Books are brilliant gateways to Korean life and culture. One flip of a page and you could be walking down the bustling streets of Seoul, eating bibimbap at Jeonju, or hiking at Jeju island.
Sit back, relax, and start reading as you browse through these several must-read titles about Korea.
The 19 Best Books About Korea You Need To Read
- The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong
- Korea – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by James Hoare
- Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style by Fiona Bae
- The Korean Skincare Bible: The ultimate guide to K-beauty secrets by Lilin Yang, Leah Ganse & Sara Jiménez
- The Art of Korean Clothing by Sunny Yang
- The Space Between: The Modern in Korean Art, edited by Nora Noh & Virginia Moon
- Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook by Hi Shoo Shin Hepinstall
- The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation by Michael Breen
- A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
- Without You There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
- This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang
- Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam Joo
- At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong
- I Have The Right to Destroy Myself by Kim Young-Ha
- Winter in Sokcho by Elise Shua Dusapin
- Drifting House by Krys Lee
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang
- Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
1. The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong
In this book, Euny Hong aims to explore how the once uncool Korea became really cool through pop culture. This witty book looks at how Korean idols, shows and technology took the world by storm.
This book is a must-read if you want to know more about how Korea exports pop culture to become a global superpower.
2. Korea – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by James Hoare
This book is a handy guide on everyday Korean culture and Korean history. Every chapter teaches you the cultural do’s and don’ts in Korea. By introducing different customs & values, this guide engages us in the Korean experience!
As enthusiasts, it’s super important for us to learn more about the richness of Korean culture. Reading this book can definitely help you become culture smart!
3. Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style by Fiona Bae
In this 2022 book, Fiona Bae explores the global K-phenomenon. Make Break Remix offers the most up to date look into Korean culture and style.
What made K-style such a hit? And where does it go from here? If you enjoyed The Birth of Korean Cool, then this book is for you.
You May Also Like: 10 Korean Fashion Styles That Took Over The World
4. The Korean Skincare Bible: The Ultimate Guide to K-Beauty Secrets by Lilin Yang, Leah Ganse & Sara Jiménez
The Korean Skincare Bible is your ultimate guide to the philosophy of Korean beauty. It has everything there is to know about K-beauty. There are chapters on the history of K-beauty and essential products and routines.
This bible also contains a lot of skincare tips, both for men and women. It’s made for K-beauty beginners and experts who want to achieve the skin of their dreams.
Read More: Why Koreans Look So Young
5. Hanbok: The Art of Korean Clothing by Sunny Yang
Hanbok is a traditional formal attire worn by Koreans during special occasions. Because of how beautiful and detailed it is, people see Hanbok as a form of wearable Korean art. This resource book tells us everything we need to know about this staple garment.
The volume covers the history, customs and symbols connected to Hanbok. It’s filled with a lot of colorful photographs of hanboks and the accessories worn with it. This book is great for people who want to know more about traditional Korean fashion.
6. The Space Between: The Modern in Korean Art, edited by Nora Noh & Virginia Moon
This beautifully illustrated book features 130 contemporary artworks. It also presents the history and evolution of modern art in Korea. Every work explores different themes in modern Korea, such as nationalism and identity.
The volume covers the creativity of Korean artistry in photography, sculpting, and painting. The works presented were also exhibited in Los Angeles (and narrated by Kim Namjoon of BTS!). This book is for all you art lovers out there with an interest in Korean art.
7. Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook by Hi Shoo Shin Hepinstall
Hi Shoo Shin mixes culture with the culinary in this memoir-cookbook. This book highlights the diversity of Korean cuisine. Chapters range from food made for simple family meals to special “royal cuisine” in Korea.
The recipes are easy to follow and offer a wide variety of side dishes and main course meals. Whether you’re an experienced cook or a beginner, this book is a must have for your collection.
8. The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation by Michael Breen
The New Koreans is an informative book on the history and character of South Korea as a nation. It tries to answer questions like, “Who are the Koreans?” and “What are they like?”. Beyond this, Michael Breen tries to chart where the nation and its peoples are heading to next.
This book is great for anyone who wants to get a good overview of Korean history and nationalism. It can help you become more well-read in Korean culture, history and identity.
You Might Also Like: The 12 Best Korean Historical Books You Will Love
9. A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
This memoir has to be one our list of the best books about Korea! It’s a tragic tale about a Korean-Japanese’s experiences in North Korea. It’s considered as one of the most heartbreaking tales about the country.
