Discover our guide with the best Korean authors you’ll want to add to your reading list.
Western audiences have grown increasingly interested in Korean culture in recent years. From K-pop to K-food, K-beauty to K-drama, audiences have an insatiable appetite for everything Korean. To get a taste of South Korea’s culture, nothing compares to a page-turning novel.
Contemporary Korean fiction gives audiences an intimate, personal look at the modern-day struggles of a generation searching for identity, freedom, equality, and justice. Their stories remind us of commonalities. Discover the rich and storied culture of South Korea and its people with a book by one of the best Korean authors. If you’re interested in this topic, you might also enjoy the best Greek authors!
- Here Are The Best Korean Authors
- 1. Min Jin Lee, 1968 –
- 2. Cho Nam Joo, 1978-
- 3. Sohn Won-Pyung, 1979-
- 4. Shin Kyung-Sook, 1963
- 5. Frances Cha
- 6. Han Kang, 1970 –
- 7. Sang Young Park, 1988-
- 8. Hwang Sok Yong, 1943 –
- 9. Wan Suh Park, 1931 – 2011
- 10. Ha-Joon Chang, 1963 –
- 11. Krys Lee, 1964 –
- 12. Yun Choi, 1953 –
- 13. Kim Young-ha, 1968 –
- 14. Kim Un-su, 1972 –
- 15. Sora Kim-Russell, 1976 –
- 16. Yun Ko Eun, 1980 –
- 17. Ko Un, 1933 –
- 18. Oh Jung-Hee, 1947 –
- 19. Kim In-Suk, 1963 –
Here Are The Best Korean Authors
1. Min Jin Lee, 1968 –
As a child of immigrants, Min Jin Lee spent many enjoyable hours at the Queens Library, learning English book by the book. After earning her degree at Yale University, Lee practiced law in New York City for two years before quitting to focus on writing. Lee initially wrote short stories, some featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Then in 2007, she published her first novel, Free Food For Millionaires. Though her debut novel was critically acclaimed, she is most well known for her book, Pachinko.
Pachinko is a sweeping generational saga about a Korean family migrating to Japan. The story chronicles the family’s encounters with racism, stereotyping, and discrimination as they attempt to build a life while retaining their history and traditions. It was the first known book written in English about the intersection of Korean and Japanese culture. The novel was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award and was released as an AppleTV series in 2022.
“You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.”Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
- NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST * A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW TOP TEN OF THE YEAR * NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2017 *A USA TODAY TOP TEN OF 2017
- Roxane Gay's Favorite Book of 2017, Washington Post
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * #1 BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER * USA TODAY BESTSELLER
- In this gorgeous, page-turning saga, four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan, exiled from a home they never knew.
- Lee, Min Jin (Author)
2. Cho Nam Joo, 1978-
Cho Nam Joo attended all-girls schools throughout her education, eventually graduating with a degree in sociology from Ewha Women’s College. After graduation, Nam-Joo became a successful scriptwriter but could not reenter the workforce after taking time off for the birth of her first child. She began researching women’s issues in Korea as she searched for work. Her efforts eventually culminated in her most well-known novel Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982, for which she earned international acclaim.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is often touted as launching a modern-day feminist movement in South Korea. It is the story of a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom who suffers a mental breakdown under the crushing misogyny and expectations of Korean women. The novel was translated into 18 languages and sold over a million copies. It was adapted into an award-winning Korean film in 2019. If you enjoyed reading about the best Korean authors, you might also be interested in learning about the best Japanese authors.
“Jiyoung grew up being told to be cautious, to dress conservatively, to be “ladylike.” That it’s your job to avoid dangerous places, times of day, and people. It’s your fault for not noticing and not avoiding.” –Cho Nam-Joo, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
- Cho Nam-Joo (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 01/09/2021 (Publication Date) - SIMON SCHUSTER (Publisher)
3. Sohn Won-Pyung, 1979-
Sohn Won-pyong grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and is the daughter of a prominent Korean politician. She received degrees in sociology and philosophy at Sogang University, then pursued a degree in film directing from The Korean Academy of Film Arts. Won-pyung was a well-regarded film director until she turned to writing after the birth of her first child. Her debut novel for young adults, Almond, earned her international attention.
Almond’s protagonist, Yunjae, has a rare brain condition that makes it difficult to experience the emotions most of us take for granted, like fear or anger. His mother helps him navigate the world until a tragic accident changes everything and forces him to find courage. It is a powerful story about friendship and persistence.
