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

C.R. Fladmark Author Of The Gatekeeper's Son: Book One
By C.R. Fladmark

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: Book One

By C.R. Fladmark,

Book cover of The Gatekeeper's Son: Book One

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.

The books I picked & why

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Jet Black and the Ninja Wind

By Leza Lowitz, Shogo Oketani,

Book cover of Jet Black and the Ninja Wind

Why 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.  

Girl Fights Back: An Emily Kane Adventure Book 1

By Jacques Antoine,

Book cover of Girl Fights Back: An Emily Kane Adventure Book 1

Why 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. 

Blood: The Last Vampire

By Mamoru Oshii, Camellia Nieh (translator),

Book cover of Blood: The Last Vampire

Why 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?

Kafka on the Shore

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of Kafka on the Shore

Why 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 Faith Hunter,

Book cover of Skinwalker

Why 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. 

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