15+ Korean Books to Learn Korean Fast and Discover Korean Culture
Do you love to read? Use your love of books to learn Korean faster! This list of the best Korean books will get you started.
No matter what level you’re at in your Korean studies (or if you’re looking for a good Korean book in English!), this list will give you something good to read.
I’ll be sharing the best textbooks to start learning Korean so you can better read novels. And I’ll be listing out the must-read Korean books in English translation, too, to learn more about the culture.
Oh, and I’ve included Korean children’s books, for beginners or raising bilingual babies.
Table of contents
- Can You Learn Korean With Books?
- What Are the Best Books to Learn Korean?
- How Do You Say “Book” in Korean?
- Best Korean Books
- Novels Written in Korean
- Korean Children’s Books
- Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
- How Can I Buy Korean Books?
- Be a Korean Bookworm
Can You Learn Korean With Books?
If you’ve watched any Korean dramas at all, you’ve probably seen huge bookstores and characters reading novels all the time. So if you’ve wondered, “Do Koreans love books?”, the answer is – absolutely they do!
Korea has a phenomenal book culture. They have mega bookstores that carry all kinds of items, not just books. They have comic and book cafes, where you can hang out and read to your heart’s content.
And Korea has incredible literature that will get you hooked.
Besides a general interest in reading, books are one of the best ways to learn a language.
Reading is a powerful tool (and one of the 4 languages skills ). It helps us gain insight into another culture, pick up new words and phrases in natural context, and learn a language through use.
What Are the Best Books to Learn Korean?
First up, let’s look at the best Korean learning books. Because you’ll need some Korean learning resources to help you advance your skills to read easier.
What book is best for learning Korean?
Talk to Me in Korean Books
Talk to Me in Korean is one of the best-known resources out there for learning Korean. They have it all – podcasts, YouTube videos, an online curriculum, and many books and textbooks.
Their textbooks are popular for being easy to use and learn with. And they offer a ton of variety of textbooks on different topics, as well as graded readers.
They have their grammar books from level 1 – 10, ranging from absolute beginner to advanced learning. They include audio so you can listen and work on pronunciation.
Korean Grammar in Use
If you can already read and write hangul and know some basic Korean words, then this textbook is for you.
Widely considered one of the best Korean grammar books, Korean Grammar in Use is easy to follow and focuses on teaching you to build your own sentences.
This is the textbook I used with my Preply (our review is here) seonsangnim (“teacher”), and I highly recommend it. Plus, it’s reasonably priced on Amazon!
There’s also an intermediate and advanced version of the textbook for further learning.
Online Resource: 90 Day Korean
Okay, it’s not a traditional textbook, but 90 Day Korean does still have lessons and exercises to go through in a structured course!
90 Day Korean is one of my favorite Korean courses to learn how to speak Korean fast. It’s a well-thought-
out and easy-to-follow course, with lots of vocab and grammar practice.
Plus, they teach you about a lot of fun topics, like KPop and KDramas, too!
How Do You Say “Book” in Korean?
What are Korean novels called?
Well, a “book” is called 책, chaek.
In the case of a “novel”, it’s 소설, soseol.
Here are some other Korean words related to reading you should know:
- To read: 읽다, itda
- To write: 쓰기, sseugi
- Reading (noun): 독서, dokseo
- Author: 작가, jakga
- Comic: 만화, manhwa
- Webtoons: 웹툰, webtun
- Bookstore: 서점, seojeom
Best Korean Books
If you’re looking for the best Korean stories to dive into and learn more about the culture, these are where you should start.
These books are bestsellers and popular modern novels that give insight into life in Korea.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
You wouldn’t think becoming a vegetarian would be a big deal. But The Vegetarian tells a different story.
Yeong-hye and her husband live a normal life. But Yeong-hye decides to go vegetarian because of weird and graphic dreams. And when she does, everything around her starts crumbling.
The book is a reflection of modern-day Korean society and how strict customs are upheld.
I’ll put a trigger warning here, though, because this book does deal with some heavy and graphic stuff.
Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook
A popular international bestseller, Please Look After Mom may be one you already know. But if you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing out.
A 69-year-old wife and mom is separated from her husband in the crowded Seoul subway and goes missing. As her two children and husband look for her, they realize they don’t have a recent photo of her for the missing flyers.
This leads them to dig deeper and ask themselves… Do they even really know Mom?
The story takes turns through the narrative of the main characters. It reflects on how well we actually know those around us (especially our moms).
Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon
A sci-fi novel, Tower was published in 2009 in Korea. But only recently in 2021 did it finally get an English translation!
The Tower follows a series of short stories that are all interconnected. The tower itself is called the Beanstalk, and it’s a huge skyscraper that operates as a sovereign nation. Each story shares a look at what life is like in this strange, hypermodern society.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is an international bestseller about a millennial Korean woman and her spiral into psychosis.
Ji-young gives birth to her child, and she’s expected to quit her job and take care of her husband and baby full time. But then she starts having strange symptoms of psychosis, like impersonating the voices of other women.
