Welcome to the World of Adventuring!
Some of you might have come across tomb-raiding shows on MDL or even read the 1st edition of this Guide. Or maybe you have heard about the recent release of a new adventure series, The Lost Tomb 2: Explore With the Note, also called Heavenly Palace on the Clouds. Maybe you hesitated to plunge into this world of adventure because you realized each show is part of a whole order of dramas. Don’t worry, we have come together to give you this new and updated guide on the Grave Robbers’ Chronicles, so you can join us on our adventurous ride through tombs, mazes, jungles, deserts, mountains, and secret underwater cities! Oops, did I just spill something? 😉
(The movie Time Raiders, as well as the shows’ side stories, will not be mentioned in this article.
This edition will revolve around the story, the book background and the multiple shows. If you want more information on the characters appearing in the story, please check the first edition of the guide.)
Who are we?
Taomubiji and KimWanHee are both passionate Grave Robbers’ Chronicles fans, one more of the novels, the other more of the shows, building a perfect duo to introduce this amazing story. We are admins in the novel and series’ wikis (novel wiki – series wiki, please beware of spoilers there), are regular re-watchers of the shows, and spend way more time with this franchise than is healthy. We have also made it our united mission to clear up questions, hesitation and confusion and find more fans out there to dive into this world of adventures…
So if you have any questions even after reading this article, feel free to comment down below or message us on our profiles!
The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles, aka The Lost Tomb Series or Daomu Biji (盗墓笔记), is a television series based on a series of novels of the same name written by Xu Lei. It follows Wu Xie as the main protagonist, along with Wang Pang Zi and Zhang Qi Ling, on tomb-raiding adventures. The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles is a fascinating story about intricate tombs, thousand-year-old mysteries, the three main characters’ friendship (referred to as the “Iron Triangle” by fans), and the relationship between Wu Xie and Zhang Qi Ling (called “Pingxie” by fans, this is not a BL series but they are often shipped together). The series is very popular in China, and every year on August 17 (relevance of the date would be a major spoiler), fans hold a festival to celebrate the series.
The author began uploading chapters online in 2006. In 2015, the first adaptation of the main series, The Lost Tomb, aired. Afterwards, other shows based on the main series, The Lost Tomb 2, The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note, and Ultimate Note, as well as its prequel, The Mystic Nine, and the books’ sequels, Tomb of the Sea and Reunion: Season 1 and Season 2, also aired. Although these shows are based on the novels, they aired out of order and because of this, they can be watched separately. And you don’t have to take our word for it! Someone else already wrote an article about Watching Ultimate Note as a Stand-Alone Drama.
Zhang Qi Ling in The Lost Tomb
The story begins with Wu Xie, the sole heir of the Wu family. His family has been grave robbing for many years, and his grandfather was a member of the Old Nine Clans, a group composed of nine legendary grave robbers/smugglers. However, Wu Xie himself is not a grave robber when first introduced. He stumbles upon an artefact that leads him to an ancient tomb, and he, along with Zhang Qi Ling, Wang Pang Zi, his third uncle Wu San Xing, and others, discover its secrets. Their discoveries throw them into a mystery that spans thousands of years, but the most mysterious of all is Zhang Qi Ling, whose background, family, intentions, and age are unknown. As Wu Xie begins to discover more about his uncle and Zhang Qi Ling, he enters into a world of grave robbing and conspiracies that he cannot escape…
Order & Adaptations
One of the reasons why many viewers decide not to delve into The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles is because the order of the dramas is confusing. As mentioned before, the production of the dramas does not correspond to the chronological order of the dramas. This is due to different reasons, and we will go into that later on below, but here is a short overview:
Release Order (Production)
Chronological Order (Story)
|The Lost Tomb (2015)
The Mystic Nine (2016)
Tomb of the Sea (2018)
The Lost Tomb 2 (2019)
Reunion Season 1 (2020)
Reunion Season 2 (2020)
Ultimate Note (2020)
The Lost Tomb 2: HPC (2021)
|The Mystic Nine
The Lost Tomb
The Lost Tomb 2
The Lost Tomb 2: HPC
Tomb of the Sea
Reunion Season 1
Reunion Season 2
These are just the ones that have aired as of the release of this article. But before you think watching this is an impossible task, just regularly check this LIST, and you will be up to date about the ongoing order of dramas and the new releases. As I said, we got you ready to watch!
Of course, you might not want to start at the beginning, but one of the middle dramas intrigues you more. In that case, we have a short summary for all the released dramas for you—in chronological order:
The Mystic Nine (2016)
The Mystic Nine diverts from the main story about Wu Xie and instead focuses on his ancestors. It tells the story of the Old Nine Clans, active in Changsha, China, in the 1930/40s and is focused on their leader Zhang Qi Shan (William Chan). The drama revolves around a mysterious train arriving in Changsha and threatening the sensitive balance the Old Nine Clans have built for themselves.
