K-Pop & K-Drama Matches with YA Books

My mom has always been an important part of my media consumption. She is a true tastemaker, not caring if what she enjoys is trendy or cool, but is always ahead of the curve. She told me about the wonderful world of k-dramas back when Netflix had JUST switched to their early streaming platform from their mail-in system. Yeah, I know. She's cutting-edge! But my enjoyment of all sorts of Korean media began in earnest when I started seeing my partner. He showed me one Taemin video, and I was immediately and fully smitten and soon realized there was no turning back. K-pop, k-dramas, and even some Korean variety shows, I was hooked. 

Now, I'm not as enthralled as I was a few years ago, but Korean media is still very much a part of my balanced diet. And with the full global takeover of BTS, Parasite winning Best Picture at the 2019 Oscars, plenty of Korean stars in Hollywood films (Ma Dong Seok in the Eternals, anyone? Very exciting!), and now Squid Game becoming Netflix's most watched show ever it's safe to say that Korean media is here to enrich all of our lives for good.

For your reading (and viewing and listening) pleasure, my colleague Nicole and I paired some of our favorite young adult books with either a k-drama or a k-pop act. So if this is your first foray into the wonderful world of Korea—and its rich diaspora here in America—then look no further than the following titles. - Bookseller Niki

K-Pop Matches

I'll Be the One Cover Image

I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee

The book itself is a pitch perfect, sweet-as-pie YA contemporary novel about Skye, a fat, bisexual Korean-American teen trying to win a k-pop competition in LA with her dual singing and dancing skills. This novel features a very supportive dad (who diligently tries to make up for a strained mother-daughter relationship), an international, Instagram-famous hottie, fat acceptance highs and lows, and so much good friendship. Just enough romance and plenty of actual k-pop idol references for current and to-be fans.

Kim Chung Ha breaks through in 'Querencia' album cover image | allkpop

K-Pop Match: Chung Ha

Chungha is one of those performers you can't tear your eyes from. Not only is she a stellar vocalist and dancer, but she is also a skilled choreographer. AND she lived in Texas for some time before moving back to Korea to pursue her singing career. In I'll Be the One, protagonist Skye sings a few Chungha songs, all of which are major girl power anthems. - Niki




Shine Cover Image

Shine by Jessica Jung

Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl by way of Jenny Han in this knock-out debut about a Korean American teen who is thrust into the competitive, technicolor world of K-pop, from Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of one of the most influential K-pop girl groups of all time, Girls’ Generation.

The Best (Girls' Generation album) - Wikipedia

K-Pop Match: Girls' Generation

Girls' Generation (aka SNSD) is a veteran girl group that really paved the way for today's k-pop craze. They're the first Asian girl group to achieve five music videos with over 100 million views on YouTube. "Gee" is a quintessential example of successful bubblegum pop, and while not for everyone, it is a major earworm. One of the members, Jessica Jung, wrote the novel Shine, which follows Rachel, a k-pop star in-training as she deals with the many challenges of becoming a global icon. While not exactly bubblegum, this novel shows many of the trials and tribulations of international fame, especially when part of a team that doesn't necessarily get along offstage as well as they do onstage. - Niki



Idol Gossip Cover Image

Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young

Offered a spot at the Star Academy, one of the biggest K-pop companies, seventeen-year-old singer Alice Choy must navigate culture clashes, egos, and extreme training practices to come out on top, despite the efforts of an influential blogger trying to tear her down.

K-Pop Match: Mamamoo

Mamamoo is a girl group that has had to deal with a lot of criticism, body-shaming, and setbacks, but still they rise! Many anti-fans (internet trolls, basically) have consistently targeted one of the members, Hwasa, but she responds with resiliency and positivity. All of the members are likewise inspiring (see Solar's performance of BTS's "Fire"), everyone has INCREDIBLE vocals, and their songs are the catchiest. - Niki





Somewhere Only We Know Cover Image

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Sparks fly between a K-pop starlet and a tabloid reporter in Somewhere Only We Know, a heartwarming rom-com from Maurene Goo.