“Love is what makes a person human, as well as what makes a monster.”Sohn Won-Pyung, Almond
- Sohn, Won-pyung (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 272 Pages - 06/15/2021 (Publication Date) - HarperVia (Publisher)
4. Shin Kyung-Sook, 1963
At 16, Kyung-Sook Shin, the fourth of six children, left her parent’s home in a remote South Korean village to move in with her brother in Seoul. There she worked in an electronics factory by day and went to school at night until finally earning a degree in creative writing from the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Shin earned international acclaim with her 9th novel, Please Look After Mom, which has since been translated into 19 languages.
Please Look After Mom is a haunting story about a 69-year-old woman who becomes separated from her husband in a busy subway station in Seoul. The tale alternates between the perspectives of a husband, daughter, son, and mother as they desperately seek to be reunited. Long-buried secrets and struggles float to the surface, and the family members begin to wonder if they ever knew one another.
“Either a mother and daughter know each other very well or they are strangers.”Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After Mom
- Audible Audiobook
- Kyung-Sook Shin (Author) - Mark Bramhall, Samantha Quan, Janet Song (Narrators)
- English (Publication Language)
- 04/05/2011 (Publication Date) - Random House Audio (Publisher)
5. Frances Cha
Frances Cha began writing stories at only eight years old. She recalls that her childhood stories had protagonists who were all white, blonde American girls. It took her decades to embrace her heritage and begin writing from a decidedly Korean perspective. After earning her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, Cha was a travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul. Her debut novel, If I Had Your Face, has been translated into 11 languages and was named one of the year’s best books by several publications, including NPR, Time, and Esquire.
If I Had Your Face follows four young women living and working in Seoul. The hair stylist, the recent graduate, the new mother, and the hostess all attempt to carve out a life for themselves despite impossible social standards. They find that they are stronger together and that friendship might be the thing that saves them all.
“I wanted to reach out and shake her by the shoulders. Stop running around like a fool, I wanted to say. You have so much and you can do anything you want. I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face.”Frances Cha, If I Had Your Face
- Cha, Frances (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 304 Pages - 04/13/2021 (Publication Date) - Ballantine Books (Publisher)
6. Han Kang, 1970 –
Han Kang and her family moved from Gwanju, where she was born, to Seoul when she was ten. After graduating high school, she studied Korean literature at Yonsei University and soon made her literary debut. Han’s first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian, earned her the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2016. She was the first Korean in history to have done so. Kang is also well known for her harrowing and controversial book, Human Acts, which was short-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.
Human Acts chronicles the aftermath of the tragic death of a young boy during a violent student uprising. The interconnected chapters are told from the perspective of the bereaved friends and family he left behind. The collective agony of these people as they encounter suppression and search for their voice is riveting and universally relevant.
“I’m fighting alone, every day. I fight with the hell that I survived. I fight with the fact of my own humanity. I fight with the idea that death is the only way of escaping this fact.”Han Kang, Human Acts
- Kang, Han (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 240 Pages - 10/17/2017 (Publication Date) - Hogarth (Publisher)
7. Sang Young Park, 1988-
San Young Park was born in Daegu, one of the most conservative places in Seoul. He says that his life truly began when he moved to Seoul to attend university, where he gained a broader perspective. He studied French and journalism at Sungkyunkwan University, then worked for seven years as a copywriter and editor before making his literary debut as a novelist. His 2021 novel, Love In the Big City, made the top five list of all the major booksellers and went into 26 printings.
Love In the Big City is a series of four short stories that create a cohesive novel. It chronicles the life, love, and loneliness of a hard-drinking, fun-loving queer young man. From his nightlife exploits with his best friend and roommate, his struggles with an ailing and disapproving mother, and his latest Tinder matches, readers get an intimate, heartbreakingly hilarious look at twenty-first-century Korean life. Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best South Korean authors!
“I was already thirty, a legal adult for ten years, and was old enough to know that my mother did not exist solely to hinder my existence but was a person in her own right who had fought hard making her way through life.”Sang Young Park, Love in the Big City
- Hardcover Book
- Park, Sang Young (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 240 Pages - 11/16/2021 (Publication Date) - Grove Press (Publisher)
8. Hwang Sok Yong, 1943 –
Born in Japanese-occupied Northern China in 1943, Hwang Sok Yong’s life story is as fascinating as his contributions to Korean literature.
After leaving China and settling in South Korea, he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war on the American-supported Souther-side. Like many Korean writers, he has been deeply impacted by the brutality he witnessed in Vietnam, which is often seen in his work.
After the war, Yong returned to South Korea, where he actively participated in anti-government movements that eventually ended South Korea’s dictatorship in 1972.
Yong’s activism led to his imprisonment, which, combined with his war record, has given him first-hand experience of some of the world’s darkest human acts.
