CW: Spoilers for the first season of the Donghua ahead. Read at your own risk.

Men in this story often have three names: a birth name, a courtesy name, and a title. In the case of Wèi Wúxiàn, his birth name is Wei Ying, his courtesy name is Wèi Wúxiàn, and it could be argued that the Yiling Patriarch is his title (though he was never given an official title like Lán Wàngjī). At the bottom of the article you can find some characters listed with their names and titles. In this piece, Wèi Wúxiàn will be referred to by either his courtesy name (Wèi Wúxiàn) or his title (The Yiling Patriarch). All other persons will hereafter be introduced by their courtesy names.


‘Mo Dao Zu Shi’⁠—otherwise known as ‘The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation’⁠—is a Chinese Donghua based on the BL web novel with the same name by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù. This animation is about Wèi Wúxiàn (a cultivator¹) who—due to a series of tragedies and unfortunate events—transformed into a powerful demonic cultivator.² Following his transformation, he was seen as a threat to society and was still hated by the public 13 years after his death. However, Wèi Wúxiàn had been given a 2nd chance at life after being reincarnated into the body of Mò Xuányǔ, a known cut-sleeve (Chinese slang for homosexual) and love child of the former leader of the ‘Lanling Jin Sect‘—Jīn Guāngshàn. This Donghua review will be focusing on the first season—’Mo Dao Zu Shi: Qian Chen Pian’ (lit. Mo Dao Zu Shi: Predecessor)

The Yiling Patriarch

The Donghua opens with a number of ‘Wen Sect‘ cultivators coming across their deceased comrades during what looks to be the ‘Sunshot Campaign’.³ They encounter a number of ravens—a symbolic animal to the Yiling Patriarch (Wèi Wúxiàn)—throughout this discovery. Ravens are carrions and feed on the carcases of the deceased; the figurative meaning of this is that everywhere Wèi Wúxiàn goes, death follows. Directly after, we see the first appearance of The Yiling Patriarch in front of a full moon with blazing red eyes and over a dozen ravens circling him. He uses ‘Chenqing‘⁴ to call upon the deceased Wens to attack their compatriots. Right away, you get a sense that Wèi Wúxiàn is a daunting figure in the cultivational world, as he does not even give a second thought to killing these cultivators and strikes them all down from where they stand. He radiates power even without having an offensive weapon (such as a sword) and therefore is not to be trifled with. The last thing we see before the next time skip is the mouth of a ghoul through the eyes of a Wen sect member as they prepare to attack.

Later we receive information about the life of Wèi Wúxiàn through the words of customers at an unknown tavern. We learn that despite being a highly regarded and well-respected cultivator in his youth (as well as an integral player for the victory in the ‘Sunshot Campaign’) he was seen as a curse on the cultivation world. Not only that but he was supposedly killed by Jiāng Chéng (Jiang Wanyin)—his ‘Shidi’ (junior) who is the current leader of the ‘Yunmeng Jiāng Sect’—after the four great cultivational sects led a siege on the burial mounds (Wèi Wúxiàn‘s base of operations) and home prior to his death. One of the patrons goes on to question whether he can be revived through the possession of another’s body. The other speaker explains that in an effort to rid the world of him for good, the great sects had continuously been attempting to summon the spirit of Wèi Wúxiàn for months but to no avail. They further state that if he did not appear in the conjuring, it seems that his soul must have really scattered to the wind for good.

Wèi Wúxiàn is then resurrected 13 years after his death into the body of Mò Xuányǔ, who he finds out was driven insane by his family and was fixated on sacrificing his own body to seek revenge against the Mo household. That same night a ghost hand appears at the Mo Manor killing all members of the clan.⁵ Directly after this—on Mount Dafan—Wèi Wúxiàn crosses paths with both Lán Wàngjī⁶ (who is harbouring mixed but complex feelings for the man) and Jiāng Chéng (who hates his guts). After a brief conflict between Jiāng Chéng and Wèi Wúxiàn (with Wàngjī defending the latter), is brought back to the Cloud Recesses under the orders of Lán Wàngjī. We then skip back in time to witness the events that led up to the death and eventual rebirth of Wèi Wúxiàn.

