Our Favorite Things of 2018: Asian American Edition

Hyphen staff share some of their favorite Asian American movies, books, cultural moments, and more.
December 31, 2018

As the year draws to a close, Hyphen staff shares some of the stuff created by, performed by, achieved by, and featuring Asian Americans that we loved the most. From books to cosmetics to exhibits to films to cultural moments to restaurants, there's a little bit of everything here, showcasing the breadth of awesomeness of the Asian American community.

Comment below and let us know what some of your favorites of 2018 were!


Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poetry Editor

It has been a great year for Asian American poetry. Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost of (Omnidawn) and Jenny Xie’s Eye Level (Graywolf), both gorgeous debuts I’ve been recommending to everyone, were finalists for the National Book Award for Poetry. Many more have been included on the year’s “Best Of” lists. There are so many books I loved that were released this year, but I’ve compiled a handful of my favorites. Happy Reading!

Litany for the Long Moment by Mary-Kim Arnold (Essay Press). Ok, this is actually a long lyric essay, but I’m blurring the boundaries between poetry and lyric essay to include it. The book is structured around the questionnaire required to appear on the Korean television show, “I Miss That Person,” a weekly 60-minute show designed to reunite separated families, specifically adoptees. As a Korean American adoptee myself, I am always hungry to understand the absences and ruptures in my history. Arnold captures this from the first page: “Shouldn’t I know, after all, what I want from all this looking?”

If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar (One World). I met Fatimah in 2014 at our first Kundiman retreat, and was immediately awed by her ability to be so fiercely vulnerable with her poems and her personality in a room full of strangers. I almost forget that this is her debut full-length collection because I’ve seen her do so much in just the years I’ve known her. I may be biased about this book, but I don’t think I am. If They Come For Us weaves powerful poems about coming of age as a Pakistani Muslim woman in America against the historical context of the India / Pakistan Partition to create a tapestry you can’t stop reading.

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon (trans. By Don Mee Choi) (New Directions). Kim Hyesoon is a critically acclaimed Korean poet whose work has influenced younger generations of feminist writers in South Korea. The brilliant Don Mee Choi has been translating her work into English for years. In her translator’s note, Choi writes: “Each of the forty-nine poems in Autobiography of Death represents one of the forty-nine days during which the spirit roams about after death, before it enters the cycle of reincarnation.” She also writes that Kim wrote these poems because of the 250 high school students who died unjustly in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. These poems are utterly haunting and worth every moment you spend with them.

Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Copper Canyon Press). Full disclosure, Aimee is one of the reasons I first believed I could be a poet. As an undergrad, I discovered her 2nd collection, At the Drive-In Volcano, and never looked back. This newest collection is full of grace, delight, and a spine of steel, full of love poems for a brilliant world of peppers and parrots, travel mommies and the Taj Mahal. “While Riding an Elephant, I Think of Unicorns” sits comfortably alongside “Charles Stephens, the Demon Barber of Bedminster (1920),” inviting the reader to recognize magic in every (extra)ordinary. This book might be the Mary Poppins of poetry.

Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen (Coffee House Press). “It’s important to mention / the only time my mother speaks / in English is when I make her speak / in a poem.” Hieu Minh Nguyen is a poet who constantly breaks and reshapes the heart to make it beat stronger and wiser. He deftly carves into the complicated spaces between mother and son, lover and speaker, vulnerability and desire, provocation and kindness where these poems breathe. It’s a book that drew me through the full gamut of emotions, a book that I keep wanting to spend time with as one would with a dear friend.

A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon (Ecco). Emily Jungmin Yoon debuted in the poetry world with a roar. A Cruelty Special to Our Species is an unflinching confrontation of Japan’s history of sexual violence against the so-called “comfort women,” Korean women who worked in Japanese-occupied territories during World War II. Yoon’s poems are smart and searing, balancing delicately between shame and resistance. These poems refuse to be silenced while reckoning with a history that recognizes the oft-forgotten casualties of war and remembers the sacrifices of these women. This is a book you will remember long after you’ve put it down.


Karissa Chen, Editor-in-Chief

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. This book doesn't come out next March, but I was lucky enough to nab a galley of this memoir-in-essays. Moving from Madden's early childhood, one both privileged and troubled, all the way to her adulthood, it's hands-down one of my favorite reads in recent years. Madden's prose is sharp, lyrical, and gut-hitting, made up of sentences I want to read over and over again. One of the pieces in the book, "The Feels of Love" was a widely disseminated read published on Guernica, while another, "Chicken and Stars," appeared in the Asian American Writers' Workshop anthology Go Home! earlier this year. This is the book I'll be telling everyone to buy next year.

Yappie by Wong Fu Productions. I was introduced to this comedy webseries — about a "Yappie" (look it up if you don't know) coming to a personal and political awakening — late, but man, I was digging it once I started watching it. At only around 15 minutes per episode and only 5 episodes in the season, it's a quick binge. Sometimes it can feel a bit too obvious and on the nose in its political messaging, and yet, I love how seen I feel while watching it. Incredibly relatable. (And I hear there's a Season 2 in the works!)

