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Asian Mythology Retellings You Need to Read Now

Need a break from European-inspired fantasy worlds and modern Greek mythology stories? Try these retellings based on Asian myths.
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I’ve always loved mythology and folktales from around the world. As a kid, I was surrounded by Greek and Roman retellings and fantasy books set in European-like kingdoms. A few years ago, I started feeling bored with those books. So when I had the honor of being able to study various Chinese and Korean folktales for an English class in college, I was ecstatic. And since then, I’ve been drawn into many Asian retellings. So, here are some of my favorite Asian mythology-inspired books.

‘A Thousand Beginnings and Endings’ Anthology

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings normal and foreign covers
Greenwillow Books | ACT

For some reason, I didn’t read anthologies growing up. But now, I can’t get enough of them. I find it easiest to introduce new genres and subjects to myself through short stories. This book is just what I needed when I first started looking for Asian retellings.

Some of my favorite stories are Roshani Choksi’s “Forbidden Fruit” based on the Filipino myth of Maria Makiling, Lori M. Lee’s “Steel Skin” based on the Hmong folktale “The Woman and the Tiger,” and Cindy Pon’s “The Crimson Cloak” based on the Chinese legend “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.”

There are fifteen stories in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by various authors. After each beautifully written story, the authors reveal their chosen myth and why they chose it. This is perfect for people who want to get into retellings and short stories or love anthologies.

‘Jade Fire Gold’ by June C.L. Tan

Jade Fire Gold normal, foreign and Fairyloot covers
HarperTeen | Hodder & Stoughton | Эксмо

I have two copies of this book, so if that doesn’t show how good it is, I don’t know what would. Jade Fire Gold is inspired by Chinese mythology. The author said the book started from a dream of a girl in a desert and grew from there.

Told from two perspectives, Jade Fire Gold follows Ahn and Altan. Ahn is an orphan with no memory of her past and dark magic within her. Altan is the heir who had his birthright stripped away. Together, they work to get the Dragon Throne and the girl’s adoptive grandmother back.

‘Wicked Fox’ by Kat Cho

Wicked Fox and Vicious Spirits Covers
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

I’ll admit it, I picked this book up solely because I love the cover. But I’m so glad I did because I fell in love instantly despite not knowing anything about it. And then had to wait over a year to read the sequel. I was so impatient waiting for it.

The duology is inspired by the Korean myth of the gumiho. The gumiho, or kumiho, is similar to the Japanese kitsune. The creature is a nine-tailed fox that transforms into a beautiful woman and feasts on the hearts and livers of boys. I just love them so much, I need more kitsune-inspired works.

Wicked Fox follows Gu Miyoung, who loses her fox bead when she saves Jihoon. Despite the odds, the two befriend each other and try to retrieve the missing bead. Their lives, as well as their loved ones’ lives, are at stake in this modern-day retelling.

‘Rise of the Empress’ Series by Julie C. Dao

Rise of the Empress Series Covers
Philomel Books | Penguin Random House

You can thank TikTok for this recommendation. Since I joined the app in college, I’ve been bombarded with book-lovers saying the first book is one of the best they’d read in a while. And they weren’t wrong. I love a good retelling and villain origin story, and this served it up on a silver platter. Even better, the sequel doesn’t fall short in the slightest.

The first book in the series, The Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, reimagines the Evil Queen story we all know and love set in an East Asian-inspired world. Xifeng is expected to be the next empress. But to achieve that status, she has to learn to use her dark magic. However, the only problem is that her power comes from eating the hearts of the recently killed.

The second book is a direct retelling of the Vietnamese myth “Tam and Cam,” which is usually described as a Cinderella story. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is a companion book to the first book. It follows Xifeng’s stepdaughter, Princess Jade, on her quest to dethrone the empress and take the throne. Throughout it, she is tempted by Xifeng’s dark magic, too.

‘Empress of All Seasons’ by Emiko Jean

Empress of All Seasons normal and exclusive covers
Clarion Books | Gollancz

This standalone book was inspired by the Japanese mythological creature, the yōkai. They are spirits that can either be good- or bad-natured. They typically have animalistic features and can usually shapeshift or have other supernatural abilities. There are also numerous classifications of yōkai based on their appearances and powers.

