12 Best Korean Novels (All Officially Translated in English) - FAVBOOKSHELF (2023)

In the last few years, The Hallyu Wave has swept away the entire world in its currents, and it’s for a reason. While most of the countries seem to be losing their touch with their culture, South Korea has managed to preserve it to some point in the form of its music, movies, dramas, and literature.

So today we bring some of the best novels written by Korean authors (most of which have also been adapted into movies) for you to read and decide whether they have earned the hype they get or not (Or they deserve more, which they actually do).

P.S. All books have been arranged in alphabetical order. Because duh, they all are just awesome.

12 Best Korean Novels (All Officially Translated in English) - FAVBOOKSHELF (1)

So now, let’s get started!! Best Korean Novels:

#1 Blood Sisters by Kim Yedeum

About the Book

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Title: Blood Sisters

Author: Kim Yedeum

Translated by: Ji Yoon Lee

Genre: Historical fiction, LGBT, Contemporary

Publisher: Deep Vellum Publishing

Type: Standalone

Pages: 250

Goodreads rating: 3.7/5

Jeong Yeoul is a college student who experiences political unrest in the 1980s – a period when student demonstration against martial law was violently oppressed by the then-president. She lives alone with her friend, who is an activist. But when her friend’s act leaves her devastated, she decides to figure out the truth behind what happened.Blood Sistersfollow its narrator as she and other women around her struggle with their identity and the societal pressure to mold into the norm.

Why do we recommend this book?

A beautiful representation of feminism and all the prejudices, sexism, and pressure that the women of that time had to suffer through.Blood Sistersis a read that makes a person step back and think about all the battles that women had to fight every single day. A must-read!

If you want to buy/gift, Blood Sisters by Kim Yedeum Kimclick on thelink below: 👇

#2 Diary of a Murderer by Young-Ha Kim

About the Book

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Title: Diary of a Murderer: And other stories

Author: Young-Ha Kim

Translated By: Krys Lee

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary, Short stories

Publisher: Mariner Books

Type: Anthology

Pages: 208

Goodreads rating: 3.7/5

A collection of 4 short anthologies, the book follows four different stories filled with edgy and dark themes, written in Kim’s signatory emotional and passionate style. The first story of the anthology (arguably the best work) focuses on the diary of a former serial killer who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s and thinks that his daughter’s new boyfriend is a killer as well and wants to save her. It’s a captivating read from start to finish with a satisfying plot twist that most would see coming.

Why do we recommend this book?

The other stories in this book are good enough on their own, but it’s the Diary of a Murderer that leaves them all behind in the dust. A bit predictable at times, it’s filled with dark humor and emotions as it deals with a father’s feelings and his panic as he starts to lose his grip on his own life. It’s pretty fun and the short story is best for relaxed reading.

If you want to buy/gift, Diary of a Murderer by Young-Ha Kimclick on thelink below: 👇

#3 Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun

About the Book

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Title: Lemon

Author: Kwon Yeo-Sun

Translated By: Janet Hong

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary, Thriller

Publisher: Apollo

Type: Standalone

Pages: 176

Goodreads rating: 3.4/5

19-year-old Kim Hae-on was killed in the summer of 2002, an event labeled as the High School Beauty Murder. 17 sears later, Lemon follows three different narrators connected to the death, as they are unable to move on from it. Especially Hae-on’s sister. As her obsession with Hae’s death deepens, she decides to find out what exactly happened on that day, hoping to finally find closure.

Why do we recommend this book?

Oh, where to start with this novel! A very real depiction of grief and trauma, Lemon might have a murder mystery in its center but the story itself is so much more than that. The character of Da-on (the sister) is so amazingly written, and her grief and inability to function normally because of the emotional trauma is one of the most prominent parts of the story.

If you want to buy/gift, Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun, click on thelink below: 👇

#4 My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran

About the Book

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Title: My Brilliant Life

Author: Kim Ae-ran

Translated by: Chi-Young Kim

Genre: Contemporary, Adult

Publisher: Forge Books

Type: Standalone

Pages: 208

Goodreads rating: 4/5

Aerum is diagnosed with an aging disease that alienates him from other people his age, but he still lives his every day to the fullest. My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran follows the optimistic Aerum in his journey as he deals with his condition with the support of his family and friends, meets new people, and struggles with his own loneliness, all the while trying to figure out the secret his parents are hiding from him.

Why do we recommend this book?

It’s a sort of slice-of-life genre, and each page is filled with emotions. It’s pretty clear from the start just what sort of disease our protagonist has and his dynamics with his parents and friend. Although the lot was sad, it didn’t become too depressing. Aerum can honestly teach people a thing or two about living your life every day as if it’s your last, finding happiness in the smallest of things.

