The Chinese animation surged in popularity in recent years, all thanks to the momentum set by beloved donghua such as The King’s Avatar, Soul Land, Mo Dao Zu Shi, and the 2019’s blockbuster hit Nezha: The Demon’s Rebirth. As the new decade unfolds, the Chinese animation industry looks promising and aspires to deliver more to the world.
While Chinese animation or donghua is popular in China, a huge proof of that is the billions of playbacks that several series are getting in every episode each week, it is still trying to find a stable footing in the international arena. Donghua series are mostly what captivated fans of Chinese fans outside of China to venture into this unknown realm.
However, to further spread the word about how awesome Chinese animations are, we usually have movies to fill in the role of that. These donghua movies typically get global releases, especially in major international markets such as North America, Europe, and Australia as well as in East and Southeast Asia.
In line with these Chinese animation movies, we would love to share a list where both fans and non-fans of donghua could enjoy watching and discovering the beauty of Chinese animation. These films are embedded with China’s unique history, culture, and tradition, some also aimed to give voices to relevant issues, and some are simply filling in for the sake of entertainment and excitement.
Without further ado, here’s our list of Chinese animation movies that people outside of China should give a try and watch.
Top Recommended Chinese Animation Movies
This epic and fantasy Chinese animated film was released in 2016 and is my favorite donghua movie of all time. It thrives in various elements in its story such as the cycle of life, death, and what’s beyond; the natural order, unconditional love, the yin and yang, the actions and the results, and a beautiful tale of family, love, and friendship. Beyond these remarkable themes is a breathtaking animation with vivid visuals that made watching the whole film a magical and dramatic experience.
The Legend of Hei
Humanity’s greed for development and urbanization and what’s are the consequences of these actions are some of the main themes in this fantastic adventure film. The Legend of Hei is one of the best Chinese animation movies that even gained the praise of Japanese animators when the film was released in Japan in 2019. It has a vivid style of flashy animation with great fight scenes, and adorable and lovable characters to follow.
The story follows the forest spirits that lost their homes due to human urbanization activities. Is revenge the only way to appease the rage of someone who lost their home? Or is there a way to find harmony and coexistence? The Legend of Hei delivers a stunning and heartwarming story of family, friendship, and coexistence that will teach the viewers so many important lessons in life.
In 2021, the original series has returned for its sequel after the success of the prequel film, Luo Xiaohei Zhan Ji: Zhongsheng Zhi Men which was released in bilibili last April.
Nezha: The Devil’s Birth
Loosely based on characters from the classic Chinese novel The Investiture of the Gods, Nezha: The Devil’s Birth is another retelling of the life of Nezha, a god notorious among Chinese deities for his temper and mischief. Animation-wise, the film is a bespectacled scenery from start until the end. It’s a dramatic story of family and finding purpose and proves that people can change their fate. It’s filled with hilarious Chinese humor, great animated fight scenes, and an interesting glimpse at Chinese mythology. This film shouldn’t be confused with the 2021 Nezha movie that was released on Netflix as it’ll be discussed later below.
White Snake: The Origin
Fourth on our list is White Snake: The Origin from Light Chaser Animation Studio. This is another retelling of the classic Chinese folktale, The Legend of the White Snake. This movie is simply gorgeous and seems like a fictional world brought to life with fascinating visuals and animation. The story follows the romantic affair between a human and the titular character Blanca, the White Snake. Embedded with elements from Buddhism and Chinese culture, White Snake: The Origin is a beautiful experience filled with awesome fight scenes, romantic cliche, and a well-narrated story of love and tragedy. In 2021, its sequel White Snake 2: The Tribulation of the Green Snake had been released and focuses on the Green Snake Xiao Qing and her separation from the White Snake Xiao Bai.
The King’s Avatar: For the Glory
For many of us, The King’s Avatar had been our gateway series to Chinese animation. That is why many donghua fans are familiar with the series and that is the reason why you should also watch The King’s Avatar: For the Glory, it is the prequel movie to the series that was set 8 years before the start of the story. It feels nostalgic as we see the majority of the key characters from the series highlighted during their younger years as they are just starting as professional players without realizing that they’ll be big names in the future.
I have to admit this, but this film made me cry a river for so many reasons. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that overwhelmed me or the music that makes things sentimental at most, or the fact that we see the sides of our favorite characters from a different light.
Recommended: Best Adventure Anime Movies To Add To Your Watchlist
Jiang Ziya: The Legend of Deification
Here’s another film inspired by The Investiture of the Gods. Jiang Ziya or The Legend of Deification is the second installment of the Chinese mythology series after Nezha: The Demon’s Rebirth. However, this time, the story follows the titular character Jiang Ziya, a god with great compassion. The movie is a visual spectacle for the viewers, and while the story seems a bit docile in narrative, it was able to deliver a satisfying experience, at least for me. Nevertheless, the story touches on several important traditions and beliefs among Chinese people.
Crystal Sky of Yesterday
Nostalgia and pure sentimentality, that is how I could describe this film. Crystal Sky of Yesterday is visually stunning, the only donghua film that reminds me of Makoto Shinkai’s works such as Your Name., The Garden of Words, and Weathering With You. The youthful dreams and the growing distance between people right after high school graduation is a major theme in the story and it’s a cliche that many of us can relate with. The normal high school cliche from the late 90s makes it even more relatable. If you’re looking for a Chinese anime with a great resemblance to Japanese animation, Crystal Sky of Yesterday is one of the first options for you.
Animated by Enlight Media and Nice Boat Animation, Dahufa is a Chinese animation movie that talks about politics and more. It was released in 2017 and stirs up some controversy in China due to many metaphors that can be found in its story albeit it was presented with artistic storytelling. It has the usual cliche about enslaved people oppressed by a tyrant leader. There’s more to this story than what meets the eye, and if you wish to have an interesting ride, Dahufa is the one for you.
New Gods: Nezha Reborn
From White Snake’s Light Chaser Animation, New Gods: Nezha Reborn is another version that follows the Chinese god Nezha. Unlike Nezha: The Demon’s Rebirth, our mischievous deity was reincarnated in the modern world as an adventurous and handsome young rider. The film follows his journey as he tries to do heroic acts to save the city and the people from imminent danger.
If you love Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, then Mr. Miao is a Chinese anime film that you might enjoy. The film is an experiment from Coloroom Pictures and Enlight Media and aims to present the movie to viewers that can appreciate it. The animation and visuals are anime-ish in style and it looks stunning that way. For me, it has the same vibes as Big Fish and Begonia, albeit this film raises the questions of human morality – is it okay to sacrifice one life for the sake of rescuing men from sin?
Monkey King: Hero is Back
Adapted from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, Monkey King: Hero has brought Chinese animation to the new light in cinemas. The viewers are shown a renewed interest in donghua on the big screen where it became the highest-grossing animated in China upon its release in 2015. It follows the Monkey King in his usual mischievous antics, and what took place after his exiled days.
Here are some more Chinese animation movies that new and long-time donghua fans should check out to explore more.
These are only 11 of the best Chinese anime movies that donghua fans should check and give a try watching. Have you guys watched any of these movies? Let us know which one is your favorite by leaving a comment below. I shall update this list as often as possible. Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletters if you wish to get more updates about Chinese animation and several topics about anime and donghua.
Last Updated on November 16, 2022 by Yu Alexius