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Spirit Cultivation Genre

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Also known as Xianxia ("Immortal Hero"), a Spirit Cultivation story is about characters with the ability to improve their own power through meditation and training, all with Wuxia-themed abilities and settings. Expect lots of Supernatural Martial Arts.

Essentially a High Fantasy version of Wuxia, it usually features a Taoist or Buddhist protagonist (or Fantasy Counterpart Religion version) mixing in Full-Contact Magic with his martial arts, and fantastic elements being overt rather than subtle and in the background. It is an emerging genre whose precise boundaries are in flux, with a number of popular Web Serial Novels having brought it to prominence.

If seeking immortality is not the central point of the story and there are loads of non-Eastern elements alongside qi cultivation and martial artistry, it may in fact be a further subgenre known as Xuanhuan ("Mysterious fantasy").

See also The Other Wiki's article on the genre and's glossary on various terms of the genre.

Common tropes include:

  • The Ageless: Because Wizards Live Longer. Cultivators who manage to reach immortality can still be killed, even if it's very hard to do, but they will no longer die of natural causes such as aging.
  • Always Someone Better: This is a recurring theme in these stories. If you're the biggest badass around, chances are that you're just the biggest fish in your local pond, which will inevitably turn out to be a backwater that the real big boys don't care about. In The Outside World, the average ten-year-old will be stronger than you. And it's not unusual for the world of the "big boys" to repeat the pattern, being a minor region within a greater world (or cosmos) full of beings who could destroy it with a thought. And so on.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: In some Asian tales, even inanimate objects can come to life and take human form through the cultivation of chi.
  • Artificial Gravity: Some modern xianxia stories, taking back some influence from Dragon Ball, will implement some form of artificial gravity as a method of training, generally whenever a cultivator goes to train at more difficult regions of the world or at a higher level area of a sect they are a part of. Whenever they finish, they will come across as a Heavy Worlder compared to their peers. Higher realms of existence might even have higher levels of natural gravity as well, also leading to better gains in power for cultivators who successfully ascend.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Once Cultivators reach a certain level of power and immortality, usually when they reach godhood, they may ascend from the mortal realm to the heavens, or some similar higher realm, where depending on the writer, they might join the Celestial Bureaucracy or they might just keep ascending to even higher realms of existence as they continue to gain more power. Whether they can or will return to the mortal realm at any point also depends on the writer, but usually they don't, and if they do, their power will usually be restricted back to the level of the locals. Again Depending on the Writer, demonic cultivators may not be able to ascend to the heavens themselves, but will instead be stuck in the mortal realm, or have the option to descend into the Earth Realm, aka the Chinese version of the Underworld, instead.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Pretty much a given. Cultivators of lower rank will be expected to defer to those of higher rank, for the very good reason that a more powerful cultivator can trivially kill a weaker cultivator. If there are any rules that bind the actions of the strong, it's because they might piss off other strong people if they violate them.
  • Background Magic Field: One of the most common forms of cultivation is to absorb qi from the environment. Some locations have a lot more qi than others, which also makes some countries a lot stronger than other little backwaters. Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence usually brings you to a place where the qi is a lot thicker, which is why the local cultivators, even the youngest of children, are so much stronger than even the top cultivators back home. If a region, or potentially even an entire world gets damaged, the concentration of qi thins, making cultivation harder, potentially even up to the point of The Magic Goes Away, which is sometimes an explanation for why modern Earth style worlds in this setting only have weak cultivators if any. Conversely, if the land is healed, it can result in The Magic Comes Back.
  • Bag of Holding: Qiankun pouches are a common item in the setting which allow a cultivator to carry a large supply of weapons and objects with them in a bag as small as a coin pouch. Sometimes crosses over with Hammerspace via qiankun sleeves. Of course this is Depending on the Writer and there's a honestly many different types of similar artifacts that involve some form of this. Another popular form is a ring that can open a pocket dimension and summon anything stored inside it at will.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Since cultivating immortality goes against the heavens, each time a cultivator goes up a rank, they must face a tribulation. This usually involves needing to survive getting struck by bolts of lightning. Refining Phlebotinum Pills of sufficient quality is also seen as defying the heavens, so high level alchemists are advised to keep a lightning rod. In some settings, offending a Sentient Cosmic Force like the Heavenly Dao will provoke a far more dangerous form of this phenomenon. Since the Heavenly Dao is usually impersonal or an arbitrary Jerkass God, some cultivators manage to abuse and take advantage of the intended punishment, such as by cultivating the resulting thunder qi or by luring enemy cultivators into suffering a Karmic Misfire and getting struck by the lightning in their place.
  • Career-Ending Injury: If a cultivator's meridians are broken, their spirit roots are destroyed, or if they have been given certain types of poison, then they won't be able to cultivate any further. Repairing the damage is possible, but difficult enough that most cultivators will have to give up. Even protagonists may spend an entire arc gathering the resources needed to rebuild their body.
  • Cast from Lifespan: Some Dangerous Forbidden Techniques use core energy, which directly uses a martial artist's lifespan and is not easy to replenish. Even becoming otherwise immortal will not save a cultivator that has depleted all of their core energy.
  • The Clan: The biggest power houses outside the sects are usually the wealthy cultivation clans.