#6 Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-Young

About the Book

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Title: Our Happy Time

Author: Gong Ji-Young

Translated by: Pradita Nurmaya

Genre: Contemporary, Adult, Romance

Publisher: Bentanga Pustaka

Type: Standalone

Pages: 376

Goodreads rating: 4.2/5

Yu-Jung and Yun-soo are two broken-hearted individuals who don’t believe in love. Or life. Having given up all hopes, they both find each other’s presence in their lives a gift that couldn’t be explained by anything other than destiny, and they develop a bond with each other as they spend their time together. But Yun-soo is a death row convict. And they both know that their happiness comes with a time limit. Overall, Our Happy Time is a story about love, compassion, and forgiveness, and it is sure to leave the readers with tears.

Why do we recommend this book?

Prepare your tissues because this is one hell of a ride (Anyone who has seen the movie adaptation? Welcome to the crying fest). The story alternates between past and present and is told from the point of view of both of our main protagonists, and the writing is very flowy and poetic, which just makes it even more heartbreaking. The story also contains some dark themes like murder and rape, so look out for those triggers.

If you want to buy/gift, Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-Young click on thelink below: 👇

#7 Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong

About the Book

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Title: Seven Years of Darkness

Author: You-Jeong Jeong

Translated By: Chi-Young Kim

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror, Crime

Publisher: Penguin

BooksType: Standalone

Pages: 352

Goodreads rating: 3.7/5

The murder of a young girl leads her whole village into chaos, and the three people present at the crime scene all have something to hide. Seven years later, Sowon lives a recluse life, having been labeled as a murderer’s son. He has made his peace with the fact (not really), but it breaks into pieces the second he opens the mysterious package delivered at his footstep. What exactly happened that night at Seryong Lake? Who exactly killed the girl? As Sowon begins to uncover the secrets of seven years ago, he starts to realize that the truth might actually be better off hidden.

Why do we recommend this book?

Trigger warning: Animal abuse, among many others. It’s one dark novel, with lots of sensitive themes covered, and as such it might not be for everyone, but Seven Years of Darkness is overall an incredibly well-written book with the mystery and horror elements very nicely converged.

If you want to buy/gift, Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong click on thelink below: 👇

#8 Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon

About the Book

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Title: Tower

Author: Bae Myung-Hoon

Translated By: Sung Ryu

Genre: Sci-Fi, Humor, Short stories

Publisher: Hanford Star

Type: Standalone

Pages: 253

Goodreads rating: 3.8/5

Set in Beanstalk, a 674-story skyscraper, Tower follows stories of various residents as they deal with their day-to-day lives in their hyper-modernized apartments, all the while fully using the facilities given to them to help others. The Tower is a short-length book following different characters whose stories are interconnected to each other, written in a very creative manner that would make anyone who is aware of the Korean culture immediately fall for it.

Why do we recommend this book?

The translations take away some of the book’s creativity and brilliance, but nonetheless, Tower is amazingly written and filled with sly and witty contexts that make it super enjoyable.

If you want to buy/gift, Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon click on thelink below: 👇

#9 The Court Dancer by Shin Kyung-Sook

About the Book

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Title: The Court Dancer

Author: Shin Kyung-Sook

Translated By: Anton Hur

Genre: Historical, Culture, Adult, Mystery

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Type: standalone

Pages: 364

Goodreads rating: 3.7/5

Yi Jin is a court dancer, beautiful and graceful enough to make anyone and everyone fall for her. This is what happens when a French Diplomat visits Joseon for an audience with the Emperor. And though he gets the permission to whisk her away to Paris, it’s not long before Yi Jin starts to miss her life back at the court. But her homecoming is filled with surprises (most of it most certainly not welcomed), and Yi Jin finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy that involves the royal family.

Why do we recommend this book?

It’s a beautiful story about love and betrayals and Shin Kyung-Sook (one of the most famous authors of the country) depicts court life in such a beautiful, mysterious manner! The palace is filled with malice and scorns, and everyone is conspiring something. The politics aren’t very heavy, but they still manage to be an integral part of the character growth.

If you want to buy/gift, The Court Dancer by Shin Kyung-Sook click on thelink below: 👇

#10 The Vegetarian by Han Kang

About the Book

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Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Translated By: Deborah Smith

Genre: Contemporary, Horror, Mental Health, Adult

Publisher: Hogarth Press

Type: Standalone

Pages: 188

Goodreads rating: 3.6/5

When Yeong-Hye starts to have recurring nightmares about animals and blood, she figures it’s trying to tell her something. So when she announces to her family that she wants to turn vegetarian, she thinks she is doing the right thing. She expected disagreements. What she never expected was for her whole life to become unhinged. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a smartly written book that talks about the correlations between physical and mental health, and questions just when do the nightmares stop being dreams and become a reality.

Why do we recommend this book?

