19 C-Drama Stars and The Drama Where They Have Popularity Explosion

Most Popular Chinese actors 2024

There's no sure formula to success, even in the entertainment industry, one would even find it hard to take a piece of fame overnight. They really need to work hard to hit their goal as the drama industry can be volatile at times due to intense competition. 

Their moment to shine may come sooner or later. But amid all the uncertainties in the drama industry, one thing remains constant - it will only take one drama or two to shoot them to fame, as long as it has the right mix of flavor - script quality, timing of broadcast, good production team, an iconic character that leaves a memorable mark to the viewers, and convincing portrayal. 

Most Popular Chinese actors 2024

Among the bunch of stars in the highly competitive Chinese drama industry, here are the 19 popular performers who got the right mix of flavor in one drama that propelled them to stardom, both domestically and internationally. 

We arranged them based on the year they debuted in acting:

1. Yang Mi 

  • Birthdate: September 12, 1986
  • Drama debut: 1993 Tang Ming Huang (support role)
  • Education: Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy
  • Popularity explosion: 2011 Palace (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 112.5 million
Yang Mi debuted in acting as a child actress in 1993, playing the role of a little princess in the costume drama, Tang Ming Huang. 

Yang Mi drama
Yang Mi (present). As Luo Qingchuan in Palace (2011) 

But her first main role came 10 years later in the drama, Strange Stories from Liao Zhai. Her rise to popularity came in 2009 when she played dual roles as Tang Xuejian and Xiyao in the xianxia drama, Chinese Paladin 3. It was followed by Beauty's Rival in Palace (2010) where she played a cold assassin. 

But her major popularity explosion came in 2011 when she starred as a modern-day woman, Luo Qingchuan, who time-traveled to the Qing dynasty and became entangled with the Qing princes in Palace.

2. Hu Ge
  • Birthdate: September 20, 1982
  • English name: Hugh Hu
  • Drama debut: 1999 The National Anthem (support role)
  • Education: Performing Arts, Shanghai Theater Academy
  • Popularity explosion: 2005 Chinese Paladin (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 72.3 million
Hu Ge is a multi-awarded Chinese actor who is also a voice dubber, a theater actor, and a singer. He made his acting debut in the film, The National Anthem (1999), and debuted on television in the drama, Dandelion (2004).

Hu Ge Chinese Paladin
Hu Ge (present). As Xiao Yao in Chinese Paladin (2005)

Hu Ge's major breakthrough and explosion in popularity came just over a year after he debuted on television dramas, when he played the role of Xiao Yao in the popular xianxia series, Chinese Paladin with Liu Yifei.

It was adapted from the video game, The Legend of the Sword and Fairy. He starred again in 2009 in the drama adaptation of the third season of The Legend of the Sword and Fairy, Chinese Paladin 3, which was also a commercial success.

He gained a cult following and received numerous acting and popularity awards when he starred in the smash hit costume wuxia series, Nirvana in Fire (2015), and in the republican era spy drama, The Disguiser (2015).

Hu Ge is the only C-drama actor, who is still active on television shows, who has five series in the main role that achieved an excellent rating in Douban. Chinese Paladin  (2005): 9.1, Chinese Paladin 3 (2009): 9.0, Nirvana in Fire (2015): 9.4, The Disguiser (2015): 8.6, and Blossoms Shanghai (2023): 8.7.

3. Jerry Yan
  • Birthdate: January 1, 1977
  • Chinese name: Yan Chengxu
  • Drama debut: 2000 Spicy Teacher (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2001 Meteor Garden (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 4.4 million
Jerry Yan is a Taiwanese model, actor, and singer. He entered the entertainment industry in Taiwan in 2000 when he won a modeling competition.

Jerry Yan drama
Jerry Yan (present). As Dao Mingsi in Meteor Garden (2001)

He then debuted in acting in Spicy Teacher (2000). In 2001, his career took a major leap when he starred as Dao Mingsi in the smash drama hit, Meteor Garden. 

Meteor Garden took Asia by storm and it opened a wide door for Asian dramas to be known and appreciated around the globe. The cast members of Meteor Garden became a household name later and the series was remade in almost all countries in Asia. 

4. Vic Chou
  • Birthdate: June 9, 1981
  • Chinese name: Zhu Yumin
  • Drama debut: 2001 Meteor Garden (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2001 Meteor Garden (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 3.2 million
Vic Chou's entry in showbiz is some kind of a serendipity. He had no plan to join the entertainment world.

In 2000, he accompanied his friend to the audition of Meteor Garden. By that time he was in his second year in college. His friend was auditioning for the role of Hua Ze Lei. 

