Artwork depicting two South Asian women characters holding hands and surrounded by flowers.

An Emerald Book List: 10 Novels With Asian Protagonists Featuring Sapphic Love

by Anonymous

Growing up with very one-dimensional media, I struggled to find myself in books that represented the many sides to being both sapphic and Asian. There were barely any popular portrayals of Asian women, let alone queer Asian women. I wanted to recognize myself in stories — the hardship of mixing my culture with queerness or the joy people felt when they succeeded in pulling together disparate identities.

I wanted poignant narratives on generational burden but also fantasy worlds with sword-wielding women. We deserve to see ourselves in bookstores, whether in fiction, mystery, or sci-fi. As a result, I’ve compiled a list of novels with queer Asian women — some that I’ve read and others that I’m excited to read. 

These stories are for those who have felt misunderstood within their dueling identities of queerness, womanhood, and Asian heritage. I hope you feel seen and welcomed into these protagonists’ worlds.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek

Book cover depicting an Asian-presenting individual walking towards a shadowed bridge in the background.
“The Verifiers” by Jane Pek

A wonderful mystery filled with witty banter and an enticing plot. Jane Pek crafts a story in the heart of New York City with excellent commentary on the evolving digital age and how society navigates modern romance. 

The protagonist, Claudia, is the youngest of a Taiwanese family who has left corporate America for a new challenge, only to encounter a mysterious death that sends her on a chase for the truth. Through Claudia and her family, Pek thoughtfully examines the complexity of Asian immigrant love, generational trauma, and familial loyalty.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace Li

Book cover depicting an Asian- and male-presenting individual with sunglasses reflecting the interior of a museum.
“Portrait of a Thief” by Grace D. Li

A dashing heist novel filled with charming romance, fun plot twists, and an exploration into what it means to be Chinese and American. Five college students are tasked to heist priceless art pieces from Western museums stolen from Beijing long ago. Li examines the complexity of colonialism in museums and the question of who really deserves ownership. She does an incredible job of weaving in a range of diaspora identities in all five characters, making it a point to display that no Chinese American story is the same.

For fans of heists, Portrait of a Thief is an Ocean’s Eleven-inspired story that Asian Americans can call their own. It’s quite hard to make heists meaningful and reflective, but Li manages to do it with ease, thrill, and a true understanding of what it means to grapple with wanting more from your world.

The Jasmine Throne by Tashi Suri

Book cover depicting a South-Asian- and female-presenting individual seated on temple steps.
“The Jasmine Throne” by Tasha Suri

The Jasmine Throne is the first novel of the fantasy trilogy, The Burning Kingdoms. Centered around two South Asian women — one imprisoned princess and the other her maidservant harboring a powerful magic — this novel is sapphic fantasy in all its glory. 

This is a tale of resistance, sacrifice, and what it means to hold power — fiercely, diabolically, and even intimately. A serious exploration on how different people respond to an oppressive force, yet still a fantastic adventure into a world you’ll treasure and hold close.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Book cover depicting an Asian red dragon artwork swirling across the yellow cover.
“She Who Became the Sun” by Shelley Parker-Chan

A historical fantasy novel filled with triumph and desire, Shelley Parker-Chan retells 14th-century Chinese history and the rise to power of the Hongwu Emperor. Protagonist Zhu Chongba will do whatever it takes to survive and evade the prophecy of death given to her at birth. 

A story that inspires the reclaiming of your own destiny and identity. This book is for those who enjoy politics, vengeance, and darker takes on human ambition.

The Rise of Kyoshi and The Shadow of Kyoshi by F. C. Yee

Book cover depicting a Japanese- and androgynous-presenting individual in a fighting stance with a yellow folding fan in one hand.
“The Rise of Kyoshi” by F. C. Yee
Book cover depicting two Asian-presenting individuals in fighting stances.
“The Shadow of Kyoshi” by F. C. Yee

This YA fantasy duology is built from the world of the popular TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Local Seattle author F. C. Yee tells the story of the legendary Earth Kingdom Avatar, Kyoshi. Though known for her power and the founding of both the Kyoshi Warriors and the ruthless Dai Li, Kyoshi came from humble origins and a delightfully bisexual storyline. 

Yee builds an incredible expansion of the Avatar world and crafts a story for Kyoshi that frequently delves into the morally gray. Though labeled as YA, both novels in this duology are equally enjoyable for adults, especially for original fans of the TV show.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Book cover depicting the face of an Asian- and female-presenting Hollywood starlet.
“Siren Queen” by Nghi Vo

In a world of ancient magic and Hollywood survival, Luli Wei will sacrifice whatever it takes to become somebody. This historical fantasy builds a monstrous magical realm where Hollywood bargains and steals names and faces for starlets to make their debut. 

Nghi Vo’s prose is unparalleled and her character arc of Luli Wei does an exceptional job of grappling with being queer and Chinese American in old Hollywood. Siren Queen is for those who are looking for an old Hollywood setting, excellent prose, and thoughtful insights about identity. Vo has also written other positively reviewed novels with sapphic Asian protagonists such as The Chosen and the Beautiful and The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Book cover depicting a Chinatown-like street at night with two figures secretly meeting under a streetlamp.
“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo

A historical fiction novel dedicated to the story of sapphic love in the danger of America in 1954. The Telegraph Club is a safe haven for girls like Lily and Kathleen, but in the midst of the Red Scare and fear of deportation of their Chinese families, is the risk to love worth it?

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Book cover depicting an Asian- and female-presenting individual against a blue sky with red lanterns hanging in the background.
“Black Water Sister” by Zen Cho

Centered in Malaysia, Black Water Sister is a contemporary fantasy novel filled with both Asian and South Asian sapphic representation. Jessamyn Teoh is hearing voices, and when these voices turn out to be her estranged grandmother, she’s pulled into the vengeance her grandmother seeks as a spirit medium. In a world filled with “gods, ghosts, and family secrets,” readers will be pulled into a dangerous and thrilling ride.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Book cover depicting an Asian- and female-presenting individual in a fighting pose with red feathers swirled around the figure.
“Iron Widow” by Xiran Jay Zhao

A crossover of fantasy and sci-fi is featured in this historical retelling of the rise of the only female emperor in Chinese history, Wu Zetian. In this patriarchal world, the military enlists boys to pair with girls to pilot their robots with the strain frequently leading to the death of the girls. When Zetian’s sister dies from this same program, she starts her journey to destroy what led to her sister’s death. Sapphic and polyamorous, Zhao refuses to contain this novel to a singular box.

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

Book cover depicting abstract art in blues and greens.
“You Exist Too Much” by Zaina Arafat

This contemporary fiction novel explores the struggles and consequences of being queer and growing up within a conflicting culture and religion. The protagonist is a Palestinian American woman whose story is told through vignettes between America and the Middle East. She navigates reckless romance and self-destruction and tries to find herself between all her worlds.

Editors’ Note: The author’s name has been removed from this article in order to protect their privacy.

📸 Featured Image: “The Jasmine Throne” is about Malini and Priya, two South Asian women, whose love and magic makes for the ultimate sapphic fantasy story. (Pictured: Jasmine Throne-inspired art by @missescara)

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