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").
Common tropes include:
- 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.
- 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.
- Phlebotinum Pills: There are usually a variety of magical medicines (from potions and elixirs to actual pills) that help improve cultivation.
- Power Levels: Levels of Cultivation are often present in these stories, and are often seperated into 2 categories between ones 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.
- Supernatural Martial Arts: Almost universal. Typically everyone with training will have it, but occasionally only the protagonist will.
- 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 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 warrior who seeks to absorb their energy for his own malicious purposes, with his apprentice being called the "Little Daoist".
- 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. This story deconstructs and plays with and many common Xianxia tropes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Er Ha He Ta Te Bai Mao Shi Zun: 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....
- Mo Dao Zu Shi: Wei Wuxian, the founder of the demonic path and scourge of the cultivation world, returns to life thirteen 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.
- Ren Zha Fan Pai Zi Jiu Xi Tong: 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 Starter Villain Shen Qingqiu. A satire of Xianxia male-power fantasy novels.
- 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.
- Zhen Hun