Manga is truly a global phenomenon at this point. What was once a niche hobby that needed fan translations and fuzzy scans to be coherent, has become so universal that you have entire dedicated manga, manhua, and manhwa sections in bookstores.
Gone are the days of illegally trying to read something like One Piece on 3rd party e-reader sites with more pop-ads than chapters. Now, more than likely, you can just order a physical copy of your favorite manga at home, official translations, and all. And it can only go up from here.
And the manga hype train isn’t just limited to Japan anymore. Thanks to the age of digitalization, the medium has spread far and wide across Asia, becoming a mainstay.
Thanks to the anime boom of the early 2010s, countries like South Korea and China saw their graphic novel/comic industries become separate powerhouses. The popularity of these serialized comics has made them a household name in these countries. I mean, haven’t we all heard of the success that is Line Webtoon?
Difference Between Manhua, Manga, and Manhwa
Though there is a distinction to be found between them. Japanese Manga is often black and white, read from right to left, and has more variety, though they do tend to lead more Shonen heavy. Korean Manhwa is almost a direct opposite, with their fully colored illustrations that are read left to right and a much-targeted focus on the Sujeong (or Shojou, for those unfamiliar with the term) concept: stories for young girls and women that have detailed romantic plotlines. While manga is the OG, being the main influence for the other countries mentioned, manhwa has been rapidly gaining international attention for its gorgeous art and easy access, thanks to apps like Tapas, Lezhin Comics, and, yes, Webtoon.
However, the outlier amongst the three is Chinese Manhua, a medium that is still fairly new in the global market. Manhua saw a popularity boost thanks to the use of smartphones amongst the Chinese youth, giving rise to the world of web novels and webcomics, but it’s still growing.
It is like Manhwa, in being fully colored comics with a slightly more realistic character design. But how it is read differs, with Taiwanese and Hong Kong-based works going right to left while comics from mainland China are read left to right.
There is an issue of censorship, where violent or romantic gestures are often toned done, or omitted altogether, leading to four main genres: political sagas, action-heavy epics, light-hearted comedies, and children’s tales. However, that doesn’t mean manhua isn’t exciting or worthy of a deeper look.
Chinese Manhua: Top Rankings
With hype skyrocketing around works like Heaven’s Official Blessing and Mo Dao Zu Shi, it’s only going to go up from here. Here are our top picks for manhua you cannot miss!
1. She May Not Be Cute
It should be no surprise that my first manhua is a romance. What can I say? I just love the warm fuzzy feels of a good love story and She May Not Be Cute scratches the lovebug itch nicely.
The story revolves around Xia An Ran, a plucky 29-year-old who dreams of a typical happy ending with her Prince Charming and a big fat wedding, to boot. However, everything falls into despair when said Prince Charming, her fiancé He JieMing, is revealed to be a philanderer and actively cheats on her with her best friend, no less! So, what is a girl to do?
Well, being a runaway bride at your own wedding is an option! And so, she leaves her cheating ex on the altar, vowing to never love again. She dives headfirst into building her career, working hard at her job, and finally gets her big break as editor-in-chief of a trendy magazine. Slowly but surely, she gets over the entire ordeal and leans into her new normal.
That is until she finds herself at an event, trying to shake off her scummy ex, and is aided by a mysterious but gorgeous man, who offers her a bike ride out. Except for this handsome biker? He’s Lin Hao, a sweet kid An Ran used to babysit back when she was barely a teen herself! And he’s not the innocent babyface from her memories, considering he’s quite the accomplished man himself!
This is just a light-hearted and fun read. No shenanigans or intense conflicts, the leads are extremely well written, and the art style is gorgeous. Lin Hao is earnest and loyal, exactly what An Ran deserves after all the betrayal she’s been through, and the supporting cast is well-rounded as well.
The age gap I was wary about, but it didn’t end up being creepy or predatory – a rarity in most stories involving that dynamic. It’s mature but cute, and I highly recommend it as a beginner manhua!
2. Song Of The Long March
Political discourse is a huge thing in manhuas. And if you want a seriously engaging read about an intelligent female protagonist weaving her way through state conspiracies and military coups in her quest for revenge, Song Of The Long March is for you!
Princess Li Yong Ning isn’t your average female lead. The daughter of the emperor was raised to be cunning in her intellect and resourceful, she is sharp-witted and defiant. So, when her family is assassinated unceremoniously by her own uncle, she doesn’t sit just sit around and mope the misfortune befallen her. She immediately jumps into action, faking her death, escaping, and changing her very identity so she can come back and topple those who wronged her.
Now, Yong Ning moves to gain the trust of the emperor in the Shou Province by presenting herself as Li Chang Ge, a brilliant military strategist. As she climbs the ranks, she must go through unknown dangers and survive in this cutthroat world so that one day, she gets the chance to exact vengeance for her family.
