A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

In the past 40 years, China has been the main market for exporting Japanese and American animations. However, in recent years, Chinese animation works have gradually gained attention in the international market. In 2018, the first Chinese original animation series "Scissor Seven" was launched on Netflix and made its way overseas. After being simultaneously broadcasted in over 190 countries and regions worldwide, the entire animation market has accelerated its pace in going global.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

In 2019, "White Snake" was nominated for the Feature Film competition unit at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France. In the same year, the phenomenal work "Ne Zha" was released in North America and achieved a box office of 3.69 million dollars, setting a new record for the distributing company. In 2021, "I Am What I Am" participated in the largest animation festival in North America, the AIF Animation Film Festival. This summer, the domestic animated film "Chang An" received both critical acclaim and box office success overseas.

In addition to an increasing number of Chinese animation works being available on mainstream international media platforms and attracting attention from the global market, various Chinese video platforms have also made moves to enter the international market. With the joint efforts of creators and content platforms, the expansion of Chinese animation in the global market has become an unstoppable trend.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations


The Growing Influence of Chinese Animation

For a long time, some viewers have had a biased understanding of the concept of animation. Many times, animation is understood as animated films specifically for young children. However, in fact, the definition of animation encompasses almost all non-live-action forms of audiovisual content.

Whether it is an animated film released in theaters or an animated series broadcasted on television or online platforms, they all fall within the category of animation. In recent years, outstanding Chinese animated works have emerged, from animated films like "White Snake," "Ne Zha," and "Jiang Ziya," to animated series like "Douluo Continent," "Scissor Seven," and "The Legend of Hei." These works have not only been highly praised by Chinese audiences but have also attracted significant attention from the international market.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

In July of this year, the popular animation "Fei Ren Zai" was aired on Tokyo TV in Japan. In the same month, the first season of the animation "Link Click" entered the Top 20 of the world rankings on the authoritative animation website MyAnimeList with a rating of 8.8, making it the highest-ranking Chinese work on the list. On October 6th, the animated film "Chang An," which was released during the summer season, announced its release in North America and accumulated a box office revenue of 216,280 dollars within 10 days.

In China, "Chang An" has already surpassed 1.8 billion in box office revenue, surpassing "Jiang Ziya" to become the second-highest-grossing animated film in Chinese film history. From the perspective of the audience, this film has been able to surpass many commercial entertainment films. The popularity of "Chang An" has not only ignited a cultural craze in China but has also introduced Chinese traditional culture to international netizens.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

Some netizens have expressed that they were deeply impressed by this animated film, both in terms of its production and its meaning. It uses Chinese poetry as a unique medium to depict the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty and the desolation after the Anshi Rebellion. Moreover, it is not just Chinese people who are watching this film, as many international audiences have also expressed their appreciation for it.

In addition to theatrical films, animated series adapted from comics or novels have also attracted considerable attention. According to TikTok's data, there are a total of 11 Chinese animation IPs that have surpassed 100 million views, including "Scissor Seven," "Mo Dao Zu Shi," and "Heaven Official's Blessing."

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

Among them, the second season of "Heaven's Official Blessing" premiered on October 18th. Although this season has not been released on Chinese platforms, it is still a highly anticipated intellectual property. The global advance fan screening events held in Singapore, South Korea, and other regions were also bustling with excitement.

Previously, the first season of "Heaven Official's Blessing" became one of the recommended works on Bilibili after its release in 2020. It was also the fastest Chinese animation to surpass 100 million views in the domestic animation section. Subsequently, it was made available on platforms such as Laftel, Netflix, and Funimation. To meet the demands of international audiences, the animation specifically included bilingual subtitles in Chinese and English. On social media platforms, the works created by fan creators from different regions have greatly contributed to the international dissemination of "Heaven Official's Blessing."

