The 10 Best Books About Chinese Mythology

Written by Alan
Published: December 6, 2022
© ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

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Mythology is a big part of every civilization in the world. Myths recount the tales of ancestral beings, gods, and the creation of the universe.

Most cultures use mythology to describe different natural phenomena, their origin, and the evolution of their civilization.

As with every other civilization, Chinese mythology is central to literature, art, and national identity. Moreover, the pantheon of Chinese gods had hierarchical powers to mirror the stratification of the Chinese empire at the time.

Many mythological beings appeared in myths and legends throughout China’s millennia-long history. For example, dragons, monkeys, pigs, tortoises, sea monsters, and unicorns are significant figures in Chinese mythology.

The Dragon boat festival, held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, has arguably the most international recognition after the Chinese New Year.

Ever wondered why people sometimes call China the Celestial Empire (Tian Chao)? It originated from the traditional Chinese religion that considered the sky the highest deity.

The emperors were regarded as sons of heaven (Tian) who were born to rule the country. They were also thought to be the Chinese dragon in human form. Thus, the emperor’s full name should be Zhen Loong Tian Zi (Real Dragon, Son of Heaven).

Chinese mythology’s gods and supernatural characters are drawn from various geographical locations and belief systems. Thus, the mythology has less consistency and uniformity, unlike the myths of other civilizations.

It, however, offers a diverse selection of legendary characters and stories to enjoy.

We compiled some of our favorite books on Chinese mythology to launch you into a world of fantasy and adventure.

  1. The Poppy War: A Novel (The Poppy War, 1)
  2. The Poppy War: A Novel (The Poppy War, 1)
    • 544 pages.
    • A thrilling literary debut.
    • Impressive and vivid worldbuilding.
    • Engrossing, well-paced storyline.
    • Includes content warnings.
    • The first book in The Poppy War series, currently comprising three books.
    Check Amazon
  3. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan
  4. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan
    • 352 pages.
    • A portrayal of medieval China and martial artistry.
    • A historical retelling with a touch of romance suitable for young adults.
    • Has more depth than the movie.
    • Good character development.
    Check Amazon
  5. The Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of China, Retold from The Journey to the West (Skyhook World Classics)
  6. The Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of China, Retold from The Journey to the West (Skyhook World Classics)
    • 46 pages.
    • Recommended for readers ages 10 through 12.
    • Perfect for reading-aloud sessions with kids.
    • Introduces young mythology fans to the fables about the Monkey King.
    • Does not include illustrations.
    • It retains the charm of the original mythical stories.
    Check Amazon
  7. The Grace of Kings (1) (The Dandelion Dynasty)
  8. The Grace of Kings (1) (The Dandelion Dynasty)
    • 656 pages.
    • An epic read told from a non-western historical perspective.
    • Features a map, glossary, and list of main characters.
    • Includes violent content warning.
    • Insights into politics and the intricacies of power.
    Check Amazon
  9. The Tiger's Apprentice: Book One (Tiger's Apprentice, 1)
  10. The Tiger's Apprentice: Book One (Tiger's Apprentice, 1)
    • 208 pages.
    • Recommended for readers ages 8 and older.
    • Action-packed and well worth your time.
    • Fast-paced magical story for middle graders.
    • The first book in The Tiger's Apprentice book series of three books.
    Check Amazon
  11. The Crystal Ribbon
  12. The Crystal Ribbon
    • 352 pages.
    • Recommended for readers ages 8 and older.
    • A blend of mythology and history
    • Educates readers about the traditions of the set period.
    • Imaginative writing style.
    Check Amazon
  13. Handbook of Chinese Mythology (Handbooks of World Mythology)
  14. Handbook of Chinese Mythology (Handbooks of World Mythology)
    • An academic book on Chinese mythology.
    • Ideal for interested learners.
    • A rich resource for research reference.
    • Part of the Handbooks of World Mythology book series, comprising eight books on different mythologies.
    Check Amazon
  15. Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, 1)
  16. Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, 1)
    • 512 pages.
    • A fusion of Asian martial arts and crime drama.
    • Vivid action scenes.
    • The first book in the Green Bone Saga book series of three books.
    Check Amazon
  17. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  18. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
    • 278 pages.
    • A middle-grade fantasy book.
    • Colorful illustrations.
    • Impressive worldbuilding.
    Check Amazon
  19. Silver Phoenix (Silver Phoenix, 1)
  20. Silver Phoenix (Silver Phoenix, 1)
    • 368 pages.
    • A Chinese mythology-inspired epic.
    • Modern feminist touch to folkloric elements.
    • The first of a two-book series.
    Check Amazon

The Poppy War

The Poppy War: A Novel (The Poppy War, 1)
  • 544 pages.
  • A thrilling literary debut.
  • Impressive and vivid worldbuilding.
  • Engrossing, well-paced storyline.
  • Includes content warnings.
  • The first book in The Poppy War series, currently comprising three books.
Check Amazon

Rebecca Kuang made her debut into the literary world with an epic historical military fantasy novel set in mid-20th century China. The Poppy War was inspired by the chaotic years of the Opium Wars. 

