Top 7 Fantasy Books Set in Japan or Japanese-Inspired


Fantasy books set in Japan, or that are Japanese-inspired, intrigue us and treat our imaginations to worlds not often explored in this genre. Are you curious about what about fantasy books are set in Japan? Well, if you are, this list is for you.

Here are 7 captivating fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired:

I’ve included book descriptions, readers’ ratings and summaries of positive and negative comments for each book below. On the other hand, if you’d like a quick summary, here’s a comparison chart.


Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Description

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back.

Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love — a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating3.90

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

First on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired is Flame in the Mist. Inspired by Mulan, this novel delighted fans with its immersive atmosphere and likable protagonist, Mariko. 

Many readers described the book’s world and scenery as lushly realized. Not only did they find themselves quickly absorbed into the story, but they also mentioned that its Japanese cultural elements were rich and well-researched.

As for Mariko, fans praised her as a brave, intelligent heroine with a moving character arc. Seeing her discover her abilities and what she learns – particularly around finding strength in her femininity – gripped them.

Negative Comments

What did critics say? Overall, critics had to comments about Flame in the Mist.

First, they said that the story’s pace was slow. The second was that Mariko didn’t strike them as an authentically ‘strong female character’. Instead, they thought she either acted spoiled or mouthy without facing consequences.


Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott

Description

On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before.

Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.

Suzume died officially the day the Prince’s men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.

Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?

Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating3.87

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Second on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired  is Shadows on the MoonFans of this novel praised it for its emotionally moving story line and relatable protagonist, Suzume.

Understandable and easy to care for, Suzume was a protagonist that had these readers cheering for her throughout the book. Her anger, pain and grief were layered and believable, something that impressed fans as well as made them empathize with her.

Along a similar vein, many mentioned her immersive and captivating point of view. Fans were drawn in to her emotions, becoming deeply invested in  what would happen to her. There were times readers cried, gasped with horror, and cheered.

Ultimately, fans described Shadows on the Moon as a harrowing but beautiful tale they couldn’t get enough of.

Negative Comments

No book is without it’s critics, including Shadows on the MoonIf readers didn’t enjoy this story, what did they say? For the most part, critics focused on the darker elements of the story. More specifically, it disturbed them when Suzume began harming herself out of grief.


Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Description

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish — and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure — one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost.

Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating4.00

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Third on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired is Shadow of the Fox. What about this novel enchanted readers? Overall, it was the mixture of a fascinating world and great character cast.

Fans enthused over the enigmatic creatures, beautiful forests, cities and more that this book’s pages introduced to them. With vivid imagery and intricate world-building, this Japanese-inspired setting captured readers’ imaginations. Many said they were completely transported into Shadow of the Fox’s settings.

Others also mentioned how much they enjoyed the characters. They described them as likable, interesting and overall great protagonists to lead this fast-paced story.

Negative Comments

No book is without its critics, not even Shadow of the FoxIf readers didn’t enjoy this novel, what did they point to as reasons?

In general, they tended to say the story was predictable. Some of them said this was because the main characters came across as recognizable types (aloof warrior and naïve girl), while others said they thought the romance and quest developed and ended exactly as they expected.


The Priestess and the Dragon by Nicolette Andrews

Description

Love and revenge don’t end with death.

Exiled for her mother’s sins, Suzume lives in a remote mountain shrine training to become a priestess. She would give anything to return to her old life at the emperor’s palace. When she accidently awakens a sleeping dragon posing as the mountain god, she thinks he is the answer to all her problems. But she gets more than she bargained for when she unleashes the Dragon, Kaito.

He has been sealed away for five hundred years and now he is hungry for revenge. The woman who trapped him may be dead, but he will settle for her reincarnation and he chooses Suzume to join him on his quest for vengeance. What he doesn’t realize is Suzume is that priestess reborn.

Now she must find a way to seal the dragon once more before he learns the truth.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating3.72

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

Fourth on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired is The Priestess and the Dragon. Praising this exciting adventure as perfect for Inuyasha fans, readers enthused over its slow-burn romance, startling plot twists, and fast pace.

Whether it was because of the fiery chemistry between the leads, ever-building romantic tension, or the growing trust and respect between them, Suzume and Kaito’s romance captivated fans. They reported that theirs wasn’t a love-at-first-sight romance. Instead, it had refreshing challenges and heartwarming triumphs.

Aside from that, several described The Priestess and the Dragon as jam-packed with action and unpredictability. Rather than familiar plot twists, these left fans reeling. Add to that the adrenaline-filled battles, and readers were unable to put the book down.

Negative Comments

No book is without its critics, including The Priestess and the DragonIf readers didn’t enjoy this story, what did they say? In general, they focused on Suzume and Kaito, saying they were unlikeable. Some described Suzume, for example, as rude and snobbish, while others said Kaito’s smugness and threats grated on them.


Nightblade by Ryan Kirk

Description

Ryuu is a boy orphaned by violence at a young age. Found by a wandering warrior, he learns he may have more strength than he ever imagined possible. 

A quiet child, Moriko is forced into a monastic system she despises. Torn from her family and the forest she grew up in, she must fight to learn the skills she’ll need to survive her tutelage under the realm’s most dangerous assassin. 

Young, beautiful, and broke, Takako is sold to pay for her father’s debts. Thrust into a world she doesn’t understand and battles she didn’t ask for, she must decide where her loyalties lie. 

When their lives crash together in a Kingdom on the brink of war, the decisions they make will change both their lives and their Kingdom forever. 

If they can stay alive. 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating4.04

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

Another story on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired is Nightblade. This novel intrigued fans with its supernatural, Eastern-inspired fantasy world and captivating plot. 

Fans praised the book’s immersive quality and its world-building. With its evocative writing, the story’s atmosphere and setting came vividly alive.

Other readers said that they were captivated by the story itself from the start. In particular, they said that the personal journeys that the main characters went through fascinated them, and seeing them learn and grow was wonderful. 

Negative Comments

What did critics say? In general, readers who didn’t enjoy Nightblade had two reasons.

The first was that they were either drawn out of the story due to editing-related issues. Some of them mentioned that the book had repeating phrases, for instance, that broke their immersion. Others said they detected spelling or grammar mistakes.

On the other hand, others said that they didn’t feel like they got to know the characters. This made it difficult to connect with them, especially during climactic moments.


The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow by Fuyumi Ono

Description

For high-schooler Yoko Nakajima, life has been fairly ordinary – that is until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells Yoko they must return to their kingdom.

Once confronted by this mysterious being and whisked away to an unearthly realm, Yoko is left with only a magical sword; a gem; and a million questions about her destiny, the world she’s trapped in, and the world she desperately wants to return to.

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.20

Most Common Rating: 5

Positive Comments

The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow is next on our list of fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired. This fantasy novel stunned readers with its impressive portrayal of its protagonist’s growth.

Over the course of the story, Yoko changes from vulnerable and dependent to a brave, confident hero. Readers described this as both convincing and inspiring.

On a side note: technically, the fantasy creature in The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow is a kirin and not a unicorn. However, due to their similarities, people have often described a kirin as an ‘Eastern unicorn’ to Western audiences.

Negative Comments

Not everyone thought that The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow was for them, though. These readers typically said that while Yoko grew by the end of the book, her weak character lasted too long. As a protagonist, she grated on them.

Others said that the story itself became repetitive. Yoko goes through many battles, but readers suggested that they seemed too frequent and similar. As a result, instead of grabbing readers, they slowed the book down.


Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

Description

In his black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the warlord Iida Sadamu surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard.

Book cover of Across the Nightingale Floor

The youth Takeo has been brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace.

But unbeknownst to him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary, preternatural skills.

When Takeo’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, he learns that he too possesses the skills of the Tribe. And, with this knowledge, he embarks on a journey that will lead him across the famed nightingale floor — and to his own unimaginable destiny… 

What Do Readers Say?

Goodreads Rating: 4.06

Most Common Rating: 4

Positive Comments

The final story on our list fantasy books set in Japan or Japanese-inspired is Across the Nightingale Floor. This lush novel transported readers into its world through its beautiful, evocative atmosphere. As for its story, fans praised the book for being both heartfelt and brutal.

A coming of age novel, it features plenty of assassination training and lessons, which these readers loved. They also mentioned that while the main characters are teenagers, the storytelling and themes made it more of an adult-targeted fantasy novel than a Young Adult one.

Negative Comments

If readers didn’t give Across the Nightingale Floor a high rating, they had two consistent comments.

The first was that they didn’t like the fact that the romance between the two protagonists started with love at first sight. As the story progressed, it didn’t develop much beyond that.

The second comment readers made was that they wanted an even stronger portrayal of Japanese culture. These readers came into the reading experience saying that they expected a historical fiction setting. Instead, they came across the supernatural elements and found it jarring.


Top 7 Fantasy Books Set in Japan or Japanese-Inspired

How Do These Fantasy Novels Compare?


N.S. Mirage

I'm Natalie, an avid fantasy reader here to help readers find exciting, otherworldly books.

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