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Literature / Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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A Ming dynasty illustration of the Oath of the Peach Garden, one of the many fictional events described in the book.

"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus has it ever been."

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Traditional: 三國演義; Simplified: 三国演义; Pinyin: Sānguó Yǎnyì) is a 14th-century Chinese epic novel about the century of war, turmoil, and bloodshed known as the Three Kingdoms Period (188-280 AD), written by Luo Guanzhong. It is considered one of the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature alongside Journey to the West, Water Margin, and Dream of the Red Chamber — and for good reason. This epic is renowned for its beautiful style, complex and heroic characters, and enduring motifs and themes that remain relevant even in modern society. It not only left its influence throughout the Chinese culture, language, and literature, but also that of other Sinosphere countries (i.e. Japan, Korea, and Vietnam), and has spawned many, many derivative works in various media (some more derivative than others) throughout the world.

The tale begins in the last days of the corrupt Han Dynasty, showing how the government and Emperor lost the "Mandate of Heaven" (天命), and the land fell into anarchy, with various warlords carving out their own territories in a struggle for supremacy. Gradually, out of the chaos, three kingdoms take shape: the kingdom of Shu, led by the virtuous Liu Bei (a distant cousin of the Emperor) and his sworn brothers, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei; the kingdom of Wei, led by the scheming Cao Cao; and the kingdom of Wu, led by the ambitious Sun family. All seek to unify the nation for one reason or another, and claim the right to rule for their own. And so the three kingdoms contend with one another over the century, and heroes rise and fall in the strife, until the nation is finally reunified.

And, as you'd expect from a pivotal work like this, it's managed to gather quite a collection of tropes. Interested tropers can find the full text of an older English translation, now in the public domain, here. The site has added some annotations to help readers keep track of events and characters.

Tropes pertaining to the novel itself:

  • Divided for Publication: Most publishers break the novel up into multiple parts, thanks to its length: at 800,000 words and 120 chapters, it's a Doorstopper.
  • Stealth Parody: Despite having been written to satisfy the Imperial guidelines, Luo Guanzhong managed to sneak in a few subversions on the nature of loyalty. Blink and you'll miss them, though.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: One early editor referred to it as 70% fact and 30% fiction. Luo Guanzhong's sources included not only historical records, but period Chinese operas, poetry and folktales as well. Some of the scenes in the book never really happened, or did not happen as described; That Other Wiki has a list.

Tropes within the novel:

