Editorial: Variety is the Spice of Light (Novels)

(pictured: Spice and Wolf)
(pictured: Spice and Wolf)

I’ve added about twenty more entries over the past couple weeks, so I suggest giving the list of light novels a look if you haven’t visited that page in a while. Perhaps you’ll find another book you’d enjoy reading?

At this point I feel I’m pretty close to having a full database for officially-released English light novels. Some entries may be pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a light novel a bit, but I decided it’s better to be lenient than strict on that matter. That said, I do intend to make a page still for Haikasoru’s line of YA fantasy/sci-fi novels from Japan, as well as a page for Digital Manga’s collection of BL/yaoi ebooks. And perhaps a page for any original English light novels that may be out there.

But other than those, if there are any more light novels from Japan that have been officially released in English, but you don’t see them on this site’s list anywhere–feel free to drop a comment here and I’ll see about adding entries for them.

For now though I’d like to bring up the topic of the variety found in the English light novel landscape. At the moment I have the light novels in the database tagged accordingly:

  • Adventure — 10
  • Comedy — 7
  • Drama — 7
  • Fantasy — 14
  • Horror — 6
  • Mecha — 5
  • Mystery — 8
  • Romcom — 8
  • Sci-fi — 12

There’s perhaps not enough there to please everyone for an extended period of time, but I believe most people would be able to find at least a couple entries to their liking. And considering the possibility that the medium will continue to grow in the West at this point, I imagine there will be more books to pique the interests of readers (and particularly those who enjoy anime and manga) over the years to come.

How about light novels releasing this year? I’ll post what I have included in the sidebar to the right:

  • Book Girl — a high school drama series with a supernatural element or two; the series recently finished
  • Spice and Wolf — a fantasy adventure with economics and romance; there are three volumes releasing this year
  • Sword Art Online — sci-fi virtual reality game series with a popular anime tie-in; again, three volumes this year
  • Aria the Scarlet Ammo — a high school action comedy; digital release geared toward a more niche audience
  • Vampire Hunter D — a long-running dark fantasy series, reminiscent of pulp action-horror fiction
  • Accel World — another sci-fi virtual reality game series; same author as Sword Art Online, so same fanbase
  • Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner — post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure; for fans of the related games
  • Another — horror novel getting a hardcover release, since apparently enough people bought the ebooks
  • Alice in the Country of Diamonds — a fantasy romance; aimed for fans of the associated manga and VN
  • Attack on Titan: Before the Fall — spin-off prequel series for the popular action manga and anime
  • A Certain Magical Index — an urban fantasy series with sci-fi elements
  • DanMachi — a fantasy adventure focused more on comedy
  • And then there’s Kagerou Daze (urban fantasy) and Absolute Solitude (sci-fi), likely coming next year

So a dozen or so titles in one year–enough to note at least some basic trends:

  1. Teenage protagonists — Well, is this really a surprise? It’s YA fiction. Most anime and manga you’re probably familiar with are like this as well. (There’s Spice and Wolf and Vampire Hunter D at least, to break from that trend.)
  2. Tied to popular (and often recent) anime or manga — Again, rather understandable. Light novels will tend to appeal most to the anime/manga crowd, and many people are more likely to pick up books for series they already like. I personally tend to enjoy light novels that don’t have a popular anime or manga adaptation though, so I hope the LN market will become healthy enough to facilitate more of such series. (Yen Press has been pretty good about that, what with Book Girl and Kieli at least–so I have hope for more “hidden gems” to come.)
  3. Sci-fi and fantasy — Genre fiction is quite popular for YA in general, so this trend extends well past the realm of light novels. And isn’t it common for people to gain an interest in anime and manga via fantasy and sci-fi series? Those tend to be the most popular, at least.
  4. Not always in high school — There’s a common expectation for light novels to take place primarily in high school, but I think only three or four actually fit the bill in that regard.
  5. Not always perverted — Well, at least I don’t think it’s at the level many people claim is the standard for the medium. There’s always been some titles with fanservice in anime, manga, LNs, and VNs, and that probably won’t ever change.
  6. Longer series are still going steadySpice and Wolf is releasing its 12th volume, and Vampire Hunter D is on its 21st. There’s also Haruhi Suzumiya with 10 volumes, all caught up with Japan I believe. And then Book Girl and Kieli recently finished their runs, with 8 and 9 volumes respectively. This is all a good sign for new series such as Sword Art Online, Accel World, and the upcoming Certain Magical Index. Of course, I imagine any series can be discontinued if nobody buys them. Fans will have to support their respective franchises–but I think with more people online a lot more than they were 7-10 years ago, it’s more feasible for niche audiences to be aware of the existence of currently-releasing light novel series.

What would I like to see more of in the future?