The book centers on Rin, a poor orphan admitted into Sinegard, Nikan’s top military academy. As soon as she joins the school, she suffers targeted harassment from her peers because of her gender, color, and socioeconomic status.

Rin discovers her talent in the mythological practice of shamanism, a deadly, supernatural power, and that the gods, once thought to be dead, are still alive.

She makes her way to the front lines after a conflict breaks between the Nikara Empire and their neighboring country, the Federation of Mugen. Using her shamanic powers may be the only chance for her people’s survival.

This book has received critical acclaim since HarperCollins published it in 2018. It won the 2019 Crawford and Compton Crook Awards. In addition, it was a finalist for the Nebula Award in 2018 and a best-of-the-year pick of many publications. 

Some include The Guardian, The Washington Post, Bustle, Time, and Library Journal.

The Poppy War is the first book in the Poppy Wars trilogy; its sequels are Dragon Republic and The Burning God. Starlight Media acquired the rights to the series for television in December 2020.

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan
  • 352 pages.
  • A portrayal of medieval China and martial artistry.
  • A historical retelling with a touch of romance suitable for young adults.
  • Has more depth than the movie.
  • Good character development.
Check Amazon

You do not want to miss this book, especially if you have seen the 1998 Disney animated eponymous film Mulan. 

The USA Today-bestselling author Sherry Thomas retells the classic Ballad of Mulan in the first English language adaptation of the folktale for young adults. Wuxia martial arts plays and the legendary Mulan ballad influence this work.

It follows the journey of Mulan to restore her father’s honor in a family-required duel that will reunite two heirloom swords. But, first, she avenges her father, who was left crippled in a previous duel.

After the Emperor orders each household to send a soldier to fight the Rouran invaders, she enlists in the military as a family representative.

Her enlistment into an elite military team sets the tone for more unraveling events.

The Magnolia Sword is available in hardcover, Kindle, paperback, and audiobook formats. It contains 352 pages and is perfect as a slow Saturday read.

The Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of China, Retold from The Journey to the West

The Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of China, Retold from The Journey to the West (Skyhook World Classics)
  • 46 pages.
  • Recommended for readers ages 10 through 12.
  • Perfect for reading-aloud sessions with kids.
  • Introduces young mythology fans to the fables about the Monkey King.
  • Does not include illustrations.
  • It retains the charm of the original mythical stories.
Check Amazon

Monkeys have been relevant in Chinese mythology for at least 500 years. So it is hardly surprising that the epic comic tale from the sixteenth century, The Journey to the West, features a monkey as its main character. 

The classic Chinese book forms the basis of this retelling by Aaron Shepard. He focuses on the epic’s first seven chapters and retells the origin and first adventures of the monkey.

Not only can the monkey fly, but he is also constantly prepared to fight against dragons, demons, and even gods. Spiderman who? He does not come close to this Chinese superhero.

The Monkey King is one of the five books in the Skyhook World Classics. Other books are retellings of epics such as The Mabinogion, Kalevala, Mwindo Epic, and Lohengrin. Shepard’s books make the originals accessible to young readers.

It is 46 pages and recommended for 10- to 12-year-olds. The renowned illustrator Xiaojun Li designed the cover. You can get the Kindle, hardcover, or paperback version.

The Grace of Kings

The Grace of Kings (1) (The Dandelion Dynasty)
  • 656 pages.
  • An epic read told from a non-western historical perspective.
  • Features a map, glossary, and list of main characters.
  • Includes violent content warning.
  • Insights into politics and the intricacies of power.
Check Amazon

The Grace of Kings is the first book in The Dandelion Dynasty series by Ken Liu. A cunning bandit Kuni Garu and the son of a deposed duke named Mata Zyandu appear to be complete opposites. But, they band together in the rebellion against the emperor, battling large recruited armies, shape-shifting gods, and silk-draped airships.

After their common enemy is toppled, they discover that their radically divergent ideals force them to support different sides.

They become two factional leaders with varying views on justice and how the world should be managed.

The highly-rated epic fantasy novel was one of Time Best Fantasy Books of All Time and a finalist for the 2015 Nebula Award.

The Tiger’s Apprentice

The Tiger's Apprentice: Book One (Tiger's Apprentice, 1)
  • 208 pages.
  • Recommended for readers ages 8 and older.
  • Action-packed and well worth your time.
  • Fast-paced magical story for middle graders.
  • The first book in The Tiger's Apprentice book series of three books.
Check Amazon

Tom Lee, the protagonist of this book, is a Chinese American youngster unaware of his uniqueness. Finally, he discovers he is the latest in a long series of magical creatures, or Guardians.

