chinese tv shows

16 Must-Watch Chinese TV Shows on Your Favorite Streaming Platforms

You can learn Mandarin Chinese through TV.

But if you haven’t really watched Chinese TV before, how do you know where to get started? What should you watch?

I’ve picked out top 16 TV shows for learning Chinese, from fun variety shows and animated series to imperial dramas with more complex language.

You’ll also find out about popular Chinese streaming websites so you can access thousands of Chinese TV shows. 

Contents

16 Must-Watch Chinese TV Series

1. 非诚勿扰 | If You Are the One

Why you should watch: “If You are the One” is a dating show with a twist, and it was a massive hit in China, generating a lot of viral memes. 

Available on: Amazon PrimeYouTube

This show is loosely based around “Take Me Out,” where there are around 30 female guests and about four or five male contestants every episode.

During each segment, short video clips are played to the female guests, and the hosts talk to the male contestants about their hobbies, preferences and the like. Every female guest is given a buzzer, and if they don’t like what they see, they can always hit the buzzer. If every female guest hits the buzzer, the male contestant is eliminated from the show.

This is one of the most controversial game shows in China, where female guests can sometimes enter the spotlight of mass media attention by being pretty haughty in their mannerisms. But if you like a good dating show, this is as good a dating show as any in mainland China.

2. 中国达人秀 | China’s Got Talent

Why you should watch: If you’re a fan of “America’s Got Talent,” then you’ll likely enjoy “China’s Got Talent,” which has a similar style and format.  

Available on: YouTube

As you can guess, this one’s based on the format of “America’s Got Talent.” In this show, people showcase their talents in front of a panel of judges who come from various professions in the entertainment industry.

It’s an interesting watch for Chinese learners because aside from musical performances, the contestants come from different walks of life and also talk about personal topics sometimes. Because of this, you get exposed to a variety of accents along with how people naturally talk in everyday life.

Good subtitles can make or break your watching sessions, though! Most videos of “China’s Got Talent” and other Chinese variety shows online have either English- or Chinese-only subtitles, which makes them harder to study with.

If you’re looking for videos with accurate subtitles in English, Chinese and even pinyin, the FluentU Chinese learning program provides that. Here’s a clip from “China’s Got Talent”:

China's Got Talent - Clip

FluentU has clips of variety shows, drama series and other authentic Chinese videos that are annotated for language learners. Each clip has interactive subtitles that provide definitions at a tap while linking to a video dictionary.

The FluentU program can be accessed through a browser, the iOS app or the Android app. It includes other learning tools such as transcripts, flashcards and post-video quizzes with typing and speaking questions.

3. 康熙来了 | Kangsi Coming

Why you should watch: As a Chinese learner, you’ll always pick up something new at “Kangsi Coming,” which is a talk show that tackles controversial topics with a good dose of humor.

Available on: YouTube

While “Kangsi Coming” is actually a talk show, not a variety show, it’s still worth mentioning in this list as my little surprise bonus TV show to help you learn Chinese. I’m throwing this into the mix because it’s just that good—it’s hilarious, it’s addictive and you feel like you learn something interesting from watching it.

The hosts of the show, especially the female host 小S (xiǎo S), are notorious for talking about the most controversial questions that no other hosts dare ask. They also shed light on topics in a remarkably fun and entertaining way that makes both the show participants and the audience feel relaxed enough to join in the conversation.

The show has featured people who are obsessed with taking self-portraits, or 自拍 (zì pāi) in Chinese (and how different they are in real life), people who have had plastic surgery, Chinese-born celebrities who are raised abroad and their experiences overseas, interviews with celebrities talking about the most sensitive topics and so on.

Each episode delivers a punch, so don’t be surprised if you get hooked on it. One thing I’ll say about the show is that episodes aren’t subbed in English. This means that you’ll have to rely on your raw listening skills to understand the content. But since the episodes are light and entertaining with straightforward language, it shouldn’t be a problem for intermediate or above Chinese learners. 

4. 命中注定我爱你 | Fated to Love You

Why you should watch: “Fated to Love You” is a lighthearted show that’s full of funny plot twists, featuring two strangers who have to stay with each other because of a series of accidents. 

Available on: Netflix

This story introduces us to a plain Taiwanese girl. She works in a plain office, has plain looks, a plain personality and even a plain name, 陈欣怡 (chén xīn yí). She falls in love with another fellow office worker who’s really only taking advantage of her by having her clean his home, pay his bills and so forth.

