If you’re already an avid follower of Asian novels, the things you’re about to read would no longer come off as a surprise to you. However, if you’re fairly new and still learning the ropes, please feel free to take this as some sort of guide. I hope it would help. I’ll also be throwing a bunch of my top recommendations here and there, but if you want to see the full list of recommendations with summaries and my thoughts, please click me. It’s still a bit unupdated though, with 56 novels as of writing this. I will add some more soon.
Anyway, without further ado, let’s just jump right into it.
Japanese and Chinese romance novels have a lot of things in common. But they also vary in a lot of ways. In this narrative, I’d be focusing solely on romance novels with female protagonists. So, if you want a review of overpowered male leads, you’ve come to the wrong post. Apologies but I wouldn’t be able to help you with that. (｡•́︿•̀｡)
To start off, let me begin with the basics and general picture of things.
1. The Preliminary Details
This section isn’t anything deep, more like an introduction of sorts. It’s very straightforward and very obvious, but often neglected. The titles.
When there is the term Phoenix on a CN novel, most likely that’s a romance novel with female protagonists, because the phoenix (fenghuang) is related to a Chinese lore representing grace and virtue often paired with the male dragon. Hence, also most likely though, if the phoenix is there in the title, that novel would be set in ancient times.
Otherwise, there’s also titles with something along the “playful” lines of (Guy honorific) is (insert adjective here) or (Guy honorific), (insert verb here). This time, CN novels like the former are probably set in modern times about an overbearing, cold CEO falling in love with a sort-of idiotic female lead.
If the latter, however, for an example Husband, Be a Gentleman, can be set in olden times. It can also have two different tones. The first one can give the impression like the girl wants the guy to do this. Case in point: tell him to be a gentleman, or ask him to divorce her. Or it can be a second wherein the guy did this to the girl. A very common example: spoil her.
Or it can take on the very very obvious title of having terms like This Wangfei or This Concubine or The (di) Daughter. Most likely, it’s also a romance novel with Female Protagonists. Nevertheless, more often than not, when you read the title and it gives you this playful/gentle tone, you’ll know ‘Ahh… this one is romance with female leads.’ Otherwise, especially if there’s the term ‘Dragon’ in it or focusing too much on ‘Ascending Heavens’ and ‘Flipping Skies’ or heavy verbs like ‘Command’ and ‘Dominate’, then you’re probably facing a novel with male leads doing cultivation and quite literally battling the heavens.
Most of JP novels (especially my recommended ones), on the other hand, four words: TOO LONG, VERY OBVIOUS. Very obvious in a sense that you can derive the general plot just from the title alone. For an example, I Reincarnated to this World and Did That. Well, that one was not a legit novel but, yeah, something along those lines. And indeed, they are long. A full sentence, if you ask me. True, there are CN novels with the same flavour, but if it’s too long with a complete thought, and almost a run-on, then it’s most likely a JP novel than CN instead.
So… now, how do you differentiate which one’s CN and which one’s JP?
When you’ve read a lot of Asian novels, you can actually already instinctively tell which ones are CN and which ones are JP. If there are CN terms like phoenix, especially CN aristocratic terms like wangfei or Empress, then that’s CN. In addition to, of course, the techniques mentioned earlier. Or the concept of multiple lives and multiple worlds. For an example, Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossom. On the other end, if there are British nobility titles like Duke or Knight or Princess, then that’s a JPN. If the title is also very long and mentions about flags and games, it’s also most likely a JPN. You’ll know why later.
Another thing to note: I’ve observed CNN uses terms like Rebirth or Reborn. JPN uses Reincarnated. I’ve never read or seen a CNN that uses ‘reincarnated’ in their titles. Most often for cases wherein FL’s soul moved to another body, it’s something along the lines of This Medical Genius or (something) Genius but not “reincarnated”. The same is true for the latter. Or idk, maybe I did but just forgot? Overall, nothing of the sort stuck to me.
Anyway, as to why the titles are probably like this will be explained further as you read through.
[differences] CN terms (CN) vs JP terms with Mix of British Aristocracy (JP)
2. The Premise
Most of them CN/JP novels have one common denominator: Female Lead (FL)s from modern times transmigrating to another world or being given another chance in life and sort of “time-travelling”. By transmigrating, it means taking over someone’s body living in that period and hence different from time-travelling. As for the former, it always, always involved FL dying in her previous world, and then remembering that world or taking over someone’s body after the latter banged her head or something.
