With my Japanese-inspired fantasy novel, The Sword of Kaigen, coming out in early 2019, I wanted to put together a list of East Asian fantasy books to get readers in the mood. Since The Sword of Kaigen has its toes in a few different genres, I’ve been careful to include a diverse spread in this list – YA & adult, urban & epic, wuxia & steampunk, popular & little-known… There should be an Asian fantasy here for everyone!
1) Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa
An energetic high fantasy adventure, overflowing with Japanese folklore, from dragons, to yokai, to samurai.
2) Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A military fantasy that draws on the warfare and cultural customs of Tang Dynasty China, lauded for its richly detailed politics and world-building.
3) In the Vanisher’s Palace, by Aliette de Bodard
A post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast between a human woman and a female dragon, inspired by Vietnamese mythology.
4) The Emperor’s Soul , by Brandon Sanderson
An epic fantasy featuring the politics, philosophy, and complex magic for which Sanderson is known and loved.
5) Ten Thousand Thorns, by Suzannah Rowntree
A martial arts retelling of Sleeping Beauty, inspired by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (wherein ‘Beauty’ isn’t a slumbering damsel, but a swordswoman in a state of deep meditation).
6) Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan
A sapphic fantasy about forbidden romance blossoming in a dark world of opulence and oppression, featuring world-building that draws on a blend of various Asian cultures.
7) Blade’s Edge, by Virginia McClain
This sword & sorcery story of prejudice, adventure, and rebellion, follows two female protagonists with elemental powers.
8) The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang
A sci-fi/fantasy novella of magic, machines, and politics that follows a pair of twins with prophetic abilities.
9) The Secrets of Jin-shei , by Alma Alexander
A complex political fantasy about a sisterhood of women negotiating power in a setting inspired by Imperial China.
10) Empress of All Seasons, by Emiko Jean
This Japanese-inspired young adult fantasy follows a half-yokai, half-human outcast in her quest to become empress, while concealing her demon half from the world.
11) The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
A bloody military fantasy inspired by twentieth-century China and the Opium Wars (but with magic).
12) The Girl with Ghost Eyes, by M.H. Boroson
This nineteenth-century urban fantasy follows a Daoist exorcist through the streets of a San Francisco Chinatown full of martial arts and sorcery.
13) Huntress, by Malinda Lo
A Chinese-inspired fantasy adventure featuring a love story between a pair of young warrior women.
14) Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff
Clockwork machines clash with ancient creatures of myth in a dystopian steampunk take on feudal Japan.
15) Songs of Insurrection, by JC Kang
A story of myth, music, and dragons populated by colorful characters on a quest to recover a lost magic and save the world.
16) Jade City, by Fonda Lee
This martial fantasy thriller follows the violence and intrigue of gangster families grappling for power and resources in a Chinese-inspired city.
17) A Mortal Song , by Megan Crewe
A human girl discovers that she was switched at birth with a spirit in this young adult fantasy, set in a version of contemporary Japan where humans coexist with the monsters and spirits of mythology.
18) Nightblade, by Ryan Kirk
A coming-of-age action/adventure story of warriors and assassins coming together in the midst of a kingdom in turmoil.
19) The Priestess and the Dragon, by Nicolette Andrews
As I understand it, Inuyasha… but with a dragon. Hot damn.
20) Spinning Silk, by T. Cook
A historical fantasy story of spirits, love, and politics that draws on the author’s extensive knowledge of Japanese folklore and language.
21) Book of Immortals: Disciple, by Kassandra Lynn
An ordinary woman falls into a sword & sorcery novel (as the antagonist!) and has to find a way to save the story in this Chinese-inspired wuxia fantasy.
22) Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn
A martial arts tale of lords and assassins, set in a mystical reimagining of feudal Japan.
23) For a Muse of Fire, by Heidi Heilig
A young adult fantasy featuring pirates and a shadow puppeteer with the ability to see spirits, set in a world that incorporates elements of French colonialism alongside Asian culture.
24) Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, by Julie C. Dao
This Chinese-inspired dark fantasy reimagines the story of Snow White’s Evil Queen.
25) Gunpowder Alchemy, by Jeannie Lin
A family drama and adventure set against a steampunk version of the Opium Wars between China’s Qing Dynasty and the British Empire.
The Sword of Kaigen, by M. L. Wang
Okay, I realize that this technically makes twenty-six, but I have to tell you a bit about The Sword of Kaigen, coming February 19th of 2019!
If you enjoy any of the books listed above, you’ll want to check out this epic military fantasy, which follows a family of ice-elemental samurai struggling to overcome their differences before invaders reach their peninsula.
“The Poppy War’s darkness meets The Last Airbender’s Elemental Magic… I haven’t been so emotionally moved by a book in a long while.” – JC Kang, USA Today Bestselling Author of The Dragon Songs Saga