Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer known for both his fiction and non-fiction writing. They have been translated into English by many different writers. His work is often surreal and fatalistic, often dealing with themes of loneliness. He is considered among the greatest living novelists by many literary critics.

Murakami’s 1Q84 book! Photo Credit: chihyu Lin at Flickr.

Murakami’s works are fascinating reads. Their surrealism and discussion of loneliness strike a chord for many people. These books are works of modern art and you should definitely consider Haruki Murakami’s books if you are looking for something new to read.

Here are the 10 best Haruki Murakami books.

1) Kafka on the Shore

This is one of the top 10 books written by Haruki Murakami. Photo Credit: Amazon.com.

This novel is a strange, surrealistic journey, typical of many of Murakami’s books.  It’s a complex work that is heavily layered with symbolism. Strange characters parade through a strange world as they search for companionship and meaning. People with their own unique agonies, either inflicted by themselves or by others, have a common humanity. This book is not humorless, however—KFC’s mascot Colonel Sanders makes an appearance—but it is an often serious tale. It meanders through reality and metaphysical musings on a regular basis. A reader might have to look up the many references if they’re unfamiliar with them, which will help your understanding of the novel significantly.  It’s not a quick read, but it is a valuable one.

2) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Toru Okada starts this book by searching for his wife’s cat but is soon drawn into searching for his wife as well in strange netherworld beneath Tokyo. This book deals in many ways with Japan’s painful history during World War II. The book has a very odd tone, drawing out indecision and then suddenly going into violence. What is real and what is not are muddled. In many ways, this is a detective story, but it is bound up in history and secrets. It’s a fascinating book that will leave you with many questions. Buy it now.

3) Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood is a romantic tale about a young man’s first love. While the story may seem simple and trite at first, it begins to take many twists and turns as you’re introduced to a cast of colorful characters. There is a slightly sinister undercurrent to many elements of the novel. This is shorter than many of Murakami’s novels, making it a good point to start reading his often complex works.

4) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

This is highly whimsical novel, drawing it a myriad of disparate elements for a uniquely wild and surreal ride. You can spend years, if not forever, trying to figure out the meaning of certain events, characters, and plot twists. Despite this, it is more self-contained than many of Murakami’s novels, containing very few references to his other works by comparison. This is an interesting read for anyone who likes mystery and science fiction. It has its own strange quality while retaining Murakami’s unique use of symbolism and metaphor.

5) 1Q84

This novel explores a strange series of events involved in a parallel existence through the eyes of a young woman named Aomame and a young man named Tengo. This is defiantly a science fiction novel, but it contains elements of romance and mystery in equal measure as well. This is another one of Murakami’s books that is a bit slow at the beginning. It is also very long and can be a bit of a marathon read. However, getting to the end will feel incredibly satisfying, though (as always with Murakami) you’ll find not all your questions are answered.

6) Dance Dance Dance

This novel tells the tale of a man’s search for his mysteriously vanished girlfriend. His quest drags him through the strange, eclectic culture of modern Japan and touches of something much more mystically strange. This novel revisits a lot of themes seen in Murakami’s older works. There is a lot of suspense in their novel with a surrealistic flourish. If you’ve read any of Murakami’s other works, this will feel like familiar ground, but it is interesting to see how the author covers it with some more experience.

7) Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Forlorn and nightmare-haunted TsukuruTazaki must try to make peace with his difficult past. This story contains less magical realism than many of Murakami’s books. It also is told from only a single perspective, which is a break from Murakami’s normal style. This is not an epic book but instead has a far more personal scale. This novel received a mixed reaction both in Japan and in the rest of the world since it is so different from many of Murakami’s other novels. However, it is still beautifully written. Read this here!

8) South of the Border, West of the Sun

This is a bittersweet love story, wrapped up in deep loneliness. It is beautiful and elegant, even though you will find the main character’s decisions, behavior, and feelings of emptiness deeply painful. This protagonist is a change from Murakami’s more earnestly likable heroes. He is a much more unpleasant person, though he is also interesting. In many ways, this book is about growth, learning, and the meaning of happiness. It is not a good entry point for reading Murakami’s works, however, and might be difficult for someone not familiar with his style.

9) Sputnik Sweetheart

This novel is a surreal, romantic detective story. It is one of Murakami’s most recommended works. The characters are much less complex than those in many of his other novels, but his descriptions are breathtaking. This novel is, in fact, a science fiction novel, though at first, it feels more domestic. It has a very lonely tone. This novel is a unique exploration of human longing and loneliness.

10) After the Quake

This is a collection of six short stories set around the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which resulted in more than 6,434 deaths. Ordinary people encounter strange experiences in the fallout of the quake. This is not a realistic set of stories and they do not deal directly with the quake, though they are largely less surrealistic, with a few very notable exceptions. This collection is another good entry point for Murakami’s works. Buy it here.