Asian YA Fantasy Heroines Who Prove Strength Isn’t Just About Power

Asian YA Fantasy Heroines Who Prove Strength Isn’t Just About Power

asian heroines

Bookish readers may have noticed we’re a little obsessed with Kat Cho’s debut YA fantasy Wicked Fox. It’s one of our must-reads of the summer, we have an excerpt on BookishFirst, and earlier this year Cho shared a K-pop playlist inspired by the novel with us! Can you blame us? Miyoung is a heroine we just can’t get enough of. She’s both brave and vulnerable in equal measure, showing that strength isn’t just about being powerful. To celebrate the book’s release, Cho shared a list of her favorite Asian YA fantasy heroines who show strength comes in a multitude of forms.

I put a lot of thought into what “strong Asian heroine” means. First of all, I do think there is a greater conversation to be had around the phrase “strong heroines” and the fact that we need to label them as strong as if that’s not the norm with female heroines. But if we’re using the label, then a new context is added when you say “strong Asian heroine” because the stereotype of the meek, quiet Asian female is prevalent in western popular culture. It’s important to unpack what being quiet and reserved means in Asian culture and the strength that can be found within it. Plus, there are some Asian heroines who shun the expectation that they will be quiet with their own versions of strength. Perhaps this is all just a way for me to explain that we are not a monolith and we can all be strong in our own individual ways. So let’s get on with the list!

Kingdom of The Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Princess Jade is everything you want in a leader—she doesn’t crave power or personal glory, but does what is best for her country and her people. She has a strength that doesn’t come from physical ability, but from commitment to her people. It’s a very admirable trait when you do what is best for society.

The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala

Esha is not someone you’d want to meet on a dark road alone (I mean, unless you’re Kunal apparently). But she is the famed Viper, an assassin whose reputation precedes her, and she does it all to protect her people. She breaks a few rules to accomplish what she thinks is right, and in that way she lives in a very morally gray area. But honestly, no reader could blame Esha for that because her motivations are always pure.

Prophecy by Ellen Oh

This book came out at a time when the chosen one trope was strong. This novel makes a powerful commentary on the strong patriarchy at play in ancient Korea. A chosen one was automatically assumed to be a male. But when Kira turns out to be the chosen one, I was all for it! She’s also a demon slayer and protects her people, but is an outcast because of it. This was so infuriating but also created a really dynamic character who had to fight for everything she had.  That’s a powerful heroine!

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

This book hash two powerful heroines! I honestly think they’re both strong for their own individual reasons, which I really enjoyed. They want the same thing but go about getting it in different ways. Lu breaks all the rules to get what she believes is her rightful inheritance: the throne. Min stays in the palace and works the system from the inside with her eyes on that same throne. I love how each girl plays into her own strengths to get what she wants!

Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Skybright is a very distinct character who has always stood out to me among the many YA novels I’ve read. She starts out as a servant to a rich family. I like that she has very realistic reactions when she learns that her heritage is anything but human. She goes on a journey of self-discovery, and she does it in a world that shuns her for her gender, her socioeconomic class, and for her supernatural heritage. Through it all, she doesn’t lose sight of who she truly is and what is important to her. In that she is a very strong heroine and one worth rooting for!

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

If a heroine can go through her demon-filled days with some humor, then she has a lot of inner strength. And that is Genie Lo to a T! She has humor, but she is also an amazing fighter in the vein of Buffy. This book will have you gasping and laughing in the same breath and it’s all thanks to its amazingly strong heroine!

Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. She currently lives and works in NYC and spends her free time trying to figure out what kind of puppy to adopt.

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