50+ Amazing Asian Protagonists Who Were Asian from the Start

Welcome back to another week of “Wow, I can’t believe that actually happened. Let’s counteract that with books feat. amazing representation!”

Honestly, this is basically what my recommendation posts are turning into (see last week’s Combat Biphobia with These Awesome Book Recs! 🏳️‍🌈💗💜💙), but I don’t mind! I love spreading positivity as a reaction to negativity, so it’s time to chat about amazing Asian books I love and am excited for!

We’ve got backlist titles and frontlist ones and ones that don’t even come out this year OR next year, but you better bet this post is gonna be filled with all the awesome books with Asian protagonists.

Some things to note:

  • For the sake of this post, I’m going to limit it to also Asian MCs by Asian authors. But non-Asian authors’ fantasies that I have read an loved do exist!
  • This is definitely NOT a comprehensive list, and there are definitely authors I’m missing from this list, as well as second books in the series & upcoming Asian novels by these authors. So just keep in mind, you can definitely check out the authors’ Goodreads pages to see what other projects they have coming up!
  • Similarly, all the Goodreads links are in the titles & because there are 50+ (!!!) books in this post, I’m only gonna be writing a line or two about each. BUT CHECK THEM ALL OUT!!!

(Also, if there are any I’m missing, which there is sure to be, I’d totally appreciate it if you let me know in the comments!)


Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

I LOVED reading Shadow of the Fox and it was definitely one of my favorite reads from this month! I definitely recommend this one to everyone looking for a Japanese inspired fantasy featuring magic, a hero’s journey, and a casts of endearing characters!

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

If you’re into lush writing, you HAVE to check out Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. Not only is it gorgeous and lyrical, but it’s still got a really solid plot and talking horses and all sorts of awesome mythology.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

If you haven’t heard of An Ember in the Ashes…what are you doing you need to pick this up now. It’s such an engrossing series and I definitely binge read the entire first two books in a day because I just couldn’t help myself. That‘s how good this book is. Go go go.

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

This definitely surprised me in how much I loved reading! It’s based on Indian mythology and the plot was definitely engaging and I adore all the incredible magic and gods that were featured in this book.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

If you’re looking for an East Asian Evil Queen retelling, Julie C. Dao’s got you covered! This is such a magical and engrossing read with Xifeng’s fall from grace and her descent to villainy–plus, it’s companion novel (that you can read as a standalone) comes out this year and I’m SO excited!

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

For a high stakes Japanese fantasy, definitely pick up Renee Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist! This one has so many twisty elements to the series, as well as a swoon-worthy romance and a nice twist on well-loved tropes.

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

Although this one’s usually classified as sci-fi, I’d actually recommend for fantasy readers because off the magic and gods featured in this series. This book is so amazing with its really heart-breaking ending (I NEED the sequel) and political machinations! Inspired by ancient Indian mythology.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

One of the few Southeast Asian inspired fantasies out there, The Bone Witch is a dark and magical read fully of witchery and monsters you won’t want to put down! I definitely loved reading & am excited to pick up book 2!

Markswoman by Rati Mehrota

I’ve heard so many great things about Markswoman and can’t wait to pick this one up! It’s South-Asian inspired full of magic and warriors and looks like an amazing fantasy novel!

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh & Elise Chapman

If you’re looking for something a little shorter, then check out this exclusively Asian anthology, edited by Ellen Oh and Elise Chapman! There are so many amazing authors contributing to this and you don’t want to miss their awesome #OwnVoices mythological short stories!

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

I love the sound of mixing East Asian and French culture in For a Muse of Fire and have so many high hopes for this read! It sounds so amazing, and based off of the preorder swag (the songs!!!) it’ll be both spell-binding and magical.

The Reader by Traci Chee

I have been waiting to pick this up for so long, and with book 3’s release approaching, I definitely am ready to start on this series! It features the power of words, as well as pirates and assassins and all sorts of fantasy elements that I can’t wait to read!

Fantasy (Upcoming)

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

If you’re looking for both a gorgeous, East Asian story of female strength, as well as a f/f love story, you’re definitely going to have to pick up Girls of Paper and Fire! This read is not only magical and featuring a gorgeous world, it’s also a story of inner strength and fighting for what–and who–you believe in.

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

I mentioned earlier in the post the companion novel to Kingdom of the Blazing PhoenixForest of a Thousand Lanterns, and you definitely don’t need to read FOTL to read this Snow White retelling (although I’m sure it’ll provide good background). But I’m so so excited to dive into my ARC of this because Julie’s writing is so engaging and definitely something I want more of!