If I’m not mistaken, really, most of them novels involved controlling time and space. One difference, however, in the case of transmigrated characters, is that in CN novels the reason of FL’s death is mostly the Mission-Gone-Wrong kinda thing, i.e. famous assassin getting blown up by a bomb, or betrayed by a subordinate or close family members and falling off high cliffs. Well, most of them characters are famous / notorious assassins or medical genius part of the military after all. As to why, I’ll delve more on that later.
On JP novels on the other hand, it’s mostly…. guess, what do you think it would be? Yep, CAR. ACCIDENTS. Makes me begin to question if car accidents in JP was so bad they’re the most common reasons in their novels. (￣□￣」)
Another good difference to note though are of course, the villains. CN novels contains overbearing, very very annoying antagonists. An example is the always-resurrecting villains in Rebirth of an Abandoned Woman, translated by Fantasy-Books. As another reviewer once said, when you thought the villain would just silently wither away, lo! Here she goes in another scene, secretly manipulating those around her. I kinda have to give it to the author Yilan Xi (did I get it right?) though. She writes her characters so consistently, and given them backgrounds that made you relate and sympathize with them to a point there’s even a minor debate about them on a forum I’m in. lol
Of course, how could I forget to take this opportunity and shout out to a reallly good novel: Doomed to Be Cannon Fodder by Whistling Night Rain (translated by Volarenovels). That’s just how good it was. Or maybe I’m carried away by the formidable fanbase of this novel? They’re really fun people to be with, albeit I interacted with them less and less these days. I really like it, even though I can’t stand the heroine-turned-crazy-villainess. The way she makes one mistake after another, and then blaming the bad consequences right after to someone else. Ugh. I don’t like people like that.
Of course, there are a million other CN novels out there with lunatic antagonists. Let us not forget those in Princess WeiYang by Qin Jian (translated by Jasmine Chai Tea), or Rebirth of the Malicious Empress of Military Lineage by Qian Shan Cha Ke (translated by Zazajunnie). Really good novels, albeit heavily more on the drama side, and rather belonging on the rebirth/time travel thing than transmigrated.
On the other side of the spectrum, JP novels have almost close to zero antagonists. Everyone gets along well. If not, most of them are just jealous gossipmongers that have nothing better to do with their lives and are actually just minor threats. In fact, if you ask me, most of the conflicts in JP novels are vs self or vs nature. A really good vs self, i.e. FL trying to change the opinions of others, would be Light Beyond by Akizuki Asuka and translated by Yumemiru Sekai. By nature, of course, this includes battling demon lords or wild beasts. So, JP novels are more on the soothing, carefree side. ╰(▔∀▔)╯
Other than transmigrated/rebirth novels are some modern setting romances like those written by famous author Gu Man like Heyi Shengxiao Mo and Come Eat, Shan Shan both translated by Hui3r and A Slight Smile is Very Charming translated by Dreams of Jianghu.
Gu Man’s works are really good, especially with how she brings out her characters, best exemplified by Heyi Shengxiao Mo. The two others are rather tame and light-hearted in comparison, but she nevertheless masterfully brought scenes that make you wanna blush and wish you were the female protagonist instead.
Not falling short from her is, of course, Ban Li Zi or Chestnut. Most of her books involved people in the Entertainment Circle, if I remembered correctly, or famous personalities like being a Head Chef and Owner of a famous restaurant. It’s also more on the light-hearted side, but I hope you’d be able to handle the fluff and not get diabetes afterwards. Most of her works are compiled by an equally amazing translator group, Radiant Translations and can be found here. My top picks so far are Just Blame Me for Being Blind at the Beginning translated by Twelve Months of May, truly a romcom masterpiece that one was, and I Seem Unsuited for Dating by Radiant Translations.
There are a lot more modern premise books in CN than JP, if you ask me, with the latter almost close to none. If I do say so myself, most of JP novels involve fantasy one way or another, and not so much on every day-to-day life (with the exception of idk, a very few like Kenkyo Kenjitsu by Hiyoko no Keeki and translated by Estelion). It’s a different thing altogether if you factor in anime and manga though, since most of them in this case involved normal non-magical characters in school. lol
[common] Control of Space and Time
[differences] Evil Antagonists (CN) vs Everybody-gets-Along (JP), Mission-gone-Wrong (CN) vs Car Accidents (JP), Modern Setting (CN) vs Mostly Fantasy (JP)
3. The Setting
Now with the transmigration tag done with, lemme head over to its sub-header: the setting.
