11 Best Korean Authors of All Time

If you want to discover some unique works of literature, consider reading a few books by some of the best Korean authors of all time. Take a look at the list below!

If you are eager to explore literature beyond the English-speaking world, why not try reading some of the best Asian writers from South Korea? Even though American, English, Japanese, and Chinese writers are often celebrated, writers of Korean Heritage are often overlooked.

Writers from both South and North Korea have a lot to offer readers. Just as writers from the United States, Japan, and China have unique experiences, writers from Seoul and Pyeongchang have unique experiences that you won’t find in a typical book. 

If you want to dive into Korean literature, including novels and short stories, take a look at some of the top North Korean and South Korean writers of all time.

Best Korean Authors

1. Wan Suh Park, 1931 – 2011

Best Korean Authors: Wan Suh Park
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Wan Suh Park was born in 1931. As a result, she experienced a lot of the horrors of World War and the Korean War firsthand. Japan invaded and occupied Korea when she was a child. Then, during her university education, her growth was further disrupted by the Korean War. North Korea invaded South Korea in the early 1950s, followed by the responses of the United States and Chinese armies that led to the division of Korea at the 38th parallel.

Due to everything that happened in her Homeland during this time, she did not begin her literary career in earnest until the 1970s. The first book she published was called Namok, which means The Naked Tree. Due to her experiences, many of her books focus on the trauma of War, particularly how it impacts family relations. 

If you would like to explore everything that Wan Suh Park has experienced, then you may want to check out The Naked Tree.

You might be interested in our round-up of the best Polish authors.

The Naked Tree: A Novel (Cornell East Asia Series) (Cornell East Asia Series, 83)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Pak Wan-So (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 198 Pages - 02/28/2011 (Publication Date) - Cornell East Asia Series (Publisher)

2. Hwang Sok Yong, Born 1943

Best Korean Authors: Hwang Sok Yong
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Hwang Sok Yong was born in 1943 in northern China. At the time, it was occupied by the Japanese and was called Manchukuo. He eventually settled in Korea but was sent to Vietnam when the Vietnam War broke out.

South Korea supported the American war effort in South Vietnam, and Sok Yong took part in this effort. It was at that time that he witnessed the horrors of war firsthand. This led to his first published work, titled The Pagoda, which was released in 1970. He released another landmark book, called The Shadow of Arms, in 1985.

In many ways, his books parallel his work as a political activist. He campaigned vigorously against the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, and even took part in the Gwangju Uprising, which made headlines as an international event. He even spent time in jail in 1993 on accusations of breaching national security.

If you want to take a closer look at the work of Hwang Sok Yong, you can explore The Shadow of Arms.

The Shadow of Arms
  • Sok-yong, Hwang (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 576 Pages - 04/29/2014 (Publication Date) - Seven Stories Press (Publisher)

3. Yun Choi, Born 1953

Yun is widely recognized as one of the most popular writers from Korea. Yun has played a significant role in writing about major historical and political events that have shaped modern Korea. In particular, the Gwangju Massacre, which took place in 1980, is still a powerful part of the modern consciousness of the country. It was violently squashed by the military, which was under the control of the dictator Chun Doo Hwan. This massacre plays a significant role in Yun’s works, and the books provide an insight into what life was like during this time.

Some of the most popular works published by Yun include The Last Hanako, Gray Snowman, and There a Petal Silently Falls. Many of these books also take a look at the impact of the patriarchal society on women and families of this era and have pushed for changes in modern Korean society.

If you want to take a closer look at Yun’s works, consider picking up a copy of The Last Hanako.

The Last of Hanako
  • Ch'oi, Yun (Author)
  • 122 Pages - 09/01/2003 (Publication Date) - Jimoondang Publishing Company (Publisher)

4. Kyung-Sook Shin, Born 1963

Best Korean Authors: Kyung-Sook Shin
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Shin is another very popular Korean writer. She was the first Korean Rider to win the Man Asian Literary Prize, which she won in 2012 for her novel, titled Please Look After Mother.

Today, she is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of all time. She has also won a variety of other major literary prizes. These include the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Dong-In Literary Award, and the Manhae Literature Prize. 

Her work is widely popularized because of its focus on the psychological manner in which the human mind operates. If you want to see what this means for yourself, you may want to take a look at Please Look After Mother.

Please Look After Mom (Vintage Contemporaries)
  • Shin, Kyung-Sook (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 04/03/2012 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

5. Young Ha Kim, Born 1968

Best Korean Authors: Young Ha Kim
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Young-Ha Kim is a popular author from Korea who is known for popular detective stories. If you are someone who loves crime thrillers, historical fiction, or noir themes, then you will definitely want to take a closer look at some of his work. He has often been compared to Franz Kafka, and his existential works typically undercut the normalcy of everyday life. You can take a closer look at the absurdity of daily life, and question your own existence. 

There are a number of popular words you may want to check out, but one of his most popular stories is Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator. This is a story that focuses on the life of a man whose day just seems to get worse and worse. In 2004, he completed a sweep of the major Korean awards for literature. He won the Hwang Sun Won award, the Dong In Literary Award, and the Yi Sang Literary Award.