 A phoenix egg has the power to either bring about world peace or its destruction, and the Guardians have protected it for generations. Tom’s grandmother dies protecting him, so he must take over the guardianship of the egg.

Thus, he finds himself taking on the roles of the guardian of the egg and an apprentice to a talking tiger, Mr. Hu. The tiger is a character from the Chinese zodiac and can change into human form. The story also features other mythical creatures from the Chinese zodiac, including the monkey and the dragon.

Tiger’s Blood and Tiger’s Magic are the other books in The Tiger’s Apprentice trilogy by two-time Newbery Honor-winning author Laurence Yep. The audiobook, Kindle, paperback, and hardcover formats are all available for middle graders.

The Crystal Ribbon

The Crystal Ribbon
  • 352 pages.
  • Recommended for readers ages 8 and older.
  • A blend of mythology and history
  • Educates readers about the traditions of the set period.
  • Imaginative writing style.
Check Amazon

It chronicles the life experiences of twelve-year-old Li Jing set in medieval China. She is the daughter of a poor tea farmer in Huanan who gets married off for her family’s survival. She receives maltreatment from the Koh family she marries, followed by her subsequent sales into even worse circumstances.

Mythical figures, including a magic spider, a nightingale, and the local god Huli Jing help her as she travels back to her hometown.

The Crystal Ribbon does not follow the usual fantasy trope but is infused with cultural education and magic.

Celeste Lim’s debut novel is a Scholastic Press publication recommended for 8-12-year-olds. However, the book should be read with supervision because it has sexual and parental abuse themes.

Handbook of Chinese Mythology

Handbook of Chinese Mythology (Handbooks of World Mythology)
  • An academic book on Chinese mythology.
  • Ideal for interested learners.
  • A rich resource for research reference.
  • Part of the Handbooks of World Mythology book series, comprising eight books on different mythologies.
Check Amazon

The Handbook of Chinese Mythology provides an exclusive Chinese perspective on the old and fragmented literature on mythology. It is the result of extensive and innovative research by three folklore scholars. They include Lihui Yang, Deming An, and Jessica Anderson Turner.

Although it focuses on the Han Chinese people, this book covers ancient and contemporary China to illustrate how myths have persisted and changed over time.

It includes a reference section for all prominent deities, spirits, and demigods. The book also presents readers with information about significant landmarks, mythical animals, and plants.

The Handbook of Chinese Mythology provides a comprehensive description of a fascinating area of the mythological universe with more than 40 images, new translations of primary sources, and analysis based on the authors’ fieldwork.

Jade City

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga, 1)
  • 512 pages.
  • A fusion of Asian martial arts and crime drama.
  • Vivid action scenes.
  • The first book in the Green Bone Saga book series of three books.
Check Amazon

The famed science fiction and fantasy writer Fonda Lee author Jade City. It is the first book in the Green Bone Saga trilogy.

It tells an epic story of honor, family, and people who uphold the old laws of jade and blood. 

The island of Kekon depends on jade for its survival. So the Kaul family and other honorable Green Bone warriors have used it for ages to strengthen their magical prowess and protect the island from invasion.

A new generation of Kauls is now vying for control of Kekon’s vibrant capital city after the conflict has ended. They only care about themselves, controlling the jade market and safeguarding the districts they are responsible for.

The Jade City won the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It was also a finalist for Dragon, Nebula, and Locus Awards. 

It is a fast-moving 512-paged book you should finish in less than a week, depending on your reading speed. You can read it on Kindle, listen to the audiobook, or get the hardcover/ paperback version.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  • 278 pages.
  • A middle-grade fantasy book.
  • Colorful illustrations.
  • Impressive worldbuilding.
Check Amazon

Minli is a young girl who lives in the Valley of Fruitless Mountain. She spends her days tending to her garden and her nights listening to her father’s stories about Jade Dragon.

Her father also entertains her with old folktales about the Old Man on the Moon, who has the answers to life’s problems. These tales move Minli, and she embarks on a daring quest to meet the Old Man on the Moon. 

Grace Lin is the bestselling author and illustrator of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The book won the Newbery Honor and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2010.

Silver Phoenix

Silver Phoenix (Silver Phoenix, 1)
  • 368 pages.
  • A Chinese mythology-inspired epic.
  • Modern feminist touch to folkloric elements.
  • The first of a two-book series.
Check Amazon

Cindy Pon’s debut, Silver Phoenix, is about Ai Ling, a woman who has long been disqualified from marriageable standards and has a unique power to read minds. Nevertheless, she is shielded from her kingdom’s patriarchal grip.

Her encounters with mythical demons happen at the emperor’s palace when she enters to rescue her captive father.

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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