With more and more Asian authors getting their stories published, it’s becoming harder to figure out which books to pick up first. From Asian-inspired fantasy to literary fiction starring all-Asian casts, there’s certainly something for every kind of reader!
Hopefully, this curated list of recommendations can help you figure out where to start and which Asian authors belong on your immediate TBR list.
Related: 10 Impactful Books by Diverse Voices
Adult Books by Asian Authors
The Ghost Bride
One thing I’ve noticed about Asian authors is that their works tend to blur the distinctions between established genres, sometimes redefining them altogether. In simpler words, they’re genre game-changers. An excellent example is Choo’s The Ghost Bride, which effortlessly blends historical, supernatural, and mystery elements into one unforgettable tale.
Caught between history and fantasy, this book explores the sleepy port towns of British-ruled Malaya and the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife. Choo’s lush writing style effectively complements the dreamy, otherworldly ambiance in The Ghost Bride. Evocative and lyrical, this one’s a must-read.
Ghost of a Feeling
I read Trinidad’s debut novel three years ago, and it still haunts my memories in the best way possible. Ghost of a Feeling is a contemporary romance between a depressed medical student and a guy pretending to be a ghost. Beyond their heartwarming love story, this novel also takes on the harsh reality of mental health struggles and the terrible repercussions of denying people the help and support that they need.
Trinidad writes so beautifully, and she has a natural knack at evoking emotional responses from readers. So, it comes as no surprise that Ghost of a Feeling had me sobbing my eyes out and reaching for tissues! If you’re in the mood for a love story that is quiet, delicate, and earnest, this is the right book to pick up.
Does a perfect adult fantasy exist? Yes, and it’s called Jade City.
Set in an Asia-inspired metropolis on the cusp of industrial progress, two feuding clans grapple for power through blood, violence, and economic influence. With the assistance of mystical jade, its users can have superhuman abilities – provided that they have the right training, of course.
Jade City offers magic, martial arts, and mayhem in one explosive literary masterpiece! Lee demonstrates masterful prowess in building fantastical worlds, raising risks and stakes, and writing action-packed duels. There’s not much else that I can say other than: read this now or regret it for the rest of your life.
The Wolf of Oren-yaro
What does it mean to be a strong woman? Villoso’s adult fantasy debut does a phenomenal job in dismantling our idea of what a fierce, strong female character looks like.
Burdened by the expectations that come with being a mother, wife, and ruler of her people, Talyien leaves the relative safety of her throne in an attempt to reunite her kingdom. However, the world beyond is determined to break her.
Drawing inspiration from pre-colonial Philippines, The Wolf of Oren-yaro spins a highly addictive tale about a widely feared and hated queen. It also delves into the obstacles faced by women in positions of power, as well as the complexities of politics and marginalization. If you’re in search of a thrilling feminist fantasy novel, there’s no need to look further!
Young Adult Books by Asian Authors
A Spark of White Fire
How can I even begin to describe this spectacular, genre-defying space opera? Set in a universe where kingdoms are built on spaceships and gods are infuriatingly meddlesome, A Spark of White Fire is more than equipped to take its readers on an emotionally gripping ride.
Readers are bound to enjoy everything that this book has to offer: astronomically high stakes, heavy influences from Mahabharata and other Indian folklore, political schemes, moral ambiguity, and complicated family dynamics. Above everything else, Esmae is a force to be reckoned with – and a fierce heroine to root for!
Mandanna holds nothing back in her first installment of what’s shaping up to be a hard-hitting sci-fi trilogy. A Spark of White Fire is perfect for readers who enjoy fast-paced plots, revenge-driven characters, and interstellar warfare.
The Girl from the Well
It’s no secret that Rin Chupeco is my all-time favorite author. No curated list of book recommendations from me could ever be complete without me highlighting one of their books. While I wholeheartedly love everything that they’ve written, I think that their debut novel, The Girl from the Well, makes an excellent starting point.
Who exactly is the girl from the well? Okiku is a teenage ghost who seeks to kill serial child abusers, rapists, and murderers. And her story kicks off with meeting a strange boy bearing equally strange tattoos.
Told in Chupeco’s atmospheric writing style and masterful wordsmithing, The Girl from the Well promises a haunting horror story that’s not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend picking this up if you don’t feel like sleeping for a few days.
Patron Saints of Nothing
Contemporary stories about the Asian diaspora experience are undeniably important. If you clicked on this article in the hopes of finding one, look no further: Patron Saints of Nothing is your perfect match.
As a Filipino-American teen who grew up in the States, Jay’s decision to travel to the Philippines impacts him in ways that he never anticipated. While he searches for the truth about his cousin’s murder, Jay also discovers complex feelings inside himself, including a deep-seated, inexplicable connection to his homeland.
