This may surprise you, but… You can learn a lot about the Chinese language just by watching Chinese cartoons!
If you learn languages by self-study like I do, you are probably always on a lookout for new ways to make your language learning journey more interesting.
A very effective way to practice a new language is to watch movies and videos.
Learning a new language can be a difficult mission sometimes, and Mandarin Chinese might be quite a challenge.
So if you’re a new learner, don’t jump straight into the sea of the Chinese movies, but start off slowly by dipping your toes in a shallow pool – of Chinese cartoons.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to the most popular Chinese cartoons that will help you learn this language – even as an adult.
1. “The Monkey King” – 孙悟空 (sūnwùkōng)
One of the most well known classic Chinese story figures has become one of the most popular Chinese cartoon characters – several times.
Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King, possesses magical powers, such as extreme strength and speed, but he’s also an incredible fighter.
In his “Journey to the West”, the Monkey King travels from China to India and faces many mystical and interesting challenges.
2. “The Stories of Avanti” – 阿凡提的故事 (āfántí de gùshì)
Avanti, or Effendi, is a Chinese cartoon from the 1970s and 1980s.
The story is about a man named Nasreddin whose purpose was to help the poor and punish the rich and greedy.
Avanti is a polite way of calling someone “sir” in Turkish, which is explained by the fact that Uyghurs believe he comes from Turkistan.
Even though the story was filmed a relatively long time ago, it became, and still is, one of the most loved and best Chinese cartoon series.
3. “Big Ear TuTu” – 大耳朵图图 (dà ěrduǒ tútú)
A kids show about a curious boy with a specific characteristic – large ears. Hu Tutu, a little boy, is very energetic and always full of questions.
The fact that this show is mainly for Chinese preschoolers guarantees that it’s ideal for a beginner Mandarin learner.
4. “Ni Hao Kai-lan” – 你好, 凯兰 (nǐ hǎo, kǎi lán)
If you’re looking for something that would be closer to Western culture, then Ni Hao Kai-lan might be the perfect fit for you.
One of the newer Chinese kids shows (aired in 2008) is actually American-Canadian made. The creator is a Chinese-American artist who based the cartoon on her childhood memories.
Kai-lan is a little Chinese-American girl who, with her animal friends, goes on different adventures in each episode.
She and her friends never forget to incorporate Mandarin Chinese words and bits about Chinese culture in their stories. No matter what happens in an episode, Kai-lan and her friends always end up working together, usually with a moral lesson.
These series also have an interactive component where each learner can repeat or practice what they’ve learned. It’s similar in this way to Dora the Explorer, and it’s a great show if you’re trying to introduce your children to the Chinese language as well.
You can find Ni Hao Kai-lan on Amazon Prime.
5. “Pororo the Little Penguin” – 小企鹅宝露露 (xiǎo qì'é bǎo lùlù)
Originally from Korea, Pororo the Little Penguin is a popular children Chinese anime. It’s available in both Korean and Mandarin Chinese with subtitles.
Pororo is a cute little computer-animated penguin who faces different challenges in each episode. He and his animal friends always end up learning a moral lesson.
The show has almost 300 episodes and since it’s aimed at children, the language used is perfect for beginner learners.
Pororo is available on Netflix, and you can switch to Mandarin audio in the Audio and Subtitles settings.
6. “Nine Songs of the Moving Heavens” – 天行九歌 (tiān xíng jiǔ gē)
Also translated as “Nine Songs of the Sky”, this Chinese anime is a story about the Ninth Prince of Han State, Han Fei.
Han Fei decides to form his own group of warriors, Quicksand, who help him fight against his enemies and form a new, stronger Han State.
7. “The Adventures of Little Carp” – 小鲤鱼历险记 (xiǎo lǐyú lìxiǎn jì)
Another Chinese cartoon adaptation of a classic Chinese tale.
In this folktale, the Dragon’s Gate, at the top of a mystical mountain, is the goal of many carps. If a carp manages to reach the Dragon’s Gate, it’ll turn into a dragon. Only a few, however, are able to reach the gate when swimming upstream.
The Adventures of Little Carp tells stories about Bubbles, a carp that lives with his grandmother until Evil Snake turns her into a bubble. Bubbles is searching for a dragon that can turn her back and he experiences many adventures with his animal friends.
8. “Big Head Son & Small Head Dad” – 大头儿子和小头爸爸 (dà tóu érzi hé xiǎo tóu bàba)
Another one of Chinese cartoon shows that points out a physical feature. But in this case, it actually has a meaning.
“Big head” in China symbolizes that a person is smart, and the father from this show is also very selfless and kind. These traits show children what’s really important and how one should be.