  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: Sima Yi could supposedly turn his head 180° to look behind him.note 
  • Abusive Parents: Liu Bei's infant son, Liu Shan, was lost at Chang Ban, so Zhao Yun made a selfless charge into enemy lines to bring the kid back. So what does Liu Bei do? He throws his kid to the ground, pissed that he nearly lost a great general. The kid later grows up and loses the kingdom, and is considered by most readers to be completely useless. Probably because he was dropped on his head as a kid. In a major example of Values Dissonance, no one in the story calls Liu Bei out on this. Then again, he's the one who quoted lore as saying that "Brothers are as hands and feet; wives and children are as clothing. You may mend your torn dress, but who can reattach a lost limb?"invoked
  • Action Girl:
    • Zhurong, Meng Huo's wife, goes into battle against Shu and manages to capture a couple of Shu generals before getting captured herself - which is a pretty good record for the Nanman.
    • Lady Sun (whom you might know better as Sun Shangxiang in most opera adaptations and Dynasty Warriors), Sun Quan and Sun Ce's sister, practiced swordplay, has an entourage of a hundred maids decked out in armor and weapons, scared Liu Bei half to death on his wedding night, and scolds her brother's generals into submission when she eventually elopes with her husband. Historically, she raised havoc on a regular basis and had to be monitored by Zhao Yun.
    • Lady Wang Yi note , Zhao Ang's wife, was the only woman to be recorded as actually fighting in that period when she took up arms and attempted to murder Ma Chao after he slaughtered her husband.
  • Adult Adoptee: Lu Bu is adopted by Dong Zhuo as an adult. Likewise, Guan Yu adopts the adult Guan Ping as his son. Historically, Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu were merely described as "being as close as father and son" rather than there being an actual adoption, and Guan Ping was actually Guan Yu's biological son.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Cao Cao receives one of the longest poems in the book upon his death, almost entirely complimentary. The final lines run:
    Ah! The ancients' splendid deeds or secret thoughts
    We may not measure with our puny rule.
    But criticize them, pedants, as ye may
    The mighty dead will smile at what you say.
  • All Just a Dream: Dong Cheng summons his servants, gathers his co-conspirators, marches on the Prime Minister's palace, and runs Cao Cao through with his jeweled sword...
    And just then he woke up and found it was all a dream, but his mouth was still full of curses.
  • An Aesop: The first part of Romance that any Chinese-language elementary student will learn in school is the "Seven Steps Poem", a story about Cao Cao's successor Cao Pi and his more popular son Cao Zhi. It's often presented as a fable about sibling rivalry.
  • Annoying Arrows: Guan Yu and Xiahou Dun - but averted by the large number of characters who actually do get killed by arrows. And while even Guan Yu plays this trope straight most of the time, he does get knocked off his horse by an arrow, requiring extensive surgery to heal the wound.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Zhang Song drops one of these on Cao Cao that almost gets him executed.
    "O Prime Minister, I know well that when you march out your army, you always conquer. I knew it when you attacked Lu Bu at Puyang; and when you fought Zhang Xiu at Wancheng; and when you met Zhou Yu at the Red Cliffs; and when in Huarong Valley you encountered Guan Yu; and on that day when you cut off your beard and threw away your robe at Tong Pass; and when you hid in a boat to escape the arrows on the Yellow River. On all these occasions, no one could stand against you."
  • Artifact of Doom: The Imperial Seal comes off like that. Before the novel it was thrown into a lake as a sacrifice to stop a storm and held by at least two emperors who were rebelled against. During the novel, it's held by a woman who escapes the burning capital by jumping into a well. Then it is retrieved by Sun Jian, who died shortly after. It was then inherited by Sun Ce, who traded it to Yuan Shu for troops, dying young awhile later. Then Yuan Shu used it to establish himself as emperor, causing many of his supporters to turn on him. Despite its purported divine providence, the artifact seems to be bad luck for anyone who holds on to it for too long.
  • Arranged Marriage: A staple of the times, not uncommonly forced, but Liu Bei's marriage to Sun Quan's sister is a hilarious subversion of the trope: Zhou Yu convinces Sun Quan to organise it as a pretext to capture Liu Bei, only for Zhuge Liang to turn the entire situation around into a Humiliation Conga for Zhou Yu instead.
  • Arrow Catch: Jiang Wei. See below for more details.
  • Arrowgram: As Cao Cao besieged a flooded Xiapi, he had a number of messages shot over the wall, promising a reward for the capture of Lu Bu, though Lu Bu's officers were already disillusioned with him by then and were in collusion with Cao Cao to take the city.
  • Arrows on Fire: A staple of any fire attack.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Following Guan Yu's death, he gets promoted to minor deity by a later emperor, but not before scaring Sun Quan by possessing and killing Lu Meng, who "fell over dead with blood gushing from the seven orifices of his body." To this day, you can still find altars to Guan Yu in many Chinese-speaking areas.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador:
    • Mi Heng, a talented but rude scholar, came out swinging in his only appearance and manages to insult the courts of Cao Cao, Liu Biao and Huang Zu, all in a single chapter. So how did anyone think he'd be a good ambassador? Afraid of directly executing a popular figure, Cao Cao hoped that Liu Biao would execute Mi Heng for him; Liu Biao saw through Cao Cao's trick and sent him to Huang Zu with the same intent.
    • Zhang Song is one of these to Cao Cao (see Armor-Piercing Response ), but is much more cordial to Liu Bei.
  • Automatic Crossbows: Zhuge Liang is credited in-novel with inventing these. Historically, the Zhuge crossbow was useful only if the projectile is covered with poison or when used for close range combat, as it did not have much penetrative power on its own.
  • Badass Cape: The "battle gown" worn with the armor of the time, wide enough to cover the arms.
  • Balance of Power: The kingdoms of Wei and Shu develop a rivalry, while Wu functions as the Wild Card, allying with one or other of the realms as is convenient to keep either of them from getting powerful enough to overwhelm Wu.
  • Batman Gambit: Zhuge Liang, who shows a near-psychic ability to predict people's actions based on their character.
  • Beardness Protection Program: Cao Cao loses his cape and beard in quick succession after Ma Chao's men start looking for "that guy in the red cape" and (soon after) "that guy with the long beard". And then they start looking for "that guy with the shaved beard"... whereupon he decides to give up on the disguises and just run.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Several examples. Notably, Guan Yu's subordinates Zhou Cang and Wang Fu after Guan's capture and execution.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Mi Zhu picked up a woman in his carriage who was actually a spirit of fire, sent to burn his house down. His kindness towards her caused her to warn him of this, however, early enough that he was able to hurry home and save his valuables and his family's lives.
  • Big Book of War: The Art of War and various contemporary texts. Oddly enough, it's treated somewhat sceptically - while a worthwhile strategist will study the texts, he should also be able to improvise. Meanwhile, characters who rely exclusively on theories and ideas they derive from ancient texts are more likely than not to be General Failure.
  • Blood Brothers: The Oath at the Peach Garden between Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu is one of the most famous incidents in the novel. Note though that they're not the only such brotherhood (Sun Ce and Zhou Yu are as well), just the most famous and celebrated.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Zhang Fei - and subverted when he used his enemies' knowledge of his love for wine to lure them into a trap. (Unfortunately both before and after this, his love for wine — or rather, the Unstoppable Rage that could come about — did cause negative consequences for Liu Bei, the last one being his death when his last two victims had their revenge. That, and there's the time that in stealing Lu Bu's war horses, he single-handedly broke an alliance that Lu Bu might have actually kept.)
  • Book Ends: At the opening of the novel: "The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide." At the end: "The empire, long united, must divide; long divided, must unite."
  • Burn the Witch!: Taoists. Sun Ce hates superstitions, and Cao Cao just hates people who speak against him. As seen later on, things don't turn out too well for either of them.
  • Call to Agriculture: Subverted, when Liu Bei had to share temporary lodging in the same city as Cao Cao, he deflected suspicion from himself by taking up gardening in his yard as a disguise.
  • Catch and Return: Jiang Wei (having accidentally spilled his quiver) catches an arrow fired at him by Guo Huai and then fires it back at the shooter, killing him.
  • Chaste Hero: Multiple characters either directly or by proxy in ensuring that their charges aren't violated.
    • The most fortunate to do so may have been civil official Mi Zhu (who served Tao Qian and Liu Bei)... since the woman revealed herself to be the Goddess of Fire and that she had a command to burn his house down that night. Thanks to her early warning, he kept his life, health, and his valuables.
    • And there's Zhao Yun, who turned down an offer to marry a beautiful woman in favor of serving his lord. Of course, what complicated matters was: 1.) She was the widow of the brother of 2.) a recently conquered vassal who 3.) had recently sworn brotherhood with him. Though it is not depicted in the novel itself, that move paid off later when said recently conquered vassal fled from Liu Bei, and Zhao Yun avoided considerable trouble.
    • And Liao Hua, who refused to take Liu Bei's captured wives for himself, killed his partner (who did want to take them) and then promptly turned himself and his partner's head over to Guan Yu. An excellent career choice, as he outlives most of the other characters — an accomplishment for one who turns up that early in the novel.
    • Another famous example is Guan Yu refusing to sleep with Liu Bei's wives while in Cao Cao's custody, as one of his three conditions for surrendering to Cao Cao was the protection of Liu Bei's wives. Then again, the incident — and all of his privileges — were attempts to sway his loyalty to Liu Bei, and Guan Yu was probably aware of this. (Later, when presented with ten maids, Guan Yu turned them over to his sisters-in-law.)
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Multiple characters:
    • Lu Bu stands out among them. Lu Bu's penchant for treachery was well-known, having betrayed his two adoptive fathers Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo. This eventually comes back to haunt him, courtesy of Liu Bei.
    • Liu Bei: Not repaying Lu Bu, planning to assassinate Cao Cao, claiming he had no interest in Yi province, backstabbing Liu Zhang who asked for Liu Bei's help in fighting Cao Cao to take over Yi province, refusing to return the cities Sun Quan lent him...
