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Enjoy the Taste and Scent of Korea With Genre Literature




February 11, 2024, will mark exactly 30 years since Korean writer Djuna uploaded his first short story to an online SF community on the PC communication service “HiTEL.” The story was titled A Butterfly that Traveled Back in Time, and it was Djuna’s first official release. Since his debut in 1994, Djuna has published a total of 170 novels, and it is almost 200 if you count his unpublished works as well. He is the most prolific and longest-running science fiction writer in Korea. Djuna is like a cornerstone of Korean SF, with many SF writers confessing to being his fans, saying that they were greatly influenced by him. However, it was only recently that Djuna was introduced to the international audience. It was in 2019 that the short stories The Second Nanny and The Bloody Battle of the Broccoli Plain were published separately as ebooks, audiobooks, and paperbacks in English-speaking countries. Then, long after that, in July 2023, Djuna’s first full-length novel, Counterweight (Alma), was published in English by the Penguin Random House group in the US. Being the first English translation of Djuna’s works, the book hit the Amazon bestseller list upon its release and received rave reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Wired, to name a few.


Korean covers of Counterweight

English covers of Counterweight

Korean and English covers of Counterweight



It was 2022 when writer Kim Sung-Il’s fantasy steampunk saga Mercia Trilogy was sold to Tor, the largest fantasy publisher in the US. Only the first volume was published in Korea then, and even the third volume had only a synopsis, but the American editor, mesmerized by the epic narrative, offered a fully-fledged contract. Convinced after having an online meeting with the writer, the editor quickly searched for the book’s translator, and chose Anton Hur, who was known for his translation of Cursed Bunny (Rabbithole). Because Kim Sung-Il was fluent in English, he spent eight months working with the editor on the manuscript of the first volume, Blood of the Old Kings, making some changes and refining the text as much as needed. He said the process of polishing the manuscript with the editor’s affectionate comments was a special and enjoyable experience. Meanwhile, the Korean manuscript was also rewritten based on the revised English manuscript. In addition, a Russian publishing group that visited the Seoul International Book Fair (SIBF) held at COEX in June 2023 purchased the rights to the work and began selecting a translator as soon as they received the revised Korean manuscript. Nowadays, our agency is in talks with several publishers to find a publisher for the Korean version of this work. Because we always looked for a publisher to translate the Korean version published first, it was an unusual experience to have the order reversed this time.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 37 – Go to the introduction of translator Anton Hur


* K-Book Trends Vol. 47 – Go to the article about Korean books recommended by translator Anton Hur


Bora Chung’s novel Cursed Bunny was selected as one of the six shortlists for the International Booker Prize in May 2022, becoming one of the most celebrated works in world literature. Starting with a small independent publisher in the UK in 2021, publication rights have been exported to 23 countries around the world, including China, Spain, Indonesia, Germany, France, Turkey, Vietnam, Brazil, and Japan. Publisher Algonquin, part of the Hachette Group, which published the US edition of Cursed Bunny, acquired the rights for another of the writer’s short story collections, the second to be published in English, Your Utopia (Arzaklivres), a year later. It is set to be released in January 2024. It includes eight stories of mixed genres such as horror, mystery, fantasy, and SF with a unique sense of black humor, such as To Meet Her, a story written in memory of the late Sergeant Byeon Hee-Soo for the enactment of an anti-discrimination law, the Korea Science Future Award winner Seed, and A Very Ordinary Marriage, which was released on Millie and generated a lot of buzz. In particular, Hachette Group is enthusiastic about Bora Chung’s The Midnight Timetable (Purple Rain (Galmaenamu)), a horror trilogy released in 2023, and has signed an additional contract to pay tens of millions of won for the rights.
Recently, in November 2023, Cursed Bunny was named a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Fiction in the US, placing the writer and translator Anton Hur alongside some of the world’s top literary figures. “The book was already a favorite of English-speaking readers before it was chosen as a finalist, but its sales exploded after it was nominated for the National Book Award,” said a representative of the Hachette Group.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 47 - Go to the interview of writer Bora Chung


