Growing up in the Philippines, I was exposed to countless supernatural stories and superstitions, ranging from making “tabi-tabi po” to determinedly avoiding balete trees. I personally think that supernatural beliefs are so deeply ingrained in Filipino culture and everyday practices, which might partially explain my fascination with the otherworld. And this fascination surely extends to my reading preferences, too!
Having said that, I am ecstatic to share and recommend some great supernatural stories written by Asian authors. When it comes to this particular genre, Asians are truly serving literary excellence. Check these books out and happy reading!
Black Water Sister
With the uncanny voice of her estranged grandmother's ghost living in her head, Jessamyn Teoh is tasked with carrying out her Ah Ma's vengeance against a gang boss who has offended their deity. And Jess is determined to succeed at all costs—even if it involves making dangerous deals with finicky spirits.
Set in contemporary Malaysia, this is a compellingly paced story that follows a stressed, closeted lesbian as she fights gods, ghosts, and gangsters. A great pick for readers who are fascinated by the complex intersections of belonging to the diaspora, being queer, and navigating complicated families.
For avid fans of paranormal mystery mixed with horror and suspense, Dwellers introduce people with the strange ability to inhabit the bodies and lives of others. When two cousins take over the bodies of Jonah and Louis, they find more than they bargained for—including a dead body in the basement of their new home.
The Ghost Bride
As her family drowns deeper into debt, young Li Lan is pushed to become the ghost bride for the wealthy and powerful Lim family's recently deceased son. Soon, she is haunted by her ghostly would-be suitor in the shadowy parallel world of Chinese afterlife, as well as her growing desire for the new Lim heir, Tian Bai.
While I enjoyed its Netflix adaptation, I thoroughly adored the original text. The writing is lush, atmospheric, and hauntingly beautiful.
The Girl and the Ghost
When the young friendless Suraya inherits a pelesit from her witch grandmother, she is thrilled to have a ghostly companion, whom she eventually names Pink. However, when Pink’s darker nature begins to manifest, the two friends must solve the mystery of the pelesit’s past to survive.
With a heartfelt narrative and universally relatable themes, this middle grade novel can be enjoyed by all ages.
When 13-year-old orphaned Pinky opens a mysteriously bolted door in her uncle's home, she unknowingly unleashes the ghosts of a drowned infant and the child's nursemaid, as well as secrets that threaten to shame her newfound family.
Consider reading this if you’re in the mood for dysfunctional families, revenge-seeking victims, and a touch of drama.
Never Have I Ever
In her debut collection of supernatural short stories, Isabel Yap pens an impressive range of modern tales that feature various mythological creatures and urban folklore from Filipino culture.
Unique in tone and beautifully unsettling, Never Have I Ever is a personal favorite of mine!
Local legend says that a Dreamer god sleeps within the island of Kisapmata, waiting to grant unimaginable powers in exchange for eight sacrifices. When a Hollywood film crew arrive with the goal of creating a highly-rated documentary, they all fall victim to the island's wretched curse—leaving it up to their guide, Alon, to convince them to leave before it's too late.
If you enjoy stories where unwise character decisions beget serious consequences, consider picking this one up.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Set in 1990s Colombo, this story follows Maali Almeida, a recently deceased war photographer and journalist who has no recollection of how he died. Now navigating the afterlife as a ghost, Maali has seven moons to contact the people he loves most and lead them to photos that could potentially change the interminable civil war ravaging through Sri Lanka.
For readers who prefer their supernatural stories with incredibly high stakes, don’t miss out on this book which just won the 2022 Booker Prize.
Seventh-grader Harper Raine is immediately suspicious of her new home, which is rumored to be haunted. Upon fearing that her younger brother might be possessed by a malicious spirit, Harper is determined to venture the spirit world to save him and to prevent another family tragedy.
This middle grade novel follows a brave little girl who is easy to root for.
A Tiny Upward Shove
Perfect for readers who are interested in literary fiction with supernatural elements, A Tiny Upward Shove tells the story of a young Filipino woman who transforms into an aswang after being brutally murdered. For her soul to finally move on, the recently turned Marina must first settle her unfinished business.
You've Reached Sam
Seventeen-year-old Julie's carefully laid plans for the future abruptly change upon the sudden death of her boyfriend Sam. Heartbroken and desperate to hear his voice one more time, she calls his cellphone. And when Sam unexpectedly answers the call, Julie clutches onto this miraculous chance to temporarily connect with him. But as more otherworldly calls are shared between these lovers, the harder it is for her to let go.
I’ve heard this one can be quite the tearjerker, so I highly recommend keeping tissues nearby while reading.