As a writer of love stories, I spend my days crafting fictional characters’ happily-ever-afters — but it took me forever to imagine one for myself. Growing up, I never saw Asian American girls like me centered as fairy tale princesses or rom-com heroines. If we were present at all in these stories, we were usually tragic figures, only there to perform pain. As an adult and an author, I’ve really embraced the idea that showing Asian people experiencing joy — love and adventure, passion and pride in being Asian — is one of the most revolutionary things you can do.
In my new novel, From Little Tokyo, With Love, rage-filled, half-Japanese orphan Rika Rakuyama doesn’t believe in happy endings — especially not for girls like her who don’t quite fit the princess mold. But thanks to a surprising connection to an Asian American rom-com queen, a cute dancer-actor who wants to help her on her quest, and the magic of her Little Tokyo neighborhood…well, she’s swept into her own modern fairy tale. And yes, she finally gets her very own happily-ever-after.
These days, there are so many wonderful books that center Asian joy. I can’t help but wish that I could travel back in time and give all of them to my younger self. Perhaps she would have been able to see much earlier that joy was what she needed, that she could write her own story, that there was a big world of adventure and romance and wonder out there for her. Perhaps she would have realized that happily-ever-after was possible.
Below you will find 20 joyful Asian books that stoke my imagination and fill my heart.
by Courtney Milan
Set in a charming 1890s English village that hosts an annual game as chaotic as Calvinball, this historical romance is the definition of delight. There’s a duke who’s pretending not to be a duke, a perfectionist heroine who goes to great lengths to make the “just one bed” trope come true, and an Asian dad who tests his daughter’s suitor by crafting increasingly spicy food. Warm, witty, and wonderful.
by Gloria Chao
Gloria Chao’s romances are always the perfect blend of hilarious and heartfelt, deftly balancing the realities of family expectations and intracommunity issues with laugh-out-loud set pieces and impeccably calibrated kissing. In this fake-dating tale, college girl Chloe hires dreamy Drew to pretend to be her boyfriend in front of her parents. And as with all of Chao’s books, I was so charmed that I immediately wished I was best friends with everyone involved.
by Mia P. Manansala
In this culinary cozy mystery, dessert enthusiast Lila Macapagal contends with meddling aunties, annoying ex-boyfriends, her family’s struggling restaurant…and a dead body. Lila’s hilarious seen-it-all inner monologue made me laugh from the very first page, and the descriptions of many glorious meals will have you ordering up a truckload of lumpia before you’ve reached the last.
by Sandhya Menon
Sandhya Menon’s ability to create characters you want to hug immediately is on ample display here as she reimagines Beauty and the Beast in an elite boarding school that attracts teenage royalty from around the world. Princess Jaya Rao intends to break brooding Lord Grey Emerson’s heart as part of an intricate revenge scheme inspired by a centuries-old feud. Naturally, things don’t go as planned. This book’s modern fairy tale aesthetic will sweep you away — and into a breathtaking happily-ever-after.
by Suleikha Snyder
Pinky Grover is a nice girl dutifully working at her parents’ Indian restaurant and not doing much of anything else — until the sheer hotness of bad boy and Chris Evans lookalike Trucker Carrigan sets her heart so aflame, she makes the possibly bad decision to have sex with him. Over and over and over. Pinky is one of the most winning romance heroines in recent years, and this addictive read is that rare beautiful balance of sexy and sweet.
Get it from Amazon.
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
As a nerd who grew up obsessed with sweeping epics like Star Wars but never quite saw herself in them, I felt as if this book was something I’d been waiting for my whole life. Nami Miyamoto is a mixed-race girl who just graduated from high school and is ready to have some fun — until she’s transported to a dazzling, fantastical version of the afterlife called Infinity and is basically tasked with saving humanity. This book is stuffed with so much vibrant imagination and sheer epicness, and I am so ready to don Nami cosplay and head to the inevitable InfinityCon.
by Helen Hoang
This is one of those books that I started late at night because I thought I could read just one chapter. Hours later, I was sleep-deprived, sobbing uncontrollably, and unable to contain all the pure elation coursing through my body. Our heroine, Esme Tran, is a mixed-race Vietnamese woman who’s grown up with nothing and falls for an unlikely heartthrob. Esme is one of the most endearing, lovable romance characters I’ve ever encountered, and her story crawls directly into the center of your heart and stays there.
by Samira Ahmed
Our whip-smart heroine Khayyam has a passion for art history and is spending a glamorous summer vacation in Paris, so naturally she uncovers a 200-year-old mystery centering on a secret connection between Alexandre Dumas and Leila, a young Muslim woman history has all but erased. This book is both a thoughtful meditation on whose story gets told (and who does the actual telling) and a pulse-pounding romantic adventure stuffed to the brim with secret rooms, hidden drawers, and the magic of summer in the City of Lights.
by Naomi Hirahara
Naomi Hirahara’s delectable mysteries always make me feel like I’m visiting my family — warmth and specificity infuse every word, and the way her finely drawn characters interact feels so much like real life. Leilani Santiago is at the center of her sprawling multicultural clan, having returned to Kaua’i to help with the family business — a crumbling shave-ice shack. But then there’s a murder, and plucky Leilani has to solve it while devising tasty new shave-ice concoctions and dealing with all the entertaining drama her family thrives on.
