What is Wuxia?

This is a continuation of the Speculative Fiction Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

Martial 6
Martial 6 by hgjart

What is Wuxia?

A genre of martial arts adventure stories set in ancient china. The hero is a martial artist who adheres to the strict martial code of “xia”. This code requires the hero to be honorable,  uphold justice, serve the greater good, and disregard wealth and glory.

Wuxia stories may be realistic or draw on Chinese mythology. However, martial skills are often exaggerated. Common abilities include: moving at superhuman speeds, using inner energy for attack and defense, the ability to run over bodies over water, the use of pressure points to instantly disable/kill/heal an opponent.

Originally a genre of literature, wuxia has also spilled over into comics and movies. I could not find any examples of novels in English, but there are many movies in the genre.

Film Examples:

  • Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Once Upon a Time In China/Wong Fei Hung (1991)
  • House of Flying Daggers (2004)
  • Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
  • Hero (2002)
  • Iron Monkey (1993)

Further Reading:

Dad and grandpa are big martial arts movie buffs so I grew up on this stuff  :) Are there other non-western speculative fiction genres you can think of? Bushido stories might qualify, but those do not always have a speculative element.

19 thoughts on “What is Wuxia?

  1. Okay, T, you touched my inner nerd! LOL!

    I love me some Iron Monkey! I love the sweeping epics combined with martial arts. In comic book form, you may see this style in such books like: Iron Fist, Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu, Invinicible Kung Fu, Street Fighter, etc.

    I would like to see an American version of Wuxia. Hmmm (*stroking my majestic beard*)…me thinks I need to explore this!

    1. I hope you do explore it because it is certainly a lot of fun. It kinda falls under heroic fiction doesn’t it? Hehe embrace the nerd badge and wear it proud. I do. ;)

      Thanks for the list of comics too!

  2. Wow, this was really interesting! I didn’t even know this had a category. Learned something new today–sweet!

    Crouching Tiger was a masterpiece. Luv, luv, luv. (I kind of want to go back and watch some of those examples now!)

    1. Oh I know, when I got out of the theatre after watching Crouching Tiger, I was crying like a baby. Beautiful stuff, lots of tragedy, lots of action. ~dreamy sigh~

    1. Hadn’t thought of it that way either originally, but it does fit the definition (also noticed the wikipedia had it listed under spec fic too). Opens up a whole different world…

  3. Well, it’s a graphic medium, not a genre of literature, but manga (and by extension, anime) often has speculative elements. Within manga/anime there are a number of genres that are quite different in form from western literary genres: there’s the “mecha” genre, for instance, and the “magical girl” genre, to name a few…

  4. I’d heard someone reference wuxia as one of their inspirations but didn’t know what it was. I’m always happy when I’ve learned something in a day!

    1. I think most people have seen or know at least one Wuxia movie, but they don’t know what the genre is called. Glad to have shown you something new. :)

    1. I, at least, can attest to Wuxia being its own genre – howbeit that I’ve never seen it done in literary form, it is at least conceivable. Still, one of the great things about Wuxia is seeing the poetic motion of martial arts (squared) in practice, making it an ideal genre for film and other visual media.

    2. Although I am a very good liar, I swear this really is a genre. ;) It’s not always lumped in with speculative fiction, though I don’t see why not since it does have fantastic elements/conventions to it.

  5. Wuxia movies are totally rad. There is something of a Wuxia prose fiction genre, though I’m completely unfamiliar with the tent poles of the field. I’ve seen books advertised as “urban wuxia” and “cyber wuxia,” suggesting there are hybrid forms still popping out. Naturally the market is bigger in Asia.

    I figure Manga can go in this list. Watchmen was on Times’s 100 Best Novels, and literary reviews pick up Maus and Persepolis. Plus you’ve given us film examples for things before. Comics come in book form, and Japan certainly has a bustling Fantasy and Sci Fi scene in sequential art.

    1. I’m also unfamiliar with the prose. Urban & cyber wuxia, really? I can see that would translate. “Kung Fu Hustle” is one of my recent favorites. Even though it’s a parody of the genre it might also be classified as ‘urban’.

      Will have to look into manga. Getting into those genres would open up the door for comics too. Maybe once this literary genre definition project is done, I could start on those. Thanks John :)

  6. My current WIP actually involves a sort of derivitive of Wuxia, as my main character of from Nihon (Japan). The martial arts in my book is kept to a minimum, as is the “superness” of it. Very similar to extreme minimalism when it comes to magic now common in Fantasy.

    Then I added a steampunk setting, and now you see why I’m going to self publish!

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