It’s time to get dramatic.
Imagine grabbing your favorite snack, relaxing back into your favorite chair, kicking up your feet, powering up your TV or device… and learning Chinese!
Unfortunately, unless you’re in a Chinese-speaking country, it’s not as simple as clicking on your TV and flipping through channels until you land on a show you like.
But don’t fret—we’ve been blessed with the internet!
And through its magical powers, we can watch literally anything—including shows from Asia.
With the overwhelming international popularity of dramas, or dramatic TV series, watching television from Mandarin Chinese-speaking countries has become a popular method of learning for English-speaking students.
Dramas are helpful in gaining better listening skills. Many people acknowledge that when you don’t hear a spoken language often, you have a tendency to forget what you know.
In addition, repetition of words and phrases found in drama dialogue can make those words and phrases stay in your mind.
For the most part, these shows are built almost entirely around conversations, so you frequently find yourself hearing everyday phrases that are well worth memorizing and remain effective to use.
With all its benefits and the ease and convenience of just watching and listening versus studying, this method of learning has proven to be not only effective, but also fun!
But, considering that many Mandarin learners live outside of Asia, it can be a little challenging to find and watch these shows with ease.
So what are the best places to watch drama shows in Chinese?
Here are four of the safest, most reliable and subtitle-friendly sites online.
4 Addictive Sites Where You Can Watch Chinese Dramas Forever
Yes, YouTube has pretty much anything you can imagine. Music videos. Makeup tutorials. Cat videos. It can be hard to navigate such a wild and massive world of a website with years’ worth of content being uploaded daily. But it may come as a surprise to some new to the world of Asian dramas to know that yes, there are full-length Chinese dramas on YouTube, free to all, with subtitles.
You just have to know where to look, since you’re dealing with such a big site with so much varied content. Of course, you can easily enter the show or drama you’re looking for into the search bar, but if you don’t know where to start, it helps to familiarize yourself with a few good channels that offer Mandarin-language dramas with English subtitles.
CN Drama is owned by media company NetDrama and is the English version of their YouTube channel entirely in Chinese, which, depending on your level, you may also benefit from checking out. They regularly upload dramas from mainland China for those in the Chinese diaspora such as Taiwan and Malaysia, but their CN Drama channel is aimed at English speakers, with titles in English and subtitles on each upload with no wait. Their channel offers both modern day and historical/costume dramas.
HunanTV is owned by China’s second-most-watched TV station after CCTV (which also has a YouTube channel). For this reason it seems the programming is much more varied, with quite a few reality shows, variety shows and, of course, dramas. Often, the content doesn’t have translations or subtitles, but that’s no issue if you’re an advanced learner.
If you aren’t, you’ll be pleased to know they have several playlists of shows offered with English subs, one such being “Come Sing with Me,” a fun music/singing-centered reality show featuring many popular Mandopop artists (in case you occasionally need a break from the world of dramas).
Those are just two examples of great channels to get you started, but there are several others with focus solely on Chinese-language dramas. And of course you can always find the best of the shorter-form Mandarin YouTube video world on FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
As mentioned, watching dramas can be great for your learning, but you do need a more deliberate approach in order to really gain from it. FluentU helps supplement your drama binging with more focused bursts of learning, so that as time goes on you can focus on your dramas without subtitles for longer periods of time and feel assured that all that listening practice is actually paying off.
Simply put: Easiest to use since this is a popular service that many watch nearly every day. YouTube is completely free (with ads). If the ads don’t bother you and you have TV connectivity set up (as with all of the sites mentioned in this list), you’re good to go!
Netflix is another one of those sites with so much content. Like, sooo much. At least it’s geared specifically towards TV shows and movies, with many being international. So that helps learners narrow down things a little. Netflix pays attention to details and caters well to viewers and their preferences.
You can search by genre easily. Searching “Mandarin language shows” or “Chinese dramas” brings up plenty of options, including some Mandarin-language movies, all of them with English subtitles for those who need their assistance (whether content is offered in the original language may vary).
