Korean Novels That Redefine Friendship and Family

South Korea has emerged as a powerhouse in the world of literature, with its authors captivating readers worldwide with their poignant storytelling and unique perspectives on life, relationships, and society. Among the myriad themes explored in Korean literature, friendship and family hold a special place, often portrayed with depth, complexity, and emotional resonance. In this article, we delve into some Korean novels that redefine these fundamental bonds, offering profound insights and stirring narratives that resonate universally.

The Dynamics of Friendship

Friendship, a cornerstone of human relationships, is a recurring theme in Korean literature, explored with nuance and sensitivity. Novels such as “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang delve into the intricacies of friendships strained by societal norms and personal struggles. The story follows Yeong-hye, whose decision to become a vegetarian sets off a chain of events that unravel her relationships, including friendships with her sister and brother-in-law.

Similarly, in “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, the bond between Sunja and Kyunghee exemplifies the resilience and sacrifices inherent in deep friendships. Despite facing societal stigma and personal hardships, their unwavering support for each other transcends time and circumstance, underscoring the enduring power of friendship.

Another notable novel is “Please Look After Mom” by Kyung-Sook Shin, which explores the theme of regret and reconciliation through the lens of familial and friendship ties. As the family searches for their missing mother, they confront their own shortcomings and the sacrifices she made for them, leading to a deeper appreciation of her role in their lives and the importance of cherishing relationships.

Family Bonds: Tradition and Modernity

Family, the cornerstone of Korean society, occupies a central place in Korean literature, often depicted as a source of both comfort and conflict. Novels such as “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa explore the unconventional bonds that form within makeshift families. The story revolves around the relationship between a brilliant mathematician, his housekeeper, and her young son, illustrating how love and understanding transcend traditional family structures.

In “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” by Cho Nam-joo, the protagonist’s journey unfolds against the backdrop of societal expectations and gender roles, highlighting the complexities of familial relationships in modern Korea. Through Kim Jiyoung’s experiences, the novel offers a poignant commentary on the challenges faced by women in balancing familial duties with personal aspirations, shedding light on the generational shifts in Korean society.

Another novel that delves into familial bonds is “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante, translated into Korean as “나의 브릴리언트 프렌드”. While not written by a Korean author, its themes of friendship and family resonate deeply with Korean readers. Set in post-war Naples, the novel follows the lifelong friendship between two women, exploring the dynamics of family, friendship, and the pursuit of personal identity.


Through their nuanced portrayals of friendship and family, Korean novels offer profound insights into the human experience, transcending cultural boundaries to resonate with readers worldwide. From the complexities of interpersonal relationships to the enduring bonds that withstand the test of time, these novels redefine the meaning of friendship and family, enriching our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

As readers immerse themselves in these captivating narratives, they are reminded of the universal truths that bind us together, regardless of language or culture. In a world marked by rapid change and uncertainty, the timeless themes of friendship and family endure, serving as beacons of hope and resilience in our journey through life.