100 books like The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu, Kencho Suematsu (translator),

Here are 100 books that The Tale of Genji fans have personally recommended if you like The Tale of Genji. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Heike Story

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

Japan is full of figures from its own history that loves to villainize, and few of them stand out, like Taira no Kiyomori. This prose retelling of the original epic covers the rise and fall of the Taira Clan is full of politics, scheming, ruthlessness, and more than a few bloody battles. Kiyomori is someone I can understand the motivations of, even as I condemn him for his tactics and monstrous actions. The Heike Story is the bloodstained and muddy underbelly that emerges as the samurai warrior class rises to prominence and the power of the old aristocracy wanes.

By Eiji Yoshikawa, Kenkichi Sugimoto (illustrator), Fuki Wooyenaka Uramatsu (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kyoto in the twelfth century was a magnificent city, but crime, disorder, and lust were rampant. The people were abused by the nobility, while the armed Buddhist monks terrorized court and commoner alike. In despair, the Emperor called upon the Heike and Genji clans to quell civil disturbances. Although the clans succeeded, they quarreled over the spoils of war and plunged the country into a century of warfare.This novel describes the rise to power of Kiyomori of the Heike clan during this turbulent time. From a youth sunk in poverty, Kiyomori eventually rose to become the Emperor's Chief Councillor. Although…


Book cover of Katsuno's Revenge and Other Tales of the Samurai

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

These eight short stories are samurai-focused historical fiction done with an appreciation for the traditions and the legacy of the warrior class of Old Japan. They all come from the years of the Warring States period, which many argue was the heyday of the samurai and the height of their prowess. These stories capture the values and emotions that drove these warriors, even outside the battlefield. These stories are framed almost like snapshots or sketches, capturing the moment and the character of that moment in vivid fashion.

By Asataro Miyamori,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Katsuno's Revenge and Other Tales of the Samurai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These eight compelling stories offer valuable insights into Japanese culture. Recounted by a distinguished scholar, they feature scenes from samurai life that embody the concept of Bushido, the "way of the warrior." Their portrayals of loyalty, romance, passion, and heroism offer a true reflection of the values of the Japanese knighthood.
Largely fact-based, these fables originated among the traditional storytellers of Japan and were later adapted into romances and historical dramas. Asataro Miyamori, a professor of English at the Oriental University in Tokyo, drew upon authentic sources in compiling this volume, which first appeared in 1920. In the preface, Miyamori…


Book cover of Dragon Sword and Wind Child

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

While it feels a little slow to start, this novel is the kind of thing that takes typical fantasy tropes, puts them in a bucket, and dumps it upside down. The story is fantastical and doesn't shy away from that fact, but it is also deeply influenced by Japan's folklore, mythology, and spiritual traditions.

By Noriko Ogiwara, Cathy Hirano (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dragon Sword and Wind Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

The forces of the God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness have waged a ruthless war across the land of Toyoashihara for generations. But for 15-year-old Saya, the war is far away and unimportant--until the day she discovers that she is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden and a princess of the Children of the Dark. Raised to love the Light and detest the Dark, Saya must come to terms with her heritage even as she tumbles into the very heart of the conflict that is destroying her country. The armies of the Light and Dark both seek to…


Book cover of Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter

Alina Lee Author Of Paper Crane Memories

From my list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up, I was introduced to Japanese culture and history through anime. But I decided to dig a little deeper, reading history books and looking up more and more information. I was fascinated by what was presented of “Old Japan,” both the misconceptions that were spread by pop culture and by the surprising details that it gets right that no one would believe. This fascination is one of the most consistent things about me through the years, and the idea of delving into works of my own that merged samurai drama with lesbian relationships has been a recurring desire of mine for years.

Alina's book list on the history, folklore, and mythology of Japan

Alina Lee Why did Alina love this book?

For me, it's hard to find stories that are so willing to dive into the feel of a bygone era, especially one that is potentially as obscure to some audiences as the Heian period of Japan. Set in a period of slow change, this short story collection combines the tensions of the period (a rising warrior class, Shinto vs Buddhist religious tensions, factions in the imperial court) in combination with the rich variety of strange beings in the folklore of Japan. I love how it paints a picture of a world that is simultaneously grounded in human motivations and populated by the esoteric and supernatural.

By Richard Parks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In an ancient Japan where the incursions of gods, ghosts, and demons into the living world is an everyday event, an impoverished nobleman named Yamada no Goji makes his living as a demon hunter for hire. With the occasional assistance of the reprobate exorcist Kenji, whatever the difficulty - ogres, demons, fox-spirits - for a price Yamada will do what needs to be done, even and especially if the solution to the problem isn't as simple as the edge of a sword. Yet, no matter how many monsters he has to face, or how powerful and terrible they may be,…


Book cover of Japan, a View from the Bath

Craig McLachlan Author Of Tales of a Summer Henro

From my list on understanding Japan and the Japanese.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have a passion for Japan and the Japanese stretching back over four decades. I’ve done a lot of wandering around my wife Yuriko’s home-country – walked the 3200km length of it; hiked across it from the Sea of Japan to the Pacific, climbing all 21 of its 3000m peaks; broken the record for climbing its 100 Famous Mountains; walked around the 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku Pilgrimage; and journeyed around the Saigoku 33 Temples of Kannon Pilgrimmage – and written books on all these adventures. I’ve co-written Lonely Planet’s “Japan” and “Hiking in Japan” guidebooks since the late 1990s, covering everywhere from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

Craig's book list on understanding Japan and the Japanese

Craig McLachlan Why did Craig love this book?