These days, you may not even have to search too hard for a good show! Many more Mandarin-language dramas are showing up in the “Trending” section, with one popular new show being a Netflix Original entitled “Meteor Garden,” a romantic drama starring Shen Yue. It’s great to see Netflix producing more Chinese-language content!
Another thing that helps when learning with content on Netflix is the fact that there are no ads. For this reason, though, the primary con is that you need a paid subscription to access the site, which may not fit your budget. Though it gives you a solid excuse to go over to your Netflix-having friend’s house’s and crash on their couch!
Simply put: Another service that’s near-universal these days, which affords great ease of access for learners searching for dramas without searching genre-specific sites. With plenty of options offered beyond just Chinese-language dramas, it’s worth the price of subscription for learners.
This is a website primarily geared towards anime, hence the name. But don’t let that fool you—there’s a lot more goodies inside of this delicious roll (yay for sushi metaphors)! They’ve decided to include more than just anime and manga. The site also offers a wide range of movies and dramas from across East Asia.
Since it is a bit more of a premium service, most content on the site is subtitled in English. There are several shows from Mandarin Chinese-speaking countries like China and Singapore, though the selection offered in the language is more limited.
Admittedly, I was surprised to come across the small but decent amount of Chinese-Singaporean shows, Singapore being a country of origin that I didn’t come across much on the other platforms listed in this post. This may be useful for learners who are interested in studying the regional accent of spoken Chinese there.
Another observation is that many of the shows offered in Chinese here have a gritty edge, with less fluffier offerings in the language than their Japanese and Korean counterparts.
That limited selection might be a con if you’re not interested in the shows offered, but thankfully, the shows that are carried on this site are often updated.
This is a site that offers free-to-watch content, like YouTube, but also like YouTube, there are ads that may hinder your viewing experience. For higher-quality video and an ad-free experience, a subscription can be purchased after a free trial.
Simply put: Heavy on anime, light on dramas in Chinese. You can be certain about the content having English subs, though. Some movies from China, some movies from Singapore. The site is updated frequently, so check back often.
Viki, in pretty much the same vein as DramaFever, caters almost exclusively to fans of TV series and movies from East Asia. But it’s a lot more than that. You can also find Bollywood films, telenovelas, anime and much, much more. The international appeal is outstanding. Viki really runs the gamut and reaches out to viewers of all sorts.
Anyway, on that note, the amount of options they have on the site for Chinese learners is also worthwhile. There are shows and movies from China and Taiwan, around 300 dramas from both places. On the pages specific to countries and the main page, which are akin to Netflix’s “Trending” section, it’s easy to find great shows based on what’s currently popular.
One of the highest-rated series from China on the site currently is yet another historical drama called “Legend of Fuyao,” starring actress Yang Mi.
If more modern drama is your thing, another recent popular series is an idol drama starring popular singer and actor Lu Han called “Sweet Combat,” also from China.
The only con would be that not everything is subbed. Subtitles on the site are community-sourced, and sometimes new episodes might be added before subtitles are. But depending on your preferences and learning level, that could be a good thing, especially if you’re an advanced Mandarin learner. It opens up an excellent opportunity to improve your spoken Chinese through sound recognition alone. Of course, if you’re a beginner, then you just might have to wait on those subtitles.
Back to the website. Viki also offers the all-too-common “improved quality if you get a subscription” deal. Depending on your tastes, this may or may not be worth it.
Simply put: One of the best sites for watching Chinese-language dramas and other media in the language. This site has a lot to offer for all tastes. If you don’t mind the typical ads and waiting for subtitles on certain shows, then you’re good to go.
These websites are some of the best for locating shows that suit your fancy—whether those be comedy, romance, period dramas or something else.
Just remember not to relax too much—your brain won’t be able to learn anything!
And One More Thing…
Since you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously serious about learning Chinese.
Any maybe you would prefer to do that while being entertained as much as possible.
FluentU can help.
FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from dramas, TV shows, commercials, music videos and more. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language, and you’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos, as you can see here:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how they’re used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
FluentU’s Quiz Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.