10 Popular Douban C-Dramas

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Spoiler Notice: some comments may include hinted spoilers to the associated drama – no major plot spoilers

Ratings may or may not affect if we pick up a drama because ratings are subjective to people’s opinions, and we know that everyone’s opinions vary. If you’ve been in Chinese dramaland, you should have heard how tough Douban raters can be. So with a curious mind, I searched for the top-rated Chinese dramas on Douban and the thoughts and achievements associated with the shows. There were no limitations in release dates or genres as long as they were a television show released in mainland China; however, dramas were omitted from this top ten list if they:

  • Cannot be found online in my region
  • Were not fully subbed 
  • Were dubbed vs. subbed
  • Did not have over 100,000 ratings
  • Were not found on the MyDramaList database

Many older dramas were part of the top ten and beyond but got removed due to the criteria used. I’ll include a few shows in “Honorable Mentions” to better understand which ones were omitted based on criteria. I researched these numbers and information on 8/26/2021 to finalize the list. If there were any changes to drama availability, the list does not reflect it. 

Note: Achievements and domestic thoughts were roughly translated with Google Translate through articles and comments found in relation to drama; therefore, some information and direct intention of the author may not be accurate. If you’re a native speaker or know more information about the general thoughts I’ve collected, please kindly share your comments after you’ve read the article. It is to note that these domestic thoughts were a summary of the most prominent remarks and not what all domestic viewers feel.     

Honorable Mentions:

Towards the Republic (2003) 

DB: 9.7 from 75,865 | MDL: 8.0  from 2 users

Soldiers Sortie (2006) 

DB: 9.4 from 160,962 | MDL: 8.4 from 4 users

Romance of Our Parents (2014)

DB: 9.5 from 238,584 | MDL: 8.2 from 25 users

Yong Zheng Dynasty (1999) 

DB: 9.3 from 67,649 | MDL: 8.5 from 10 users

#10: The Bad Kids (2020)

Douban: 8.8 from 942,861 ratings
MDL: 8.5 from 1,139 users

Genres: Adventure, Thriller, Mystery 

Episodes: 12 | Duration: 50 minutes

Cast: Qin HaoRong Zi ShanShi Peng Yuan, Wang Sheng Di

Synopsis: A story that follows three children from a coastal town who unintentionally film a murder scene. As the kids become involved with the suspect, it opens up a far more complicated case than it looks and entraps several families into an unpredictable outcome.
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: The Bad Kids is the second drama that’s part of iQiyi’s famous Light On Theater (迷雾剧场) suspense drama installments. This drama blew up and trended several times on Weibo. It even had a meme generated from the show.  Popular actress and now director Zhang Zi Yi even praised the drama, saying it can compete well against well-known British and American shows. The Bad Kids collaboratively received 33 awards that were related to the acting and directing of the show.

It has the most number of raters on Douban from this list. Critics note that it has an impressive cast list with no idol actors, which can often be viewed negatively. A notable aspect of the show was the location and how the simple town contrasted with the complicated psychological aspects of human nature. Others mention how instead of it being like past Chinese crime dramas focusing on government vs. the criminals, the drama is focused on the harsh realities and social welfare of the ordinary Chinese people.

#9: Like a Flowing River 2 (2020)

Douban: 8.9  from 159,345 ratings
MDL: 8.2 from 34 users


Genres: Historical, Business, Life 

Episodes: 39 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Wang KaiYang ShuoDong Zi Jian

Synopsis: Continuing from the first season, it follows the story of Song Yun Hui, Lei Dong Bao, and Yang Xun. Watch these three individuals and how they took part in China’s economic reform from the 1980s to the 1990s as a deputy leader, a family businessman, and an entrepreneur.
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: Like a Flowing River 2 rated higher than its previous season, Like a Flowing River (2018) on Douban. The Like a Flowing River television series is based on a popular novel, and I think it says a lot about how well it was produced into a live adaptation when both seasons were well-loved. Like a Flowing River (2018) won 10 domestic awards, and the show’s continuation in season two topped popularity charts several times while it was airing. It got some nominations under its belt, even though the drama did not win them.  Like a Flowing River, 2 was praised for its realism in the workplace dynamics and within family relationships – where the characters and emotions were portrayed realistically. Viewers appreciated the attention to detail in the story. The plot stayed concise and consistent throughout the show, impacting the story that surrounds the establishment of the economy in the 80s to 90s.