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Due to the hundred years that the story spans across, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that two characters are introduced and two die every chapter. Characters die in their sleep, characters die in battle, some get full poems dedicated to their passing and even some are introduced and then killed off seemingly in the same breath, with little fanfare. By the time the story finishes, no character that was alive at the start is still alive at the end.note 
  • Cliffhanger: Every single chapter ending, which fits with the oral tradition similarly to the Arabian Nights - so that the storyteller could keep the audience hooked and coming back for more.
  • Combat by Champion: Far too many examples to count. Needless to say, if there's a battle, there most likely will be one of these. Notable examples include the three brothers (Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei) vs Lu Bu at Hulao Pass note , Zhang Fei vs Ma Chao at Jiameng Pass note , Sun Ce vs Taishi Ci at Qu'e County note  and much much more. These do eventually start dying down after the famous heroes such as Guan Yu and Zhang Fei start dying off but the early 60 or so chapters are practically littered with these.
  • Cool Horse: Red Hare, said to be faster and stronger than the horses of its day (the Chinese term is "thousand-li horse"), and whose body and hair are entirely "glowing-sun red." May or may not go three times as fast as a regular horse.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu : Woe betide any soldier not identified by name.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Guan Yu gets executed by the kingdom of Wu. Liu Bei, enraged, renews hostilities with Sun Quan leading to a disastrous military campaign and his eventual death after the failure. In the meantime, Guan Yu's ghost comes back to kill Lu Meng, the general who planned the trap. And Liu Bei's wife - who is also Sun Quan's sister - drowns herself on hearing the news.
  • Dark Horse Victory: The eventual unifier of the Three Kingdoms? None of them. It's the Jin Dynasty, founded by the descendants of Sima Yi - Cao Cao's strategist.
  • Death by Despair:
    • Zhuge Liang managed to irritate Zhou Yu to death. He managed to Hannibal Lecture two other Wei officials into a fatal fit later on as well. Happens to others as well.
    • Zhuge Liang himself is victim to this at the very end, after the freak rainstorm at Mount Qi that saved Sima Yi's butt from a trap that quite literally took ten years for him to set up. This wound up being the thing that finally pushes Zhuge Liang's already fragile health at the time over the edge.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Huang Zhong, Xu Chu, and Taishi Ci amongst others.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: If you think you're winning against Zhuge Liang, that means it's time for the ambush to come out. Other characters use this as well.
  • Disposable Woman: Thanks to a colossal helping of Values Dissonance, female characters tend to end up as collateral damage, examples to discourage others, or, in one case, emergency rations.invoked
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When his father is robbed and killed by one of Tao Qian's officers who went bandit, Cao Cao raises an army and ravages Tao Qian's territories. Tao Qian only managed to escape personal injury thanks to Cao Cao withdrawing his armies when his home territories came under attack by Lu Bu.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Sun Ce crushed Yu Mi to death while trying to take him prisoner.
  • The Dragon: Basically Lu Bu while in Dong Zhuo's service, as his defection eliminates the last check on Dong Zhuo's rise to power and he's recognized as the linchpin that holds the regime together even moreso than the army and other officers.
  • Driven to Suicide: Xun Yu opposed Cao Cao's ascension to the rank of Duke. When Xun Yu pled illness to get out of being sent on an expedition, Cao Cao sent him a box like those that normally hold presents. Opening the box to find it empty, Xun Yu took the hint and committed suicide.
  • Dueling Messiahs: The three emperors. All three want to unify China, but their methods and motivations are incompatible with each other.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: When you find a eunuch, they're never going to be portrayed as decent:
    • In the very first chapter, the Ten Regular Attendants abuse their power, leading to the uprising of the Yellow Scarves.
    • Huang Hao is regarded as the one who brought downfall to Shu by influencing Liu Shan, Liu Bei's Sucksessor.
    • Cen Hun was stated to be the 'Huang Hao' for Wu's last emperor Sun Hao, although this is novel-exclusive.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Dong Zhuo. That's pretty much his only positive trait.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Xiahou Dun gets hit in the eye with an arrow - and eats it.
  • Eye Scream: Xiahou Dun. See the above.
  • Faking the Dead: Played straight by Cao Cao against Lu Bu, and by Sun Ce against Liu Yao. Invoked and subverted by Zhuge Liang: he really was dead, but manages to convince Sima Yi that he was only Faking the Dead to cause him to retreat.
  • False Flag Operation: Done several times by various sides. Cao Cao's raid at Wuchao is a particularly important one.
  • Fear of Thunder: Inverted: Liu Bei uses it as an excuse to cover up his shock when Cao Cao predicts that the two of them are the only true heroes of the age.
  • Flanderization: EVERYBODY. It says a lot that the highly stylized and idealized Dynasty Warriors has a claim to being just as historically accurate as this novel.
  • First-Name Basis: It was common practice for men to take "style names": Guan Yu was Yunchang ("Long Cloud"), Zhao Yun was Zilong ("Young Dragon"), Zhuge Liang was Kongming, Zhang Liao was Wenyuan, and so on. Relationship titles may also be substituted for names. How one character addresses another one can indicate a great deal about their relationship.
  • Four-Star Badass: Too many to count — generals routinely lead their troops from the front and meet on the battlefield. Probably the best example is Lu Bu, whose knowledge of military tactics and strategy, and in fact any talent he may have as a military leader, is dwarfed by his personal combat ability.
  • Gambit Pileup: With that many factions opposing each other, this is unavoidable - for each strategist that's shown developing a plan, odds are that the next scene will be another strategist developing a countermeasure to it.
  • Generational Saga: To some extent. While a good half of the novel focuses on the first generation and their heroics, as a whole, the novel can be viewed as the story of the three kingdoms - how the first generation of each kingdom establishes the ideals on which their kingdom should be built, how the second generation try to build on the first's ideals but ultimately starts to stagnate and how in later generations, the stagnation has grown too far to be stopped, ultimately resulting in the kingdom's collapse and fall.
  • Gentle Giant: Xu Chu. He was at least 6 foot 5, with a 52 inch belly, but he was known by names such as Sleeping Tiger, Tiger Fool, etc. because while in battle, Xu was like a tiger, while outside of battle he was known as being simple-minded and honest.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Guan Yu's beard was reputedly fabulous to the point where Cao Cao gave him a beard bag. Oh, and when confronted by bandits, his taking off the bag caused them to promptly surrender and their leaders to beg to join him — albeit this was probably also because they recognized him for the badass that he was.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Dian Wei's last stand had him using enemy soldiers as bludgeons.
  • Hate Sink: In between many-many characters, three of them stand out as the kind of characters meant to be hated:
    • Dong Zhuo, the repulsive, hedonistic warlord who took over Luoyang and started a reign of tyranny for his own pleasure.
    • Huang Hao, an eunuch that manipulates the weak Liu Shan and made Jiang Wei's campaign a failure, dooming Shu. After escaping execution via bribery, Sima Zhao caught him and executed him on spot, disgusted at his actions.
    • Sun Hao, the last Emperor of Wu, who began as a promising ruler, but suddenly turned into an extreme tyrant that is either on par or worse than Dong Zhuo, that Jin's invasion under Sima Yan is seen as a salvation and the people of Wu turned him over to Jin.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade
    • Zhuge Liang was historically considered the top political and domestic administrator, not the supreme tactician and strategist he is in the novel... on top of his political and administrative prowess.
    • Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's sons Guan Xing and Zhang Bao are portrayed in the novel to be some of the greatest warriors of Shu in their later years. In reality, Guan Xing never entered a battlefield, and Zhang Bao died young without proving himself - he got outlived by his father.
  • Historical Downgrade:
    • Zhang Fei gets hit with a Historical Hero Downgrade, going from historically being the most strategically accomplished of Liu Bei's main generals to a blundering drunkard. While he's still smart enough to utilize some war strategies such as during the battle to take Cheng Du, he's portrayed as more of a Boisterous Bruiser Battle God in the novel. However it still applies with the real life Zhang Fei being nowhere near heroic.
    • Liu Bei himself was actually a competent commander and not the weeping wreck we most often see, and some of the strategies in the novel attributed to Zhuge Liang were actually his own.
    • In the official Chinese histories, Cao Cao and his successors are generally considered the bearers of dynastic legitimacy. In the novel, they are portrayed as the main villains even if a family of Magnificent Bastards.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Guan Yu's sense of honor was more or less given a Flanderization while in history, his arrogance has more showing (although some of his sense of honor were still there, just not overblown). This is more of the fault of traditional opera and certain biased emperors. Most of the heroic deeds attributed to him in Romance were either performed by other people or completely fabricated, not to mention his apotheosis. But even then, it may be downplayed, because the novel still made it that it was his arrogance that turned out to be his downfall.
    • This trope applies to Shu-Han as a whole. In the post-Three Kingdoms era, Liu Bei's faction had always been painted as an obstruction to the reunification of China. This perception only changed during the Song Dynasty, when after losing half of the empire to the Northern Jurchens, remnants of the Song government required a political justification to relocate and retain a dynasty in the south. For this purpose, they have chosen Shu-Han as precedent. Thus Liu Bei's negative aspects were diminished, and eventual heroic status cemented (also they want him to be a relatable hero for Confucian standards, so some of his traits that do not fit the standard, even if they're not generally bad, got replaced too). On the other hand, this meant applying a Historical Villain Upgrade for Cao Cao as seen below for usurping the throne from its rightful owner.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • While it's hard to say if anyone was a true villain in history, Cao Cao and the kingdom of Wei end up being cast as the main villains, while the kingdom of Wu is relegated to a secondary position because they're fighting the Designated Villain half the time and the Designated Hero the rest of it. In the same time, Cao Cao also got a downgrade: He only committed a brutal massacre once when he learned that Tao Qian had a hand in killing his father, in history, he had a lot more massacres than that when certain people wronged him (and unfortunately, a lot of people wronged him).