  • Crapsack World: Most iterations of the Cultivation World are this to some extent, especially for non-cultivators. It's a world full of monsters, demons and malicious ghosts that could kill you at any moment. There's always the chance you could get kidnapped by Demonic Cultivators to be experimented on or drained of your qi to aid their cultivation methods or killed by some arrogant supposedly-righteous cultivator showing off in a crowded street. That is, if they don't kill you on purpose for offending them somehow, which is shockingly easy to do. Often times even the "heroes" aren't really all that heroic. Other times, the heroes are genuinely heroic, but they and sometimes the sect they belong to are the only truly "righteous" cultivators who actually care about protecting the common folk while all the other supposedly righteous cultivators care more about their own power and prestige and petty political squabbles. In that way, it isn't too different from Wuxia stories that focus on the politics between different martial arts schools.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
    • There are various spells and martial arts that damage the body or are Cast From Life Span.
    • Demonic techniques in general count. They offer rapid and great power, but many of them are intrinsically immoral. Even the ones that are not intrinsically immoral risk driving the user insane, especially if learned incorrectly.
  • The Dark Arts: Demonic cultivation is usually this if it's not actually Black Magic, because it's still a path to power through sanity-threatening means. To a lesser extent, in some settings, any kind of cultivation which doesn't come through orthodox paths is seen as unrighteous. Usually, this is because it allows the protagonist to gain power without going through the proper channels, which are dominated by the existing righteous sects.
  • The Dark Side: How evil they actually are will vary from setting to setting, especially seeing as their righteous sect rivals tend to be a bunch of self-righteous Hypocrites, but reputation-wise, demonic sects are usually contrasted with their righteous counterparts as this. In settings where they really are evil, they tend to be associated with concepts like demonic qi, The Dark Arts, and cultivation methods involving Human Sacrifice. In settings where they are not intrinsically evil, demonic cultivation tends to revolve around chaos, like a Rage Against the Heavens, still making them Anti Heroes.
  • Deity of Human Origin: High-level cultivators often develop immortality — hence the title of the genre — and display godlike abilities, sometimes even undergoing apotheosis to join the ranks of the gods.
  • Depower: It is possible to "abolish" a person's cultivation, forcing them to start over, which may be inflicted as punishment for a crime. Compared to inflicting a Career-Ending Injury, this is the merciful option.
  • De-Power Zone: The laws and state of the local Heavenly Dao determines the limits of how powerful you can become in a given region, as well as how easy or hard it is to reach that point. If cultivators who have Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence manage to descend to a lower plane, their power will largely be suppressed to that of the most powerful native cultivators.
  • Elemental Powers: Cultivation often revolves around refining different forms of qi corresponding to the alchemic elements.
  • Enemy Within: A Heart Demon is an obsession, trauma, or negative sentiment that hinders a cultivator from making progress in their Enlightenment Superpowers. If a Heart Demon becomes severe enough, it can take on a life of its own and drive the cultivator mad. While Heart Demons are usually formed by a cultivator's own decisions and experiences, there are certain types of evil spells that can fester them artificially.
  • Energy Economy: Some settings use "spirit stones", crystals or rocks made of highly concentrated qi. Cultivators use them both for trading as a type of currency, and to accelerate their training by absorbing the concentrated qi within them as opposed to the thinner qi in the environment.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: To be expected when greater knowledge/understanding of the self and the universe tends to translate to supernatural martial prowess, control over one's body and the elements, and even divine apotheosis.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: A common side effect of using evil techniques is to make the user look inhuman.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: When a cultivator previously renowned as a genius suffers an incident and becomes "trash", many of their associates will heartlessly mock and abandon them, regardless of their previous contributions.
    • Their sect or clan will probably start Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence and exile them. If the protagonist proves them wrong, they will only want to kill the protagonist even more.
    • Their fiance, usually a prince if a man, usually a sect successor if a woman, will, feeling too good for them, proceed to break the engagement. Cue the protagonist becoming determined to recover their power as payback. For bonus points, there are cases where the former fiance Loves My Alter Ego of the person they abandoned. The protagonist and the former fiance will ultimately have a duel, with the protagonist triumphant and the former fiance regretting their callousness and what they have lost because of it.
  • Fantastic Rank System: The Power Levels are often divided into distinct "realms," with sub-ranks within the realms. Very generally, there tend to be about ten sub-ranks; the beginner or foundation rank, then three realms with three sub-ranks each. The names, powers, and methods of the realms and sub-ranks all vary wildly. This is especially true of the upper ranks as the path of cultivation is usually endless, with no hard limit to their number. The most commonly used beginning ranks are:
    • Qi Condensation, also translated as Qi Refining or Qi Gathering, where the cultivator is starting to develop their internal energy for the first time.
    • Foundation Establishment, where their qi has reached a certain quality and quantity.
    • Core Formation, also translated as Golden Pellet or Golden Orb, where the cultivator has concentrated their cultivation base into an orb.
    • Nascent Soul, where their soul becomes partially independent of the body. This is sometimes the last stage before immortality. Ranks after this one will always vary by story.
  • Flying Weapon: A genre staple, used as a means of transportation just as often as a magical Attack Drone. One of the most iconic visuals in Xianxia is a cultivator riding their flying sword like a Hover Board.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: A common type of protagonist origin is a mediocre, "trash," cultivation student who can't seem to overcome that mediocrity no matter how hard he trains and gets frequently bullied by other more talented disciples stumbling across some kind of cheat, or awakening to his non-human heritage, or stumbling across a cultivation manual containing a cultivation method more suited to him, and quickly turning things around to become a badass almost overnight, often brutally murdering or at least humiliating his bullies in the process.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: In some settings, the differences in the sexes affect what types of cultivation techniques and martial arts they can learn.
