게시물 상세



Development and Transformation of Korean Young Adult Fiction




“Young Adult (YA)” is a keyword that can’t be left out when discussing Korean literature in recent years. In fact, “recent” might not be the right word. It was in 2021 when the first article on the topic of “young adult fiction” appeared in K-Book Trends, and Sohn Won-Pyung’s Almond (Darjeeling), which was mentioned as a work that led the young adult market at that time, was published in 2017. However, the term “young adult” appears in the submission guidelines of new fiction contests, in the names and intentions of newly conceived novel series, and in the introductions of young adult SF or fantasy novels. As such, young adult fiction is expanding and changing at a remarkably rapid pace. This growth can be attributed to the steady improvement of Korean young adult fiction, the changes in general fiction, and readers’ enthusiasm for new genres. So, where did Korean young adult fiction come from, and where is it headed?


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






Korean young adult novels exploring worlds beyond


With the rise of popular young adult fiction, there is a misconception that young adult fiction means genre fiction that can be read by teens up to adults. The fact that most recent young adult novels are set in the future may have contributed to this misconception. However, young adult literature has a long history of combining elements of SF, fantasy, thrillers, and other genres to explore the future in a variety of ways.
For example, Syncher (Changbi Publishers) by Bae Mi-Ju, first published in 2010, tells the story of humanity living in a vast underground city called Sian, after the Earth is covered in glaciers. Mima, the protagonist, becomes a tester of Syncher, a game that allows her to access the consciousness of wild animals in a closed primeval forest, and deals with the changes that come from truly empathizing with nature. In addition to featuring a game that appealed to teenagers at the time, it also reflects our reality in that it is difficult to think of “living animals” as “life” like ourselves. When it was first published, it was noted as a teen SF novel that explores the relationship between nature and humans, and in the newly published revised edition in 2022, the title “Young Adult Fiction” was added to the book.
The book Millennial Children (BIR Publishing) by Jang Eun-Sun, published in 2014, is set in a futuristic society where medical advances have lowered the mortality rate and increased the population, forcing parents to pay a “child tax” to the state in order to raise their children. The “unregistered children” whose parents have given up on raising them or abandoned them are taken in and raised in schools. The schools strictly categorize children based on their grades, and they must take exams to even be eligible to become adults. If they fail, they are not allowed to get married or vote in elections. The story of “Dawn” - the protagonist of the story who was sent to the school after the death of the parents - escaping from the school is a somewhat extreme criticism of the capitalist society and the school that encourages competition.
Meanwhile, the future society depicted in Lee Hee-Young’s Paint (Changbi Publishers), published in 2019, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. In this book, the word “paint” refers to a parent’s interview. In a society where children without parents are directly protected and raised by the state, children at the center are given the option to choose their own parents through interviews. The main character, Zenu, repeatedly rejects applicants who don’t genuinely want children but are only interested in the benefits the government gives to parents. It is a provocative question to the older generation and caregivers by the youth, who have always been “judged” by adults.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 31 – Go to the interview with writer Lee Hee-Young



Millennial Children


Syncher, Millennial Children, and Paint



As such, young adult literature has been attempting to delve into the reality of modern adolescents and present a different world to them, trapped in the time and space defined by the older generation. The future brought about by the development of science and technology may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but how should we live with it? That question continues to be asked today.


An intriguing narrative born from the border between adolescence and adulthood


The book The Origin of Evil by Darwin Young (Sakyejul Publishing) by Park Ji-Ri is a crime mystery novel set in a heavily compartmentalized society, from Earth 1, where the people in power live, to Earth 9, a deserted land. The protagonist, “Darwin Young,” a high-achieving student at the best boarding school on Earth 1, is shocked to discover the secrets his father and grandfather, whom he believes to be ethical and perfect adults, have been hiding from him. Darwin’s final choice is a twist that completely deviates from the usual coming-of-age story and asks the reader what choice they would have made. The story was first published as a full-length novel by Park Ji-Ri, who began her career in young adult literature, but in the same year, it won the Korea Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. And, a few years later, it was rediscovered by adult readers when it was turned into a musical.
A Thousand Blues (East-Asia Publishing) by Cheon Sun-Ran, winner of the 2019 Korean Science and Literature Award, tells the story of “Today,” a racehorse who has lost his leg, “Collie,” a humanoid rider who throws himself off the horse and gets discarded to be with Today, “Yeon-Jae,” a girl gifted with a talent for robotics, and “Eun-Hye,” a girl in a wheelchair. The genuine empathy that develops between animals and humans, and between humans and machines, is truly beautiful and heartfelt.


