On Light Novels

February 9th, 2007

This past summer I had the pleasure to be asked to participate in the creation of a manga encyclopedia. The editor and writer, Jason Thompson, asked me to do some reviews, interviewed me for the “Yuri” article and eventually had me write a short article on “Light Novels” for the book.

Manga: The Complete Guide, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It is, alas, without my article on Light Novels. Due to time/space/existential issues, it was left out. I hold no hard feelings, these things happen. But it was a *good* article and I worked hard on it. As the Light Novels (LNs) that got me into reading LNs, and that I have been reviewing here for some time are the Maria-sama ga Miteru series, and those I have yet to read are also Yuri, I thought I’d share the article with my readers here. Let me just note quickly that the translation of Tsutako’s quote from Ibara no Mori was done by Erin Subramanian. The full passage can be found on Erin’s Livejournal.


LIGHT NOVEL (ライトノベル)

Light Novel is a term used for short novels, typically with illustrations, written for and marketed to a teen/young adult audience. Light, or non-serious, novels average around two hundred pages, and are smaller in dimension than “literary” novels. The phrase Light Novel came into use in the eighties and early nineties in the Japanese Science Fiction community – the term, originally “karui noberu” or “non-serious novel,” was coined by a Japanese SF/Fantasy online forum. Light Novels were heavily influenced by anime, manga, games and other youth culture staples in Japan. In return, many Light Novels are now being turned into anime, manga, games, etc. One of the earliest Light Novels, Mobile Suit Gundam, helped expand the famous dynasty of anime, manga, games and model kits. Vampire Hunter D was another early Light Novel that has remained popular in many media.

A wide variety of Japanese publishing companies are involved in the production of Light Novels. These include classic book publishing houses, groups that also publish manga, mixed-media publishers and software houses, such as Kadokawa, Mediaworks, Shueisha, Kodansha, Square Enix, Hobby Japan and many others. Each publisher may have several imprints that range over a variety of genres.

In the west, the interest in Light Novels has been driven by manga translation and distribution companies. In 2004, Tokyopop developed their own imprint for Light Novels, which they call “Manga Novels.” Other western publishers such as Viz Media, Seven Seas, DMP, Dark Horse, and CMX (DC Comics’ manga imprint) have already entered the field, and Del Ray has announced their interest in doing so. ALC Publishing has published an original English-language Light Novel, Shoujoai ni Bouken.

Although they were first created to increase interest in Science Fiction, it is not uncommon to find Light Novels for Fantasy, Mystery, Horror and Historical genres and, of course, Romance, which includes “Boy’s Love” (see: Yaoi) titles. To distinguish the different genres publishers will use differently colored covers so readers can quickly identify their genre of choice.

Illustrations are one of the key features of Light Novels, marking them as “young adult” reading. The illustrators for Light Novels are not always the artists for those series’ manga, but may be (or become) well known in their own right. As Tsutako, a character herself from the untranslated Light Novel “Maria-sama ga Miteru: Ibara no Mori” says, “…the illustrations serve as a clue to what the books are about…. Even if they’ve never heard of the author, they might pick up a book if they have a good first impression of it based on the illustrations.” (Oyuki Konno, Cobalt Shueisha, 1999.) However, not all Light Novels are written for a YA audience and not all Light Novels are illustrated. Novels written to appeal to an older audience and Boy’s Love novels – although intended for a teen audience – often have no illustrations.

In Japan, interest in Light Novels is fueled by Internet fandom, reference books about the genre and by anime and manga based upon popular titles. The increasing interest in Light Novels has spurred the creation of a Light Novel Festival, held annually in Tokyo since 2004. (http://www.light-novel.com). Here in the West, as manga fans look for the source material for popular anime and manga, readership is certain to grow as well.


Light Novel Festival
Tokyo International Anime Fair

Just as a coda, of interest to Yuri fans specifically, will be the upcoming Seven Seas translation of the Strawberry Panic Light Novels and of course, ALC’s Shoujoai ni Bouken: The Adventures of Yuriko.

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9 Responses

  1. neo_hrtgdv says:

    This is a very good article, shame it was left out.

    I hope they bring more Yuri light novels, since not everyone can read Japanese I think it’d be nice to have it in a readable language (English is almost universal, so its ok)

  2. Serge says:

    Yes, I’m a bit behind here. But I’ve got to say, it’s a damn shame that this wasn’t included in the first edition. I don’t know about you, but I’ve gobbling up a lot of the English language light novel translations. I’ve gone through the first six Vampire Hunter D releases, (7 is on pre-order), the 3 Ghost in the Shell ones, and I just got the first two Boogiepop, Crest of the Stars and Scrapped Princess novels.
    I wouldn’t mind the ROD novels next, and, of course, the Marimite novels. And on the plus side, I won’t have to change formats when something new comes down the pike.
    So, buy more novels so we can get the ones we really want.

