The lockdown is being lifted, but it’s safest to stay indoors if you can as cases keep rising. If too much binge-watching has got you worried, we’ve got you covered with excellent book suggestions to pair with your favourite series. Whether you love Korean dramas or Australian mysteries, you’ll find something you love here. Travel through countries with red shoes gifted by the devil, indulge in small town dramas and befriend a ghost to make stay-at-home (and work-from-home) better.
1. Watch Kingdom, Read Severance
I found an unexplainable comfort in the zombie series Kingdom based on a plague that affected historical Korea. An illness transforms the citizens (and the king) into night-walking, human-flesh-craving monsters. The rebel crown prince, a physician, and an ex-soldier try to save the country from declining with greed, and hunger. Watch for elegant headgear, ice lakes, and architectural grandeur.
To complement two seasons of gory fare, read the tamer Severance by Ling Ma. Here, the culprit is Shen Fever. This strange illness that spreads from Shenzhen, China, forces people into a zombie-like repetition of mundane tasks—brushing hair, setting the table or applying face lotion—ad infinitum, until they die. The resemblance to the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping across the world is uncanny—The New York Times prints a list of the affected, masks are compulsory, companies halt operations and travel is restricted. Candance Chen, one of the few humans in this fictional New York of 2011, documents the fall of the city in her anonymous blog, and joins a group travelling to a secret facility to survive.
Kingdom is streaming on Netflix
2. Watch Miss. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Read The Inugami Curse
If you have a whodunnit mystery hole in your heart, this series, based on Kerry Greenwood’s books, is the answer. Phyrne Fisher is a 1920s heiress in Melbourne who has a penchant for solving crimes with Dot, her religious housekeeper. She’s vintage glamour personified, with sequined dresses, cloche hats, statement suits, silk gowns and feathered berets. A badass Miss. Marple!
Recently I read The Inugami Curse, set in 1940s Japan, to abate my cosy-mystery cravings after Knives Out left me longing for more. Written by Seishi Yokomizo, one of Japan’s finest classic crime writers, and translated by Yumiko Yamazaki, The Inugami Curse features the Holmes-like Detective Kindaichi in a Christie-like murder mystery. You’ll find yourself coming across doppelgangers, big mansions, masked men, secret heirs, cunning sisters and murdered patriarchs.
Miss. Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is streaming on Netflix
3. Watch Panchayat, Read Tales of Fosterganj
Panchayat is inventive, witty, charming, and thankfully does not fall into the urban-saviour trope that Indian cinema usually gives us. An engineering graduate (Jitendra Kumar) stuck in a government job in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, is our hero. In eight episodes, the series takes a dig at superstitions, corruption, women’s representation in governance and power cuts. Watch for simple, comic moments—revolving office chairs leading to ego issues, birth planning programmes spurting animosity, and the panchayat office doubling as wedding party lodgings.
Pair it with Ruskin Bond’s Tales of Fosterganj for more small-town stories. Fosterganj, situated in the outskirts of Mussoorie, is a hotspot for scandals, stories and eccentric townsfolk. A Delhi writer who hopes to peacefully write finds himself entangled with a man-eating leopard, a penurious prince with many failed business plans, and a haunted castle, leading to many thigh-slapping comic scenes.
Panchayat is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
4. Watch Hello my Twenties, Read If I Had Your Face
Hello my Twenties (Season 1) made me miss my college days. Five friends—a freshman, a spendthrift sponsored by sugar daddies, a working woman, a woman in a bad relationship, and a student juggling multiple jobs—live together. There’s weekend cleaning, girltalk, squabbles about laundry, and using up others’ groceries. This one’s guaranteed to make you phone your pals to catch up.
Good books on friendships between women are rare, so I was thrilled to discover five young women wading through K-pop fandom, plastic surgery clinics, and salons for the wealthy. Set in contemporary Seoul, If I Had your Face by Frances Cha is fresh, elaborately character-driven and less plot-centric. There’s Kyuri—a debt-ridden room salon girl, fiercely competing with her rivals by getting more cosmetic procedures; Miho—talented orphan and artist in a relationship with a wealthy heir; Ara—a mute hairstylist obsessed with a K-pop star; Sujin—Ara’s friend who saves up to gift her a plastic surgery session; and Wonna—a pregnant woman worried about money. Read for the commentary on sexism, classism, sex work, and obsession with beauty.
Hello my Twenties is streaming on Netflix
5. Watch Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, Read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
I love to watch this Japanese drama when I am feeling particularly sad or lonely. It often leads to failed cooking experiments (rolled omelette isn’t as easy as it looks), and making do with instant noodles to complement on-screen ramen bowls. The diner, run by a ‘Master’, opens from midnight to 7 am and each episode—slow, meditative—revolves around a dish. An ageing model worried about her career, a man worried about his erotica collection, a cab driver, a horoscope writer and other ordinary, nameless people in a bustling city chat over food drenched in nostalgia (omurice, breaded chicken cutlets, plum wine). I find comfort in listening to the stories of strangers sitting together, eating, and drinking sake. Sometimes I whisper my own in despair and pretend they hear those too.