The Mystic Nine was one of the most-watched dramas in China during its airtime, and there are a lot of references to its characters and storylines in all dramas produced after this one.
The Lost Tomb (2015)
The Lost Tomb is the start of our main storyline about Wu Xie (Li Yi Feng), the sole heir of the Wu Clan, one of the Old Nine Clans. Curious and ready for adventure, he accompanies his third uncle on a tomb raiding adventure. The mysterious and quiet Zhang Qi Ling (Yang Yang) from the Zhang Clan and the experienced adventurer Wang Pang Zi (Liu Tian Zuo) join him, and together they explore the dangers and secrets of the Seven Star Palace.
Starting with The Lost Tomb, these three friends’ lives become intertwined and change forever. Despite not being named as the favorite of all the adaptations by most fans, The Lost Tomb offers a solid (and shorter!) beginning for everyone who is interested in starting right there with our main protagonist, Wu Xie.
The Lost Tomb 2 (2019)
The Lost Tomb 2 sees the reunion of our trio of friends, Wu Xie (Neo Hou), Zhang Qi Ling (Cheng Yi) and Wang Pang Zi (Zhang Bo Yu), when Wu Xie’s uncle goes missing, and they go on a search to find him. They follow his footprints and are sent on a dangerous exploration, even taking them into the depths of the sea. They discover a mysterious connection to their previous adventure and have to defeat mystical creatures, businessmen and mercenaries alike.
The Lost Tomb 2 does not neatly continue where The Lost Tomb ended but takes you on a whole new adventure with a whole new set of tombs, scenery, trickery and danger!
The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note (2021)
This adaptation comes after The Lost Tomb 2 and revolves around Wu Xie (Bai Shu) continuing to follow his uncle’s tracks in hopes to find him and get some answers about the past. He is accompanied by his close friends Zhang Qi Ling (Zhao Dong Ze) and Wang Pang Zi (Zhang Bo Yu) as he climbs the snowy mountains to find the Heavenly Palace in the Clouds.
The Lost Tomb 2.5 (as it is often shortened) re-tells some of the stories of its predecessor and then goes into new territory, finally exploring the Heavenly Palace, which was mentioned in many of the other adaptations.
Ultimate Note (2020)
Wu Xie (Joseph Zeng) receives mysterious videotapes leading him into new dangers and mysteries. Fortunately, Zhang Qi Ling (Xiao Yu Liang) and Wang Pang Zi (Cheng Fang Xu) are right by his side, ready to fight and explore new tombs, secrets and adventures. But some of these secrets might end up testing their commitments to each other and their families if the dangers don’t end them first.
Ultimate Note also does not neatly continue where The Lost Tomb 2.5 left off and conflicts with some of it. But Ultimate Note, together with Reunion, sparked a new wave of interested viewers for the Grave Robbers’ Chronicles. Not only does the script fit more neatly into the other adaptations and events, but the production itself is also of a high standard, giving joy to long-time fans and beginners alike.
Tomb of the Sea (2018)
While on the run from his abusive father and lecturing teacher, high school student Li Cu (Leo Wu) encounters a lunatic man who carves a strange pattern into his back. Shortly after, he meets a mysterious man named Wu Xie (Qin Hao), who takes him into the desert on the search for the lost city of Gutong Jing.
Tomb of the Sea features a new main protagonist, as well as an older Wu Xie. This and its more dynamic setting and adaptation to the quality of modern dramas set Tomb of the Sea aside from some of the other dramas. At the same time, it is one of the shows with the most references to The Mystic Nine and the other adaptations. Therefore, we recommend starting with any other adaptation but this one or doing some reading beforehand.
Reunion: The Sound of the Providence – Season 1 and Season 2 (2020)
Set several years after Tomb of the Sea, Wu Xie (Zhu Yi Long) is again on a search for his missing uncle. After receiving devastating news about his future and receiving a clue to his uncle’s whereabouts, Wu Xie rejoins with his best friends, Wang Pang Zi (Chen Ming Hao) and Zhang Qi Ling (Huang Jun Jie), and sets out to find his family and go on one last epic adventure.
Reunion features a lot of returning cast members from other adaptations. Despite being listed as two separate seasons, they neatly connect to each other, so you can get your popcorn, sit back and watch!
