A mixed picture on global growth added to the cautious tone in global markets, with many looking ahead to the crucial U.S. jobs report on Friday for a measure of comfort.
However, a weaker-than-expected U.S. private jobs report promised to keep investors on tenterhooks at least until the payrolls data is out.
"If the upcoming payrolls data shows solid job growth after dismal reading last month, we could confirm that U.S. growth trend has not changed. That will be a catalyst for markets to stabilise," said Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed income strategist at Daiwa Securities.
"But if it is weak again, it will break markets' heart."
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged 0.2 percent higher but was still near a five-month low hit on Wednesday.
Japanese stocks bounced after skidding to four-month low this week. The Nikkei stock average was up 0.8 percent in early trade.
Wall Street had a volatile night, with the benchmark S&P 500 hitting a 3 1/2-month intraday low of 1,737.92, before ending down 0.2 percent at 1,751.62.
Emerging market shares also remained under pressure with MSCI's emerging markets index falling 0.1 percent after two days of steep losses. Still, relative calm in the markets of vulnerable emerging nations Turkey, South Africa and Russia helped to calm some of the recent turmoil.
Investors' cautious mood kept the safe-haven yen well bid, with the Japanese currency not far from a 2 1/2-month high against the dollar.
The dollar stood at 101.46 yen, still within sight of a low of 100.755 yen touched on Tuesday.
The euro was capped amid speculation the European Central Bank may be forced to ease further to ward off the threat of deflation.
The euro traded at $1.3535, off a 10-week low of $1.34765 hit on Monday, though it has not fully recovered from the damage caused by surprisingly low inflation reading released last Friday.
Possible steps by the ECB include an interest rate cut, or suspension of so-called sterilisation, or operation to soak up money it spent on buying government debt, or even a large-scale quantitative easing.