South Korean shares stole the limelight on the first trading day of 2011 as the KOSPI rose nearly 1 percent to end at a record closing high. But volume was thin overall with many major markets like Japan, China and Australia closed for public holidays.
The FTSE CNBC Asia 100Index climbed 0.4 percent.
The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) was up 0.93 percent at of 2,070.09 points, a record closing high.
Analysts expect 2011 to deliver a blockbuster stock market performance on expectations of solid domestic economic growth and abundant liquidity.
The Korean won gained 2.6 percent against the dollar in 2010 after an 8.2 percent rise in 2009.
Heavyweights advanced across the board.
Samsung Electronics rose as much as 1.8 percent to a record high. Its parent Samsung Group, the country's biggest business group, plans a sharp increase in investment this year, Samsung Electronics' chairman told reporters on Monday.
Hynix Semiconductor, the world's No.2 memory chip maker, jumped 5.4 percent.
Banks added to the upward momentum. KB Financial Group hit a record high at one point and closed up 3 percent. Woori Finance Holdings rose 2.58 percent.
Carmakers rose after the country's top automaker Hyundai Motor said it targeted a 10 percent increase in sales in 2011 sales. Hyundai Motor climbed 2 percent and affiliate Kia Motors gained 3.75 percent.
Shipbuilders lost ground. Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, fell 1.8 percent after it said on Friday that an unidentified European shipper had cancelled a $422 million order. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering slid 1.5 percent.
Hong Kong Leaps 1.7%
Hong Kong stocks kicked of 2011 with a firm start as strong holiday sales provided a lift for shares of mall operators and energy stocks extended their recent strong run on the back of steady oil prices.
Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index rose for a fourth successive session, closing up 1.74 percent at 23,436.05 points. The China Enterprises Index ended up 1.5 percent.
Turnover remained light with several financial markets in Asia, including Shanghai, closed.
Optimism over retail sales and rising office rentals in Hong Kong lifted commercial property developer Wharf (Holdings) 3.6 percent to a record high.
Wharf is rated a "buy" or "strong buy" by 13 of 19 analysts covering the company with the remaining six rating it a "hold", according to data from Thomson Reuters Starmine.
A stronger yuan has put more purchasing power in the hands of mainland tourists to Hong Kong. China's yuan ended 2010 on a strong note, up 3.6 percent on the year, fanning hopes that it will see even more gains in the coming year.
Some market players see the rising yuan as one tool Chinese policymakers may use to curb inflation, which hit a 28-month high in November and prompted an interest rate rise on Dec. 25.
Energy shares extended their strong run on the back of rising commodity prices as a recovering global economy boosts demand. CNOOC rose 2.9 percent while PetroChina jumped 2 percent. PetroChina said it would sell its interest in an oil storage company to parent China National Petroleum Corp for a gain of about 100 million yuan ($15.18 million).
Casino operators in Macau had a strong day as tourist flocked to the largest gambling market in the world. Wynn Macau leapt 5.8 percent. Rival SJM Holdings ened up 3.4 percent. The Macau government said gambling revenue surged 58 percent in 2010.
In Singapore, the Straits Timex Index advanced 1.4 percent to close at 3,235.77, after data showed the economy avoided a technical recession in the fourth quarter.
Markets in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and Vietnam are closed for the New Year holidays.