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Wu Xia

"'Wu' means martial arts, which signifies action, 'Xia' conveys chivalry. Wuxia. Say it gently... 'whooshah'... and it's like a breath of serenity embracing you. Say it with force, 'WuSHA!', and you can feel its power."
Samuel L. Jackson, "The Art of Action: Martial Arts in the Movies"

One of the oldest genres in Chinese literature, wǔxiá (武侠 — literally "martial-arts chivalry" or "martial arts heroes", and pronounced roughly woo-seeah in Mandarin) stories are tall tales of honourable warriors (侠 xiá) fighting against evil, whether it be an individual villain, or a corrupt government. Notable for melodrama, spectacular swordplay, and high-flying martial arts.

Although some wuxia stories are set in modern times, or even the future, most take place in the "Martial Arts World" of Jiānghú (江湖 — literally "rivers and lakes") a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China. The Jianghu is a "shared universe", populated by martial-artists and monks, wandering knights and beautiful princesses, thieves and beggars, priests and healers, merchants and craftsmen. The best wuxia writers draw a vivid picture of the intricate relationships of honour, loyalty, love and hate between individuals and between communities in this milieu. It is implicit that law and government are unjust, ineffective and/or corrupt, requiring the xia to settle differences by force moderated only by their chivalrous code, and often forcing them to live as outlaws despite their noble characters. In modern Chinese, perhaps as a result of these connotations of a separate world with its own rules, the term jianghu has taken on other meanings, including the underworld or criminal gangs.

A more romantic term known as Wulin (武林 — literally "Warrior's Forests") is used when one wants to talk specifically about the world of martial artists and warriors specifically, divorced from the ugly connotations of criminality that jianghu has come to embody. Wulin is basically a majestic way of saying "The World of Warriors."

Modern works often incorporate outside themes and ideas, allowing the genre to develop, and in turn wǔxiá themes and visual styles have strongly influenced Western media, especially in cinema.

Compare High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, and Swashbuckler. For the 2011 movie titled Wu Xia, see Swordsmen.

Common tropes include:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Seirei no Moribito: A chance encounter with the royal procession and one act of heroism later, Balsa finds herself a guest at the Imperial Court - where the Empress learns of her vow to atone for the 8 lives she took, by saving 8 lives in return. After hearing her story, she asks Balsa to take her son and make him the 8th life she saves. Thus begins an epic quest to save a young prince, the mysterious egg inside him, and a country.
  • G Gundam was heavily inspired by wuxia. In fact the director, Yasuhiro Imagawa, rather likes wuxia, which also shows up to a greater degree in Giant Robo and less so in Shin Mazinger.
  • The first season of Gundam SEED can be read as a loose adaptation of Jing-Yong's The Heaven Sword And Dragon Saber novel, especially concerning Kira as a rewrite of the kind-pacifist turned Warrior-God Jang Wu-Ji.
    • It seems more likely to be a loose adaption of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series though, with elements from more recent ones thrown in.
  • Dragon Ball, which was loosely based on Journey to the West.
  • The Manga Mahou Sensei Negima! has become this through a combination of Writer Revolt and gradual Genre Shift. Also magic.
  • Fist of the North Star has all the elements of wuxia... other than being set in a post-nuclear-apocalyptic Earth where law and order has all but ceased to exist, rather than a corrupt one. Its Prequel Fist of the Blue Sky is actually closer in style and spirit to classical wuxia being set in Shanghai during the twilight years of classical China helps.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, though originally more of a simple high school fighting shounen/satire, as the plot gradually moves forward it becomes more and more like a modern-day wuxia, as Kenichi becomes increasingly involved in his masters relationships and rivalries, as well as the rivalries/friendships Kenichi himself builds with their rivals and their rivals disciples. The world Kenichi lives in has also been shown to have a well-developed and complicated secret martial arts world, which most of the more "normal" cast are entirely ignorant of at the start, much like the Wulin concept.
  • Two different manga by Oh! Great effectively become this over time: Tenjho Tenge is a straight example, with each of the characters having long histories, internal and external conflicts between bloodlines, clans, sensei's, and fighting styles. The other is Air Gear, which does pretty much the exact same formula, except instead of magical kung-fu they use magical motorized inline skates.
  • King of Fighters has an ongoing manga that is heavily influenced by wuxia manhua, which is perhaps expected giving it's artist and writer has a great deal of experience drawing and writing for that particular comic genre.
  • Hero Tales, a manga by Huang Jin Zhou (a unit composed of Hiromu Arakawa, Genco and Studio Flag), is inspired by wuxia drama and novels.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • Water Margin, a novel dating from the fourteenth century, is probably the earliest example, although it is clearly based on even earlier folk stories. Especially influential in defining the Jiānghú world.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms, again probably written during the fourteenth century, but based on earlier histories.
  • Journey to the West, still another classic novel, probably fifteenth century in this case, also based on earlier folk stories.
  • The novels and short stories of Jin Yong, Gu Long, and Liang Yusheng, the great masters of modern wuxia literature.
  • One of the legends in Hitherby Dragons is a wuxia parody/homage.
  • Despite martial arts not being the center of their plots, Bridge of Birds and the other Master Li & Number Ten Ox novels by Barry Hughart are set in, "an ancient China that never was," that is a clear homage to Chinese mythology and the Wuxia genre. He lists Romance of the Three Kingdoms among his main influences.
  • The Judge Dee novels and short stories draw on many wuxia elements. Ciao Tai is a typical gentleman-outlaw swordsman character, and his best friend Ma Joong is the kung-fu master.
  • The Dragon Series by Laurence Yep.

