Nine Asian History/Folklore Retellings for Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year! Lunar New Year is one of the biggest celebrations in much of East Asia (and parts of Southeast Asia). Over the last year, it feels like the publishing world has been putting out way more Asian-related folklore and historical retellings and I couldn’t be more excited to read them all. As a Korean American, much of my history and culture is what I’ve learned on my own, so I don’t know many of the folklore or deeper history of these countries. It’s so great to get a glimpse into those stories through fantasy fiction.

I thought they would make for some great stories to read as we celebrate the start of the year of the tiger!

A quick side note: I tried to research stories from all the Asian countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, but I wasn’t able to find books for every country. If you do know of one, please let me know and I’ll update this list.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

While this book publishes a little later in February, it is definitely one you want on your TBR. It’s a feminist retelling of the Korean folktale, The Tale of Shim-Cheong. While the original story is about a young girl who throws herself into the sea to help her father regain his sight, this new tale features young Mina who sacrifices herself to protect her brother from heartbreak. From there, she enters the Spirit world filled with dragons, gods and goddesses, and while she continues to fight and save her village, she also might be falling in love with a soulless god.

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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

This is a historical retelling of the rise of the only female Empress of Chinese history, Empress Wu. Filled with science fiction themes, giant mechs, and really learning how to stomp out the patriarchy, Iron Widow will keep you entertained and raise an eyebrow or two by the time it’s done.

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Jade Fire Gold by June C Tan

If you’re not aware of Xianxia novels, it’s a genre of Chinese fantasy books, movies, TV shows, you name it. The stories are all heavily influenced with Chinese mythology, Taoism, Buddhism, martial arts, medicine, and folk religion. Most of what I’ve consumed as Xianxia has been Chinese dramas, but it’s exciting to hear that there’s an American fantasy book that dives into this as well. I would highly recommend it if you’re a fan of historical dramas.

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She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

I will never not hype up this book. It’s an incredible gender-swapped retelling of the rise of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of China. It’s brutal and dark (which are two of my favorite tropes) filled with major surprises, and a literary fiction kick to it. I absolutely loved this novel last year and highly recommend it if you’re a fan of military fatnasy.

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Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

While many of the books on this list use Mulan as a comparable story, Spin the Dawn is actually a retelling of Mulan with a seamstress kick to it. I haven’t read this one yet, but I have read other books by Elizabeth Lim. I can only imagine this is as good as the rest.

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Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

While this isn’t a retelling, it uses elements of Korean folklore to create a contemporary story set in Seoul. Filled with nine-tailed foxes, goblins, and inspired by K-dramas, you’ll definitely enjoy this one if you’re a fan of shows like Tale of the Nine-Tailed or Goblin.

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Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Different than a retelling, this story is inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e. Instead of retelling the story, Sue Lynn Tan creates a new tale featuring her daughter, Xingyin. This one reads like you’re watching a Chinese fantasy drama filled with forbidden romances, fighting for your life, and really learning about yourself. It’s filled with big surprises and will definitely keep you guessing until the very end!

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The Magic Fish by Trung Le Ngyuen

This graphic novel isn’t entirely a retelling, but it does share the Vietnamese folklore story of the same name. The Magic Fish is about a young person who’s coming to terms with who he is, understanding the divide between his family and himself, and despite there being such a gap between being Vietnamese and being American, they are united in their love. It also dives into some big themes of identity and belonging in a country that doesn’t speak your language and in a world that’s very new to everyone.

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The Poppy War by RF Kuang

While this book isn’t based on any folklore, it is based on the second Sino-Japanese War, and the deaths of thousands during the beginning of the 20th century in China. There’s also the idea of Mao Zedong and what if he was a teenage girl? You may not think right away that this is based on history, but once you start searching around for some of the bigger elements to the story, then you can see how they correlate.

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Do you know any Asian folklore or historical retellings that should be on this list? Let me know!

8 thoughts on “Nine Asian History/Folklore Retellings for Lunar New Year

  1. Happy New Year!!
    I’ve read four of these and I’ve been wanting to read She Who Became The Sun since it was released. It sounds right up my alley, hoping to read it this month 🙂


  2. Thanks for all the great recommendations! I also loved She Who became the sun and it’s one of my all time favourite books – the sequel really needs to come out faster because I need it now!


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