    • There are some Harem Genre stories where the strongest techniques ever invented only work for women. The male protagonist, who for one reason or another is an exception, proceeds to become a Chick Magnet for his Uniqueness Value.
  • Geometric Magic: In many Xianxia, certain types of Chi spells use complex Arrays, often as a form of barrier to keep attacks from getting in or out (often allowing attacks that would obliterate the entire world to be used against each other harmlessly) or as a way to allow Cultivators to concentrate their energy to ascend to the next level or realm of power.
  • The Greatest Style: In Korean stories, Heavenly Demon Arts is the greatest of all demonic cultivation techniques, ruling over all others with the power to oppose the heavens.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Sometimes the protagonist will have non-human heritage, which often gives them a boost to their powers or at least gives them the powers of their non-human parent. The non-human parent is usually some kind of spirit or demon.
  • Harem Genre: Partly because having multiple wives was common among the wealthy in ancient China, there are plenty of this type of story in this setting. Marry Them All is almost always a certainty in these stories, so usually the competition between haremmates, if that gets any focus, is over who gets to be Top Wife.
  • Hermit Guru: Cultivators often go into isolation to remove all distractions while training. Young cultivators and prodigies might isolate themselves for a few months at most, but the Old Masters spend nearly all their time by themselves. Sects sometimes need to delay important matters until they have enough firepower when one such master temporarily comes back from their isolation. Some such masters may spend thousands of years isolating themselves, resulting in sudden shock with the return of an old powerhouse.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Heroic cultivators that practice unconventional forms of cultivation are frequently branded as demonic cultivators, even when said cultivation isn't actually demonic or otherwise immoral. Expect most of their antagonists to be self-righteous cultivators who automatically assume they're evil for practicing unorthodox cultivation methods. Cultivators who practice cultivation methods that are genuinely considered demonic but aren't really all that evil qualify too.
  • Hypocrite: Antagonists from righteous sects practically seem to get off on being the biggest hypocrites possible, declaring blatantly evil acts as enacting justice and using Asskicking Leads to Leadership or Loophole Abuse to get away with it. It's also common for those righteous cultivators who preach Asskicking Leads to Leadership to say No Fair Cheating to someone who gained power through unapproved methods, even though the two tropes are pretty much diametrically opposed.
  • Improbable Weapon User: While more conventional weapons are more commonly used, pretty much anything can become a weapon for a cultivator if they put enough Ki into it. There are even a couple stories where the protagonist's weapon is a literal flying brick.
  • Ki: Some sort of Life Energy is typically the key to the entire magic system. Names vary (both between real-life variants like qi and chi or a new fantasy version), but it inevitably requires meditating and refining the energy to make yourself more powerful.
  • Lack of Empathy: In settings where cultivators are a reclusive minority, they pretty much view Muggles as livestock and won't think twice about killing them on a whim.
  • Limited-Use Magical Device: Talismans are enchanted pieces of paper that can be used to cast a single use spell or seal an opponent's abilities.
  • Living Memory: The absolute most powerful cultivators, just before returning to the cycle of Reincarnation or accomplishing Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, will sometimes leave pieces of themselves behind, and use their remnant to pass on their will, artifacts, or other treasures to someone they judge worthy before vanishing.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: If a cultivator makes an oath by heart demon, it will create an Enemy Within that will drive the cultivator mad if they break their promise, and potentially even damn their soul to eternal torment.
  • Magical Society: A "sect" is a generic term for an association of cultivators; The Clan is a subtrope for sects that are largely or exclusively hereditary. A sect teaches martial arts and cultivation techniques, provides Phlebotinum Pills to accelerate its members' cultivation, and protects their members from being casually murdered by stronger cultivators. Wars between sects are usually routine, whether over cultivation resources, prestige, or a variety of blood feuds.
  • Martial Arts and Crafts: Cultivation is the process of refining one's internal energy until they reach immortality. The most common forms of cultivation involve absorbing qi from the environment and/or tempering the body, but some settings offer methods as diverse as writing poetry.
  • Master of None: In some settings, being born with the ability to use more than one element requires as many times as much work as they have elements to achieve immortality. For example, a cultivator who can only use fire only needs to master one element to progress in rank, while a cultivator who can use fire and wind would need to achieve equal mastery over both to progress in rank, giving them more abilities at the expense of twice as much time to gain the same amount of raw power. Being able to use all elements usually makes you a "trash", but there are ways to compensate, and there exists the occasional prodigy that manages to become a Master of All.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: Some Supernatural Martial Arts do not mix. Trying to do so anyways can have literally explosive results. Having said that, there may be some form of risky Training from Hell allowing for a Yin-Yang Bomb.
    • One of the most common examples of this trope is normal versus demonic qi. It may be possible for a formerly righteous cultivator to convert their normal qi to demonic as they fall to The Dark Side, but it is rare for a cultivator to be simultaneously capable of having both.
  • The Needless: Cultivators don't need to eat past a certain stage, and may well lose interest in it entirely if the food isn't infused with qi.
  • Next Tier Power-Up: The Various realms of Cultivation act as this in various stories. In some cases with absurd Rank Inflation, even the various substages of each realm (Whether they be low, middle or high, or stages numbered from 1-10, for example) can act as this, as depending on the number, the higher rank you are, the more absurdly overpowered you can be compared to someone who is only one rank lower then you, with one moment being evenly matched in battle with a single martial artist of the same realm, the next being able to destroy an entire army of people with a single cultivation rank lower.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The most consistent difference between righteous and demonic sects. Technique-wise, demonic qi is wilder than normal qi and can weaken the user's impulse control. Normal qi is less good at fighting, but its users have a lot more control over it. Socially speaking, evil doers of the righteous sects are Hypocrites that pretend to at least be within the law as they perform their wicked deeds, while criminals from the demonic sects are more openly vicious while saying At Least I Admit It.