#8: With You (2016) 

Douban: 8.9  from 308,175 raters
MDL: 7.9 from 1,802 raters

Genres: Youth, Romance, Comedy, Life

Episodes: 24 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Tan Song Yun, Liu Hao RanWang Li Xin 

Synopsis: Geng Geng (Seven Tan) is a normal high school student trying to find her place in the world. Her father just remarried, and she’s adjusting to her new family. She’s struggling with her new prestigious high school assignments, and she’s feeling quite lonely.

On the first day of school, she meets a cute boy Yu Huai (Turbo Liu), and they start on the wrong foot, but he quickly becomes one of her many new friends. She even attracts the class rebel Lu Xing He (Wang Li Xin) and announces his love to the world. Daily school life becomes quite enjoyable, but when school ends, will she find love with the boy she always crushed on or the one who was always there for her? (Source: Viki)

Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: With You is the first installment of the popular youth books written by Bayue Changan and won three awards associated with the drama. With You is our only youth-centered drama on this list. I think it says a lot about how well-loved it is when most of the top-rated dramas on Douban aren’t youth-centered dramas. With any movie or drama adapted from a novel, there’s bound to be criticisms, and With You didn’t escape complaints from the novel’s fans. Yet, this drama still received a well-balanced amount of positive reviews. Reviewers admire how the characters were written as relatable high school students that could likely be a classmate of theirs. The characters were not flawless students – they had insecurities and weren’t glamorous. It showed the pressure of the school system on students and how teachers don’t always have the answers. With this theme weaved into youth romance, it left a good impression on its viewers.

#7: Chinese Paladin (2005)

Douban: 9.0  from 246,632 ratings
MDL: 7.8 from 802 users

Genres: Wuxia, Romance, Adventure

Episodes: 34 | Duration: 50 minutes

Cast: Hu Ge, Crystal LiuAdy An

Synopsis: Set in medieval China, Li Xiao Yao (Hu Ge) is a rough-and-tumble young man known as a troublemaker. When his aunt, who has raised him, falls ill, he is told to travel to Dream Island to get the antidote. He meets the beautiful Zhao Ling Er (Crystal Liu), falls in love, and marries her. Xiao Yao returns home with the cure for his aunt, but the Lunar Sect Cult assassins wipe out his memories. Despite not remembering his marriage, Xiao Yao takes Ling Er back home with him. 
Ling Er tries to win Xiao Yao’s heart again, but she has competition with Xiao Yao’s friend, Lin Yue Ru (Ady An), who does whatever she can to impress him. When Ling Er suddenly disappears, Xiao Yao and his friends set out to find her and face many dangers in their journey. But how will Xiao Yao feel about Ling Er and her secret past when he does find her? (Source: Viki)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: The drama won 9 awards over three years associated with the show, actors, actresses, and soundtracks. Chinese Paladin did not have high ratings upon its release, and the lovers of the original game highly criticized it. Yet, it was able to leave a lasting impression as a xianxia drama and the only one on this list. Another negative aspect was that the main characters were young and essentially “idol” actors. So how did it become so highly rated even with its lack of response upon its release? First, many viewers comment on the nostalgia of the show. Second, others mention the theme of the drama and how it was able to bring in a fresh insight into the xianxia genre with the love and friendship amongst the young characters. A keyword I found was the word “innocent.” Positive comments state the drama highlighted the youthfulness of the actors. They utilized it to portray the innocence of the characters and their development in life and love. It came in the form of the look in their eyes, the sacrifices they had to make, and the person they become at the end of it all.    

