What’s a Light Novel? Revealing a new story form.

Sometimes in the book community we throw around terms and assume everyone knows what we’re talking about. Today I want to shed some light on an Asian book format that is becoming increasingly available to the rest of the world. With Asian cultures becoming more and more popular with English speakers publishers are tapping into the wide range of Asian language stories already available. A huge subgenre of these are light novels.

What makes a light novel different from a regular book?

A light novel is translated from an Asian language.

Light novels originated in Japan but quickly became popular with other Asian countries authors. Now you can find many Chinese and Korean light novels. Due to the authors you can find a focus on their particular Asian culture. For example, Chinese light novels tend to be heavy on nationalism.

A light novel is aimed at young adults and any readers who enjoy similar themes.

In Japan light novel story were originally intended for preteens and teenagers. As Japanese anime culture has become popular throughout the world adult readers who enjoy similar topics have become a major audience. Many light novels are adapted into anime and manga. Since they redevelop the story when it’s adapted there is a lot of crossover appeal.

A light novel is a slice of life story showing everyday growth and change.

Due to many light novels being released chapter by chapter there is a slice of life feel to the narrative. Each chapter shows advancement in the plot and characters. There is a wide range of genres from various romance types, to game lit, cultivation, and reincarnation/ transmigration, which all tend to have some kind of fantasy element.

A light novel is generally ~300 pages, uses anime art covers and interior art.

Due to light novels being closely associated with anime and manga most of the time anime art is used for the covers. There is almost always a smattering of interior art in the same style, sometimes color and sometime black and white. Due to the desire to appeal to younger readers the narrative is simpler and the page numbers are generally kept on the lower side of a novel length. If a story becomes popular it can spawn many volumes.

Where do you find light novels?

Due to availability you will find the quality of the translation to vary depending on where you obtain your light novel. Many online sources use amateur translators and don’t risk copyright problems by including the illustrations. Where as book forms from publishers use professional translators. So take that into account when reading digitally.

  • Your local bookstore. They tend to be shelved in the manga and comic section.
  • Your local library. As light novels become more popular libraries are allocating more purchasing power to them.
  • Online sites. Many light novels haven’t been licensed yet and amateur translators have made them available to read.
  • Webnovel application. There are apps where you can read chapters and check out the different genres.
Have you ever read a light novel? Are you interested in reading one?

33 comments

  1. The first asian translated book that comes to mind was about a teacher telling her students she gave them HIV after they were bystanders to her daughter’s drowning- and while I loved it, i don’t think it was a light novel. I would like to check them out! Do you have any recs?

    • Many Asian written books are heavy contemporaries… at least many that get translated into English… so I totally believe it.

      As for light novel recs I love Mutagen, Taming Master, Gourmet of Another World and My MCV and Doomsday. I really love them! If you find another you enjoy I’d love to hear about it.

  2. What an informative post for someone who hasn’t encountered light novels before! I actually do have eight light novels sitting above my desk. I was really into The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya some years ago. I think there are one or two more volumes but I don’t care enough to finish it, haha. I keep them on my shelf (next to the two manga series I’ve held on to) though because I love the bright colours!

  3. Fascinating! I hear people calling certain books “light” because of the fact that they simply don’t go in depth on certain elements, event if it’s a full novel. I do love the breakdown here and I think I can say that I haven’t really picked one up in the past. Thanks for sharing, Dani! 😀

  4. It’s so interesting that you mention light novels right now because my daughter has just started reading them and we were discussing what constitutes a Light Novel. Right now, she’s reading Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? (Quite a mouthful!) She really wants me to read them too, but there are eight books so far and I’m hesitant to pick up such a long series. She’s working on me, though, and I’m thinking I’ll read it.

    • Yay! I’m always happy to learn there is a convert out there reading! ♥️ I’ve heard of that series and always wanted to read it. Now I know I really should. I actually wouldn’t be too worried about the number of volumes. For some reason they are faster reads then a book of the same length. I can easily read 5 volumes in as many days. But it takes me triple that for a book (3 days).

  5. This is a new format for me; I’ve never heard of the light novel! It sounds like a novella… only with some pictures? Why do you think this format has come into existence? Is there a gap in Asian writing which this needed to fill?

  6. Thanks for sharing about light novels! I’ve read The King’s Avatar, and I have a couple other light / web novels that I’m working on. I haven’t read one that has internal art pages, but I love that light novels provide illustrations for an older audience. All too often, it feels like only books for young readers get illustrated.

    • Yeah only the licensed ones that have been published in book form have illustrations. But I love that aspect of them too. The King’s Avatar is a mega-huge one! I’d love to hear about the others you’re reading Crystal. I just caught up with one called Mutagen which is soooooo creative.

  7. I had no idea what a light novel was, so this post was really helpful and interesting to read 🥰 I just got into reading anime last year. I’d also love to hear some of your recommendations for great light novels 🙂

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