The rich history and intriguing culture of Korea have made both the North and South parts of the country incredibly popular settings when it comes to writing a book, especially considering just how many different locations and environments can be found while traveling across its enormous landmass.
While Korean films, tv shows, and pop music have all seen an astronomical rise in popularity over the last decade or so, this fascination has also led many people to read more novels based in Korea so that they can learn more about the country while also enjoying a new and engaging story at the same time.
The good news is that many authors have decided to base their books in certain locations across Korea, to the point where it can be a little hard to decide which books are most worth your time, and which are guaranteed to give you the most honest and interesting insight into Korea as a place.
Therefore, we’ve put together a list just below of the 23 very best books based in Korea that you can jump into as soon as you finish reading this.
23 Best Books About Korea You Should Read
Whether it’s a crime thriller set in the dark and glamorous streets of Seoul, a tourists personal adventure through the vibrant and quaint Korean countryside, or a tale that takes us back in time to the most important points of Korean history, we have compiled a wide range of different books to choose from, so that you can find a story which is just right for you.
Ever since she became a gumiho, or a nine-tailed fox, all Gu Miyoung has known is survival, especially because her kind isn’t exactly admired by the locals who only ever heard of the mystical creature in old and fairly disturbing fairy tales.
In order to live, Gu must feed on the energy of men, with the dark streets of Seoul being her regular hunting ground, but when she runs into Jihoon, a charming young man who seems a lot different from all the other greedy and ignorant men she had hunted before, her life would never be the same from that point onwards.
- A lot of references to East Asian folktales and mythology.
- All terminology is clearly explained by the author.
- The dark and murky streets of Seoul are very atmospheric.
- The relationship between Gu and Jihoon feels very real and organic.
- Many characters outside of the main duo feel very flat.
Love In The Big City is a novel that has been praised by pretty much every critic out there, with the story of a fun-loving Korean student and his struggle between innocence and chaos gripping readers from the very first page.
A cocktail of excitement and raw emotion, this is an exciting novel set in the glamorous streets of Seoul that is guaranteed to leave an impression on you by the time you reach the final page.
- Plenty of very vibrant characters.
- Colorful writing makes the story fun and exciting.
- Multiple different parts of Seoul are visited in the story.
- A big lack of tension and high stakes.
Many of the characters in The Good Son are introduced very gradually rather than being shown to us all at once, and it allows this crime-thriller story to remain exciting and engaging as we are constantly guessing what is going to happen next, while also slowly learning what happened all those years ago.
After his mother is murdered in cold blood at the bottom of their Seoul complex, Yu-jin tries to uncover how she was killed while also piecing together what role he played in all this as we take a deeper look into his mysterious and compelling backstory.
- A brilliant character study of a twisted main protagonist.
- The story is full of unexpected and satisfying plot twists.
- Great characterization.
- Not every plot thread is answered by the end.
Neo Seoul is a city unlike any other you will find on earth.
After a great war in the year 2199 turned many countries in the world to ruin, Lee Jaewon hopes to make a name for himself and find a purpose for his life in Neo Seoul, with the dreams of one day being a pilot of a God Machine, one of the deadliest robots in the militaries arsenal.
Axie Oh’s depiction of a futuristic cyberpunk Seoul is described in incredible detail, and it only works to compliment the incredibly quirky characters in this enthralling story about finding success during dark and depressing periods.
- A very uplifting and hopeful story full of emotion.
- Neo Seoul is an incredibly fun futuristic setting.
- The pacing remains strong throughout.
- Not every character is given lots of development.
Frances Cha takes an incredibly honest look at the impossibly high beauty standards that many women in South Korea try to reach, and how it damages a person’s self-confidence and sense of reality as we follow Kyuri, a woman who has undergone many surgeries in order to secure a comfortable job in a room salon.
As she begins to experience the consequences of her decision, the story becomes ever more engaging with there being multiple personal stories packed into this one book which are all beautifully told in their own ways.
- The story is a very honest insight into the negative impact of high beauty standards.
- All the characters feel grounded and believable.
- Different perspectives keep the book fresh and interesting.
- The comedy can feel slightly awkward in serious moments.
B and Rang have been inseparable for most of their lives with the two close friends finding comfort in one another after losing their parents and becoming known as the classic duo in school that all the teachers had been ordered to keep an eye on.
When Rang reveals a little too much personal information about her friend and the two don’t see eye to eye, they decide to go their separate ways, but when they both experience the harsh reality of the world around them and decide to reunite, things might have changed a little too much since the last time they saw each other.
- Beautifully written coming-of-age story.
- B and Rang are both very fun and engaging characters.
- Every location feels full of life and exciting.
- The pacing is very inconsistent.