Ignorant of this, she goes on a cruise trip with him. One night, she accidentally goes to the wrong room and sleeps with the wrong guy. After clearing the misunderstanding and praying that they’ll never meet again, she returns to her old life.

Little does she know that months after, she’ll be pregnant with that stranger’s baby and that he happens to be the owner and CEO of the large public company she works for…

Watch as the series of missteps and misunderstandings blossom into a story of real love in an unlikely turn of events. “Fated to Love You” is a romance drama which is also incredibly funny!

5. 下一站,幸福 | Autumn’s Concerto

chinese tv shows

Why you should watch: “Autumn’s Concerto” is one of the most well-loved Taiwanese romance dramas around, with love triangles, amnesia and plenty of moments that’ll get you emotional. 

Available on: Netflix | Viki

The main character of this touching love story is 任光晞 (rén guāng xī), a son from a wealthy family. Materialistically well off but spiritually empty, he passes every day without purpose.

After witnessing his own parents’ failed marriage as a child, he bears a deep mistrust for women. That is, until one day when he meets a simple delivery girl, 梁慕橙 (liáng mù chéng), who also has a complicated past. She comes from a wealthy family that’s gone bankrupt, leaving her to do odd jobs on her side to survive.

Through a series of frequent encounters, the pair falls in love. Having found someone he can confide in and genuinely connect with, 光晞 overcomes his distrust of women.

Just as love permeates through the air, a routine medical exam reveals a brain tumor in his brain. He miraculously gets better, but at a heavy price: The love between 光晞 and 慕橙 vanishes into the nothingness from a bout of amnesia.

And thus, the real love story begins.

6. 醉后决定爱上你 | Drunken to Love You

Why you should watch: “Drunken to Love You” is literally about two people who get accidentally married while drunk—and then they have to face the amusing consequences after. 

Available on: Amazon Prime | Viki

Mistaken identities and accidental marriages? Sounds like a fun time!

When an interior designer and a head waitress propose to their respective significant others, both proposals are turned down. They respond to their failures as anyone would: They get really drunk.

Instead of drinking their problems away, the two wake up and discover to their surprise and horror that they’re now officially married, after all—to each other!

Now the two must work backward to find out how they wound up in this situation in the first place. What happened while they were drunk? Is this a terrible mistake or a blessing in disguise? Only time will tell!

7. 巨轮 | Brother’s Keeper

Why you should watch: If you’re an advanced learner, “Brother’s Keeper” can be refreshing to watch because it tackles more serious themes and explores both romance and family dynamics. 

Available on: Apple TVTubi

This is a Hong Kong drama that tells the story of a pair of half-brothers who were split up as children. The younger brother lives in Macau and has started a snack shop after working his way through many hardships. The older brother, on the other hand, grows up in Hong Kong and gets involved with the rougher crowd, later becoming a policeman.

Through a series of circumstances, the estranged brothers are finally able to reunite, and they rejoice at being able to become family again. Just as things are sailing smoothly, the older brother makes a series of bad decisions and lands himself in a precarious position, on the verge of losing everything in his life that he fought for.

Watch as the conflict grows between the two brothers due to their differences, and how their choices and personalities affect their loved ones. Although there are many elements of romance, this isn’t your cute, fluffy rom-com, but rather a more serious, family-oriented drama. It should be perfect for more advanced learners to dip their toes into!

8. Miaomiao

Why you should watch: Miaomiao is a cartoon about a bilingual Chinese-Canadian girl, so it’s great study material for beginner Chinese learners. 

Available on: Amazon Prime | YouTube

As a Mandarin-learning cartoon aimed at preschoolers, the stories and vocabulary of this show cater to beginners to the language. The series follows the adventures of a young Chinese Canadian girl named Miaomiao, her puppy Doudou and the rest of her animal friends.

Through the obstacles and problems they encounter, Miaomiao and her friends learn character-building lessons and the power of friendship, along with simple Chinese words and phrases. Given that the main character is bilingual, the show is an excellent starting point for complete novices. It’s also quite entertaining to watch as an adult, even though the TV series is meant for kids.

The Miaomiao universe also includes a few apps, if you’re interested in playing games and using additional educational resources.

9. 天庭小子 – 小乾坤 | Heavenkid

Why you should watch: “Heavenkid” will deepen your understanding of Chinese culture because it’s meant to educate kids about traditional Chinese morals, based on Confucian teachings.  

