrigue, and of course some great martial arts.

  • 10 Three Kingdoms


    By Luo Guanzhong. A beloved masterpiece, this is an epic tale about the future of the Chinese empire at the end of the Han Dynasty. It is part legend, part myth, and part history.

  • 11 Brother Initiate


    By Sean Williams. An epic fantasy featuring a martial artist monk as a hero. Set in a mythical alternate china.

  • 12 Under Heaven


    By Gaverial Guy Kay. An alternate ancient china told with the majesty of one of fantasy's best wordsmiths.

  • 13 Seven Sons


    By Curt Benjamin.

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