- A lot of the side characters are absent for much of the story.
This bestselling historical novel is based on the Korean island of Jeju during a decade-long period of Japanese colonialism starting in the early 1930s.
We follow a group of women who have all been living together as best friends for nearly their entire lives, but as the world around them begins to spiral into conflict, so does their intimate friendship.
This novel is a sheer joy for fans of history, with the plot moving through the Second World War and the Korean War, though that doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t still elegantly written, just make sure to bring a box of tissues when reading this one.
- The book is full of honest and respectable depictions of Korean history.
- A beautifully written story about maintaining relationships as an adult.
- An incredibly emotional and memorable story.
- The lack of twists can make the story very predictable at points.
The Hole may be only 200 pages long, but the amount of emotion and intensity Hye-young Pyun manages to fit into such a small book is simply outstanding.
The story is centered around the life of Ogi, a man who has just woken up from a life-threatening car accident and has been told that his wife didn’t make it.
When his stubborn mother-in-law takes it upon herself to move in with and take care of Ogi now that he can’t move and can barely speak, he struggles with his feelings of guilt and loneliness, making for a very human tale about our worries and fears of isolation.
- Ogi is a very sympathetic and relatable main protagonist.
- A very interesting narrative on family bonds within Korean culture.
- The story is very short yet still packed with content.
- A very quick and memorable read.
- The setting of the book feels isolated and limited.
As multiple assassination guilds compete to dominate the market in a futuristic depiction of Seoul, many of those who work in these guilds are trained to be cold and heartless killers, devoid of any emotion, and that includes Reseng.
However, when Reseng defies the rules of his guild and falls into a criminal plot involving three young women, he begins to discover his own consciousness and moral compass as he gradually starts to take agency over his mind, and the world around him in this cyberpunk crime thriller.
- Incredible worldbuilding of the futuristic depiction of Seoul.
- Reseng is a very complex and compelling character.
- The story provides a great mix of action scenes and intimate moments.
- The first few chapters move very slowly.
After Jung’s boyfriend of seven years calls off their relationship so that he can get with another woman, she begins to sink into a severe depression and even loses her passion for the one thing she loved even more than her boyfriend, cooking.
After having closed down her cooking school and giving up on her dream of becoming a world-class chef, Jung attempts to revive her love for food and cooking while also hatching the perfect plan of revenge to get back at her ex, one meal at a time.
- A beautiful story with a very relatable protagonist.
- The revenge plot is incredibly enticing and mysterious.
- A lot of delicious descriptions of recipes and Korean cuisine.
- The quality of the dialogue is quite inconsistent.
The High School Beauty Murder is a crime that rocked Korea while it was in the middle of hosting the 2002 World Cup.
After seventeen years, only two people were ever suspected of the gruesome murder, and while no evidence was found to ever prove them guilty, many people continue to suffer as a result of what happened that day.
That includes Da-on, the younger sister of the victim who has been pulling together all the pieces she can find to unravel what happened back in 2002 in this thrilling and suspenseful novel full of twists, turns, and surprises.
- The story effortlessly switches between different protagonists.
- Many different areas of Korea are explored.
- All the subplots are interesting and relevant to the wider plot.
- A few too many cliffhangers ruin the suspense.
In a story that spans several different generations of a single family and multiple time periods, we follow Areum, a wide-eyed young man who has loved listening to his parent’s stories ever since he was a child and has decided to create a manuscript of all his relative’s memories and stories in the hopes of presenting it as a loving gift to his mother and father.
Each time Areum is told a story by a member of his family, we are immediately transported to that memory along with him, and with such a range of different tales that are told throughout the book, from the action-packed to the downright heartbreaking, this is a heartfelt book about the passing of time and family bonds that you won’t want to pass on.
- Multiple different stories and memories make the story fresh and exciting.
- Plenty of references to crucial periods in Korean history.
- A very in-depth exploration of how families pass down experience.
- The ending is incredibly emotional and memorable.
- Many subplots aren’t as interesting as the main plot.
Candace Park is a Korean-American girl who has admired K-pop ever since she was a baby uttering her first words, and once she is given the opportunity to debut in a Korean girl group, she immediately packs her bags and heads straight for Seoul.
However, while things are going smoothly at first and the group begins to surge in popularity, they soon grow closer to a boy band that is part of the same K-pop company, ensuing a comedic and at times very serious and emotional romantic story that grants a fascinating peek behind the scenes at the business side of K-pop.
- A very unique look at the companies and businesses behind K-pop groups.
- Plenty of quirky and colorful dialogue keeps the characters interesting.
- Some very emotional and heartbreaking backstories.
- The romance is well-paced and feels very organic.
- Not many areas outside of Seoul are explored.