Lán Wàngjī with the ‘Wangji‘ Guqin over a body of ice cold water

The story then picks up again 20 years in the past when 16 year-old Wèi Wúxiàn along with his same aged adopted brother—Jiāng Chéng—were sent to the ‘Cloud Recesses’ to study under the ‘Gusu Lan Sect’ for a year. We follow Wèi Wúxiàn throughout his younger years while he was still playful and carefree despite always seeming to get into trouble. Along the way, the viewers get to see the gradual growth in his relationship with polar opposite Lán Wàngjī (a elegant, cold, and stone-faced man), the events that led Wèi Wúxiàn down the dark path to becoming one of the most hated figures in the cultivation world—the Yiling Patriarch (Yílíng Lǎozǔ), and the struggles and tragedies that he and his loved ones had to go through prior to his initial death.

The story progressed at a slow but steady pace with almost the entirety of the first season set in the past (hence the subtitle: ‘Qian Chen Pian‘). This is where we get to see the two main characters’ relationship begin to evolve from an at first somewhat antagonistic one into a great friendship with Lán Wàngjī seeming to develop a one-sided crush on Wèi Wúxiàn (can be seen throughout the series) starting at episode 4.⁷ We spend the first half of ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi‘ learning about the bonds that Wèi Wúxiàn had with his friends (for example with Niè Huáisāng), his adopted family, and home life (like how Jiāng Fēngmián supposedly treats Wèi Wúxiàn better than his own son) only for it to literally go all up in flames about halfway through the story. There are high stakes throughout this Donghua as half of this season is set during the Sunshot Campaign—a civil war between the tyrannical ‘Qishan Wen Sect‘ and the four great cultivation sects.⁸

The voice acting—particularly the voice actors of Jiāng Chéng (voiced by Guo Haoran) and Wèi Wúxiàn (voiced by Zhang Jie)—do a spectacular job portraying their characters with Wèi Wúxiàn going from a kind and loveable teenager one moment to a cold heartless man who has experienced too much pain for any one person to endure (even going as far as to rip out someone’s ‘Golden Core’ with his bare hands)⁹. Likewise, Guo Haoran successfully conveys the feelings of utter horror and despair when his character—Jiāng Chéng—loses the one place he called home at the hands of the ‘Qishan Wen Clan’, and skillfully exuded hatred towards Wèi Wúxiàn for encouraging their reaction via his act of saving Lán Wàngjī a number of episodes prior. Very few women are depicted in the animation¹⁰; there are at most four notable females throughout the series. Nonetheless, the ones that appear often are shown as strong yet tragic characters. The only one worth mentioning in the first season is that of Madam Yu (Yú Zǐyuān), the mother of Jiāng Chéng and Jiāng Yànlí, who often despised Wèi Wúxiàn because her husband treated him better than Jiāng Chéng—his own son. However, she somewhat redeems herself by displaying a self-sacrificing nature when she ensured the escape of Wèi Wúxiàn and Jiāng Chéng out of the hands of the ‘Wen Sect‘.

The series concludes with Wèi Wúxiàn now back in the present waking up in the Cloud Recesses accompanied by two junior cultivators who do not know his identity as the infamous Yiling Patriarch. He begins to reflect on his past life and the mistakes he made when one of the juniors—Lán Jǐngyí—inquires as to why he may have chosen to go down such a dark path by inventing demonic cultivation. The scene then ends with Wèi Wúxiàn and Lán Wàngjī finally being reunited in the Cloud Recesses after over a decade apart. This conclusion is fitting because throughout the entirety of their past lives together, Lán Wàngjī attempted—albeit unsuccessful—to protect Wèi Wúxiàn. One instance of these futile efforts was when he tried to persuade Wèi Wúxiàn to come back to the Gusu.

Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji and the Gusu Junior Disciples on their way to the Cloud Recesses.

One of the few negative elements of the series is its failure to appropriately world build. The story opens already under the assumption that the audience has some knowledge about cultivation settings therefore it is not newcomer friendly. Also, due to its focus on the two main leads—Lán Wàngjī and Wèi Wúxiàn—we gain extensive knowledge on both the ‘Gusu Lan Sect‘ and the ‘Yunmeng Jiang Sect’However, we fail to gain any substantial insight (though this may change throughout the continuation of the series) about the other two great sects: the ‘Qinghe Nie Sect’, led by Niè Míngjué and the ‘Lanling Jin Sect’, led by Jīn Guāngshàn. Most of the larger world building lies heavily on both exposition and on screen text such as the opening card at the beginning of episode one¹¹ which some would consider a lazy storytelling technique.

