Korean pop culture is all the rage these days. Take catchy K-pop songs and swoon-worthy K-dramas, for example: the whole world seems captivated by them. In publishing, Korean webtoons are also said to be displacing Japanese manga in popularity. Inevitably, this trend reached the realms of romance publishing, with the publication of some Korean romance novels.
But, although Korean romance novels, especially K-pop romance books (and fan fiction), flourished in the last few years, there have only been far and few between by Korean or Korean American authors. There may be plenty of romance novels published in South Korea, especially with the boom of webtoons and K-drama. They aren’t, however, mostly available in English, making it difficult to access them. In my case, I grew up watching Filipino dubs of Korean TV series, long before they were called K-drama. I devoured classics like Temptation of Wife, Coffee Prince, Stairway to Heaven, Endless Love: Autumn in My Heart, and Full House, and I’m surprised that there aren’t full-length novel counterparts of any of these.
Thankfully, I was able to find several ones published in the United States. In this list, I included Korean romance novels for both adults and young adults. And because of an apparent dearth of Korean romance books from Korean authors, I also included fiction novels that give off K-drama vibes as a bonus, which might also be of interest.
But before that, here are eight Korean romance novels with Korean and K-pop themes written by Korean or Korean American authors to make you experience Korea in all its glory. These diverse Korean romance novel recommendations will get you awash in that Hallyu fever!
Adult Korean Romance Novels
Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee
Garrett, on the verge of becoming CEO of the family business, faces pressure from his grandmother to get married. To force his hand, his grandma orchestrates a marriage arrangement with a powerful Korean family.
Meanwhile, Natalie, an executive for the company, finds herself in need of a husband due to her plans to adopt her sister’s daughter. This leads Garrett and Natalie to agree to a fake marriage, establishing clear rules and boundaries. However, as they navigate this charade, unexpected feelings develop.
Idol Thoughts by Ji Soo Lee
In this steamy reverse harem, Holly, an unexpected heir to a K-pop production company, is entrusted by her half-brother with revitalizing the fading career of the K-pop band H3R0.
As she takes on the role of their manager, Holly finds herself not only navigating the challenges of managing the career of the six-member boy band — Tae, Dante, Minhyuk, Nate, Kyun, and Jun — but also forming passionate relationships with each of them.
A Sweet Mess by Jayci Lee
This romantic comedy follows Aubrey as her bakery business faces a tragic fate when Landon, a restaurant critic, receives a cake intended for a child thanks to a mix-up by Aubrey’s assistant.
Landon meets Aubrey at a bar, where afterward, they share a one-night stand but still unaware of the situation. Then Landon publishes a scathing review in a magazine that damages the bakery’s reputation. Later on, he learns of the truth and the consequences of this mistake, and though he regrets it, he realizes that he can’t undo the damage caused. To compensate, he offers Aubrey an opportunity to be featured in a cooking show he produces, entangling business with romance.
So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park
In this slow-burn romance, Jessica seeks refuge in her hometown of Nashville to contemplate her next move after being fired from her job as an investment banker. During this period, she sets up a business featuring Korean meal preps and creates a YouTube channel. Surprisingly, her childhood rival, Daniel, offers help along the way.
As her business thrives, her former company expresses interest in acquiring it, only to discover that Daniel is the counsel representing the said company.
Young Adult Korean Romance Novels
Seoulmates by Susan Lee
Centered on Korean American teen Hannah, this YA novel explores her struggle to embrace her Korean heritage. Ironically, her friends and her boyfriend, Nate, are huge fans of K-pop and K-drama, leading to the couple’s breakup when Hannah fails to share the same enthusiasm.
Thankfully, when Jacob, her childhood friend and a Korean actor, returns to San Diego after three years, it opens up a chance for them to reconcile and maybe even discover love between them.
Flip the Script by Lyla Lee
In this “meta” romance, Hana and Bryan, the leading actors of a K-drama series, fake a relationship to create hype for their show, despite Hana’s lack of interest in Bryan. To add more intrigue, the showrunners introduce Minjee, Hana’s former audition rival.
Things take an unexpected turn, however, when both Hana and Minjee begin to develop feelings for each other.
Shine by Jessica Jung
In this young adult romance set against the backdrop of the K-pop industry, Rachel, a Korean American young woman, joins DB, a prominent K-pop production company. Unfortunately, she faces animosity from everyone in there, particularly Mina, who consistently bullies her.
When she meets Jason, a member of a boy band managed by DB, she quickly falls in love. But this newfound romance sparks a fierce battle between her and Mina as they both strive for stardom alongside Jason.
Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
In this YA romance set in Seoul, the story follows Gu Miyoung, a teenage gumiho or a mythical nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore. Known for seducing and killing men, Miyoung meets Jihoon, a human, when he’s attacked in the forest. Miyoung saves him, deviating from the usual. But in the process, she loses her gumiho abilities and becomes human.
A deep bond forms between the two as they fall in love. But when a shaman attempts to restore Miyoung’s gumiho nature, she finds herself torn between her past and her newfound humanity.
Bonus: Romantic Korean Fiction
As a genre, romance should always finish with happy endings, which is known as Happily Ever After or HEA, or at least with a Happy For Now or HFN. If a book doesn’t have any of these, then it’s not romance — and romance readers won’t be inclined to read it.
But since there’s only a few Korean romance novels in English by Korean authors, the following fiction books with K-drama elements might be of interest. They don’t always end happily, but they do include romantic elements that will make you swoon.
The Last Exiles by Ann Shin
Quite similar to the popular K-drama Crash Landing on You, the story unfolds in reclusive North Korea, ruled by a dictatorial government where people suffer from starvation and where anti-Western propaganda prevails. Against this backdrop, Jin and Suja’s love story takes center stage. Suja hails from a privileged family in Pyongyang, the capital city, while Jin comes from a poor background and relies on a scholarship to attend university. However, when Jin returns home one day to find his family without anything to eat, he turns desperate and disappears to find a way to provide for them. Suja discovers what he’s done and decides to follow him.
This dramatic tale also serves as a social commentary on the state of North Korea.
The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin
In the historical backdrop of the Joseon Dynasty around late 1800s, Yi Jin, a court dancer, catches the eye of Victor, a French diplomat visiting the Korean Emperor. Their unexpected romance blossoms, leading Victor to whisk Yi Jin away to France for marriage.
While infused with romance and K-drama allure, the book also delves into the intricate history and politics of Korea and of the world at the time, exploring themes of colonization and identity.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park
Set in South Korea, this one follows Jaehee, a gay man, from adolescence to adulthood. The novel’s divided into four sections, and each represent a chapter in his life. In all of them, Jaehee discovers various forms of love, including platonic, familial, and above all, romantic.
Love in the Big City has been longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2022.
Want K-culture galore in your books? Here are more Korean romance novels and books about Korea, starting with romantic Korean YA novels, books for K-drama fans, and books for fans of historical K-dramas!