Goh Junja may be a sea-village girl, carrying on her family’s legacy of deep-sea diving, but when she looks up at the glistening stars at night, the only thing on her mind is visiting Mt. Halla, a mystical area up in the mountains where the people have been said to trade sea delicacies for pork.
When her mother finally agrees to take her, Goh is immediately smitten by the rough but good-intentioned mountain boy Yang Suwol.
However, with Yang now missing and her mother dead, Goh spirals into a deep spiral of depression, holding onto the hope that she will one day reunite with her love, no matter what person he has become since they last saw each other.
- The book manages to remain tense and suspenseful from beginning to end.
- Every character experiences their own personal journey.
- Many different periods of Korean history are explored.
- The constant switching between the past and present can create confusion.
With the entire story taking place over a night and a day in the scorching Seoul summer heat, Bae Suah manages to pack so much into this short story that it makes for one of the most enjoyable and memorable quick-reads that you can pick up right now.
The entire plot is based around Kim Ayami, a worker in Seoul’s only audio theater for the blind who ends up searching for a missing friend with her boss, looking after a mysterious poet, and losing her own sense of reality, all over the course of a few eventful hours.
- A story that will stay with you long after you finish it.
- The fast pacing keeps the story engaging.
- So many unexpected twists throughout the story.
- An honest narrative on the social support for blind people in Korea.
- A lot of the more complex terminology is not explained clearly.
After experiencing horrific nightmares that she can’t seem to shake off, Yeong-hye announces that she has made the decision to stop eating meat altogether, much to the surprise of her husband and family.
However, she quickly begins to fall into a bizarre estrangement, having obscure dreams and even visions that she tries to keep hidden from those closest to her, but how much of this obscure personal torment is she willing to endure before it becomes too much?
- Yeong-hye is an incredibly compelling character who feels relatable in many ways.
- The ending is extremely unexpected and unique.
- Very prominent themes of loneliness and feeling like an outcast.
- Plenty of characters who all get a good amount of development.
- Some parts can be needlessly gory and off-putting for some readers.
Said by many to be one of the most beautifully written novels ever to come out of Korea, Lost Names is a story all about finding hope in the darkest of times, whether it be through a family bond, or through the passion and patriotism for a country.
Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War 2, the entire story follows the journey of a single impoverished Korean family trying to stay alive and escape captivity as Japanese soldiers patrol their village streets with each family member learning to find comfort and happiness in one another, despite the fact that their country is crumbling around them.
- A heartbreaking story full of hopeful and inspiring moments.
- Beautiful use of prose and metaphors.
- Many references to Korean mythology.
- Some of the more gruesome sections can be off-putting for some readers.
After the king’s governor is convicted of treason against the heavy-handed ruler of Korea, he and his entire family are sentenced to be executed.
In an attempt to escape their cruel fate, each member of the family disguises themselves within society, becoming street vendors and market workers, all of them except for the youngest son who has held onto his dream of becoming a famous Korean poet.
Unwilling to be separated from his passion, even if he is a wanted man, the man’s mother sees the young poet as the family’s only hope of restoring them to their once well-respected social position, but this is a task that is soon found to be more lonely, difficult, and dangerous than anyone could have anticipated.
- The stakes always feel high and life-threatening.
- Plenty of political drama and intrigue.
- The story puts a big focus on social and class relations within Korea.
- Incredibly beautiful descriptions of the Korean countryside.
- Some characters get far more attention and development than others.
- A few of the surprises and revelations are unsatisfying.
Sprout is a small and plucky hen who dreams of escaping the farm and living a more exciting life where she can finally lay an egg of her own and raise her own children out in the wild.
Many have pointed out the theme of motherhood that the book is majorly centered around, and there are even a few references to parts of Korean culture throughout the story which is a big reason why the book has been so beloved in the country for so many years and has gone on to win the hearts of readers worldwide.
- A lighthearted story with emotional themes of motherhood.
- All the animal characters are loveable and very unique.
- The fairly short length makes it a quick and easy read.
- Several references to Korean culture and locations.
- The third act feels like it’s in a rush to end the story.
While the second half of this book is set in the streets of Queens, New York, when we first meet Inah and Yunah, we learn about the twin sister’s lives growing up in South Korea, with Mia Yun providing an in-depth look at the many aspects of Korean culture, and how the girls struggle to break away from these norms after they move to America.
As the story goes on and we begin to learn more about the backstory of the girls, it becomes evident that their relationship is a little more complicated than it seems at first.
- The real draw to the story is the complicated relationship between Inah and Yunah.
- Plenty of in-depth details and explanations of Korean culture and beliefs.
- Both the South-Korean countryside and cities are explored in detail.
