New year, new reading list!
January always awakens excitement and anticipation, but at the same time can feel daunting. You could stick to the tried-and-true method of numbing out and doom scrolling on your phone (hey, no judgement here!), or you could switch things up a bit and lose yourself in these Asian YA novels as a form of escapism.
These young adult novels, written by Asian authors, will take you back to your youth, a time when there were less responsibilities and worries (at least, in hindsight).
Below, eight Asian YA novels to add to your reading list this year.
While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown
Based on the Brown’s own life, the novel begins with 12-year-old Waka being sent from Kansas, America to Tokyo, Japan to live with her grandmother for five months. Waka’s mom forces the trip onto her in an effort to help Waka can reconnect with her culture and language. However, that very culture and language become barriers that Waka must knock down to get away from the bullies at her school and to get closer to her grandmother.
Reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film, While I Was Away is an honest and heart-wrenching account of the confusion and consternation that stems from being stuck between two identities.
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur 🍁
The story goes like this: When Hwani was thirteen, she and her sister, Maewol, nearly went missing in the forest near their hometown of Nowon village in Jeju Island. Years later, their father, Detective Min returns to the island to investigate the 13 missing girls from the same forest, only to go missing himself. Convinced that he is still alive and determined to find him, Hwani follows his trail only to realize that the village of Nowon harbours some unsettling secrets.
Set in 14, Joseon—now Korea—The Forest of Stolen Girls combines mystery and marvelous prose to tell a story that will make you want to put roots in its namesake forest.
Kasama by Allan Matudio 🍁
Kasama follows Kia and Allison, as they put aside their differences and journey through the (fictional) city of Orkidias in Philippines to hunt down the dark energy manifesting through the city in the form of the manananggal—a vampire-like creature found in Filipino mythology.
Kasama’s exquisite art, unique story, and excellent incorporation of Filipino culture makes it a visual and narrative treat to read.
The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad 🍁
In Azad’s feminist fantasy novel, 11 immortal girls called, well, the Wild Ones, divide their time between The Between, and the numerous cities around the world the magical corridor connects to. Having been hurt, abandoned, or betrayed all their lives, the Wild Ones eschew their past lives for the freedom (and magic) The Between bestows them with. However, when they learn that the creator of The Between is in danger and his death means the end of The Between, they must debate whether to confront their past or lose a part of themselves—again.
In The Wild Ones, Azad weaves a spell over the reader with her intricate prose, inviting them to journey through a beautiful—yet brutal—world alongside dynamic and diverse characters she has conjured. Who can resist?
Love and Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura
When the girl Nozomi likes kisses and tells her off, Nozomi is determined to reinvent herself over the summer and make the girl rue her words. As she attempts to do that during her stay in San Francisco while reconnecting with her grandmother, Nozomi meets hot and heartbroken Willow. Willow asks Nozomi to fake-date to make Willow’s ex-girlfriend jealous and Willow agrees, determined to turn this fake relationship real. But as Nozomi changes bits and pieces of herself to fit Willow’s ideal girl, she soon has trouble distinguishing what’s real and what’s fake.
Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach
Eliza Quan has been dreaming of being the editor-in-chief of her student newspaper ever since she was a freshman. When the new, inexperienced yet popular Len DiMartile beats out Eliza for the position despite her vast experience, Eliza takes it relatively well. At first. Then her op-ed attributing her loss to misogyny goes viral and sparks a feminist movement, which forces her school to ask her and Len to work together sparking tension—both of the rivalry and romantic variety.
An insightful and intelligent tale about what it means to be a minority, Not Here to Be Liked will provoke both thoughts and smiles.
Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Khan 🍁
Zara Hossain is a Muslim Pakistani immigrant girl trying to live her best life in her hometown of Christi Corpus, Texas, but failing because of the Islamophobia she faces at school. Zara usually keeps her head down for the sake of her visa-dependent family, but when her bullies take things too far, she must decide whether to shut up or stand up—and risk losing the only home she has ever known.
Zara Hossain Is Here delves into the complex intersection of immigrant-hood, anti-Muslim hatred, and queerness to tell a story that stays with the reader long after they’ve finished it.
Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma
Radha is poised to become one of the best Kathak dancers in the world, until a revelation about her family leads her to lose her desire to dance. After moving from Chicago to New Jersey, Radha is determined to leave performing behind for good at her new school until she meets Jai.
Jai is captain of the school’s Bollywood dance team with the looks and charisma of a Bollywood hero, but unfortunately not the bank account of one, making college a pipe dream for him.
Watch—or read—as Radha and Jai struggle to face their fears, their families, and their feelings for each other to get their Bollywood-worthy happy ending. Make sure to leave room when reading this book, because Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance makes you feel full (of love!)
For more books by Asian authors, check out our roundup on Asian romance novels