  • Organ Theft: In some settings, people are Randomly Gifted with one or more spirit roots/bones, supernatural organs that allow one to cultivate. These organs may or may not be physical. If they are physical, and if the setting isn't using the Master of None rule, then it may be possible for thieves to cut out and steal types of roots they don't have from previously gifted cultivators.
  • Our Demons Are Different:
    • Uplifted Animals who became so via cultivation are often referred to as demons.
    • Cultivators who follow the demonic path, not to be confused with the above, are also often referred to as demons, either because of their wicked practices, or because they try to oppose the world instead of accept it.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: High level cultivators can destroy entire nations on a whim. Even higher level ones can destroy entire planets. Some settings limit this via a Sentient Cosmic Force like the Heavenly Dao enforcing a balance, either by forcing such cultivators to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence where their power doesn't mean as much, enacting Depower Zones, or creating a system of Laser-Guided Karma that will strike down anyone who massacres too many people.
  • Phlebotinum Pills: There are usually a variety of magical medicines (from potions and elixirs to actual pills) that help improve cultivation.
  • Pocket Dimension:
    • A few cultivators are lucky enough to obtain a spiritual tool giving them access to a private space. Benefits may include higher than average concentrations of spiritual energy, accelerated time, and a garden for growing plants needed by alchemists.
    • Every so often, gates will open to smaller realms where sects can compete for rare resources. They often have the property of suppressing one's cultivation down to some maximum level, so sects will send their students rather than their elders since stronger cultivators are more used to advanced techniques.
  • Position of Literal Power: In some stories, being an emperor grants a boost to your cultivation.
  • Power Fantasy: The genre lends itself to these very easily, and because the majority of English translated Web Novels involve this, many westerners are under the mistaken impression that basically every story in this setting falls into it. That's not really true.
  • Power Levels: Levels of cultivation are often present in these stories, and are often separated into two categories between one's Ki and physical body. In fact, they may very well be the Ur-Example, as this type of power system is the main influence for the various fathers of modern shonen Fighting Series like Dragon Ball and Fist of the North Star.
  • Power Parasite: There are often ways to steal another person's cultivation. Sometimes, it can be done with certain spells or martial arts. Another way to do it is via Sex Magic, using the victim as a human cauldron. Not all methods leave the victim alive, some techniques involve refining victims into Phlebotinum Pills via alchemy. Aside from the ethical concerns, this method of gaining power is not always safe, as it can potentially pollute the user's own qi.
  • Press-Ganged: Some demonic sects "recruit" by kidnapping children off the street and tossing them into a living hell of Social Darwinism where most of them will die. The survivors are then inducted into the sect.
  • Privileged Rival: The Arrogant Young Master archetype, which is the most common form of rival in xianxia (Especially the power fantasy focused ones). This character is always a member of a cultivation clan, usually its heir and son of the leader of the sect the protagonist is a part of. The protagonist always starts out as the child of commoners or an orphan who got brought into the sect, and when the protagonist is "mediocre trash" like mentioned above, this guy is usually the one leading the other disciples in their age group in bullying him for his lack of talent. He's pretty much always doomed to die at the protagonist's hands or suffer some other horrible fate once the protagonist comes into his power, except on the rare occasions where he's subject to Defeat Means Friendship. Since a lot of Xianxia Web Novels are Long-Runners with hundreds or sometimes thousands of chapter, you should expect some permutation of this character to show up a lot, often as heirs to other sects, children of famous cultivators or even princes. Stories with female protagonists will equally have her go up against various similar Young Mistresses.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: A problem for many of the power fantasy focused Xianxia in particular. Quite a few authors have a problem of going on and on about how "good" and "righteous" their protagonist is even while they commit all kinds of terrible deeds, which the narration will claim is justified. This isn't always the case. A few authors actually do seem to know how to make genuinely good and sympathetic heroes and others more deliberately make their protagonists Anti-Heroes or Villain Protagonists. But its still a frequent enough issue to be a subject of parody.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Gu poison is a dark magic ritual where the practitioner allows a bunch of poisonous insects to eat one another and increase the potency of their poison. The final bug can then be fed to someone, allowing the practitioner to manipulate their victim's movements or use the gu bug as an Explosive Leash.
  • Rage Against the Heavens:
    • There are a number of stories where the main protagonist opposes the Heavenly Dao.
    • In some settings, especially when the protagonist is an Anti-Hero in the Korean version of this genre, Demonic Cultivation revolves around hating the world and cultivating your energy into a weapon to overturn the heavens.
  • Randomly Gifted: In some settings, you cannot cultivate without being born with one or more spirit roots, a supernatural organ used to refine your internal energy. Not having one means you will probably be a Muggle for the rest of your life, though the setting may offer special methods to acquire one or alternative methods of cultivation. Different roots can have different properties, like different Elemental Powers. In some settings, thieves can benefit from spirit root Organ Theft.
  • Red Baron: It's very common for the most famous and powerful cultivators in a setting to have special nicknames or titles related to them. The world's most powerful demonic cultivator is often nicknamed, "The Heavenly Demon" or something of that nature.
