So, say you’ve taken your first step into the vast but wondrous world of Web Novels. And you think, hey, I’ve read Japanese light novels, I’ve read Korean ones too. How hard can these Chinese web novels be to navigate? And then you get hit with terminologies like Wuxia or Xianxia or Xuan Huan and you can’t even read them, let alone decipher their meanings and wait, they both mean the same thing? Wait they don’t? What-
Okay, take a deep breath. I get it, I do. Language barriers are scary, and, in a perfect world, we’d all be taught the nuances of literature from different countries and how they translate into pop culture. But we aren’t so here I am, your lovely author, to help shed a little light on a particular topic that befuddles even the most seasoned of Shonen readers. And that is the world of Chinese Martial Arts novels.
Shonen can take many appearances in Japanese iterations and the same holds true for Chinese storytelling as well. In martial arts or fight-centric novels, they can often take two routes. The first is Wuxia and the second is Xianxia. Both are nearly indistinguishable on the surface but there are key differences to be observed. So, let’s start!
What is a Wuxia Novel?
Wuxia can best be described as ‘hey, what if Shaggy from Scooby-Doo tapped 50% of his power?’.
Okay. That was a joke but there is some truth there. Wuxia literally translates to ‘Martial Heroes’ and it is the oldest standard of martial arts writing in China. It’s basically when a skilled martial artist acquires heightened senses VS actual superpowers. Like if humans are only using 25% of their brainpower, what would happen if we can use the full 100%?
It’s regular humans achieving supernatural fighting ability through training and harnessing their internal energy (sometimes known as Chi). The abilities gained are extraordinary, but they are still grounded in semi-reality. For example, a person becomes fast but not to the point they are Flash and causing time paradoxes. Or they gain endurance and can lift a tree-like Captain America but not exactly crumble an entire mountain range like Thor.
There is a lot of chivalry and vengeance in Wuxia stories, with a little sprinkling of romance and tragedy.
Xianxia WebNovels: Explained
Xianxia is basically ‘hey, I’m a literal wizard/demon/God and I’m never going to die!’
Again, a joke. But yeah, Xianxia basically translates to ‘Immortal Heroes’. They are fictional stories based around mythos and magic, gods and supernatural beings. You have abilities that rain thunder down when you punch someone or you get to breathe literal fire like it’s nothing.
In retrospect, Xianxia is just the natural progression of storytelling that developed when wuxia started being influenced by phenomena such as Buddhism or Taoism. It’s a form of Eastern Fantasy where you take common martial art tropes from wuxia and add in magic and fantastical beings like demons or witches or gods, even.
The heroes in these stories usually work on cultivating their spiritual powers through training, rather than physical powers like in Wuxia. Remember the Marvel reference from before? Well here, Doctor Strange would be Xianxia. (Apt, considering the inspiration for the original comic series!)
I hope that clears things out! If you have more queries that you’d want some clarification on, send them and I’ll try my best!