A River in Darkness is definitely not easy to read. But, it’s a necessary eye-opener on the experiences of Koreans (specifically half-Koreans) on the other side of the border.
10. Without You There Is No Us: Undercover With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
Suki Kim wrote this book based on her experience as an English teacher sent to North Korea. Here, she recalls the time she spent with her students and her observations as a teacher. The book confronts the religious nationalism shared by North Koreans of all ages.
This book is meaningful because it focuses on the youth of the country’s ruling class. Not like most books which just focus on the men in power. If you’re searching for a new perspective on North Korea, give this book a try.
11. This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang
This book is Hyok Kang’s personal account of his childhood and escape from North Korea. As his story continues, he moves us to ask if North Korea is truly the paradise its government pictures it out to be.
This is Paradise! is another tense and heavy read on North Korea. Read this if you’re interested in finding out more about the lives of people in this secretive nation.
12. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam Joo
This story follows Kim Jiyoung and her life as a “millennial everywoman” in Korea. Kim Jiyoung’s tale gives the reader a deeper look into the state of gender equality in the country. Particularly, it familiarizes us with the heavy expectations placed on Korean women.
Kim Jiyoung represents every woman living in the highly patriarchal society of Korea. This book is a must read if you’re interested in themes such as feminism and gender equality.
13. At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong
This book is a scenic tale on the price of progress in Korea. When firm director Park Minwoo reunites with a past flame, he starts to question who he is and what he has at present.
At Dusk is a realistic commentary on inequality and class. Hwang Sok-yong’s novel is a must-read to understand the divide between the rich and the poor in Korea.
14. I Have The Right to Destroy Myself by Kim Young-Ha
Kim Young-Ha’s acclaimed novel is set in the mid-90s and in the bustling capital of Seoul. The book follows two brothers who are at odds with each other because of one woman. An eerie narrator, who specializes in offering people a way out of a tiring world, tells the story for us.
The author also successfully captures the lively urban scenery in Korea. The book has a lot of cinematic descriptions on top of an engaging story. If you’re into books that tackle the coldness of living in the modern world then this one is definitely for you.
15. Winter in Sokcho by Elise Shua Dusapin
Winter in Sokcho entails an adventure for a French-Korean receptionist and French cartoonist. Sokcho is a tourist town located on the border between South and North Korea. The book gives us scenic descriptions of the town’s snowy and dramatic landscape.
Elise Shua Duspain’s debut novel is a book on making sense of your place in the world. Winter in Sokcho is a must-read if you want to know more about places outside of Korea’s urban capital.
16. Drifting House by Krys Lee
Drifting House is a collection of nine short but unforgettable stories. They focus on Korean salarymen, struggling children in North Korea, and Korean immigrants.
This collection is perfect for you if you’re not a big fan of reading long novels. But don’t worry. These short stories definitely won’t fall short in moving you as a reader.
17. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Han Kang’s award-winning work is one of the most well-known translated novels about Korea. Here, Yeong-hye suddenly becomes a vegetarian after having a disturbing dream. This is a big thing because in Korea, they see being vegetarian as something taboo and unusual.
We have to warn you though. The Vegetarian is an intense and difficult read. But, it’s an essential look into themes about bodies and mental health in Korean society.
18. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
At first glance, the story is about a typical Korean family. That is until So-nyo’s husband loses her while traveling at the Seoul Subway station. So-nyo’s disappearance stirs memories of her role as a mother and a wife to her family.
Please Look After Mom is an emotional novel about familial love, regret, and loss. This bestselling novel is a real tearjerker. We recommend having some tissues ready when you read this book.
19. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
While this story isn’t completely set in Korea, it explores the struggles of being Korean abroad. The book follows Sunja, a Korean woman who eventually moves to Japan. There, she endures the hardship of war, poverty, and discrimination.
Pachinko is one of the most well-known historical fiction books in Korea. It offers a different glimpse into an unknown part of Korea’s past as a Japanese colony. This book is a classic, and it should definitely be on your reading list!
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best books about Korea!
Reading books is one of the best ways to experience Korea without breaking the bank. They give us a bird’s eye view of Korea’s histories, cultures, and ways of life.
We hope this list helped you find the right book to read next.
Let us know if you have any more recommendations! We’d love to hear them in the comment section below.