  • Reincarnation: The default type of afterlife in these settings. Sometimes, experts are able to retain their Past-Life Memories, allowing them to make more cultivation progress in their new life than in their previous. Sometimes, there is the possibility of their soul being dispersed, leaving them Barred from the Afterlife if no one goes to the trouble of regathering their soul. There are sometimes methods to cause Cessation of Existence too, leaving them forever gone.
  • Reincarnation Romance: This actually happens a lot. Often this takes the form of one half of the main couple dying and the other achieving immortality and waiting for their lover's reincarnation to appear. This may happen at the end of the story as a Distant Finale, but sometimes the story starts with us following the reincarnated half of the couple, showing how they get back together. Rarely it might even happen in the middle of the story. Of course the more standard scenario of both of them dying and reincarnating can also happen.
  • RPG Mechanics 'Verse: There are a decent number of stories, particularly among Manhua, where the main protagonist comes into contact with a "System", a sort of symbiotic spirit that comes with a gaming interface and rewards the host for fulfilling tasks relating to the System's purpose.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Many of the worlds of various novels are ludicrously large, mostly due to the way a lot of the various authors of these novels apply the Chinese measurement of Li (usually half a kilometer). Some novels can house planets, nations, islands, or even trees the size of real world stars as big as our own sun, if not even bigger, and, depending on the scope of the novel in question, is often the starting point for a protagonist's story, as at some point via Serial Escalation, they will find themselves to be too powerful to feel challenged.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The flip side of this genre's Appeal to Force is that often, whether you can beat someone up is less important than whether your dad can beat up their dad. The Privileged Rival will not only advance more quickly due to having access to better Phlebotinum Pills, but they'll be able to throw their weight around because anyone who hurt them would have to face the vengeance of a more powerful cultivator. A "trash" protagonist will often be hated and feared in part because they develop great power outside the existing networks of family and patronage.
  • Sentient Cosmic Force: There may be one or more Daos. The Heavenly Dao is the most prominent, but there may also be a Demonic Dao, a Buddhist Dao, a Confucionist Dao, and more. They define the natural order of the universe, and comprehending them can help cultivators progress. They are often the cause behind a Bolt of Divine Retribution, whether it be against a cultivator facing a tribulation or someone dumb enough to offend them. In some stories, especially ones where it was created artificially, the Heavenly Dao serves as a Greater-Scope Villain, attempting to kill off a protagonist for defiance or being a perceived threat.
  • Sex Magic: Dual Cultivation, where two cultivators have sex as a cultivation method to, theoretically, strengthen both parties. This is often used as further justification for the protagonist having a harem as mentioned above. Some novels have a more PG-13 form of this where two usually opposite sex cultivators meditate together. Usually it is believed heterosexual couples are the most ideal for this, due to it requiring one partner to provide an equal amount of yin energy to balance out the other's yang energy, but this is not a hard and fast rule and if Dual Cultivation comes up in a story with a same sex relationship, usually Danmei, the author will either find a way to justify it or ignore this requirement altogether. This is generally why a cultivator's spouse will often be referred to as their cultivation partner. A less consensual form of this is usually referred to as turning someone into a "human cauldron" or "furnace." While dual cultivation is supposed to benefit both partners, a human cauldron situation only benefits the dominant partner.
  • The Social Darwinist: A very common attitude among cultivators, including the so-called "righteous" ones, is that the strong both can and should kill the weak, and that doing so is admirable.
  • Spirit Advisor: In some stories, the protagonist comes across a Soul Jar preserving the ghost of some long dead Old Master, who proceeds to give them guidance, sometimes in return for help coming Back from the Dead. Sometimes, the Old Master will need to feed on their host's pre-existing cultivation before manifesting, therefore making them responsible for turning their student into a "trash" in the first place.
  • Stronger with Age: One of the main perks of being a cultivator is being able to live much longer lives then normal humans, and thus are able to train their bodies for a much longer period of time, allowing for many of their god-like feats to be possible. And as a cultivator goes up the ranks, their lifespans become even longer, allowing them to grow even more and become more powerful. By a certain stage of cultivation, a cultivator's lifespan is basically infinite.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Almost universal. Typically everyone with training will have it, but occasionally only the protagonist will.
  • Taking You with Me: It is common for cultivators who are out of options to use a suicide technique to blow themselves up, hopefully taking their enemy with them.
  • Time Travel: The most common form of this seems to be an uber-powerful badass getting sent back in time to their rookie disciple days and being forced to do it over again.
  • Trapped in Another World: This is a popular setting for Isekai power fantasy stories, lending itself to them very well, usually involving either reincarnation into an inhabitant of the world, or transmigrating into the body of an already existing person. Not all of them actually involve someone from our world ending up in a xianxia world, either - sometimes, someone from a Xianxia world will find themselves in another, different xianxia world that works very differently from the one they're familiar with.
  • Uplifted Animal: With enough spiritual energy, ordinary animals can become sapient and can also become cultivators. They can even achieve human form once they reach a certain level of power.
  • Urban Fantasy: Some modern stories take place in a modern day Chinese or Korean setting, often with the protagonist reincarnating from a cultivation world back down to earth via betrayal from their friends. Sometimes, it's done via regressing back in time before they ascended. Cue Curb-Stomp Battle after Curb-Stomp Battle against normal human martial artists and cultivators due to Earth being weaker in terms of Chi then whatever cultivation world the protagonist came from, even if the protagonist themselves has been nerfed.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity:
    • The stronger a cultivator becomes, the more they must discipline their minds. Developing obsessions will at best hinder their progress. Letting them become too strong will result in heart demons, driving them mad.