If you want to see why people love his work so much, you might want to pick up a copy of Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator.

Whatever happened with the guy trapped in the elevator (Korean edition)
  • 김영하 (Author)
  • Korean (Publication Language)
  • 02/16/2010 (Publication Date) - 문학동네 (Publisher)

6. Krys Lee

Best Korean Authors: Krys Lee
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Krys Lee is originally from Seoul, grew up in the United States, but eventually move back to Seoul, South Korea. She is one of the most popular contemporary South Korean authors, and her first debut was a collection of short stories, titled Drifting House.

Given her life, which frequently involved crossing international borders, her characters encounter some of the same experiences. Her characters often struggle to figure out where they truly belong, which is a reflection of people who frequently change the country in which they live.

You can take a look at this collection of short stories.

Drifting House
  • Lee, Krys (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 12/24/2012 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

7. Yun Ko Eun, Born 1980

Ko Eun is a part of a younger generation of writers in South Korea who grew up in a country that had made the transition to full democracy. As a result, her works reflect the landscape of modern Korea, and shine a markedly different light on what it is like to live in this country today.

In her work, the real and unreal frequently come together, making it hard to distinguish the two. This creates a powerful story, with many people pushing the boundaries of traditional conventions. As you read her work, you might sense similarities in Murakami, and you will be taken on an adventure.

If you want to take a look at some of her works, consider picking up a copy of Table for One.

Table for One: Stories (Weatherhead Books on Asia)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Yun, Ko-eun (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/25/2023 (Publication Date) - Columbia University Press (Publisher)

8. Han Kang, Born 1970

Best Korean Authors: Yun Ko Eun
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Kang is one of the most famous South Korean writers of all time. She was born in 1970, and grew up during a time when South Korea was undergoing a tremendous amount of transition. As a result, many of her works focus on what life was like to live during this time. She won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2016. She received this award for her novel, The Vegetarian. It focuses on the life of a woman who decides to stop eating meat and the consequences she faces.

If you would like to explore the works of Han Kang for yourself, consider taking a look at The Vegetarian.

The Vegetarian
  • Kang, Han (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 08/23/2016 (Publication Date) - Hogarth (Publisher)

9. Ko Un, Born 1933

Best Korean Authors: Ko Un
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Ko Un is a famous Korean writer who grew up and lived during a time when Korea was the focus of numerous incursions from the Chinese and Japanese powers. He is a democratic activist, Buddhist monk, and poet. As a result, he has done a lot during his long literary career. He is widely considered to be the greatest living writer in Korea and personally experienced the destruction that war has caused on his peninsula.

Given the devastation brought by the war, he decided to renounce everything and moved into a monastery. It was then that he decided to start writing and eventually decided to re-enter the acting world. He even spent several years in prison because of his political opposition.

If you want to take a look at what life was like for him during this time, consider picking up a copy of Ten Thousand Lives.

Ten Thousand Lives (Ten Thousand Lives: Maninbo)
  • Ko Un (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 315 Pages - 09/01/2005 (Publication Date) - Green Integer (Publisher)

10. Oh Jung-Hee, Born 1947

Best Korean Authors: Oh Jung-Hee
This image is from Wikipedia and is used under the permission of CC BY SA 3.0

Also frequently spelled O Chonghui, Oh was born in Seoul in 1947. As a result, she grew up during the Korean War. Many of her works depict a world that is incredibly grim and bleak, where there is just about no hope of redemption. In many of her books, her characters view death as a relief from the trials and tribulations of the living world.

A number of her works have been translated into English, giving everyone an opportunity to experience her passion and imagery. You may want to take a look at River of Fire. This is a collection of short stories that focuses on isolated, alienated female protagonists, and helps people understand just why it is so important to fight for the rights of women everywhere.

River of Fire and Other Stories (Weatherhead Books on Asia)
  • O, Chŏnghŭi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 232 Pages - 08/09/2016 (Publication Date) - Columbia University Press (Publisher)

11. Kim In-Suk, Born 1963

Kim In-Suk
This image is from Wikipedia, used under CC BY SA 3.0

Kim In Suk is widely seen as the leader of a new generation of Korean writers born in the 1960s. During her childhood, South Korea was in the process of transitioning to complete democracy. Therefore, this is one of the most common themes you will find in her work, as she frequently talks about what it is like to live in a democracy versus a dictatorship.

She focuses not only on the life of Koreans living at home but also on those living overseas. Even though she is one of the most prolific writers of her generation, not many of her works have been translated into English.

You may want to take a look at The Long Road, which focuses on what life was like for Koreans who moved to Australia. Then, the book focuses on the differences between their lives and the ones who decided to stay. Of note, she also won the Yi Sang Literature Prize for her book, Ocean and the Butterfly.

If you want to explore her work for yourself, you should pick up a copy of The Long Road. It sheds light on what it is like to live in multiple countries and have trouble finding a place to call home.

The Long Road: A Novel
  • In-Suk, Kim (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 120 Pages - 07/31/2011 (Publication Date) - MerwinAsia (Publisher)

Join over 15,000 writers today

Get a FREE book of writing prompts and learn how to make more money from your writing.

Powered by ConvertKit