Fantastic reads inspired by Japanese legends

Published on: 02 May 2023

Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind author Misa Sugiura recommends stories for children aged 8+ that are bursting with action and full of magical adventure, inspired by Japanese myths and legends - plus some bonus reads too!

An illustration from the front cover of Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind - two children and a fox looking determined and wielding weapons, surrounded by crashing waves, with a dragon figure in the background

Pic: Vivienne To

Stories to check out now

Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway, illustrated by Choong Yoon

Xander Miyamoto loves computer games and comic books, but he's hardly what you would call action hero material. So he can hardly believe it when he discovers that he is the last in the long line of descendants of Momotaro, a legendary Japanese hero. With his dog Inu and his friend Peyton, Xander is thrust into a quest as deadly and dangerous as anything he's ever imagined.

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa and illustrated by Miho Satake

Kazu wakes up one night to see a ghostly-looking girl sneaking out of his house. The next day, she shows up in Kazu's class – but everyone seems to think she's been there for years! Together, Kazu and his new ghostly friend Akari work to solve the mystery of the temple that seems to have trapped Akari in the land of the living.

A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee

An illustration from the front cover of A Thousand Steps Into Night: a young woman in a flowing red cape looking down at her open hands as petals swirl around

Pic: Kotaro Chiba

This Japanese-inspired novel is technically for young adults, but it's also appropriate for upper primary school readers. Miuko is happy working at home as an innkeeper's daughter until a curse starts turning her into a demon. She embarks on a quest to break the curse that takes her far away from her safe, comfortable life – but the power she experiences on her adventures makes her wonder if she'd rather not break the curse.

The Fox and Little Tanuki by Mi Tagawa

No Japanese legend-inspired collection would be complete without a manga! Senzou was once a powerfully magical black fox, but he abused his powers. As punishment, he lost his magic and was imprisoned for 300 years. He has a chance to regain that magic if he helps a Tanuki cub become an assistant to the gods – but does he have the patience?

Stories to look forward to

The Very Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura by Waka T. Brown (publishing in July 2023)

Melony's parents have always been overprotective – to protect her from the evil demon Amanjaku, they tell her. When Amanjaku appears on her 12th birthday, Melony is delighted by his magic powers and his shapeshifting abilities, but soon she begins to realise that he is taking over her life. This book is based on the Japanese folktale 'The Melon Princess and the Amanjaku'.

Tessa Miyata Is No Hero by Julie Abe (publishing in August 2023)

An illustration from the front cover of Tessa Miyata is No Hero: a girl holding a sword with a magical cat-like creature, with a temple in the background

Pic: Karmen Loh

Tessa Miyata thinks that a summer in Japan will give her an opportunity to have the kind of adventure that will prove to the kids back home that she's as cool as they are. But instead she's stuck tagging along to her grandfather's aerobics class with the arrogant neighbour kid, Jin. When the pair break a family heirloom, it releases the vengeful samurai ghost, Taira-no-Masakado, and Tessa and Jin must learn to work together to prevent Masakado from taking over the city of Tokyo.

The Lost Ryū by Emi Cohen Watanabe (publishing in October 2023)

It is said that during World War II, all the giant dragons disappeared from Japan; the only one Kōhei has seen is his own tiny palm-sized dragon, Yuharu. But he has a distant memory of seeing Ojīsan, his grandfather, gazing with pure wonder and delight at a giant dragon. Now, Ojīsan is very ill and Kōhei is determined to find that dragon to make his grandfather smile again.

And some bonus Asian / Pacific Islander legend fantasies!

Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori Lee

An illustration from the front cover of Pahua and the Soul Stealer: a child wielding a sword and looking determined with a black cat on their shoulder, next to another child shining a torch

Pic: Tou Her

Hmong American girl Pahua Moua might be best friends with Momo – she's awkward and 'weird', too, but smart and observant and brave when she has to be. One day she accidentally frees a spirit who steals her little brother's soul, and when she tries to confront the spirit... she accidentally summons a demon. She's rescued by a rude warrior shaman who guides her through the spirit worlds as she sets off on a quest to rescue her brother's soul before it's too late.

Winston Chu vs the Whimsies by Stacey Lee

When Winston stops a robbery at a curio shop, the grateful owner tells him he can take home anything he likes from the shop – with the one rule that the first thing he touches will be his reward. Winston unthinkingly grabs a broom to shoo away an errant magpie, so that's what he gets (plus a dustpan as a bonus). But strange things start happening soon afterwards, and Winston begins to wonder if the broom might be the reason. This modern retelling of a classic Chinese fairy tale is full of humour and whimsy.

Lei and the Fire Goddess by Malia Maunakea (publishing in June 2023)

When 12-year-old Lei visits her grandmother in Hawai'i, she's not interested in the tales Tūtū tells about the ancestors and gods – she knows they're not real. But when Lei accidentally insults Pele, the Goddess of Fire, a giant hawk swoops down and steals her best friend away. As she battles mythical creatures and teams up with demigods to lift the curse on her family, Lei comes to understand how real – and how important – the stories are.

Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind by Miso Sugiura is out now.

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