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Best streaming platforms for Chinese dramas, shows and movies

As a Chinese learner, watching dramas, shows, and movies is a brilliant way for you to expand your vocabulary, acquire grammar, familiarise yourself with the sound of the language and improve your listening comprehension.

Pairing visuals with words is a highly effective method of language acquisition. Imagine seeing the character discuss their love for coffee while holding a coffee cup; there’s a good chance you will associate the word 咖啡 with the object they’re holding.

Asian entertainment content has risen in popularity in recent years, with many series made available on popular streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube. Chinese streaming companies have caught wind of this, and many have released an international version of their mainland streaming platform, often offering subscriptions at highly competitive prices.

Now, let me share my favourite streaming platforms and explain what I like about each of them.

1. iQiyi

iQiyi, the international counterpart to China’s popular streaming service 爱奇艺, offers a large selection of Chinese and foreign TV dramas, movies, variety shows and other shows.

iQiyi also uploads their content onto Youtube, a paid channel membership is required to watch the content. Note: The paid Youtube channel membership is more expensive than the membership option provided on their platform.

Some content are region locked on iQiyi but it seems to mostly affect content from other regions (i.e. South Korean, Thailand).

Key Features

  • Available on the web, mobile, tablet and TV (Android, Apple, Roku, Samsung, FireTV etc)
  • A selection of free content
  • The first few episodes are usually free

Features for a Chinese Learner

  • Soft Chinese subtitles are often available and work with browser popup dictionaries without any modifications or additional tools
  • DualSubs is a browser plugin that allows you to display multiple subtitles

My thoughts

iQiyi is my favourite streaming platform and the one that I use the most. They have a huge selection of high-quality shows with beautiful costume designs and stunning scenes.

The ability to watch the shows directly using a TV app is a huge added benefit.

Some of my favourite shows are 《莲花楼》《赘婿》《唐朝诡事录》.

iQiyi also offers the largest selection of Chinese movies among the international Chinese streaming services but falls short in terms of quality. Among the few movies I’ve tried, I can recommend《赘婿之吉兴高照》and《忠犬八公》.

Any problems with the service?

While using the TV app, it sometimes fails to record my last watched position. I still manage, but it’s pretty annoying.

Is it worth subscribing?

This is the best all-round streaming service with a huge variety of different content. It’s definitely worth subscribing to!

This should be the go-to option if you’re considering just one subscription.

The price for their subscription is very reasonable. The trick is to wait for a discount, which occurs several times a year. During the last sale, I bought 365 days of the premium VIP service for £49.99, an absolute bargain.

2. WeTV

WeTV, the international version of one of China’s biggest streaming services 腾讯视频 (Tencent Video), offers a decent selection of Chinese TV dramas, donghua (“动画”—Chinese animation), and a small section of movies.

WeTV also uploads content onto two YouTube channels: Official WeTV and WeTV Mini Drama. A paid channel membership is required to watch some of the content. Note: The paid Youtube channel membership is more expensive than the membership option provided on their platform.

Some content is region-locked on WeTV, but this seems to mostly affect content from other regions (e.g., South Korea, Thailand).

Key Features

  • Available on the web, mobile, tablet and TV (Android, Apple, Roku, Samsung, FireTV etc)
  • A selection of free content
  • The first few episodes are usually free

Features for a Chinese Learner

  • Soft Chinese subtitles are often available
  • DualSubs is a browser plugin that allows you to display multiple subtitles and enables the functionality of a browser popup dictionary
  • The mobile and tablet app offers the ability to enable multiple subtitles

My thoughts

I don’t watch full-length shows on WeTV much because I’m not a fan of the production style used in most of the shows on this platform.

But, I have come across a few non-romance-focused shows that I really enjoyed; some of those include《庆余年》《陈清令》《兰闺喜事》《摩天大楼》and 《平凡之路》.

Tencent Video is currently the biggest producer of short dramas, with each episode lasting under 15 minutes. Their short dramas are currently the main reason I’m subbed to their service. Some of my favourite short dramas from WeTV include 《双世萌妻》and《拜托了,别宠我》

Any problems with the service?

One issue I have with WeTV is the TV app is a little buggy and fails to record my last watched position. It’s not a complete deal breaker, but I hope they’ll fix this issue soon.

Is it worth subscribing?

The content they offer caters more to those who prefer romance-focused shows, but they do have a few very good non-romance shows, such as the ones I recommended earlier.

If you like their shows, then it’s definitely worth it.

Their pricing model is very similar to iQiyi, and they offer discounts several times a year. Definitely wait for one of those sales and you’ll be able to buy 365 days of the VIP service for a very low price. I usually buy a year of subscription for £35.

