All 6 books in James Clavell's Asian Saga (including Shōgun) ranked worst to best

The hit how Shōgun has captured the attention of TV audiences. The book is part of a series of six novels that all take place in locales around Asia, and it's not the best one.
“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko, Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Yuki Kura as Yoshii Nagakado, Jodai Suzuki as Toranaga’s Brown Kosho. CR: Katie Yu/FX
“SHOGUN” -- "Broken to the Fist" -- Episode 5 (Airs March 19) Pictured (L-R): Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko, Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne, Yuki Kura as Yoshii Nagakado, Jodai Suzuki as Toranaga’s Brown Kosho. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

Shogun, the FX series based on the James Clavell novel of the same name is a hit with audiences, but it is just one book in a series known as the Asian Saga. Chronologically, Shōgun is the first book of six, and most are connected, if loosely, to one another.

While all are based on real events and real people, these books are absolute works of fiction. Clavell took plenty of artistic license with the stories and turned them into blockbuster best-sellers. While all have their positives, the author did exaggerate numerous things. By today's standards, he wasn't all that accurate when depicting some things on a cultural level. Still, the stories are entertaining and intriguing.

So which of Clavell's novels stand out amidst the rest? Let's take a tour through this series and try to figure it out:

Where does Shōgun rank among the six books in James Clavell's Asian Saga?

James Clavell In NYC
James Clavell In NYC / Yvonne Hemsey/GettyImages

No. 6: Gai-jin

While Gai-jin take place in the same locale as Shōgun, it's set more than 250 years later and lacks the strong characters that make the first book so enthralling. Gai-jin is set in 1862, at a time when Japan was trying to decide whether or not to open up its country to outsiders after remaining self-isolated for two-and-a-half centuries.

Europeans are allowed in a small coastal colony and are not allowed into the interior of Japan without permission. While there is still a lot of political intrigue in this novel, there is no Anjin, no Mariko, and no Lord Toranaga. There are plenty of likable characters, but none can seem to gain a hold in one's heart like those in Shōgun.

No. 5: Whirlwind

Unlike all the rest of the novels, Whirlwind does not take place in the Pacific Rim, but in Iran in 1979 during the revolution when the Shah was removed from power. It is an exciting and dangerous backdrop for characters caught up in the violence and uncertainty of that time and place.

Published less than a decade after the actual events the book depicts, there is a thrilling recency to this novel. Even now, nearly 50 later, the events in the novel are still relevant in today's world. This book will give readers a much better understanding of what happened in Iran at that time, and why Iran is the way it is today.

No. 4: King Rat

King Rat is the first novel published in what would become known as Clavell's Asian Series. It takes place in the brutal Japanese World War II prison camp at Changi. Clavell was interred there during the war and the book is a reflection of his experiences.

Clavell even writes himself into the story as main character Peter Marlowe. While this is a work of fiction, it is obvious it is a topic that is personal to him, and the reader feels the writer's emotions through the thoughts and experiences of Marlowe.

This is probably the most historically accurate novel of the series, and by far the shortest. There is a grittiness and a sense of tragedy throughout, as could be expected given the setting and the degree of self-evaluation Clavell had to go through.

No. 3: Tai-pan

This installment of the Asian Saga is probably the most fun. It is a fictionalized account of the founding of Hong Kong and how the region may have come into British possession for 150 years.

Tai-pan takes place in 1841 and follows the adventures of the Tai-pan, a title given by all the European traders in Asia to the person who leads the top trading house in Asia, which is known as the Noble House. The lead character in Tai-pan seems more of a pirate than a merchant, but he understands how things work in China and he strives to protect the interests of the Noble House and his legacy.

If you like a fast-paced, fun novel with a rakish protagonist, Tai-pan is the one for you. It is also the springboard for the book that comes in at number one. But before that, there's something familiar in the number two slot:

“SHOGUN” -- "Ladies of the Willow World" -- Episode 6 (Airs March 26) Pictured: Anna Sawai as Toda Mariko. CR: Katie Yu/FX /

No. 2: Shōgun

It was hard to rank the top thee because there's something to love about all of them. The most famous of these books, now adapted by two limited series (the other was broadcast in 1980), is Shōgun.

Shōgun is full of political intrigue and manipulations, and it is not fully clear what is going on until the very end. Set in Japan in 1600 during a time of political unrest, it is based loosely on real people and events, but Clavell took an immense amount of license was taken in presenting the story.

The main characters in this book are the best of any outside of the title character in Tai-pan. The relationship between John Anjin (Blackthorne) and Mariko is complicated and beautiful, but it is almost a diversion from what is going on politically among the Japanese leaders and European traders. Outside of some misleading cultural items, Shōgun is incredibly and beautifully written.

No 1: Noble House

Noble House is one of the most ambitious novels of all time. Clavell brilliantly interweaves more than two dozen separate plotlines and hundreds of characters. The nearly 1,400 standard paperback pages cover only a week of real time, giving hour-by-hour action and intrigue.

Set in 1963 Hong Kong, at the height of the Cold War, Noble House ties back to several of the other books in the saga, especially Tai-pan. The same family is still running the Noble House and the stakes are even higher than before.

The ability to juggle so many plots and characters in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader is almost unfathomable, yet Clavell pulls it off in this masterpiece. It should not be the first book you read by Clavell because other novels serve as backstories to Noble House. It's best to work up to a novel of this grand scale.

It is both patient in its story-telling and fast-paced in its action, and if you think you know how all the stories will unfold, get ready to be surprised.

It is a huge commitment to read all six of these books, but if you enjoy Shōgun, they will be well worth the time.

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