The literal meaning of Xianxia, being "immortal being", is a Chinese fantasy based novel in which the the protagonist starts as a mortal, absorbs the energy of the universe and meditates to understand the nuances of existince; and become a transcendental being- heavily inspired by Daoism.. This genre is often referred to as "cultivation novels".
Xianxia and Wuxia are 2 different genres, but have quite a lot in common; in fact you can consider them to be the 2 sides of a coin.
Wuxia and Xianxia novels appear to be very similar at times, but if you look closely for the presence of Daoist elements (the Dao, Yin and Yang, Immortals) in the novel, it is easy to differentiate between the two If Daoist elements are absent, then it’s probably a Wuxia novel. Religious Taoism is often blurred together with Chinese folk mythologies, and is chock-full of stories with demons as well as ghosts, and pretty much any other fantasical creatures you can think of.
However, because the idea of cultivation can take place without the use of magical elements, it is possible to have a cultivation novel that is NOT Xianxia. It is very rare, but it might happen.
Here are a few key characteristics of a standard Xianxia novel if you are interested to know what you are getting into:
- Cutlivation - the protagonist practices the arts of the ancient in order to extend his lifespan and become part of the tertiary chain in the jungle. The people who practice the ancient arts are referred to as 'cultivators'.
- Xianxia takes full advantage of fantastical elements drawn from Chinese mythology and folklore. In fact you can be assured that most, if not all the elements are from Chinese origin.
- Cultivation is not the only way to gain power in Xianxia novels, in fact there are several Miscellanious / mystical objects cultivators can take advantage of in order to help themseves.
In a more simple term cultivation is a journey of Apothesis- the transformation of a mortal into an immortal or a god. Xianxia novels feature characters who have already reached the peak of cultivation, achieved immortality, turned into gods, and are at the epitome of existence.
If Wuxia is considered "low fantasy", Xianxia is "high fantasy".
Xianxia novels that I recommend:
Cradle by Will Wright
Unsouled, crippled, trash, useless - Wei Shi Lindon is considered to be a curse and is forbidden from practicing the ancient arts. He discovers that his homeland in an isolated valley is destined for destruction, and only he has the ability to stop the imminent diestruction.
Will he succeed, or will destruction befall his home.
A Thousand Li by Tao Wong - Long Wu Ying enjoyed his peaceful life of farming and messing around with his friends; but how long will it last ?
The army arrives at Long Wu Yong's village and consrcipts his friends and him, he has no choice but to embark on the path of cultivation and leave behind his pedestrian life, for a journey filled with blood-soaked glory and countless rewards.
My thoughts on Xianxia novels
Should you start reading this strange new genre of novels ? Absolutely!
I guarantee that you will not regret your decision. I have been reading cultivation novels for the better part of 6 months and I am mesmerized by the plot as well as the unique nature of each character. I could ramble on about how good cultivation novels are, but I will maybe leave that for another post.