Fantasy heroines know how to steal our hearts. Whether they’re wielding political power, magic, swords, or intelligence, we love reading about women owning their strengths in fantastical worlds. We have a feeling the heroine of K.S. Villoso’s The Wolf of Oren-Yaro will soon be joining our list of favorites. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a Filipino-inspired fantasy that follows Talyien, a queen fighting her way back home after a failed assassination attempt. To celebrate the release of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, K.S. Villoso shared a list of 10 Asian fantasy heroines she loves.
Stereotypes can wreak havoc on our subconscious and unwittingly make us less capable of seeing people as individuals, each with their own desires and challenges. Asian women are just as prone to being stereotyped, especially in Western media: We are often seen as passive victims of heavily oppressive cultures who are either incapable of wielding power or are constantly seeking to flee this subservient existence. To counter this, I’ve gathered a quick list (in no particular order) of Asian heroines from fantasy literature—from warriors to scholars to entrepreneurs, and everything in between. And this is only ten—there’s plenty more to get to know out there!
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Tea is an exiled Dark asha—a daeva-slayer—and a necromancer whose adventures begin when she accidentally raises her brother from the dead. The lush prose of The Bone Witch invokes a fantasy world inspired by both Asian and European cultures.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman and her mother comes from a bloodline of outcasts with magic in their blood. The rebelliousness of Mehr’s character is tempered by her patience and compassion, showing another way strength can manifest in a person.
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Shae is the youngest and only daughter of the Kaul family, leaders of the No Peak clan in Fonda Lee’s wuxia/gangster film-inspired novel set in a mid-20th century Asian city. An educated and accomplished woman, Shae carves out her own success and fortune apart from her family, but circumstances drag her straight back into the heart of things.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
A war orphan adopted by opium smugglers, Rin is an intense, spirited, determined, feisty young woman who excels in her studies and quickly learns to master combat skills. Both warrior and shaman, she later comes into her powers to channel a god, though it comes at a price.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
After the murder of her father, Princess Hesina finds herself in power and uses her grief to track down his killer. In a desperate move, she asks for help from a soothsayer, despite the fact that magic has been banned.
Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Trese is a private detective, one who comes from a long line of investigators who specialize in supernatural beings of the underworld. Outside of that, she runs The Diabolical, a night club. When the police encounter strange and bizarre cases of ghosts and other unworldly beings, they call on Trese for backup.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Intelligent and capable Laila is a baker and world-class performer who approaches the treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin, looking for clues to her mysterious past by way of a book. She has the magical ability to learn everything about an object simply by touching it.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
The Moribito series features the spear-wielding Balsa, a bodyguard-for-hire tasked with protecting a young prince from assassins. Though stoic and strict on the outside, she is driven by a sense of guilt for the deaths of the otherwise-honorable men sent to kill her when she was young. She vows to save the lives of eight others in return.
Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
Sergeant Tala is the bodyguard to a prince and has the forbidden ability to forge shadepacts to both a crow and to her brother Dimangan. She lost her family to the empress’ army, and now spends her life avenging them in battle—a life that has turned her bitter and angry.
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Yên is a failed scholar who is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking on earth. Expecting to be tortured or killed for amusement, Yên is instead tasked with tutoring the dragon’s two unruly children. She starts to find herself dangerously attracted to her new mistress in a Beauty and the Beast-style romance.
K.S. Villoso writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. Much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amidst the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.