These two and the boy’s mom are from Shanghai and their lives are the main subject of this cartoon.
9. “GG Bond” – 猪猪侠 (zhū zhū xiá)
This is a story about an enthusiastic pig who always wants to help others. He and his 3D computer-animated friends teach the audience how important values are – not only the traditional Chinese ones but also universal moral values.
GG Bond appreciates his elders, friendship and courage, but the series also touches issues like homelessness, environmental damage and pollution.
The interesting thing about this cartoon is that it’s aimed at both children and adults, as occasionally there are references that only adults would understand.
Like many other Chinese kids shows from this list, GG Bond can be found on YouTube.
10. “The Legend of Huainanzi” – 淮南子传奇 (huáinánzi chuánqí)
This is a young adult Chinese anime that can be classified as historical fantasy.
The series is based on Huainanzi – classical Chinese philosophical essays. The main character, a 12-year old hero, is looking for pieces of a book that could save the world. These pieces were transformed into different objects and he now has to rediscover them.
As he goes through this adventure, he forms strong friendships, but also a strong relationship with nature and his ancestors.
The language in The Legend of Huainanzi can be a bit more advanced at times compared to other cartoons in this list, because it’s not aimed at small children. If you’ve been learning Chinese for a while and the theme sounds interesting to you, give this animated story a try.
11. “Our Friend Remy Bear” – 我的朋友熊小米 (wǒ de péng yǒu xióng xiǎo mǐ)
Remy Bear, a little panda, and its many animal friends all share happy little stories together.
They always encourage and appreciate each other, support each other’s actions and never lack kindness.
This cartoon is aimed at Chinese children, but I’d say the level is intermediate, so a beginner learner can have trouble understanding at times.
But don’t worry, if you’ll find the stories of Remy Bear and its friends interesting, you’ll get used to the language and will understand very quickly.
Watch Remy Bear on the Chinese TV station CCTV.
12. “Super Wings!” – 超级飞侠 (chāo jí fēi xiá)
Super Wings! is one of the most popular cartoons in China, and it’s also well-known in South Korea and the USA, as it’s a co-production that crosses these three countries.
These animated series follow Jett and other Super Wings at the World Airport. They work with deliveries from different locations, so they need to first learn something about the language and facts about each country. With this in mind, every problem they face gets easily solved.
The main premise is to teach children kindness and tolerance when it comes to diversity.
13. “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” – 喜羊羊与灰太狼 (xǐ yáng yáng yǔ huī tài láng)
A Chinese anime-influenced series aimed at children, but thanks to multiple hidden grown-up jokes, it’s interesting enough for adults too.
The plot of this cartoon surrounds a pasture where sheep and goats live in harmony until a wolf and his wife decide to move in.
Stories of these animals can be classified as a comedy that’s suitable for both children and adults.
Keep in mind that you might need to know a little more than the basics of the Chinese language to be able to understand the story.
14. “Nezha” – 哪吒 (nǎzhā)
Nezha was born inside a ball of flesh after his mother was pregnant with him for three years. He was born as a boy who knew how to walk and speak immediately. His magical story continues with the acceptance as a student by the immortal Taiyi Zhenren who trained him into a warrior.
Nezha also became a deity and is known in the Chinese folk religion.
The cartoon is aimed at children, but the language might be more advanced at times. You’ll enjoy learning Mandarin with the help of the tales of Nezha if you are a fan of Chinese folk tales.
15. “Lotus Lantern” – 宝莲灯 (bǎo lián dēng)
A cartoon based on a traditional fairytale with a popular Chinese character – a boy named Chenxiang.
He was born as a son of a goddess and a mortal. His father was killed before he was born and his mother was imprisoned. Chenxiang grew up not knowing where he came from, but thanks to a magical lotus lantern from his mother and his courage, he saves his mother at the end.
This movie was released in China in 1999 and quickly became one of the most popular Chinese cartoons.
Both adults and children love to watch it, because the story and the execution of this animated movie are exceptional.
Lotus Lantern is available on YouTube or here in the form of a series.
Which Chinese Cartoons Will You Watch?
Whether you’re only starting to learn Mandarin or you have a couple of lessons under your belt, I’m sure watching cartoons from this list will be a fun way to continue your learning journey.
Many of these animated movies and series have a plot that’d be interesting enough even for someone who has no intentions of learning Mandarin. So if you find a version of a cartoon with English subtitles and you want to watch a movie with your friends and family, it’s killing two birds with one stone.
My advice for your learning with Chinese cartoons is: Turn on your subtitles, wake up your inner child and have fun learning!