The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

The 29th Shanghai TV Festival is scheduled to be held from June 24th to 28th. The submission for the Magnolia Awards began at the end of last year and concluded on March 31st this year, with the expected announcement of the shortlisted candidates in May. The selection of Chinese dramas for this edition of the Magnolia Awards showcases outstanding productions aired from the second quarter of 2023 to the first quarter of 2024. Both television and web series are eligible for consideration, be they long or short formats.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

During this evaluation period of the Magnolia Awards, there has been a shift in the creative direction and aesthetic appeal of Chinese dramas, resulting in a crop of exquisite works and emerging talents in the industry. The artistic quality of series has reached new heights, fostering greater resonance and crossover between young and older audiences.


Exquisite Suspense Dramas

Police dramas have the largest audience base globally. Chinese police dramas achieved remarkable success around the year 2000 before experiencing a decade of silence. With the rise of online video platforms, they made a comeback in the form of suspense dramas.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

The past year has seen many outstanding suspense dramas. "The Long Season" is the highest-rated web series on Douban, while "Thirteen Years of Dust", "Endless Journey", and "Detective Chinatown 2" have garnered favorable reviews. "The Lost 11th Floor", "Frozen Surface", and "The Hunter" have sparked controversy but also gained loyal audiences. Particularly, "The Hunter" had the highest average viewership in the first quarter of this year, achieving an S-level impact with a B-level production. These series typically range from 24 to 12 episodes, reflecting the trend towards high-quality and shorter Chinese dramas.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

After three years of cost reduction and efficiency enhancement, online video platforms are now focusing on overall viewership, as well as the user acquisition rate and completion rate of each series. They not only welcome blockbusters but also appreciate high-quality short dramas with substantial viewership per episode. iQiyi was an early adopter of the suspense drama trend with its "Fog Theater," maintaining the expected standards with "Thirteen Years of Dust" and "Endless Journey."

Tencent Video also established the X Theater in 2023. The consecutive airing of "The Long Season", "Fearless Blood", and "Ripe Town" offers realistic, romantic, and dark elements, enriching Tencent's series lineup with visually appealing and thought-provoking works.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Most online suspense dramas are set in contemporary times, with "Fearless Blood" set in the Republican era and "Ripe Town" in an ancient backdrop. The seamless fusion of different time periods further stimulates the creative space for high-quality short dramas. In essence, this represents an artistic form that bridges the gap between movies and traditional TV shows, boasting refined visual and narrative languages akin to movies, while also fulfilling the storytelling capacity expected of television dramas.

Previously, series provided both superficial entertainment and immersive emotional impact. Nowadays, the superficial sensory pleasure is catered to by short videos and micro-series, while the long-term survival strategy for series lies in immersion and impact. To make viewers feel that investing a considerable amount of time in a series is worthwhile is crucial.

To a certain extent, high-quality suspense dramas are the cream of the crop in the realm of series, attracting audiences averse to lengthy dramas and providing them with spiritual nourishment through dramatic storytelling. The inclusion of web short series in the Magnolia Awards selection signifies an adaptation to the times, a change for the better.


Excellent Period Long Drama Production

In the annals of the Magnolia Awards, period dramas have always been a major winner. Over the past year, many outstanding works of period drama have emerged, some of which are poised to be the hot contenders for this year's awards. The two main branches of period drama are unfolding like blooming flowers. One branch focuses on the Republican era, often depicting stories of revolutionary struggles. The other branch delves into nostalgic themes, narrating tales of the common people in New China since its establishment, with a backdrop that does not extend to the present day.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

During this award cycle, there has been a rich harvest of nostalgic period dramas. Some have pushed the boundaries of Chinese television art to new heights, delving deeply into the tumultuous times and the culture of Shanghai in "Blossoms Shanghai". Others, such as "Always on the Move" from the perspective of railway police, vividly portray the sweeping changes in China over the decades. There are also works like "A Long Way Home," which tells the story of honor and dreams of Chinese forestry workers, and the concluding part of the "Like a Flowing River" series, which resonates with the era of agriculture, industry, and commerce. Furthermore, there is "Welcome to Milele Village," which chronicles the altruistic journey of a Chinese medical team in Africa, and "The Youth Memories," which revisits the events of the 1980s through young idol actors.