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

This sounds like such a cool Hunger Games meets Japanese mythology with its vicious rooms of different seasons and competing contestants! Plus, there’s magic and romance and hidden secrets, and I’m so excited to dive into this!

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Ahhh this sounds so amazing! A Mughal-India inspired fantasy full of magic and gods and empires and deserty vibes–which are all things I love. I can’t wait to pick this one up next month, especially after reading all of the awesomw comp titles!

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

I am so fortunate to have received an ARC of this from a friend, and not only am I excited for this because here’s another Asian girl on a cover!!! But it also sounds amazing and fierce and a good play on the sibling fight for the throne trope!

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Not only are there Game of Throne comps for this, but there’s also a whole bunch of symbolism and sacrifice themes that I’m so excited for! Plus I love the idea of being torn between multiple decisions, which is something the main character seems to face. Very excited for this one!

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

This is one I’ve only hear about recently, but I love the idea of multiple cultures coming together and djinn and magic, and this is sounds like such an interesting read just from the summary–I can’t wait!

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala

I am such a sucker for romantic fantasies and this romance between a soldier and an assassin is one I’m desperately looking forward to–especially with the Indian mythology woven in! I have the eARC, so I’m definitely going to be picking this up soon!

Stronger than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan

A fresh new epic fantasy, I’m excited for mechanical dragons and an epic quest and personal growth along journeys. This sounds like such an amazing read and I’m absolutely thrilled for this to come out next year!

Gumiho by Kat Cho

Foxes and magic and romance galore! I’m so excited to read this book featuring magic and friendship and romance and hard decisions, and I can’t wait to pick this up!

Guardians of Dawn by S. Jae-Jones

I loved reading S. Jae-Jones’ Wintersong series, and am so excited to read what she does with this East Asian fantasy! She’s such a great writer, and the sound of a girl-centric narrative feat. elemental powers has got me HOOKED.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

I am such a sucker for fashion stories, but that combined with one of my favorite tropes–dressing up as a boy–is enough to make me want to cry with joy because Elizabeth Lim is writing this story for us. I need this Chinese-inspired fantasy in my hands sooner!!!

Science Fiction

Want by Cindy Pon

You WANT to pick this up, especially knowing that its sequel is coming out next year! This was such an amazing science fiction read that I totally loved–especially with its Taiwanese rep in a futuristic setting. It was action-packed and engaging and something you NEED in your life.

Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan

This is one of my favorite Asian sci-fis ever because not only is there an amazing and fierce and ASIAN main protagonist, but some of the side characters’ storylines really resonated with me and my childhood as a POC. There’s a lot more depth than you expect in this, so definitely check it out!

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

I so enjoyed reading this and not only is it a complex read full of different political machinations and elegant plot twists, but it also features a unique structure that keeps you on your toes! You have to pick up this completed Duology ASAP.

Warcross by Marie Lu

I couldn’t forget about the iconic Marie Lu and her amazing virtual reality duology! I definitely found this to be a high-octane thrilling adventure full of complex characters and lots of action–you want to pick this up if you love the sound of virtual reality (and really satisfying series endings).

Exo by Fonda Lee

Aliens! Colonialism! & more! I’m definitely excited for Exo and its sequel Crossfire as I now own a copy and only have to pluck it off my bookshelf and read! I’ve heard amazing things about all of Fonda Lee’s writing and need to pick this one up soon!

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

If you’re looking for an action-packed adventure, then Rebel Seoul is for you! This sounds like a very layered and exciting dystopia I have heard nothing but praise for! There’s war and tech and lots of action, and I definitely need to track down a copy because all of my friends have given this 4+ stars.

Science Fiction (Upcoming)

Toxic by Lydia Kang

I just finished reading this a couple days ago and WOW this was such an engrossing read! I zoomed through this quicker than I expected and I absolutely adore the concept of sentient living spaceships (don’t hate it till you try it).

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

This has such a cool premise with its futuristic setting and submarine racing!!! The summary sounds so amazing and I can’t wait to find out more about this later in the year! Seriously, SUBMARINE. RACING.

Contemporary Coming of Age

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This book is pure magic. I loved reading and felt such a deep connection with Leigh and her own struggles. The magical realism element was so great and I absolutely adored everything about this book. Go read it.