    • Learning certain types of techniques incorrectly can result in qi deviation, driving the cultivator mad. This tends to be especially true for demonic techniques.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Often times even without achieving immortality, cultivators will live for much longer and age less quickly than ordinary people, often due to a combination of their own training and Phlebotinum Pills that are specifically meant to slow down or reduce their age. Since it can take decades to reach the point in their training where they actually achieve immortality, this is for the best.


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    Anime, Manga, and Manhua 
  • Cultivator Against Hero Society is a parody of this trope, showing how someone so powerful would fit in a world with traditional Eastern and Western superhero parodies not too dissimilar to One-Punch Man. The main character, Yan-Sen, is so powerful that no one shown in the series so far (the unseen Ancient Heroes being a possible exception) can even match him, and he is instead more focused on rebuilding his sect to find a way to get back to his realm that he was thrown out of.
  • Demonic King Who Chases His Wife: The protagonist, Su Luo, was an assassin and thief who was murdered by her lover and reincarnated in the Blue Sky Continent — a world resembling ancient China — due to having swallowed the mystical Dragon Ring they were sent to steal. She begins cultivating spiritual powers as an Apothecary, awakening the wood and fire elements, while finding herself at the center of a convoluted love dodecahedron between herself, Nangong Liuyun, Li Yaoyao, Nangong Liujue, and Yun Qi.
  • Feng Qi Cang Lan is a story where the main protagonist gets Trapped in Another World after getting summoned by unknown powers while playing a VR game with a Brain/Computer Interface. With the help of a System based on the VR game, she must navigate the perils of a cultivation world where Might Makes Right and people feel oppressed by her very existence. She eventually learns that she is The Chosen One, summoned by the two strongest cultivators in that world to help them defeat the Emperor and the artificial Heavenly Dao he created before they destroy that world.
  • Goddess Creation System is about a girl who, after being Driven to Suicide, is blackmailed into working for the eponymous System. Her job involves performing missions for the guardian deities or Genius Loci of various worlds, usually to repair damage to that world's balance. Each world has different rules. One of them uses this genre.
  • Iron Ladies is basically a Magitek scifi version of this trope. Human science has improved to the point of Faster-Than-Light Travel, but after Abusive Precursors declared a Guilt-Free Extermination War on humanity, it became clear that the occult was real, even if nobody could figure out how it works. Cultivators in this universe are called "angels". Cultivation in this universe is a Gender-Restricted Ability, as the creation process will normally destroy anything that isn't female. The main protagonist is the first male angel to appear in thousands of years. Angels become stronger with Enlightenment Superpowers. Their abilities mostly revolve around shape shifting parts of their bodies into mechanical space weapons.
  • Last Hope (2018): A science-fantasy take on the genre mixing quantum physics with Taoism, wherein it's theorized that the Evolution Field responsible for the creation of biomechanical monsters called Brai is also responsible for the ancient Chinese legends of gods, demons, and Immortals. Rather than cultivating power within themselves, the protagonists pilot mechs outfitted with Hyper Drive reactors, which are powered by Yang energy and grow more powerful as the series progresses. Conversely, the villains use Yin energy-powered Dark Drive reactors to create and upgrade Brai. Two of the supporting characters are Taoist priestesses descended from a lineage of cultivators, though one of the villains is skeptical that their powers are truly supernatural and instead believes them to be derived from the same font of quantum energy that powers the Evolution Field, Hyper Drives, and Dark Drives.
  • Tales of Demons and Gods features a mixture of this trope and Powers via Possession, capturing demon beasts to boost one's own power further.
  • What Do You Do When You Suddenly Become An Immortal is about a Saintess from a cultivation world and a mortal man from modern day Earth. These two people from completely different universes find their lives entangled when, due to a freak accident involving a mistake in the Saintess's cultivation and the man having a near death experience, transmigrate into one another's bodies in a "Freaky Friday" Flip situation. Once every three days, they switch back and forth. They proceed to cooperate to improve their shared lives, leaving messages for one another. In the cultivation world, they create Magitek inspired by modern Earth technology. On Earth, the two discover that Earth once had a Background Magic Field, but it was unstable and dissipated. They gather what is left and nourish it with knowledge from the cultivation world to cause The Magic Comes Back, with the ultimate goal of bridging the two worlds so they can meet in person.

    Film — Animation 
  • Jiang Ziya is loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods, and focuses on the Taoist Immortal warrior Jiang Ziya, who was exiled from the heavenly Jingxu Hall for his failure to execute the Fox Devil Nine-Tailed, as he seeks to help Xiao Jiu — an amnesiac young woman with fox-ears — regain her memories and uncover her sinister connection to Nine-Tailed.
  • Ne Zha is loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods, and focuses on the Taoist immortals Taiyi Zhenren and rival Shen Gongbao vying to become a Deity of Human Origin by training the demon-in-human form Ne Zha and the dragon prince Ao Bing respectively.
  • New Gods: Nezha Reborn (2021) serves as a cyberpunk take on the genre, being a sequel to the story of Nezha where the various gods of Chinese mythology have been reincarnated as humans. Li Yunxiang discovering that he is the reincarnation of Nezha and that he must awaken his dormant divinity when he discovers the Dragon Clan is looking to settle their 3000-year-old grudge against him.
  • White Snake (2019): The narrative serves as a prequel to the classic Chinese fable Legend of the White Snake, and the protagonist Xiao Bai/Blanca and the other members of her clan are snakes that have managed to cultivate enough spiritual energy to become demons, with Xiao Bai/Blanca and her sister Xiao Qing/Verta in particular seeking to become Immortals. The General is a Taoist sage who seeks to absorb their energy for his own malicious purposes, with his apprentice being called the "Little Daoist".