According to TikTok's data, there are currently 11 Chinese animation IPs with over 1 billion views, and 30 with over 30 million views. The top three are "Talking Tom Cat" with 2.4 billion views and "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf" and "Scissor Seven" with 832 million and 785 million views respectively.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

Among the Top 30 list, Tencent and Bilibili have the highest number of works, with 9 and 8 respectively. Notable works include Tencent's "Mo Dao Zu Shi" and "Under One Person," as well as Bilibili's "Link Click" and "Heaven Official's Blessing." Additionally, "Chinese Bizarreries" and "Fog Hill of Five Elements" have garnered significant discussion on YouTube.

To be frank, compared to international IPs with billions of views, there is still a noticeable gap between Chinese animation IPs and top international works. Furthermore, the only Chinese animation on TikTok with over 1 billion views, "Talking Tom Cat," was acquired through acquisition. However, as Chinese animation works are increasingly noticed and discussed by the international market, this signifies that Chinese animation companies, which were previously only known for their role as outsourced animation producers, are gradually gaining a voice in the global animation industry.


The Journey of Chinese Animation Internationalization

Compared to Japan and the West, China's animation industry may have started later, but the cultural differences have given rise to a distinct Chinese style. In terms of content and form, Chinese animation no longer simply imitates Japanese works, but presents unique artistic characteristics that are completely different from other international animations.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

Looking at the breakout works in recent years, many of them draw inspiration from traditional culture and combine it with modern thinking to create innovative pieces. For example, "Chang An" combines Tang Dynasty aesthetics and poetry, with scenes, costumes, and architecture referencing historical records, and characters shaped based on Tang Dynasty paintings and pottery figurines. Another example is "Green Snake", which is a creative adaptation of the folk story Legend of the White Snake. Additionally, "Chinese Bizarreries" combines traditional elements such as ink painting, 3D animation, traditional hand-drawing, and paper-cutting in its 8 short stories. While there may be traces of modern animation's industrial influence in terms of visual aesthetics, the storytelling techniques and underlying narratives remain true to the essence of animated works.

Especially noteworthy is "Fog Hill of Five Elements", which has received a high rating of 9.5 on Douban. Its ink painting style and martial arts scenes are considered quintessential Chinese elements by fans. In addition to rich traditional Chinese cultural elements in the background story, from the theories of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements, to the demons and monsters recorded in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, as well as allusions to Buddhist teachings, every aspect signifies the essence of Chinese animation lies in its Chinese ideology.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

Besides the quality of the works themselves, another major factor that has contributed to the success of Chinese animation in the international market is the support of content platforms. Since 2018, there have been online comic platforms dedicated to translating and providing Chinese comic works to overseas users, such as WebComics and Manga Toon. Currently, most well-known comic platforms and production companies in China have expanded their presence overseas, including platforms like KuaiKan Comics, Bilibili, iQIYI, and Tencent Comics' overseas version, We Comics, which have all launched their own overseas comic platforms in Southeast Asia, North America, and other markets.

The main target market for these domestic platforms is Southeast Asia, which shares the Confucian cultural sphere. Additionally, the North American region is also an important area for distribution. With the help of video platforms, including Tencent's "Mo Dao Zu Shi" and Bilibili's "Heaven Official's Blessing", Chinese animated works have gained a following among overseas fans.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

According to data provided by Bilibili, they have released over 70 Chinese animated works overseas since 2018. In the 6th National Animation Creation Conference, Bilibili announced a collaboration with Japan's Fuji Television to establish the exclusive Bilibili Animation Channel "B8 Station", which will exclusively broadcast Chinese animated works. This marks the first time a domestic video platform has partnered with a mainstream Japanese TV station to promote the internationalization and development of Chinese animation.

Furthermore, Bilibili has also collaborated with KADOKAWA Corporation, with the latter's Global Comic editorial department serving as the responsible editorial department. Under the guidance of Jun Meze, one of the founding editors of the "Dengeki Daioh" magazine, they have created adaptations of light novels such as "A Herbivorous Dragon of 5,000 Years Gets Unfairly Villainized" and six other works. It is reported that this project not only involves the creation of comics but also simultaneous animation production, which will be broadcasted locally in Japan upon completion. This collaboration provides new insights for the internationalization of Chinese comics.