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed’s debut is absolutely stunning in the way it discusses extremely relevant topics of today. I adored both the writing and the plot and even the romance and definitely recommend everyone pick this up!

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Gloria Chao manages to effortlessly capture both one version of the Taiwanese-American experience as well as the college experience–forming a debut you don’t wamy to miss out on! Mei is so relatable and I know you’ll fall in love with her as I did.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen

This is aimed more towards lowe YA, but that ddoesn’t mean it’s any less amazing. A profound exploration of first love and family and friendship, this book will warm your hearts and wow you at the same time.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

I’ve definitely heard a lot of praise for Picture Us in the Light and am very excited to read Danny’s story. It sounds almost like a slice-of-life sort of thing, but not 100%. It’s about college and senior year which I’m stressfully experiencing right now, so I definitely could use this.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

This sounds really good because I am so in love with generational stories! And one that heavily features Indian culture sounds really amazing, and is something I’ve been looking forward to and am excited to pick up!

Contemporary Coming of Age (Upcoming)

Internment by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters was an amazing read from last year and I’m so excited for another hard-hitting and poignant novel from Samira Ahmed! This sounds absolutely amazing and I definitely can’t wait to read another important story from Ahmed.

Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food Love edited by Elise Chapman & Caroline Tung Richmond

FOOD. I love food. I love Asian food. I love family and culture and I’m definitely so excited for this anthology! IT’S A FOOD ANTHOLOGY, OKAY? I can’t not pass this up.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

The Yoons are like, a total power couple and I’m definitely so excited to read the amazing story Yoon writes us about a Korean-American teen. This one is sure to be super powerful, and I’m excited for more info to be released!

The Summer I Learned Chinese by Lindsay Wong

The main character in this definitely goes through a lot just in the summary, and I’m definitely excited to read how she grows in The Summer I Learned Chinese! And I’m also another one of those somewhat shameful children who can’t speak anything but English, so this is definitely going to be relatable for me!

Contemporary Romance

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Do I even need to say anything about thus? TATBILB is such an icon, even before it got a movie, with how it forged a path for other Asian American writers, and I’ll always love this series. I’ve managed to binge read all three books in one day on two separate occasions!

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

If you’re looking for something cute and heartwarming and filled with culture, you have to check this out! Sandhya Menon will mame you laugh, swoon, and cry all at the same time with Dimple and Rishi’s adorable romance.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

If you like reading secondhand embarrassment stories, well, Desi has got you covered. Not only is this an adorable romance full of silly and romantic moments, it also was just a total blast to read and one I definitely recommend everyone pick up!

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

I LOVED THIS. I know Clara isn’t gor everyone, but her romance with hamlet was so adorable and I love how atmospheric this whole novel was with its amazing girl friendships and food trucks and strong family themes. Kudos to Maurene Goo for another great read.

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

If you’re looking for an awesome romance feat. filmakers and falling for the wrong guy, then Nisha Sharma’s got you covered! This os not only a swoon-worthy romance, but it’s also got a whole bunch of awesome Bollywood movie recommendations!

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

This is another rare college YA story, but Penny has such a strong and relatable voice in this, which I adore! I loved how different the voice in this was, as well as the cute, text-heavy relationship that formed.

Contemporary Romance (Upcoming)

Fake It Till You Break It by Jen P. Nguyen

Eep! Not only is there an Asian model on the cover, but it’s a love story feat. an Asian MC, meaning I GET TO SEE MYSELF IN A ROMANCE!!! This is so exciting because I love seeing the idea reinforced that Asian girls can fall in love too!

I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

I’m sorry, but I’m just the biggest sucker for food puns. And mochi. And so, I’m definitely so excited to pick up I Love You So Mochi because not only is the title and cover so adorable, the synopsis sounds fantastic!

Misaligned by Gloria Chao

Gloria Chao’s debut was such a great read, and I’m excited for something a little more romance-centric from her! Misaligned sounds so great and I’m ready for Gloria to write another really relatable story for all the Taiwanese-American teens out there, like me!

A Pho Love Story by Loan Lee

COMPETING RESTAURANTS SOUNDS SO CUTE. Like, omg, I love eating pho and I love the sound of competing restaurants (gives off non tragic Romeo & Juliet vibes) and so I’m definitely so so excited for A Pho Love Story to come out!

Contemporary Mystery/Thriller

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

I’ve heard so many amazing things about Malinda Lo’s work and am definitely excited to pick up A Line in the Dark! As you can see, there are so few Asian mystery/thriller novels, but I’m glad we have A Line in the Dark, which I can’t wait to pick up!