After binge-ing two seasons of this, maybe pick up a Murakami novel? Any will do, actually. Murakami specializes in comforting routines—sipping cold beer, chopping vegetables, thinking loudly and listening to jazz. Then he pushes you quietly—and suddenly—towards vanishing cats, secret wells and weird sex. I recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle—my favourite—about psychic ladies in dreams and screeching birds.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is streaming on Netflix
6.Watch Paatal Lok, Read A Burning
Paatal Lok is an investigative thriller set in three worlds; the heavens (Lutyen’s Delhi of bungalows and money), earth (middle-class homes smothered in trauma) and hell (underbelly teeming with ‘crawlies’). Gritty and character-driven, Paatal Lok reels us through double standards, hyped ratings of news channels, casual racism against minorities, lynching, saffron mobs and Dalit vote banks. It also holds a mirror to domestic violence, women as revenge pawns, abusive fathers and abandoned children.
For those who would rather read a book than watch another male-centric, sweary drama, there’s Megha Majumdar’s debut, A Burning, which sprints at breakneck speed through sensational fake news, corruption and minorities being political bait. Here, three lives collide—a young Muslim woman, Jivan, accused of terrorism and jailed for a Facebook comment, a PT sir moonlighting as a fake witness under the spell of right-wing politics and the trans woman Lovely, who can set Jivan free but only at the cost of her own dreams.
Paatal Lok is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
7. Watch Hotel Del Luna, Read Anya’s Ghost
The latest K-drama written by the Hong sisters is mad fun. The majestic Hotel Del Luna is hidden from human eyes and specially reserved for ghosts to stay and fulfill their wishes before stepping into afterlife. The rooms change accordingly—a reader might get floor-to-ceiling book stacks (my favourite scene), a hungry girl gets an unlimited food spread. The hotel is run by CEO Jang Manwol (IU)—stuck there for a millennium because of a curse—and her newly appointed human manager (Yeo Jin-goo). Watch for dimming the sun at will for lolling at the beach, Manwol’s craze for luxury cars and shopping, vengeful spirits, water ghosts and a blossoming moon tree.
For a binge-worthy ghost-human friendship, read Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol—a witty minimal-palette graphic novel about a Russian immigrant teenager in the US. Anya finds it difficult to fit in, until she finds a ninety-something ghost-friend, Emily, at the bottom of a well. They share secrets, pass snide comments and cheat in exams. But the ghost has other plans.
Hotel Del Luna is streaming on Netflix
8. Watch W: Two Worlds, Read Dark Matter
This one’s for parallel world aficionados. In South Korea, W is a hit webtoon series that follows the life of the mogul Kang Chul (Lee Jong-suk), whose family was murdered when he was a child. In the parallel webtoon world, Chul is shaken by strange plot twists that dictate his life. W: Two Worlds starts off like Alice in Wonderland, when the daughter (Han Ho-jyoo) of the webtoon creator (Kim Eui-sung) falls into the alternate world and saves the hero (and becomes a toon character). Watch for bizarre things such as faceless men, frozen time, comic panels writing themselves, rooftop murderers, cliffhangers, and of course an inter-world romance.
W: Two Worlds reminds me of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, a mad adrenaline rush of a read, wider in scope and not limited to simply two parallel worlds. Here, Jason Dessen, a family man is drugged and taken to another world where he is greeted with ‘Welcome back’. Dessen comes upon parallel realities of his life, each with a different set of decision-making and side-characters (wife, child etc). He wants to go home, but what is home and what if there is a better one?
W: Two Worlds is streaming on Netflix
9. Watch Made in Heaven, Read Crazy Rich Asians
Made in Heaven, centered around a wedding planner duo, is a feast on big fat Indian weddings. It is boisterous and scandalous—detectives who tail brides, a bride sleeping with the performer at her wedding, dowry deals, a lower middle-class employee marrying her boss, a closeted gay man, elaborate sangeet ceremonies, steamy affairs, and a small towner who desperately tries to fit in the grand scheme of affairs. Later, escape into the scandalous lives and posh weddings of Singapore’s elite. In Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, American Rachel Chu is shocked at her boyfriend’s family wealth. Be dazzled by It girls, socialites in magazines, private jet hopping, private island bachelorette parties, playboys and greedy actors.
Made in Heaven is streaming on Amazon Prime Video
10. Watch Bandersnatch, Read The Wandering
I remember how excited I was when I discovered R. L. Stine’s Give Yourself Goosebumps series at the school library. There’s a thrill in directing the course of a story and arriving at multiple endings. Netflix’s Bandersnatch, in the science fiction series Black Mirror, is just as exhilarating. The viewers make decisions—sometimes as simple as what breakfast cereal or music album—for a young programmer (Fionn Whitehead), who is adapting a fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game.
The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha, written in second person, takes literary travel to a whole new level with magic mirrors, gnomes and ghosts. Translated from the Indonesian by Stephen J. Epstein, it begins with a Faustian bargain where you are gifted a pair of red shoes. Depending on what you choose, you become a murderer, an English teacher, a tourist, a film student, or an undocumented immigrant. You might be teaching in Jakarta, then listening to Hindi songs in a New York cab, only to find yourself sipping Chilean wine a few pages later, or riding a never-stopping train. The travel restrictions because of the pandemic in our world do not affect the devil or your magic shoes—the possibilities are endless.
Bandersnatch is streaming on Netflix