The best urban fantasy books with Japanese themes and kick-ass female characters

Who am I?

I’ve been interested in Japanese culture, mythology, and martial arts since I was a teenager. My favorite books are those where I become completely submerged, losing myself in the story and forgetting where the main character ends and I begin. Stories that focus on an ordinary person who gets pulled into another world while remaining firmly planted in their current world. Stories where the character has to learn new skills or discover special talents; a connection to the past or to another realm; or becomes part of some mysterious group operating outside of society. When I couldn’t find enough books that fulfilled my hunger for this specific genre, I decided to write some myself!

I wrote...

The Gatekeeper's Son

By C.R. Fladmark,

Book cover of The Gatekeeper's Son

What is my book about?

Junya’s grandfather is a billionaire who keeps the secret to his success hidden in a heavily guarded safe. His mother is a martial artist who wields a razor-sharp katana—and seems to read his mind. And a mysterious girl in a Japanese school uniform can knock him over—literally—with just a look. What do they know that he doesn’t? Junya’s life takes a dangerous turn on his sixteenth birthday when someone sets out to destroy not only the family’s business empire—the one that he’s set to inherit—but Junya himself. He’s fighting for his life and doesn’t know who to trust. What has his family been keeping from him? Junya’s journey takes him from the narrow streets of San Francisco to Japan. In a mystical world he’s never imagined, he finds his true destiny.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Jet Black and the Ninja Wind

C.R. Fladmark Why did I love this book?

This was the first novel I read that had everything I craved: a setting in Japan, both rural and urban, cool ninja training, ancient Japanese mythology, a half-Japanese kid who’s never been to Japan but must go to fulfill her destiny, and a bit of spy intrigue as well. Yes, it’s the classic tale of “kid who was taught fighting skills but was never told what or why.” However, because of the Japanese angle, especially the descriptions of Japan and its culture which is so different than the western world, I thought the story was fresh. I do think the main character took too long to find herself, but my only real complaint is that the authors didn’t continue the series or write more books like this.  

By Leza Lowitz, Shogo Oketani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jet Black and the Ninja Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

**Winner of the 2013-2014 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature**
**2015 Sakura Medal Nominee**
**Shortlisted for the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award**
**Nominated for the Cybils Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award**

Seventeen-year-old Jet Black is a ninja. There's only one problem-she doesn't know it.

Jet has never lived a so-called normal life. Raised by her single Japanese mother on a Navajo reservation in the Southwest, Jet's life was a constant litany of mysterious physical and mental training. For as long as Jet can remember, every Saturday night she and her mother played "the game" on the local mountain. But…

Book cover of Girl Fights Back

C.R. Fladmark Why did I love this book?

This is a book for Japanese martial arts lovers like me. Every fight is described in realistic detail so I can ‘see’ every fighting technique. Emily is a half-Japanese teenager whose American father is ex-military and trying to hide his family from some mysterious threat. Of course, Emily is taught a bunch of special skills in case she ever needs them, such as various martial arts and bushcraft. Unlike other books like this, I find her training feels natural. She learned martial arts at a local dojo and her days in the woods with her dad were ‘camping,’ not obvious paramilitary training, so when she started fighting back, it felt right to me. This isn’t a true urban fantasy novel, but there’s enough intrigue and strange events that it seems imaginary. 

By Jacques Antoine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Girl Fights Back as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emily Kane has gone missing…

…and the world’s spy agencies are determined to find her.

They think she’s been genetically modified as a human weapon. Now, she'll need all her skills to make it to tomorrow.

Her father taught her everything he knew, how to hide, how to live off the land… and how to fight like a demon, without mercy or remorse.

When the mercenaries came, her family fled. But Emily Kane has had enough of running. Can she take the fight to her enemies and survive… and if she can, will she still be human?

If you love…

Book cover of Blood: The Last Vampire

C.R. Fladmark Why did I love this book?

When I watched Blood: The Last Vampire, a Japanese horror film based on manga by Mamoru Oshii, I was hooked. I discovered Saya, and manga. Saya is a fierce and beautiful vampire killer who wears a modest Japanese school uniform while hunting. The vampires mostly look like normal people. Some are scared and run, others fight back. Either way, they die. I liked the contradicting image of the innocent-looking schoolgirl who is a ferocious killer, but the story was also thought-provoking. When Saya makes a mistake and kills an innocent person, it showed a dilemma most ‘hero’ stories don’t address. Are we either completely good or always evil? Saya is the inspiration for Shoko, the lead character in my novels, and she struggles with this. Can you serve the gods and also be a killer?

