I feel like I’ve always been interested in learning about Asian culture. Maybe it’s from my interest in manga and anime, maybe it’s because for a while I knew very little about it and wanted to know more. Sure, I love Europe and Medieval history and all of that, but after taking an entire semester in college that revolved around East Asia (from Asian writers to East Asia history and politics to Asian professors) in some capacity, I’ve noticed there is a need for Asian representation in books, in movies, in TV shows, in everything. Fortunately, there are several amazing authors that have already provided such representation. So here are ten books (or series) that feature main characters who are Asian*.
(This prompt is for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books that Feature Characters_______ Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc.)
*For clarification, this refers to characters who are or are of East Asian descendants, including but not limited to Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: This series focuses on three sisters who are half-Korean. It dives into Korean culture, such as food and traditions, but also discusses misconceptions or stereotypes about Asians. Overall, it’s an adorable contemporary romance, and I loved reading about the Korean culture.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang: This graphic novel is a retelling/revamp of a classic comic series, The Green Turtle, which is thought to be the first Asian-American superhero. Combined with humor and Chinese heritage, the Green Turtle lives again with an ultra-cool, new origin story. It’s a fun comic that pays homage to comic-book history in a new way, though anything by Gene Luen Yang guarantees Asian representation.
The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan: Following the Percy Jackson series, The Heroes of Olympus series focuses on seven main characters. One of them is Frank Zhang, a Chinese-American demigod. Frank is basically the best. He’s sweet, he’s adorable, and he can kick your butt. I love how Rick Riordan included hints of Chinese mythology in Frank’s character.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: Most of The Lunar Chronicles centers around what’s happening between New Beijing and Luna, so of course there is Asian representation. I think Kai being the heir to the emperor of New Beijing pays homage to the China’s long history of emperors and empires.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai: This book surprised me for a number of reasons. Told from the perspective of a young girl, Hà, Inside Out and Back Again is about a Vietnamese family that flees their home country due to the Vietnam War and tries to adapt to American culture. This was an eye-opener about a time, place, and people group in history that I knew nothing about. Her other book, Listen, Slowly, is just as moving.
Warcross by Marie Lu: This book just released a few weeks ago, and it has awesome Japanese representation. The creator of the virtual reality world of Warcross is Hideo Tanaka, a young genius from Tokyo. Not only does a lot of the book take place in futuristic Tokyo, but it includes a wide diversity of characters and language! It was cool to read, and I loved the details of Tokyo, the Japanese characters, and the inclusion of the Japanese language.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: This book has double-representation since it focuses on two characters, one who is Asian-American and the other who is Jamaican (and an undocumented citizen). Both characters have to deal with certain expectations placed on them by family and by the world, and I think it was definitely important for a book to address those expectations and prejudices.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I read this book for school during that semester of East Asia, and Celeste Ng actually came to the school for an author event. This book is about a Chinese-American family in the 1970s, which definitely focuses heavily on prejudice and certain expectations. It was a moving story that, once again, is an important book to add to the discussion.
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama: Now you might be wondering why I’m including a manga series on this list. Aren’t all manga Asian anyways? Yes and no. A lot of manga feature Asian characters and settings because they’re contemporary stories written by Japanese writers/artists (similar to how in America contemporary stories are written by American authors). But some manga include characters who are not Asian. Attack on Titan is one of these manga and it probably includes more diversity than most manga. Thus, there are only two main characters who are Asian, and their heritage has great significance as part of the plot (which I am not going to discuss because of spoilers). Plus, they’re both the most badass characters of the entire series!
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan: Gotham Academy, a comic series set in the DC Comics Universe, features a lot of diverse characters. However, my favorite character is Maps, a young Japanese-American girl who seeks adventure, ghosts, and Batman. She’s so stinky adorable and hilarious, and I’m just glad to see her on the front cover of almost every volume of Gotham Academy. Her brother plays a larger role in the comics later on as well, and it’s just cool to see their relationship as well.
Are there other books with Asian characters to add to the list? Don’t forget to join the link-up!