The Shadow of Arms tells the story of the black markets used by the northern Vietnamese to overcome the southern US-backed forces. The novel is based on Yong’s first-hand experience in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, where he was tasked with rooting out the black market activity during the war. Hwang Sok Yong is a must-read if you want to learn more about the Vietnam war from a first-hand perspective.
“People hated and killed each other back then. Now even those who survived are dying, leaving this world one by one. Unless we find a way to forgive one another, none of us will ever be able to see each other again.”Hwang Sok Yong
9. Wan Suh Park, 1931 – 2011
Born in North Korea in 1931, the first half of Wan Suh Park’s life was impacted directly by the second world war, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war. As a child Park witnessed the Japanese invasion and occupation of what is now North Korea. During her early adult years, she watched her country ripped in half by the Korean war, during which she was forcibly taken from her mother at a young age by North Korean forces.
Her talents as a writer were repressed by war, and as a result, her literary career didn’t get started until the 1970s, just as the South Korean dictatorship was crumbling and the Vietnam war was ending. Through writing, Park could express the trauma that she and many others on both sides of Korea experienced during the war.
She collated several fascinating short stories in her book Year of Famine in the City, telling the reader of the harrowing poverty people faced in Seoul during the Korean war. Add it to your book list to learn about Korea’s 20th-century history. Park’s work reminds us that despite the prosperity enjoyed by South Korea in the 21st century, it was not so long ago a war-torn country where millions struggled to survive.
“What made his face burn was a sense of failure, the yearning for freedom that remained unfulfilled and the acute realisation that he didn’t know anything.”Wan Suh Park
10. Ha-Joon Chang, 1963 –
Ha-Joon-Chang witnessed the so-called economic miracle that transformed South Korea from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest. He embarked on an incredibly successful career in developmental economics as he tried to decipher why some countries grow while others stagnate in poverty.
His work is regarded as the most important in economics and development. If you’re looking for book recommendations to help you better understand poverty and growth, then Chang’s work should be on your reading list.
One of his best books is Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, which uses examples from Chang’s childhood in South Korea to explain why the global economic system often hinders the development of poor countries.
“People who live in poor countries have to be entrepreneurial even just to survive.”Ha-Joon Chang
11. Krys Lee, 1964 –
Krys Lee is a university creative writing professor, journalist, and author from South Korea. Her work has received several high-profile literary awards, including the Rome Prize and the Story Prize Spotlight Award. Currently, she works at the Underwood International College in Seoul.
How I Became A North Korean is arguably Krys Lee’s best book, especially for anyone looking to learn more about life in North Korea. The book follows the three main characters, Danny, Jangmi, and Yongju, who escape North Korea and flee to a small Chinese town across the border.
The three characters are plunged into a world of uncertainty, allowing Lee to explore themes of displacement, identity, and human rights abuse. If you like the sound of How I Became A North Korean, you should also consider reading Drifting House.
“ [I] often think about borders. It’s hard not to. There were the Guatemalans and Mexicans I read about in the paper who died of dehydration while trying to cross into America. Or later, the Syrians fleeing war and flooding into Turkey.”Krys Lee
12. Yun Choi, 1953 –
Yun Choi, also known as Choe Yun, is a respected academic from Seoul, South Korea, who holds a Ph.D. from Sogang University. Although her work has some variety, she is primarily known for her politically-themed books and papers. Her most notable work covers major political and historical events in South and North Korea and themes that touch on patriarchy.
There a Petal Silently Falls: Three Stories by Choe Yun is one of her most hard-hitting politically themed books. The three short stories explore the fallout from the Kwangju Massacre that saw an estimated 2,000 civilians killed by the forces of the South Korean dictatorship.
The book’s first part tells the story of a young girl’s tragic attempt to survive in a hostile environment after her mother is killed due to state-sanctioned violence against women. The second part covers left-wing intellectuals’ brutal treatment during South Korea’s dictatorship until 1972. The third and final part is a critical commentary on consumerism and the world of academia.
“He felt intensely, sparingly violent whenever he saw her, and ultimately he lacked the superhuman effort necessary to control these impulses.”Yun Choi
13. Kim Young-ha, 1968 –
Widely regarded as one of the most talented writers of a generation, Kim Young-ha’s historical fiction and crime thrillers are fantastic reads for anyone interested in these genres. Young-ha’s work often focuses on the general absurdity of our everyday life and cleverly weaves what appear to be everyday scenarios into exciting crime thrillers.
Born into a military family, Young-ha spent much of his early life on the move. He spent his early adulthood at the University of Yonsei in Seoul, where he studied Business Administration.
Business never really interested Young-ha; despite his degree, he focused more on his writing.
His most notable book is Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator?, which turns an apparently mundane incident into an exciting short story. The mundane setting snowballs into a dramatic tale that touches on all sorts of themes, such as narcissism, the tragedy of modern 9-5 life, and the basic principles of capitalist society.