3. MangoTV

MangoTV, the international version of the mainland China service 芒果TV, offers a large selection of variety shows and a decent section of drama and documentaries.

MangoTV also uploads their content onto Youtube across a few channels: MangoTV Official, MangoTV Drama, MangoTV Idol, MangoTV Mystery, MangoTV Music. Some content are free and some require additional paid channel membership access. Note: The paid Youtube channel membership is more expensive than the membership option provided on their platform.

Key Features

  • Available on the web, mobile and tablet. There’s currently no TV app, but casting is available with excellent video quality.
  • A selection of free content

Features for a Chinese Learner

  • Soft Chinese subtitles are sometimes available

My Thoughts

I use this platform for variety shows as MangoTV is known for its large range of high-quality variety and reality TV shows. Some of my favourite shows are 《向往的生活》《密室大逃脱》《明星大侦探》《大湾仔的夜》.

Although I haven’t watched any of their documentaries, other learners have told me they are excellent.

Their yearly subscription is ridiculously cheap, only ~£15 for a year!

Any problems with the service?

When I’m casting onto the TV, I often lose control over the video from my phone. I always have to use my TV remote to control the video (i.e., pause, play, forward), and unfortunately, this leads to MangoTV losing track of my location. The video quality is excellent, but the overall experience isn’t great.

There is currently no tablet app and the experience of running the mobile app on a tablet isn’t the great. I hope they’ll release a tablet app soon.

Is it worth subscribing?

For those who are interested in variety and reality TV shows, for only ~£15 a year, it’s definitely worth it.

4. Netflix

The amount of content offered to you will differ depending on your region. Here in the United Kingdom, the available Chinese shows are quite limited.

Key Features

  • Available on the web, mobile, tablet and TV (Android, Apple, Roku, Samsung, FireTV etc)

Features for a Chinese Learner

My Thoughts

I only have watched a few Chinese shows on Netflix. Due to the higher monthly cost, I’m not always subscribed to Netflix. Netflix is a great service with a huge variety of shows, but sadly, there are not many Chinese shows (at least not for my region).

Any problems with the service?

My biggest pet peeve with Netflix is the inability to browse shows on the mobile/tablet apps when not subscribed.

Is it worth subscribing?

The Language Reactor Chrome plugin makes Netflix the best streaming platform for a language learner. It is very unfortunate that the range of Chinese shows is limited in some regions.

In my opinion, subscribing to either iQiyi or WeTV is a better deal for those looking for a large range of Chinese content, as they offer a larger variety for a fraction of the price.

Of course, Netflix is worth it for all the other shows they have to offer.

5. Youtube

YouTube has a ridiculous amount of Chinese TV shows, some for free and some behind a channel membership, all legally uploaded by the production company.

Key Features

  • Available on the web, mobile, tablet and TV (Android, Apple, Roku, Samsung, FireTV etc)
  • Plenty of free content

Features for a Chinese Learner

My Thoughts

Unfortunately, despite a large amount of free content, I’m not fond of watching shows on YouTube because the platform mutes a section of the audio when it includes music YouTube doesn’t have a licence for.

I only turn to YouTube for content not available on other streaming services I subscribe to. A recent favourite that I’ve watched on YouTube is 《异人之下》.

Any problems with the service?

Audio muting is a huge problem; apparently, this is still an issue on membership-only videos.

Is it worth subscribing?

YouTube channel membership is more expensive than subscribing directly to iQiyi and WeTV, and there is an added risk of some of the content being muted.

If you want to stay within the YouTube ecosystem, then it’s definitely worth the cost.

As a platform for free content, YouTube is a goldmine for Chinese dramas! Here are some channels with free content:

6. Honourable Mentions

There are two other services that offer a large range of Chinese content, but I’m including them here as honourable mentions instead. I’ll explain why.

Youku

Youku offers a good selection of good quality dramas for much cheaper than other services. I’m not using this service right now because the selection is currently less than other platforms. In addition, the shows are currently free to watch on the official Youku YouTube channel.

Viki

Viki is a well-known streaming platform with Asian shows and a great choice for anyone who’s interested in a wide range of Asian content. However, Chinese subtitles are not always available. Chinese subtitles are critical for a learner, as transiting from translated subtitles is the eventual goal.

7. Conclusion

A good place to start diving into Chinese content is YouTube; there is an abundance of free content. However, keep in mind that the individual channel membership cost of iQiyi and WeTV is higher than going direct, so keep that in mind if you are considering signing up for the channel membership.

If you have a Netflix subscription, this is also an excellent starting point. Once you’ve exhausted all the available content, then definitely consider either iQiyi or WeTV.

When you’re ready to commit to watching more Chinese TV shows, or you’re tired of the audio muting on YouTube, I would recommend subscribing to either iQiyi, WeTV, or both.

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