Vic Chou drama
Vic Chou (present). As Hua Ze Lei in Meteor Garden (2001)

But the casting agent saw Vic outside and noticed his resemblance to the description of Hua Ze Lei. He asked Vic to audition, Vic hesitated at first but later convinced to try.

He ended up getting the role of Hua Ze Lei. And the rest is history. Meteor Garden was his acting debut and also where he had his popularity explosion. Amazing! 

Vic starred in numerous idol dramas including a reunion with his Meteor Garden co-star, Barbie Hsu, in the 2004 drama, Mars. But his first adult role was in the 2009 police drama, Black and White, alongside Mark Chao.

Vic won his first major acting award at the Golden Bell, Taiwan's most prestigious award-giving body for TV excellence when he won Best Actor in 2013 for his role in Coming Home.

He received a Best Actor nomination twice at the Huading Awards, and a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Macau International Film Festival for his supporting role in Saving General Yang, the movie version of Hu Ge's 2006 drama, The Young Warriors.

Vic is the only member of Taiwan's F4 and Meteor Garden main cast who managed to transition to acting successfully, playing different roles in different genres: costume, action, urban romance, and thriller.

5. Yang Zi
  • Birthdate: November 6, 1992
  • English name: Andy Yang
  • Drama debut: 2002 Ru Ci Chu Shan (support role)
  • Education: Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy
  • Popularity explosion: 2016 Noble Aspirations (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 62.1 million
Yang Zi debuted in acting as a child star in 2001 appearing in cameo roles in television dramas. Her first formal acting in the drama was in the 2002 series, Ru Ci Chu Shan, followed by Xiao Zhuang Epic in the same year playing the role of the young Consort Donggo.

Yang Zi drama
Yang Zi (present). As Lu Xueqi in Noble Aspirations (2016)

Yang Zi's rise to popularity began in the 2005 hit sitcom for children, Home with Kids. But her moment to shine came in 2016 when she starred in two successive hit series, Ode to Joy, an urban drama, and the costume hit drama, Noble Aspirations, where she had a meteoric rise in popularity.

6. Liu Yifei
  • Birthdate: August 25, 1987
  • English name: Crystal Liu
  • Drama debut: 2003 The Story of a Noble Family (support role)
  • Education: Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy
  • Popularity explosion: 2005 Chinese Paladin (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 71.7 million
Liu Yifei and her mother migrated to the United States in 1997 and settled in New York City where she finished her elementary school and middle school. 

Liu Yifei Crystal Liu
Liu Yifei (present). As Zhao Ling Er in Chinese Paladin (2005)

In 2002, she moved back to China to study acting at the Beijing Film Academy. She debuted in acting in 2003, but her breakthrough came in 2005 in the popular xianxia drama, Chinese Paladin with Hu Ge.

She gained acclaim for her performance in Chinese Paladin and experienced a surge in popularity. The same year, she was chosen as the "Golden Eagle Goddess" at the 6th China Golden Eagle TV Art Festival. 

Liu Yifei's popularity continues to rise and in 2006, she played the main female role in the classic wuxia, The Return of the Condor Heroes. She made a hiatus from television/web series and concentrated on films. 

She only returned to the small screen in 2022 in the costume drama, A Dream of Splendor, which earned her a Best Actress award at the Macau International Film and TV Festival. She also won the same award in 2023 for her role in the highly-rated drama, Meet Yourself

7. Liu Shishi
  • Birthdate: March 10, 1987
  • English name: Cecilia Liu
  • Education: Dance major in Ballet, Beijing Dance Academy
  • Drama debut: 2005 The Moon and The Wind (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2011 Scarlet Heart (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 34.8 million
Liu Shishi debuted in acting in 2005 in the drama, The Moon and The Wind. In the following year, she joined the cast of The Young Warriors where she got to work with Hu Ge for the first time. 

Liu Shishi
Liu Shishi (present). As Maertai Ruoxi in Scarlet Heart (2011)

Liu Shishi played the second female lead in the 2008 costume drama, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, starring Hu Ge and Taiwanese actress, Ariel Lin. 

Hu Ge and Liu Shishi worked for the third time in the 2009 xianxia drama hit, Chinese Paladin 3. She started to gain popularity in the 2011 period action drama, The Vigilantes In Masks, with her Chinese Paladin 3 co-star, Wallace Huo.

But her star shone the brightest when she played Zhang Xiao, a modern woman to transmigrated into the soul of Maertai Rouxi, a noble lady in the Qing dynasty period who got entangled in the power struggle of Qing princes in the time travel costume drama, Scarlet Heart (2011). 