“A revolution cannot progress without the fuel of terror. With time that relationship inverts: the revolution presses forward for the sake of terror.”KimYoung-ha
14. Kim Un-su, 1972 –
Born in the South Korean city of Busan, Kim Un-su, also written Un-su Kim, is an award-winning South Korean short story writer. In 2002 he published his first short story Easy Writing Lessons, which won a South Korean award. His success in the early 2000s pushed him to try and break onto the international scene.
In 2010 Kim made it onto the international stage when he published the crime thriller The Plotters. A French publishing house initially picked up the book, which was later translated into English.
The Plotters takes place in Seoul and tells the story of several assassins competing for dominance over the contract the city’s criminal gangs issued. If you’re looking for a Korean crime thriller, consider adding The Plotters to your reading list. If you enjoyed reading about the best Korean authors, you might enjoy our list of the best Vietnamese authors. You can also use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for authors in a country or region you are interested in.
“Black tea is steeped in imperialism. That’s what gives it its flavor. Anything this flavorful has to be hiding an incredible amount of carnage.”Kim Un-su
15. Sora Kim-Russell, 1976 –
The California-based American-Korean author Sora Kim-Russell holds a master’s in East Asian studies from Stanford and has contributed to Korean literature through her impeccable translation work. Her translations have been featured in major outlets such as Harper’s magazine and the New Yorker. In addition, she’s been entrusted with translating the work of some of the most respected Korean authors, including Pyun Hye-young and Hwang Sok-Yong.
One of her most successful translations was of At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong. The short novel combines elements of love and nostalgia as it follows a successful South Korean architect down memory lane as he returns to his childhood sweetheart. The translation by Kim-Russel received several awards.
“The future is not a thing we enter, but a thing we create.”Sora Kim-Russell
16. Yun Ko Eun, 1980 –
Representing a new generation of writers who never lived under the South Korean dictatorship, Yun Ko Eun is a radio host and author. As a result of her view of South Korea from a purely democratic and modern perspective, her work sheds light on modern life in the country and the concerns of the younger generation.
One of her most enthralling pieces of fiction is The Disaster Tourist, which was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. Like many other Korean books with female authors, the story touches on the sexism women face in the workplace. The Disaster Tourist is more than a social commentary. It’s also a brilliant story about a woman forced to make a decision that leads to an absurd adventure.
“And if you, the reader, hadn’t picked this book, the narrative would be different still. When I think of the trajectory created by these converging choices, I hallucinate a constellation of coincidences floating in front of my eyes.”Yun Ko Eun
17. Ko Un, 1933 –
Image description: Photo of Ko Un speaking into a microphone.
Born in Japanese-occupied Korea, Ko Un’s globally recognized poetry and novels often vividly describe Korea during its most difficult historical period. Un grew up in a poor peasant family in what is now South Korea. The Korean war traumatized the young poet who became a Buddhist monk and actively participated in the anti-government movements in the 1960s and 70s.
As an activist, Un was repeatedly detained and tortured by the Park regime. Un’s personal struggle embodied Korea’s struggle in the 20th century. He has written over 80 books and countless poems. One of his most successful pieces, The Sound of My Waves: Selected Poems, has been translated into several languages and includes some of Un’s most moving passages.
“In the old days a poet once said our nation is destroyed yet the mountains and rivers survive Today’s poet says the mountains and rivers are destroyed yet our nation survives”Ko Un
18. Oh Jung-Hee, 1947 –
O Chonhui, also known as Oh Jung-Hee, is a South Korean writer who has published short stories for nearly half a century. She grew up in the middle of the Korean War, and as with many Korean writers, the brutality of the events around her can be seen in her work.
Her work often depicts dark characters living in exceptionally dark circumstances where death is the only true relief. River of Fire is a collection of short stories that revolve around various female characters in different time periods and explores their struggles in an often hostile society.
“The sound of cannons that traveled from the other side of the mountain ridge would suddenly remind this quiet, sunken village of the war, and the refugees that arrived every now and then brought word that outside, there was still a war going on.”Oh Jung-Hee
19. Kim In-Suk, 1963 –
Kim In Suk is a seminal figure among South Korean writers that grew up as democracy took root in the country. She experienced the transition from Park’s regime firsthand, so themes of democracy often play a part in her books.
Although not many of her books have been translated, The Long Road is available in English, and it’s highly recommended if you want to learn about the lives of Korean immigrants who moved to Australia. Some of her work has been used in K-dramas, such as Save Me and Chief Kim. Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best Korean novels in English!
“You’re going far away, don’t say it’s lonely. You please don’t be scared You will have everything someday”Kim In-Suk
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