  • Green Snake (2021): An Urban Fantasy sequel to White Snake focusing on Verta, who has been separated from Blanca by the Buddhist sage Fahai and trapped in the seemingly modern metropolis of Shura City, which is populated by both humans and demons.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Holy Flame of the Martial World is a Shaw Brothers film about two siblings who are separted at birth and seek the qi-powered swords known as the holy flames; compared to most Shaw Brother films, it has many supernatural elements and fantasy theming.
  • Jade Dynasty is about a cultivator who accidentally draws the attention of the Ghost King.
  • Once Upon a Time (2017) is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about a goddess who falls in love with the Crown Prince of Nine Heavens.
  • Painted Skin and its sequel, Painted Skin The Resurrection, are based off the 1740 Chinese short story The Painted Skin and star Xiaowei, a fox-demon who cultivated supernatural powers and maintains her youthful human form by devouring human hearts. In the first film Xiaowei falls in love with a human and sacrifices her cultivated powers to resurrect him and his wife. In the sequel, Xiaowei is imprisoned in a glacier for 500 years for having done so, and after being broken free by the bird-demon Que'er, she tries to find a human willing to give her their heart so she can become human herself — instigating a love-triangle between herself, a general, and a princess before sacrificing herself so the general and the princess can be together.
  • The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is about four masters who have to stop a snake demon escaping.

  • Ave Xia Rem Y: A Very Cliche Xianxia Harem Story!. A story that executes the clichés of the genre beautifully. A story about a young boy on his quest to become the strongest doctor. All the while the world gets in his way.
  • Beware of Chicken: A nameless man dies and reincarnates into the body of Jin Rou, a young cultivator. He decides that the cultivator lifestyle is too violent and stressful for him, so he becomes a farmer in a backwater village — but accidentally becomes remarkably powerful anyway, producing supernaturally good harvests and sapient kung fu barnyard animals. This story subverts and deconstructs many common Xianxia tropes.
  • Coiling Dragon is about the descendant of a once-legendary clan who's trying to reclaim their lost glory.
  • Cradle Series: Literally everyone is a sacred artist, meaning they practice cultivation. Lindon is the weakest in Sacred Valley due to being an Un-Sorcerer, but he is the one who discovers that his home is going to be destroyed in thirty years. He needs to become one of the strongest beings in the world in an impossibly short timeframe to stand a chance of saving everyone.
  • Cultivation Chat Group: A comedy manhwa where a modern student is accidentally invited into an online chat group for cultivators, despite having no knowledge of the supernatural himself.
  • In Damn Reincarnation, the Lionhearts possess the ability to grow their mana to the point that their cores split and can each grow individually, giving them access to even more cores and mana over time. Vermouth possessed ten cores at his peak and his descendants often measure their power by how many cores they're able to manifest in their lifetime.
  • Desolate Era: An isekai cultivator story. Ji Ning dies and is reborn in a world of immortals and demigods, and resolves to gain power and fame that he was always denied in his first life.
  • Devil Venerable Also Wants To Know: Wenren », the cold and pragmatic ruler of a demonic cultivation sect, discovers a trashy romance book that covers future events that are supposed to happen in the story he's living in — with the unexpected and unwelcome twist that he's a side character in it who falls in love with the main heroine and ultimately dies saving her. He sets out to change events to make sure that he neither falls in love with the heroine nor dies and the members of his demonic sect, as well as quite a few righteous cultivators, also end up having ripple effects on the plot with their actions.
  • The Distinguished Cute Master: A double isekai cultivator story. The heroine is reborn as the final boss in a cultivator world and is killed by the hero. She is reborn young again, she decides to take the hero in as her disciple and resolves to raise him to be loyal, but instead he turns out a jerkass.
  • The Divine Dungeon combines this with Dungeon Core as its main mechanics. The main characters of the first series are Cal, a newborn dungeon core, and Dale, a human who stumbles across his dungeon and ends up becoming a cultivator. Cultivation of Essence is the primary mechanic by which both dungeons and humanoid characters gain power, and their Power Levels range from mortal baseline all the way up to terrifyingly powerful. (One-Man Army is somewhere in the middle of the scale.)
  • Douluo Dalu takes place in a world where soul masters are everpresent in both daily life and world politics. By killing spirit beasts and taking their soul rings, soul masters aspire to become closer and closer to godhood.
  • Fox Demon Cultivation Manual: Song Ci accidentally consumes the Demon King's blood and becomes a demon himself.
  • Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi: Wei Wuxian, the founder of the demonic path and scourge of the cultivation world, returns to life 13 years after his violent demise. He's soon drawn into a mysterious plot involving unfinished business from before his death and conspiracies spun in the years afterwards, unexpectedly working alongside a righteous hero he has history with.
  • Heaven Officialís Blessing: Tian Guan Ci Fu: Xie Lian was once a darling prince who managed to cultivate his way into godhood. 800 years later he's mocked as a trash god and considered an utter joke when he ascends for the third time.
  • The Husky And His White Cat Shizun: Erha He Ta De Bai Mao Shizun: Emperor of the cultivation world Mo Weiyu finds himself back when he was a young disciple after taking his own life. He finds out that many things that he thought were true weren't, most shocking that the hated Shizun he had tormented in his past life was secretly protecting him...
