An Intro Guide to Light Novels

Bookseller Jack, whose name you may recognize from his staff cards in the Light Novel section of the store, takes a step back to talk through the genre and why you should give it a chance if you haven’t already!

So, what are Light Novels? They aren’t quite manga, because they are mostly just words, but they aren’t really normal novels since, I don’t know, they have anime people on the cover, I guess? And what is with all the ridiculous titles anyway? All pretty good questions and ones you may have asked yourself, even if you’ve already taken a liking to this subgenre of literature.

What does “Light Novel” mean?

Let’s first look at the name, Light Novel. The origin is a little murky, but generally it comes from two common trends in these books. 

First, more specific to the Japanese language, is the use of easier to read “light” characters: modernized Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana are used as opposed to the “denser” or “heavier” more complex Kanji and readings found in novels or classic literature. 

Second, and more relevant to the global market, is the trend for each individual novel to be rather short, with a typical length of 200 – 300 pages, something like a novella. 

That isn’t to say Light Novels tell only short stories; in fact, part of why they share a fanbase with many Manga fans is due to their publishing methods. Anyone who reads or knows someone who collects manga would probably be used to the shelf-full lines of numbered, short volumes and this is exactly the case with most Light Novels. Telling a long form story over many short entries has proven to be an attractive form of popular fiction, especially in Japan. It is also one thing that separates it from a similar, though distinct, genre more well known here in the west: Young Adult novels. 

While there are most certainly similarities between the two (and there are many Light Novels which would appeal to fans of YA), they don’t really share the same common tropes or demographics. The best way to look at it may be to see YA as appealing to a general age range, whereas Light Novels are more a method of writing and publishing, not really held to the same expectations.

What’s the difference between Light Novels and other genres?

Well that’s a definition of the word, but why would someone want to read these over, say, more conventional novels or YA? Or over its more graphic counterpart, Manga, for that matter? The length is most certainly an attractive option. There are many, many fantastic books published as Sci-Fi or Fantasy, but some may look at these 500+ page tomes and be understandably intimidated by the time sink; and that’s just one, who knows how long you may want to keep with an entire series written this way? Light Novels offer an alternative to long form fiction as many are actually quite long in the length of the actual narrative, but are condensed into easy to consume shorter volumes, providing fast and concise stopping points between each volume. 

As for the Manga comparison, well just flip through a Light Novel and you’ll see the attraction. Light Novels feature illustrations by talented artists and many actually get adapted into popular anime or even get manga adaptations later on. Vampire Hunter D, Overlord, Sword Art Online, Gundam Unicorn, Fate/Zero, and Haruhi Suzumiya all began life as Light Novels and these are just the really popular ones, I could go all day. 

There is also the simple difference between reading a graphic novel and reading more traditionally written works. Light Novels contain all the familiar tropes and themes that manga fans have come to enjoy, only delivering them in a way more akin to common novels. Even myself, who loves graphic novels of all types and respects the art form immensely, sometimes just wants to read words on a page and Light Novels provide this. They are also a pretty decent bridging point for someone who may often read graphic novels but is a little hesitant about jumping into denser novels.

What kind of tropes are in Light Novels?

As for the often sentence-long titles, well that’s just one of the charms of the genre. Light Novels most certainly have their tropes and trends, recently popular is the Isekai genre (which features characters from the modern day who are, through one method or another, transported to another world, usually a fantasy one). These can range from the genre-defining Re:Zero to the more unconventional So I’m a Spider, So What? and Saga of Tanya the Evil. Though it’s not just Isekai, or even fantasy that gets a lot of play in Light Novels, Baccano is a 1920s thriller revolving around immortal alchemists, the mafia, and multiple POVs. Eighty-Six is a dystopian military drama with spider-tanks and an army of genocidal AI. Vampire Hunter D is a gothic, far-future Sci-Fi about a vampire slayer who himself is half-vampire, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is about a high school club featuring an alien, a psychic, a time traveler, and an unaware reality bender. 

Light Novels, all in all, are another great addition to the literary genre and one of my preferred mediums. Hopefully, this post has helped to explain what they are and why you would want to start reading this growing format. It is exciting that we have finally started to carry them here and I can’t wait to see more folks start to enjoy them as much as I do.

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