  3. Dear Erika,

    Sorry that I had to leave out the light novel article. It was going to be part of a series of articles on different media (anime, live-action films, etc.) and their connection to manga, but unfortunately I ended up having to cut it, along with another article by another excellent writer.

    Anyway, I’m really sorry about that, and I hope I can give more coverage to ALC Publishing in my future projects! I can’t wait for the next Yuri Monogatari!

    Jason Thompson

  4. There are quite a number of dubious statements in here, which may have more to do with your sources than anything else. (I’m coming from the Wikipedia entry, which was expanded , inaccurately, based on this article.)
    200 page would be on the short side for a light novel; most of them are around 300.
    They have never been color coded by genre. No idea where you got that idea. With Dengeki Bunko, each author gets a spine color, distinguishing his works from those of the next author on the shelf, but this practice is not carried over to other companies.
    According to Kadono Kouhei, when he started writing Boogiepop light novels were simply called Young Adult novels. I’ve seen a number of different sources that claim the Boogiepop series was instrumental in broadening the range of possible genres – before him, they were a bunch of game adaptations and a slew of successful fantasy titles, like Slayers and Lodoss.
    Again, from the interview with Kadono Kouhei in Faust 5, sci-fi (like Hayakawa and the Crest of the Stars novels) was never part of the light novel field. Obviously, there are many light novels that are science fiction, and Otsu-ichi (in the afterward to the Goth bunko edition) was surprised to find the sci-fi club at his college only read light novels, but serious science fiction fans seem to view light novels with disdain, while light novel fans seem to view sci-fi novels as too difficult.

  5. Hi andrew –

    I took most of the information from Japanese sources sbout Light Novels. Including the Japanese entry on Light Novels, and the Light Novels Fair.

    The several dozen LNs I have in my personal collection attest to the 200 or so page size (and several are larger, but the bulk are about 200 pages.) The *quote* about the color-coding of the novels comes from a Light Novel, in which the characters are discussing Light Novels. You may want to write Konno Oyuki, author of the 30 “Maria-sama ga Miteru” Light Novels, and tell her that she’s wrong. :-)

    It may be true that Boogiepop Phantom was written as a YA (which I assume is your particular issue,) but it still, according to the LN Japanese sites, fits the criteria of LNs. And since LNs are pretty much for YA, there’s almost no distinction between those categories.

    Thanks for commenting.

  6. Swind says:

    I’m sorry for my bad English, but I hope that you can understand what I mean.

    Uh, cosmos bunko, the light novel label turned up in “Maria-sama ga Miteru” series is fiction. To the best of my knowledge, there is no such light novel label in Japan.

    Number of pages of a light novel is about 150 to 500. Although I don’t have statistics, I think that most of them have 250 to 350 page size. Please note that I know only the tendency in a light novel label for mainly males. The tendency in the light novel label for females may differ from the others.

  7. swind –

    Thanks you for your comment. I do know that Cosmos Bunko is not real. :-)

    The “Maria-sama ga Miteru” novels, which are Light Novels for girls, average around 200 pages. Some are longer, some are shorter, but most are right around there.

    Cosmos is *clearly* meant to be similar Shuiesha Bunko, the company that publishes “Marimite.”

    It may be that many LNs are published for boys, but there are are also very many (some are BL) light novels published for girls. :-)

  8. Swind, thanks for clearing up the color coding thing. That really took my by surprise. (Like Swind, I don’t know much about any of the girl’s labels.)
    250-350 matches up with the books I read. Certain genres might end up shorter, but I think it largely depends on the writer.
    Boogiepop Phantom is an anime. The novels are just Boogiepop. I definitely don’t have a problem with calling the Boogiepop novels light novels; I was just trying to explain the origins of light novels as I understood it. The statement I’d removed from Wikipedia was the assertion that they started in sci-fi novels. I get the feeling sci-fi books (like the books on the Hayakawa label, or the author of Paprika and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) pretty much never had any overlaps with light novels. Light novels seem to have grown out of fantasy novels and video game adaptations.
    Again, that might be a little different for girls, or maybe you’re simply using a looser definition of sci-fi.

  9. Hi andrew –

    The term, Light Novel, did not come from sci-fi novels. It was a term coined on a sci-fi forum. Perhaps that is why you are missing the connection.

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