  • If I Dont Die Soon Ill Really Become Invincible: The main protagonist, Ye Qing, is a Death Seeker. He figures that so long as he is dying, he may as well spend his life purchasing some justice in the world with a Heroic Sacrifice, by goading the wicked into killing him. The problem is, one path of cultivation in this world is the Confucionist Dao, which is powered by a combination of knowledge and Right Makes Might. The Confucionist Dao is half-dead, but his own eloquence and attempts at Heroic Sacrifice spark it back to life and increase his cultivation, making him harder to kill. His work at martyrdom keeps escalating until he's unintentionally inspired the entire nation into launching a full-fledged revolt against the tyrrany of the immortal sects, even at the cost of their own lives.
  • Lord of Mysteries is about a man who gets reincarnated in a Victorian-esque world where individuals called Beyonders seek to climb the various paths of power.
  • Mistakenly Saving the Villain: Song Qingshi transmigrates into a web novel. But he isn't familiar with the novel so he accidentally changes its plot.
  • Nine Star Hegemon Body Art is about a boy who learns a cultivation technique from a god's memories.
  • Novoland: All the novels are set in the same universe, the titular Novoland, which is inhabited by ordinary humans, cultivators, and winged humanoids.
  • The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System: Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong: Shen Yuan dies of food poisoning after raging against the terrible ending of the harem xianxia web novel, Proud Immortal Demon Way. And finds himself transmigrating to the Sadist Teacher and Starter Villain Shen Qingqiu. A satire of Xianxia male-power fantasy novels.
  • SSS-Class Suicide Hunter: One of the worlds the hunters visit is of the Korean Murim genre. However, just as the epic war between the Demonic Cult and Murim Alliance was about to begin, a dimension traveling god killing fanatic killed their world's guardian deity to, in his mind, set their world free. Instead, his actions triggered a Zombie Apocalypse, killing all natives. The genre's rules apply to the multiverse at large, albeit with cultural differences and using "aura" in place of ki. While it was only theoretical in the Murim world, some in other dimensions have used Supernatural Martial Arts to become The Ageless and ascend into constellations.
  • Virtuous Sons A Greco Roman Xianxia: transplants the genre conventions of spirit cultivation narratives into a setting inspired by the Mediterranean of Classical Mythology, with more than a few twists. E.g., Carthage has destroyed Rome for one, and all the gods of Olympus seem to be dead, absent, or wiped from memory.
  • Way of Choices is about a boy who learns he's terminally ill and attempts to reach divinity before he dies.
  • Wu Chang Jie is about a (deeply dysfunctional) Reincarnation Romance between two adopted brothers.
  • Zhen Hun is about a detective investigating a series of murders. Along the way he meets a mysterious man who's several thousand years old.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ashes of Love: Jin Mi gets Xu Feng to take her to the Heavenly Realm, where she gets dragged into the Heavenly Empress's schemes.
  • The Eternal Love: A subplot revolves around cultivators searching for the soul-suppression orb which can send people to the past or future.
  • Hua Xu Yin: City of Desperate Love is about a princess who died for her kingdom then is resurrected by a magic pearl.
  • Ice Fantasy is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about a war between the Ice Tribe and Fire Tribe, while an even more sinister being lurks in the background.
  • Immortality is about a former emperor who travels back in time to his younger self's body.
  • The Journey of Flower is about a girl who joins a cultivation sect and falls in love with the sect leader.
  • The Legend of Chusen is about a cultivator who accidentally draws the attention of the Ghost King.
  • Lost Love in Times is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about a sorceress who tries to stop a coup by going back in time.
  • Love and Destiny is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about a fairy who accidentally wakes the God of War.
  • Love and Redemption is about a Reincarnation Romance between the God of War and the Star of Mo Sha.
  • Miss The Dragon is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about the Reincarnation Romance between a human and a dragon.
  • Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms is in the xuanhuan subgenre and is about a goddess who falls in love with the Crown Prince of the Nine Heavens.
  • The Untamed: Wei Wuxian, the founder of the demonic path and scourge of the cultivation world, returns to life sixteen years after his violent demise. He's soon drawn into a mysterious plot involving unfinished business from before his death and conspiracies spun in the years afterwards, unexpectedly working alongside a righteous hero he has history with.
  • Word of Honor: Zhou Zishu decides to quit his job as leader of an organization that protects the royal family and sets off to travel the world. Along the way he gets embroiled in a conspiracy in the martial arts world and meets Wen Kexing, who is really the Master of Ghost Valley.
    Video Games 


    Web Original 
  • Destiny Cycle is a forum quest turned Xianxia web novel about Ling Qi, a teenage girl who is sent to her province's Great Sect when her ability to hear spirits is discovered. While the usual fate for a commoner with talent is to join the army and eventually plateau in power, Ling Qi is determined to drive herself towards loftier goals.
  • The Legend Of Luo Xiao Hei and its spinoffs all take place in a world where humans and spirits exist side by side, but all living things can train their spiritual arts to become unstoppable badasses. The prequel movie touches on this aspect more.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Xianxia


White Snake

The narrative serves as a prequel to the classic Chinese fable Legend of the White Snake, and the protagonist Xiao Bai/Blanca and the other members of her clan are snakes that have managed to cultivate enough spiritual energy to become demons, with Xiao Bai/Blanca and her sister Xiao Qing/Verta in particular seeking to become Immortals. The General is a Taoist sage who seeks to absorb their energy for his own malicious purposes, with his apprentice being called the "Little Daoist".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / SpiritCultivationGenre

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