  1. Children’s series — There have been very few light novel series released in English specifically for younger audiences (i.e. middle-grade or “chapter books”). While putting together the entry for The Pirate and the Princess though, I couldn’t help but notice how Amazon and Barnes & Noble had a relatively high number of reviews for that book, and with nearly unanimous 5-star praise. The parents were all saying how much their children loved that story, and I think it’d be great to see a stronger attempt made at bringing over (and effectively marketing) more of such franchises–for example, Kuromajo-san ga Touru and Kaidan Restaurant.
  2. More cerebral series — Obviously light novels are primarily for entertainment, no different from anime or manga (or YA fiction in general), but there are some series that are certainly more thought-provoking than others. I really want to see the full Kino’s Journey series in English. Creative and unusual works like Humanity Has Declined. Or even simply more mature takes on popular ideas, such as Log Horizon. Of course, these sorts of works aren’t going to be as popular as, say, Sword Art Online–but I have to have hope, right? (Along with more light novels, I wouldn’t mind seeing the likes of Shiki or From the New World being translated at some point… Those are big projects of course, but it would be great to have them.)
  3. Series aimed toward women — Maybe I’m biased, but I’d like to see more light novels brought over for the shoujo and josei readerships. There are many such series in Japan, and considering the high percentage of female readers of YA fiction in the West, I think it makes sense for a greater effort to be made in this regard. Perhaps the current-largest stumbling-block for this is the fact popular anime for this demographic are based almost entirely off shoujo manga and otome visual novels. We’re at least getting a spin-off light novel in the form of Alice in the Country of Diamonds, but to throw out a few ideas for the future: High Speed! (the basis for Free!), Ghost Hunt, The Count and the Fairy, or perhaps the Kimi ni Todoke side-stories. But with most of those being a bit “old” at this point, perhaps some entirely new series would work best? Here’s eight random books that looked interesting, just going by the covers:

I’ll stop there for now, but I hope I’ve been able to bring up an interesting point or two about the current trends in English light novels. What sorts of books are you enjoying the most right now? Which upcoming series are you looking forward to? And what kinds of stories would you like to see more of brought over?

10 thoughts on “Editorial: Variety is the Spice of Light (Novels)

  1. “Maybe I'm biased, but I'd like to see more light novels brought over for the shoujo and josei readerships”

    …That’s probably gonna take a while. I mean, there’s not that many manga shoujo and josei over here, so I think we got a ways to go. But I would like to see those types of LN’s over here.

    P.S: Maybe Book Girl is in the “It gets better, I swear” camp! I finally found something that seemed interesting!

    1. Yes, I’m not expecting a bunch right away. Might have to hope the Alice in the Country of Diamonds book sells at least moderately well… The shoujo manga market at least is somewhat healthy though, right? Perhaps there needs to be another series that hits Fruits Basket (or at least Vampire Knight?) level to regain some momentum… Or perhaps we’ll just have to wait for an anime based off a shoujo LN that really hits it off in Japan?

      I loved Book Girl from the very beginning, but the premise perhaps won’t hook everybody. The story does get more intense as certain reveals take place though, so if there’s something interesting there for you I think it’s still worth reading on. (It’s certainly not a very long book…)

  2. “I personally tend to enjoy light novels that don't have a popular anime or manga adaptation though,”
    This is one of the main problems I have when I try to find light novels to read, lol. In one side, I really don’t want to read light novels that are already/announced to be adapted to anime. I prefer reading “original” stories from light novels. On another side, most of them are untranslated, and the ones that are translated with a hefty amount are usually the already anime-adapted titles. As far as unadapted “original stories” go though, I’m really, really liking HakoMari atm, still waiting for the author to release the last volume.. :p

    I’ll definitely give Book Girl a try though, seeing as how it already ended, and it seems like a promising series too.

    1. In Japan there are hundreds of light novels that aren’t adapted into anime, but the West doesn’t really ever discuss them. It’s to be expected of course–it’s easier to watch an anime than read a book, and I’ll go on a limb and say it’s easier to add subtitles to an anime than it is to translate a series of novels. It’s then only to be expected that more people will clamor for Sword Art Online than, say, Tsukumodo Antique Shop (which is great BTW). That said, there’s still good reason IMO for fans of various anime to read the original LNs for their respective series–as the saying goes, the book’s better than the movie. ;P

      Off the top of my head, some official “LN-only” stories (or at least ones that don’t have a full popular anime): Book Girl, Kieli, Zaregoto, Missing (I’m reading this one right now), and various one-shots.

      I just finished reading the first volume of HakoMari actually, since I saw that being suggested by multiple people lately. A rather interesting story, and overall translated quite well. I’ll probably have to mull over it a bit before I write up a review.

  3. Btw, that Suki Kirai cover looks a hell lot like something akin to a Vocaloid LN, and I even spotted a green-haired girl with twintails behind too. I’m most certainly wrong though.

    1. I’m rather certain it is a Vocaloid LN, actually. There are a whole bunch of light novels starring Hatsune Miku and her friends, many (perhaps all?) of which are based off various songs/music videos. I’ve wanted to pick up the one titled Fire Flower just because of its artwork, actually…
      http://sakuranoamenovel.com/ — (click on “Fire Flower”)

  4. Another title for the “More Cerebral Series” is Maouyu Maou Yuusha, is funny and provides a good way of entertainment along with making yourself questions about the humanity. Plus it’s written like a sort of play.

    1. Interesting to hear! I believe that series was written by Mamare Touno, who also wrote Log Horizon. I’ve noticed his works are typically in a section of the bookstore separate from the main light novel section–grouped along with things like the Monogatari books and various “epic fantasy” looking series. Somewhat denser reads than say, Accel World or Henneko, I imagine.

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