22 Immortal Heroes – 仙俠 (xiānxiá)

Janice Pan

simplified Chinese: 仙俠 ; pinyin: xiānxiá

Immortal Heroes

Xiānxiá, translated as “immortal heroes,” is a Chinese fantasy genre characterized by magic, demons, spirits, and immortals alongside traditional Chinese folklore and mythology. Xiānxiá works will also draw influences from Buddhism and Taoism. Although xiānxiá shares similarities to 武侠 (wǔxiá), xiānxiá differentiates itself by including more fantastical elements alongside a martial protagonist in an ancient Chinese setting. Traditionally, xiānxiá protagonists work to cultivate and train in order to reach immortality and ultimate strength. However, some xiānxiá works may choose to focus on romance or brotherhood, depending on the subgenre of the xiānxiá work.

The word xiānxiá is formed out of two characters: 仙 (xiān) and 俠 (xiá). Xiān is of Taoist origin and refers to a character that has reached a transcendent or immortal state through training or meditation. Xiá refers to a hero, but more specifically someone who is brave and chivalrous.

There are a few elements that are specific to the xiānxiá genre. One of which is cultivation, or the process of improving health, gaining power, or increasing longevity. Cultivation usually happens by using meditation or training to improve qi, an internal vital energy in all living things. Xiānxiá novels will also include mythical beings and creatures drawn from Chinese mythology. This includes various beasts, demons, and spirits such as phoenixes or dragons. These beings can either be benevolent, offering the protagonist rewards, or they can be malevolent, requiring the protagonist to defeat them in order for the protagonist to grow stronger. Xiānxiá protagonists may also be assisted by magical items that they find on their journey. A very common magical item in xiānxiá is the sword, or jiàn (剑). This sword is usually imbued with magical powers, such as allowing characters to fly on it as a transportation device or having other attributes that can be used in battle. Other magical items include pills or elixirs that boost a character’s cultivation.

Xiānxiá can be featured in many different types of media, including television shows, films, manhua (comics), donghua (animation), and games. Most popular xiānxiá today is seen in television shows, examples being Ashes of Love《蜜沉沉烬如霜》, The Untamed《陈情令》,and Love Between Fairy and Devil《苍兰诀》. However, it is important to note that many xiānxiá television dramas are adapted from webnovels and xiānxiá webnovels have grown in popularity among young adult audiences in the last few years. There has also been an increase of xiānxiá manhua and donghua, and xiānxiá as a genre has been steadily on the rise in recent years.


Works Cited

“Glossary of Terms in Wuxia, Xianxia & Xuanhuan Novels.” Immortal Mountain, 12 Nov. 2016, immortalmountain.wordpress.com/glossary/wuxia-xianxia-xuanhuan-terms/.

MengJiaxin. “Clarifying Wuxia, Xianxia and Related Chinese Fantasy Genres.” Reddit, 13 Oct. 2021, www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/q7gdl4/clarifying_wuxia_xianxia_and_related_chinese/. Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

Salao, Cole. “Xianxia: Your Guide to Cultivation Fantasy.” TCK Publishing, 20 July 2021, www.tckpublishing.com/xianxia/. Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

“Spirit Cultivation Genre.” TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpiritCultivationGenre. Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

Wong, Tao. “Xianxia, Wuxia, Cultivation and More – a Small Explanation | My Life, My Tao.” Tao Wong, 28 Sept. 2019, www.mylifemytao.com/xianxia-wuxia-cultivation-and-more-a-small-explanation/.




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Immortal Heroes - 仙俠 (xiānxiá) Copyright © 2023 by Janice Pan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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