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.