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Best Korean Books

Dive into Korea’s rich literary culture with these critically-acclaimed books, encompassing everything from modern fiction to deep historical accounts, highly recommended by top literary sources.

Recommendations from 8 articles, Barack Obama, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Jia Tolentino and 9 others.
11 books on the list
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Pachinko book cover
Min Jin Lee - 2017-02-07
Goodreads Rating
Experience a breathtaking journey of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty in this novel. Set in the early 1900s, follow Sunja, a young girl who falls for a wealthy stranger and becomes pregnant. Deciding to marry a gentle sickly minister instead, Sunja's decision sets off a dramatic saga that spans generations. With complex and passionate characters, this novel takes you on a journey through bustling markets, the halls of prestigious universities, and the criminal underworld. Richly told and profoundly moving, this is a tale of strong women, devoted siblings, and fathers struggling with moral crisis against the backdrop of history.
The Disaster Tourist book cover
The Disaster Tourist
A Novel
Yun Ko-Eun - 2020-08-04 (first published in 2013)
Goodreads Rating
This eco-thriller explores themes of climate change, dark tourism, and feminism. Yona has worked for Jungle, a travel company that specializes in disaster destinations, for ten years. But when her predatory colleague becomes a problem, Jungle sends her to the unprofitable island of Mui to assess its potential. Yona discovers the resort's plan to fabricate a catastrophe and must choose between her loyalty to the company and the lives of Mui's citizens. The Disaster Tourist questions our fascination with disaster and individual culpability in harm done by industry.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 book cover
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
A Novel
Cho Nam-Joo - 2016-10-14
Goodreads Rating
This international bestseller delves into the life of Kim Jiyoung, a thirtysomething-year-old woman living in South Korea. Born in 1982, she quickly learns that her behavior is policed by the male figures around her - from the elementary school teachers who enforce strict uniforms for girls, to coworkers who install a hidden camera in the women's restroom. As Jiyoung struggles with the expectations placed upon her as a woman, she begins to exhibit strange symptoms that lead her down a dark path. With lacerating prose, this book portrays the effects of rigid misogyny on one woman's psyche and the broader societal implications that exist. A must-read for anyone interested in feminism and modern culture.
The Court Dancer book cover
The Court Dancer
Kyung-Sook Shin - 2018-08-07 (first published in 2007)
Goodreads Rating
Travel back to the late Joseon Dynasty and experience the life of Yi Jin, an orphan who catches the eye of the Empress and becomes a jewel in the court. When a French diplomat falls in love with her, he takes her to Paris where she becomes an independent woman, translating and publishing Korean literature. But her new life comes with its own complications and sorrow. This heartbreaking true story, filled with intrigue and historic detail, will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
The Vegetarian book cover
The Vegetarian
Han Kang - 2016-02-02 (first published in 2007)
Goodreads Rating
A powerful and unsettling tale about rebellion and the consequences of breaking from tradition. The Vegetarian tells the story of Yeong-hye, whose decision to give up meat sets off a chain reaction of increasingly grotesque events in her personal life. As her family members struggle to control her, she becomes further estranged from herself and those around her. This darkly allegorical and Kafka-esque novel is celebrated by critics worldwide, exploring themes of power, obsession, and liberation.
The Plotters book cover
The Plotters
A Novel
Un-Su Kim - 2018-08-01 (first published in 2010)
Goodreads Rating
Enter an alternate Seoul where assassins reign supreme! Follow the story of Reseng, a skilled assassin raised by the enigmatic Old Raccoon. Reseng leads a life of killing, without ever questioning the motives of his clients or the origins of his home, the mysterious "Library." But after disrupting a hit and uncovering a grand conspiracy set into motion by three unusual women, Reseng must decide if he's willing to stay a pawn or take the reins of power. Filled with action, memorable characters, and a touch of literary flair, this gripping crime novel will appeal to fans of Han Kang and Patrick deWitt.
Your House Will Pay book cover
Your House Will Pay
A Novel
Steph Cha - 2019-10-15
Goodreads Rating
A timely and compelling novel about race relations in Los Angeles, as two families - one Korean-American and the other African-American - struggle to come to terms with the effects of a decades-old crime, against the backdrop of a city on the brink of unrest.
Almond book cover
A Novel
Won-Pyung Sohn - 2020-05-05 (first published in 2017)
Goodreads Rating
Experience a poignant and triumphant story about love and friendship with this novel. Follow Yunjae, born with a brain condition that makes it hard for him to feel emotions, as he copes with loss and enters into a surprising friendship with his tormentor, Gon. As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people, he discovers something slowly changes inside him, and he may become a most unlikely hero.
Diary of a Murderer book cover
Diary of a Murderer
And Other Stories
Young-ha Kim - 2019-04-16
Goodreads Rating
"Diary of a Murderer" dives into the dangerous territory of life and death, good and evil, through a collection of stories that will leave you captivated and provoked. Follow a former serial killer suffering from memory loss as he sets his sights on his daughter's boyfriend, while other stories explore themes of loyalty, love, family disintegration, and creative pursuits. This dark and thought-provoking read will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah