Top Ten Books to Read if You’re in the Mood for Asian Culture


Hello and welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday post! I grew up in an Asian family and absolutely love some parts of the culture (hated some too, but let’s not get into that today :P), so I thought I should share some of my favourite books that have Asian influences, be it Chinese, Japanese or otherwise. Enjoy! ❤

1) The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

GENRE: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

READ IT FOR: Mother-daughter relationships, but The Asian Way™. I have a difficult relationship with my parents and this book resonates so much with me. I love the movie too. 🙂

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re wondering how the hell you turned out the way you are.

2) Serpentine – Cindy Pon

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

GENRE: Young Adult, Fantasy

READ IT FOR: An Asian mythology-inspired YA fantasy that feels, you know, Asian. I read this last year and really enjoyed how much it refers to the mythology.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re a lady-servant to the daughter of a lord. It’s not a bad life, all things considered… but then you start, uh, evolving. It’s kind of freaky.

3) Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

GENRE: Contemporary, Magical Realism

READ IT FOR: A classic introduction to Murakami’s surrealism. This one is my first book of his and what made me a fan of his gorgeous writing.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re a college student in love with someone who has gone through a lot in their life. You’re deep, thoughtful and full of nostalgia.

4) Totto-Chan – Tetsuyo Kuroyanagi

This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man – its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi – who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.

GENRE: Memoir, Children’s Literature

READ IT FOR: A cute yet heartfelt insight into the mind of a Japanese child during WWII. I read this as a child and it was just full of whimsy.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re a kid again! But this time, you go to a Japanese school and befriend people who are different from you.

5) Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

GENRE: Contemporary, Chick Lit

READ IT FOR: A glimpse into the world of, yes, Crazy Rich Asians (capital C, capital R). This one is actually rather a personally funny read for me because I actually know people like this and I’ve experienced some of the crazy things involved — namely the gossip, the snootiness, the disapproval of partners out of your race and social class and wealth. It’s incredibly frustrating in real life, but extremely candid and more palatable on paper.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re dating someone who comes from a world-class, esteemed, filthy rich family. They’re a good person and you’re happy — at least until they take you to meet their family and you realise just how crazy and snobby their family is! What do?

6) This Earth of Mankind – Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Minke is a young Javanese student of great intelligence and ambition. Living equally among the colonists and colonized of 19th-century Java, he battles against the confines of colonial strictures. It is his love for Annelies that enables him to find the strength to embrace his world.

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Romance

READ IT FOR: Indonesia during 19th century colonisation! I read this in the original language for class and probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up otherwise, but it’s definitely very interesting.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re a descendant to some Javanese royalty, but everyone around you thinks you’re kind of bold because they’re racially ‘better’. You’re in love with a half-Dutch, half-Indonesian girl who is the daughter of a concubine. Things are complicated.

7) Train Man – Hitori Nakano

Boy–bashful and not overly brave–defends girl from obnoxious drunk on a Tokyo train. Girl sends boy a thank-you pair of pricey Hermés teacups. Boy’s a geek and doesn’t know what to do next. End of story for most nerds–but this one turns to the world’s largest online message board and asks for help, so for him it’s just the beginning. This matchless love story is told through a series of Internet chat room threads.

 GENRE: Contemporary, Romance

READ IT FOR: The cutest meet-cute ever to grace the history of all meet-cutes. Well, kind of. This one’s a very easy, very quick read and tells the classic tale of boy meets girl.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re single and shy and you’ve never been on a date. Then you save a girl from a random drunk at a random place and she sends you some trinkets in gratitude. Because you’re socially awkward, you take to the internet for guidance (this would be Reddit, maybe /r/relationships), and BAM. Your future’s forever changed right then and there.

8) Audition – Ryu Murakami

Documentary-maker Aoyama hasn’t dated anyone in the seven years since the death of his beloved wife, Ryoko. So when his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami, a young, beautiful, delicate and talented ballerina with a turbulent past. But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late.

GENRE: Horror, Psychological Thriller

READ IT FOR: The Rosie Project gone awry. Be prepared though — there were definitely moments in this book where I gasped out loud in extreme horror and almost cried out of fear. 😛

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re ready for the unexpected.

9) The Dancer – Ahmad Tohari

Set in the tumultuous days of the mid 1960s, “The Dancer” describes a village community struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world. It also provides readers with a ground-level view of the political turmoil and human tragedy leading up to and following the abortive Communist coup. This trilogy of novels traces the lives of two characters: Srintil, a dancer whose unwitting involvement with the region’s leftist propaganda machine sets her at odds with Rasus, the love of her life who embraces Islam and finds a career in the army.

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Romance

READ IT FOR: Indonesian geishas (well, basically)! Originally titled Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, this book was one of my prescribed reading in high school and is an Indonesian classic. 😛

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re the prettiest, most special woman in this village. You might just be a dancer, but don’t be fooled — you can certainly wield some political power, if you choose to.

10) Battle Royale – Koushun Takami

Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.

GENRE: Horror, Thriller

READ IT FOR: A crazier and more bloodthirsty Hunger Games. Extreme gore. I saw glimpses of the movie (I was and am too cowardly to watch it) and IT. IS. CRAZY.

RECOMMENDED MOOD: You’re standing in a room full of your high school classmates. You’ve got an axe. Someone else has got a gun. Others have got machetes and swords. It’s do or die — which one will it be?

What did you do for your TTT this week? Leave me a link or let me know in the comments! 🙂

69 thoughts on “Top Ten Books to Read if You’re in the Mood for Asian Culture

  1. I added so many of these books to my TBR list! One of my favourite books is Chinese Cinderella. 🙂 A friend of mine was reading Norwegian Wood this week too, and he really enjoyed it so now I definitely want to pick it up!


  2. I have only read two of these! Norwegian Wood (not the biggest fan….) and Crazy Rich Asians (LOVED IT). Most of the books about Asian culture I have read have been middle-grade fiction – Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson was one of my absolute favourites when I was a kid!


  3. I haven’t read any books on the list, but I will definitely add most of them to my TBR because they seem to be interesting AND BECAUSE I’M ASIAN. I feel like I need to embrace my culture a little bit more. Great list! ❤


  4. Yes! Thanks for this post, Reg! I was cruising through your blog and luckily, I found this! I’ve been highly interested in reading more about Asian culture, or books with Asian main characters, so this recommendation post has helped me out a ton! Thanks so much!! Got lots of books to add to my TBR now 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s