After 40 years of bathing in onsen (hot springs), our local sento (public bathhouse), and all sorts of equivalents, I’ve come to understand that bathing in Japan is a lot more than a way of keeping clean – it’s an immersion in culture as well as hot water. I found Clark’s book fascinating and often found myself muttering “ah, yes, he’s right” to myself, as I looked back on my bathing experiences in Japan. Historically, bathing is not something to be undertaken alone, but in groups, be they family, friends, or workmates. Some of my best experiences in Japan have been the daily ritual of taking my children to our local sento and becoming friends with locals in our neighborhood. “Hadaka no tsukiai” – friends in nakedness – nothing is hidden! 

By Scott Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japan, a View from the Bath as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A study of the significance of bathing in Japanese mythology and the historical development of communal bathing.


Book cover of Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

Sanae Ishida Author Of Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

From my list on Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

My parents were both born and raised in Japan but met in New York and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up. My first language was Japanese and as a nisei (second generation), I am deeply steeped in my Asian heritage. I am continually inspired by the art and storytelling that originates from Japanese culture and love to incorporate them into my own work.

Sanae's book list on Japan

Sanae Ishida Why did Sanae love this book?

As a little kid, I read the Japanese version of these stories and I was delighted when I found the English version to read to my then tiny daughter. “Momo-Taro,” or Peach Boy, is one of my favorite tales from childhood and there are so many others included in the book that I had forgotten about. These classic stories are a wonderful addition to any library!

By Florence Sakade, Yoshisuke Kurosaki (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Children's Favorite Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

This colorfully illustrated multicultural children's book presents Japanese fairy tales and other folk stories--providing insight into a vibrant literary culture.

For 60 years, generations of English-speaking children around the world have been enchanted by Japanese Children's Favorite Stories--and for good reason. With such titles as "The Toothpick Warriors" and "The Rabbit Who Crossed the Sea," these 20 stories offer age-old lessons in kindness and goodness that are still riveting to children and parents alike. This 60th Anniversary Tuttle edition is proof that good stories never wear out.

In this treasure trove of much-beloved Japanese children's stories, you'll meet charming characters…


Book cover of The Cat Who Went to Heaven

Lesléa Newman Author Of Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed

From my list on the loving bond between people and cats.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved cats and have lived with many: Princess Sheba Darling, Precious Sammy Dearest, Couscous Kerouac, P.C. (Perfect Cat), Neshama, and Mitzi. Each cat has a distinct personality and quickly taught me how things were going to go: some cats are lap cats, some are not. Some cats are finicky, some cats will eat anything. Some cats slept on my pillow, some cats prowled—and yowled—all night long. In addition to cats, I have always loved picture books and have written many about cats including: Cats, Cats, Cats! Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail, A-B-C Cats, 1-2-3 Cats, and The Best Cat In The World.

Lesléa's book list on the loving bond between people and cats

Lesléa Newman Why did Lesléa love this book?

I have read this book at least a dozen times. First published in 1930, it has become a classic, winning the Newbery Medal (the Oscar of children’s books!) and other awards. The story, which takes place in Japan, is about a poor, humble artist, who is working on an important painting. Though he has very little money and cannot afford another mouth to feed, his housekeeper brings a little white cat home from the market. At first, the artist is disgruntled, but nevertheless, the cat becomes known as Good Fortune, and indeed, through an act of selflessness, the cat does bring good fortune to the artist. The writing style is gorgeous, and the book is an absolute pleasure to read. Very soothing and meditative. No wonder it’s become a classic!

By Elizabeth Coatsworth, Raoul Vitale (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cat Who Went to Heaven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A Newberry Medal Winner

This timeless fable has been a classic since its first publication in 1930, and this beautifully reillustrated edition brings the magic and wonder of the tale to a new generation of readers.

In ancient Japan, a struggling artist is angered when his housekeeper brings home a tiny white cat he can barely afford to feed. But when the village’s head priest commissions a painting of the Buddha for a healthy sum, the artist softens toward the animal he believes has brought him luck.

According to legend, the proud and haughty cat was denied the Buddha’s blessing…


Book cover of Blood: The Last Vampire

C.R. Fladmark Author Of The Gatekeeper's Son

From my list on urban fantasy with Japan-focused themes.

Why am I passionate about this?

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!

C.R.'s book list on urban fantasy with Japan-focused themes

C.R. Fladmark Why did C.R. 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 Kamishibai Man

Sanae Ishida Author Of Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

From my list on Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

My parents were both born and raised in Japan but met in New York and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up. My first language was Japanese and as a nisei (second generation), I am deeply steeped in my Asian heritage. I am continually inspired by the art and storytelling that originates from Japanese culture and love to incorporate them into my own work.

Sanae's book list on Japan

Sanae Ishida Why did Sanae love this book?

I grew up reading about and experiencing “kamishibai,” which is a Japanese storytelling format using illustration boards. This book by Allen Say gorgeously renders the life of a kamishibai man and what seems like his dying art of sharing stories. I remember trying to make my own kamishibai in elementary school and I’ve been toying with the idea of making one again. The book is a gem!

By Allen Say,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Kamishibai man used to ride his bicycle into town where he would tell stories to the children and sell them candy, but gradually, fewer and fewer children came running at the sound of his clappers. They were all watching their new televisions instead. Finally, only one boy remained, and he had no money for candy. Years later, the Kamishibai man and his wife made another batch of candy, and he pedaled into town to tell one more story—his own. When he comes out of the reverie of his memories, he looks around to see he is surrounded by familiar…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, folklore, and the Heian period?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japan, folklore, and the Heian period.

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