Ali Wong's new comedy special, Hard Knock Wife. A sequel of sorts to Baby Cobra, I love how Ali Wong's new comedy special on Netflix both expands upon her first special while also correcting itself, all the while delivering some needed messaging around motherhood and feminism. She keeps it so real, and it's incredibly validating to hear everything she has to say — even better when I can laugh my ass off while doing it.

Peach & Lily's Glass Skin Refining Serum. Little known except by those who pay attention: I love skincare products. I'm a love of Kbeauty (of course!) but also of brands stateside. I credit Peach & Lily with introducing me to Kbeauty way back when it was getting started (full disclosure: I went to undergrad with the company's founder, Alicia Yoon). Recently, the company started its own brand and I started seeing a lot of buzz around this "Glass Skin" product — so of course I had to try it myself! I absolutely love everything about it — the texture, the way it absorbs into my skin, how plump and nourished and glowy I feel after using it. Most of all, I love that this is a beauty product manufactured by an Asian American woman. So yes, I love everything about it.

All the regional Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants (owned by Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants!) popping up in the East Village, Manhattan. While on the one hand I'm kind of like, "Man, $15 is not what I'm used to paying for a small bowl of Yunan bridge-crossing noodles," on the other hand I'm happy to see that Manhattan is finally figuring out that Chinese food is diverse and complex and not just General Tso's chicken. I recognize that the commodification, gentrification, and appropriation of "ethnic" food (and how it's peddled as trendy and high-end in big cities) is complex; still, the kid in me who got made fun of for my "gross" food is gratified.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D) giving birth while serving in the U.S. Senate. She's the first senator to do so while holding office (which seems crazy to me).

This video of Tan France queer-eyeing Hasan Minhaj. I love everything about this. All of it. It is so wonderful, I can't stand it.


Andrew Hsieh, Marketing Coordinator

Katherine Ho's Mandarin cover of "Yellow." I felt like, not to overuse something that's become a Twitter meme, but I felt truly seen. This is a song I grew up with amidst friends who'd make fun of me for listening to Coldplay ... that with the voice of Katherine Ho became a genuine Asian American Moment. No other moment in the theater has given me such a sense of unity as that final scene in Crazy Rich Asians with "Yellow" playing in my native tongue.

Fumi Abe and (former Hyphen staff!) Mic Nguyen's podcast, Asian Not Asian. Abe and Nguyen are comedians, so they're downright hilarious from the get-go—and bring friends like Karen Chee to boost the hilarity quotient. And though they start the podcast with some standard AsAm material (tiger moms and Asian masculinity), they quickly find their footing in the everyday hilarity of things that happen to Asian Americans.

The Asian American Feminist Collective's new zine is inclusive in so many ways that Asian American output often is not. Featuring words and art by not only cis, straight East Asian American artists, the AAFC's zine reminds us that "Asian American" is a multiplicity of identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and more. And it's downright inspiring, to boot.


Sarah Huang, Food and Agriculture Editor

YA Reads. Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before series (2014-2017). Maureen Goo's I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2017) I know these came out last year, but after the Netflix production of To All the Boys I've Loved Before I was drawn in to the world of YA romance reads and I fell hard. These were such light-hearted reads with AA leads and it really just felt nice to read a book about high school romance where the AA lead got her love. 

Andrew Zimmern is racist, and Asian American foodies shot him down. (Re: Soleil Ho and Ruth Tam) Andrew Zimmern (host of Bizarre Foods) is opening new restaurants in the Midwest named "Lucky Cricket" in order to "[save] the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horse*** restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest". These two response pieces by Soleil Ho and Ruth Tam reminded me of how powerful the AA community is in protecting, dissecting, and calling out the complexity of authenticity, authority, and food culture. 

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (2018) was one of the most powerful books I have read this year. Every page felt so delicately crafted with 3 main characters who felt so developed, intertwined, and dark. Kwon's telling of love and religious intoxication makes you never want to put the book down, or to end. 


Amber Kong, Assistant Editor

Raveena is an Indian American R&B singer who harkens back to velvety 90s slow jams and and dreamy 70s rnb. Her 2017 EP, "Shanti" and subsequent self-directed music videos celebrates woman of color, healing, self-love and her South Asian roots. Must listen: "If Only" and "Johnny, It's the Last Time."

Rina Sawayama is a Japanese-British singer-songwriter and pop star. She meticulously crafts Max Martin-style Britney/Christina bops and J-Pop into her tracks. Her breakout mini-album, RINA, is a playful commentary on internet dating, loneliness, anxiety and self-empowerment. Must listen: "Tunnel Vision" and "Where U Are."

"Ordinary Pleasure," a house/hypnagogic pop track from Filipino and African American artist, Toro y Moi. 


