Manga 101: Light Novels

You guys have no clue how happy I am to be sat here telling you about light novels. Way back when I was attempting booktube, I actually recorded a video talking about them. But it never made it up there, and the video files have long since disappeared. So I guess I’ll just have to stick to writing about them, sigh. I type that like it’s a problem, but let’s face it, it’s actually preferable.

Light Novels are an area of Japanese media and manga that I don’t see enough people talking about. They are things that do get translated, just not as often. We’re more likely to see the anime or manga adaptations rather than the novels themselves.

A light novel is something you might also refer to as a manga novel. It’s what I did when I first discovered them. It’s one of those books you pick up in the manga section, flick through and see that it’s actually mostly words with a few illustration pages here and there. Yeah, that’s right, you can get illustrated books aimed at teenagers and older without it being a full-on graphic novel.

There is actually a reason for this. According to an article I read in Neo a good few years ago, they’re published to encourage young people to read. Where in Western countries, we learn the entire alphabet at a young age and then simply learn words in both our and if we so wish, other languages as we grow older and go through school. It’s not quite as simple in Japan. They’re still learning kanji by the time they finish high school, and they never learn all of it. Manga itself can be a great way to learn, you’ll often see the kanji in teen manga has little characters next to it. These hiragana characters are known as furigana, as they help the reader learn what is meant by the kanji so they can get the right word. It’s pretty cool. But even in Japan, parents and teachers would prefer their kids were reading actual novels rather than comics to help them actually learn the words. This doesn’t make them kiddy books as there is plenty of hugely popular series out there. And I don’t think the growth of light novels is solely for the possible reasons I stated before. It might be where it started, but it’s a huge media form of its own now. The hugely popular Sword Art Online started as a light novel, and it’s a series you can read the book translations of in the West. It’s a series that’s spawned not only anime and manga adaptations but games as well, and it’s a great example of what Light Novels can be. Even if it’s not a series I’m a huge fan of.

Series Tie Ins

My Hero Academia

We’re obviously somewhat used to series tie-in novels. There’s plenty of books out there that give us a deeper look into the franchises we love. Whether it’s kids picking up book versions of their favourite TV shows or adults diving deeply into the worlds of Star Wars or Dragon Age. There are plenty of them out there in the West.

So it’s no surprise that there are light novel adaptations of popular anime and manga too.

One popular light novel example is Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Case. It’s a typical long-ass light novel title, but this is one that doesn’t contain illustrations. This could be because of the age of the book itself or the target audience, but it’s hard to say. I read this years ago and adored it. If you like Death Note it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a prequel about a killer known as BB. It follows Naomi Misora – yeah, the woman looking for her FBI husband that Light killed easily, which oof – as she works with L to serve these murder cases. The killer in this is a popular character in their own right. But with Naomi being so strong, it does bring the fact Death Note is pretty misogynistic into a clearer sight but that’s something to talk about another time.

If you’ve never read a light novel before, then this could be a fun one to start with because it does seem like a more traditional novella.

Another popular series with some very fun light novel adaptations is My Hero Academia. You’ve probably seen the School Briefs volumes around. Each of these volumes contains a collection of short stories. These stories follow the kids and the teachers in aspects of their daily lives. Mostly. There was also a fantasy AU chapter which is pretty terrible. But it was exciting to see the fantasy world expanded upon. Even if, personally, I think me and my friends do it better.

The School Briefs books are so easy to pick up, but because they’re short stories, you can put them down if you’re busy. Each story tends to come with at least one picture, and they’re pretty hilarious. You get to see into the mindsets of different characters, so the focus isn’t just on Deku. In fact, most of the stories aren’t. There is an unfortunate amount of getting into Mineta’s head which can be incredibly uncomfortable and I kind of wish they’d just stop, but it’s so much fun and a nice addition to a fan collection.

If you aren’t sure if you’ll like light novels and want to take small steps, this one might be for you. It’s still easy to read with plenty of illustrations, but you can also easily skip any stories that don’t appeal.

There’s also plenty of other novels set in existing series world. If you like Seraph of the End, you can pick up the Guren books following him at school as a teenager, but you can’t pick up the books following Mika’s life as a vampire. With Bungo Stray Dogs you can pick up a few light novels, but you can’t get Beast which is essentially a really fun looking AU one.

So bear in mind, a series you love might have light novel adaptations, you just might not be able to read them.

Novel First

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom

I’ve already mentioned Sword Art Online, which is definitely one of the most popular series to come out of the world of light novels. But it’s not the only one.