    • Han Xuan gets turned into a loud, rude and cruel person, while he historically was known to be quiet and kind... and he gave up instead of getting slain.
  • Hollywood Healing: Huang Gai, who had himself whipped as part of a plot against Cao Cao as a Fake Defector. He healed fast enough to participate in the battle... only to get wounded again!
  • Honey Trap:
    • Diao Chan, with Lu Bu and Dong Zhuo, the latter eventually coming to his downfall because of her.
    • Zhou Yu attempted one of these on Liu Bei with Lady Sun, but thanks to Zhuge Liang, it failed.
  • Honor Before Reason: Following the battle at Chi Bi, Guan Yu trapped Cao Cao in one of Zhuge Liang's ambushes. But because Cao Cao had treated him well previously when he was in service, Guan Yu lets him go.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Chen Gong, who believes that first magnificent bastard Cao Cao and then Lü Bu are righteous heroes worthy of ruling the land.
  • Humiliation Conga: Meng Huo's seven defeats and Cao Cao's retreat from Chi Bi, among others.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Perhaps unintended. But for some reason every time one of the characters plots a conspiracy or a civil war, or other such things, it is "for the good of the State".
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Liu Bei, on the run and starving, is given some meat by a local peasant. The source? The peasant's wife. Liu Bei is ignorant at the time, but grateful when he finds out... not to mention the fact that when he tells Cao Cao about it, Cao Cao rewards the peasant with a hundred ounces of silver.
  • Important Haircut: It should be noted that it was against the filial piety values of the time to cut one's hair.
    • Played straight by Cao Cao, cutting his hair to show loss of face after he lost control of his horse, which trampling over some crops after he'd issued an edict that any soldier who trampled over crops would lose his head.
    • Subverted by Zhou Fang, who cut off his hair to impress Cao Xiu with his trustworthiness. He was lying, and it really shows how far he's willing to go for his true lord, Sun Quan.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Most famously, the Fire Ship attack at the battle of Chi Bi. Legendary and effective.
  • Ironic Echo: "I trust you have been well since we last parted?" First spoken by Guan Yu, taunting Cao Cao about his escape back to his sworn brothers. Later Cao Cao says it upon being presented with Guan Yu's severed head.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Zhou Yu, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi were all fond of doing this... and usually with each other. Zhuge Liang, however, kills people via taunting.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: The most common excuse for changing your mind about executing people/handing your concubine to your adoptive son/threatening to expose an assassination plot. Honestly, they need to work on their routine a little.
  • Kill It with Fire: Fire attacks are a common staple of combat strategy. Two of the biggest and most successful fire attacks occured at the Battle of Chibi and the Battle of Yiling.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: It doesn't take long for Sun Jian to reap the consequences of lying about the Imperial Seal. He dies in the very next chapter.
    Sun Jian pointing toward the heavens as an oath said, "If I have the Imperial seal and am hiding it myself, may my end be unhappy and my death violent!"
  • Love Ruins the Realm:
    • Played with by the whole Diao Chan incident, where the realm was at a nadir anyway and getting rid of the tyrant was an attempt at making things better. Unfortunately, it inadvertently trades the tyranny of Dong Zhuo for the chaotic rivalries of the regional warlords, while his puppet emperor simply comes "under new management."
    • Invoked in the buildup to the battle of Chi Bi, where Zhuge Liang provokes Zhou Yu (and the kingdom of Wu) into fighting by claiming that Cao Cao was lusting after the Qiao sisters, one being Zhou Yu's own wife and the other, his late best friend and sworn brother Sun Ce's widow.
  • MacGuffin: The Imperial Seal is supposed to signify the Mandate of Heaven and the right to rule the land. People fights for it, Sun Jian dies on account of it. Sun Ce trades it off for an army which he uses to found the kingdom of Wu, although Yuan Shu (who had made that trade with Sun Ce) ended up using it as the basis for founding his stillborn dynasty. The seal eventually passes to the kingdom of Wei, and while it's still used to claim the right to rule, nobody really cares at that point.
  • Made of Iron: Several characters, including Zhou Tai (who takes twelve wounds defending Sun Quan from bandits when Quan was a child) and Dian Wei.
  • The Magnificent: Sun Ce became known as the "Little Conqueror", after scaring one enemy officer to death and crushing another one between his arm and torso.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: While Zhang Fei's shout wasn't superpowered, it reputedly killed at least one general at Chang Ban, from fright. Sun Ce managed to pull this off as well.
  • Master Archer: Many people throughout the story get to show off their archery skills. Perhaps the most famous is Huang Zhong, whose skill is described as "equal to piercing a willow leaf at a hundred paces."
  • Mooks: Galore, of course, with special mention going to the poor messengers. Those poor, poor, messengers...
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Lu Bu eventually kills his patron and adoptive father, Dong Zhuo, for the sake of Diao Chan.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Cao Cao had several:
      • When Cao Cao was on the run following a failed assassination attempt against Dong Zhuo, his father's sworn brother gives him shelter. Due to a series of misheard statements, Cao Cao mistakenly assumes that his hosts plan to kill him and slaughters the entire household. This is however subverted that shortly after, Cao Cao lets out his famous quote that excuses his actions and defines his character:
      Better I betray the world rather than have the world betray me!note 
      • He had one when he had Ju Shou executed ("I just killed the one guy who isn't a backstabbing freak... even if his loyalty was for the other guy and he tried to run away!")
      • He had another when his leading admirals were executed for treason during the campaign against Sun Quan, only to realize right afterward that he'd been had.
    • It seems to run in the family, with two examples in Cao Pi's case:
      • Trying to execute his poetic intellectual brother Cao Zhi (who at worst was merely a layabout with his drinking buddies), but gives him a chance by challenging him to compose a poem, then another, without using certain words. Both poems reminds him what a Jerkass he's being, and having been called to account, he lessens Zhi's punishment to exile.
      • When taking his son Cao Rui to a hunt, he kills a deer's mother and tells Rui to kill the child, but Rui asks why he should kill the son when the mother is already killed. This led to Cao Pi possibly remembering about that he'd ordered Rui's mother (Lady Zhen) to commit suicide, and he eventually named Rui his successor.
  • Not My Driver: Meng Huo, fleeing from Shu forces, jumps on what appears to be a Nanman boat. Since he was up against Zhuge Liang, the boat was predictably manned by Shu troops.
  • Nothing Personal: Chen Lin, one of Yuan Shao's retainers who wrote the deeply insulting manifesto as a declaration of war to Cao Cao, simply said this to the latter when he was finally captured. Cao Cao took the hint and gave him a desk job in his administration, perhaps out of pity.
  • Off with His Head!: Many characters, notably Guan Yu, both committing (with the most named victims!) and falling victim to this trope. His ghost is admonished: "[W]ho will also return the heads of your several victims—Yan Liang, Wen Chou, and the commanders of the five passes?" He takes the hint.
  • Old Soldier:
    • Huang Zhong's first appearance in the novel is at the age of 60 - and tellingly, when his horse suddenly keels over in his fight against Guan Yu, his excuse is that "The horse is too old." He served Shu as a top general for 15 whole years after that. Unfortunately, in his attempt to prove that he can still kick ass with the next generation of generals, he gets lured into a Wu ambush and dies from his wounds.
    • Later on, Zhao Yun at age 70 when he personally kills three generals and captures one, all of them brothers, in the same engagement and rendering an army of 80,000 Qiang tribesmen (working for Wei) frozen with fear, then kills their father in a second engagement and winning that skirmish too. The reason? "[T]he Prime Minister thought me too old and did not wish to employ me. I had to give him a proof."
    • Zhang. He fought the Yellow Turban Uprising, which began in 184. During Zhuge Liang's fourth Northern Expedition in 231, he decides that Zhang He (fighting for the other side) is too dangerous and must die, and arranges for this to happen. Zhang He must have been close to seventy by then, if not even older.
  • One-Man Army: The battle of Chang Ban gives two for the price of one, with Zhao Yun crushing his way through Cao Cao's forces to rescue Liu Bei's son and attempt to save his wives and reach safety (Chinese retellings often have him diving into enemy ranks seven times to try and ensure the safety of the son and wives, though this is not explicitly stated by the actual text), while Zhang Fei covers his retreat and scares off the whole army at the bridge. The latter is also possible Truth in Television, since most fights tended to be decided by duels between the generals.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, sort of. There are a lot of characters with similar sounding names, most of which have distinct characters which have the same romanisation. Plus, many character names sound just like place names. Much of the novel is filled with lines like "Zhang Fei fought at Chang Ban". It's easy to get confused after a while.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Cao Cao was fond of word games, even going so far to give inconsequential instructions (the disposition of some cheese, his opinion on a door) in codes. Yang Xiu solved both those mentioned, but in a subversion his intelligence (along with his support of one of Cao's younger sons for succession) made Cao fear him and would eventually lead to Yang's downfall.
  • Only the Chosen May Ride: Red Hare, a huge Cool Horse so named because "it can run fast as a hare and is colored red", only ever allowed Lu Bu and later - after Lu Bu's death - Guan Yu to ride him, as no one else could tame him.
  • Oracular Urchin: Luo Guanzhong liked to put street children in just for the sake of singing ominous songs, usually hinting at subsequent events. However, there's at least one time where it's a character (who needs to steer his mark towards a certain course of action) merely claiming that such children exist and are singing such songs... Genre Savvy, perhaps?