By Mamoru Oshii, Camellia Nieh (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At Yokota Base in Japan, American soldiers stand guard at the brink of the Vietnam War. Although they fear the enemy outside their base, an even more dangerous enemy waits within - bloodthirsty vampires walk among them. Appearing human, the beasts lurk in secret among the soldiers, waiting for the moment to attack. Saya, a fierce and beautiful vampire hunter, is sent to lead a team of undercover agents whose mission is to decide who is human and who is not, and wipe out the vampires before they can wipe out the base. But even though Saya is a powerful…

Book cover of Kafka on the Shore

C.R. Fladmark Why did I love this book?

I love and hate Murakami’s books. He writes literary fiction, not urban fantasy or YA. However, he’s the best at injecting fantasy into an otherwise normal and often sad story (I kind of like sad stories). His characters are real people, they have no special powers. I can relate to them and their experiences, which makes all his books meaningful to me. Kafka follows a runaway kid who is trying to find a long-lost mother and sister. Straight forward enough, until a cat talks and fish rain down on Tokyo. It’s complicated, PG, and in true Murakami style, there’s no neat wrap-up, no explanation about the fish. His books just end, leaving me to imagine what happens next. It drives me crazy, and I’ve bought every book he’s written!

By Haruki Murakami,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Kafka on the Shore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A stunning work of art that bears no comparisons" the New York Observer wrote of Haruki Murakami's masterpiece, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. In its playful stretching of the limits of the real world, his magnificent new novel, Kafka on the Shore is every bit as bewitching and ambitious. The narrative follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father's dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his highly simplified life suddenly overturned. Their parallel odysseys - as…

Book cover of Skinwalker

C.R. Fladmark Why did I love this book?

While this urban fantasy series isn’t Japanese per se, it’s full of realistic martial arts action. I love this series because of the unique mixture of concepts, and the well-imagined and likeable characters, even the bad guys. Jane Yellowrock is a shotgun-toting, motorbike riding, kick ass woman. She’s also a Cherokee Skinwalker (shapeshifter) and a security professional who works for vampire organizations to hunt down and kill their rogues; those who can't control themselves from biting humans. The books are set in modern New Orleans, which is quite an interesting location for me. I just don’t think you can get a better or weirder combination of ideas: Cherokee mythology and vampires. It may sound like a weird concept, but there are 13 books in the series. It works. 

By Faith Hunter,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Skinwalker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet shapeshifting skinwalker Jane Yellowrock in the first novel in the New York Times bestselling series that captures “the essence of urban fantasy” (SF Site).

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katies’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.

Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a…

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The Blighted Mission

By E. Chris Ambrose,

Book cover of The Blighted Mission

E. Chris Ambrose Author Of The Mongol's Coffin

New book alert!

Who am I?

As an art school drop-out who'd been majoring in sculpture, I'm fascinated by material culture—artifacts created by early peoples that reveal their cultural values. Often, the relics and sites that engage both archaeologists and readers suggest unexpected depths of knowledge that show human ingenuity through the ages. I strive to incorporate the details of an artifact or monument's creation into the clues and descriptions in my work, hopefully illuminating a little-known historical realm, if only by torchlight as the adventure unfolds. The fact that I get to explore so many exotic locations, in research if not in person, is a definite plus!

E. Chris' book list on weaving adventure and history

What is my book about?

Disgraced British anthropologist Nigel Rowe hopes his YouTube adventure channel will be just the treat to redeem him, but vengeful treasure hunters have other plans! Seeking a legendary Jesuit mission in Baja, Nigel saves his producer’s life when the man takes a bullet meant for him. 

When an ex-Marine strolls up for a bodyguard interview, and dresses him down for his lax security, she might be precisely what he needs, or the last face he'll ever see. They plunge into the desert in search of fame, fortune and viral footage. Will he survive long enough to work out who's after him or meet a sticky end in the mountains of Mexico? All he can hope is that his new partner's doesn’t pull the trigger herself.

The Blighted Mission

By E. Chris Ambrose,

What is this book about?

A disgraced British anthropologist hopes his YouTube adventure channel will redeem him, but vengeful treasure hunters have other plans.

From the author of the internationally best-selling Bone Guard archaeological adventures!

On the trail of a legendary Jesuit mission in Baja—and the treasure it may contain—Nigel Rowe leaps into action to save the life of his producer when the man takes a bullet meant for Nigel. Alas, the list of those who might wish him dead spans the globe and ranges from American treasure hunters to Russian mobsters to his own dear brother, with their mother's consent if not her explicit…

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