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5 Must-Read Fantasy Books Based On Asian Folklore For AAPI Month

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Literature is one of the many ways that we preserve and share culture. Books can not only be a way to learn about the unique histories of others but also a way to delve into the rich folklore and mythology of other cultures. Likewise, reading can provide an opportunity to engage with your own culture on a profoundly personal level. 

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month—a time to celebrate the culture and contributions of generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and continue to contribute so much to its future success. One of the many ways we can celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage is by reading literature that spotlights AAPI culture and reading works from AAPI authors. 

These five enchanting must-read fantasy novels based on Asian mythology and folklore provide a fun way to both celebrate AAPI culture and support AAPI writers. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by sue lynn tan

“Some scars are carved into our bones—a part of who we are, shaping what we become.”

In this gripping debut fantasy novel inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, a female protagonist journeys to free her mother, forcing her to fight the most powerful immortal in her realm. Xingyin is forced to flee her home and leave behind her mother when her existence is discovered by the feared Celestial Emperor. She disguises her identity and learns archery and magic from the emperor’s son as passion begins to build between them. To save her mother, Xingyin must embark on a quest where she will confront legendary creatures and ultimately confront the Celestial Emperor. The story is the beginning of a romantic series that unites Chinese mythology with a story of adventure and magic.

Song of the Six Realms by Judy I. lin

“First we breathed, then we dreamed.”

In this brand new release by Judy I. Lin, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Magic Steeped in Poison, Xue, an orphan and gifted young musician, faces a lifetime of servitude when her uncle is killed suddenly in a bandit attack. That is, until she is called upon one night to put on a private performance for the mysterious Duke Meng who, despite his nobility, is strangely awkward and endearing. When the duke offers her a deal to serve as a musician in residence for a year to gain her freedom, Xue obviously accepts. However, things only get more dangerous for Xue from there: she and the duke barely survive an attack by a monster, and the duke escapes with Xue to his true home, where he reveals himself to be the Duke of Dreams, one of the divine rulers of the Celestial Realm. The Six Realms are on the verge of destruction, and the Duke needs Xue to unlock memories from her past that might hold answers to stopping the impending war.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth lim

“‘Find the light that makes your lantern shine,’ she used to say. ‘Hold on to it, even when the dark surrounds you. Not even the strongest wind will blow out the flame.’”

An exiled princess, a shapeshifting dragon and six enchanted cranes are just a few of the characters that comprise this instant New York Times bestseller. The story draws on both Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore, and this YA fantasy is ideal for readers who enjoy novels like Shadow and Bone. Princess of Kiata, Shiori’anma, has a dangerous secret: she has a forbidden magic. On the morning of her betrothal ceremony, she loses her control. Though she is grateful to have stalled the wedding she never wanted, she also gains the unwanted attention of her stepmother, Raikama, who is also a sorceress. Raikama banishes Shiori’anma, threatening to kill her brothers if Shiori reveals her secret. As she wanders alone to find her brothers, Shiori discovers a conspiracy to seize the throne. However, in order to save the kingdom, she must trust a paper bird, an unpredictable dragon and the boy she never wanted to marry.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

“When man begins to think that he is responsible for writing the script of the world, he forgets the forces that dream up our reality.”

If you haven’t heard of R.F. Kuang (also the author of the dark academia sensation Babel), then this is your very necessary formal introduction. The Poppy War, book one of The Poppy War trilogy, is ranked as one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest fantasy books and is no doubt an incredibly imaginative tale and a jaw-dropping debut. Inspired by the violent history of China’s twentieth century, this epic historical military fantasy features a world brimming with magic and betrayal. The story also places highly relevant issues of discrimination based on color, poverty, and gender at the forefront, and the main character’s coming into her own through a lethal, unearthly power related to the art of shamanism despite the struggles and discrimination she faces.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha suri

“As if a choice, carefully bred into your nature by grief and training and hardship, was any choice at all.”

In this intensely feminist fantasy novel, the winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, a “ruthless princess” and a “powerful priestess” unite to overthrow an empire. The world is inspired by the history and epics of India, and the story is led by multidimensional, vibrant characters with tangible motivations and interests. With lesbian and bisexual main characters and morally grey female leads, The Jasmine Throne doesn’t lack on the representation front, either. Suri’s story explores both the value and the danger of love in a world dominated by politics and power. The novel is book one of a trilogy entitled “The Burning Kingdoms.”

AAPI stories are a great gateway into AAPI culture, and these modern stories draw on rich histories to create spellbinding narratives celebrating both AAPI characters and stories. I have no doubt that once you read one novel, you’ll be reaching for the next soon enough.

Kylee is a fourth-year at UCLA double-majoring in Communication and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her poems have been published in Train River Poetry, The Mandarin, Open Ceilings, and our very own Westwind (among others). She also writes feature articles for Her Campus at UCLA. In her free time, she acts, drinks way too much coffee, romanticizes everything, and buys more books than she can keep up with.