#6: Day and Night (2017)

Douban: 9.0 from 502,061 ratings
MDL: 8.1 from 289 users

Genres: Thriller, Mystery 

Episodes: 32 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Pan Yue MingWang Long ZhengLiang Yuan  

Synopsis: Guan Hong Feng (Pan Yue Ming), a former police captain who has nyctophobia, returns to solving mysteries alongside the hot-tempered Captain Zhou Xun (Wang Long Zheng) and rookie officer Zhou Shu Tong (Liang Yuan). However, he has a hidden agenda: to clear his identical twin brother Guan Hong Yu’s name from the alleged murder of an entire family. (Source: Wikipedia)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: The drama’s production and quality were compared to several American TV series, one of them being Prison Break. This was the first domestic web drama to be broadcast worldwide on a large scale, as they gave distribution rights to Netflix back in 2017 to release to over 190 countries. Many viewers praised the attention to detail in the props for the crime scene. Triggering things like human body parts looked realistic for each of the cases shown. However, the most significant praise from viewers of the show noted the fantastic acting from the leading actor, Pan Yue Ming. He portrayed his role as twins so distinctively that it blew many away and led him to win four acting awards under his name through this drama.

#5: Battle of Changsha (2014)

Douban: 9.1  from 192,740 ratings
MDL: 8.6 from 1,704 users


Genres: Family, War, Romance 

Episodes: 32 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Yang Zi, Wallace Huo, Niu Jun Feng

Synopsis: Battle of Changsha retells the turbulent events of the second Sino-Japanese War from the perspective of the Hu family, mainly through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl named Xiang Xiang (Yang Zi) and her twin brother, Xiao Man (Niu Jun Feng).
Gu Qing Ming (Wallace Huo) is a strict Intelligence Officer in the Nationalist Army from a prominent political family. The feisty fun-loving Xiang Xiang and the arrogant Gu Qing Ming start on bad terms; however, their romance blossoms as they constantly bump into each other. (Source: MyDramaList)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: The drama was picked in July of 2020 by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Anti-Japanese War. With it being a drama centered around the Anti-Japanese war, viewers praised that it didn’t focus on patriotism. Instead, they emphasized the emotional involvement of those stuck in a war. The viewers could feel the sincerity of the actors and characters portrayed. Essentially, the impact of the character’s growth and their interpersonal relationships with the people around them made the impression of the drama more impactful.

#4: The Long Night (2020)

Douban: 9.1 from 673,945 ratings
MDL: 8.3 from 541 users

Genres: Thriller, Mystery 

Episodes: 12 | Duration: 60 minutes

Cast: Liao FanBai Yu  

Synopsis: It follows a prosecutor who has made countless sacrifices in the past ten years to find the truth about a case. In his youth, Jiang Yang (Bai Yu) was bright, sunny, and righteous. He once served as a prosecutor at Pingkang County Procuratorate. Jiang Yang takes Hou Gui Ping’s case, yet his investigation spans a decade. 
Ten years later, Jiang Yang works on a subway dumping case that fell into the hands of a major crimes deputy leader, Yang Liang (Liao Fan). His style may be unconventional, but he has a keen insight into the smallest of details. The suspect killed and discarded the body but was arrested on the spot with at least a few hundred witnesses. Furthermore, the suspect confessed his crime, and all the evidence matches up. Just as the prosecution has officially filed charges, circumstances begin to change. Upon receiving the ‘9-photo’ letters, the truth about ten years ago rises to the surface. (Source: chinesedrama.info)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: Another drama from iQiyi’s popular Light On Theater (迷雾剧场) suspense drama installments that surprised many as it was released after The Bad Kids, which was highly raved about. So far, The Long Night has received five awards associated with the show. Some of the main themes that seemed to highlight the drama for its viewers were its take on upholding justice in a broken system, sacrifices one makes, and the price one pays by having empathy. Instead of its main highlight being about solving cases, the story focuses on the characters themselves and how they approach the justice system. This direction worked well, as most of its raters were moved through the acting and portrayal of the characters.

