three-body problem tv series tencent video

How to Watch the Three-Body Problem Tencent TV Show for Free (All the Episodes Available So Far)

Anxious to see how Netflix will adapt The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu’s scifi book that spawned an international phenomenon?

The Netflix The Three-Body Problem TV show will launch at the end of this year but there’s a Chinese-made The Three-Body Problem TV series available right now – and here’s what you need to know about this cdrama, especially if it’s the first Chinese drama you watch. 

Tencent’s Three-Body Problem TV series is a cdrama that will have 30 episodes. Many are available now, anywhere in the world, for a modest fee, while the first episodes are free. First off, don’t confuse this adaptation with another Chinese one from Bilibili, because that one is terrible. I won’t go into details about why the Bilibili Three-Body Problem show is a skip, not a watch, because this article is all about the fantastic Tencent show.

But first, some context about the book.

As previously reported, the Three-Body Problem Tencent series promises to be very faithful to the book. In case you didn’t read the book, the basic idea is this: What if physics isn’t real?

That’s a heavy question but it’s probably one of the lighter ones in the book, which isn’t by any means an easy read and will require you to follow along with some difficult physics concepts, as well as some moral dillemas.

The Three-Body Problem book poses two chilling hypotheses and follows them to the bitter end:

When the members of the Frontiers of Science discussed physics, they often used the abbreviation “SF.” They didn’t mean “science fiction,” but the two words “shooter” and “farmer.” This was a reference to two hypotheses, both involving the fundamental nature of the laws of the universe.

In the shooter hypothesis, a good marksman shoots at a target, creating a hole every ten centimeters. Now suppose the surface of the target is inhabited by intelligent, two-dimensional creatures. Their scientists, after observing the universe, discover a great law: “There exists a hole in the universe every ten centimeters.” They have mistaken the result of the marksman’s momentary whim for an unalterable law of the universe.

The farmer hypothesis, on the other hand, has the flavor of a horror story: Every morning on a turkey farm, the farmer comes to feed the turkeys. A scientist turkey, having observed this pattern to hold without change for almost a year, makes the following discovery: “Every morning at eleven, food arrives.” On the morning of Thanksgiving, the scientist announces this law to the other turkeys. But that morning at eleven, food doesn’t arrive; instead, the farmer comes and kills the entire flock.

Tantalizing, right?

This is what The Three-Body Problem book is about – at least in the beginning. This is the first book in a trilogy signed by Cixin Liu, an author that can rightly be called a titan of scifi literature, joining the ranks of Asimov, Heinlein or Ellison.

And the adaptation, the Tencent version, is incredibly faithful. This is a scifi series that’s cerebral, not flashy. While it does have some special effects, it doesn’t go for cheap action and thrills like most modern scifi. Instead, it develops at a slow pace, leaving you to ponder about the farmer and the shooter hypothesis and to undergo a terrifying journey alongside its characters. What if we are turkeys and physics isn’t real? The Tencent Three-Body Problem series explores this scenario with lots of care for the source material – something rare in Western adaptations.

Fans are already celebrating it, including yours truly, who has only read the first book of the trilogy so far. The show currently running on Tencent Video, a streaming service available in China, but surprisingly so, you can also watch it for free on YouTube.

You can watch The Three-Body Problem show made by Tencent with subtitles here. The best part? It has English subtitles and they’re very well done, so you won’t miss a thing.

If you look at the praise in the comments and the 8.7 score on IMDB, it’s clear Tencent Video has a hit on their hands and it will be interesting to see how Netflix will differentiate its own offerings.

Directed by Lei Yang and adapted by Liangliang Tian, the Tencent version of Three-Body Problem stars Luyi Zhang as Wang Miao, Kenan Heppe as Mike Evans, Hewei Yu as Shi Qiang, Xiaoran Li as Sheng Yufei, and Ji Chen as Ye Wenjie among others.

What is amazing and a new concept for Western audiences, who are used to shows having limited runs of only 10 episodes, is the fact that The Three-Body Problem from Tencent dedicates 30 whole episodes for just the first book alone.

That means that not only they have a faithful adaptation, dedicating an entire 40 minute episode for every 10 pages of the Three-Body Problem book, but they can also expand on the plot or introduce new characters.