One of the most stand out features of ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi’ would have to be its animation. This Donghua effortlessly combines 2D character models with 3D backgrounds and objects which B.CMay—the team behind this series—is known for. In fact this studio is superior in the field of blending multiple aspects of animation seamlessly; this transcending style would not be able to be pulled off by any other company. There are many amazing transition sequences throughout the first episode. One example is when the camera transitions into the eye of a cultivator only to then pan out of the eye of a raven as the bird begins to fly away. The only time that the animation misses the mark is when trying to incorporate 3D into the character designs. For instance, trying to simultaneously 2D and 3D. This structure is most notably used during the Tortoise of the Slaughter scenes where they attempted to animate a giant tortoise. Another striking display of stylized illustration (and scene composition as a whole) is the 2nd rooftop fight sequence in episode five where Wèi Wúxiàn is caught by Lán Wàngjī trying to sneak liquor into the ‘Cloud Recesses‘ (alcohol is forbidden according to the rules of the ‘Gusu Lan Sect‘)¹² and thus tries—and fails—to escape from him by jumping up to the rooftop to avoid punishment. This scene, in particular, has incredible sound-mixing in which you can physically hear the sound of liquor splashing around within the canister of alcohol as Wèi Wúxiàn climbs up onto the roof within the Cloud Recesses, the rustling of clothes as Lán Wàngjī attempts to subdue Wèi Wúxiàn without touching him (we learn that Wàngjī does not like physical contact with others in a previous episode), and the sound of rain hitting Lán Wàngjī’s sword. This sound mixing combined with the superb animation and fight choreography from B.CMay Studios makes this one of the most eye-catching scenes throughout the entire first season.

The music throughout this Donghua is a blend of Eastern and Western instrumentals. The Eastern-influenced pieces—in particular—often bring a hard-hitting and distinct atmosphere that centers the attention on aspects of scenes that need highlighting like the confrontation between the two leads during episode 15. However, I did find that the western-based instrumentals were often at times quite forgettable and bland, especially when compared to the emotionally hitting traditional music sprinkled throughout the series.

In conclusion, ‘Mo Dao Zu Shi: Qian Chen Pian’ is a remarkable anime with exceptional visuals and amazing characters and storytelling but falls short in its failure to substantially word-build. However, I would still recommend this as a jumping off point to anyone who is looking to get into Chinese animation due to its fantastic character development and overall cohesive narrative.

Story: 9/10
Characters: 10/10
Music: 8/10
Animation: 9/10

Overall Rating: 9/10

Wèi Wúxiàn (Pre-Transformation)

¹ A person who strives to increase their power with the eventual goal of immortality through the cultivation of one’s ‘Qi’ and training their body in both martial and mystical arts. This is based on Taoist teachings.

² Unlike regular cultivation, ‘demonic cultivation’ harnesses resentful energy given off by walking corpses. This form of cultivation does not require a ‘Golden Core’.

³ The ‘Sunshot Campaign’ was a war of independence that the two main characters were pulled into prior to the death of Wèi Wúxiàn. He was an integral player in attaining victory for the four great sects.

⁴ ‘Chenqing’ is the name of Wèi Wúxiàn‘s spiritual weapon—the Chinese flute (the ‘dízi’) that he uses to channel his spiritual energy while partaking in ‘demonic cultivation’ throughout his first life. After his death, it fell into the hands of his adopted brother Jiāng Chéng. Within the cultivation world, spiritual weapons such as swords and instruments are given names. ‘Chenqing’ is one such example.

⁵ This was the solution to the curse that was placed on Wèi Wúxiàn upon his resurrection—the extermination of the Mo family. The same people who had once tormented Mò Xuányǔ up to the point of insanity. If Wèi Wúxiàn (who is occupying Mò Xuányǔ‘s body at that time) did not complete this condition, Wèi Wúxiàn would have his body ripped apart (and subsequently die as a result) and never be reborn again.

