Manhua is the Chinese equivalent to manga and manhwa, and it's slowly but surely crossing over into English-speaking spheres. The medium's winding route to the mainstream hasn't been made easier by the fact that so many popular published series haven't yet been translated into English and released outside of China. But the style and stories of manhua are a natural fit for anime and manga lovers.
Manhua are typically derived from Chinese legends or recent novels, similar to how some anime and manga adapt light novels. Many series also have similar stories to the isekai genre that currently dominates anime. Here's a look at five great manhua to read for those curious about the medium.
The Legend of the Sun Knight
Originally a novel series from author Yu Wo, The Legend of the Sun Knight is an epic fantasy series following the war for supremacy among several kingdoms. Each kingdom represents a particular god or goddess, with the main kingdom being the kingdom of Forgotten Sound. Forgotten Sound is protected by Grisia Sun and the Twelve Holy Knights, representing the Church of the God of Light.
The story begins with a conspiracy from within, with Forgotten Sound royalty attempting to frame Grisia for a murder he didn't commit. Featuring countless kingdoms and factions as well as colorful artwork and designs, the series is an easy entry point for those who would typically go for a fantasy manga. Unfortunately, it hasn't been officially released in English, though its original novel can be read thanks to the Prince Revolution group with the author's permission.
1/2 Prince, also by Yu Wo, is reminiscent of several modern isekai series. It follows a teenage girl named Feng Lan, who's the first to log into the new MMORPG Second Life. She chooses to make her avatar a male character named Prince, hoping to prove to her brother that she can be one of the game's best players.
The series evolves to have Prince creating a team of allies called the Odd Squad, battling other teams for dominance in the game. Other characters include the mysterious Dark Emperor, who knows Feng in real life, as well as the self-aware NPCs Sunshine and Kenshin. Despite its basic premise, it quickly evolves to easily one of today's best isekai stories. Sadly, it's also lacking in an official translation, though the novel version can also be read from Prince Revolution, again, with permission from the creator.
The Ravages of Time
The Ravages of Time is an ongoing Hong Kong manhua and showcases one of the medium's other big genres: historical fiction. Written by Chan Mou, it explores the Three Kingdoms period and the warfare, betrayals and political entanglements of the era.
Like many of the more grounded manhua, it features a similarly realistic art style. The characters involved include historical figures such as Sima Yi, Liu Bei, Zhao Yun and Lu Bu, with the series aiming for both historical accuracy and dramatic creativity with how its story plays out. It also gives a look at the cultural and military mindsets of life at that point in China. It's one of the most internationally renowned manhua, though it's yet to make its way over to English-speaking audiences. The Ravages of Time is available through sites like Yes Asia, but only in Chinese.
Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre
Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is one of several adaptations of a novel that was originally released in the early 1960s. It follows Wuji Chang, a man training in martial arts, as he searches for the eponymous weapons amid the Mongol invasion of China. As he goes, Chang discovers the secret of his family's connection to the esoteric swords.
The series is an example of a Cultivation series, wherein the protagonist seeks to become enlightened through dedication to martial arts. Its art style is also incredibly lifelike and detailed. Unlike many other manhua, it actually has an English release and can be purchased through Amazon.
The original big name in the manhua industry is a series called Chinese Hero, which continues to influence the industry to this day. Created by Ma Wing-Shing, it follows a young man whose name literally translates as Chinese Hero. Reflecting kung fu and wuxia films that were popular when the series was created back in the '80s, the premise sees Hero try to avenge his parents and reclaim a lost treasure. His trials see him face off against Chinese gangs, ninja and racism in America, culminating in a tragic yet poetic life.
The series set the standard for more realistic-looking manhua and also reflected the nationalistic interests in China present in many manhua, helping to give it more historical context. Due to its popularity, Chinese Hero is available through Amazon, allowing international readers to take a look at the series that helped put manhua on the map.