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The Most Korean is the Most Global




It is the era of Hallyu, the Korean Wave. Korea’s soft power - movies, dramas, cuisine, literature, and more - is shaking up the world. Following the movie “Parasite,” “Squid Game” and “Pachinko,” which were released on global OTT platforms, global curiosity about Korea expanded. Korea is now one of the major tourist destinations frequented by people from all over the world, and Korean food such as ramen, kimbap, and tteokbokki are considered hip and trendy, and have gained immense popularity around the world. People around the world looking to understand Korea a little better are now seeking to read Korean literature and share Korean sentiments. In response to this demand, major publishers around the world have been actively scanning Korean titles for their markets. The enthusiasm could be felt firsthand at the Korean Pavilion installed at the Frankfurt Book Fair held last October. Consultations for copyrights continued throughout the fair, and there were quite a few international publishers and agents that expressed immediate interest in contracting for specific works on the spot.


Korean Pavilion installed at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair

Korean Pavilion installed at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair

Korean Pavilion installed at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair



The year 2023 was truly a memorable year for the export of Korean literary rights, with a number of record-breaking achievements. They can largely be categorized into “literary achievements” and “commercial achievements.” First of all, in terms of literary achievements, Korean literary works translated into multiple languages have won or been shortlisted for major international literary awards. For example, after Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (Changbi) won the International Booker Prize in 2016, Park Sang-Young’s Love In the Big City (Changbi) and Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny (Rabbithole) were shortlisted for the prize in 2022, and Cheon Myung-Kwan’s The Whale (Munhakdongne) was shortlisted in 2023. Even though he missed the prize, major international media outlets poured out articles marveling at the incredible growth of Korean literature, confirming once again the potential and power of Korean literature.


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


* K-Book Trends Vol. 48 – Go to the interview of writer Park Sang-Young


Following this, Korean literature continued to receive major literary awards. For example, Han Kang’s I Do Not Bid Farewell (Munhakdongne) won the Prix Medicis (French Medici Prize), and Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny was shortlisted for the US National Book Award. In addition, Love in the Big City by Park Sang-Young was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, Shin Kyung-Sook’s Violet (Munhakdongne) was longlisted for the US National Book Critics Circle Awards in Translated Literature, and Kim Ae-Ran’s Summer Outside (Munhakdongne) and Jeong Yi-Hyun’s The Age of Civilized Violence (Munji Books) were shortlisted for the Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award in Russia. As such, Korean literature has now become a frequent guest of the world’s major literary awards. With its timeless, all-encompassing worldview, ingenious writing style, and immersive storytelling, Korean literature is captivating the hearts of literary award judges and critics with its unique characteristics that cannot be found in conventional Western world literature.


The Vegetarian

Love in the Big City

Cursed Bunny

The Whale

The Vegetarian, Love in the Big City, Cursed Bunny, and The Whale



I Do Not Bid Farewell


Summer Outside

The Age of Civilized Violence

I Do Not Bid Farewell, Violet, Summer Outside, and The Age of Civilized Violence



The commercial achievements of Korean literature in the past year can be put in two categories. First, from a quantitative perspective, Korean literature has significantly expanded its reach by signing copyright agreements in a variety of language regions, including the US, UK, Europe, Latin America, and beyond; and second, from a qualitative perspective, there have been a number of notable “Big Deals” with global publishers in various genres, such as literature, non-literature, young adult (YA), self-help, technical, and children’s books. According to statistics on book copyright exports compiled by the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea (KPIPA), copyright exports to Asia, especially to the Chinese-speaking regions, dominated until just over three years ago. However, over the past three years, the exported regions of Korean literature have expanded at an astonishing rate. From Asia to Russia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North, Central, and South America, Korean titles, both literary and non-literary, have been sold around the world at a rapid pace, as if one domino falls and the dominoes behind it collapse at the same time.
Baek Se-Hee’s I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki (HEUN), which was published by Bloomsbury in the UK in late 2022 and became an instant bestseller, has been published by Rowohlt in Germany, Mondadori in Italy, Leduc in France, Urano in Spain, AST in Russia, Universo dos Livros in Brazil, KOBUNSHA in Japan, CITIC PRESS in China, Haru in Indonesia, and ThaiHabooks in Vietnam, breaking all kinds of records as it was sold to more than 25 countries around the world. Also, Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop (Clay House) has contracted with 20 countries, including Bloomsbury in the UK and the US, Marigold Mind Laundry (Book Romance) has signed rights agreements with 15 countries including Penguin Random House in the UK and the US, and The Rainbow Goblin Store (Clay House) has entered into rights agreements with 12 countries including the UK and the US, which means that it is now possible to expect a global bestseller to be translated into more than 10 languages. In addition to literary works, non-fiction titles have also signed contracts in more than 10 languages and are preparing for publication in each country.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 25 – Go to the interview of writer Baek Se-Hee