Available on: YouTube

“Heavenkid” takes it up a notch since the show is completely in Mandarin Chinese. This award-winning  Taiwanese cartoon is based on the book 弟子规 (dì zǐ guī), known in English as “Ti Tzu Kui, Standards for Being a Good Pupil and Child.” The show educates children on discipline, morals and virtues deeply rooted in Ancient Chinese wisdom and Confucian teachings.

It offers a well-rounded education in terms of language and culture. Not only will beginners improve their Mandarin skills, but they’ll also learn about the history and traditional Chinese values.

It’s worth a note that this show is a popular reference for immersion daycares and kindergartens.

10. 伍六七 | Scissor Seven

Why you should watch: “Scissor Seven” is an entertaining Chinese animated series about a wannabe assassin, with tons of humorous references and epic fail scenarios.    

Available on: Netflix

Known as “Killer 7” or 刺客伍六七 (cì kè wǔ liù qī) in the Mainland, this show was first released on Chinese TV back in 2018 and debuted as the first Chinese animated series on Netflix at the beginning of 2020. It was renamed “Scissor Seven” to appeal to a younger audience.

The story is about a hairdresser named Seven who suffers from amnesia and lives on Chicken Island with his friend and boss Daibo, who also happens to be a chicken. Seven also has another chicken friend named Xiao Fei that’s small enough to fit in his pocket.

Because his past is a mystery, Seven figures that he needs to save up for an expensive medical operation, and he believes that becoming an assassin is the best way to earn that money. Although he has the power to control his scissors, his weapon of choice, Seven is a goofball and pretty much fails at killing anything.

This series is great for improving your humor in Chinese. Beginners can watch this show with English subtitles, though intermediate and advanced learners should challenge themselves with Chinese subtitles or, better yet, no subtitles at all.

11. 老表,你好嘢!| Inbound Troubles

Why you should watch: “Inbound Troubles” takes a fascinating look at the cultural tensions between mainland China and Hong Kong, amidst a backdrop of comedy and fun singing. 

Available on: YouTube

This Hong Kong drama follows a couple who set out to achieve their dream of opening a travel agency but go bankrupt after being cheated out of a lot of money by a crime syndicate.

The story follows a colorful cast of characters. There’s the protagonist’s wife, who falls in love with his best friend, the protagonist’s younger cousin from Dongguan who dreams of becoming a singer, an old diva who cons people for food and living accommodations and other fun personalities.

The show is centered around the theme of the conflicts between mainland China and Hong Kong. It’s a rare comedy that’s culturally insightful and full of comedic fun with a large musical component and lots of singing.

12. 巾帼枭雄 | Rosy Business

Why you should watch: If you love historical dramas, “Rosy Business” takes you back to Imperial China in the mid-19th century, following the intrigue-filled lives of an ambitious merchant family. 

Available on: Tubi | YouTube

One of the most widely acclaimed TV shows in Hong Kong of all time, “Rosy Business” is a drama set in the Qing Dynasty. It follows the story of a wealthy family that operates the largest rice trade business in Wuxi.

When the father of the family becomes sick, he hands control of the business to his fourth wife. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well with his other wives and their children, who seek to wrench this control from her.

Centered around the themes of family, love and betrayal, the story follows the interactions between the fourth wife and the other wives, who each have very distinct motivations and personalities: The first wife is cunning and devious, the second wife is honest and blunt but stubborn and the third wife is kind but never stands up for herself.

Other characters play important roles in the story, including the fourth wife’s estranged lover, and four sons from the different wives.

This is a must-watch for those who are interested in Imperial China.

If you love this show and want more, there have been two follow-up shows made with the same cast in different time periods, with a fourth on the way.

13. 溏心风暴之家好月圆 — Moonlight Resonance

Why you should watch: “Moonlight Resonance” is a family-centered show that has impressively won several awards, including Best Drama and Best Leading Actor and Actress. 

Available on: Tubi 

This is yet another classic TV series set in modern Hong Kong, serving as a spiritual successor to 2007’s “Heart of Greed.” “Moonlight Resonance” was critically acclaimed and highly rated, so you know you’re in for a good one!

The story is centered around the themes of family, love, friendship, jealousy and wealthy socialites.  