10 :00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene. But right now? She's in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 :00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. He runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.


María (EP) - Wikipedia

K-Pop Match: Hwa Sa

The back cover of Somewhere Only We Know describes the main character, Lucky, as a K-Pop starlet and I immediately thought of Hwa Sa (one of the members from the powerhouse girl group Mamamoo and who launched her solo career in 2019). Not only is she incredibly talented as a singer and dancer (definitely check out her song Maria!), but I could totally see her effortlessly going from glamorous k-pop star on stage to being in her slippers searching for a hamburger at her hotel after a big show just like Lucky. - Nicole




K-pop Confidential Cover Image

K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee

In this romantic coming-of-age novel about chasing big dreams, a Korean-American girl travels to Seoul in hopes of debuting in a girl group at the same K-pop company behind the most popular boy band on the planet. Perfect for fans of Mary H. K. Choi and Jenny Han.

For most of her life Candace Park has been playing the role of the quiet Korean girl who takes all AP classes and plays a classical instrument, keeping her dreams of stardom-and her obsession with SLK, K-pop's top boyband-to herself. So when Candace secretly enters a global audition held by SLK's music label, the last thing she expects is to actually get a coveted spot in their trainee program.

The sequel is called K-Pop Revolution and comes out April 5th, 2022.

Eric Nam

K-Pop Match: Eric Nam

In K-Pop Confidential, Candace is Korean American and is unexpectedly thrown into the inner workings of K-Pop stardom in South Korea after competing in a global singing audition which is very reminiscent of Eric Nam’s journey to K-Pop. He’s also Korean American and was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. After a video of him singing a cover went viral on YouTube, he got invited to Seoul to compete on a singing reality show and was one of the top 5 contestants. Not long after he got signed with B2M entertainment (a huge record label in south korea) and the rest is history. His whole Before We Begin album is fantastic. - Nicole





Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho

What would you do if the world's biggest K-pop star asked you to prom?

Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven year ago, and with this new K-pop persona, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she used to love.


Baekhyun (EP) - Wikipedia


Baekhyun is a member of the boy group EXO as well as multiple of their sub-groups and started his solo career in 2019. Baekyun’s music has that smooth lo-fi hip-hop feel with his serenading voice layered on top that creates the perfect chill atmosphere. He also has amazing style (he even has his own street-style fashion brand!) and I think he fits the role of dreamy male k-pop idol who could still be just the “boy next door” that you grew up being best friends with like Robbie Choi in Once Upon a K-Prom. I highly recommend each of his mini albums and especially the songs Bambi and UN Village - Nicole



K-Dramas Matches


Wicked Fox Cover Image

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

An addictive fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul.

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret--she's a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt. But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead--her gumiho soul--in the process. With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more.

The sequel is Vicious Spirits.

Hotel del Luna - English Poster. - MyDramaList

K-Drama Match: Hotel Del Luna

If you like the main character dynamic in Wicked Fox of a serious girl and a sweet boy, then Hotel del Luna is your next K-Drama. It’s also an urban fantasy set in Seoul and stars a powerful yet outcast woman with supernatural abilities who runs a hotel for recently deceased souls that have unfinished business in the world. Her world is turned upside down by a human male with a big heart who starts to remind her what it means to be human. Also, the fashion and the soundtrack are spectacular. - Nicole



XOXO Cover Image

XOXO by Axie Oh

Jenny’s never had much time for boys, K-pop, or really anything besides her dream of being a professional cellist. But when she finds herself falling for a K-pop idol, she has to decide whether their love is worth the risk. A modern forbidden romance wrapped in the glamorous and exclusive world of K-pop, XOXO is perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Maurene Goo.


Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol (2020)

K-Drama Match: Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol

XOXO follows a young cellist who heads to Seoul Arts Academy and unexpectedly crosses paths with a mysterious boy who turns out to be a lead vocalist in a famous K-Pop boy band. If you loved the musical aspect of XOXO and the romantic comedy vibes, then look no further. This K-Drama stars a young pianist who hits rock bottom and heads to a small town where she starts forming feelings for a mysterious man. - Nicole



Made in Korea Cover Image

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Who doesn't love an enemies to lovers trope? Made in Korea starts off when Wes Jung interrupts Valerie Kwon's wildly popular K-beauty business at school with his k-pop-branded products. They make a friendly (?) wager, and whoever sells the most at the end of the year gets to keep ALL the profits. But of course, life and love get in the way.

True Beauty (South Korean TV series) - Wikipedia

K-Drama Match: True Beauty

Similarly, True Beauty (a feel-good k-drama adapted from the extremely popular webcomic), finds its main conflict through the same trope, with a love triangle thrown in for good measure. The main character is bullied for her looks, so she's determined to master makeup and start high school with a new look. Only problem is the meanest (and hottest) boy in school knows her secret. There's plenty of chemistry with the second male lead (my fave!!), too, who is a snarky bad boy and knows it. - Niki





I Believe in a Thing Called Love Cover Image

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

A funny young adult novel about a Korean-American girl who uses K-Drama techniques to snag the boyfriend of her dreams.

As a high school senior, Desi Lee has never missed a day of school and never had a B. But in her charmed school life, there's one thing missing--she's never had a boyfriend. In fact, she's a known disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet. When the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides it's time to tackle her flirting failures. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has watched obsessively for years--in which the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. Armed with her "K Drama Rules for True Love," Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos. All's fair in love and Korean dramas, right? But when the fun and games turn to feelings, Desi finds out that real-life love is about way more than just drama.


K-Drama Match: Boys Over Flowers

Since the main character in I Believe in a Thing Called Love uses classic K-Drama tropes to try and get a boyfriend in high school, it seems only fitting to match this book with one of the OG high school k-dramas Boys Over Flowers (froom 2009). After saving a boy’s life, the main character in the show, a working class girl, is given a spot at this ultra elite high school for the richest families in Korea and all sorts of drama ensues as this outsider girl gets mixed up in the lives of these wealthy students. - Nicole




Anna K: A Love Story Cover Image

Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee

Meet Anna K: every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way…

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Jenny Lee's Anna K: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's timeless love story, Anna Karenina--but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.


Amazon.com: Crash Landing On You (Korean Drama, English Sub, All Region  DVD) : Hyun Bin, Son Ye Jin, Kim Jung Hyun, Seo Ji Hye, Shim Hyung Tak, Kim  Won Hae: Movies &

K-Drama Match: Crash Landing On You

Anna K is a retelling of Anna Karenina and stars Anna, a true New York socialite, whose life looks glamorous on the outside but she isn’t actually as happy as she looks. When Alexia shows up in her life, the two are pulled together despite all odds and I couldn’t help but think of Crashing Landing On You for this match. This show is about a South Korean socialite from a rich family who crash lands in North Korea while parasailing during a freak storm and crosses paths with a North Korean general who decides to help her. Talk about star-crossed lovers whose circumstances are against them. This show has my entire heart. I’ve listened to the soundtrack on repeat and I am way too invested in these characters. It hits all the notes: family drama, romance, comedy, friendship, and found family. It will make you laugh, cry, and say ‘awww’ out loud. Do yourself a favor and watch this show. - Nicole





The Perfect Escape Cover Image

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

Love is a battlefield in this hysterical romantic comedy, perfect for fans of Jenny Han and teen romance books.

Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it? Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate's colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate's problems, and she needs the money too.

If the two of them team up, Nate has a real shot of winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact...