Works based on revolutionary history also shine brightly. "The Forerunner," "Lightseeker: The Story of the Young Mao Zedong," and "Da Dao Xin Huo" each select a segment of Mao Zedong's revolutionary career, uncovering lesser-known aspects of the great leader and showcasing the twists and turns of the Chinese revolution, igniting sparks.

"War of Faith" represents spy dramas, infused with a wealth of financial knowledge and historical anecdotes from the Republican era, with the mentor-disciple dynamic adding an interesting dimension. "Scout Hero" is a rare theme centered on reconnaissance troops, narrating legendary stories from the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, while conveying an anti-war sentiment of ending wars through warfare.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Realism is the cornerstone and forte of Chinese television dramas. Chinese productions primarily focus on realism. Therefore, period dramas have always borne the responsibility of singing the songs of the times, preserving the historical memory of society, and documenting the demeanor of the Chinese people. The works of the past year have still effectively fulfilled this mission. Despite the strong impact of short videos and micro-dramas on long series in recent years, the trend towards shorter episodes is emerging. However, excellent long-form dramas still hold a place in the market and continue to attract young audiences.

Before "Blossoms Shanghai," so-called film production in television dramas was often just a promotional gimmick. A 30-episode TV series is equivalent to 10 two-hour movies. Within the shooting period of six months to as little as three months, it is impossible to achieve the cinematic level of production seen in "Blossoms Shanghai." However, "Blossoms Shanghai" managed to deliver a complex narrative, high-caliber cinematography, and maintained a cinematic standard from start to finish. Of course, it was completed under extended deadlines and budget overruns, making it a unique piece in terms of artistic achievement and production process. Yet, having this unique piece as a benchmark sets a standard for all industry practitioners.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Other productions follow traditional craftsmanship and linear narratives, showcasing the enduring appeal of realism, the exquisite acting skills of veteran actors, and the immense popularity of young idols. Period dramas have always been an important spiritual nourishment for middle-aged and elderly viewers, serving as the cornerstone of viewership. By rejuvenating the storyline, these dramas could potentially expand their appeal to younger audiences. In recent years, an increasing number of young actors have entered the spotlight of the Magnolia Awards through their involvement in weighty period dramas. The judges of the Magnolia Awards can further embrace the awareness of nurturing new talents, allowing both newcomers and seasoned veterans to shine together.


Eye-catching Innovative Drama

Over the past year, there has been a plethora of female-centric dramas, with popular titles such as "All the Way to the Sun," "Wu Suo Wei Ju," and "There Will Be Ample Time." However, family ethics dramas have generally lacked in-depth discussion, with significant impacts seen in productions like "In Later Years" and "Islands."

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

As for industry-focused dramas, series like "The Heart" in the medical field, "Gen Z" in traditional Chinese medicine, "Bright Eyes in the Dark" in firefighting, "Prosecution Elite" in legal affairs, and "Spy Game" in national security, all demonstrate a solid understanding of their respective industries and deliver unique emotional outputs.

The long-standing collaboration between Youku and TVB has yielded numerous Hong Kong-style police dramas, with the latest gem being the workplace drama "The Queen of News" in 2023. Alibaba Group has invested heavily in the "Hong Kong Art Revival Plan," furthering collaboration between the two regions in film and television creation and talent development.

Urban emotional dramas, as the flagship genre of TV stations, are facing increasing challenges amidst the difficult landscape of television broadcasting. In this era dominated by video streaming platforms, urban emotional dramas are continuously innovating. The summer 2023 release of "Imperfect Victim" offers a rare balanced perspective on exploring relationships between the sexes. Through the intricate analysis of rape cases and imperfect victims, the drama presents a complex, raw portrayal of human nature and its contradictory facets. However, "Imperfect Victim" is not a light-hearted drama; it refrains from physical confrontation or seeking vengeance, leaving some viewers feeling unsettled. Its strength lies in its rationality, yet this also poses a barrier to audience immersion.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

In society and the workplace, everyone wears armor. In "Fake It Till You Make It," this metaphorical armor takes the form of pretense for the male and female protagonists. In the elite realm of the workplace, one must don an aesthetic facade. In emotionally uncertain relationships, it's common to pretend not to hear, not to receive, or not to be moved. Beneath the facade of pretense lie authentic and vibrant individuals. This is the discovery and expression in "Fake It Till You Make It." However, after three years of the pandemic, people are generally less inclined to "pretend," causing the drama to lose its appeal.

