Drama

Withdrawal from Alchemy of Souls? Try The Untamed!

Most international viewers’ maiden ventures into Asian dramas are via Korean dramas (K-dramas), which have gained global popularity and solid fanbases. While some have diversified to watching other Asian dramas, including Chinese dramas (C-dramas) that are gaining popularity among international viewers in recent years, some remain skeptical of C-dramas and have stuck with K-dramas – some feel that the contemporary C-dramas are not quite up to expectations, some find it hard to watch long-haired, elaborately dressed up guys performing gravity-defying flying stunts in Chinese ancient costume dramas (古装剧) and some are simply put off by the long episodes of C-dramas.

But do you know that Chinese ancient costume dramas are widely acknowledged as the gem of C-dramas, and a notch better than their Korean counterparts, with story depths exploring friendship, loyalty and love, complex characters, intricate costumes, elaborate sets, breathtaking cinematography, and martial arts/action choreography and beautiful OSTs? Compared to contemporary dramas, these dramas usually have more episodes (40 episodes or more) to cater to world-building and character growth and development, but each C-drama episode is only 45 minutes compared to K-dramas which can run at 60-90 minutes per episode. 

If you have enjoyed Alchemy of Souls (AoS), waiting impatiently for new episodes each weekend and making wild theories of AoS on the weekdays during the airing of AoS, and now having withdrawal syndrome, anxiously waiting for its sequel Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow (AoS 2), this is for you! C-drama The Untamed (TU) is a similarly enchanting ancient costume fantasy drama to fill the void till AoS 2 starts in December 2022. Who knows, TU could well be your window to a myriad of acclaimed Chinese ancient costume dramas?

This article seeks to be spoiler-free but does include some background information and minor spoilers to help readers understand and appreciate the similarities of both dramas better.


Famed for their fantasy dramas, the writers of AoS, Hong Sisters (Hong Jung Eun and Hong Mi Ran), had written many popular Korean fantasy dramas and had also prior adapted Chinese classic literature Journey to the West for the A Korean Odyssey (2017).

Sandy, Monkey, Sanzang and Pigsy in
Journey to the West*
Sandy, Bull Demon, Sam Jang, Monkey and Pigsy in 
A Korean Odyssey

* There are many drama productions of Journey to the West. The image used is that of Journey to the West (2016),

In the early days of AoS’ airing, netizens had pointed out the resemblance of AoS to the C-drama Ever Night (2018), such as the master-servant relationship, ML’s blocked energy, and fight scenes on a frozen lake. But those soon died down as clichés as AoS progressed and bloomed to be quite different, and those clichés are common in C-dramas. For example, in Princess Agents (2017), the Female Lead (FL) is also a maid to the Male Lead (ML) who later trains her to be a spy. The FL has amnesia, not knowing her true identity and power as the daughter of the chief of a renowned spy network. Her full power is unsealed after she jumps into the water, following an intense fight on a frozen lake. 

FL Naksu fights the mages on a frozen lake in AoS

ML Ning Que fights his enemy on a frozen lake in Ever Night

FL Chu Qiao fights enemies on a frozen lake in Princess Agents

For a moment, Wish also thought AoS could be Harry Potter-inspired with the big-haired female characters (Hermione – ChoYeon) and magical objects (Mirror of Longing/Desire and talking treasures).

Jang Uk looking into the Mirror of Longing 
and big-haired Cho Yeon in AoS
Harry Potter looking into the Mirror of Erised (Desire spelled backward) 
and big-haired Hermione in Harry Potter

If there is one drama that can fill the void till AoS 2 airs in December 2022, it is the C-drama The Untamed

Besides being recommended by users at MDL and Reddit, TU is also included in The Review Geek’s 10 TV Shows Like ‘Alchemy of Souls’. In addition, it is the only C-drama listed among 24 other K-dramas in The Pop Times’ Top 25 Shows Like Alchemy Of Souls Every K-Drama Fan Will Love!

Here is a list of 6 similarities and déjà vu moments to TU we have experienced while watching AoS.

