Korean literature in translation has given us some true gems the past few years. That includes manhwas and, in this case, light novels too. We’ve taken a deeper dive into light novels, but as a quick refresher, light novels are short and fast-paced books. They are similar to manga (or manhwa) except that they rely on words instead of pictures. The chapters (or volumes) themselves don’t tend to be too lengthy. But when they go on for years, they rack up a huge amount of installments (like Legend Of Legends with its 500+ chapters).
Unfortunately, Korean light novels are a bit hard to find. Only some of them are in print, and most of them are web novels. Which is all fine and great (I love web novels), except that most of them aren’t fully or properly translated. There are a few sites where you can read them both legally and for free, like Woopread, Webnovel, and WordExcerpt. So Korean light novels are out there, you just have to dig a bit.
And with that out of the way, let’s get to some recommendations. All of them can be read online, but if they have a print version that’ll be linked first. Also, this list will be by no means be extensive, as there are plenty more Korean light novels out there. But I hope that this list of classic and newer Korean light novels will kickstart your journey to other worlds.
Here are some of the best light novels written by Korean authors.
Classic Korean Light Novels
These are the novels that were published before 2016, and they also seem to be quite popular among light novel fans.
Solo Leveling by Chugong
Solo Leveling was one of the most mentioned Korean light novels I found. For starters, it’s one of the only ones I found in print (you can also read it online). It’s a fantasy story in which gates connect the worlds of monsters and humans. The main character (MC) is Sung Jin-woo, a very low-level hunter who protects humans. After he dies on a quest, he reawakens with the unique ability to level up his skills. Which sends him on a quest to become the strongest hunter in the world.
Dungeon Defense by Yoo Heon-Hwa
Dungeon Defense is the story of a man who ends up inside the game “Dungeon Attack”. In the game, he becomes one of the minor demon lords that serve as villains in the game. The MC has to survive the game by playing, but with such a physically “weaker” character, he’ll have to use his wits. The trope of ending up inside a game is one of the most common in Korean light novels, and this is one of the most popular of the genre!
The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor by Nam Hee-Sung
Another popular light novel, this one is also about video games. Plus, it’s the oldest one on this list, The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor first appeared in 2007! The story follows a popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) player who sells his avatar. Only to lose everything to a loan shark. So to make a living and support his family, he decides to give another MMORPG a try. But instead of being an adventurer or a fighter, he ends up being a sculptor. Either way, he’s determined to become the best once again.
Top Management by Long Umbrella
Top Management has been around for about five years and it’s one of the most different and enjoyable Korean light novels in this list! It follows a celebrity manager who occasionally has visions of the future. So there’s this slight magical realism element, but the real action goes on in the show business world. It’s been on hiatus for a while, but the chapters that are already out are all translated and you can read all 218 right now.
Legend of Legends by Da-Won
Legend of Legends is another light novel that has been around for some time. It’s already completed, so you can read all 599 chapters right now. The story moves between the real world, where people are hit with narcolepsy every week, and another, game-like, world in which creatures from different dimensions battle in an arena. The main character is one of the people who can enter the arena, but he’s a low-level minion rather than a hero. Yet nothing will stop him from becoming a Legend.
Reincarnator by ALLA
This light novel is also complete. It’s a fantasy, sci-fi, and action story set in another dimension called The Abyss. This place was created by a cruel god, who takes whole civilizations and pours them in the Abyss to fight and survive. In this place, a group of human survivors find the Space Time Crystal. So they send back one of their own to redo everything and avoid their fate. Because of the time-traveling premise, Reincarnator has a bit of everything. There are dragons and demons, but there’s also romance and comedy too!
New Korean Light Novels
These are newer novels, all published after 2017, but still quite loved among Korean light novel fans!
Omniscient Reader by Sing-Shong
This might be the most popular, new Korean light novel. Everyone loves it and recommends it for its unique worldbuilding and characters. It’s already completed, and it even became a Webtoon! It’s more meta as it’s part of a sub-genre that focuses on characters who are readers. In it, Dokja is an avid reader who finds himself in the middle of his favorite webnovel about the apocalypse. He knows how to survive because he knows the plot of the story, but there are no guarantees he’ll actually make it.
This is a much newer light novel, and it’s one of the few you can find in print! The mixed fantasy and romance genre is quite common among Korean light novels, especially newer ones. In fact the “villainess” sub-genre this story belongs to, is one of the most common ones. I’m Only a Stepmother… is a sort of Snow White retelling in which the main character is reincarnated as the evil stepmother. And that is after she tried to poison Snow White. So the stepmother, Abigail, tries to regain her family’s trust and win Blanche (Snow White) back.
The Great Storyteller by Im Han-Baeg
There are light novels about readers, but there are also about writers! The Great Storyteller is different from the more common action-packed Korean light novels. It’s slower and more contemplative, instead of adventurous and fast-paced. It follows an author who was the youngest in the history of the world to have a bestselling novel. Sadly, his success is short-lived, and he never writes another novel again. But one day he gets a second chance to do it right.
Daddy, I Don’t Want to Marry! By Hong Hee Su
I Don’t Want to Marry! is another popular villainess fantasy romance. It’s even considered a bestseller Korean light novel! It’s pretty new, and the traditionally published version just came out this year. You can also read the first few chapters online for free. When Jubelian is left to die, she is given the chance to travel back in time and change her fate. She starts doing things differently the second time around, but her father is looking for her next suitor. And he might just be a Crown Prince known for being a horrible man.
Artifact Reading Inspector by Yeong-Wan
Korean light novels also like to play with magical realism, like in this story. In it, the MC gains the ability to look into the past of different artifacts and learn their story. With it, he wants to become the greatest inspector in the world. It’s softer, like The Great Storyteller. And if you like art you’ll definitely enjoy the varied mentions and descriptions of art pieces throughout the story!
Doctor Goes Back to Joseon by Han Saniga
Korean light novels are big on time travel, as you can see. This one is fun because it’s historical fiction and it transports you to the well-known Joseon period (as in the last dynasty of Korea). It follows a great, modern, doctor who one day touches a painting that throws him back to the Joseon dynasty, kind of like Outlander! So with a very handy medical bag and a little creativity, he’ll become a great doctor in the past too!
If you’re done with these and you want other easy and engaging reads, check out our list of best manhwa! We also have general manga recommendations, and a list of the best manga and light novels to read in 2021.