10. A Taste for Love
by Jennifer Yen
If you adore Jane Austen, The Great British Baking Show, and/or The Bachelor franchise, this sparkling romp of a book was made for you — and you will be obsessed. Aspiring baker Liza embarks on her very own Pride and Prejudice–style journey, complete with a meddling mom trying to fix her up with a nice, elder-approved boy. Too bad there’s a hot, stoic-beyond-belief, possibly inappropriate guy who keeps catching her eye. Let me know when you, too, become obsessed — we’ll make memes together.
by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
I’ve talked so much about this winsome wonder of a graphic novel, it’s pretty amazing that I can still conjure new superlatives to describe it. Teen witch Nova works in her family’s magical bookshop and reconnects with her childhood crush — who just happens to be a werewolf. Gentle magic, enchanting forest spirits, and pages that look good enough to eat make this beautiful book truly sing.
by Mina V. Esguerra
Regular-girl college sophomore Hannah Maquiling has a new job: She has been appointed the Goddess of Love (well, at least as long as the actual goddess is MIA — that’s the “interim” part), tasked with helping her peers track down secret admirers, avoid bad matches…and maybe eventually finding love herself? This book, the first in a trilogy about Hannah’s many adventures trying to solve humanity’s romance problems, is the most glorious blend of sassy contemporary and enchanting paranormal, and I adored every word.
by Maurene Goo
A K-pop spin on Roman Holiday?!? What could be better? In this effervescent treat of a book, pop star Lucky embarks on a 24-hour romp through Hong Kong with tabloid paparazzi Jack — who has not been entirely honest about what he’s up to. Maurene Goo always creates the most iconic YA heroines: brilliantly bold, distinctively voiced, and unafraid to be themselves. The irrepressible Lucky is an absolute star.
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
This stunning fantasy basically redefines “epic.” Somehow, Maggie Tokuda-Hall manages to create mythology that feels entirely fresh and new while also giving me the nostalgic, lost-in-a-book feeling I got while devouring fantasy classics as a kid. With her breathtakingly lyrical prose, she introduces us to a vast world of pirates and witches, mermaids and magic. I wanted to stay lost in these pages forever.
by Nalini Singh
Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series is one of the best, richest, and sexiest sci-fi/fantasy romance works out there — and this is the book that started it all, starring tough-as-nails multiracial heroine Sascha Duncan. There are beings with phenomenal telepathic/telekinetic powers, humans who transform into leopards and wolves, and world-building so detailed, you will feel as if you are living inside the book. Singh builds her sprawling, loving family of characters over the course of the series, and I am ready to die for all of them.
by C.B. Lee
This book is so wholesome and fun, it’s impossible to read it without having a big, goofy grin on your face. High school nobody Jessica Tran is the only person in her family without superpowers. So naturally she ends up interning for a supervillain! Adventure and romance follow — also, there are cute robots.
17. Playing House
by Ruby Lang
The first book in Ruby Lang’s Uptown Collection is so fizzy and charming, you will be struck with an immediate desire to purchase all of her work — and you should. This irresistibly sweet story of two city planners posing as a couple so they can check out pricey Manhattan real estate starts with a kiss that is somehow funny, sexy, and surprising all at once — a perfect preview for a perfect book.
18. The Magic Fish
by Trung Le Nguyen
This gorgeous graphic novel tells the story of Tiến, a young teen who can’t find the words to tell his parents he’s gay. His parents speak mostly Vietnamese, he speaks mostly English. He and his mother connect by reading fairy tales to each other, and through this they find something like a shared language. The scale of this book is a marvel, somehow both sweepingly epic and achingly intimate all at once. Every lovely page feels rendered with so much tenderness and heart, leading to a stunning conclusion that will fill you with both tears and happiness.
by Zen Cho
This epistolary romance novel sweeps us into 1920s London, where modern young lady Jade Yeo earns a living with her pen, writing scathing reviews of self-important novels and documenting the latest fashions. Jade’s voice is so lively, self-assured, and brimming with razor-sharp wit, I just wanted to hang out with her forever. As she takes us through her madcap escapades — verbally battling an “intolerable aunt,” embarking on an affair with a writer whose work she trashed, discovering love in an unlikely place — we cannot help but thrill in every delicious page.
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by Keiko Agena
This one is nonfiction, but it fills me with so much pure joy every time I crack it open, I simply must include it. No Mistakes is a kind, empathetic, inspiring creative workbook that transformed how I approach writing and my artistic life in general. Artist-writer-actor Keiko Agena (you may know her from those iconic turns in Gilmore Girls and Prodigal Son) guides you through various soothing exercises based on one of the guiding ideas behind improv comedy: that there are “no mistakes” in art, only opportunities for growth. Particularly if you’re going through burnout, this book will recharge your artist’s soul.