Discover the best South Korean authors and the books to add to your reading list to explore their contributions to literature.
The best South Korean authors have made their mark in the literary field, and exploring South Korean literature is key to expanding your knowledge of writing from around the world. Whether you’re on the hunt for mainstream fiction, science fiction, or works that explore prominent social issues in South Korea and around the world, South Korean authors offer unique, poignant points of view that are often critically acclaimed.
As more and more South Korean authors are translating their works into multiple languages, people worldwide are learning about all that authors from the nation have to offer. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll love our round-up of the best Korean novels in English.
Here Are The 10 Best South Korean Authors
1. Sang Young Park, 1988 –
Author Sang Young Park first became well-known in the literary world following his story Searching for Paris Hilton, for which he won the 2016 Munhakdongne New Writers Award. He followed up his well-received story with The Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta, published in 2018.
Park didn’t begin his career as a creative writer. Before this, he attended Sungkyunkwan University, majoring in journalism and French. After realizing his penchant for writing creatively, he changed his career path and enrolled in Dongguk University’s masters in creative writing program.
Currently, Park is being heralded for his English-language debut novel, Love in the Big City, a comedic coming-of-age tale that follows a young gay man as he embarks on a quest for happiness in Seoul, South Korea. The novel touches on themes of family, loneliness, and relationships.
“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. She just happened to be unlucky. In other words, the fact that our relationship had been so terrible was as natural as cancer or fungus or the rotation of our planet or sunspots.”San Young Park, Love in the Big City
2. Cho Nam-Joo, 1979 –
Cho Nam-Joo has transitioned from screenwriter to novelist, and her book Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (2016) struck a chord with readers in South Korea and around the world. The novel has sold over a million copies worldwide and coincided with the #MeToo movement.
Kim Jiyoung draws heavily on Nam-Joo’s experience with becoming a stay-at-home mother after her child’s birth. The book largely resonated with South Korean women forced to choose between a family and a career. Today, Nam-Joo’s novel has been translated into 18 languages and is beloved by book clubs and critics alike.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get married, or if I’m going to have children. Or maybe I’ll die before I get to do any of that. Why do I have to deny myself something I want right now to prepare for a future that may or may not come?”Bae Myung-Hoon, Tower
3. Bae Myung-Hoon, 1978 –
The author of the highly acclaimed novels Tower, Launch Something!, and Blue Wave Green Pepper, Bae Myung-Hoon, has made a splash in international literature. The sci-fi writer won a short story writing contest in 2005 with Seumateu D and continued to wow critics with his subsequent works. Myung-Hoon is known for walking the line between sci-fi and standard fiction, leaving readers wondering what’s possible and what isn’t.
“Some liquors serve as currency. In life, there are times when one must give something to someone with no guarantee of getting anything in return. This is different from giving bribes, kickbacks, payoffs, or sweeteners, in which cases what to give is fairly straightforward and what to get in exchange is crystal clear.”Bae Myung-Hoon, Tower
4. Kim Bo-Young, 1975 –
Kim Bo-Young is a science fiction writer who has also put her creative talents to use as a graphic designer, game developer, and screenwriter. Her first work, The Experience of Touch, was published in 2004 and won the Korean Science & Technology Creative Writing Award.
She is known for incorporating significant events in Korea into her writing, such as the Sewol ferry disaster and the Gamergate scandal, in which a well-known voice actress lost her job after wearing a shirt with feminist messaging. The author’s take on social events makes her work relatable to those around the world, as many of the social issues in South Korea apply to injustices seen in other countries. Many of Bo-Young’s works have been translated into English, including I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories and On the Origin of Species and Other Stories.
“Sacredness was not born out of truth, but from the skillful pen of a storyteller who fattened and spiced up historical records. Passed on from generation to generation, these essentially coauthored folktales contained just the right combination of morals and irony, twists and feeling.”Kim Bo-Young, I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories
5. Shin Kyung-sook, 1963 –
Best known for her 2008 novel Please Look After Mom, Shin Kyung-sook began her writing career in 1985 when she published Winter’s Fable, a novella for which she was awarded the Munye Joongang New Author Prize. The author’s career has been subject to controversy, and in 2015, she was accused of plagiarizing a passage in her book, Legend. Kyung-sook apologized, and her publisher withdrew the short story collection in question.
