What is Xianxia? Cultivation and Martial Arts in fiction.

Blog Jul 7, 2020


Xianxia is a genre commonly found in Eastern fantasy fiction. It is similar to Wuxia although Wuxia is a little different (I will go into that difference in another post).

Ten Thousand Miles of Peach Blossoms 

The genre is based in a martial arts world, where there is anarchy and chaos and one needs to be strong to survive or be respected.

The Protagonist and most of the characters are "cultivators" or "practitioners". Cultivators or Practitioners are those who seek to become Xian (immortals) or powerful God like figures beyond immortality.

To become Gods or immortals and attain eternal life, supernatural powers and incredible levels of strength, these characters cultivate by training their martial arts.

The fictional martial arts, practices, or training that occur within the xianxia genre are based around the real-life meditation practice Qigong. It is influenced by Taoist beliefs and medicinal practices such as acupuncture or alchemy.

While training the characters meditate and use Qi to hone their bodies and souls so that they can better themselves and gain enlightenment.

Buddha in Bhutan
Photo by RKTKN / Unsplash

Qi is a vital force or energy contained in all living beings, known as a material energy or life-force. Xianxia tend to refer to Qi in different ways depending on their world building and characters. In my web novel series, "A Gatekeeper and the Celestial Sovereign" most of the characters use the term 'essence' to refer to 'qi'.

The techniques and practices that Cultivators and Practitioners use to train their Qi and martial arts and achieve Xian or a God-like status differs depending on the book and author.

For example one of my favourite Xianxia writers Er Gen uses sword cultivation and pill cultivation techniques and martial arts in his series "I shall Seal the Heavens". But in another novel series of his, "Pursuit of the truth" the characters use Barbarian methods, and all kinds or meridian techniques and unique skills to train themselves and reach Xian.

While the training and techniques differ, the similarity is that they all deal with improving the quantity and quality of the characters Qi or energy and attaining power.

In the body, Qi is stored in the Dantian. It is the source of energy, magic or Spiritual powers.

Dantian means the Elixir Field, Sea of Qi or Energy centre. It is the focal point of real-life Taoist meditative and exercise practices such as Qigong and traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. When characters meditate they can even visit inside of their Dantian, it's like their own small universe in their bodies, a special space for training.

Dantian diagram

The lower Dantian (Jing) is located two inches below the navel. It is the source of energy that builds the physical body and allows one to develop qi.

The middle Dantian is located near the heart and controls emotions.

The meridians is a network of veins, pathways or blood vessels within the body that connect the lower and middle Dantian to the rest of the body or physique.

In the Xianxia genre most cultivation or martial training or meditation involve the character accessing their meridians. Reinforcing them to make them stronger, opening up more of them to improve their flow and quality of Qi, or learning how to control these meridians.

Acupuncture leads into this, as it is occasionally used by characters to heal their meridians if they are damaged or to improve them.

Of course this barely scratches the surface of the Xianxia genre, as the existence of cultivators or practitioners in this fictional universe leads to different factions and groups (such as demonic sects or righteous heavenly groups).

Also within the Xianxia universe there are mythical beasts, such as demon Beasts or phoenix's or heavenly creatures. There are even ghosts (there are whole Cultivation technique's surrounding necromancy). Honestly when it comes to creatures or magic practices in this genre anything goes.

Creature from The Ying Yang Master (Netflix)

Because of all the magic and qi there are even spiritual plants and resources that can be made into medicine or pills by alchemists that are usually used by the Cultivators or Practitioners to improve their powers.

There are even different types of Physiques or meridian structures in certain bodies. Characters who have rare physiques tend to become extremely powerful and dangerous.

In the romantic traits of the genre there is even a weird sexual part called Dual Cultivation. Where characters can get stronger by having sex or practicing with another practitioner that they love or are compatible with. This then also leads into a body type called "Yang bodies" or "Yin bodies."

Those with Yang bodies tend to be men and they have high levels of positive sun/star based energy. While women tend to have Yin body types that have negative moon/night based energy. And they believe that for there to be harmony a Yin must be with a Yang to Dual cultivate. And those with rare pure Yin or Yang bodies are highly sought after by people in the genre since they can (for some reason I am unclear about) improve a characters powers exponentially via dual cultivation.

In Danmei Xianxia stories sometimes one of the men will have a Yin body type to show they're more feminine or some other kind of trope.

While Xianxia is commonly Chinese there are variants of it elsewhere in Asian fiction, such as the Murim world in Korean martial art fiction.

Fun fact, the popular anime series Naruto was heavily influenced by Xianxia. The Nine tailed fox was sealed in Naruto's Dantian.

Because of how big and long this genre is (it has been around for decades), there is a lot to unpack, but we have covered the basics.

For more terms and explanations on xianxia check out this post here.

I'll go into systems in another post.

My web novel series and soon to be published book, "A Gatekeeper and the Celestial Sovereign" is a Xianxia. Since both Male Leads, and many other characters in the world setting, cultivate and practice varying forms or martial arts, magic and Qigong (although in the book they call Qi Essence). But it isn't predominantly a Xianxia as there are many varying genres and influences in the book.

My favourite Xianxia stories

The list of Chinese Xianxia novels, series, or movies is extensive so I'll only mention six of my personal favourites.

I shall seal the Heavens

I shall seal the heavens, comic (manhwa image)

I shall seal the Heavens or ISSTH is a popular web novel series by Chinese author Er Gen. It follows the story of a young scholar named Meng Hao, who gets forcibly recruited into a sect of immortal cultivators. In the cultivation world, the strong prey on the weak, and the law of the jungle prevails. Meng Hao must adapt to survive.

Tales of Demons and Gods

Tales of Demons and Gods 

Is a popular web novel series that also has a Manhua and Chinese anime adaptation. Written by author Mad Snail.

It follows the story of Nie Li who dies while trying to defeat the Sage Emperor and finds himself returned and reborn as his 13 year old self. Nie Li is given a second chance at life. A second chance to change everything, save his loved ones and his beloved city.

Eternal Love (a.k.a Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms)

A Chinese drama/TV series.

After a devastating war, the immortal tribe paid a heavy price to seal the demon lord. 70000 years later, in an attempt to re-seal the demon lord who broke free, Bai Qian was sent to the mortal realm.

Fighter of the Destiny

A Xianxia Chinese drama.

Chen Chang Sheng was abandoned in a flowing river and found by a Taoist monk. Plagued with an incurable disease, he is fated not to live past the age of 20.

Fights Break Sphere (a.k.a Battle through the heavens)

Is a Chinese drama based on a novel with the same name.

Xiao Yan is a genius child who suddenly loses all his powers. In a world governed by strength and power, Xiao Yan’s lack of talent is an embarrassment to his family.

Mo Doa Zhu Shi (a.k.a The Untamed)

A Chinese Drama based on a Danmei xanxia novel and anime.

Wei WuXian and Lan WangJi, two talented disciples of respectable clans, meet during cultivation training. Later in a dramatic turn of events, Wei WuXian dies. 16 years later Wei Wuxian is brought back to life through a ceremony and meets Lan WangJi again. This time they are determined to rid the world of evil.


Alexia J. Barrett

I am a Creative Writer, Indie Author, Podcast Host, and Development Researcher. I’m also an aspiring filmmaker and I’m working towards becoming a self-shooting Producer and Director.

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