2021 Favorites: Books, Manga, K-drama & more

2021 brought me quite a few phenomenal reads, from books to manga to webcomics & manhwa. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, and some made fall down the fandom rabbit hole. Most importantly, I discovered new favorite books and series that helped me get through the difficult year! My favorite stories are the ones that leave a lasting impression; stories I still talk about long after I read the last chapter or watch the last episode, stories I want to share my love for with all my friends and family, and well, you dear reader! Before I get into my top reads and shows, let’s look at a quick recap of 2021.

2021 At A Glance

  • This year I read a total of 74 books (and currently on my 75th to reach my reading goal)!
  • My most read genre was fantasy–no surprise there as it’s my favorite–followed by romance.
  • My least read genres were sci-fi and nonfiction.
  • Nearly a third of my reads were webcomics and manga. This year I read more webcomics than ever!
  • I reread 4 books: These Violent Delights (for Subtle Asian Book Club’s January BOTM), On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Heart of Obsidian, and Jade Legacy twice.
  • I listened to 2 audiobooks.
  • I buddy-watched 7 K-dramas.

Favorite Books

1. Jade Legacy | The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee

I read the entire Green Bone Saga this year and it claims the throne as my all time favorite fantasy series. It’s a thrilling wuxia-inspired gangster saga; imagine The Godfather in an urban fantasy metropolis where magic comes in the form of jade and two rival crime syndicates go to war, vying for control and power. It’s about family and honor and love and war. And it absolutely destroyed me. I’ve reread Jade Legacy twice and my mind still drifts to this brilliant story in idle moments. This trilogy was the highlight of my reading year.

2. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan

I’m not a masochist by any means, but my favorite books tend to hurt (see the above). She Who Became the Sun is a reimagining of the rise of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. Mulan meets The Song of Achilles meets The Poppy War. The story revolves around a peasant who has the unwavering ambition for greatness and glory, and to achieve that she claims her dead brother’s identity. I adore quiet, unassuming characters with an underlying propensity for ruthlessness. That’s our anti-heroine. I especially loved the the nuanced exploration of gender identity alongside the themes of war and vengeance and fate.

3. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

I can’t wait for everyone to read this book because it’s just so beautiful. The worldbuilding is lush and magical, the writing is exquisite, and the fairytale-esque atmosphere will sweep you away. Daughter of the Moon Goddess retells the legend of Chang’e the Chinese moon goddess, where her daughter embarks on a dangerous quest to free her mother from exile. There’s adventure and magic, immortals and romance, legendary creatures and ancient Chinese folklore. Keep an eye out for this YA fantasy debut in January!

4. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

My favorite romance of the year! The Love Hypothesis certainly lives up to the hype. Women in STEM? Check. Fake dating? Check. Grumpy hero who is only soft for the heroine (aka I hate everyone but you)? CHECK. I am weak for grumpy x sunshine. The characters are just so lovable. Not only that, but this was originally a Reylo fanfic! Although I’m not in the Star Wars fandom and know very little about Reylo, I’m an avid consumer of fanfics so I’m very fond of them! To see a story that started as a fanfic garner this much success makes me so happy.

5. The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Ah yes, yet another book that wrecked emotional havoc on me. The previous authors were all new to me, but Helen Hoang is a favorite of mine! The Bride Test remains my favorite, and while I don’t think anything will ever top that, The Heart Principle comes in at a very close second. This story has a different tone than the rest of her books. It explores heavier subjects like depression, suicidal ideation, and toxic family relationships. Some parts hit a little close to home so it was a very heart-rendering read for me.

Honorable mentions: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker


Favorite Webcomics & Manga

Solo Leveling

If you’re familiar with my bookstagram or blog, you’re probably tired of how much I talk about Solo Leveling. I really can’t help it–it’s my favorite webcomic this year. I’m even collecting the english translated physical copies to start my Jinwoo shrine. Jokes aside, as far as power fantasy goes, this one is pretty typical in that the protagonist goes from helpless to absolutely overpowered, but it’s just so addicting. It’s full of action and epic battles and the sleek art is a feast for the eyes. The page-long panoramic scenes during high stakes fights? *chef’s kiss*

Positively Yours

The best romcom webcomic ever. No I will not be taking questions. I teared up when Positively Yours ended because I loved it so much (and because the ending was utterly perfect). I think there’s a gaping whole in my chest now that it’s over. The ML is the president of the “I love my wife and will do anything for her” club, and the best part? He has the power to. It’s lighthearted and sweet and I just felt really happy reading it. Positively Yours is my ultimate comfort webcomic.

Omniscient Reader

You ever heard of the meme “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss”? That’s the trio of Omniscient Reader, and I’ve never loved a golden trio so damn much. Their dynamic has borderline unhinged found family vibes. Extremely dysfunctional. I’m talking about clown-to-clown communication–which, makes the wholesome moments all the sweeter. This webcomic/webnovel is an ode to stories and storytelling. It’s about the sole reader of an apocalyptic story that turns to reality, and only he knows how to survive.

Jujutsu Kaisen

You’ve probably already heard of Jujutsu Kaisen so I’ll spare the details but when I finished the anime, the first thing I did was read the manga, and boy did it get INTENSE. Pain and suffering is all I know apparently. Remember when I said I fell down the fandom rabbit hole? This was it. I caught up on the manga and turned to fanfiction to cope. Maybe I even wrote one.

Honorable mentions: Chainsaw Man, Unholy Blood, Under the Oak Tree


Favorite K-Drama

Vincenzo

Just thinking about everyone I convinced to watch this series who later came back to tell me they loved it makes me giddy. Vincenzo follows a Korean-Italian lawyer/Mafia consigliere who flees to Seoul in the midst of a Mafia war and ends up waging his own war against a corrupt conglomerate. It holds an underlying comedic tone interspersed with suspenseful scenes, action-packed sequences, tender moments, and gut-wrenching parts. If you like found family, thrilling action, comedy, and subtle romance, this drama is a must-watch! The true MVPs were the antagonists.


Miscellaneous Favorites

Cover

Both the US & UK covers of Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim are absolutely stunning. While I didn’t get to read it this year, it’s on my 12 months 12 recs challenge next year!

Game

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Inazuma arc, Genshin Impact was basically the only game I played this year and I’m still in love with the stunning soundtrack, the plethora of characters, the beautiful landscapes to explore, and the fun events!


How was your reading year? What was your favorite book? Do you have any reading goals for 2022?