Behind the Scenes
Book DifferencesZhang Qi Ling in the official art book for the novels: 与邪共予起灵书》© 乌合麒麟&南派三叔
Although the television series are based on the novels, each of the shows take a different approach on how closely to follow them. The differences from the books can include creating new characters, altering old characters, expanding on stories, adding romance, and just changing the story altogether. Some of the differences can be for the better, like how there can be more Pingxie moments in the shows, while on the downside, there can be repeated scenes and confusing plot changes. I certainly won’t be able to mention them all here, but I can talk about a few interesting ones!
In The Lost Tomb, Wu Xie, Zhang Qi Ling, and Wang Pang Zi are seen at an auction with Huo Xian Gu. The same scene appears in Ultimate Note and in a flashback in Tomb of the Sea. The scene is quite famous among book fans because their friendship develops slower in the books, so the scene shows their incredible teamwork and also just the sheer audacity of their actions. Following the novels, the auction scene should appear (as it did) in Ultimate Note. However, even in that scene, there were some differences, the main one being Zhang Ri Shan. Zhang Ri Shan is a character that appears in The Mystic Nine, Tomb of the Sea and Ultimate Note. Although he does appear in the first volume of The Mystic Nine novel, he is not in the novels Ultimate Note is based on, nor in the Tomb of the Sea novel.
I cannot talk about all the differences between the two in this article (I could go on forever), and I haven’t even mentioned most of the major ones. I cannot recommend the books enough, especially if you have already watched the dramas and are interested in understanding the plot more, the background of the characters, the monsters, Zhang Qi Ling’s amnesia, Wu Xie’s doppelgängers. Or if you want to know more about the gap of time between Ultimate Note and Tomb of the Sea or between Tomb of the Sea and Reunion. If you want to read the novels, you can search for them under the English title The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles. Have fun reading them!
As you’re watching the show, you will spot some interesting creatures and monsters. Many are based on existing Chinese myths and legends. Though in the show, their attributes and origins are changed to pass censorship. Insects and snakes in the shows seem capable of almost anything since they are usually the ones controlling the creatures. However, this is not the case in the novels, and the creatures have complex backgrounds. If you have a problem with bugs or snakes, though… better prepare yourself. 😉
Zhang Qi Ling with the Qilin tattoo in Ultimate Note
An interesting mythical creature that appears in almost every adaptation is the Qilin. The Qilin has varied in appearance throughout the centuries but has always remained as a symbol of good and is one of the four benevolent creatures in folklore. It appears as a tattoo on Zhang Qi Ling and has a connection to his family. But there is another mythical creature that also appears as a tattoo that is a kind of opposing force, and it is the Qiongqi. The Qiongqi varies in appearance but has always remained as an inauspicious creature. It is one of the four evils and appears as a tattoo on Zhang Qi Shan, the leader of the Old Nine Clans. To explain the connection to the families would spoil the shows and books, but it is one example of the many intricate details in The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles.
One of the biggest reasons for the difference in the shows and the order of airing is due to the different productions companies and crews that work on them. This is not an exhaustive list of everyone involved in the making of The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles television series, but there are three that have the most influence, and as you will or have already watched the shows, you will notice their influence.
The first is Huanrui Century. The author of the novels licensed the rights to the main series to them in 2013/2014 (sources vary). They’ve heavily worked on The Lost Tomb, The Lost Tomb 2, and The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note. They produced Ultimate Note as well, but the project was mainly undertaken by Linghe Culture (discussed below). The company uses a lot of their own actors, such as Li Yi Feng and Yang Yang (who are no longer part of Huanrui Century) in The Lost Tomb. In The Lost Tomb 2 or The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note, Cheng Yi (Zhang Qi Ling), Zhang Bo Yu (Wang Pang Zi), Bai Shu (Wu Xie), Zhao Dong Ze (Zhang Qi Ling), Liu Xue Yi (Xie Yu Chen) are some of their actors, and that is certainly not including all of them.
Their license to the main series expired, so they can no longer produce more shows based on the books. They did try to extend the license, but as of the release of this article, they seem to have been unsuccessful. Therefore, The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note was the last Grave Robbers’ Chronicles television show they will release.
The second is Linghe Culture. The company was involved in The Mystic Nine, Ultimate Note, and Tomb of the Sea. Some of their staff worked as writers on The Lost Tomb and The Lost Tomb 2, but the production company itself was not involved. In The Mystic Nine, Ultimate Note and Tomb of the Sea, their writers and directors worked on the production as well as their actors, which include Zhang Ming En (Zhang Ri Shan), Xiao Yu Liang (Zhang Qi Ling), Harry Hu (Chen Pi Ah Si), and more. Linghe Culture worked the most on Ultimate Note, as all of their directors are from the company as well as all of the chief screenwriters.
