One of my favorite ways to learn Chinese is by watching Chinese shows and movies on Netflix. It is a fun and powerful way to get exposure to Mandarin and to acquire new vocabulary while practicing both your Chinese reading and listening skills. From Chinese crime dramas to comedy films to adventure flicks, here are my top 5 favorite Chinese Netflix shows for learning Mandarin.
1- Tientsin Mystic 河神 Hé shén
2- Day and Night 白夜追凶 Bái yè zhuī xiōng
3- Well-Intended Love 奈何BOSS要娶我
4- Take my Brother Away 快把我哥带走 Kuài bǎ wǒ gē dài zǒu
5- The King's Avatar 全职高手 Quánzhí gāoshǒu
Tips to use Netflix to learn Chinese
1- Tientsin Mystic 河神 Hé shén (2017- Crime, Mysticism)
Tientsin Mystic is a Chinese TV show based on the novel He Shen by Tianxia Bachang.
Set in the 1920s Republic years in Tientsin (modern Tianjin), this series tells the story of Guo Deyou, a member of the local diving team, that is accused of being involved in some mysterious drownings. Luckily, Guo Deyou and a few of his friends have special talents which they use to prove his innocence. The show cleverly combines suspense and mysticism, turning it into an exciting mystery puzzle. If you like crime genres, then Tientsin Mystic is sure to have you hooked.
Language-wise, most of the actors speak Chinese with a Beijing accent, which means they add the “er” sound (儿化音) at the end of many words. For instance, the word 出事 chūshì would become 出事儿 chū shìr, and 玩 wán becomes 玩儿 wánr in the Beijing dialect.
However, this will not negatively affect your learning as Chinese Mandarin is phonologically based on the Beijing dialect and most people in China understand 北京话.
Moreover, the dialogues often include many 成语 chéngyǔ (idioms) and colloquialisms that are sure to impress your Chinese friends if you practice them.
Speaking of Chinese idioms, you can learn some popular ones here: Popular Chinese Idioms
2- Day and Night 白夜追凶 Bái yè zhuī xiōng (2017-Crime)
Day and Night is another crime TV show, this time set in modern China. It stars Pan Yueming as a detective named Guan Hongfeng who tries to collect evidence to prove his identical twin brother’s innocence while solving a series of murder cases. However, detective Guan suffers from nyctophobia (fear of the dark) and switches places with his brother every night.
Many of the dialogues in the show are also in Beijing dialect and include typical crime drama vocabulary.
This show was very well received by audiences, both in China and internationally with a rating of 9.0/10 on Douban and 8.2/10 on IMDb. The suspense keeps the story incredibly intriguing and makes you want to watch one episode after another. In fact, some people rightfully claim it to be the best Chinese show of 2017 and one of the best Chinese suspense TV series ever.
3- Well-Intended Love 奈何BOSS要娶我 (2019-Romance, Comedy, Drama)
A D-list actress suffering from leukemia finds herself in a situation where she agrees to marry a young rich man in exchange for a bone marrow donation. The show starts rather slow but if you give it some time, you will quickly realize that you’re in for a rollercoaster of emotions.
The conversations cover a wide range of topics such as romance, business, and medical, making them a great way to learn new Chinese words. Although the vocabulary can occasionally be a tad too advanced for beginners, all levels of Chinese learners can enjoy and benefit from this show.
Since it’s mainly a love story, you might also find some of these Chinese terms of endearment in action.
The characters speak Chinese with a very clear and standard pronunciation which makes this Chinese Netflix show great for practicing your Mandarin listening skills.
4- Take my Brother Away 快把我哥带走 Kuài bǎ wǒ gē dài zǒu (2018-Drama, Comedy)
Take My Brother Away is based on a Chinese anime of the same name. It follows a pair of teenage siblings through their high school life.
The actors use simple vocabulary that one can use in everyday life and the conversations explore topics such as hardships, friendships, brother-sister relationships and hardships, and school life.
Moreover, the Chinese in the show is spoken in clear Mandarin which would benefit any Chinese learners’ listening skills.
5- The King's Avatar 全职高手 quánzhí gāoshǒu (2019-Drama, Adventure)
This show is an adaptation of the novel The King's Avatar by Hu Dielan.
The plot is centered around the e-sports industry in China. Ye Xiu, an elite gamer was forced to retire and decided to work at an internet café to help him pay the bills.
In the hope of finding his way back to the top of the gaming industry and gaining back his reputation, he starts a new team with someone he meets at the internet café. Interestingly, the show lacks romance, which is unusual for Chinese dramas, a very refreshing change
This show is a great option for Chinese learners that are interested in the IT and/or gaming industry since the conversations are loaded with technology-related terminology.
Ice Fantasy 幻城 Huànchéng (2016-Magic, action)
This is a Chinese fantasy set in a fictional world. It focuses on the conflict between the Fire and the Ice Tribe. The plot is full of action, magic, and romance with intriguing plot twists. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, I recommend it. The only downside of the show is that the special effects are subpar, which can make it difficult for the viewers to suspend their disbelief.
The Legend of the White Snake 新白娘子传奇 Xīn bái niáng zǐ chuán qí (2019-romance, magic)
The Legend of the White Snake is a fantasy series based on an ancient Chinese legend of the same name. It is about the love story between an ancient snake spirit who took human form and a doctor. The show is a good adaptation of the ancient Chinese take but unfortunately, the visuals are not very believable and can come off as cartoony.
Tips to use Netflix to learn Chinese
There are a few ways you can watch Chinese shows as a Chinese learning resource.
First, you can just watch and listen. This will train your ear to hearing Chinese pronunciation and tones. Although watching Chinese movie is a passive way of learning, it also gives room for some incidental learning, meaning your brain will pick up information that you don’t necessarily actively intend to. Incidental learning can be particularly helpful in understanding how colloquialisms are used in different contexts.
If you are an intermediate or advanced Chinese learner, make it more engaging by turning on the Chinese subtitles, and try to associate each word the actors pronounce with the Chinese characters displayed on the screen. You can even install a Chinese dictionary extension such as Zhongzhong on your browser and only hover new Chinese characters to translate them.
Alternatively, you can turn on both Chinese and English subtitles so that your brain can try to associate the Mandarin you hear and see on the screen with the English translation.
Lastly, to get the most out of your Chinese TV shows, write down any unfamiliar characters or vocabulary you encounter on a notepad so that you can practice them later.
Regardless of the approach you opt for, do your best to avoid these common mistakes: Most Common Mistakes Chinese Learners Make and How to Avoid Them
Watching Chinese TV shows and movies is a fun way to learn Chinese and Netflix happens to be choke-full of great ones. The Chinese Netflix shows mentioned in this article talk about various matters, namely romance, business, crime, technology, family relationships, and friendships, with dialogues spoken with a clear, authentic pronunciation, and therefore can help Chinese learners of all levels can improve their Chinese speaking and listening. To get the most out of each Netflix show for learning Chinese, make sure to turn on the subtitles, write down any new vocabulary you encounter, and pay attention to pronunciation. Good luck!
About the Author
Juli Mboty has called China home for over 11 years where she became passionate about the Chinese culture, language, and history.