- A very relatable story about trying to adjust to a completely new environment.
- The multiple subplots can often take away from the main story.
When a young French diplomat visits Korea in order to speak to the Emperor, he is shocked and enthralled by the culture that surrounds him, along with becoming obsessed over a mysterious court dancer who he can’t seem to take his eyes off.
Set during the Joseon Dynasty which was a dynastic kingdom that ruled over Korea for 500 years, this is an incredibly informative story that teaches you a lot about Korean culture, customs, and traditions, while also telling a captivating tale about forbidden romance.
- We experience the wonders of Korean culture alongside the main character.
- There are plenty of unique characters to become invested in.
- A perfect book for history fans who want to learn more about the Joseon Dynasty.
- The romance story is captivating and very emotional at points.
- The political intrigue becomes less relevant after the beginning.
In a world full of people making mistakes or going through with decisions that they would come to regret, it means that apologies are also very common, but not everyone has it in them to come out and say sorry.
That is why people will visit an agency that apologizes on their behalf, as long as they pay a fee of course.
What starts as apologies for minor inconveniences and silly mistakes quickly becomes a story based around feelings of shame and regret as we explore the stories of these confessors in greater depth, granting a very interesting look at how these feelings are handled within Korean society.
- The apologetic agency is a very unique idea for a story.
- A very deep look into how feelings of regret are handled within Korean society.
- Multiple different personal stories offer a good amount of variety.
- Some major characters are absent for large portions of the story.
Han Hyun-Kyu has been regarded as somewhat of an explorer by many of his friends and family members.
While he moved to the Korean mainland with his family in 1953 after living on a Korean island as a child, not long after, he visited New York where he settled down with a job and even found a wife.
However, ever since the unparalleled destruction of the Korean war, Han has felt like his home nation has been calling him, begging him to come home.
As he struggles to decide between his new life and the past, he eventually makes the decision to leave his wife in America and travel back to Korea, but after being away for fifty-two years, a lot has changed.
- Han Hyun-Kyu is a character everyone can sympathize with.
- A very honest look at how one’s love for a nation can rule above everything else.
- A lot of attention given to the development of Korean society and culture since the 1950s.
- The sections in New York are a lot less engaging than when the story moves to Korea.
Both North and South Korea are incredibly vibrant and rich settings for a book because of just how many unique stories they allow you to tell, whether they be in the countryside or the bustling streets of Seoul.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn more about Korean culture, or you simply want a book that is going to take you on a journey through multiple different locations and areas scattered across Korea, you can be sure that there will be a book in this list which is perfectly tailored to your interests, so you should definitely try out any for yourself that you think you would enjoy reading the most.
How To Choose The Right Book About Korea
Korea has gone through many different events and conflicts in its long-standing history which have allowed it to develop and change throughout time, and many authors have thoroughly enjoyed basing their stories within these specific transformative periods.
Whether it’s the long reign of the Joseon Dynasty or the permanent social and geographical shift that came as a result of the Korean War, you’ll definitely want to pick a book with a story that is based on a period that you find interesting and would love to know more about.
Many authors have even tried to visualize a futuristic depiction of Korea, and especially Seoul, in many of their books, so this gives you an even greater amount of choice.
When you’re looking for any book that is based on a country, it’s always important to determine what the actual genre of the book is since not every book will simply describe the country and its culture as its main focus.
Instead, many stories will make reference to these social aspects, and also the history of the country, while moving the plot forward, whether this is through a romantic plot, a war story, or even a crime thriller, so it’s up to you to decide what sort of story you would like to be reading.
In many stories based in Korea, the character will either leave the country at a young age and then return later on in life, or they will be forced out in times of conflict before longing to finally go back to their childhood home in the foreseeable future.
These types of stories create an essence of nostalgia and childhood innocence as we see how Korea as a country has changed with the times, and while a lot of this development does happen outside of the story itself, it’s the shock of the return that keeps readers interested.
On the other hand, you have stories that are based in Korea for the entire plot, which often place a bigger emphasis on the characters changing rather than the country.
Because of this, it can be worth knowing how the story is laid out beforehand, and the kind of story you would most prefer to read.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is Seoul So Popular In Literature?
While it’s no secret that capital cities are very popular settings for a novel, Seoul is actually one of the most popular among all of them, and a big reason for this is because of just how many different environments are found within the city.
From the jaw-dropping and magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace all the way to the smaller and more local street markets, turning around a corner when in Seoul is like stepping into a whole new world, which has made it one of the perfect places to set a story, no matter what genre it is.
In fact, Seoul is the 16th largest city in the world, and because it contains roughly half of the entire population of South Korea, this is why many authors will decide to use it as their setting of choice since it really is seen as the central hub of the country.
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