An Introduction to Light Novels

This page is meant to show what light novels are in general. Nothing too in-depth–I’ll try to keep it simple and have lots of pictures. (For a more in-depth guide, I strongly recommend this article.)

Light novels are books–or more specifically, popular fiction from Japan. Why don’t we visit a Japanese bookstore?

Here are a few Japanese light novels I own:

Pictured: Sunday Without God, Pandora Hearts, Yume Nikki, Nichijou, Tsukumodo Antique Shop, Kino’s Journey, Durarara, Here Comes the Black Witch, and Humanity Has Declined.

Let me show you the first volume of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop series.

Now let’s move on to light novels that have been translated into English. Here are a few of my favorites:

Pictured: Gosick, Kino’s Journey, Book Girl, Calling You, Kieli, Ballad of a Shinigami, and Zaregoto.

I will show you the first volume of Kieli, which was localized by Yen Press.

This website will focus on light novels which have been officially translated and published in English.

For a roundup of light novel basics, I’ll include a few bullet points:

  • Light novels are often shorter than the average novel. (But not always.)
  • They typically feature at least a few black and white drawings interspersed with the text. These illustrations are usually drawn in the manga styles that are popular in Japan. (Note: Manga are Japanese comic books. Light novels are not manga; they are stories in prose.)
  • Many popular light novels are serialized, meaning there can be dozens of volumes in a series featuring the same characters and setting. (There are many standalone light novels as well.)
  • Some light novel series are adapted into anime and manga. In turn, some anime and manga have light novel spin-offs, prequels, sequels, or direct adaptations.
  • Most light novels are considered targeted for younger audiences, as they are generally written in a simpler, more approachable fashion. As such, there is often overlap between light novels and many novels classified as young adult, middle grade, and children’s literature. This is perhaps most evident when you find foreign novels translated into Japanese and redesigned to look much like light novels.
Pictured: Uglies, Magic Tree House, and The Hunger Games

As you can see, classifying novels is no simple matter, or at least it isn’t always obvious what should or shouldn’t be counted as a light novel. (For example, in some instances a regular novel in Japan will receive an anime adaptation [Red Data Girl, Another, etc], at which point a light novel version of the book will be created.) I will try to make the database of light novel entries for this site as useful as possible, however, and in time I may delve further into other corners of the world of Japanese pop fiction.

To learn more about the various publishers of light novels in Japan, check out this guide.

And if you are interested in getting some recommendations for where to start, check out this guide.