Patron Saints of Nothing is a coming-of-age story about grief, justice, and identity. But it is also a careful examination of the privileges afforded by those living in diaspora, the horrible realities within the homeland, and the full implications of embracing your cultural roots.
Shadow of the Fox
Growing up, Julie Kagawa’s books were my lifeline. Amidst a seemingly endless sea of young, impressionable readers obsessing over Twilight, The Selection, and The Mortal Instruments, I latched onto her adventure-filled fantasy series, The Iron Fey. While all her books hold a special place in my heart, I truly believe that Shadow of the Fox outshines them all.
Perfect for avid fans of anime and magical quests, Shadow of the Fox tells the tale of Yumeko, a half-kitsune girl who must hide her yokai nature. When she is suddenly tasked to carry her temple’s greatest treasure, Yumeko makes an uneasy alliance with the notorious demon slayer, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan, who has been instructed to retrieve the very scroll she’s trying to protect.
Filled with mischief, fox magic, and mayhem, this modern Japanese work breathes new life to popular literary tropes, such as the classic hero’s journey. For a fun and immersive reading experience, make sure Shadow of the Fox is on your radar!
Middle Grade Books by Asian Authors
A Wish in the Dark
Have you ever heard of the popular saying: all that glitters is not gold? Drawing inspiration from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, this debut novel is set in a bright, picturesque Thai-inspired fantasy world – one teeming with magical lights that took my breath away! But underneath its brilliant façade lurks injustice, cruelty, and misfortune. Especially for the poorest citizens in Chattana.
Soontornvat excels in giving her readers a transportive experience. Her writing style is simple but gets the job done in an almost effortless way. She’s definitely one to watch – and to read!
Told in dual perspectives from two children who believe that their loyalties lie on opposing sides, A Wish in the Dark is a hopeful story about friendship, justice, and freedom. If you’re in the mood for a fantastical tale that fills your insides with warmth and light, then this might be your perfect match.
The Dragon Warrior
Perfect for fans of Percy Jackson and Chinese mythology, The Dragon Warrior is a contemporary fantasy that centers on twelve-year-old Faryn Liu who learns that she just might be a fabled powerful warrior destined for greatness.
From its compelling cast of young characters to its adventure-filled quests, there’s truly so much to enjoy about Zhao’s debut. It also offers many nods to Chinese culture and loving messages for diaspora kids, especially those who are still exploring their identities.
Wonderfully fun and comedic, Zhao’s authentic voice shines most brightly in this book’s humor. I had such a blast! The Dragon Warrior is sure to ignite any young reader’s sense of mischief and adventure, all while teaching them about duty, belonging, and courage.
My Fate According to the Butterfly
Unlike my first two middle-grade recommendations, this one’s a bit more harrowing. Following a young superstitious girl who spots a black butterfly – an omen of death, according to Filipino superstition – and believes that she only has one week left to reunite her family, Villanueva’s debut novel delves into a larger narrative than Sab’s self-proclaimed doom: the terrifying government-sanctioned war on drugs in the Philippines.
Despite its ominous premise, the story in My Fate According to the Butterfly is ultimately heartwarming. Although Sab discovers difficult and dangerous truths, she also learns how to overcome her fears and to take fate into her own hands.
Villanueva proves to be an expert in thoughtfully portraying lived experiences and contemporary issues in a way that can be understood and appreciated by younger readers. Her dissection of privilege, colorism, and colonial mentality is as unapologetic as her pride in Filipino cuisine. Through Sab’s innocent eyes and own naivety, Villanueva delivers a moving story that is both incredibly bleak and cautiously hopeful. I absolutely recommend My Fate According to the Butterfly with all my Filipino heart!
The Girl and the Ghost
A delightful blend of paranormal horror and contemporary, Alkaf’s middle-grade debut follows the powerful friendship between a young girl and her ghostly companion named Pink. When Pink’s dark nature threatens them both, Suraya must solve the mystery of her companion’s past to survive.
The Girl and the Ghost reads like a real folktale passed from one generation to another, a story that has stood the test of time. Alkaf’s writing is authentic and enticing, effectively creating an atmosphere of nostalgia for young readers to immerse themselves in.
Shealea Iral is a 20-something-year-old Filipino reader who likes sunflowers, research, and diverse books. She is the brain and heart behind Shut up, Shealea, which is a personal blog that is focused on literary, media, and lifestyle content. Her other passion projects include the Asian Bookish Creators Directory, Caffeine Book Tours, and Year of the Asian Reading Challenge.