“You realize that you habitually thought of Mom when something in your life was not going well, because when you thought of her it was as though something got back on track, and you felt re-energized.”Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom
6. Kyrs Lee, 1985 –
Krys Lee is best known for her novel How I Became a North Korean: A Novel and her short story collection Drifting House. The writer is also known for her work as a translator and journalist.
While Lee was born in South Korea, she was raised on the West Coast of the United States and earned her bachelor’s degree from UCLA. She then moved to the UK, where she continued her education by earning her master’s degree from the University of York and her Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Warren Wilson College. Today, Lee lives in Seoul, South Korea.
“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. Arizona had the nerve to ban books by Latino writers when only a few hundred years ago Arizona was actually Mexico. Or the sheer existence of passports, twentieth-century creations that decide who gets to stay and leave.”Krys Lee, How I Became a North Korean
7. Kim Un-su
Kim Un-su began his writing career with short stories, including Easy Writing Lessons, Danbaljang Street, and Breaking Up with Friday. He wrote his first novel, The Cabinet, which earned the 12th Munhakdongne Novel Award.
His thriller The Plotters earned worldwide recognition, becoming his first English-translated novel. The author’s 2016 novel, Hot Blood, won the 22nd Hahn Moo-Sook Literary Prize. If you like this, you’ll love our list of the best Korean authors of all time!
“In the end, none of us can leave the place we know best, no matter how dirty and disgusting it is. We go back to our own filthy origins because it’s a filth we know. Putting up with that filth is easier than facing the fear of being tossed into the wider world, and the loneliness that is as deep and wide as that fear.”Kim Un-su, The Plotters
8. Hwang Sok-yong, 1943 –
Sok-yong was born in Manchukuo, and his family returned to Korea after Manchukuo’s liberation. He enjoyed writing from a young age and won a fourth-grade national writing contest. In the mid-60s, the author was imprisoned for political reasons. After his release, he served in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
His first novel, Mr. Han’s Chronicle, tells the tale of a family that experienced separation due to the Korean War. The book was later translated into French. Chang Kil-san, a parable about dictatorship, is one of the author’s most well-known works, selling a million copies.
“Even if you are alive somewhere, the absence of the other person who used to be there beside you obliterates your presence. Everything in the room, even the stars in the sky, can disappear in a second, changing one scene for another, just like in a dream.”Hwang Sok-yong, The Old Garden
9. Han Kang, 1970 –
Han Kang is best known for her novel The Vegetarian, for which she was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for fiction in 2016. The author’s first novel, A Love of Yeosu, was praised for its to-the-point style. Kang has also received critical acclaim for her book Human Acts, which follows the aftermath of violence in South Korea.
Kang went on to write an autobiographical novel, The White Book, which follows her family’s grief as she mourns the death of her older sister, who died two hours after birth. The novel offers a poignant glimpse into how grief and loss affect family systems.
“Some memories never heal. Rather than fading with the passage of time, those memories become the only things that are left behind when all else is abraded. The world darkens, like electric bulbs going out one by one. I am aware that I am not a safe person.”Han Kang, Human Acts
10. Ae-ran Kim, 1980 –
Kim started with her short story No Knocking in This House, which followed the journey of women living in separate rooms in a boarding house. She followed with Run, Daddy, Run, for which she was awarded the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award. The author is known for writing short stories about young people and their unique challenges moving from rural areas to large cities.
“Sometimes in life, the answer we search for so avidly reveals itself elsewhere, and the question we ask is born from a context that has nothing to do with the answer.”Ae-ran Kim, My Brilliant Life
Join over 15,000 writers today
Get a FREE book of writing prompts and learn how to make more money from your writing.