Innovation extends beyond urban emotional dramas; for instance, in educational-themed series like "The Hope," a methodology for academic excellence is presented in a legendary and convincing manner. In the contemporary fantasy genre, there are standout works for both male and female audiences: "I Am Nobody" for male viewers, portraying a surreal shared humanity, and "Parallel World" for female viewers, depicting a mysterious and deeply emotional narrative. In the realm of comedy, "Legend of the Undercover Chef" transports the stage to ancient times, creating a new Zhao family universe. "A Soldier's Story" injects humor into wartime dramas, extending the vitality of the annual comedy competition. "The Lord of Losers Season 2" embraces a satirical comedy style, offering relief and encouragement to the working class.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Innovation may receive applause, but it does not guarantee commercial success. These productions not only resonate with existing audiences but also serve as conceptual vehicles brimming with creativity, setting a benchmark for aspiring creators to follow.


Essential Idol Drama

Let's delve into the cornerstone of video streaming platforms: ancient idol dramas and modern idol dramas. Typically, ancient idol dramas feature idol actors in historical romantic settings, while modern idol dramas feature idol actors in contemporary romantic narratives. In the past year, there has been an abundance of ancient idol dramas, airing continuously throughout the seasons. Titles like "Lost You Forever" have maintained a solid viewership base. However, compared to the summer of 2022, which saw a surge of three hit ancient idol dramas ("A Dream of Splendor," "Love Like the Galaxy," "Love Between Fairy and Devil"), the summer of 2023 seems slightly less remarkable.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

While ancient idol dramas attract male viewers, they ultimately cater to a female audience. These dramas encompass martial arts tales as well as mystical adventures. Within this genre, there are series with prominent female leads and those with balanced perspectives. Pioneering the concept of intellectual chivalry, "The Ingenious One" unfolds a legendary tale of wit and valor, while "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" masterfully combines Chinese aesthetics with Western-style deduction, showcasing a significant ripple effect.

Representative of dramas with strong female leads are titles like "The Legend of Shen Li," "A Journey to Love," and "Lost You Forever," portraying women's strength in celestial realms, political landscapes, and battlefields, respectively. On the other hand, offerings like "Back from the Brink" and "In Blossom" may not boast high production values or star power, but their unique creativity and captivating storytelling still manage to captivate audiences.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Why do ancient idol dramas resonate with female viewers? From the elaborate costumes to the makeup aesthetics, it provides a visual feast. Watching a cast of high-caliber individuals engage in life-and-death romances offers a spiritual indulgence. If ancient figures were to advocate for contemporary feminism, the result would be simply indescribable.

Similarly, modern idol dramas target female viewers, with more fashionable attire and direct endorsements. Stories like "Here We Meet Again" "Love Endures," and "Hidden Love" revolve around campus romances, reconnecting with one's initial aspirations upon reaching adulthood. "Amidst a Snowstorm of Love" follows a mutual pursuit sparked by billiards.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

Both ancient and modern idol dramas serve as the main course for young audiences and the flagship offerings of video streaming platforms. They generally avoid complex and weighty topics, instead reveling in sweet romance and trendy fashion. Realism takes a backseat while romanticism takes center stage. Idol dramas are market-driven and are not typically contenders in major award ceremonies. They excel at generating buzz, with audiences enthusiastically expressing their viewing experiences, leading to phenomena like elevating supporting roles and challenging canonical pairings.

In conclusion, television dramas represent a highly inclusive and diverse art form, serving functions of historical documentation and dream weaving. They allow for appreciation of acting skills and shipping of favorite character pairs, catering to a range of tastes. By archiving these myriad works and innovations, we capture the grand panorama of domestic dramas over the past year.

The Most Captivating Chinese Dramas of the Year

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