Danmei, a Chinese Version of the BL Genre, Is Proving Its Popularity Among Wider Audiences
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In December 2021, the first volumes of three danmei light novels by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu were officially translated into English by publisher Seven Seas Entertainment, and they all debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tian Guan Ci Fu) Vol. 1 debuted at #8, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi) Vol. 1 debuted at #9, and The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System (Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong) Vol 1 debuted at #14. But what is danmei, who is Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and why have her light novels immediately made a noticeable impact?
Simply put, danmei is the Chinese version of the Japanese genre BL (Boys’ Love). It’s a genre of works featuring a romantic relationship between men. And even though the target audience for danmei is usually heterosexual women, queer people have flocked to these works.
Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, also called MXTX, is a well-known Chinese danmei author. Although her works face the scrutiny of Chinese censorship policies, they have thriving fan bases both in China and globally. And they’re popular enough that they have also been adapted into either live-action and donghua (Chinese anime) projects.
Here’s a closer look at the three danmei works by MXTX that are currently blowing up in popularity:
Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tian Guan Ci Fu) Vol. 1
Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tian Guan Ci Fu), also called TGCF, is MXTX’s most recently completed work. It features the disgraced Crown Prince Xie Lian, whose attempts to be ascended to the Heavens have been met with swift banishments to the mortal realm. Banished back to the mortal realm for the third time with the task of exorcising ghosts, Xie Lian meets a mysterious demon king who has been keeping an eye on him for hundreds of years.
Heaven Official’s Blessing has been adapted into a donghua available for streaming on Funimation and Netflix.
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi) Vol. 1
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi), also called MDZS, takes place in a magical world and follows the years-long story of Wei Wuxian, a disgraced cultivator who looked to demonic cultivation and turned the world against him. He’s given a second chance at life when a young man called Mo Xuanyu — rejected and hated by his own clan — sacrifices himself in order to summon Wei Wuxian to avenge him. Wei Wuxian soon meets Lan Wangji, a fellow cultivator with whom he has a long past. As they work together to solve the mystery of whose body was present at the Mo house when Wei Wuxian was summoned, they end up learning more about the circumstances of what led to Wei Wuxian’s death.
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is probably MXTX’s biggest success, with a large impact on Western audiences. The light novel has been adapted as a donghua with two seasons available on Tencent’s streaming site WeTv under the title The Founder of Diabolism.
It’s also been more famously adapted as a live-action series called The Untamed, available on Netflix, starring Sean Xiao and Wang Yibo, two well-known Chinese idols turned actors.
The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System (Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong) Vol 1
The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System (Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong) was MXTX’s first light novel, a more humorous take on the supernatural fantasy world the rest of her novels take place in. It’s about a man, Shen Yuan, reborn as a villain in a fantasy webcomic series that he was obsessed with in real life. Reborn as Shen Qingqiu, the beautiful but cruel teacher of a young Luo Binghe, he strives to save Luo Binghe from the villainous role he took up in the web novel, and their relationship becomes romantic.
With these novels available in local bookstores and online, danmei is surely becoming more accessible to wider audiences.
Seven Seas Entertainment has even included guides and glossaries in the above volumes, covering everything from characters and locations to pronunciation guides and other cultural terms that those new to danmei might not be aware of.
We’ve loved the first volumes of these three danmei series by MXTX and we’re definitely looking forward to the releases of future volumes.
Are you a danmei fan? Have you checked out the work of MXTX?