Scarlet Heart became a major sleeper hit in China, and swiftly gained popularity across East Asia, propelling Cecilia to stardom. 

In 2014, Scarlet Heart released a season 2, and on the following year, Cecilia married her co-star, Nicky Wu. Scarlet Heart had a spin-off in 2015, Time To Love, starring Ivy Chen as Maertai Rouxi, Tony Wang as the 4th prince, and Shawn Dou as the 14th prince.

In 2016, it was adapted into a Korean drama, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo starring IU as the modern woman who transmigrated into the Goryeo dynasty and Lee Joon-gi as the 4th prince.

8. Wu Lei 

  • Birthdate: December 26, 1999
  • English name: Leo Wu
  • Drama debut: 2006 The Young Warriors (support role)
  • Education: Performing Arts, Beijing Film Academy
  • Popularity explosion: 2015 Nirvana in Fire (support role)
  • Weibo followers: 48.5 million
Wu Lei started in television commercials when he was barely three years old. He made his acting debut in the wuxia drama, The Young Warriors, in 2006, playing the role of the young Yang Yanzhao (played by Hu Ge in the adult version). 

Wu Lei Nirvana in Fire
Wu Lei (present). As Fei Liu in Nirvana in Fire (2015)

He gained popularity for playing the naughty kid, Ma Xiaotiao, in the drama, Mo's Mischief. His excellent acting performance earned him the Outstanding Child Actor award from the prestigious Flying Apsaras, one of the three major award-giving bodies for television excellence in China. 

Wu Lei's major explosion in popularity came in 2015 when he starred in the ultra-popular wuxia drama, Nirvana in Fire, alongside Hu Ge. The same year he starred in the popular youth sports drama, The Whirlwind Girl Season 1 with Yang Yang, Bai Jingting, Hu Bingqing, and Tan Songyun, which cemented Wu Lei's status as China's nation's brother. 

9. Zhao Liying
  • Birthdate: October 16, 1987
  • English name: Zanilla Zhao
  • Drama debut: 2007 Century Endless Love (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2015 The Journey of Flower (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 90.9 million
Zhao Liying entered show business in 2006, a year after she graduated from high school, via Yahoo's Search Star Game where she emerged as the final winner. The same year she made her acting debut in the drama, Century Endless Love (aired in 2007).

Zhao Liying Journey of Flower
Zhao Liying (present). As Huan Qian Gu in The Journey of Flower (2015) 

She acted her first role in the costume drama, The Firmament of The Pleiades (2009). Her rise to fame began in 2010 when she appeared in the popular costume drama, The Dream of Red Mansions and in the 2011 costume drama, New My Fair Princess.  

Her first taste of stardom began in 2013 when she starred in the costume drama, Legend of Lu Zhen, followed by The Legend of Chasing Fish in 2014, the same year she was crowned Golden Eagle Goddess at the 10th China Golden Eagle TV Art Festival.

Zhao Liying's popularity explosion came in 2015 when she starred in the hit xianxia drama, The Journey of Flower, where she received numerous acting and popularity awards and nominations. 

10. Tang Yan
  • Birthdate: December 6, 1983
  • English name: Tiffany Tang
  • Education: Performing Arts, Central Academy of Drama
  • Drama debut: 2007 Carol of Zhenguan (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2015 Legend of Fragrance (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 76.7 million
Tang Yan debuted in acting in 2007 after she graduated from college. She made her drama debut in the costume historical series, Carol of Zhenghuan.

Tiffany Tang
Tiffany Tang (present). As An Ruohuan / Le Yan in Legend of Fragrance (2015)

She gained attention in 2009 for playing the role of Zi Xuan in the hit xianxia drama, Chinese Paladin 3. The same year, she played the role of Chu Chu in the wuxia fantasy film, The Storm Warriors.

Tang Yan reunited with her Chinese Paladin 3 co-star, Wallace Huo, in Perfect Couple (2014), where they won the Best Couple award at the China TV Drama Awards. The same year she starred in Diamond Lover opposite Korean actor, Rain, it was a commercial success both in China and South Korea.

Her popularity explosion came in 2015 after starring in three successive hit series: My Sunshine, a modern drama with Wallace Chung, Lady & Liar, a period drama with Hawick Lau, and another period drama, Legend of Fragrance, with Li Yifeng.

11. Yang Yang
  • Birthdate: September 9, 1991
  • Drama debut: 2010 The Dream of Red Mansions (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2016 Love 020 (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 56.6 million
Yang Yang debuted in acting in the 2010 costume drama, The Dream of Red Mansions. He gained popularity in the 2015 movie, The Left Ear, where he starred alongside Sandra Ma and Chen Duling. 

