RSS Feed
YumCha! » Feature Articles

Best Chinese Dramas of 2021

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Chinese dramas of 2021!


Danger Zone
Danger Zone
Based on a novel by Qianyu Zhicheng, the crime suspense thriller Danger Zone opens strong and grisly with a serial murder case. As more and more dismembered body parts turn up – don't watch this while eating – the police are at a loss for leads. Hot-headed rookie detective Ren Fei (Berant Chu) gains new perspective on the case by secretly teaming up with jailed lawyer Liang Yan Dong, who cuts a deal to clear his own name. Returning to Taiwan television after a decade for his best performance in as many years, Vic Chou is magnetic as the mysterious prisoner who gets into the mind of the killer, and Christopher Lee is even better as the veteran cop trying to right the ship. Filled with suspicious characters and shocking developments, Danger Zone twists, turns and thrills over two 12-episode seasons, with the first season navigating gruesome murders and the second season digging into Liang's case and a deeper conspiracy.


Danger Zone
The Imperial Coroner
This little costume drama that could is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Su Xiaotong from Young Blood takes her first leading role as Chu Chu, who heads to the capital to seek a coroner position. She gets hired by royal official Xiao Jinyu (Wang Ziqi) and they investigate cases together, falling in love along the way. One thing that stands out about The Imperial Coroner is how much time our leads spend… working. Be it in modern or period settings, these types of profession romance dramas usually sideline the profession part in favor of romance between domineering boss and Mary Sue archetypes. Both Chu Chu and Xiao Jinyu, however, are actually competent and serious about their jobs. Respect for each other and their work is established before the romance – which is also super cute! The series spares audiences the unnecessary drama of love triangles or evil second leads, as Yang Tingdong and Zhao Yaoke play supportive sidekicks with their own romantic thread. Even typical devices like birth secrets, social stigma and status differences don't shake our OTP too much or distort their sense of self-worth. Fresh, fun and engaging, The Imperial Coroner combines forensic investigation, royal intrigue and sweet romance into a well-paced web drama with smart and lovable characters that don't succumb to clichés.


Luoyang
Luoyang
Victoria Song, Wang Yibo and Huang Xuan play three people of different social classes – an imperial guard, a nobleman and a marshal from the untouchable caste – who become unlikely allies while investigating a web of mysteries and conspiracies threatening the capital city of Luoyang during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian. This period suspense drama is based on a novel by Ma Boyong, whose The Longest Day in Chang'an was also adapted into an acclaimed series last year. Luoyang isn't as artistically and historically detailed as Chang'an, but it moves faster and bolder with strong wuxia and detective genre elements. The intriguing swirl of murder mystery, martial arts action, secret societies, power struggle and social strife is visually and narratively enthralling, while the growing trust and hint of romance among the leads give heart to the bonds forged in this gripping journey.


Magician on the Skywalk
Magician on the Skywalk
Set in Taipei's bustling Chunghwa Market of yesteryear, Golden Bell Best Drama winner Magician on the Skywalk uses a child's eye view to explore life and loss in 1980s Taiwan. Based on a book by Wu Ming Yi, the episodic stories follow the boisterous kids of Chunghwa Market as they see, experience and try to understand what's happening around them in their own imaginative ways. The drama's whimsical touches of magical realism and carefree imagery of children playing games and running around soften the truth behind all the "disappearances" that signal tragedy, family conflicts and the repressive political and social climate of the time. Director Gilles Yang applies his cinematic sensibilities to magnificently recreate the sights and sounds of the eighties in a thoughtful drama shot through with nostalgia, magic and melancholy.


Minning Town
Minning Town
A story about the implementation of poverty alleviation policies in rural China might sound like it'd be solemn and staid, but Minning Town has a hardy streak of plucky spirit and even dark humor. Huang Xuan plays a young cadre who returns to his impoverished hometown to lead a village resettlement initiative in the Xihaigu region of Ningxia in the 1990s. But nothing comes easy, whether it's the challenge of persuading villagers to move to barren land and start anew, or the struggle of getting basic necessities like water and electricity. From farming to growing mushrooms to working in the city, the people of Xihaigu spend years of efforts, with both successes and setbacks, to gradually transform their fortune and future. Much like they did with Like a Flowing River (whose excellent sequel also came out this year), Daylight Entertainment and director Kong Sheng focus on the grassroots experiences of everyday people during a time of economic and social change. At 23 episodes, Minning Town is more narratively compact and briskly paced than Flowing Riving for an easier watch. Perhaps most delightfully, the drama is shot in dialect. Though there's a Putonghua version as required for standard TV broadcast, it's the dialect version, with its flurry of regional lexicon and accents, that stands out as the definitive version of Minning Town.


Ossan's Love Hong Kong
Ossan's Love (2021)
As Hong Kong's first-ever local BL drama aired on a mainstream TV channel, ViuTV's groundbreaking Ossan's Love created buzz even before its release. In their first drama leading roles, MIRROR's Edan Lui and Anson Lo, together with former TVB star Kenny Wong, get caught in a love triangle in the workplace romcom. Sharing almost the same plot as the original same-titled 2018 Japanese series, the Hong Kong adaptation also won applause for its natural and realistic portrayal of a gay relationship and the internal conflict about sexual orientation. Aired at prime time, Ossan's Love successfully made the two leads household names in Hong Kong, and drew public attention to queer issues (barely seen in Hong Kong dramas) while maintaining a lighthearted, comical tone.