Leah Silvieus, Books Editor

Jeju Noodle Bar. I ran across this modern yet inviting Korean restaurant in Greenwich Village in an Instagram ad and it looked so inviting that I had to give it a try. The restaurant is named after Jeju Island off the coast of Korea. CIA trained chef Douglas Kim has curated a small but delicious dinner menu separated into small “Before Noodles” plates and “Finally Noodles.” I ordered the vegetarian Miyuk Ramyun that featured seaweed and confit mushroom in a vegetable broth. As I am leaning more toward a vegetarian palate these days, I am often disappointed by the flatness of restaurants’ vegetarian offerings which often feel to be after-thoughts on the menu, but the Miyuk Ramyun was dynamic and flavorful, and the broth was deliciously well-rounded while remaining light. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this restaurant was that all of the servers are also chefs at the restaurant, and their knowledge and enthusiasm for the food illuminates the excellent service they provide.

Hi Wildflower. After having spent years wearing only red lipstick, I decided I needed to find a more neutral, understated lipstick to wear to work, and I found the perfect one in Hi Wildflower’s Amber Dusk. Comprised of ethically and sustainably sourced essential oils and waxes and informed by founder Tanwi Nandini Islam’s knowledge of Ayurveda and herbalism, Hi Wildflower’s lipstick feels great on.

Killing Eve. I was in a grocery store line earlier this year when I picked up a People magazine  and ran across an article about how Sandra Oh discovered she had been offered the role of the MI6 agent Eve in BBC America’s series Killing Eve. Oh was on the phone with her agent as she scanned the script, looking for the part she was offered and was shocked to find out that she had been selected for the main character, having internalized the belief that such a pivotal role wouldn’t be offered to an actor of color like her.  “I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why?” she told People. I binged the entire series in two sittings and then watched it again with my husband a few days later. Oh’s performance earned her the honor of being the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy, and although she ultimately lost to Claire Foy (The Crown), she was my favorite actor on television in 2018. 

R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries. This book earned me my first sunburn of the summer. I had picked it up to read a few pages on the beach but ended up reading its entirety in one sitting and was so absorbed that I didn’t realize I was burning. There’s so much I can say about this slim but tense novel that follows a young man who falls in love with a woman who has become involved with a cult, but better than any novel I’ve read before, Kwon gets at the heart of what it feels like to leave one’s faith behind and the grief and longing that takes its place. As I have been negotiating my relationship with my evangelical upbringing this year, I keep returning to The Incendiaries repeatedly. The novel has both abided with me in my struggle to come to terms with my own faith journey and challenged me to imagine what might remain once one’s old belief slips away, as the main character Will says, “like the last remnants of a loved, radiant dream.”


Kelley Still, Arts and Culture Editor

Our own interview with Crazy Rich Asians' actor Nico Santos.


Jung Yun, Fiction Editor

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. As a reader, I've been moving through this collection of essays about life and writing with uncharacteristic slowness, relishing every private moment Chee that invites us into. As a teacher of writing, I've been giving copies of this collection to my students and loving the thoughtful conversations that result about writing, memory, and growing into oneself.   

My Love, Don't Cross That River, directed by Moyoung Jin. This documentary came out last year, but I watched it in 2018, and I needed all the tissues I could carry to get through it. My Love, Don't Cross That River is such an intimate and moving look at an elderly Korean couple, living alone in rural Korea and relying only on each other with love, good humor, and gratitude. The final scene is cause for a glorious ugly cry. 

Burning, directed by Chang-dong Lee. Lee builds tension and intensity in this film with such artful precision, I occasionally found myself holding my breath while watching. The performances by Ah-in Yoo and Jong-seo Joo are stellar, but it was Steven Yeun as Ben who stunned and haunted for days afterward.     

Assembly (Lorem Ipsum), by Mary Lum. Lum's massive long-term installation at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts covers four full walls of the museum's new Building 6 (a work of art on its own, naturally). Named after the text that graphic designers typically use as placeholders for actual content, Assembly (Lorem Ipsum) is Lum's most hypnotic manipulation of text, pattern, color, and information. Amy Zhang, Creative Nonfiction Editor


Amy Zhang, Creative Nonfiction Editor

Yumpling food truck. My company got this delicious Taiwanese food truck for a lunch treat one day and our staff couldn't stop talking about how juicy AND crunchy the fried chicken was, and how perfectly pickled the cucumbers were, and oh god, the DUMPLINGS. Plump and bursting with goodness, and a fried bottom. The owner, Chris, is a saint and I love supporting Asian-owned food trucks. New Yorkers, here's Yumpling's schedule.

Chloe Zhao's film The Rider. This technically came out in 2017, but it's still in my mind. Chloe Zhao's masterful, gentle documentary-drama inspired me to think about ways to blur non-fiction and fiction, and the centering of real-life people. She is also a conscientious filmmaker with a wide curiosity about the world, and I can't wait to see what issue she digs into next. 




Karissa Chen


Karissa Chen is Editor-in-Chief of Hyphen magazine. She also serves as the Senior Literature Editor.