Yang Yang The Dream of Red Mansions
Yang Yang (present). As Jia Baoyu in The Dream of Red Mansions (2010)

The same year he rose to fame via the hit drama, The Whirlwind Girl season 1, a youth sports drama he starred alongside Hu Bingqing, Wu Lei, Tan Songyun, and Bai Jingting. 

Yang Yang's popularity explosion came in 2016 when he starred alongside Zheng Shuang in the hit modern eSports romance drama, Love 020, one of China's most-watched series.

12. Li Qin
  • Birthdate: September 27, 1990
  • English name: Sweet Li
  • Education: Chinese Traditional Opera from the affiliated school of Shanghai Theater Academy
  • Drama debut: 2010 The Dream of Red Mansions (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2019 Joy of Life (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 27.1 million
Li Qin had a passion for Chinese traditional opera but did not go pro, instead, she transitioned into acting. In 2010, she made her acting debut in the costume drama, The Dream of Red Mansions starring Yang Yang who also made his acting debut. 

Li Qin Joy of Life
Li Qin (present). As Lin Wan Er in Joy of Life (2019)

She gained attention in 2011 when she starred in the patriotic film, The Founding of a Party, where she earned a Best Newcomer nomination at the prestigious Hundred Flowers Award, one of the three major award-giving bodies in films in China.

In 2015, she starred in the romance drama, I Love You, where she won the Most Promising Actress award from the China TV Drama Awards. In 2017, she starred in White Deer Plain which earned her an acting nomination at the Magnolia Awards.

She also earned a Best Actress nomination at the Hundred Flowers Award for her role in The Founding of an Army movie. Li Qin had a popularity explosion in 2019 when she starred as Lin Wan Er in the hit costume drama, Joy of Life

13. Cheng Yi
  • Birthdate: May 17, 1990
  • Education: Performing Arts, Central Academy of Drama
  • Drama debut: 2011 Beauty World (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2020 Love and Redemption (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 26.3 million
Cheng Yi debuted in acting in 2011 before his college graduation, playing a small role in the costume drama, Beauty World. 

Cheng Yi Love and Redemption
Cheng Yi (present). As Yu Sifeng in Love and Redemption (2020)

In the following year, 2012, he debuted on the big screen, starring alongside Xin Zhilie, in the romance suspense movie, Haunting Love. For the next three years, Cheng Yi concentrated on making movies.

He returned to television in 2016 with a second male lead role in the costume drama, Noble Aspirations. The drama became a commercial success in China, and Cheng Yi rose to popularity.

But only in 2020 when he starred in the hit xianxia drama, Love and Redemption, that he had a major popularity explosion, followed by The Promise of Chang'an in the same year. 

14. Dilraba Dilmurat
  • Birthdate: June 3, 1992
  • Education: Performing Arts, Shanghai Theater Academy
  • Chinese name: Dilireba Dilimurati
  • Drama debut: 2013 Anarhan (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2017 Eternal Love (support role)
  • Weibo followers: 80.5 million
Dilraba made her acting debut in the period drama, Anarhan, in 2013. In 2014, she signed a talent contract with Jaywalk Studio (where she remained until now), the same year she played a supporting role in the wuxia drama, Swords of Legends. 

Chinese actor Dilraba Dilmurat
Dilraba Dilmurat (right). As Bai Fengjiu in Eternal Love (2017)

In 2015, she starred alongside Tiffany Tang, Luo Jin, and South Korean actor, Rain, in Diamond Lover, which was a commercial success. 

But it was in 2017 that she shot to stardom for appearing in three hit series that year. As a second female lead in the hit xianxia series, Eternal Love (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms), as Li Huizhen in the modern comedy-drama, Pretty Li Huizhen, the Chinese adaptation of the Korean hit series, She Was Pretty, and as Gongsun Li in the costume romance drama, The King's Woman.

Due to her successive hit series, she was crowned the Golden Eagle Goddess at the 12th China Golden Eagle TV Art Festival in 2018, the same year she won the Best Actress award for Pretty Li Huizhen at the Golden Eagle TV awards.

15. Bai Jingting

  • Birthdate: October 16, 1993
  • Education: Music major in Recording, Capital Normal University
  • Drama debut: 2014 Back in Time (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2021 You Are My Hero (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 36.5 million
Before he entered show business, Bai Jingting was a track and field athlete, specializing in long jump and high jump. He debuted in acting in 2014 via the youth drama, Back in Time. 