The protagonists, 钟笑荷 (zhōng xiào hé) and 甘泰祖 (gān tài zǔ) are owners of a small up-and-coming bakery. However, all dreams for their little cafe fall apart when the husband cheats on his wife with an employee.

Pained by his betrayal, the wife leaves her husband, sparking a court battle between the couple to settle custody of the six children in the family.

Many years later, the husband and his new companion are rich and very well off, thanks to the expansion of their bakery business. Meanwhile, the wife remains in the original store, still working hard with the help of her children.

As the two families cross paths again, a new legal battle ensues. Their fates are once again joined together, intertwined in a battle of love, hatred and jealousy.

14. 还珠格格 — My Fair Princess

Why you should watch: “My Fair Princess” is the most commercially successful drama series ever in Chinese–and unlike most other historical shows, it includes comedy. 

Available on: Viki

It’s almost impossible to mention the term “Imperial drama” without mentioning this series.

Set in ancient Beijing, this story follows 小燕子 (xiǎo yàn zi) or “Little Swallow” who makes a living through street performances and being a con artist, and 紫薇 (zǐwēi), a well-mannered girl.

The two girls become fast friends and before long, 紫薇 reveals a shocking truth about her true identity: She’s actually the illegitimate daughter of the then-incumbent Chinese Emperor.

The two girls work together to reunite the emperor’s daughter with her father. However, through a series of misunderstandings, Little Swallow is taken to the palace in her place. What will happen to the emperor’s daughter? Will she ever get to meet her father and clear up the misunderstandings? Watch this show to find out!

A must-see for those who like Imperial dramas. Instead of just sinister plotting against each other in the palace, there’s a fair bit of comedy in the story. It also remains China’s most commercially successful drama series, a record that has been held for over two decades. This is especially impressive when you consider that the show was made with a limited budget and actors who were virtually unknown at the time!

15. 宫心计 — Beyond the Realm of Consciousness

Why you should watch: “Beyond the Realm of Consciousness” will constantly leave you in suspense, as two childhood friends become imperial maids and then start to turn against each other. 

Available on: Tubi | YouTube

This drama is set in ancient China, where a mother and the two girls in her care are thrown into service in the imperial palace as handmaids. One girl is placed in charge of the palace jewelry, while the other is in charge of attire.

As they grow older in the palace, one girl lives by the words of her mother—to always do good and be kind—while the other is only out for her own survival, lying and cheating her way up the ranks. She sees the kind-hearted girl as a rival, and so, of course, must get rid of her!

She does so by setting her up for the murder of the empress.

The story follows the growing distance between the two friends, and it can only seem that an imperial palace is a place where people’s true natures manifest in real life.

16. 美人心计 — Beauty’s Rival in a Palace

chinese tv shows

Why you should watch: “Beauty’s Rival in a Palace” shows the fictionalized life of a Chinese empress, from being a palace maid as a child to changing the course of history with her achievements. 

Available on: YouTube

This Imperial drama tells the fictionalized story of Empress Dou, and how she helped her husband rule during his reign.

The show follows the future empress from her childhood when she’s forced to go on the run with her mother for being involved in a series of affairs in the palace harem.

With nowhere else to go, the young girl seeks refuge at her aunt and uncle’s, neither of whom are originally willing to take her in and therefore make her upbringing a miserable one. Facing their constant spite, she learns to be witty in dealing with people, and her resourcefulness to survive is shown through many pressing circumstances and dangerous situations, shaping her into a clever young lady.

When she grows up, she’s once again embroiled in the sinister affairs of the Imperial palace harem. Knowing that she’ll constantly be in danger, she changes her name to 窦漪房 (dòu yī fáng). Through her wits and cunningness, Dou manages to turn enemies into allies and get herself out of many sticky situations. 

As her power and influence in the palace grow, Dou finds herself at the center of more and more sinister plots.

This is a touching story centered around a female heroine whose name will be forever engraved in history as a woman who influenced the fate of the entire nation.

What Are the Best TV Shows for Learning Chinese?

Okay, next, you might be thinking—what were my criteria for picking TV shows for learners?

First of all, the series has to strike a balance between being a good quality drama (or show) to watch and being a show where you can actually learn Chinese.

I tried to pick shows from different genres so that anyone reading this post might find an option that they enjoy.