She ends up seeing a male psychiatrist. From there, the story recounts her experience as a woman in Korea from childhood to adulthood. It shows how gender discrimination and trauma affected her life and mental health.
The Plotters by Un-Su Kim
If adrenaline were a book, this would be it.
Set in an alternate Seoul, The Plotters tells the story of an assassins guild operating out of an old library. Reseng, one of the assassins raised by Old Raccoon, has become one of the best on the job.
But he discovers a crazy plot, and has to figure out if he can take control of the situation and the game.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park
A tale of Seoul nightlife, hangovers in the morning, and a reflection of millennial and queer life in Korea.
Love in the Big City follows Young. He loves to throw down with soju, meet up with Tinder matches, and hang out with his best friend/roommate, Jaehee.
But Jaehee decides to settle down, and Young is left to start growing up and taking responsibility for his life and his ailing mom. All while possibly finding the greatest love of his life.
Novels Written in Korean
If you’re an advanced learner, any of the books written in Korean above would be an enjoyable read.
But what other novels could you read in Korean, if you can’t read a whole book yet?
Here are some ideas of graded readers to level up your skills.
Short Stories in Korean for Intermediate Learners by Ollie Richards
Ollie Richards is the creator of StoryLearning. I’ve reviewed his Japanese Uncovered course where you learn Japanese through story. (He has one coming out for Korean soon!)
He’s a big proponent of learning through reading, so it’s no surprise he has created a fantastic graded reader for intermediate learners.
Short Stories in Korean contains 8 stories in different genres – everything from sci-fi to historical.
The book focuses on using the 1000 most common Korean words. And includes a glossary, plot summaries, and bilingual word list to help you along.
Plus, there are comprehension questions after each story to help make sure you’ve understood what you’ve read.
Story Books from Talk to Me in Korean
Talk to Me in Korean also has a lot of graded readers that align with their Korean textbook levels.
For example, Have You Seen a Blue Jindo Dog? is for levels 1 – 5 and has both Korean and English translation side-by-side. There’s also their series of Korean Reading with Kakao & LINE Friends for levels 5 – 10.
They have books with children’s poems, collections of easy reading stories, and even a Winnie the Pooh book!
But best of all, they have a collection of 5 short novels by acclaimed authors. They’re all short in length and contain the English translation to help you ease into full-blown novels in Korean.
Korean Children’s Books
The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho and Jess X. Snow
This book is so interesting and beautiful. It tells the story of Dayeon, a young girl who wants to be a haenyeo like her grandmother.
Haenyeo (“sea women”) are women divers whose job it is to dive for mollusks, seaweed, and other sea life. They’re from the Jeju province in Korea, an island off the southern coast of Korea.
Dayeon sees the haenyeo as beautiful, strong mermaids, and while she longs to join, she’s scared to get in the water. Dayeon’s halmoni (“grandmother”) helps her overcome her fear and appreciate the ocean.
Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans by Tina Cho and Keum Jin Song
Another Korean children’s book by Tina Cho. Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans is based on the true story of a girl who helped feed North Koreans sending balloons across the border.
Yoori’s appa (“dad”) grew up in North Korea and escaped to South Korea. But while living in the North, he grew up starving and never had enough to eat.
So Yoori takes it upon herself to bring her community together to “help the enemy” – and send rice via balloons to those starving in the North.
Appa means “dad” in Korean. But do you know how to say “mom” or “sibling”? I wrote a guide for you to answer these questions: https://www.fluentin3months.com/family-in-korean/)
Pinkfong Music Books
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard “Baby Shark” 5 million times by now. Well, the creators of the song, Pinkfong, also make a lot of Korean material.
One such option is their Korean music books with sounds and music, written in Korean. They’re available on Amazon!
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
Bee-Bim Bop! is an adorable story that celebrates Korean food and preparation as a family.
Bibimbap is a Korean mixed rice dish and a classic staple meal in Korea. In the story, the Korean American mom and child go shopping, prepare the food, and make their favorite meal together.
How Can I Buy Korean Books?
For the majority of the books here in English translation, you can buy them at your local bookstore.
But getting books written in Korean is a bit harder.
Sometimes you can find them on Amazon, but they’re usually pricey.
Books on Korea has a wide range of book options, including textbooks, novels, comics, and children’s books.
Gmarket is a popular choice. It’s a global online shop with tons of options for goods (not just books!) from South Korea directly.
I recently discovered Korean Kids Books which features a small selection of bilingual children’s books for a great price.
And as for finding more Korean book recommendations? I use Goodreads to search for Korean book ideas. I save them to my list, so I remember which ones I want when I order or shop for an ebook!
Be a Korean Bookworm
This is only the tip of the iceberg with Korean books and novels. There are tons more options, in all sorts of genres and topics.
But this will help get you started.
Being a bookworm in your target language will pay off immensely in your language skills! So go forth and read often.
If you’re ready to take the next steps in your learning, why not check out these other articles about learning Korean?