South Korea's Kyung-sook Shin has become the first female winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize for her bestselling novel Please Look After Mom.

Organizers named Shin as winner of the $30,000 US honour in Hong Kong on Thursday. Though Please Look After Mom is Shin's first novel published in English, she is an established, prize-winning writer in her native South Korea. Chi-Young Kim, who translated the book into English, received $5,000 US.

"Please Look After Mom is an incredibly moving portrait of what it means to be a mother, but also of the tradition and modernity of the family in South Korea," jury chair Razia Iqbal said in a statement. "The novel is a sensitive exploration of the inner life of the family with a very dynamic narrative structure. The story is surprising in its complexity yet has a beating heart at the centre of it."

The book shifts narrators, moving between members of a family searching Seoul for their missing matriarch. It is now slated for publication in more than 30 countries.

"Please Look After Mom is a deeply moving, humane and intricately wrought book, at once culturally specific and universal. It is a book that will be loved everywhere," said David Parker, board chairman of the literary honour.

Founded in 2007, the Man Asian Literary Prize celebrates the previous calendar year's best work of fiction by an Asian author, written in or translated into English.