However, this also poses a problem for those unused to watching cdramas: lots of filler content. Whereas Netflix’s Three-Body Problem will probably be a wham-bam adventure that skips and condenses lots of storylines to keep the show catchy, this one spends a looot of time on character reactions. To actually reach those 40 minutes of content from such a small book, Tencent did use plenty of filler, keeping character reaction shots and some scenes unnecessarily long, and, in some cases, reusing footage. And yes, the English-speaking characters are cringeworthy but really, how well does Hollywood depict foreign countries and accents?

Most people who stopped watching Tencent’s Three-Body Problem did so because of that slow pacing but trust me, hang on for three or four episodes and you’ll be hooked. It’s unusual to see a series where a plot developments happen in the after scenes but, even though you might be new to cdrama, try to keep watching and you’ll be rewarded.

Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem book is one of the most revolutionary scifi series to come out in decades and, while the show might feel slow-paced, it’s clear the creators wanted to remain faithful to the pensieve mood and vision established by the book.

What’s amazing is that the Three-Body Problem Tencent adaptation doesn’t stray at all for the source material and even includes the Cultural Revolution critique from the book. If you read the book, you probably wondered if the Three-Body Problem Cultural Revolution content, a biting showcase of everything that went wrong in China’s new ideology, was cut from the series. No, Tencent’s Three Body Problem adaptation didn’t cut that content, they just use it in flashbacks later on in the series. It might seem like a risky move considering the political climate but they deserve applause for keeping this context.

Without further ado, here are the two episodes of the Three-Body Problem you can watch for free. If you enjoy them, you can subscribe to Tencent Video on YouTube and get all the rest of the episodes for free. In our part of the world, subscribing is about $2 per month, so that’s an incredible deal to watch so much content.

All 30 Three-Body Problem episodes are already out. As was the case with most cdramas, new episodes dropped almost daily, which was a fantastic way to be engaged with this story.

While the makers did shy away from the heavy political content featured in the beginning of the book and tried to simplify some moral dillemas, especially at the end of the Three-Body Problem first season, I personally found it an incredible series nonetheless.

If you like these first free episodes, please consider paying for a subscription for the rest of them, as the show makers did say that a season 2 of Three-Body Problem will only happen if this first one is profitable. Considering that Dark Forest, the sequel, is a much heavier story and will need a bigger budget for special effects, it will take a lot of support from fans to persuade investors to pursue it. Depending on the region, it costs no more than $3-$5 to watch the first season of Three-Body Problem. If you can afford to, please show some support for this series, since it was clearly a labor of love.

Three-Body Problem Episode 1

Three-Body Problem Episode 2

Did you watch Tencent’s Three-Body Problem adaptation? Share your impressions below, I’d love to hear more from both book fans and newcomers to this fantastic universe.

Also read: Upcoming Scifi Movies In 2023: The Franchises We’re Most Excited About

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How to Watch the Three-Body Problem Tencent TV Show for Free (All the Episodes Available So Far)


  1. haazzmat

    February 8, 2023 at 6:02 am

    Thinking that “what if physics isn’t real” is the main idea shows that you probably haven’t read the book.

    • Ana Dascalescu

      February 24, 2023 at 1:46 pm

      I read it but that was just a way to present the biggest mistery in the first season, since it gets resolved by episode 20 or so. It’s hard to talk about the story without spoiling it for newcomers, since the show moves so slowly. What did you think about the first season?

  2. Roc

    February 25, 2023 at 12:21 pm

    So I have loved this show and am new to Chinese TV too. I had never even contemplated a 30 episode series! Unfortunately on YouTube it’s ruined by ads. YouTube seem to think it’s better to have frequent short ads rather than maybe 2 or 3 breaks of 4mins etc. The placement of the ads and frequency really destroy the show being fully absorbed. I realise for £12 I can be ad free, but it’s not clear if it would also get rid of the Chinese adverts too. There’s one permanently on the bottom left of screen, one for a meal that seems to be served in a cup and then there’s one from Intel Evo, which to be fair was quite good at first (seems to have 3body cast in it) but as it’s the longest of any advert from YouTube or china it’s become the bain of my viewing. As the ads are in Chinese I can’t understand why they weren’t cut from YouTube and so I’m not spending £12 just to find I am still going to get adverts that someone somewhere couldn’t be bothered to remove from the original transmission.

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