Stories about protagonists who are overpowered from the start are refreshing subversions of the typical hero’s journey and training arcs seen in many shonen and isekai anime. The Daily Life of the Immortal King, recently renewed for a fourth season, is a Chinese donghua that not only adapts this genre but also pays tribute to many other series that popularized the OP main character trope, using humor and self-awareness as its secret weapon to make it stand out.
The Daily Life of the Immortal King is adapted from the ongoing novel and webcomic of the same name written by Kuxuan. First serialized in 2017, there are currently over 2,000 chapters, as well as distribution deals with Netflix, Funimation and Crunchyroll. The series follows Ling Wang, a powerful and immortal entity reborn as a human high schooler. While desperately trying to stay low and out of the spotlight, he cannot seem to escape the innate responsibility to save his friends, his love interest and the world from shadow factions, demon invasions and even himself.
The Daily Life of the Immortal King Is Both Inspired and Self-Aware
The Daily Life of the Immortal King‘s mix of fantasy, action and romance with a humorous tone ties all of its elements together as a satire of what can sometimes be an overworked story for the seasoned anime and donghua watcher. Because he is actually a generations-old “existence” with enough experience and power to make daily life in a magical society quite boring, most of the extended action is saved for the end of each season. After episodes of Ling casually defeating some of the factions’ biggest threats in brief spurts, fans are treated to all-out fight sequences with impressive animation that is coupled with the use of recurring musical themes. Otherwise, the show favors an inside look into the everyday struggles of Ling trying to coast through school, friendship and love without accidentally creating a tear in the fabric of time and space with his abilities.
As a donghua and manhwa series, the story is influenced by classic Chinese literature and cultivation genres, especially when it comes to Ling’s power status as being beyond that of the legendary mythological figure Sun Wukong from Journey to the West. Although it is not a Japanese animation, the show also appears to be heavily inspired by several anime genres and tropes, to the point where some viewers have accused the donghua of plagiarizing directly from other popular series. Perhaps the show that most resembles TDLOTIK is The Disastrous Life of Saiki K, as both feature a nonchalantly overpowered protagonist who just wants to live a quiet, unbothered life but is inconvenienced into breaking the fourth wall.
While it is clear that there are many similarities to other shonen and isekai anime titles, the show appears to be poking fun at such tropes rather than attempting to simply recreate generic narratives. This is apparent in the Season 1 trailer, which shows Ling fighting obvious ripoffs of other similar OP characters, such as Ainz Ooal Gown from Overlord, Saitama from One-Punch Man and Kusuo Saiki in an action sequence that dramatizes the actual slow-paced, slice-of-life nature of TDLOTIK’s episodes and its lack of an overarching plot.
Beyond the trailers, every season currently released is scattered with Easter eggs and references to anime, as well as prominent films and video games, such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan, Naruto, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Kill Bill, The Matrix, Monster Hunter and Assassin’s Creed, to name just a few. The explicit callbacks to these pop culture references further prove that the show is self-aware of its many influences. In this light, the show does not take itself too seriously and gives a refreshing break to the serious drama and action found in plenty of other mainstream media.
An essential part of TDLOTIK’s humor is its self-awareness. From the very first episode, a giant demon frog breaks the fourth wall by recognizing Ling’s background music, the proclamatory theme of Ling whenever he uses his abilities. With an Avengers-type use of musical leitmotifs, the show utilizes elements that are not often noticed by the average watcher as part of its meta-humor. Episode 11 of Season 2 shows Ling and Rong Sun changing animation styles from 2D to 3D and using higher frames, which is recognized by both characters as part of the episode’s conflict.
Perhaps the most jarring example of this meta-humor can be seen in the previous standalone episode, in which the main cast visits an animation studio that’s working on TDLOTIK itself. As they struggle to learn the real intricacies and problems prevalent in the industry, their own animation and world is affected by each mistake. With this degree of self-referential humor and attention to the writing, music and animation, there is no doubt that this show’s creative decisions are intentional.
While some viewers have complained about the lack of focus and cohesive plot that strays from the novel, the donghua adaptation offers a level of seriousness when it comes to foreshadowing and continuity with the small details. Important characters from Season 2 strategically appear in frame in Season 1, side villains left over from Season 2 become a more prevalent focus in Season 3 and so on. The framework for fantastical world-building and cultivation logic remains, while the comedy uplifts the series so that the show and fans alike can enjoy themselves rather than invest in the same old story reworked. This is a series that requires viewers to relinquish preconceived expectations of popular genres and tropes in order to enjoy it in its entirety without fully sacrificing its quality. For that, it stands out among other similar series.