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


Snow Globe Drive (Minumsa Publishing) by Cho Ye-Eun begins when the “snow that never melts,“ which causes rashes on contact with the skin, strikes the protagonists, Moru and Ewol, while they are in their second year of middle school. A global disaster is never the same for everyone. Moru, who remains in the dump for special waste, and Ewol, who flees, are reunited after losing their families. At the “present” point in the novel, they are 22 years old, but much of the story takes place during their adolescence. The reason they are still seen as adolescents upon their reunion is that the disaster ended their daily lives at the age of 15. The situation exquisitely overlaps with the time of adolescence erased by the pandemic in reality. The narrative of escaping from caretakers who treat them as tools and property is also something that adolescents must go through.


The Origin of Evil by Darwin Young

A Thousand Blues

Snow Globe Drive

The Origin of Evil by Darwin Young, A Thousand Blues, and Snow Globe Drive



There are also other general fiction works by writers such as Jeon Sam-Hye, Kim Cho-Yeop, and Park Seo-Ryeon, who present new narratives with adolescent characters as the main characters. If I had to guess, I would say that the reason behind the stories choosing to speak in the voices of adolescents is that the writers themselves are psychologically closer to the adolescent characters than to the “older generation that refuses to talk.” Moreover, it may be because adolescents are the ones who have the potential to change through certain events, and are the ones who will not let go of hope even in despair. And, readers who strongly relate to them may feel close to the characters in young adult literature.


Changes continue within the young adult boom


Young adult fiction is enjoying a revitalization. More books are being published, and new writers who haven’t previously gained the attention they deserve are being discovered. It seems like we will continue to see more young adult characters in fiction, and young adult literature will continue to be loved by young readers. As the number of adolescent readers declines, some young adult literature publishers see this as an opportunity to expand their readership. In fact, it gives young readers who love web novels and web dramas a chance to experience a variety of narratives. However, there is also a concern that the elements of “near future, youth, and genre” are becoming a template in the process of rapid growth. While some works feature similar disaster situations, Korean young adult novels are thankfully taking their own paths.
The Spell to Become a Witch (Jumping Books Publishing House), published in 2023 by Danyo, whose literary world is quickly gaining recognition, having won major genre literary awards since her debut in 2022 with Dive (Changbi Publishers), is the story of Seo-Ah, a 17-year-old who attends a school for talented children but is not the least bit optimistic about her future. She becomes a “magic girl,” the manager of a hide-and-seek game that is held every Thursday night. Seo-Ah hears rumors that some of the children have died mysteriously while playing the game, and that the game server is open to children who want to die. Behind the cover and title that give off a witch fantasy vibe, there is a spine-chilling plot and sharp sarcasm.
Park So-Young, who presented an adolescent’s journey to break down the corrupt world of “Snowball” in Snowball 1 and 2 (Changbi Publishers), develops a bewilderingly surprising setup in The Day You Are Here (Changbi Publishers), in which 7 people share one body for each day of the week because of “financial allotment for environmental promotion.” The book examines how the financial allotment, which is simply paying a little more for a beverage in a plastic bottle, will have enormous value in the future, and the philosophical question of what it means to be human in a world where bodies are interchangeable. In a worldview that features issues that are never light, the characters trust and love each other. I believe that is Park So-Young’s strong point.


The Spell to Become a Witch

The Day You Are Here

The Spell to Become a Witch and The Day You Are Here



On top of all this, I can happily think of many other names that will be pushing the boundaries of Korean young adult fiction, such as Lee Hee-Young, who is actively publishing close-knit, full-length novels with the aim of “expanding the readership of young adult literature,” Choi Jung-Won, who shows off unique features in both creature stories and SF, Park Seo-Ryeon, the most versatile writer I can think of at the time of this writing, and Choi Young-Hee, who is branching out from the root of SF.



Written by Jang Seul-Ki (Editor of the Children & Young Adult Literature Team at Sakyejul Publishing)



Jang Seul-Ki (Editor of the Children & Young Adult Literature Team at Sakyejul Publishing)

#Young Adult#YA#Fantasy#SF
If you liked this article, share it with others. 페이스북트위터블로그인쇄

Pre Megazine