Our Times
Our Times
While Minning Town's vision of nineties rural China may be a bit far off to many audiences, the nineties urban China of Our Times is a nostalgia-laced blast to the past that constantly references Hong Kong music and movies. In this time of VHS, cassette tapes and beepers, two very different engineering grads become entrepreneurs during the early days of the personal computer market. Neo Hao is the smart but rigid Pei Qinghua, who wanted to do academic research but got roped into computer sales. Leo Wu is the charismatic and free-wheeling Xiao Chuang who is a natural-born dealmaker – and troublemaker. Fiercely loyal to each other, the two friends eventually take different paths of enterprise. While Pei Qinghua's university-backed company takes us through the evolution and competition of the Chinese computer industry, Xiao Chuang's dramatically eventful hard-knock life of ups and downs is worthy of a nineties movie starring his idol Chow Yun Fat or Andy Lau. Our Times embraces its era with outstanding art direction, integration of stock footage, unique title sequences for every episode, and a soundtrack that screams 90s style in a good way. The makers of Our Times clearly took joy in getting in the details, and we enjoyed spotting them.


Remembrance of Things Past
Remembrance of Things Past
"An adult's breakdown often happens in an instant" – this phrase regularly appears on Chinese internet to describe the moments when you're suddenly overwhelmed by emotional distress. For Hu Jingjing (Jin Jing), that moment came for the last time on her birthday when she jumped off a pedestrian bridge. This shocking moment closes the first episode of Remembrance of Things Past. We gradually learn more about the seemingly bright and smiley Jingjing through the memories of her cousin (Ren Suxi) and two closest friends (Zhou Yutong and Sun Qian), who are left in grief with many questions. All four women are "bei piao" who left their hometown for Beijing. Their ordinary happiness, ordinary loneliness and ordinary troubles with work, money and relationships resonate easily with anyone who has ever felt defeated by life in the big city – but still have to put on a brave front to commute to work and a cheery voice to reassure family members you're doing fine. The tears just sneak up on you when watching Remembrance of Things Past, but so do the smiles.


Tears on Fire
Tears on Fire
We all appreciate the life-saving, firefighting heroics of firefighters, but Tears on Fire shows us how much more we should appreciate them for everything else they do. Featuring the excellent cast of James Wen, Annie Chen, Liu Kuan Ting and Austin Lin as firefighter EMTs, PTS's ten-episode series follows the lives and work of a Taiwan fire brigade as they respond to emergencies, and also to minor incidents and false alarms. In these daily dispatches, they may encounter frustrating run-ins with uncooperative callers and argumentative bystanders. They may be forced to bear the media blame for difficult on-site decisions, or the costs of property damage and ambulance repair. And they may have to risk their lives to save the lives of others. Directed with a sensitive touch by Tsai Yin Chuan, the moving drama focuses on the human stories, highlighting the firefighters' strong camaraderie and compassion, their interactions with different people, and the effects of frontline work on mental health and personal relationships.


Who is the Murderer
Who is the Murderer
In the small city of Haizhou, a woman was murdered in her home by a serial killer. Nervous rookie officer Leng Xiaobing (Xiao Yang) had a chance to stop the killer, but was unable to pull the trigger. Seventeen years later, the victim's foster son Xia Mu (Dong Zijian) returns as a police officer and joins the team led by Leng. Both still carry the trauma of the past, as does Zanilia Zhao in the unsettling role of a psychologist who may be connected to the uncaught killer. iQiyi's "Light On" imprint of suspense dramas made a big splash in 2020 with The Bad Kids and The Long Night. Though this year's offerings haven't had as much of an impact, the series closed strong with the moody and haunting Who is the Murderer. More than just a twisty whodunnit, the psychological suspense mystery prioritizes the pain, anguish and inner damage of the protagonists, all of whom are victims chasing the mirage of a killer.



Related Articles:



Published December 25, 2021


  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
  • *Reference Currency: No Reference Currency
 Change Preferences 
Please enable cookies in your browser to experience all the features of our site, including the ability to make a purchase.
Cookie Preferences Close

We use data cookies to store your online preferences and collect information. You can use this interface to enable or disable sets of cookies with varying functions.


These cookies are required to use core website features and are automatically enabled when you use the site. They also enable use of the Shopping Cart and Checkout processes, assist in regulatory and security issues, measure traffic and visits, and retrieve order information for affiliate commissions. We use the information collected to evaluate and improve the performance of your shopping experience.
These cookies are used to deliver advertisements that are more relevant to you and your interests. Marketing Cookies are placed by third-party providers with our permission, and any information collected may be shared with other organizations such as publishers or advertisers.
These cookies enable us to provide better services based on how users use our website, and allow us to improve our features to deliver better user experience. Information collected is aggregated and anonymous.

    Cancel