#3: Minning Town (2021)

Douban: 9.3 from 355,145 ratings
MDL: 8.4 from 120 users

Tags: Rural Life, Politics, Business
Episodes: 23 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Huang Xuan, Zhang Jia Yi, Yan Ni  

Synopsis: The story of villagers from Ningxia who migrated and built Minning Town from scratch. The government wants to build the rural housing land and encourage Xiji Country farmers to migrate or relocate. However, the conditions of the desert are too harsh. The villagers who moved there mostly left the second day. Ma De Fu (Huang Xuan) tries his best to get the villagers to stay and build the Minning Town. In 1996, the Party Central Committee made a strategic plan to promote counterpart cooperation between the East and the West, identifying Fujian counterparts to promote poverty alleviation work in Ningxia. As time passed, Minning Town was given a new lease of life. (Source: MyDramaList)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts:
The drama has won five out of eleven awards associated with the show. I find this feat incredible as it was only released in January of 2021. Minning Town is most noted to show realism without sugarcoating the tough issues these characters faced. Nor does it exaggerate the moments to highlight the rough life of these villagers and doesn’t include fictional moments to force the emotions upon viewers. All that is given in the story is told in a compact, realistic way to make the story look raw. What enhances the drama is the use of the dialect, which we know is often dubbed. However, for this drama, many found this to be the show’s charm and preferred the dialect version. Minning Town was so well-received that critics have said it’s too short and should be longer.

#2: Nirvana in Fire (2015)

Douban: 9.4  from 608,649 ratings
MDL: 9.1 from 6,146 users

Genres: Historical, Wuxia, Political

Episodes: 54 | Duration: 45 minutes

Cast: Hu GeLiu TaoWang Kai

Synopsis: During the 4th century, war broke out between the feudal Northern Wei dynasty and Southern Liang dynasties, leading Liang’s General Lin Xie to take his only child, the 19-year-old Lin Shu (Hugh Hu), to battle. Unexpectedly, Lin Xie was framed by a political rival, causing the unjust deaths of seventy thousand Chiyan army soldiers just after they drove off the hostile Wei forces.

After barely escaping with his life, Lin Shu establishes the Jiangzuo Alliance with the help of Langya Hall and makes a name for himself as Mei Changsu, chief of the pugilistic world. Under the alias of Su Zhe, he returns to the capital of Liang 12 years later to overturn the injustices imposed on the Chiyan Army and secretly assist his friend the unfavoured Prince Xiao Jingyan (Wang Kai) in his battle for the throne. (Source: Dramawiki)

Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: Nirvana in Fire won over a whopping 68 awards associated with the drama over three years. It received the title of “China’s Game of Thrones.” The drama was so popular that it had been translated and dubbed in several languages. The response in South Korea was so well received that a South Korean travel agency created its own Nirvana In Fire-themed tour to visit the filming location. It is a no-brainer why Nirvana in Fire is the top-rated Chinese drama on MDL. This is one where it seems like domestically and internationally, it was loved by its viewers.

Some of the positive points listed were the emotional depth that the drama gave its viewers, even though it focused on political schemes. As it had several arcs in the storyline, it created a packed and intense storyline. Others commented on how the characters and settings were well written and brought out the best of its themes. Another positive note was the actors and the conviction they gave to each of their characters. They allowed its viewers to see the evolution of their relationships with one another and made them feel that connection as well.  

#1: Ming Dynasty in 1566 (2007)

Douban: 9.7 from 153,765 ratings
MDL: 8.3 from 16 users 

Genres: Historical, Political
Episodes: 46 | Duration: 50 minutes

Cast: Chen Bao Guo, Huang Zhi Zhong, Wang Qing Xiang, Ni Da Hong 

Synopsis: This is the story of the Ming Emperor Jiajing  (Chen Bao Guo) and Prime Minister Hai Rui (Huang Zhi Zhong). China’s economy developed, and its culture became prosperous. However, the social contradictions are prominent, and the State implements the plan of land annexation. A large number of peasants have lost their land. A traitor Yan Song (Ni Da Hong), caused the dissatisfaction of local officials. Therefore, the activities to overthrow Yan Song broke out, and the palace was full of intrigue and struggle. (Source: IMDb)
Domestic Achievements and Thoughts: This drama has been the top-rated domestic drama for several years now on Douban and has won two domestic awards. It is deemed a classic, but it seems like this show was way ahead of its time. It did not receive a lot of traction during its initial release and slipped under the radar for many. Ming Dynasty in 1566 had a re-airing, and since then, it has been able to attract more attention. It seems like lockdown also helped the drama gain some traction and ratings. Last year in February of 2020, its ratings stood at 92,203 compared to its 150,000+ ratings this year. One of the things to note is that the director of this show, Zhang Li, and the screenwriter, Liu He Ping, both have other works that are part of Douban’s top-rated dramas. Zhang Li took part in Towards the Republic (2003), and Liu He Peng had a hand in The Yong Zheng Dynasty (1999).
Many highlighted the acting of these actors and the well-written script. The comments that praised this drama highlighted how intricately written each of the characters was and how that intertwined with the drama’s plot. Despite its 46 episodes, no moments felt like filler episodes as each moment was tightly packed with political schemes. We have to note this drama is loosely based on history with fictitious elements, but this didn’t bother its viewers. Another positive aspect many seemed to agree with is that this drama did not focus on harem conflict. With its popularity and the later releases of Ming dynasty dramas, viewers can’t help but think back to this classic as a reference.