It’s quite interesting to note that all the worlds in various novels FL transmigrated into are of ancient setting. And the involvement of “magic.” For JP novels, by magic, I mean outright magic, i.e. Earth, Fire, Water, etc. For CN, it’s Martial Arts, cultivation, beasts, medicines and the Immortal Realm… so, I guess, in a sense, “magic”? Apologies for lumping them together but, yes, the not-so-ordinary kinda practices.
However, even with that, there are also differences. In CN, the worlds are always parallel universe ancient China. So, yep, reading CN novels, what you’ll most likely encounter are Wangs (Princes) or even the Emperor himself! In JP, meanwhile, medieval-inspired Europe, so Princes, and Kings! I got an insight of British noble hierarchy out of reading them novels actually. From dreamy Princes to Dukes to sons of Knight Captains. And the accompaniment illustrations were so good as always too!
Following this thinking, it goes without saying that the personality FL took over belongs to that of a woman of high birth. Daughter of a General. Daughter of a Duke. A Prime Minister. Etc. Otherwise, how would she be able to interact with the upper echelons of society and instigate drama? What more: it always always involved engagements one way or another. Having her engagement broken. Or being engaged without love but falling in love sooner or later. Something along those lines.
For the former, there are a lot of examples. But if I have to pick one, other than some of those already mentioned, I’ll have to go with A Broken Engagement, A Wake-Up Call by Sugawara Toshi for JP and translated by Kirileaves. It’s just a oneshot but full of fluff to a point I actually feel sad with how compressed the story had been. Then again, the main points were there so I still find it very good nevertheless.
The other one (still JP) would be Common Sense of a Duke’s Daughter by Reia, translated by Japtem. Some of you might find this boring though, with both plot and romance progressing very slowly and mostly focusing on the business side of things. But I’ve always been fascinated with the FL. I like it how she stands up and just do her best in everything she does. And indeed, true enough, her common sense.
As for CN…. hmm, I really can’t pick one. Not because there aren’t anything good but that most of them are really so similar! Randomly pick one and it involves genius assassin transmigrating to another world and having her prior engagement broken. Go to another and you find a similar premise.
As for the latter case, i.e. engaged/married without love but falling in love later, however, I have a lot to recommend on CN novels! For a start, the best of these is no doubt To Be A Virtuous Wife by Murong Xue and translated by Dreams of Jianghu. My god! I don’t even know where to begin. And that ending! I just love it! Once you read it, you’ll understand. It was so satisfying. Another from the same author and translator would be Eight Treasures Trousseau.
Then, of course, there’s Rebirth of an Abandoned Woman mentioned previously, and Husband, Be a Gentleman. I remembered the latter being translated by a famous translator before; however, due to issues of people plagiarising his/her translations, s/he shut down the site and erased everything. <///3 I really feel sad hearing that. That said, please spread the word and stop plagiarism! Getting something others worked hard for and taking credit from it is really bad and unfair! Not to mention, very very disrespectful. I hope others doing this would gain conscience and stop! :T If you want, you can always visit the translator’s site and read it from there. I really don’t understand where you get the satisfaction of claiming someone’s work to be yours. It only left a bitter taste in my mouth thinking about it. Ugh.
Anyway, moving on, there’s one more thing I want to discuss under setting.
True, like I said most of the world in CN are still in China whilst European for JP, there’s one more thing I’d like to point out: JP world are mostly in-game world! If you didn’t take the hint, that’s right, otome games! Hence, the title with otome or just games. For those without a clue, otome games (sometimes shortened to otoge for otome ge-imu) are like dating simulation games where you play as the heroine and capture love interests. If not otome games, novels.
This can probably be attributed to the fact that otome games is a really well-established romance franchise in JP. Hence, there are soooo many JP novels out there wherein the setting turned out to be an Old English world of an otome game! Again, if not novel. Unlike in CN wherein the world is just plain ole Ancient China, with no background whatsoever of it being in a game the FL once played, etc, with the exception of Doomed to be Cannon Fodder which, according to FL, was actually from a novel she once read.
Speaking of games, however, there are CN novels though that deals with Virtual Reality or any form of RP gaming. One of which is the aforementioned A Slight Smile is Very Charming. Another would be Reign of the Hunters by Season of Fireworks and translated by Volarenovels. I find it really good and really cool. The FL was so overpowered, ish, but I like it how she really tries her hard this time being good to the people important to her, after learning her lesson in the past life. Also, the in-game world (the world development in general) is so awesome imo! I wish I could also own kickass pets and raise them. ＼(≧▽≦)／
[common] Ancient Setting, Well-off Families, Engagements, Magic/Martial Arts
[differences] Ancient China (CN) vs Medieval EU (JP), None (CN) vs In-Game World (JP)
4. The Female Leads
I already mentioned before about the antagonists, and how the FL is a miss from high society most of the time. What I haven’t touched on, however, is the personality and circumstances of said FL. Then again, if you’ve read even a few, or internalised everything I’ve said, some of you have already probably anticipated what I’m about to say next.