Yong Ning is a strong and capable lead rooted in realism. She isn’t perfect, she isn’t emotionless, and she does fail, sometimes. And I think that pragmatic touch is what grounds the entire story instead of it becoming a Mary-Sue style epic. The characters aren’t inherently good or bad, they are multi-faceted and great foils to our heroine.
Even the battle talks and military stuff is dynamic instead of stale. The plot isn’t just good for a manhua. It’s an amazing read, period. If Chinese history and dynasties interest you, this manhua is right up your alley.
3. The King’s Avatar
This is not an Isekai, but boy, this is the manhua for game enthusiasts. And clearly, the world agrees, because not only does it have a manhua, but an anime and a drama adaptation? Wild. A real underdog story with a cocky protagonist who isn’t annoying? Honestly, The King’s Avatar is more fun than you’d think!
Ye Xiu is a professional E-Sports player, specifically Glory, an online MMORPG game. Glory isn’t a pay-to-win game, where you can just buy skills or items to make yourself OP. Here, the players’ merit is what rules. And boy, is Ye Xiu skilled. Known as the ‘Battle God’ he is a cut above the rest.
A legend amongst other players, his reign is toppled when those closest to him force him to give up his career. And so, Ye Xiu is left with no sponsor, no teammates, no friends, and no motivation to go back.
But one day, Glory reveals its all-new expansion, the 10 Server, and the world goes insane. Caught in the middle, Ye Xiu, now a café worker with people that admire him for who he is, chooses to give it another shot. Armed with new teammates and an even newer character, Ye Xiu decides that he wants his title of Number 1 back. And he’ll let everyone know that despite being considered ‘old’ and ‘beyond his prime’ by others, he was, is, and will remain the Top Dog in this competition.
I’m not going to lie to you, this goes way harder than it has any right to. I’m not even a big fan of E-Sports but Ye Xiu’s character is so entertaining that you get engrossed. He’s shameless but not bratty, just confident in his skill as a gamer and ingenious in how he tackles the hardships that come his way. Seeing him start over from scratch and make his mark in a competitive world, all the while surprising people because he’s so unassuming at first glance, makes this a great read.
4. Here U Are!
So, is this where I reveal myself as a Fujoshi? Look, I’m not even mad. Yaoi is my jam, and I am unashamed! But it also helps that Here U Are is a fantastic manhua plot-wise and a coming-of-age story that many can relate to.
The story is about a university romance between Yu Yang, a loud and confident in his skin (or so he appears) upper-classman, and Li Huan, a quiet newcomer who has just joined the school. Yu Yang is a pretty easy-going guy, responsible for helping the new admissions get accustomed, but his encounters with Li Huan, with his stoic gait and resting bitch face, leave Yu Yang reeling. Misunderstandings and developing feelings ensue, shrouded by age-old insecurities that we all go through on our own journies of self-discovery. As time goes by, Yu Yang quickly realizes that Li Huan isn’t the thug he assumed he was. Li Huan, on the other hand, starts to question his growing feelings as he spends more and more time with the proud but kind Yu Yang. And so, the two opposites often find themselves in situations where they can’t ignore the other. Where will this year lead them?
This is a slow burn, at its finest. And it’s not just the romance, the journey to the friendship between Yu Yang, Li Huan and their friends is also well fleshed out and written in such a healthy way. The things they go through aren’t fantastical scenarios, but they are heartfelt and painful and real. Yu Yang is such a special character too, probably my favorite part of the story. He is trendy, charismatic, and a nerd who is simultaneously such a force of nature while also being so, so vulnerable. The rest of the characters are refreshing too, solidly built, but Yu Yang steals the show. The story involves being true to yourself, letting love in, and letting go of facades. Familial, platonic, or romantic, it explores love in all its various forms. If you want a satisfying coming-of-age story, I can’t recommend this manhua enough.
5. Soul Land
Can you imagine a list of manga without an Isekai? Sacrilegious! The genre is everywhere now, thanks to the anime/manga industry pumping them out like hotcakes. And sometimes, it gets a little exhausting reading the same old story about some mediocre hero that gains immediate power in a game he accidentally teleported to. So, when you have a main character that’s basically useless? Well, that’s a little intriguing. And Soul Land does exactly that.
The story follows a master weaponsmith named Tang San, from the Tang Sect of Hidden Weapons and his subsequent suicide attempt which leads him to be reborn in a fantasy world named Soul Land. Filled with ‘essence spirits’ that people in that world obtain upon awakening, Tang receives the absolute worst spirit. Because, of course, he did. But he does what he can to survive and, once again, become the prodigy he used to be.
We all know the drill. It’s fun. It’s got great action scenes. It’s basically a beginner-level Shonen and sometimes, that’s all you need!
The world of manhua isn’t as tapped into as its counterparts, manhwa, and manga, but I think it has a lot of potential. And thanks to media being so digital and globalized, you’ve got a vast variety to choose from! So, what will you be reading from this list? Until next time!