As a Chinese learner, your current level of Chinese affects which genre might be best suited for you. Let’s go through each of the genres listed above:

1. Variety Shows 

Variety talk/game shows are pretty good for when you’re starting out with Chinese TV shows. Apart from the occasional joke where the humor might be difficult to understand, conversations between the hosts and the guests are usually light, entertaining and simple enough to understand. Compared to these other genres, variety shows are unscripted, so you get to hear Chinese being used authentically.

2. Romance

In my personal experience, TV shows in the romance genre are among the easiest to understand. And if you think about it, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Between lovers and couples, only the simplest of words are necessary to express your emotions and thoughts, which really fall under the scope of questions like, “what’s happening in life,” “how are you feeling” and “what would you like to do.” The result? Simple, easy-to-understand language.

3. Animated Series

Most people assume that cartoons would be easier to understand than romance and game shows, but the level of difficulty depends on the animated series. It’s the difference between watching cartoons for children and animated shows for adults, where the former is perfect for beginners and the latter for more advanced learners. No matter the level, there’s no doubt that cartoons are an approachable way to learn Chinese.

4. Family Dramas

Family-oriented themes are a tad more difficult to understand. The conversations are still colloquial, but occasionally—when someone throws in the odd philosophical discussion, for instance—some esoteric Chinese expression may come up that you might never hear again. Or maybe you will! Who knows?

5. Imperial Dramas

Finally, where would we be without our Imperial dramas? Of the five, Imperial dramas are undoubtedly the most difficult to understand. Since Imperial dramas are based in ancient China, classical Chinese is often used in them. This means that you’ll find many idioms thrown into the mix, as well as older words and expressions you’re less likely to know. Keep an eye out, though: Modern Chinese is often used in onscreen interpretations.

So, Where Can I Watch Chinese TV Shows?

Chinese Streaming Services

First of all, for Chinese (mainland China) shows, you can simply go to large video streaming sites like Youku and Tudou—they have a huge library of Chinese TV dramas. Find them here:

However, for dramas from Hong Kong and Taiwan, these websites block users from outside the country. That means that you’ll have to look for alternative solutions.

P2P Websites

The first solution is via P2P websites. One of my favorite ones is 风行网 (fēngxíng wǎng) or Funshion. Unlike its streaming counterparts like Youku and Tudou, Funshion actually allows anyone from anywhere to watch all TV shows and movies without restrictions.

One thing to note about Funshion is that the mobile apps have a better reputation than the desktop version.

Other Streaming Websites 

Finally, there are some sites that offer subtitled Chinese dramas without the need for a VPN.

Many of these websites have subtitles available in English and Chinese. For instance, Viki is a community-powered site where subtitles are crowdsourced to website members.

As previously noted, these shows are also available on the following websites:

(Note: The list above has been updated with streaming links available in 2022.)

If you come across a website that isn’t listed here, watch out for video mirrors, which are prohibited. Sites that link to video mirrors rather than hosting the videos themselves are problematic because these mirrors can sometimes be taken down over time or stop working altogether when the video hosting sites encounter issues. Plus, these websites that host their videos elsewhere offer a smaller selection of Chinese drama titles.

If you need it for your location, you can get a VPN that allows you to access streaming websites in China from a Chinese server location. On the other hand, if you’re based in China at the moment, you can use that VPN to get past the Great Firewall. Either way, geographic restrictions are lifted, and you’re free to access any blocked shows.

However, if you’re familiar with using a VPN to access blocked websites, you’ll know it doesn’t always provide a good experience for streaming videos. But you never know—you might be lucky and find a service that provides a smooth streaming experience.

How to Learn Mandarin Chinese Through TV Shows

So, how do you actually learn Chinese through TV?

It isn’t enough to just soak up the vocabulary.

Using a series to improve your Chinese means watching it actively rather than just sitting back and enjoying it. If you hear an unfamiliar word, write it down. Make sure you look up the words in a good dictionary and then review them on a regular basis. 

That said, when you set out to learn Chinese with these shows, you’ll have to be realistic in your expectations.

Unfortunately, even if you watch the simplest types of TV shows, you’ll have to have a certain proficiency in Chinese before being able to understand what’s going on.

Because of that, I have to recommend that, for most of these shows, you should be at least at the intermediate level. Otherwise, you’ll be struggling to even understand basic sentence structure and vocabulary—which defeats the purpose of learning some Chinese and actually enjoying the show at the same time.

 

So, what are you waiting for?

You’re sure to find a show that you love among our large selection above. Start watching today and learn Chinese with TV shows!

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