Chinese actor Bai Jingting
Bai Jingting (present). As Xing Kelei in You're My Hero (2021)

He gained attention in the youth sports drama, The Whirlwind Girl in 2015, and rose to popularity in the campus drama, Rush to the Dead Summer (2017), where he starred alongside Zheng Shuang and Chen Xuedong. 

The same year he starred in his first costume drama, The Rise of Phoenixes starring Chen Kun and Ni Ni. He had his first main male lead role in the romance drama, Irreplaceable Love in 2018.

Bai Jingting had his popularity explosion in 2021, when he starred alongside Sandra Ma, in the hit modern romance drama, You Are My Hero.

16. Ren Jialun
  • Birthdate: April 11, 1989
  • English name: Allen Ren
  • Drama debut: 2014 Detective Dee (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2017 The Glory of Tang Dynasty (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 25.2 million
Ren Jialun trained as a table tennis player alongside national champions Zhou Yu and Zhang Jike, and was on the way to becoming a national athlete, but he got injured so he quit the sport.

Chinese actor Ren Jialun
Ren Jialun (present). As Li Chu in The Glory of Tang Dynasty (2017)

He worked for a while as a ground crew at the Qingdao Liuting International Airport before he transitioned to entertainment. He began by participating in different variety shows. 

He made his formal acting debut in 2014 in the series, Detective Dee, playing the lead role of Di Renjie, but was only aired in 2017. He also became a talent of H&R Century Pictures alongside Cheng Yi and Liu Xueyi. 

Ren Jialun appeared in the hit xianxia drama, Noble Aspirations in 2016, but his breakthrough came in 2017 when he starred in the costume drama, The Glory of Tang Dynasty, alongside Jing Tian. The drama propelled him to stardom. 

17. Gong Jun
  • Birthdate: November 29, 1992
  • English name: Simon Gong
  • Education: Performing Arts, Donghua University
  • Drama debut: 2016 Sword Chaos (support role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2021 Word of Honor (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 22.3 million
Gong Jun began his entertainment career as a model before he transitioned to acting in 2015.  The same year he made his acting debut in Sword Chaos (aired in 2016).

Gong Jun Word of Honor
Gong Jun (present). As Wen Kexing in Word of Honor (2021)

He rose to popularity in 2020 when he starred in the modern romance drama Begin Again, alongside Zhou Yutong. But his rise to stardom came in 2021, when he starred alongside Zhang Zhehan, in the costume wuxia drama, Word of Honor. 

Word of Honor was adapted from the popular BL novel, Faraway Wanderer, written by Priest. It was the last BL drama adaptation approved by the state regulator to broadcast. 

18. Wang Yibo
  • Birthdate: August 5, 1997
  • Drama debut: 2016 MBA Partners (main role)
  • Popularity explosion: 2019 The Untamed (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 40.7 million
Wang Yibo debuted in the entertainment industry as a singer and dancer in the South Korean and Chinese boy group, Uniq. 

Wang Yibo The Untamed 2019
Wang Yibo (present). As Lan Wangji in The Untamed (2019)

He made his acting debut in the romance film, MBA Partners, followed by A Chinese Odyssey 3 in the same year. 

Wang Yibo made his drama debut on television when he starred alongside Taiwanese actress Joe Chen and Chinese actor Tong Dawei, in the romance drama, Love Actually.

He shot to fame in 2019 after appearing in the hit xianxia drama, The Untamed, a drama adaptation of the BL novel, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, by MXTX. 

19. Xiao Zhan

  • Birthdate: October 5, 1991
  • English name: Sean Xiao
  • Education: Visual Art, Modern International Art Design Academy at Chongqing Technology and Business University
  • Drama debut: 2016
  • Popularity explosion: 2019 The Untamed (main role)
  • Weibo followers: 32.3 million
Xiao Zhan graduated in 2014 with a Visual Arts degree from the Modern International Art Design Academy and worked as a photographer and graphic designer.

Xiao Zhan The Untamed 2019
Xiao Zhan (present). As Wei Wuxian in The Untamed (2019)

In 2015, he participated in the reality show, X-Fire, where he trained to become a singer. He then debuted in 2016 as the main vocalist of the C-Pop boy group, X Nine.

Xiao Zhan debuted in acting in the 2016 youth drama, Super Star Academy, alongside Wang Yuwen, and shot to fame when he starred alongside Wang Yibo in the 2019 hit xianxia drama, The Untamed.

Is there any C-Drama stars you admire that you want to add in the list? You may add the names in the comment section. Thank you for reading!

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