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The True Suspense of Genre Literature in Korea





The warm, cozy wind tickles our noses. It’s spring, a good season to read books. Enjoying the warmth of the sun, how about grabbing a genre novel you like, such as Sci-Fi, fantasy, romance, or martial arts, and go out to read? Particularly recommended are genre literature thrillers, mystery, and crime stories that give just the right tension and vitality to your mind and body on such drowsy days. They not only open your eyes wide but with twists entangling each other, the enthralling, cool books will lead you deeper into the world of books. In this chapter, we would like to introduce to you some of the thriller, mystery, and crime fiction that represent Korea.


Korea’s genre literature can make readers sympathize and become immersed into a story through the delicate description of emotions.


Feel the chill down your spine: Full-length horror & thriller novels


Thriller has a very clear and large fanbase compared to other genres. As you flip through the pages feeling a chill on your spine, you will be able to realize you have already come to the last page, no matter how long the story is. Thriller in Korea was one of the genres that did not receive much spotlight compared to its high quality. However, with its widening spectrum and the blurred boundary between genre literature and the content market, Korea’s thriller fiction is rising onto the surface.
To pick some of the titles,The Day of Kidnapping (Sigongsa) is a full-length mystery novel written by Jeong Hae-Yeon, a rising star in Korean thrillers. Featuring humorous daily episodes, the main character Myeong-Joon makes up his mind to kidnap Lo-Hee to make money for his daughter’s surgery. However, the story begins as he accidentally hits Lo-Hee with his car. The vivid difference between Myeong-Joon, who is clumsy and somehow unorganized, and Lo-Hee, a smart girl good at making clear decisions, creates humor throughout the book, while the book’s identity as a thriller is clearly exhibited at the same time as the police dig into the case further to find the truth behind it.
Meanwhile, The Abandoned (GOZKNOCK ENT) is about the story of 29-year-old Yeo-Kyung, who signs a contract with Haena to act like her mom after she is released from prison, and 9-year-old Haena, who lives alone, keeping the death of her parents secret. There is no description of crime scenes, breathtaking chases, or even offenders and victims, which are considered the essential elements of thriller fiction. It’s just an abandoned child and an adult facing each other. However, your hands tremble as you read the story, as it features a story about people who are left neglected in the violence inevitably incurred by the absence of a relationship, going beyond the violence caused by the relationship itself.




The Day of Kidnapping, The Abandoned



It’s not the end until it is truly over: Full-length detective & mystery novels


As you read through a detective or mystery novel, you will find yourself strongly eager to find out who the criminal is and what the tricks are. The thrill you feel when your prediction turns out to be right after all the ups and downs in the story is almost like a cathartic experience. If you are fully into the story throughout every page of the book, you will have become a maniac of the detective and mystery genre.
To introduce some of the titles, Eversible (Arzak) is the first work written by Moon Mok-Ha, a super rookie in Korea’s genre literature, which was designated as an outstanding literary work in the “2019 Cultural Share” project organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. The intelligence and betrayal between corrupt cops and the unknown illegal gang are spectacular and enthralling to the extent that they make you mistake the genre to be action. Attractive characters and neat lines raise the completeness – the book is an effective combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery.
Meanwhile, Summer, a Corpse Somewhere (Dasan Books) is a cozy mystery (one of the mystery genres where the crime and reasoning take place in a small town or village, in a light or humorous way) written by Park Yeon-Seon, who is a storyteller that writes across genres. As a mystery novel set against the deathly quiet background of a mountainous terrain, it goes across the genres of comedy, romance, thriller, and crime, featuring a story where people look for four girls of different ages, schools, and backgrounds that went missing 15 years ago. Yet, even though it is mystery fiction, you can also find humorous points in between pages.
I’m the Killer (Yeondam L) is written by Jeong Hae-Yeon, who began her career as a writer with Double (Fennec Fox), a full-length novel that covers the double-sidedness of a psychopath in 2013. In the story, landlord Kwon Soon-Hyang comes to lawyer Kim Moo-Il, who lives paycheck to paycheck from copyright violation trials. She confesses that the death case that happened 7 years ago in the building was not an accident but a murder, and it is she that did it. Then, she throws herself from the 5th floor of that building the next day. Based on a real case in Korea, the book added a bit of imagination and keenly reflects Korean society through frightening descriptions.





Eversible, Summer, a Corpse Somewhere, I’m the Killer


Short novel collections: Thriller & Mystery


If the full-length novels recommended above are too much for you, how about short story collections? They tend to have a more straightforward, and more intuitive storyline than full-length novels, which leaves room for readers to think and imagine themselves. Hence, you’ll be able to have another type of fun reading them.
Cocktails, Love, and Zombies (Safehouse) is a short story collection of Cho Ye-Eun, who won the excellence prize at the second Goldenbough Time Leap Fiction Contest with her Overlapped Knife, Knife. It consists of four short stories: The Invitation, Wetland Love, Cocktails, Love, and Zombies, and Overlapped Knife, Knife. In each of the stories, the writer gives a weapon to the characters who could not receive enough consolation through their prolonged pain to have their revenge, as there’s no pain fair to everyone.
Also, Zombie Saga (Sigongsa) is a collection of zombie stories written by young authors leading Korea’s genre literature. The five writers added “zombies” to Korea’s representative classic novels such as Hwang Sun-Won’s Rain Shower, Joo Yo-Seop’s The Houseguest and My Mother, Hyun Jin-Geon’s One Lucky Day, Jeong Cheol’s Gwandong-byeolgok, and Kim Si-Seup’s Manboksajeopoki. The big and small twists and elements that shake the stereotypes present freshness throughout the stories.
Korean Short Thriller Collection (Sijak) suggests the direction Korea’s thriller should walk in. Season 1 of the collection consists of eight thriller masterpieces in Korea that travel between reality and fantasy and critic Kim Bon-Seok’s young interpretation of the stories. Season 2 includes seven short stories, which are focused on entertaining aspects but are at the same time vividly reflecting the pain, paradox, and anxiety present in society.






Cocktails, Love, and Zombies, Zombie Saga, Korean Short Thriller Collection 1, 2



With the growth of web-novels, Korea’s genre literature is captivating the minds of not only Korean readers but also overseas readers with highly immersive stories and delicate emotional expressions. The rapid advancement of the genre is backed by writers, both newly debuted and experienced, and the passion of specialized publishers that discover and support such authors. It is anticipated that one day, Korea’s genre literature seizes the heart of global readers with its breathtaking suspense and bold but exciting stories.



Written by Lee Ji-Hyeon


Lee Ji-Hyeon

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