Strong Girl Bong-soon (TV Series 2017) - IMDb

K-Drama Match: Strong Girl Bong-Soon

In The Perfect Escape, there’s a slightly absurd and extreme set-up where two opposite teens have to partner up for Zombiegeddon (a zombie-themed escape room hosted by a local tech company) for the chance to win a cash prize and rom-com shenanigans follow. In Strong Girl Bong-Soon, there’s also a slightly absurd and extreme set-up where the main woman has superhuman strength and ends up getting hired by a rich CEO of a gaming company to be his bodyguard. The two main characters in the show are also opposites and have so many wonderful and funny moments due to the extreme circumstances. Not to mention, there’s a classic love triangle as well as a murder mystery thread going throughout the story, obviously. - Nicole




The Red Palace Cover Image

The Red Palace by June Hur (Pre-order, out Jan. 25th, 2022)

A palace nurse and a royal investigator team up to look into a pattern of grisly murders when the Crown Prince becomes the prime suspect in this romantic YA historical mystery set in Joseon era Korea.

Kingdom” Season 2 Unveils Suspenseful Main Poster And Premiere Date | Soompi

K-Drama Match: Kingdom

So June Hur said on Instagram that two k-drama comparisons to her forthcoming YA historical mystery romance are Kingdom and Rookie Historian. While I haven't watched the latter, the former is a thrill ride of a show. Set in Korea at the turn of the 17th century, Kingdom is a political horror thriller about a zombie plague and the quest to retain dynastic control over the realm. Everyone acts to the moon, but I especially love Bae Doona in her role. It's not a show for the faint of heart, but every bit of horror is balanced by a bit of political intrigue. - Niki




The Noh Family Cover Image

The Noh Family by Grace K. Shim (Pre-order, out May 3rd, 2022)

A sparkling K-drama inspired debut teen novel by Grace Shim, THE NOH FAMILY introduces irrepressibly charming teen Chloe Kang, who is reunited with her deceased father's estranged family via a DNA test, and is soon whisked off to Seoul to join them. Her father's family are owners of a famous high-end department store, and are among the richest families in Seoul. 

Chloe is whisked into the lap of luxury, but something feels wrong. And as an aspiring fashion designer, she's loving the couture clothes her department store owning family gives her access to. But soon Chloe will discover the reason why her mother never told her about her dad's family, and why the Nohs wanted her in Seoul in the first place. Could joining the Noh family be worse than having no family at all?


First Poster Revealed For “Cinderella And The Four Knights” | Soompi

K-Drama Match: Cinderella and the Four Knights

This K-Drama similarly follows a “rags to riches” storyline. The main character is a working class woman (played by So-dam Park who was in Parasite!) with a big heart and strong morals who ends up tasked with getting 3 spoiled rich brothers to essentially be better people. Both main characters (from the book and this show) are thrust into the glittering world of the wealthy and have to deal with all sorts of family drama. This show is so much fun and I love the romance that happens! - Nicole





Flip the Script by Lyla Lee (pre-order, out May 31st, 2022)

As an avid watcher of K-dramas, Hana knows all the tropes to avoid when she finally lands a starring role in a buzzy new drama. And she can totally handle her fake co-star boyfriend, heartthrob Bryan Yoon, who might be falling in love with her. After all, she promised the TV producers a contract romance, and that's all they're going to get from her.

But when showrunners bring on a new lead actress to challenge Hana's role as main love interest--and worse, it's someone Hana knows all too well--can Hana fight for her position on the show, while falling for her on-screen rival in real life?


Romance Is a Bonus Book (TV Series 2019) - IMDb

K-Drama Match: Romance is a Bonus Book

Both of these stories feature a workplace romance! Flip the Script deals with an actress who is fake-dating her male co-star when she starts to fall for one of her female co-stars who is her rival in the show. This K-Drama is set against the backdrop of the publishing world where two long time friends end up working together. It's a warm-hearted show full of love and friendship. - Nicole



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Edited by Nicole R.