    Live-Action TV 

    Manhwa and Manhua 
  • The Breaker, Veritas, Now, and Ping are all Korean manhwa that use wuxia tropes.
  • Ravages Of Time, as it is based on The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms.
  • Weapons of the Gods (which the RPG below is based on)
  • The Celestial Zone
  • Chinese Hero, the epic manhua saga by the author of The Storm Riders, starting with Chinese fighters defending Chinese pride against racists in America with martial arts before moving on to other settings.
  • Id uses many Wuxia tropes and mixes them with Norse and Christian mythology.

     Music Videos 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The AD&D-derived game Dragon Fist has wuxia as its primary genre, again leaning toward fantasy.
    • 3.5 edition had the Tome of Battle sourcebook, with new classes (similar to the fighter, monk and paladin) which drew on Wuxia influences to soften the effects of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. Often regarded as the best 3.5 book ever printed.
    • 4th Edition mentions this in the Dungeon Master's Guide as one of the various campaign styles you can run.
  • The 69 juncture of Feng Shui lends itself quite well to wuxia stories, particularly those of a more fantastic bent.
  • As do the Period Martial Arts and Bizarre Fantasy genres from Hong Kong Action Theatre.
  • As a genre which is focused on awesome stunts, personal interactions, and a small group of people being vastly more powerful than anyone else, Wuxia has inspired a number of RPGs:
    • Weapons Of The Gods and its successor Legends Of The Wulin are epic systems designed to showcase both the variety of kung fu techniques and the high power level of Wuxia - "Ranked Fighters" (AKA "Xia") can literally take down dozens of nameless mooks right out the gate, and character abilities deal with destiny, the wills of heaven and hell, and the fate of all of China (though it does have a lot of detail in its musings on cultural detail).
    • At the opposite end of the spectrum, Qin The Warring States has much greater realism. Such tricks as walking on water or disabling two foes with a single sword stroke are exceedingly difficult, and starting characters will have some trouble facing even three or four ordinary thugs. Many brands of Chinese mysticism are also examined, including oddities such as Internal Alchemy.
  • Jadeclaw is essentially a furry wuxia RPG.
  • Exalted: Its stunts, martial arts and Charms are specifically set up to support wuxia-style play.
  • The world setting and short stories connected to Zodiacs are heavily and openly influenced by wuxia, The Western, Samurai and the Viking Sagas.
  • The not-yet-released Far West is essentially a Wuxia setting... modeled after the Wild West.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • Bujingai uses this trope as its primary motif, although it takes place in the future of Japan.
  • The Dynasty Warriors series, obviously, since it's an action-based adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Also notable in that, for someone who's not familiar with the original novel, the feats the characters in the games perform seem absolutely ridiculous, while reading the novel, you can tell that, yes, that's the way they were originally portrayed.
  • Some fighting games have been influenced by this genre. The original Mortal Kombat in particular has a strong Wuxia vibe (the setting is very Eastern-themed, despite being developed entirely in the United States) but this was subsequently stripped away in later games.
  • Jade Empire is probably the most notable video-game example, among Western RPG gamers.
  • Most video games actually made in China tend to have a wuxia theme, likely going on the principle that drives western developers to fall back on Tolkien when designing a Western RPG.
  • Legend of Kay is the mixture with this, The Legend of Zelda, and furry.
  • Taito's The Legend of Kage and Demon Sword, although the latter also has Western medieval fantasy elements.
  • Asura's Wrath is a Sci-Fi meets Hindu Mythology version of Wuxia.
  • Extremely obscure Playstation offering T'ai Fu: Wrath of the Tiger is a classic Last of His Kind Roaring Rampage of Revenge story, with a bit of Power Copying along the way by learning the techniques of those he defeats. The eponymous T'ai Fu, a Panthera Awesome Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy trying to avenge his massacred clan and their Doomed Hometown, is cast more in a rebellious hero role than the traditional noble martial arts practitioner of most wuxia films.
  • World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria copies the setting into Azeroth with all of its fantastic races. A race of stone creatures serves as a reference to oppressive emperors, savage bull men stand in for Mongol invaders, furry hat wearing pygmies stand in for the Nepalese Sherpa and the Pandaren themselves represent the simple scholars, farmers and monks. Then the invasion of Alliance and Horde into Pandaria and a discovery of Titan Lost Technology drives the setting Off the Rails.

    Visual Novels 
  • Kikokugai -The Cyber Slayers- combines wuxia with cyberpunk and send it DEEP to the cynical territory. It's from Nitro Plus.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 


The WesternFictionWar Movies
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alternative title(s): Martial Arts Heroes
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