Empress of All Seasons follows Mari, a yōkai who enters a competition to be the next empress despite being illegal. Each time an emperor’s heir is looking for a wife, a competition is held, and all, except yōkai, are welcome to join. On Mari’s quest, her life becomes entwined with another yōkai and the prince she is competing for.

‘The Candle and the Flame’ by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame Cover
Scholastic

The Candle and the Flame is based on the Arabian myth of the jinn, supernatural creatures that are also called genies. You may expect them to grant you three wishes for finding their lamp, but that’s not the legend this book is inspired by. Trust me, this novel takes you through a mythological journey you won’t want to leave.

Fatima is pulled into the world of the Ifrit, which are jinn of reason, when an attack shakes her city. She is taken to the palace to protect her, and she finally starts to heal from her past. Every minute of this book had me either crying or on the edge of my seat.

‘The Hour of Daydreams’ by Renee M. Rutledge

The Hour of Daydreams Cover
Forest Avenue Press

The Hour of Daydreams is a retelling of the Ibaloi and Filipino myth “The Star Maidens.” Every night, the Star Maidens came from the sky as beautiful women with pale skin, light hair, and light eyes. One was trapped on earth after a man stole her wings, preventing her from going back with the other stars.

In The Hour of Daydreams, Manolo gets a woman with wings to marry him, keeping her away from her sisters and the stars. Tala, the winged woman, hides her family secrets, slowly destroying her marriage. Throughout the book, we see the perspectives of the man, his wife, and their families.

‘A Spark of White Fire’ by Sangu Mandanna

A Spark of White Fire Series Covers
Sky Pony

The science fiction series is based on the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata. The tale tells the story of a struggle for power over Kurukshetra. The rightful heir is Dhritarashtra, a blind prince, but the one chosen is his brother, Pandu. In the end, Pandu leaves, and Dhritarashtra takes the throne.

The first book in the series sees Esmae trying to find her way back to her family and a way to put her brother back on his rightful throne. When her uncle opens a competition to the universe, she finds her solution. That is until everything goes wrong.

‘Shadows of the Fox’ by Julie Kagawa

Shadows of the Fox Series Covers
Harlequin Teen | Inkyard Press

This series follows Yumeko, a girl who is half-kitsune. Kitsune are “fox spirit” yōkai that can have up to nine tails. There are two categories of kitsune: the zenko (roughly translated to “good foxes”) and the yako (who are typically not-so-good-natured). These are some of my favorite mythological creatures of all time. And Julie Kagawa does the fox spirit justice.

Shadows of the Fox starts off Yumeko’s three-book journey to save her world. She was raised by monks and trained to hide her yōkai side. One day, she narrowly escapes her death with one part of an ancient scroll. The Scroll of a Thousand Prayers grants one wish to the holder, and Yumeko will do whatever it takes to keep it from landing in the wrong hands.

‘Dragon Pearl’ by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon Heart series covers
Rick Riordan Presents

Rick Riordan Presents has been putting out some fantastic stories, and this is no exception. The middle-grade science fiction gumiho story was great and had me hooked the entire time. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Rick Riordan, who gave it five stars on Goodreads.

The main character, Min, is a gumiho who has been disguised as a human her entire life. When her brother disappears, though, she runs away to find him and finally embraces her fox-magic. And to make it even better, a companion novel, Tiger Honor, will be out on January 4, 2022.

‘Daughter of the Moon Goddess’ by Sue Lynn Tan

Daughter of the Moon Goddess normal and exclusive covers
Harper Voyager

This book might not be out until January 11, 2022, but I managed to get my hand’s on an ARC of it (thank you to my book-loving friends). This book has been at the top of my list since I heard about it, and I can’t wait for release day, so I can get myself an official copy.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess was inspired by the Chinese folktale of Chang’e the Moon Goddess. To save her mother, Xingyin must learn to control the magic that caused her to flee her home on the moon. It’s a beautiful start to a duology.

‘The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea’ by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea normal and exclusive covers
Feiwel & Friends | Hodder & Stoughton

Again, thanks to my friend, I was able to read an ARC of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea and cannot wait to get myself a copy. The book is a retelling of the Korean story, “The Tale of Shim Cheong,” which is one of my favorites that I studied in college.

In Mina’s homeland, the people throw a maiden into the sea to appease the Sea God. When her brother’s loved one is next, Mina throws herself in instead. She finds the Sea God in the Spirit World in a deep sleep. She must team up with other spirits to wake him before she disappears.