American Born Chinese: Is the Series Based on a Comic Book or a Novel?

Disney+’s ‘American Born Chinese‘ is an action-adventure fantasy series that revolves around two high school teens — Jin Wang and Wei-Chen. While the former struggles to juggle his school and home life, the latter is a new student who joins the school and changes Jin’s life. As Jin gets closer to Wei-Chen, he discovers that he is not of this world and gradually finds himself in an epic battle between the Gods of Chinese mythology.

Created by Kelvin Yu, the action comedy show might have various fantastical elements, but it is realistic in how it portrays the life of a high school student through the character of Jin. Through different episodes, the series tackles specific themes and subjects, including the typical struggles of a teenage boy’s life, which makes us wonder where the inspiration for the story came from. Well, let’s explore the same in detail, shall we?

American Born Chinese is Based on Gene Luen Yang’s Novel

‘American Born Chinese’ is based on an eponymous graphic novel written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. Despite the fantastical subject matter, he was heavily influenced by his real-life past experiences and accommodated them into different characters in the novel. The things Yang faced while growing up as part of an ethnic minority were quite similar to what Jin in the graphic novel goes through. “Like many of us, I experienced the most virulent bullying during my junior high years. And I also did my most virulent bullying during those same years. Like Jin, I was both bullied and a bully. And like Jin, I had to both forgive and seek forgiveness,” the author told Banana Writers.

Yang talked in length with CBR in late January 2023 about how being an Asian American felt like living in two different worlds at the same time, which is portrayed outlandishly in the novel and, consequently, the show, as several worlds collide. He explained, “It still feels like you are caught in between two different sets of cultural expectations, sometimes between two different languages, and sometimes even between two different names. When I was growing up, I had one name at school and another at home. Kids today who are immigrant kids that is still pretty common.”

So, the graphic novelist took inspiration from these experiences and built the plot around them. The adaptation from the novel to the fantasy series has been made smoothly as, just like the novel, the series also involves different worlds. However, some aspects are tweaked accordingly as the narrative translates into the realm of television. In the same CBR interview, Yang elaborated further on this topic.

“…There are three different worlds that are part of the television series, but they come together much sooner than they do in the book. Part of that is because of the demand for the medium. With television, with an eight-episode season, you need eight beginnings, middles, and ends. To pull them together a little bit earlier allows us to explore a lot more with those eight beginnings, middles, and ends,” the illustrator shared. Since the original graphic novel was based on his personal life experiences growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the showrunners had to update the story a bit.

During the early stages of the show’s production, Yang decided it would be better for the series to be set contemporarily in the 2020s. This is because many societal and cultural changes have transpired from the ’80s and ’90s until today, and obviously, they wanted to touch upon the current topics and subject matters. It was a fun challenge as they had to figure out how and where Asian America is in today’s world. So, it would be safe to say that despite basing the show on the eponymous graphic novel, ‘American Born Chinese’ offers the viewers its own twist and takes them on a spectacular visual journey.

Read More: Where is American Born Chinese Filmed?