Milestones in Chinese Dramaland

If I included the actual top ten, none of the dramas following Ming Dynasty 1566 would’ve made this list. The new wave of interest in Chinese dramas has allowed subscription plans by having newly aired dramas to be concurrently subtitled by their release date. I hope that older shows will receive the same treatment and get subtitles to be put online for non-native speakers.

Although it may not be correct, I assume domestic viewers or Douban raters like seeing dramas based on realistic fiction or well-written storylines. While I have not seen most of these dramas, these characters seem to possess a lot of character depth from just the comments and reviews. Some of them allow for character growth, and for others, it seems to play a role in enhancing the show’s plot. Most positive comments generically stated that whether it was about family, war, or societal issues, it was thoroughly explored and presented in the story that resonated well with the watchers of the show.  

It is said the drama, Lurk (2009) created a milestone in the Chinese entertainment industry for espionage dramas as it became the first espionage drama to peak in ratings. In the following years, The Disguiser (2015) was able to outcompete Lurk. It led me to think some of these can be the game-changers to the Chinese drama industry or be a catalyst to the future production of similar shows. Or they have already outcompeted the game-changing show. I do think that while storylines like With You (2016) aren’t new, the positive reception and success may have helped create a craze of youth dramas in recent years. This would be an interesting insight, so please share it in the comments if you know of it.

With new episode count regulations, dramas are already cutting down on the length. The Bad Kids seemed to be the first of its genre to tell a gripping story that kept its viewers on their toes with just 12 episodes. So far, not many Chinese dramas have been able to solidify their script to tell a story like The Bad Kids. From my research, it seems like The Bad Kids has the most raters on both Douban and MDL from the Light On series – setting the bar high for future suspense-thriller dramas.

Douban vs. MDL

You will notice that while many say that Douban raters are harsh, the MDL ratings on these ten dramas beg to differ. There are fewer raters per drama on MDL compared to Douban. Yet, the only dramas that came close to a match were Nirvana in Fire and The Bad Kids. The rest of the dramas were at least 0.5-1.5 points lower than Douban ratings. If more people have rated it, do you think the overall rating would increase?

I concluded a possibility of why ratings may vary on Douban and MyDramalist, which is the type of rating scale used. Douban uses a 5-star rating scale, while MyDramalist uses a 10-star rating scale. A 10-star scale gives more room for there to be an in-between with 5 and 10. In contrast, a 5-star scale has less to offer and could bring down the overall rating. The results may differ depending on how one views and uses the scale.

So while I highlighted the domestic thoughts and comments on the show, I hope to open up the comment section to discuss what international/MDL users feel about these dramas and their own opinions associated with the ratings between the two. What elements made these dramas have a higher rating than your favorite Chinese dramas? Could it be the cultural differences and appreciation with international and domestic viewers? Or do you feel like this is a pretty representative list of the better Chinese dramas? Do share your thoughts!  

Have you seen these dramas? What are your thoughts as an MDL rater, and do you feel that they deserve such a high placement on Douban?

Credits: All photos found on their respective Douban page.
References: Award/achievement information gathered from respective Baidu pages. Summary of domestic viewers’ thoughts found through Douban reviews and Google search of articles relating to the drama.  
Edited By:  SumiTheCat (1st editor) BrightestStar (2nd Editor)
with you
nirvana in fire
battle of changsha
chinese dramas
chinese paladin
the bad kids
the long night
day and night

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