The third and last is NP Entertainment which is the author, Xu Lei’s, company. His company invested in The Lost Tomb but afterwards did not participate in any of Huanrui Century’s other television productions. Because he did not have the rights to produce television shows based on the main series, he produced its prequel and sequels. That includes The Mystic Nine, Tomb of the Sea, and Reunion: Seasons 1 & 2. The company also works closely with an acting agency that employed Liu Chang (various characters), Kudousi Jiang Ainiwaer (Kan Jian), He Long Long (Huo Dao Fu), and more. The copyrights to the main series reverted back to Xu Lei, so all future adaptations will be done by his company and whatever other production companies they decide to collaborate with.
As you watch the series for the first time, or if you already have, you may be able to see each production companies’ influence. Some of their productions will make references to each other, like Tomb of the Sea and Ultimate Note, while others will not.
Now, after talking about the order and behind-the-scenes of the series, another reason why this franchise is so complicated is its recasting system: Almost every character is re-casted for each new adaptation. Before you think, “no chance am I watching this”, I ask you to give this system a chance. I can guarantee you, the producers did think about their casting choices, and all the actors and actresses embody different sides of their characters, and you actually get the feeling of the characters “growing up” and getting more experience. The best example is Wu Xie, who goes from naive to a serious adventurer (who still trusts people way too easily but is way less innocent and naive).
There are some exceptions from this re-casting, especially in the most recent shows. The most notable exception from the re-casting system is the international fan-favorite character Zhang Ri Shan (Zhang Ming En), who appears in The Mystic Nine as well as Ultimate Note and Tomb of the Sea. Other notable exceptions include Wang Pang Zi (two different actors played him in more than two adaptations), an experienced adventurer who becomes best friends with our main lead Wu Xie, Wu Xie’s assistant and helper Wang Meng (Jeam Zhu, two adaptations), smart and scheming Huo Dao Fu (He Long Long, two adaptations) and villain Hendry Cox (Andrew Charles Stokes, two adaptations) among others. To avoid confusion, all flashback scenes are usually re-shot with the new actors. You can also check the MDL Cast Info or the shows’ wiki to check who is who.
Themes & Topics
The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles can give you a different vibe with each new adaptation, set of actors, storyline, but there are a few topics that are present in all adaptations and which the whole series revolves around.
As you might have noticed from this article up to now, the biggest theme throughout the series is definitely the friendship between the “Iron Triangle”, our trio of the naive but smart Wu Xie, the quiet and mysterious Zhang Qi Ling, and the loyal and experienced Wang Pang Zi. Once they met, their lives change, and their friendship becomes unbreakable through struggles and danger. You can see them worried about each other, as well as blaming themselves when they think danger came to each other because of them. It is noted throughout the series multiple times how they stick with each other all the time and often bring trouble to wherever they go :). Even in Tomb of the Sea, where Zhang Qi Ling is only shown in a flashback, Wu Xie talks about his friends and tells Li Cu about their adventures.
The Nine Clans
Another omnipresent theme is the Old Nine Clans, literal translation Old Nine Gates, or The Mystic Nine, and in modern times, the Nine Clans Association. They have many names, but there are 9 clans, some of them still active in modern times, with some inactive. While they are high and mighty in The Mystic Nine, they are more of an old fashioned but still prominent theme in the current times’ adaptations. Especially in the later shows, characters discuss how things have changed since the older generations and how sometimes people have to go with the times, or they risk the destruction of their clan. These dramas don’t have scheming parents-in-law or hidden birth secrets, but they do have grandparents who just cannot stop interfering in the younger generations business while also trying to protect them and the younger generation learning how to go their own way. You are in for one bumpy ride!
Where to watch?
Now some of you might wonder where you can watch these shows, especially with subtitles for those of you who, like us, do not fluently speak Chinese (
or have not mastered learning it yet). Don’t worry, we are ready to help:
|The Mystic Nine||subbed / free||–||subbed / free, vip*||–|
|The Lost Tomb||subbed / free||–||–||–|
|The Lost Tomb 2||subbed / free||–||–||subbed / free|
|The Lost Tomb 2: Explore with the Note||subbed / free||subbed / free||–||subbed / free|
|Ultimate Note||–||–||subbed / vip||Ep 1 – 2|
|Tomb of the Sea**||subbed / free||subbed / free||–||subbed / free|
|Reunion S1||subbed / free||–||subbed / free*||subbed / free|
|Reunion S2||–||–||subbed / free*||–|
*depending on the region you are in, **listed under the names Sand Puzzle / Sand Sea
We hope we could get you interested in The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles, and you will check it out in the future. If you want to know more about the characters, you can also check out the first edition of this guide!
If you have any questions or input, you can always leave a comment down below and share your opinion! Please mark spoilers!
Edited by: YW (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)