Comic Adaptation Dramas's Assistance

As Chinese animation gradually gains recognition on the world stage, the adaptation of animated works into live-action dramas, known as comic adaptation dramas, is becoming a crucial element in helping Chinese animated IPs gain international popularity. Looking at the global manhua adaptation industry, it has been proven that utilizing film and television mediums to diversify IP creation is an essential path to success. For example, the Marvel superhero series and adaptations of popular Japanese anime such as "One Piece" and "Gintama" have successfully transitioned into live-action formats, attracting fans who may not have read the original manga. However, this raises the question of how to adapt.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

This summer, the live-action television drama "I Am Nobody" based on the comic "Under One Person" was released. As a flagship IP in Chinese animation, "Under One Person" achieved a high score of 9 on Douban, a popular Chinese review platform. "I Am Nobody" gained significant attention upon its release. Although there were initial concerns from fans that "Under One Person" would be another poorly adapted drama, the first four episodes and subsequent plot changes and production delays did not hinder its success, as it still maintains a rating of over 8 on Douban. Furthermore, "I Am Nobody" received a remarkable rating of 9.4 on IMDb, a prominent global film database, and currently holds a stable rating of 8.1.

In the past three years, manhua adaptation dramas such as "The Blood of Youth" and "Hikaru no Go" have also received high ratings. "The Blood of Youth" even achieved a remarkable score of 9.8 on the North American streaming platform Viki. It can be said that manhua adaptations consistently contribute to the success of Chinese animated IPs. In 2024, there are still several highly anticipated manhua adaptation dramas awaiting release, including "Brothers 2", "Fox Spirit Matchmaker", and "Biao Ren".

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

A successful comic adaptation drama not only transforms fictional characters from a two-dimensional world into three-dimensional live-action productions but also involves strategic selection and innovation. For example, while maintaining the main storyline, "A Portrait of Jianghu: Bad Guys" enriches character development by introducing new emotional elements.

In the case of "I Am Nobody," the integration of cutting-edge technology, such as AI-human hybrids, adds depth to the character "Erzhuang", who is a non-physical entity in the original work. The production team utilized AI digital technology and a combination of live actors and post-production techniques to bring this character to life.

Considering the current market environment, the influence of Chinese animated works in the global market has been limited, with limited channels for international distribution, resulting in fierce competition. However, the market environment for live-action adaptations of Chinese animated IPs seems to be slightly more favorable.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

On platforms like TikTok, the popularity of Chinese dramas consistently surpasses that of Chinese animation. China-produced dramas have gained attention not only in neighboring countries influenced by Chinese culture but also in English and Spanish-speaking countries. Historical dramas that showcase Chinese aesthetics and Eastern charm, as well as unique fantasy and martial arts dramas, are particularly popular in overseas markets.

Historical dramas have served as a breakthrough for the international expansion of Chinese dramas and have been at the forefront of cultural exports. In 2015, "Empresses in the Palace" and "The Journey of Flower" propelled Chinese dramas to new heights internationally. The airing of "Nirvana in Fire" in South Korea in the same year led to a 435% increase in average viewership.

With the continuous improvement of television production standards and the diversification of themes for international distribution, Chinese dramas such as "Day and Night", "The Bad Kids", and "Reset" have found success in multiple countries. "A Lifelong Journey" secured a pre-sale exclusive distribution rights deal with Disney, and BBC, CNBC, and The Times have officially reported and recommended "In the Name of People".

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

As Chinese television dramas establish a presence in the international market, it is possible that comic adaptation dramas can seize this opportunity. For Chinese animation to maintain long-term vitality, it is crucial to capitalize on the potential of manhua adaptations and explore diversified avenues for prosperity and dissemination.

Over the past 30 years, Chinese animation has been learning and accumulating experiences. The birth of outstanding works is not by chance but the inevitable result of the industry's continuous growth. Although there is still a gap between Chinese animation and the world's top mature industries, the visible reduction of this gap can be observed through an increasing number of exceptional domestically produced animated works. We believe that in the not-too-distant future, Chinese animation will produce delightful results.

A New Era of Chinese animation: Tracing the Remarkable Works and Creative Innovations

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