But fantasy and sci-fi with pervy elements are not the only types of light novels out there. When we start looking into the light novels that are not adaptations, we see more of a variety of genres and we also find more novels written where girls or women are the target audience.

My first foray into light novels were those published by June, the Yaoi publisher who released novels. I absolutely fell in love with the Only the Ring Finger knows series though I’ve never read volume one in novel form. Only the gorgeous manga adaptation of it. This is a series that doesn’t appear to be in print anymore, so I’m not going to go into it. But by stumbling onto these books, I opened up a whole world of new books for me to read with light novels. Even if I didn’t know they were called that back then.

As I said, there’s a mix of genres with novel first books. Toradora is according to a search is technically considered a shonen series. This means it’s aimed at teenage boys, but it is a rom-com series. It’s a fun, easy read with manga and anime adaptations and it is pretty quick to get through. The novels, anime and manga have all been translated into English. So you can check it out in whatever form you’d prefer.

A genre that is become really big through light novels is isekai, which are those series where the main character winds up stuck in another world. Though the vast majority of isekai series are aimed at guys – at least those that are translated – there is My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom. This is a josei series which follows a Japanese teenage girl who dies and winds up reborn as Katerina, the villain in her favourite otome game. I’ve yet to start reading the actual novels though I own the first one, but I’m loving this series so far in the manga form. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and I just have to recommend it.

The Gender Problem

Bibliophile Princess

This point wasn’t one I had planned to make. But as I’ve been looking more into light novels to write this post, I’ve seriously begun to notice something.

And, that is that light novels are written mostly with guys in mind. I don’t know how true it was that they were originally published solely to get guys to read. This could be true, and if it is, it does kind of make sense. But that’s not necessarily true anymore. I flicked through my February 2021 issue of Monthly Comic Zero Sum and three of the current series in there are based off light novels.

All three of which are also getting English translations with two of them being available as digital-only. The first is Bibliophile Princess which is very fun and actually has a very sarcastic main character. Elianna just wants to sit and read but is convinced to marry a prince for the sake of not having to socialise with anyone which is a total mood. The second of these The Tales of Marielle Clarac. This is a low-fantasy series about a plain-looking noblewoman who is proposed to be a handsome knight with glasses. She didn’t think she’d ever be lucky enough to get with someone like him. But under this sweet girl’s demeanour is actually a sly fangirl. These both come from a publisher is publishing a variety of different light novels mostly in a digital format. Some of them do have physical releases, but they are at least starting to become available. You can find them over at J Novel Club if you are interested.

There are so many light novel series out there with a female audience in mind. But a lot of them don’t make it across the pond. Going back many years we have Kyou Kara Maou. Kyou Kara Maou had an anime that was translated, a manga that was being translated by Tokyopop before they had to close down and the manga volumes that were already translated were republished digitally by a different company a few years ago. So we already know that people in the West like the series and will buy it. But the novels have never been translated, and I still hope they will be.

It’s frustrating for me to be looking into light novels right now. Because I’ll look at a series and on both the publishers and shops the book will be classed as shoujo. I’ll look on wiki, and the novels will be considered shonen even if the manga is shoujo. Why? Is it because it’s a light novel? There’s clearly plenty of women in Japan writing and reading light novels. So why is the focus so strongly on light novels whose target audience are teenager boys or older? I try to look at a list of light novel publishers in Japan and get a list where the only info is on the publishers whose target audience is teenage boys.

We’re in 2021 one now guys, fuck gender in general, yes, girls and non-binary people can enjoy the series aimed at teenage boys. But it can go the other way round for series aimed at teenage girls too. Especially when so many girls and women are very openly into anime and manga, huge amounts them.

So why are the female-targeted series not getting the same amount of attention?

Why You Should Read Light Novels

Rant aside, light novels are pretty great and I think we should all be reading them. The more light novels we read, the more books will get translated and we want that!

  • Even if you don’t want to include manga on your read books you can include light novels as they’re basically novellas
  • They’re quick easy read.
  • They have pretty pictures.
  • You can get more into the worlds of the series you already love.

This post was a long one, but if you’ve made it through to the end then leave a comment below and let’s talk about light novels!

7 thoughts on “Manga 101: Light Novels

  1. The Haruhi Suzumiya series is my first light novel series and I’m still reading them. I’m on book 9 waiting for it to come in the mail since they are re-releasing the volumes again in English. It’s a mix of science-fiction and slice of life.
    I also read That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime! Vol 1. I liked a lot of the world-building and lore in it. One day I’ll properly read I want to Eat your Pancreas (the online version I found was a bad translation and can’t find in physical anymore).

    Liked by 1 person

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