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Liu Bei and Lady Sun (at least as far as the novel is concerned), were perfectly content with their political marriage.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Intercession for close friends and relatives was common in the novel, but there were exceptional examples where generals and commanders would appeal on behalf of captured Worthy Opponents.
    • A famous example was Guan Yu's and Liu Bei's intercession on Zhang Liao's behalf after the fall of Xiapi Castle, ironically just after Liu Bei had thrown Lu Bu under the bus (though Lu Bu probably had it coming). Zhang Liao would end up being the envoy who would convince Guan Yu to surrender to Cao Cao.
    • Inverted when Zhuge Liang ordered Guan Yu's execution for sparing Cao Cao in Huarong Valley — at which point Zhuge Liang's own lord Liu Bei begged for his sworn brother's life.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Cao Cao spills a poison meant for him, and "the bricks upon which it fell were split asunder".
  • Portent of Doom: In the first few chapters, the end of the Han dynasty is seen in some very bad portents (a horrible plague among one of those things), kicking of the chain of events that leads to decades of war.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: When Cao Cao is debating whether or not to declare war on Yuan Shao, Guo Jia lays out ten ways in which Cao Cao is better. However, Guo Jia was also a gifted strategist (smart enough to set off a My Death Is Just the Beginning plot) and not above questioning his boss from time to time (when he let Liu Bei go to take on Yuan Shu, for instance).
  • Rags to Royalty: Liu Bei, despite being connected to the Han Dynasty lineage, starts off so poor that he weaves mats and sells shoes early in his life. It takes a long time, but he eventually becomes the Emperor of one of the Three Kingdoms.
  • Rain of Arrows: Exploited when Zhuge Liang "borrowed" Cao Cao's arrows by sailing out dummy ships laden with straw.
  • Regent for Life: Between the eunuchs, Dong Zhuo and Cao Cao, emperors had absolutely no power and even less luck. - heck, Dong Zhuo overtly has one emperor deposed and then forced to drink poison, while the empress dowager is literally thrown out the window.
  • Religion is Magic:
    • As Cao Cao and Sun Ce learnt, do not under any circumstances screw around with Taoist mystics - even if you kill them, they inevitably come back to haunt you, and usually to death.
    • Subverted by Zhuge Liang who claimed to summon the east wind at the battle of Chi Bi, but really just did the whole ritual to waste time since he'd predicted the change in weather previously.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • Liu Bei marches on Sun Quan to seek revenge for the death of Guan Yu. Everyone besides Guan Yu's immediate relatives and Zhang Fei tries to convince him to focus on Wei, but Liu Bei insists on invading Wu. Even after Sun Quan makes a large number of concessions, he refuses to back off and focus on Wei. The result is a massive defeat for Shu.
    • Cao Cao attacks Tao Qian when he had other, more serious enemies (such as Lu Bu and Yuan Shao) to deal with, because Cao Cao's father died while in his territory.
  • Rule of Cool: Most of the liberties taken with history in the novel.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: Cao Cao does this at Wang Yun's "birthday party" once he and the guests weep at the decline of the Han dynasty, saying that crying isn't going to kill Dong Zhuo.
  • Satellite Character: Whilst even the most minor officers often get their own motives and little details fleshing them out, this is the default personality template for female characters. Female agency wasn't much of a thing in literature back then.
  • Shoot the Messenger: If you were the bearer of bad news in the novel, expect your life to be nasty, brutish and short.
    • When Cao Cao demands that Wu kingdom surrender, the following exchange ensues:
    "When two countries are at war, their emissaries are not slain," said Lu Su. "Messengers are slain to show one's dignity and independence," replied Zhou Yu. The unhappy bearer of the letter was decapitated, and his head sent back to Cao Cao by the hands of his escort.
    • On another occasion, an example of Please Shoot the Messenger ensues. Mi Heng is an Insufferable Genius who insults everyone he meets. However, since Cao Cao does not wish to kill a famous man of letters himself, he sends him as a messenger to Liu Biao, who, in turn, sends him to short-tempered Huang Zu, who finally has him executed after being publicly insulted.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The entire fate of Kingdom of Shu. Beginning with the execution of Guan Yu and the assassination of Zhang Fei, they more or less begin to face collapse. Not too long after declaring himself emperor, Liu Bei dies, his rule passing to his possibly mentally handicapped Puppet King of a son Liu Shan. After Zhuge Liang, who ruled the kingdom on the emperor's behalf dies, a group of eunuchs, including Huang Hao, ruin the war plans of the final protagonist Jiang Wei which eventually led to his murder and the kingdom being subsequently taken over by Wei. So in whole, the efforts of the romanticized main characters of the Three Kingdoms story to reunite China fail, with all their accomplishments resulting in nothing (although it would eventually be reunified by the Simas under the Jin Dynasty). With the context of why the novel was written, it may be downplayed, however. While the Shu Kingdom eventually fell first, they would more likely go down as a Tragic Hero and Doomed Moral Victor, those who struggled to restore the rightful dynasty (Han) to the throne but was denied the chance of success by fate, therefore hopefully leaving a greater legacy.
  • Smug Snake: Cao Cao never really gets a chance to shine in the novel, despite being the designated villain of the story.
  • Speak of the Devil: Or, as the Chinese say, "Speak of Cao Cao and he appears."
  • Stealth Insult: Cao Cao weeping for Guo Jia's death after his defeat at Chi Bi. All of his advisors realize that he is making fun of the fact that none of them was able to see through the fire attack in time. Which is hypocritical because his advisers did try to warn him about a potential fire attack, but Cao Cao blew off their concerns because the winds were blowing the wrong direction.
  • Tender Tears: Characters will cry out of sorrow, happiness or despair at least once per chapter - even the most battle-hardened of generals. If Liu Bei is in a chapter, the odds of someone crying out of gratitude become even higher.
  • Thanatos Gambit: As an old Chinese saying goes, a dead Zhuge Liang scared a live Sima Yi in the battle of Wuzhang Plains.
  • The Horde: The Yellow Scarves are a popular but disorganised uprising led by charismatic mystics, and the early chapters are all about the kingdom's attempt to put their insurrection down.
  • The Strategist: Everyone's got at least one, but Zhuge Liang is the King of Strategists in the novel, routinely outshining all his peers.
  • Treacherous Advisor:
    • Chen Deng advised Lu Bu very poorly, as he was plotting to sell him out anyway.
    • Sima Yi and his descendants against Wei after Cao Rui's death. One of his descendants even had the reigning Wei emperor murdered in broad daylight.
    • A rare heroic example: Xu Shu (for Cao Cao) was one by neglect, keeping quiet upon discovering that Pang Tong was involved in the Liu Bei-Sun Quan alliance's plot leading up to the Battle of Chi Bi.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Done several times. Might be the reason for Zhuge Liang's habit of handing his plans to his subordinates in brocade sacks, to be revealed only at the very last minute. The most famous example in the novel would be Zhuge Liang's three instructions to Zhao Yun regarding the Lady Sun affair.
  • Villain Has a Point: Despite the fact that he is a murderous tyrant, Dong Zhuo has a point about deposing Emperor Shao in favor of the Prince of Chenliu. During their flight from the capital, Shao was almost entirely incapable, where as the Prince was strong willed, charismatic, and kept them both safe. Chenliu definitely demonstrated more leadership skill than the young emperor.
  • Villainous Glutton: Dong Zhuo. An official lit a wick in his corpse, and it burnt for days.
  • You Rebel Scum! : Everyone calls everyone else this. It makes sense in an odd way. If you claim to be rightful emperor, your opponents are rebels by extension.
  • Warrior Poet: Cao Cao and his sons were renowned poets, and founded one of the major styles of poetry of the time.
  • Weather Saves the Day: The deciding battle between Sun Chuan and Cao Cao's forces is decided by the weather at the Battle of Red Cliffs. Cao Cao's navy attacks Sun Chuan's in a line formation with the wind in his sails. This is so that if Cao Cao's flagship catches on fire, the wind will blow the fire away from his other ships (also, Sun Chuan's navy is downwind). Liu Bei, however, has a friend who can predict the weather, and his choice whether to intervene between the two warlords now or to wait means everything.
  • Worthy Opponent: When Cao Cao and Liu Bei were both in the capital, they held a famously-depicted "talk of heroes" in Cao Cao's garden where Cao Cao discounted several "heroes" that Liu Bei suggested before declaring that "the only two heroes in the world under heaven are you and I!" It causes Liu Bei to have an Oh, Crap! moment as he realizes that Cao Cao just implicitly declared him the only real threat to his rule.
  • You Killed My Father:
    • Subverted by Ling Tong, who intended to kill Gan Ning for killing his father Ling Cao (before Gan Ning's surrender to Sun Quan). Sun Quan interceded during Ling Tong's attempt and forbade any further attempts, and the two eventually became friendly rivals.
    • After Ma Teng is executed for his involvement in an assassination plot against Cao Cao, his son Ma Chao declares war for this very reason.
    • After Cao Cao's father (and many other relatives) are killed by a subordinate of Tao Qian who turned bandit, Cao wages a brutal war of vengeance against Tao, only to be stopped by Lu Bu's attack on his own territory.
    • A variant in case of Xu Shu. One of Cao Cao's advisors was a childhood friend of Xu and, knowing him to be devoted to his mother, fakes a letter from his mother asking him to come to the capital, where Cao Cao rules behind the emperor. Xu's mother is ashamed and kills herself. Xu considers Cao to be the murderer of his mother and never performs useful service for him (see above under Treacherous Advisor.)
  • You Shall Not Pass!:
    • Dian Wei holding off Zhang Xiu's forces.
    • Zhang Fei at the Battle of Chang Ban, where he shouts a challenge for anyone in Wei's army to come and pass, and no one comes forward, allowing Liu Bei time to escape.
    • Defied in case of the commanders of the five fortified passes that Guan Yu needs to pass through to reunite with Liu Bei, after Guan Yu spent some time in Cao Cao's service. Every one of them tries to prevent Guan from passing through their territories (some invoking the trope verbatim) and they all fail and lose their heads in process. Cao, however, admires Guan's loyalty and lets him leave in spite of losing several officers. (This sets the scene for a humorous scene where Xiahou Dun, Cao's chief general in the North, confronts Guan Yu after the latter had passed the five passes and slain their commanders. A succession of messengers arrive bearing Cao's command that Guan should be allowed to pass peacefully, with Xiahou asking each of them whether the command still applies after all the trouble Guan caused en route (killing the commanders of the passes and such), until the final messenger, Zhang Liao, confirms that, yes, it does.)