Cursed Bunny published by Hachette

Your Utopia published by Hachette

Cursed Bunny and Your Utopia, published by Hachette



But before any of the previous three, Kim Bo-Young has already made a splash on the world stage. Kim’s works are being published one after another around the world. The first Korean SF writer to have her work published by a major US publisher, Harper Voyager, I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories is a collection of three short stories, I’m Waiting For You (Separan Sangsang), I’m Coming To You (Separan Sangsang), and The Prophet of Corruption (Arzaklivres). It has been published in Taiwan and is awaiting publication in Arabic in Egypt. In addition, On the Origin of Species and Other Stories, a short story collection that was longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award, was published in Italy in the fall of 2023, after which the writer was invited to participate in book talks held in three cities to meet local readers in person. Currently, its Chinese edition is being prepared. Another short story collection, How Alike Are We (Arzaklivres), was published in Japan, and L’Odyssée des étoiles (Stellar Odyssey Trilogy), a compilation of I’m Waiting For You, I’m Coming To You, and People Traveling Into the Future (Separan Sangsang), was published in France, which followed by an invitational event of the writer in the local community. Meanwhile, while Kim Bo-Young’s novels are being adapted into various formats such as plays, graphic novels, and series on global OTT services, it is expected to meet her works on both the screen and the stage, as well as in paperbacks. She was also officially invited to the Sci-fi Worldcon held in Chengdu, China, in October 2023, giving a number of lectures, talks, and signing events.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 57 - Go to the interview of writer Kim Bo-Young


I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories, published in the US

On the Origin of Species and Other Stories, published in Italy

I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories, published in the US,
and On the Origin of Species and Other Stories, published in Italy



On top of these, meaningful proposals are being made to Korean genre literature. For example, Pandemic: Six Worlds (Munji Books), an SF & Fantasy anthology published not so long after the outbreak of COVID-19, was translated and published in Japan by Kawade Shobo. Also, Trapped in Love (GU-FIC Publishing Company), another SF & Fantasy anthology by young female writers that describes a type of love that is likely to be found in the era of COVID-19, was translated and published in Germany by Cross Cult, a famous genre literature publishing company. In March 2024, an anthology, carefully chosen by a German editor who is a huge fan of Korean genre literature after reading dozens of short stories, will be translated and published by publisher Memoranda. Representative short stories by Kim Bo-Young, Djune, Park Seol-Yeon, Lee San-Hwa, Lee Seo-Young, Jeon Sam-Hye, and Bora Chung will be included in the collection.


Korean covers of Trapped in Love

German covers of Trapped in Love

Korean and German covers of Trapped in Love



There are some fun joint developments as well. For example, Heyjin Jeon, who wrote a series of novels featuring ordinary urban citizens’ heartbreaking and touching stories with elements from ordinary Korean food like jjolmyeon (spicy chewy noodles), gimbap, and soybean paste stew, has been receiving attention from many “book headhunters” in the US and UK. Some even made appeals that they would like to acquire options for the translation’s publication rights for each language in advance, even though the title is only available as a sample in Korean with an incomplete proposal.
People from the global publishing industry whom I meet at international book fairs or private meetings all say, “We want to know what Koreans eat, what they like, and what makes them laugh and cry. Every little moment in their daily life—whether it be at school, in the workplace, in government offices, on the street, or at home—becomes valuable global literature to us. The genre does not matter at all.” In short, they are eager to know more about the unique visuals, smells, and tastes that can only be felt in Korean works, regardless of their time frame, whether it be the Joseon Dynasty, the era of the Three States, modern Korea, or even far into the future. It’s time for the long-built prowess of Korean genre literature to charmingly mesmerize the hearts of global citizens, extending beyond the Korean peninsula.



Written by Toni Shi-Hyoung Kim (Chief agent at Greenbook Agency)



Toni Shi-Hyoung Kim (Chief agent at Greenbook Agency)

#Genre Literature#Djuna#Bora Chung#Kim Bo-Young
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