I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki published in various languages

I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki published in various languages



Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop

Marigold Mind Laundry

The Rainbow Goblin Store

Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop, Marigold Mind Laundry, and The Rainbow Goblin Store



It is also encouraging to see the increasing diversity of Korean titles being introduced to international audiences. While there are differences in preferred fields by language and region, Korean titles are increasingly spreading across the globe in all areas, with literary titles primarily targeting the Anglo-American and European markets, and non-fiction, self-help, technical, and comic books targeting Asian markets. Following the successful release of Hwang Bo-Reum’s Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop, British publisher Bloomsbury recently signed a copyright deal for Cheon Seon-Ran’s The Savior at Night (Safehouse Inc.). It is noteworthy that the interest has expanded from “healing novels” to “queer vampire mysteries.” The English-language market is showing great interest in the work of talented young writers with distinctive worldviews, such as Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny, Cho Ye-Eun’s The Massacre in New Seoul Park (Safehouse Inc.), and Cheon Seon-Ran’s The Savior at Night. With Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, and Harper Collins on the list of publishers scheduled to release Korean writers’ works in the future, expectations are sure to grow.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 30 – Go to the interview of writer Cheon Seon-Ran


The popularity of Korean female writers in Japan remains strong, with Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung Born 1982 (Minumsa), Sohn Won-Pyung’s Almond (Darjeeling) and Counterattack at Thirty (EunHaeng NaMu), and Hwang Bo-Reum’s Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop all proving to be popular among readers. Russia has been one of the most active markets in terms of contracting Korean titles in recent years. Russian publishers AST and EKSMO are competitively acquiring the rights to a wide range of popular Korean titles. Starting with commercial novels such as Kim Joong-Hyuk’s Deleter (Giant Books), Noh Hyo-Doo’s The Acquaintance (GOZKNOCK ENT), Kim Ha-Rim’s The Day I Disappeared (GOZKNOCK ENT), Lee Seon-Young’s Botero Family’s Love Pharmacy (Clay House), and Cheon Hee-Ran’s K’s Funeral (Hyundae Munhak), children’s and young adult series such as BLACK CAT GGAMNYANG (Changbi) (6 books in the series), Science Middle School (Dduindol Books) (3 books in the series), Wanini the Green Lioness (Changbi), and My First Greek Roman Mythology Series (Mirae N) have also been garnering increased attention.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 22 – Go to the interview of writer Sohn Won-Pyung


Thailand and Indonesia are among the Asian countries that show the greatest interest in Korean books. For example, Everything About MBTI (Mate Books), Bright and Clear Even With Clouds (Joongang Books), Sleep With Your Feelings Off (Whale Books), My Life: As Long As I’m Okay (Wisdom House), and I Hope My Poor Consolation Reaches You (Sigma Books), all of which send warm messages of encouragement and empathy, have been sold to representative Thai publishers such as Nanmee Books, Amarin Printing, and Jamsai. Also, self-help non-fiction titles such as We’re Family, But We’re Strangers (Seosawon), which explores healthy family relationships, You’re Not Bad at Your Job, You’re Bad at Talking (Seosawon), which introduces the importance of tone and voice, and Let Me Take Some Rest Today (Studio Audrey), which encourages people to follow their inner voice rather than other people’s opinions, as well as educational books for children such as The Ridiculous Science (Weizmann Books) (Vol. 1-5) and The Incredible Math (Weizmann Books) (Vol. 1-5), have been introduced in Indonesia.


The Savior at Night

Counterattack at Thirty


The Acquaintance

The Savior at Night, Counterattack at Thirty, Deleter, and The Acquaintance



Everything About MBTI

Bright and Clear Even With Clouds

We’re Family, But We’re Strangers

The Incredible Math

Everything About MBTI, Bright and Clear Even With Clouds, We’re Family, But We’re Strangers, and The Incredible Math



“Advance” in copyright contracts reflects the likelihood of a work’s success or commitment to its promotion and marketing. The higher the publisher values the work, the higher the advance, and the publisher’s promotional strategy will be geared to match the amount of advance. In 2023, a significant number of Korean titles entered the Anglo-American market with a six-figure advance in US dollars. These include Yoon Jung-Eun’s Marigold Mind Laundry, Kim Cho-Yeop’s If We Cannot Move at the Speed of Light (EAST-ASIA), and Cheon Seon-Ran’s A Thousand Blues (EAST-ASIA). The works are scheduled to be translated and published in various languages around the world, and are expected to showcase the diverse colors of Korean literature, from healing fantasy to thriller, SF, and more, to global readers. It is now a time when we can dare to say that the most Korean is the most global.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 19 – Go to the interview of writer Kim Cho-Yeop



Written by Richard Hong (Foreign Rights Agent and President of BC Agency)



Richard Hong (Foreign Rights Agent and President of BC Agency)

#Hallyu#Book Fair#Literary award#Korean literature
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