Derivative works:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fist of the North Star: It turns out that the invincible Hokuto Shinken School of Martial Art has three brother schools that inherit the names of the Sun, Cao and Liu factions that their ancestors served and protected in the Three Kingdoms period, and Fist of the Blue Sky is the story of their rivalry in 1935 Shanghai.
  • Ikki Tousen (Extremely loosely based, seeing as it has the major characters reincarnated as top-heavy Panty Fighter schoolgirls. However, the story exists in-universe and thus some of the plot revolves around this fact.)
  • Anime with Mamoru Miyano as main star:
    • Koutetsu Sangokushi: With Wu as the main kingdom, and have the Cast Full of Pretty Boys ratio dialled up to eleven. Main star: Lu Xun (Rikuson).
    • Souten Kouro: Focuses on Cao Cao as a sympathetic protagonist, since it (and the manga it's adapted from) are based on the "Record of the Three Kingdoms" (Sanguozhi), which also portrays Liu Bei even less flatteringly.
  • Ouja No Yuugi (The Game of Kings) by Iori Tabasa: historical fantasy, loosely based on the Three Kingdoms history, with Guo Jia as the protagonist.
  • BB Senshi Sangokuden, the latest incarnation of Bandai's SD Gundam model line.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1971)

     Board and Card Games 
  • Believe it or not, the makers of Magic: The Gathering released a card set based on the novel, Portal: Three Kingdoms, as part of an outreach program to players in Asia and the Pacific. It was only released in China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe.
  • Sanguosha (三国杀), or Legends of the Three Kingdoms, is a Chinese card game that combines elements of role-playing, team combat and strategy. After its initial release in 2008 it has received huge popularity in China, and has been followed by several expansion packs, as well as online and mobile versions.