To start off, there is this concept of what I’d like to call bullied vs bully. Expounding on it, most of CN FL characters are the bullied ones, and JP FL characters the bully. Now, now, don’t skip to conclusions just yet.
Specifically, what I mean to say is in CN novels, before the FL took over the body of a young miss, or was reborn-ed, that young miss was bullied by her family. Di daughter. Shu daughter. Doesn’t matter. SHE. GETS. BULLIED. Hence, as a matter of course, it’s no longer shocking that FL would go for revenge here, especially if said FL was once a genius assassin. See the connections now?
On the other hand, in JP novels, following the realisation of FL and/ the memories of her past life, it would turn out that the body she took over was once a villainess of an otome game/novel who would bully the heroine and thus cause damnation upon herself soon. So, to an FL who doesn’t want that, what happens next is her trying to avoid her death route! And because she’s tooo absorbed avoiding the death flags, she’d end up being very very dense on some aspects and in the end, in some cases, gathering an amazing harem of high-end personalities herself instead. Ahem. Bakarina. Ahem. Though, of course, the harem entourage is just for some “special” cases. Others would simply end up not getting dis-engaged.
Anyway, if you don’t know who Bakarina is, she’s from a famous romcom novel of a very very long title, I Reincarnated into an Otome Game as a Villainess With Only Destruction Flags by Yamaguchi Satoru and translated by Imperfectluck. That novel was really so so funny, but I have to warn you though that our FL’s way of thinking is soo far from common sense, heck the entire novel is far from common but at the same time made sense. It’s either you will like it or not, depending on your cup of tea. It’s really good for light reading and must not in any way be taken seriously. Otherwise, like her
entourage friends, you’ll only end up with a headache. (≧▽≦)
What I do appreciate about CN novels despite its heavy undertones however is its attack on society, albeit perhaps unintentional. No, it is unintentional. More of, beyond this point is really just my own opinions or interpretations.
By attack, what I meant is this… we all know how patriarchal China is. Actually, not just China. Maybe the entire world. Wherein it is always men who controls society and women are nothing but stay-at-home people and, in the worst case scenario, “playthings.” Maybe in this modern times, at least it’s not that worst anymore. Hopefully. Maybe. But in the olden times? Don’t even want to imagine. And for CN novels, in my observation, plays with this kinda realistic dynamics.
Men treating women as playthings. Men getting lots of concubines. Men only valuing their sons, and therefore the woman who gave birth to sons. Thus, you also cannot put blame on the woman who, after living in this kind of world, would become scheming and vicious, doing everything they can just to get favour from the guy. Get me? A perfect example of this is actually Rebirth of an Abandoned Woman, that while I do cheer for the FL, the villain in this case was the villain I most understood. Read it and you’ll find out. And then, looking back on all CN novels I’ve read, you also can’t help but understand the situation a bit.
Granted, I never liked bullying and is vehemently against it. But putting yourself in the shoes of all these women and you’ll understand why they did what they did. Especially those under special circumstances.
Soo… so, if you ask me which characters I consider topmost picks in CN novels, and in effect topmost pick CN novels, it would be To Be a Virtuous Wife by Murong Xue, Doomed to be Cannon Fodder by Whistling Night Rain and Rebirth of an Abandoned Woman by Yilan Xi. It’s because the author wrote it in such a way that FL doesn’t have to resort to revenge but the characters who deserved punishment still gets punished in the end, with TBAVW even going so far as the FL saying she understood the circumstances of the females of this Wang fu, hence has no heart to create more trouble for them. Idk, given the setting they’re in, it’s these kinds of women which I find strong, good and lucky. I know there are also plenty others there, but indeed my heart is more heavily biased on these three.
As for JP novels, they’re really more on the heartwarming side and most often just outright deals with romance per se. However, the charm of JP novels other than the lightheartedness and comedy is friendship and hardwork. Even though perhaps that hardwork is put on a different line of thought, working hard to avoid death ends for example (Bakarina pls), it is still working hard. As opposed to CN novels, on the other hand, wherein because FL was already a genius assassin or turned out to have this ancient pagoda or something inside her body, it didn’t take much time before her cultivation accelerates at an insane rate, sometimes with just an overnight’s worth of internal thinking. Man, I wished I had that kind of pedigree.