What are Light Novels?

Light novels are Japanese literary genre for teenagers, which utilizes manga or anime illustrations for depicting the characters or showing key scenes. Most light novels have a fewer word count, an easy-to-follow plot, and are dialogue-heavy. The target readers are male middle school and high school students.

The publishing process of light novels is like that of manga. While each light novel is published in individual book volumes, some chapters are serialized first in anthology magazines. Serialized chapters are later compiled in book format. Publishing houses specializing in selling light novels are some of the prolific publishers today such as Dengeki Bunko, Famitsu Bunko, and The Sneaker. Some of the most popular light novels over the years are the Kouhei Kadono and Kouji Ogata’s Boogiepop series, Nagaru Tanigawa and Noizi Ito’s Haruhi Suzumiya series, Kazuma Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura’s A Certain Magical Index, Reki Kawahara and abec’s Sword Art Online, Fuse and Mitz Vah’s That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime aka Ten Sura, Yuu Kamiya’s No Game No Life, Kugane Maruyama and so-bin’s Overlord, Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka’s Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World, and Natsume Akatsuki’s KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!.



The word “Light Novel” or ライトノベル is a wasei-eigo or a Japanese term that uses English words. Other known names are “ranobe” (ラノベ)  or “LN” in the West.


A Brief History

Light novels began as Japanese pulp magazines and part of Japanese popular literature. Japanese pulp magazines were similar to their American counterparts. They feature very imaginative, sensationalist, and exploitative themes in society. Pulp fiction in Japan showcased stories like adventure, crime, romance, personal accounts, sports, cinema, nightlife, sexual liberation, and events from foreign countries.

In 1975, Asahi Sonorama launched Sonorama Bunko and Manga Shounen during the peak of the Japanese phonograph record. Asahi Sonorama contributed to the early form of light novels. Science fiction authors such as Hideyuki Kikuchi and Baku Yumemakura began their writing career in pulp fiction imprints.

In the 1980s, juvenile or young adult novels gained prominence in the market. Initial labels were “fantasy” and “junior” novels, which helped young readers advance themselves from reading children’s literature to general literature. It featured manga illustrations to entice young readers. Since then, manga illustrations on light novels became a staple.

Another possible origin of the light novel came from Record of Lodoss War by Ryo Mizuno in 1988. Record of Lodoss War was a “replay” or transcription of a table-top RPG campaign. It popularized the sword and sorcery genre in Japanese literature, as well as video games. The next year, Slayers by Hajime Kanzaka became one of the most popular light novels at that time, which introduced the concept of “first-person dialogues” and “quick plot development” in light novels. It also incorporated intricate world-building and comedy, which could have influenced contemporary fantasy light novels today.

People first considered light novels as female literature. They were published by Cobalt Bunko and featured junior girl novels. It also had manga illustrations along with the romantic stories, which eventually expanded to more extensive genres like science fiction, fantasy, homosexuality, philosophy, and more. Light novels later catered to male readers while still attracting female readers. Since then, light novels became popular literary works for everybody.


Modern Usage

Light novels can be considered part of (メディアミックス) media-mix. Media-mix is a commercial law in which a single piece of work can be distributed to every media format. Successful light novels are instantly adapted into multiple media platforms. They can be adapted into manga, anime, movies, and video games. It’s one of the most profitable business ventures for media publishers. Kadokawa Corporation is one of the major media companies that practice media-mix since the 1990s.



Trends in Japan, “LIGHT READING Comic-Like Novels Are All the Rage,” https://web-japan.org/trends/07_culture/pop070228.html, 28 February 2007, Retrieved 19 February 2020
Wetherall, William, “Japanese “pulp” magazines Structure, content, and function,” http://www.wetherall.org/prose/Wetherall_1969_Japanese_pulp_magazines.html, Retrieved 19 February 2020
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/ライトノベル, Retrieved 19 February 2020
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/メディアミックス, Retrieved 19 February 2020
Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/コバルト文庫, Retrieved 19 February 2020


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