Squid Game has taken the world by storm and I am here for it! The world is now full of memes, reactions, and the most amazing cosplays inspired by the K-drama. The show became such a phenomenon that about a month after its release, it became Netflix’s biggest series launch ever! And I can honestly say that it absolutely deserves it. If you haven’t watched it for whatever reason, I absolutely recommend you do so. It is anxiety-inducing and violent, so maybe keep that in mind before you watch it. But if you’re in the right mind, and want to give it a go — I don’t think you’ll regret it!
If you’re here, you probably already know what the show is about. But just in case you need some convincing, here’s a brief summary: Squid Game revolves around a contest in which 456 players — who are deep in financial debt — are offered an opportunity to win 45.6 billion won (about $38 million dollars). They just have to play and win six children’s games like Green Light, Red Light or tug-of-war. But these are deadly versions of the games, and when you break the rules or lose, you get shot.
Squid Game is as thrilling as it sounds. If you — like me — can’t get it out of your head, you’re in the right place. Because there are many books that have the same vibes! I think there are two types of books like Squid Game. First, there are those that revolve around surviving lethal games. Second, there are the suspenseful, exciting, and anxiety-inducing thrillers set in South Korea.
So without further ado, here are ten books like Squid Game!
Books Like Squid Game About Survival
Battle Royale: Remastered by Koushun Takami
Of course I’m starting off this list with one of the OG manga about survival! It’s so popular that people thought The Hunger Games was a rip-off of Battle Royale (even if it isn’t). Like Squid Game, this manga is all about a group of people forced to compete in a deadly game in which there can only be one winner. In this case though, the players are high-school students who are taken to a secluded island. They are also provided with tons of weapons by an authoritarian program so they are the ones who kill each other. It’s less like a structured game, but it’s just as brutal, violent, and thrilling as Squid Game.
#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
In #MurderTrending, we follow a group of convicted felons that live on Alcatraz 2.0 and are trying to survive as a group of masked individuals kill them off one by one. If that isn’t brutal enough, it’s all a reality show that streams live. Specifically, the story follows Dee — who was convicted of killing her stepsister even though she didn’t do it. To survive, Dee joins a group called the Death Row Breakfast Club. She has no hope of surviving, but with their help she might just avoid the murderous executioners and prove her innocence. Like Squid Game this book is all about a fight for survival that serves as entertainment for others.
All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody
In All of Us Villains, seven families choose a champion to compete in a tournament where there can only be one winner. This is a more fantastical story, for the prize of winning is control over a wellspring of high magick for the next two decades. So the seven champions (ehm, villains) enter the arena with one task: to kill each other and be the last one standing. This year, not everyone has to compete. So the seven teens have a choice — to accept their fate or rewrite it. This is a book in which the competition is more willing than forced — just like Squid Game. Because the families don’t have to compete in the tournament, they choose to do so for their personal gain. Plus, it may not be $38 million dollars, but the prize still comes with a huge amount of power.
Alice in Borderland by Haro Aso
Okay, technically this manga isn’t out in English yet. But I just had to put it in this list! It’ll be out on March 15, 2022 — though you can preorder it now and watch the Netflix adaptation while you wait! Like Squid Game, this manga has a main character that struggles with his life. His name is Arisu, and he wants something that can change his life. One day, while watching fireworks with two of his friends, they are all transported to a parallel world called Borderland. There, people are forced to participate in a series of deadly games if they want to survive. Even though the challenges here are different and more mind-numbingly complex, this is one of the books that is most similar to Squid Game.
Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji by Nobuyuki Fukumoto
Gambling Apocalypse is also super similar to Squid Game! One main character who is deep in debt? Check. An impossible offer to clear said debt? Check. A series of games in which you die if you lose? Check! This manga follows Kaiji Itō, a man who is neck-deep in debts he cannot hope to pay. One day, a loan shark comes to collect his money. But he gives Kaiji a choice — Kaiji can either pay him off for the next ten years, or he can participate in a game. If he wins it, he can also win the money he needs. This sends Kaiji in a spiral of games and survival. Will he make it out alive?
Thrillers Like Squid Game Set in South Korea
These books aren’t exactly thematically similar to Squid Game. But the show is a part-thriller set in South Korea that’s heavily influenced by its culture. This books are like that — and they have the same dark, gritty, brutal, and anxiety-inducing vibes. Which is why I think they’re perfect for this list! Plus, all of these books are written by Korean authors in translation.
The Law of Lines by Hye-Young Pyun
This is a dark and grim book about criminality, debt, and grief. The Law of Lines follows two storylines that overlap. On one side we have Se-oh, a woman who lived with her father — until she comes home to find their house in flames. The police rule her father’s death a suicide, considering he had an overwhelming amount of debt. But Se-oh isn’t satisfied with this explanation. So she takes the investigation into her own hands.
On the other side, we have Ki-jeong. One day, she receives a phone call saying that her younger half-sister is dead. Her death was also ruled a suicide — but this doesn’t satisfy Ki-jeong either. So she goes to her sister’s university campus to find out what really happened. One of her biggest clues is her sister’s cell-phone, which has Se-oh in the call log…
Your Republic Is Calling You by Young-Ha Kim
Your Republic Is Calling You is about morality and secrets. It also has a North Korean character — like Squid Game! The story is more character-driven, instead of action-packed. It follows Gi-yeong. He’s a foreign film importer in South Korea. He has a wife and a daughter. He is also a North Korean spy who has been living in the country for over 20 years. One day, he receives an email from the home office saying he has to return to their headquarters by the next day. He hasn’t heard a peep from them for ten years. Is this message real? Has someone discovered his identity?
Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong
It has been seven years since a young girl was found dead in Seryong Lake. Seven years since three men were caught in a game of cat and mouse as they tried to find out what happened. Seven years since the final showdown that ended in a mass tragedy — and Sowon’s father was sent to prison for murder. Now, Sowon lives in the shadow of his father’s mysterious and inexplicable crime. One day, he receives a package that promises him the answers to all his questions. What really happened at Seryong Lake? Seven Years of Darkness is a twisty, intriguing, and disturbing story about control and revenge.
The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo
This eerie, slow-burn is more of a psychological suspense than thriller. But it still has the dark and brutal vibes that the rest of the thrillers in this list have. The Only Child follows criminal psychologist Seonkyeong after she receives an unexpected call. Turns out that the famous serial killer named Yi Byeongdo is finally willing to be interviewed — except he won’t speak to anyone but her. Seonkyeong agrees, and the very same day her husband’s daughter from his previous marriage arrives in their home. Seonkyeong didn’t know about her stepdaughter, who acts very strangely. And as she meets with the serial killer, her whole life is about to change. Why will he only speak to her? Why did her husband never mention his daughter?
The Plotters by Un-su Kim
Last but not least, The Plotters is gritty, brutal, darkly humorous, and absolutely unputdownable! The book takes place in an alternate Seoul, in which assassin guilds compete for market dominance. In this world, there are assassins and plotters. The former do the killings, while the latter are the masterminds behind them. Reseng is one of the assassins. One day, he steps out of line in a “job,” which turns into a slippery slope as he uncovers an extraordinary plot in which he is a pawn. Now, Reseng has to decide if he’s okay with someone controlling his life, or if he wants to take matters into his own hands. This book has the same offbeat vibe you get from Squid Game, and I promise you won’t be able to put it down.
For more books set in Korea, you can check out our list of best Korean fiction in translation.