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10 Korean Authors Who Can Reinvigorate Your Reading

Want (or need) a break from Western written works?

Then I think it’s time you take a peek at Korean books and authors.

Whether you’re studying the Korean language or not, it’s well worth it to explore the world of Korean language literature.

You’ll learn so much more about the unique Korean culture and sensibilities while being immersed in realms you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

While you have many options, I’d like to recommend the top 10 Korean authors that you should most definitely check out if you’re just starting your journey into Korean literature.

Each writer has had their major works translated and acclaimed in international corners.

Contents

1. Shin Kyung-sook ( 신경숙 )

Shin Kyung-sook

Recommendations:Please Look After Mom” (엄마를 부탁해), “I’ll Be Right There” (어디선가 나를 찾는 전화벨이 울리고)

Born in 1963 in the Jeolla province, Shin Kyung-sook started her creative journey early on in her life, and even her initial shorter works peaked the interest of the public.

She’s now one of the most acclaimed modern South Korean writers, Shin Kyung-sook made a major impact with her renowned novel “Please Look After Mom.”

This novel made her the first female recipient of the Man Asian Literary Prize, and it later became a New York Times bestseller.

Her writing is known for its strong focus on the depths of humanity, psychology and love, and it’s imbedded with plenty of tender and heartfelt tones.

2. Yi Gwang-su ( 이광수 )

Yi gwangsu

Recommendations:The Heartless” (무정) described as first Korean novel, “The Soil” (흙)

Born in 1892, Yi Gwang-su was much more than just your everyday ambitious writer.

Considered a prodigy at a young age, he expressed a strong sense of intellect and curiosity that fed both his creative and political pursuits.

He lived during the country’s incredibly tumultuous years of colonialism, and his shifting views, reflected in his body of written texts, led him to trouble more than once.

His works stood out at the time for their passionate emphasis on the nation’s struggles. His best-known work, “Heartless,” is often credited to be the first Korean novel.

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3. Han Kang ( 한강 )

han kang

Recommendations:The Vegetarian” (채식주의자), “Human Acts” (소년이 온다)

Han Kang started her writing career primarily with poetry, although she smoothly transitioned to stories and novels soon after.

Her best-known work is “The Vegetarian,” a dark, unique tale focusing on the plight of a modern woman’s consciousness, which later gained a film adaptation.

Her writing has been described as precise yet impactful, evoking strong emotions and rich images even with its blunt and direct tone.

Besides her writing pursuits, Han Kang has also let her creativity shine in visual artworks and musical pieces that coincide with her thematic interests–you can check some of them out on her website.

4. Kim Young-ha ( 김영하 )

Kim Young-ha

Recommendations:Diary of a Murderer” (살인자의 기억법), “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself” (나는 나를 파괴할 권리가 있다), “Your Republic Is Calling You” (빛의 제국)

Failing to mention Kim Young-ha in this list would be close to treason.

Despite his relatively young age, his creative influence is undeniable, and nearly all his works have received a level of acclaim (indeed, Kim Young-ha has won every top Korean literature award to date).

His works are very much focused on modern phenomena that are laced with dark thrills and chills alike.

He’s also no stranger to the world of film–a few of his major works have already been turned into movies, and he is credited as a writer for the popular bittersweet romance “A Moment to Remember.”

5. Hwang Sok-yong ( 황석영 )

hwang-sok-yong

Recommendations:At Dusk” (해질 무렵), “Princess Bari” (바리데기)

Born during the years of Japanese colonialism, it’s no wonder that Hwang Sok-yong would quickly find the strong urge to express his perceptions of the world around him.

Having been involved in both political and military affairs (being a soldier exposed to various horrors during the Vietnam War), the writer found much to discuss, mourn and celebrate in his works.

He is also well-known for his exile from, and subsequent arrest and protest in, South Korea following his illegal peace-promoting journey to North Korea.

While appreciating Hwang Sok-yong’s fantastic history, readers can enjoy the impact and depth of his poignant, internationally-renowned writing.

6. Yi Sang ( 이상 )

yi sang korean author

Recommendations:The Wings” (날개), “Yi Sang: Selected Works

Born Kim Hae-gyeong (김해경), Yi Sang is considered to be one of the most influential modern Korean writers to date.

He is well-known for his poetry and Western-influenced experimental form of writing with a focus on existentialism, which made him stand out significantly from his fellow peers.

His experience in architecture has also made imprints in his prose. Due to the time period, his works were written in both Korean and Japanese.

Tragically, he died far too young at the age of only 26 due to tuberculosis. A distinguished literary prize, called the Yi Sang Literary Award, was established in his honor in the year 1977.

7. Bae Su-ah ( 배수아 )

Bae Su-ah korean author

Recommendations:Untold Night and Day” (알려지지 않은 밤과 하루), “Nowhere to be Found” (철수)

According to Bae Su-ah, she didn’t initially have strong aspirations to become a writer, having studied chemistry in college.

Her very first short story was apparently made by accident. However, such circumstantial origins seem to speak little to Bae Su-ah’s later literary success.

Her unique writing style has been both lauded and criticized for being abstract and “un-Korean,” at least partially influenced by her time abroad and her work as a German-to-Korean translator.

Her break from convention, however, has fostered her prominence within the literary world of her home country.

It’s guaranteed that you’ll find Bae Su-ah’s writing to be a stark, and likely refreshing, contrast to that of her peers.

8. Ko Un ( 고은 )

Ko Un korean author

Recommendations:Ten Thousand Lives” (만인보), “Flowers of a Moment” (순간의 꽃)

A legend of Korean poetry, Ko Un lived a life filled with hardships, devastation and retribution.

Having lived an early sobering life filled with tragedy, he spent years as a Buddhist monk and afterwards engaged in political protest.

It was during his detainment in prison that he started a collection of poems that would become his major success known as “Ten Thousand Lives.”

In these poems, he reflects upon the many people he met throughout his life. His works depict everyday human lives in a simple yet meaningful manner true to his diverse life experiences.

9. Kim Sa-gwa ( 김사과 )

Kim Sa-gwa

Recommendations:B, Book and Me” (나b책), “Mina” (미나)

Don’t let her cute name of Sa-gwa (meaning “apple,” for those who haven’t yet studied their fruits in Korean) fool you.

A young but highly popular writer, Kim Sa-gwa has become a literary force in recent times. In her college years, she was mentored by the renowned Kim Young-ha and was quick to gain recognition for her work.

She is known for her exploration of more socially taboo and uncomfortable topics, her writing style being described as “edgy” and unsettling at times but undeniably gripping.

Besides her published novels and stories, Kim Sa-gwa also has contributed articles to prominent Korean newspapers.

10. Kim Un-su ( 김언수 )

Kim Un-su korean author

Recommendations:The Plotters” (설계자들), “The Cabinet” (캐비닛)

His writing career propelled with a stint in short-story writing, Kim Un-su has made his mark with his enthralling story topics and his quirky yet somehow elegantly straightforward method of prose.

His writing has been described to be vivid and “cinematic.”

He’s mostly focused on engagingly dark and smart mystery and crime thrillers, his most popular novel “The Plotters” being juicy enough to promise a film adaptation at some point in the future.

He now enjoys rising popularity within the international market.

 

I hopefully didn’t add too much to your already staggering “plan-to-read” list.

But I think you won’t mind, since there truly is much to admire about these Korean authors and their unique voices. There’s a reason why they’re so acclaimed, after all! I’m sure you’ll find several new books to add to your collection of favorites.

Happy reading!

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