    Live Action TV 
  • Romance Of The Three Kingdoms 1994: The first major TV adaptation, aired in 1994.
  • Three Kingdoms: A Chinese live-action retelling made in 2010.
  • KO 3anguo, a Taiwanese High School AU take on the story. Title sequence here.
  • The Advisors Alliance AKA The Great Military Strategist Sima Yi: The Military Strategists' Alliance: Another drama that humanizes the state of Wei (though Cao Cao still starts off a little nuts), and adds a lot of drama between many of the figures within it. It is a two-part drama that details the life of Sima Yi (who was well-known to be portrayed as quite the sinister fellow next to Cao Cao), and his career throughout his years in the Wei state.
  • China-produced 2016 series God of War Zhao Zilong puts the focus instead of Zhao Yun, leading to a Two Lines, No Waiting approach as the main Romance storyline starts long before Zhao Yun should be in it. The new backstory of Zhao Yun immediately takes the form of the typical idol drama, albeit with tenuous connections to the main story like his father Zhao An being a former royal guard to the very emperor Dong Zhuo has killed.
  • Legend Heroes is a Korean Tokusatsu produced by both Moon Watcher and Synergy Media loosely based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


  • "Sun Quan The Emperor", sang by Chinese Vocaloid Luo Tianyi which is a huge tribute to the first Wu Emperor, Sun Quan. The song is extremely popular in China and has more than a million views on Bilibili.