⁶ There is an absolute contrast that can be seen between the introduction of the two main leads; however, it is also similar at the same time. In each of their introductions, they are situated in front of a full moon each playing instruments with their eyes glowing (Wèi Wúxiàn‘s glowing a fiery red whereas Lán Wàngjī‘s glow a pure gold). It’s important to note that Wèi Wúxiàn is raising the dead, whereas Lán Wàngjī is slaying them.

⁷ Throughout the series and continuation of it, he is constantly shown to be flustered (for example, him being embarrassed when Wèi Wúxiàn compliments his figure during episode five) whenever Wèi Wúxiàn so much as flirts with him and constantly worries for Wèi Wúxiàn. The only time that Wàngjī has any sign of any emotion on his face is when it’s about Wèi Wúxiàn.

⁸ ‘Lanling Jin Sect’, ‘Qinghe Nie Sect’, ‘Gusu Lan Sect’, and the ‘Yunmeng Jiang Sect’.

⁹ A ‘golden core’ is what allows cultivators to practice cultivation in the first place. Without one, a person will never ascend to immortality and will have all of their abilities stripped away from them. One cannot gain another core once it has been taken away from them.

¹° Partially because the story is based on a Chinese ‘Danmei’ (BL web-novel), and the main focus is the relationship between the two male leads. The female characters and character development, as a result, are relegated to the sidelines (with the exception of the relationship between Jīn Zixuān and Jiāng Yànlí (Wèi Wúxiàn‘s adopted sister).

¹¹ “The Unscrupulous ‘Wen Clan’ ran rampant unleashing living hell on earth. The righteous among cultivation clans launched the ‘Sunshot Campaign’ uniting in the war against the ‘Wen Clan’. The Yiling PatriarchWèi Wúxiàn—distinguished himself in many notable feats during the campaign. But his fearsome ‘demonic cultivation’ drew much suspicion, which escalated into a malicious plot against him, leaving his reputation in ruins. His hideout was vanquished by none other than his dearest ‘shidi’ while his mortal self was eradicated from this world.”

¹² The Cloud Recesses have 3000 rules inscribed on the side of a mountain within Gusu which all visitors and disciples are expected to follow—Wèi Wúxiàn has a habit of often breaking these rules. He broke at least three rules upon his first arrival to the cloud recesses. Upon his rebirth, there are now at least 4000 rules.


‘Mo Dao Zu Shi’ is probably one of the most adapted IP’s in China with it having a Donghua, Manhua, audio drama, mobile game, web drama, and three confirmed spin-off movies (2 web movies: ‘The Living Dead’ and ‘Fatal Journey’ as well as an untitled feature film).

Find the Donghua on Youtube and WeTV
for the Novel:
OG Chinese version:
English translation:
Find the web drama on YouTubeWeTV, Netflix or Rakuten Viki
^ It’s spin-off movie on the IQIYI app with full English subtitles
Find the audio drama at Suibian Subs (via their Discord)
Find the Manhua at Exiled Rebels Scans: You must have an account to view the chapters

Characters & their multiple names:

Wèi Wúxiàn:
Birth Name: Wèi Yīng
Courtesy Name: Wèi Wúxiàn
Title: Yílíng Lǎozǔ (Yiling Patriarch)
The ‘Chénqíng’ flute (to express sentiments).
‘Suíbiàn’, his sword (lit. whatever).
‘Stygian Tiger Seal’ (formerly)
Inventions: ‘Stygian Tiger Seal’, ‘Compass of Evil’, and ‘Spirit Attraction Flag’

Lán Wàngjī:
Birth Name: Lán Zhàn
Courtesy Name: Lán Wàngjī
Title: Hánguāng-jūn (‘Light-Bearing Lord’)
‘Bìchén’ (lit. to avoid wordly matters), his sword.
The ‘Wàngjī’ Guqin.

Jiāng Chéng:
Birth Name: Jiāng Chéng
Courtesy Name: Jiāng Wǎnyín
Title: Sāndú Shèngshǒu
Weapons: the electric whip ‘Zǐdiàn’ and his sword, ‘Sāndú’

Wēn Níng:
Birth Name: Wēn Níng
Courtesy Name: Wēn Qiónglín
Title: Guǐ jiāngjūn (‘Ghost General’)​