1. Historical fantasy mystery with comedic moments

Genre-wise, both AoS and TU are ancient costume fantasy series set in fictional worlds, as the leads set out to unravel the mystery, peppered with light-hearted comedic moments from the sassy protagonists, Mu Deok and Wei Wu Xian respectively.


2. Soul sorcery and humans running wild

The mystery of both dramas revolves around soul sorcery and humans running wild.

Ice Stone
Soul Ejector
Soul shifters with blue mark right on top of their heart

In AoS, souls are being switched, with the use of the heavenly object Ice Stone that changes between states (ice > fire > stone > water > ice). In that process, it produces black powder, called the Soul Ejector, which is used by evil people for soul switching (or alchemy of souls) to achieve power and longevity. The soul-switched humans or soul shifters, identified with blue marks on the chest, can run wild and become petrified.

Stygian Iron / Yin Metal (阴铁)
Stygian Tiger Amulet (阴虎符)
Typical puppets have black veins on their necks

In TU, souls are being snatched or absorbed by the Stygian Iron / Yin Metal, a precious and rare metal forged in nature, that has been misused to absorb the souls of humans, turning them into puppets. The puppets, with black veins marks on their necks, can be manipulated via unorthodox or demonic cultivation to fight fearlessly and endlessly, thus gaining power for the manipulator. The more powerful Stygian Tiger Amulet is refined from the Stygian Iron / Yin Metal.


3. World-setting around 5 noble families/clans

Both dramas have elaborate world-settings, each revolving around 5 noble families/clans.

The AoS world is set in a fictional nation, known as Daeho, that is dominated by the Royal Family and four powerful families of mages (Jang, Park, Seo, and Jin), each with their respective head of the family, their successors, the entities they own, and other significant characters under their institutions. We know in the later episodes that there is also a fifth mage family – the Choi family. Check out Cho Na’s Currently Watching: Alchemy of Souls article for details on each of the families.

Likewise, TU cultivator world is dominated by 5 big noble clans, each based on the Five Elements (五行) of Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth (金木水火土). Each of the 5 big noble clans has distinctive clan motifs, colours, and rules. The clan motifs are sewn on the sleeve capes of the school uniforms in episode 3.

THE UNTAMED WORLD

Yunmeng Jiang Clan

A clan based at the Lotus Pier in Yunmeng.

Clan motif: 

Nine-petal lotus

Clan colour: 
Purple

Clan element: 
Water

Founded by a traveling pugilist (游侠), the motto of the Jiang Clan is 
“Attempt the impossible” (明知不可为而为之). The Jiang Clan’s colour is purple.
Gusu Lan Clan

A clan based in the Cloud Recesses, on a remote mountain outside the city of Gusu.

Clan motif: 
Flowing Clouds

Clan colours: 

Blue and White

Clan element:
Wood

Founded by a monk, the Lan Clan follows strict monastery practices 
with 3,500 house rules and cultivates with swords and musical instruments. 
Dressed in white and blue, the inner Lan members also don forehead bands.
Qishan Wen Clan

A clan based in Nightless City, on a mountain in Qishan.

Clan motif: Sun

Clan colour: Red

Clan element: Fire

The Wen Clan leader, also the Chief Cultivator, is determined to lord over the other four clans. The motto of the Wen Clan is “Every kindness should be returned” (有恩必报).
Lanling Jin Clan

A clan based in Golden Carp Tower or Koi Tower, in the city of Jinling.

Clan motif:
White peony

Clan colour: 

Gold

Clan element: 

Metal (Gold)
As the wealthiest clan, the Jin Clan is dignified and snobbish. 
The members wear a vermilion mark on their forehead and are dressed in gold colour.
Qinghe Nie Clan

A clan based in Unclean Realm at Qinghe.


Clan motif: 

Head of a beast

Clan colour: 
Gray

Clan element: 
Earth

Founded by a butcher, the Nie Clan cultivates with sabers instead of swords. 
Located at the foot of the Qishan mountain, the Unclean Realm has high walls 
to guard against the powerful Qishan Wen Clan.