    Video Games 
  • From Koei Tecmo:
    • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Koei) (13 in this series of strategy games and counting since 1985.)
    • Dynasty Warriors
    • Dynasty Tactics (More closely related to Kessen than Dynasty Warriors)
    • Kessen II. Kessen II is extremely loosely tied to the source material. It starts with the Imperial Seal being entrusted to Diao Chan, who falls in love with Liu Bei.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses, as a part of KOEI Tecmo’s collaboration with Intelligent System and Nintendo. The developers have acknowledged that the game’s similarities of their three main opposing factions plot point started out as coincidental but later on confirmed that the game is made as a partial homage to the literature that inspired Dynasty Warriors franchise.
    • Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a take of what Nioh did to the Sengoku Period, now applied to the Three Kingdoms era. The premise is if the Three Kingdoms had demons on top of warfare between men alike. The player is a nameless foot soldier who got a hand on the Elixir of Life to help them face demons, dating all the way back to the Yellow Turban Rebellion.
  • Destiny of an Emperor, an RPG for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Capcom, as well as a Japan-only sequel. These were actually based on the manga Tenchi wo Kurau, which Capcom also adapted into the arcade action games Dynasty Wars and Warriors of Fate.
  • Overwatch has its Lunar New Year event for 2019 involve giving the characters skins based on the story. Such examples include Reaper as Lu Bu, Hanzo as Huang Zhong and Reinhardt as Guan Yu.
  • Sango Fighter, and its sequel, Sango Fighter 2 (1995), a fighting game for DOS by Panda Entertainment Software. The first game pits the Five Tiger Generals of Shu against five generals of Wei (Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, Dian Wei, Xu Chu, Xu Huang), in addition to Lu Bu and Cao Cao as bosses; while the second game adds in the forces from Wu (Sun Ce, Taishi Ci, Gan Ning, Huang Gai), and Zhang Liao.
  • Koihime†Musou: Kazuto, an Ordinary High-School Student, is transported to a version of Ancient China where most of the characters from the novel have been genderflipped into cute girls. With his Chick Magnet powers and his foreknowledge of the original novel, Kazuto helps the kingdom he is aligned with unite China. In the original Visual Novel, this was the Kingdom of Shu but subsequent installments in the franchise opened up other playable factions. Kazuto is a victim of Cipher Scything in the animated adaptations.
  • Smite: Guan Yu, the only character in the novel who is deified into a God eventually, is a playable character in this game and gets to duke it out with Gods from other mythologies like Zeus, Thor, Anubis, etc.
  • Three Kingdoms: Fate of the Dragon, is an RTS by Overmax Studios that plays like Age of Empires II but is set during the three kingdoms period and features recruitable heroes and city management.The campaign mode has you play as one of the three warlords of that era. The game received a sequel in the form of Dragon Throne: Battle of Red Cliffs.
  • Sanguo Zhanji/Sangoku Senki (lit. Three Kingdoms War Record), known in the West as Knights of Valour: An RPG-styled beat 'em up series developed by Taiwanese company IGS (International Game System) with mechanics almost as deep as the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games developed by Capcom (with special moves, supers, unique items per character and branching paths). Loosely follows the plot of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but later installments have a bit of an extra Sengoku Basara-styled feel to the character presentation. Only the second installment's expansion and the spin-off title don't actually use the level up system, while the third installment and its expansion are the only games to never be localized. Has a PS4 installment that's fully rendered in 3D and patches in new character releases.
  • Honor of Kings/Arena of Valor: The former is the original version, a mobile Multiplayer Online Battle Arena made with Chinese market in mind, thus the roster includes legendary figures from ancient China's history, folklores and mythologies. Obviously, the Three Kingdoms period was included thanks to the novel, and the characters included from there are Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Zhuge Liang, Huang Zhong, Ma Chao, Liu Chan, Cao Cao, Xiahou Dun, Dian Wei, Sima Yi, Lady Zhen (Zhenji), Cai Wenji (A famous poet lady that got under Cao Cao's care), Sun Ce, Zhou Yu, Lady Sun (Sun Shangxiang), Daqiao (Sun Ce's wife), Xiaoqiao (Zhou Yu's wife), Lu Bu and Diao Chan. The latter is the internationalized version of the game where a lot of the Three Kingdoms figure except Lu Bu and Diao Chan got removed (and even the two no longer had their original kits, taking other replaced characters' instead), though in the installments that use Chinese words for alphabets, the character Zanis (who is an Expy of Zhao Yun, right down to his lore texts) is literally named Zhao Yun, making him the unofficial third ROTK character that stayed (but he also had his kit switched around).
  • The Millionaire of 3 Kingdoms: A series of Monopoly-like board games where you can train your generals and soldiers and occupy towns, which act like properties in Monopoly.
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms: A strategy game in the long running Total War series, featuring a mode based on the Romance and another mode with a more historically accurate version of the era.
  • Kunio-kun no Sangokushida yo Zen'in Shūgō! a.k.a. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is a Kunio-kun game where characters from that series portray characters from Romance of the Three Kingdoms while reenacting events from the story such as the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Battle of Red Cliffs. Title character Kunio plays the role of Guan Yu.
  • Fate Series: Ever since entering the foray of non-Visual Novel video games, figures from this era has been put in as Servants, but Kinoko Nasu has restrained from putting in overly obvious representatives as Servants in order to explore the less-mainstream figures of China.
    • Lu Bu is a Berserker Servant ever since his debut in Fate/EXTRA. Fate/Grand Order would later add up at least two more people related to Lu Bu: His advisor Chen Gong as a Caster Servant and his steed Red Hare as a Rider Servant.
    • The concept of 'Pseudo-Servant' allows Kinoko Nasu to turn existing Nasuverse characters into Servants from history. Two of the most known examples of this came from the Three Kingdoms era: Zhuge Liang is a Caster Servant residing in the body of Waver Velvet, Sima Yi is a Rider Servant residing in the body of Reines El-Melloi Archisorte.
    • Zhang Jue/Jiao, the leader of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, is featured as a Caster Servant, appearing rather late in the Cosmos in the Lostbelt story.
    • The Archer in Fate/Samurai Remnant has his true identity being Zhou Yu, with his own design rather than being a Pseudo-Servant like the other major kingdoms' major strategists.


    Web Original 

    Web Video 

"The empire, long united, must divide; long divided, must unite. Thus has it ever been."

Alternative Title(s): The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms