Happy Japanese Culture Day! Check out these 15 fantasy & sci-fi books that take place in Japan!
The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi
Elin's family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom's army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin's mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.
Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?
Sword Art Online by Reki Kawahara
In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online - a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other - debuts, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in a wholly realistic gaming experience.
But when the game goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing one of the most basic functions of any MMORPG - a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world of Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom.
But in the warped world of SAO, "game over" means certain death - both virtual and real...
Red Winter by Annette Marie
Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess—and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.
Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command—whether she wants him or not.
On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate—but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
Every millennium, whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers has the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for one wish. The time is near...and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.
When demons kill half-kitsune Yumeko’s adoptive family, she’s forced to flee her home with one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of mysterious samurai Kage Tatsumi, who is Yumeko’s best hope for survival. But he’s under orders to retrieve the scroll. An uneasy alliance forms, and Yumeko begins the deception of a lifetime, knowing her secrets are more than a matter of life or death―they’re the key to the fate of the world.
Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean
In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.
Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy. Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy.
And it would be, if she weren't hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast. Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.
More Than Alive by Fernando Torres
This ground-breaking sci-fi coming-of-age story, set in a future Tokyo, Japan, features 16-year-old girl, Alice Suzuki, a seemingly ordinary girl. After confessing her love for Keiji Okada, she awaits his answer as they travel to Hakone.
Unfortunately, fate interrupts her closure. While en-route, their autonomous car smashes through a safety barrier and veers off a bridge. As the vehicle fills with water, she encounters a spectral form collecting the souls of her parents.
Peeled from her mortal coil, she is taken to a waiting area where she is temporarily reunited with her family. Alas, though, Keiji is missing.
Alice is informed that she has been selected to become a soul harvester, a job occupied by mortals who are recently deceased.
Unable to let go of Keiji and sensing an opportunity to return to the world of the living, she accepts.
Together with her soul-harvesting partner Vegas Jack, they are assigned their first task, to investigate why a demon shadow known as Solak would kill a Japanese pop idol at a VR café.
Unfortunately, the yakuza have developed a drug that makes the video game players believe their virtual environments are real. The shadow demon can now kill people both in VR and their dreams. Alice must join a Jpop group, even though she can't sing (although that doesn't particularly hurt her, in this case).
Will Alice be able to uncover Solak's tactics?
Will she be able to return to the world of the living?
Will she be able to find her love, Keiji?
Red Girls by Kazuki Sakuraba
When the Outland People abandoned a baby girl on the outskirts of a village, few imagined that she would grow up to marry into the illustrious Akakuchiba family, much less that she would develop clairvoyant abilities and become matriarch of the illustrious ironworking clan. Her daughter shocks the village further by joining a motorcycle gang and becoming a famous manga artist. The Outlander’s granddaughter Toko—well, she’s nobody at all. A nobody worth entrusting with the secret that her grandmother was a murderer.
This is Toko’s story.
Spirit of the Dragon by Erynn Lehtonen
There is a price attached to every dream...
After twins Genshu Masanori and Genshu Hidekazu witness a kidnapping at the annual Midsummer Festival, they discover the woman taken wasn’t this sorcerer’s first victim, nor will she be the last.
They will break clan laws against warfare if that’s what it takes to bring the missing women home safe.
They will sign their lives away to the prestigious Tsukiko Academy, regardless of the rumours about the Headmaster and the dark secrets harboured within the school grounds.
They will give up the lives they know for a chance to uncover the real reason their family gave up their legacy as wyvern-slayers and swore a vow of peace.
A pact with a mysterious dragon spirit, embracing their future as warriors, and servitude to the Tsukiko Academy is only the beginning.
The twins have one chance to unravel the sorcerer’s sinister plan. If they can’t find him in time, the game he whispers about might be the last anyone ever plays.
The Legend of Akikumo by Dani Hoots
Ketsueki would give anything to find out why her mentor Akikumo, the last wolf in Japan, abandoned her. He left her with other kitsune at the Inari Shrine, but she doesn’t fit in. And now the other kitsune are bullying her and saying Akikumo is dead.
After causing trouble for the hundredth time, the Inari, instead of punishing her, has given Ketsueki a task: she must find out what happened to Akikumo. She quickly agrees, not realizing the delinquent son of the shrine’s head priest must accompany her.
Will Ketsueki be able to make peace with a human? Or will her years of resentment make this partnership impossible?
War Cross by Marie Lu
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track 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.
Ink by Amanda Sun
Ink is in their blood.
On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn't know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks and she can't seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.
When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school's kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they're near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.
Somehow Tomo is connected to the kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan—and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda & Valynne E Maetani
Seventeen-year-old Kira Fujikawa has never had it easy. She’s bullied by the popular girls in school. Her parents ignore her. And she’s also plagued with a secret: She can see yokai, the ghosts and demons that haunt the streets of Kyoto.
But things accelerate from bad to worse when she learns that Shuten-doji, the demon king, will rise at the next blood moon to hunt down an ancient relic and bring the world to a catastrophic end.
Not exactly skilled at fighting anything, much less the dead, Kira enlists the aid of seven powerful death gods to help her slay Shuten-doji. They include Shiro, a kitsune with boy-band looks who is more flirtatious than helpful, and O-bei, a regal demon courtier with reasons of her own for getting involved.
As the confrontation with Shuten-doji draws nearer, the fate of Japan hangs in the balance. Can Kira save humankind? Or will the demon king succeed in bringing eternal darkness upon the world?
Another by Yukito Ayatsuji
In the spring of 1998, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School. In class, he develops a sense of unease as he notices that the people around him act like they're walking on eggshells, and students and teachers alike seem frightened.
As a chain of horrific deaths begin to unfold around him, he comes to discover that he has been placed in the cursed Class 3 in which the student body head count is always one more than expected. Class 3 is haunted by a vengeful spirit responsible for gruesome deaths in an effort to satisfy its spite. To stop the vicious cycle gripping his new school, Kouichi decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but is he prepared for the horror that lies ahead...?
Shadows of the Moon by Zoë Marriott
A powerful tale of magic, love, and revenge set in fairy-tale Japan.
Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to re-create herself in any form — a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? Or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or is she Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to use her skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge plot to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even the one true aspect of her life- her love for a fellow shadow-weaver.
This article was written by Dani Hoots
Dani Hoots is a YA sci-fi & fantasy author who is best known for her Daughter of Hades series and City of Kaus series. Click the covers below to learn more!