Written by Ivan Sison
Edited by Joanne Ng and Leanne Sy
In recent years, the Japanese manga industry has experienced a boom. For instance, Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen are leading the charge in Shonen Jump’s trending “dark shounen” subgenre. Kentaro Miura’s death has renewed interest in the legendary manga Berserk. Heck, even Yoshihiro Togashi has announced the end of his Hunter x Hunter hiatus!
It appears that Japanese manga is going to be a titan of the comic industry. But does that mean Chinese manhua is far inferior? No.
With a population of one billion, thirty-one provinces, a rich millennia-long history, and the second largest economy in the world, the depths of the creativity of Chinese writers and artists must not be underestimated. For this month’s Elements Certified, we bring to you some of the most interesting Chinese manhua in recent memory. From fantasy historical fiction to college romance, we guarantee that you will finish each of these comics feeling more appreciative of Chinese fiction.
Nan Hao and Shang Feng (南号尚风)
Tags: Slice of Life, Gag Manhua, High School, Comedy, Shounen
Status: Ongoing (94 chapters)
What would you do to relive the sheer joy and chaos of your high school years?
Nan Hao and Shang Feng follows the daily lives of its titular characters, two childhood friends who each have a penchant for mischief. Mayhem ensues as they interact with the many colorful personalities in their high school––like the crush of Nan Hao who is secretly a BL fan that ships the two friends together, their three friends who get caught up in their shenanigans, and the student prefect who always puts a stop to their plans in hilarious fashion.
Making readers laugh out loud is especially difficult for comics, but Nan Hao and Shang Feng constantly and easily achieves this. What makes this manhua special is its strong reliance on witty humor and visual storytelling to power its comedy. The sheer virality of its vaccination comic strip is a testament to its comedic powers. Cut from the same cloth of hardcore comedies like Grand Blue and Nichijou, Nan Hao and Shang Feng is one of the best in the genre.
Umbrella Girl Dreams (伞少女梦谈)
Keywords: Historical, Drama, Episodic
Authors: Zuo Xiao Ling, Wei Ying
Status: Ongoing (61 chapters)
Picturesque. Flowing. Graceful. Grand. Worldly.
Be spirited away to an alternate post-Tang Dynasty China, where people’s most valued possessions can assume the form of humans known as Spirit Objects. At the center of this story is Indigo, a mysterious Spirit Object who takes the form of a woman with an umbrella. She helps abandoned Spirit Objects find their masters once again – and every time a spirit’s desire is fulfilled, her lifespan extends beyond her expiration date. All the while, she grapples with her past as an abandoned Object Spirit.
Umbrella Girl Dreams explores various aspects of the human experience as it follows Indigo in her travels around wartime China. Because Indigo deals with Spirit Objects who are abandoned, every chapter is imbued with a deep sense of longing and pathos. This manifests in the writing, which often reads like modern fairy or folk tales. The art, meanwhile, has a fluid, graceful quality reminiscent of East Asian scroll paintings. Umbrella Girl Dreams is sure to put you in a meditative mood, thinking about the human condition through its various stories.
Demon Magic Emperor (魔皇大管家)
Keywords: Shounen, Revenge, Martial Arts
Authors: Wuer Manhua, Ye Xiao
Status: Ongoing (322 chapters)
Cunning, evil, and ruthless, Zhuo Yifeng has become the most powerful being in the universe after obtaining the Book of Nine Secrets. But then, he is caught in a way where he is betrayed by his own protege. He self-destructs, destroying the book along with himself… Or so he thought, because Zhuo Yifeng is soon reincarnated as the timid slave of a small aristocrat family. Can he rise back to the top while keeping up this facade?
Revenge and rage are emotions which we can rarely act on in real life, but Demon Magic Emperor scratches that itch for us through its conventional yet addicting take on the overpowered underdog subgenre. Combined with a complex magical system, vivid worldbuilding, a long story, and lots and lots of enemies to plow through, little is more cathartic than seeing Zhuo Yifeng crush his adversaries on the way back to the throne!
Here U Are
Keywords: BL, Romance, College, Slow-Burn
Status: Completed (139 chapters)
Yuyang, an openly gay college upperclassman, meets a tall and taciturn freshman named Luhao. Much to Yuyang’s frustration, Luhao’s attitude strikes him as hostile and cold. Little does he know that he will eventually fall in love with him.
But do not let the simple premise of the manhua fool you.
The main draw of Here U Are is a simple but highly efficient romance story which simply keeps pulling you in. It doesn’t rush its characters, it doesn’t put them into contrived conflicts, and it doesn’t simply spoon-feed details to the audience. It simply allows its characters to do their own thing, resulting in a highly organic story that accurately portrays the simmering tension of falling in love with someone––and leaving you going for the next chapter over and over again. The manhua format is highly conducive to long, slow-burn stories, and Here U Are perfectly exploits its medium’s strengths.
Once Again (初末)
Keywords: Josei, Drama, Romance, Heart-wrenching
Authors: Feng Xi Shen Lei, Buddy
Status: Completed (7 chapters)
A talented workaholic who commands the respect and fear of everyone around him, Yuan Ge is his company’s perfect marketing director. Not even an unhappy marriage and the death of his estranged wife could stop his productive streak. However, a few weeks into his wife’s death, his life is turned upside-down upon meeting a strange girl whom he is inexplicably drawn to.
As a seven-chapter josei story, Once Again is the shortest and least conventional manhua on this list––but it may be the most forceful. This strongly character-driven and psychological narrative about dealing with loss is guaranteed to shatter even the iciest of hearts. The best part is that, in this highly capitalistic world, this manhua remains very relevant for us readers as we enter the corporate workforce. Once Again serves as a moving cautionary tale of what happens when we lose sight of the most important things in our lives.