Abstract Background Schisandra chinensis, an ancient member of the most basal angiosperm lineage which is known as the ANITA, is a fruit-bearing vine with the pharmacological effects of a multidrug system, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, anti-osteoporosis effects. Its major bioactive compound is represented by lignans such as schisandrin. Molecular characterization of lignan biosynthesis in S. chinensis is of great importance for improving the production of this class of active compound. However, the biosynthetic mechanism of schisandrin remains largely unknown. Results To understand the potential key catalytic steps and their regulation of schisandrin biosynthesis, we generated genome-wide transcriptome data from three different tissues of S. chinensis cultivar Cheongsoon, including leaf, root, and fruit, via long- and short-read sequencing technologies. A total of 132,856 assembled transcripts were generated with an average length of 1.9 kb and high assembly completeness. Overall, our data presented effective, accurate gene annotation in the prediction of functional pathways. In particular, the annotation revealed the abundance of transcripts related to phenylpropanoid biosynthesis. Remarkably, transcriptome profiling during fruit development of S. chinensis cultivar Cheongsoon revealed that the phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathway, specific to coniferyl alcohol biosynthesis, showed a tendency to be upregulated at the postfruit development stage. Further the analysis also revealed that the pathway forms a transcriptional network with fruit ripening-related genes, especially the ABA signaling-related pathway. Finally, candidate unigenes homologous to isoeugenol synthase 1 (IGS1) and dirigent-like protein (DIR), which are subsequently activated by phenylpropanoid biosynthesis and thus catalyze key upstream steps in schisandrin biosynthesis, were identified. Their expression was increased at the postfruit development stage, suggesting that they may be involved in the regulation of schisandrin biosynthesis in S. chinensis. Conclusions Our results provide new insights into the production and accumulation of schisandrin in S. chinensis berries and will be utilized as a valuable transcriptomic resource for improving the schisandrin content.