Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bookstores in Korea

Bookstores? What are those? Oh…riiiight...those places where you can buy things made of paper to read. If you’re like me and prefer to read physical books as opposed to e-books, finding a place that caters to English-speaking foreigners can seem like heaven on Earth. Luckily, there are several bookstores around the area ready to take your hard-earned (or not-so-hard-earned possibly) won in exchange for sweet, sweet booky goodness: Little John Bookstore, Kyobo, and What the Book?

Little John English Bookstore
Since I live in Yeongtong in Suwon, let’s start with a little bookstore in Yeongtong called Little John. This is a little shop located on the first floor in the interior of the building located diagonally from Homeplus, so don’t bother looking for a window sign for it. Here’s my crude map showing where it is:

If you’re an English teacher looking for new material for your students, this little shop can save you a trip to Seoul for books. The first floor is primarily ESL material – and there’s a lot of it. The books range from little kids all the way up to college writing books, so it’s worth checking out if you do any tutoring or are looking to enhance your classroom experience. They also sell some English board games and other random items on the first floor. There is a little upstairs section that has primarily novels – just take the creaky staircase up and check it out. You won’t find the latest Ian McEwan or best seller up here, but it does have some older books and some classics.

Kyobo is a bookstore chain that is pretty similar to Barnes & Noble. 10 Magazine offers a listing of their locations so I don’t have to, thankfully. The bookstores can be hard to spot since they’re often nestled in the basements of larger Kyobo buildings. I have been to two locations in Seoul (City Hall and Gangnam) and one in Daegu, and they’re all pretty similar. Section F will be the foreign books, and there is a pretty decent selection available. They don’t seem to really keep up to date with new releases from authors and the rotation of books doesn’t seem to change too often (at least in the Gangnam branch).

They do provide a foreign book ordering desk in the foreign book section where you can order books to be delivered to the store and you pick them up when they come in (they’ll text message you). There is an abundance of travel books, textbooks, and foreign language learning books here as well.

Attached to Kyobo stores will often also be Hot Tracks. Hot Tracks is a music store that also sells DVDs. They have a surprising range of old and new music. There is also typically something similar to Artbox as well. You can get art supplies, stationery, and any other random thing you can think of pretty much.

Kyobo also offers a Kyobo Book Club Card. You can use the card to save 10% on your purchases and earn points towards other purchases. I recently used 55,000 points (equal to the same amount in won) to purchase a book on syntax I had been eyeing). Kyobo also has a website in Korean with more information and location maps, but their site is pretty difficult to navigate even for Koreans.

What the Book?
What the Book? is probably the most popular foreign bookstore in Seoul: they pretty much only sell English books. You can find a map to their location on their website, but it’s located down the street from the Hamilton Hotel (walk about 10 minutes with Hamilton Hotel on your right side) in Itaewon.

One of the best things about What the Book? is that they keep their selection current and get new releases in quite quickly. They also offer a very large selection of magazines, comics, and used books. Don’t live in Seoul? No problem. You can order books on their website and have them delivered to your home. If you frequent the shop itself, you can also pick up orders at the store. They also offer a nice selection of children’s books and language learning books, too.

Have too many books from too many treks to these bookstores? What the Book? also offers store credit for used books. So if you need to clean out your bookshelf a bit, this might be a convenient way to do it. They also offer gift cards that you can give to that bookworm friend as a gift.

So there's my brief overview of a few places to buy books and such in South Korea (mostly the Seoul area). When you get tired of staring at a little screen to read, check them out and pick up a few new gems.


  1. Hello! I also live in Yeongtong and I want to buy a cheap piano keyboard. Do you have any idea where I can buy one?

    1. The only places, other than in Yongsan in Seoul, where I've seen instruments for sale here in Yeongtong for sale are Homeplus and Grandmart. I'll keep an eye out when I'm out walking this week, though!

  2. 'Buy the Book' in Daegu, sell second-hand books (and as far as I know, will buy second hand at a low price). They also do nice food, but be prepared for the cold in winter!
    Fifth floor above Mr Pizza, Dongseongro. Opposite Starbucks.