Historical (Upcoming)

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

Based on the Malaysian race riots of the late 1960s, The Weight of Our Sky looks like a poignant read that I’m so excited for! SEA rep is so rare in American YA, and I’m really excited to read all the amazing things Hanna has written!

Ten Thousand Rivers by June Hur

Set in 1800s Korea, Ten Thousand Rivers features a murder investigation and lots of mystery and intrigue! I’m definitely really ready to read this, although it comes out in more than a year (2020)!

much love, vicky

What Asian YA novels are you excited for? Definitely let me know which ones I missed in this post!

55 thoughts on “50+ Amazing Asian Protagonists Who Were Asian from the Start

    1. ahhh omg thank you so much! you are too sweet–I hope you love all the ones you haven’t read yet! & yes! I’ve heard so many great things about THE POPPY WAR I can’t wait!


    1. ack, no not yet! I’m not as familiar with her older works, but i’m definitely going to have to check it out!

      I know a lot of older works from authors get passed over, but I am definitely trying to read more from authors I’ve loved, so i’ll take you up on that rec!


  1. I’m loving this list, Vicky! I would highly recommend Forest of a Thousand Lanterns! First Asian fantasy I ever read ❤ The Reader, and The Bone Witch are two books I want to read. I'm glad you included the SciFi genre as it's something I want to try. I read A Spark of White Fire recently and that has got me wanting to try more of the genre!

    I'm so glad you're highlighting all these Asian authors. It was disheartening to read about recent events. I can't deal with authors who carelessly play with race in their books -_-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ahhh omg thank you!!! FOTL was so awesome, I totally agree! I hope you love them–Asian sci-fi is so sparse but IGNITE THE STARS is my absolute fave, so definitely try the genre!

      and yeah, I can’t believe that piece of art was approved by SO MANY people along the process and no one said anything???


    1. aww, thanks Kelly, and oooh, definitely going to add! I can’t believe I forgot that one, but so many people have said awesome things on that series!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An amazing list, Vicky ❤ I will definitely add all these to my TBR. Seeing all these Asian MCs made my Asian heart so happy 🙂

    I am in the process of making a spreadsheet of 2019 diverse releases so this is definitely helpful

    Liked by 1 person

    1. omg, thanks Nia!!! I hope you love reading all of them–the ones I’ve read have truly been amazing! and definitely check out Rachel Strolle on twitter for more 2019 releases, because she knows a TON of them!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this is such an amazing list Vicky, thank you so much for taking the time to put all of this together! ❤ There are so many good looking books there.
    I've read the first book in the Ember in the Ashes series and I really loved it – I'm so nervous to continue with the series though haha. I also really liked Flame in the Mist and Forest of A Thousand Lanterns. I NEED to read The Reader, it sounds like such an incredible book!! ❤
    Oh and the astonishing color of after. and emergency contact. There are so many brilliant books ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aww, of course marie! thank YOU for taking the time to read!

      and the series can be AKJDLJD OMG WHAT sometimes, but it’s soo worth it to read Torch! (I’m a total hypocrite saying this though because i’m nervous to read Reaper)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahah, I guess it’s the kind of series that make us all nervous? 😛 I’m just scared of bad things happening, but I know they will happen and I don’t know if I am ready haha 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yeah! Sabaa really knows how to hit us with big ones, lolol

        all these people talk about like the “OMG” things in Reaper and I’m a little scared to be put through that emotional wringer!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love that you’re combating bad rep and negativity discussions with posts of good recs from ownvoices authors!! That is AWESOME. And also I love this list and have a ton of new books to add. 😍Plus I’ve read a stack of them which makes me very happy! I’m currently reading The Weight Of Our Sky and omg it is brutal. Excellent, but it’s going to leave us all sobbing messes. ❤️💔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aww, thank you so much, Cait! YES!!! I hope you love them!

      I’ve heard so many good things about The Weight of Our Sky and Hanna is just awesome (in the way that she’s going to tear all our hearts out and eat them for lunch).


    1. oooh that’s a good one! I can’t believe I forgot (I didn’t even realize it was OV!) thanks for telling me–and spark really was AWESOME


  5. my to-read list on goodreads will now, and forevermore, be hard to beat. but i loved this rec list, dude! and, surprisingly, i have a handful of them! and now i’m even more excited to get to them!!

    Liked by 1 person

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