No, it’s not paranormal. It’s the mind, the society, and the actual reality which is depicted so horrifyingly that the book can’t be classified into anything other than ‘horror’. It’s not a casual read, because the reader is expected to find the numerous symbolisms that have been spread throughout the entire course of the book. A very intellectual book that talks about mental health (especially originating from a country where that is still considered a taboo to talk about), The Vegetarian is one of the most popular works by Han Kang, and it shows why.

If you want to buy/gift, The Vegetarian by Han Kang click on thelink below: 👇

#11 The Guest by Hwang Sok-Yong

About the Book

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Title: The Guest

Author: Hwang Sok-Yong

Translated By: Kyung-Ja Chun, Maya West

Genre: Historical fiction, War, Cultural

Publisher: Seven Stories Press

Type: Standalone

Pages: 234

Goodreads rating: 3.8/5

It’s been forty years now since the Korean War, and Ryu has finally gathered the courage to come back home. The memories of the past still haunt him, but he must move ahead while dealing with it, for he isn’t the only one with demons to conquer. A story about survivors’ guilt, war shame, and salvation, The Guest follows the lives of the war victims through the lens of its narrator as he moves through his life looking for ways to get over his guilt and make his peace with his brother’s role in the war.

Why do we recommend this book?

This is such an interesting read, and honestly one of the most underrated works by this author. Yes, it gets boring at times, but the overall concept of the story is just so deep and well done, and the translators did such an amazing job. It would honestly be a waste not to give this book a chance at least once.

If you want to buy/gift, The Guest by Hwang Sok-Yong click on thelink below: 👇

#12 The Plotters by Un-Su Kim

About the Book

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Title: The Plotters

Author: Un-Su Kim

Translated By: Sora Kim Russell

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Suspense, Adult

Publisher: Text Publishing

Type: Standalone

Pages: 310

Goodreads rating: 3.6/5

In an alternate Seoul, where criminal organizations rule the capital even as they compete against each other to death, Reseng is an assassin. But when he stumbles upon a plot being prepared by the most unlikely group of women, he is at a crossroads. He refuses to stay a pawn in the grand schemes of play, but being a key player would require a price he isn’t sure he is willing to pay. The Plotters is a Korean Noir that is full of dark humor, and mysteries that would leave the readers reaching for more.

Why do we recommend this book?

Most of the time, humor is often lost in the translations, especially since the Korean language is filled with proverbs and cultural references that couldn’t be understood as easily by everyone. But that’s not a problem here, because the translation is top-notch. The mystery element is done incredibly well with a crime city as its background, and the characters are all so incredibly grey. A must-read!

If you want to buy/gift, The Plotters by Un-Su Kim click on thelink below: 👇

#13 Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah

About the Book

12 Best Korean Novels (All Officially Translated in English) - FAVBOOKSHELF (13)

Title: Untold Night and Day

Author: Bae Suah

Translated By: Deborah Smith

Genre: Contemporary, Magic Realism, Adult

Publisher: The Overlook Press

Type: Standalone

Pages: 160

Goodreads rating: 3.6/5

Ayami has just lost her job after her establishment closed down. As a former actress, she isn’t sure what to do next. Her way of spending her night and day differs – she accompanies her boss during the nights, searching for their friend, and her days are spent looking after a mysterious poet.Untold Night and Dayis a poetic novel that talks about dreams and realities, especially when they seem to be interweaving into each other.

Why do we recommend this book?

It’s an interesting concept. The writing is so lyrical, and although the magical realism used here is pretty complicated, the plot isn’t that hard to understand. Everything about this book is beautiful, but it might not be for everyone because of the complex writing. Do give it a chance though, it has an amazing philosophical concept.

So that’s all for our recommendations for now. Korean pop culture might be becoming more popular these days in the form of entertainment, but it seems like there’s still some time left before its literary genius comes to the front too. So, maybe start with the reading right away?

P.S: Some books recommended here are available on Kindle Unlimited. If you have subscribed to it, then you can read these books for free. Check out this article: Is Kindle Unlimited Worth It?

SO, to conclude here are the 10 Best Korean Novels to Ride The Hallyu Wave:

1.Blood Sisters by Kim YedeumBuy the Book
2.Diary of a Murderer by Young-Ha KimBuy the Book
3.Lemon by Kwon Yeo-SunBuy the Book
4.My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ranBuy the Book
5.Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-YoungBuy the Book
6.Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong JeongBuy the Book
7.Tower by Bae Myung-HoonBuy the Book
8.The Court Dancer by Shin Kyung-SookBuy the Book
9.The Vegetarian by Han KangBuy the Book
10.The Guest by Hwang Sok-YongBuy the Book
11.The Plotters by Un-Su KimBuy the Book
12.Untold Night and Day by Bae SuahBuy the Book

All the books are awesome. I am sure it won’t disappoint you.

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