Serious dramas, insightful documentaries, the latest hit series you have to keep up with to keep up with your friends; sometimes watching television can start to feel like a chore. That’s when you need to step back and find a series that’s just fun to watch – hopefully one with enough episodes in the bank that you can binge it for days without running out. This summer, SBS has you sorted with a series that ticks all the right boxes, especially if those boxes involve astoundingly good-looking people fighting monsters while falling in love: Martial Universe!
Based on the popular (and lengthy) online novel, Wu Dong Qian Kun (Martial Arts Reshapes the World) by Chinese web novelist, Li Hu, better known as Tian Can Tu Dou, Martial Universe is a combination coming-of-age tale and love story with plenty of drama, fight scenes and shock twists.
It has all the trapping of a martial arts saga (just check out those costumes), but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if your spider-sense started tingling at the superhero side of a story about an average guy who discovers special abilities that help him to fight world-threatening monsters and villains alongside a growing cast of allies. Unlike more traditional historical dramas based around court intrigue that benefits from a solid knowledge of history, Martial Universe is one of a new breed of fantasy dramas that looks as much to video games as it does to the past.
With 40 episodes in season one, there’s plenty of room between the fights for the kind of will-they-or-won’t-they romances and dramatic mix-ups that make this kind of series so bingeable. The result is an always entertaining mash-up where familiar elements are given a new twist and nobody is exactly what they seem (*unless they seem to be a monster; then they’re usually a monster).
So what’s it all about?
Since the dawn of time, the demonic Yimos from another dimension have sought to invade and conquer the mortal realm. Years ago humanity’s guardian gave his life to seal off the gateway between the Yimo realm and Earth, but the demons haven’t given up, and continue to search for a way to reopen the path – most likely using a mysterious stone talisman.
Beyond all the monsters and romance, Martial Universe is a coming-of-age story centred on Lin Dong (played by Chinese pop idol Yang Yang). While he has a proud heritage, coming as he does from a famous martial arts family, his particular branch has fallen on hard times. When he was a boy his father was soundly beaten in a fight; since then he’s been a shadow of his former self while Lin Lang Tian (Wu Chun) has become the family’s new hope. Which is why when we first meet Lin Dong, he’s fighting in a gladiator pit to earn money to pay for his father’s medicine. But while he’s handy in a fight, he’s still at the bottom of the martial arts world, shunned by those around him.
All that changes when he finds a mysterious stone talisman (uh-oh) with magical powers. Well, it doesn’t all change right away: he’s still got a lot of friends to make, foes to smite, and monsters to fight if he’s going to reach his full potential and prevent demonic forces from re-opening the gateway from their dimension to ours. But now he’s got a new focus in life beyond avenging his family’s disgrace – which is definitely a good thing, as it turns out he’s not the only member of the extended Lin clan with magical powers.
Man does not live by demon fighting alone, and before long Lin Dong has two women in his life (not counting his younger sister, who can be a bit of a pain). Of the two, Ying Huan Huan (Zhang Tian'ai) seems like his perfect match: from a separate martial arts clan, there’s some super-powers in her past too. But Lin Dong has a lot of growing up to do before he can commit to anyone.
His relationship with Ling Qin Zhu (Wang Likun) is a bit more fraught. A Princess of Nine Heaven's Tai Qing Palace, their relationship gets off to a very bumpy start because honestly, Lin Dong can occasionally be a bit of an immature jerk. But he’s the chosen one on a mission to save humanity; how can she stay mad at him?
She’s got a bit more of an edge to her, which in this kind of story usually makes her the reliable best friend rather than the love interest. But while it might seem like Lin Dong’s romantic future is all mapped out, don’t get too comfortable just yet. The novel notoriously ended with Lin Dong ending up with just about every main female character in the story, and the series is just as notorious for diverging from the novel in a number of major ways. So who knows where any of his relationships – let alone his quest to save the world - will end up?
There’s only one way to find out: settle in on the couch and make time in your summer viewing schedule for Martial Universe.
Martial Universe season 1 is available to stream at SBS On Demand.
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