4. Found family, bromance, and revival

The protagonist of both dramas are both not birthed by their father or the man who brought them up, have deep friendships with their respective peers, and go through “second” life.

In AoS, the protagonist Jang Uk is the illegitimate son of Jang Kang’s wife and the old King. The old King had an affair with Jang Kang’s wife when the old King’s soul switched into Jang Kang’s body. Jang Uk forms deep friendships with his peers Seo Yul and Park Dang Gu and a hilarious relationship with the Crown Prince. At the end of AoS, Jang Uk is stabbed to death by Mu Deok (Naksu), and the ending scenes foretell the revival of Jang Uk in AoS 2.

In TU, the protagonist Wei Wu Xian is the son of a servant in the Jiang Clan. The young Wei Wu Xian is brought to the Jiang Clan and raised as an adopted son by the Jiang Clan Leader. Wei Wu Xian forms deep bonds with the Jiang siblings and has a friend-enemy relationship with both Jiang Cheng (son of the Jiang Clan Leader) and Lan Wang Ji (peer from the Lan Clan). At the start of episode 1, we see the fall of Wei Wu Xian into a deep abyss 16 years ago, as told by a storyteller in an inn, and the subsequent awakening of Wei Wu Xian in the Mo Manor.


5. Sword that seals by itself

In both dramas, every mage/cultivator has his/her own sword. There are also swords that seal on their own in both dramas.

In AoS, every mage has his/her own distinctive sword. Naksu’s sword seals by itself and Mu Deok (Naksu) need to regain her power to be able to draw out her sword.

In TU, as the main tool for cultivation, every cultivator has his/her own distinctive sword. Wei Wu Xian’s sword seals by itself after he falls into the deep abyss, and no one else can draw out his sword.


6. Déjà vu scenes

And finally some scenes of déjà vu moments that immediately bring us back to TU.

Black smokes attacking people

Black smokes attacking people in AoS
Black smokes attacking people in TU

Families / Clans coveting after the Ice Stone / Stygian Tiger Amulet

Once knowing the existence of the Ice Stone, 
the AoS families want to keep it in their own hands
Wei Wu Xian throws the much coveted 
Stygian Tiger Amulet for TU clans to fight for

Curse/injury shifting

Seo Yul transfers Mu Deok’s injury, 
caused by a soul shifter, onto himself in AoS
Wei Wu Xian transfers a curse 
cast upon Jin Ling onto himself in TU

Sorry and thank you

Mu Deok’s heartfelt words to Seo Yul in AoS
Wen Qing’s final words to Wei Wu Xian in TU

Bridge meeting

Mu Deok and Jang Uk meet on a bridge in AoS
Wei Wu Xian and Lan Wang Ji meet on a bridge in TU

Beyond the similarities and déjà vu moments noted above, both dramas have different narration styles, story arcs, and plots, and it remains to be seen how AoS 2 will unfold. In addition, as a web series with a limited production budget, TU’s CGI is comparably less polished than AoS. But beyond the can-be-better CGI, is an enchanting and emotional story of the protagonist who goes against society to fight evil and protect the weak.

Still deterred by the 50 episodes of TU? At 45 minutes per episode, the total run time of 37.5 hours for TU is actually shorter than 30 episodes of AoS with a total run time of 40 hours (both seasons combined at 80 minutes per episode). And yes, TU is a complete story in one season!

Having second thoughts as TU is an adaptation of a BL novel? Fret not, TU is cleverly produced to be suitable for all viewers, even for those who are not BL enthusiasts.

If you have watched both AoS and TU, what other similarities and déjà vu moments have you experienced? 
And w
hat other dramas would you recommend for AoS fans to watch, while waiting for AoS 2 and why?


Thank you to the editors who edited our article! The images are linked to their sources; otherwise, they are taken from official posters or photos on MDL drama page, and screenshotsAll GIFs are from the drama scenes. Feature image is a collage from characters’ posters. First draft by Wish. Visual design and preliminary editing: Cho Na.

Edited by: devitto (1st editor)
the untamed
alchemy of souls

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