It's hard to keep up with the latest trends in K-dramas and K-pop, not to mention culture overall. It seems like every day – sometimes even every hour – there's something new that comes out of South Korea that people just can't get enough of. Just think about Squid Game in 2021. Now we will check the best Korean novels in English. 

Now it's time to learn about the next wave of Korean culture: their literature. Just as we were glued to our TV screens watching K-dramas, we now have an entire library full of captivating stories in the form of books. Just a few years ago, no one would've thought of the concept that reading can be so much fun and exciting too!

We collected some of the best Korean novels in English, authentic stories that will touch your heart, written by creative authors who will surely make you ponder things differently.

XOXO, by Axie Oh (2021)

(YA, MG, Romance, Romcom)

Jenni doesn't usually have much time for boys, K-pop and other frivolities. She's focused on pursuing her dream of becoming a professional cellist. But when she meets up with a mysterious man in Los Angeles, Jenni finds herself falling more and more for him in spite of the fact he's about to leave for Seoul – 14 hours away by plane.

Finding someone who is completely into you isn’t just rare, but also a dream. But Jaewoo is no typical student. Turns out, he’s a member of one of the most popular K-pop bands in the world and like most K-pop idols, Jaewoo is forbidden from dating anyone because it may jeopardize their career especially for groups that promote together as the last position usually falls to whoever dates either formally or informally.

This book is brilliant. Full of friendship, hard times, and romance which makes a great K-drama book. You’ll laugh at it and cry with it, but after reading this you can’t help but feel nourished inside because in the end everything works out.

Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin (2011)

(Emotional Women's fiction)

The story takes place on a crowded subway station during rush hour. The heroine is Mija whose mother, Honja, is suddenly missing in the crowd she was last seen near the exit 5. Then everyone starts to search for Mija's mother and then we find out that the story is about how Mija and her mother changed each other very much in a few years.

This Korean novel took my breath away and left me crying. Every parent should read this book even it's heartbreaking. It has the potential to change the way you look at your children. There really are not enough good things I can say about it.

Wicked Fox, by Kat Cho (2019)

(Contemporary Romance, YA)

Teenager Miyoung thinks she's got it made: she has a great life, loving parents, and a bright future ahead of her. That is until one day when she starts to notice strange things about herself. It turns out she's a daughter of gumiho, a nine-tailed fox daemon. She realizes that being human isn't all it's cracked up to be and that there are dark forces out there doing everything they can to destroy her happiness.

With enemies assassinating with both the lights out and in the open, Minyoung develops a trusted bond with Jihoon to fight back. But when a new shaman seeks to steal Miyoung's bead, consequences will spark an age-long feud forcing Minyoung to choose between immortality or giving up on Jihoon.

Korean English novels could be charming, this is exactly the case with Wicked Fox, you will love this K-drama book and it's twists.

My Brilliant Life, by Ae-ran Kim (2021)

(Family life fiction)

My Brilliant Life by Ae-ran Kim presents a touching story of family bonds, the strong emotional ties that connect and strengthen relationships between people, even among those not necessarily related by blood.

Kim’s story follows the intertwined pasts and presents of an extended family, telling their stories as Areum remembers them from his childhood, as told to him by his parents. The ongoing narrative uses present day scenes to add historical context to these tales.

The story of Aerum, a little boy born with an accelerated aging disorder. His parents were both very young when they had him and he was the youngest baby in his town. However, he is full of joy and possibilities and his story is so inspirational because it's life affirming.

My Brilliant Life is definitely one of the best Korean novel in English.

Human Acts, by Han Kang (2017)

(Mystery, Thriller, Suspense)

There are many books that have been written about the Korean War (1950-1953) and its aftermath. The story of the Gwangju Uprising is often overlooked, tucked between two larger historical events. Han Kang's The Vegetarian is a novel that lays the events of the Uprising bare, and the result is a horrifically beautiful story. In this new novel of Han Kang, Human Acts starts with the violent death of a 15 year old Dong-ho in 1980. This event changes the very life of people who knew Dong-ho.

This is an intense, heart-breaking story. It tells the tale of an incident that is best forgotten by the South Korean people. With the story told through the eyes of many different people, it really adds to the humanity of the situation. The characters are strong and the story will definitely make you think.

Nowhere to Be Found, by Bae Suah (2015)

(Metaphysical fiction)

This book is a gem. It’s a tough read at times but it’s worth it. Similar to Fight Club (in a good way), I love that the main character is a female. I also love how the structure of the story feels like you’re getting to know her through flashbacks and memories.

The author did a great job to dig deep into the human psyche, definitely worth a read if you’re looking for a thought provoking read. It's one of the most authentic Korean novels in English.

Diary of a Murderer: And Other Stories, by Kim Young-ha (2019)

(Dark fiction, Short Story Collection)

Kim Byeongsu is starting to lose his mind. He keeps forgetting small details important in life such as remembering how to say basic words, whether or not he has a dog and the last time he killed someone.

In dark and violent tales, two teenagers struggle with their loyalty towards one another when their friendship turns romantic; a family disintegrates following the kidnapping of a child years ago, who is then recovered without incident; and an overtly imaginative pursuit of creativity threatens to tear down the barriers that once kept its possessor safe from danger.

This was an interesting book of short stories, several of which received literary awards. The English used was very accessible and at times some of the terms used were quirky, but hard to bring the Korean atmosphere perfectly to English readers.

The Plotters, by Un-su Kim (2019)

(Thriller, Crime, Action & Adventure)

A Korean- based suspense novel, written by a new author who has created a charming, yet exciting masterpiece that will capture you and keep you awake at night.

Pawns are the people who decide to roll with whatever happens in their quest for survival. There’re those pawns who just do what they’re told like the plotters we spoke about earlier and there’s others who take matters into their own hands and rise above it all like a bishop on a chessboard instead of simply going along for the ride. However, if you try to kill the king/queen or other main character like a kingmaker, you'll only discover that there's another queen/king and so on up the chain because control is ultimately an illusion.

the setting of this book’s story is Korea, and the book’s main protagonist is a young man named Reseng. He’s an orphan who doesn’t know his past because he was taken in by The Old Raccoon. The Old Raccoon ostensibly runs a library which is really the secret headquarters of an organized criminal gang known as The Library.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, by Axie Oh (2022)

(YA, Mythological retelling, Fantasy)

Axie Oh's The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a phenomenal tale based on Shim Cheong that weaves an emotional and deeply affecting story of self-discovery.

Many believe that Shimcheong, the beautiful maiden of their village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—could be the legendary true bride. But on the night Shimcheong was to be sacrificed, instead Joon followed Cheong out to sea despite the deep consequences that awaited him. To save her brother, Mina threw herself into the water in Shimcheong’s stead.

Best Korean novels in English end thought

These were the best Korean books translated. Either you are a fan of K-dramas or simply enjoyed the cultural atmosphere of Netflix movies, you will find a thriller or romance in the above list, that will extend the feeling of Korean storytelling. If you interested in more K-crime books check our recommendations for Squid Game fans.

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