Now, as an avid geek, I’m no stranger to Korean media. K-Dramas, K-Movies, K-Manhwa, you name it, I’ve dipped my toes into it. K-Dramas are so detailed and fun, amassing every genre you can think of. And while the hype might’ve started thanks to the over-the-top love stories such as Boys Over Flowers and Playful Kiss, you also have outliers like Killing Stalking, All Of Us Are Dead, and Hellbound that are equal parts gritty and thrilling. But perhaps, most surprisingly of all, did you know that most of these shows are based on light novels available to read all over the internet? If not, let me introduce you to the phenomenon that is Korean Light Novels!
But hey, what are light novels? Light Novels, also sometimes called Web Novels, are quick reads that often echo manga roots but without the ‘manga’ part. The main difference is that light novels are text-based versus illustrated comic strips. A lot of these light novels make use of familiar tropes and storylines that one commonly sees in manga. You’ve got the gushy romance, gratuitous violence, comic relief, and exaggerated reactions – all staples of the manga/manhwa genre but easily found in light novels as well.
Hence, you can find plenty of manga/manhwa fans that enjoy light novels and vice versa. In fact, the two have become so ubiquitous that you’ll often find manga publishers releasing light novels as a side story to their trademarked manga. If you’re an avid anime or k-drama fan, you’ve probably watched at least one adaptation based on a light novel before! And Korean light novels are no joke.
So why not start at the beginning? Here are my top picks for you to dive into the world of Korean light novels.
1. Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint
Have you ever played a game and screamed at your in-game character for being too dense to figure out the plot and how you’d do so much better because you knew everything already?
Well, that’s what our protagonist, Kim Dokja, a mere office worker, thinks when falls into a parallel universe where his favorite novel “Three Ways to Survive in a Ruined World” (created by the ‘anonymous’ author tls123) becomes his new reality. And surprise, he’s the only one who read the novel to completion! Now armed with knowledge and hindsight, he partners up with the novel’s protagonist Yoon JoongHyuk as he makes his way through the lands, to survive in this apocalyptic fantasy.
This is arguably one of the most popular Korean light novels right now and it shows, thanks to the Isekai hype. It’s even been adapted into a Webtoon!
2. Father, I Don’t Want to Get Married!
Look, I’m not going to mince words here. A lot of these novels scratch the fairy-tale-princess aesthetic itch in my brain and I absolutely can’t complain. Misunderstandings and romance galore, Father I Don’t Want To Married! follows one Juvellian Eloy Floyen, the daughter of a Duke, who wakes up and remembers her past life as a normal human and how she had now become the very villainess she read about in a novel. Knowing that in the book she was a vindictive spoiled brat obsessed with the ‘main lead’, she starts to backtrack to avoid her doom by the end of it all.
But in the midst of all that, this is a story between a father and daughter. How lost in translation a family bond can get, which leads to misunderstandings like when Juvellian assumes her father doesn’t care about her. When he actually dotes on his daughter but is struggling due to being occupied with the political schemes being concocted by the nobles in the background.
Another one that has a Manhwa adaptation, this novel is filled with misunderstandings and hijinks, followed by wholesome character growth.
3. Solo Leveling
A mixture of traditional Role-Playing Game (RPG) and Shonen elements, Solo Leveling (also known as Only I Can Level Up!) is centered around a supernatural world comprised of Hunters who have to fight against monsters to save humanity. However, not all Hunters are built the same.
Meet Sung Jinwoo, an E-class Hunter with no special abilities and his struggle to survive in a world that feasts on the weak. One day, after barely escaping an intense dungeon that ended up decimating his entire party, a system decides that he will be the sole bearer of an extremely rare skill where he can ‘level up’ in strength, with no limits in sight. Jinwoo quickly climbs the ranks but finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between two god-like groups called the Monarchs and the Rulers.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, fantasy, and rich world-building, this is the one for you!
4. Remarried Empress
Ah, love triangles, betrayal, and…political intrigue? Remarried Empress has all that and more! A string of unfortunate events follows Navier Ellie Trovi, our titular Empress, when Sovieshu, her husband, brings in a mistress in the form of a slave girl named Rashta and demands a divorce. So, what does our Navier do? Well, she agrees, amiably stepping down as Empress. And then immediately marries King Heinley of the neighboring kingdom, who is enamored by her, becoming the Queen.
See, whereas a lot of these manhwas and novels often paint their heroines in a meek and naïve light, Remarried Empress does a role reversal. In this, the poor Rashta is the conniving and manipulative foil to our regal and shrewd Navier. Prince Charming is two-faced and cowardly whereas the man backing Navier is a loving but brave individual.
If you enjoy slow build-ups and rich storytelling with romance, Remarried Empress is bound to be a treat. And hey, it’s even a WebToon now!
5. God Of Cooking
Who doesn’t love a story that can paint beautiful pictures of food and cooking? It’s the joy of life, after all! God Of Cooking follows Jo Minjoon, a 30 something, who always dreamt of becoming a chef. But life got in the way, and he had a late start. Filled with regret over his life choices, he wishes he could somehow go back and alter the way his culinary journey unfolds. And some higher being hears his prayer and sends him back in time!
A light, comedic read on one man’s single-minded devotion towards his craft, God Of Cooking won’t disappoint the foodie in all of us.
6. Trash Of The Count’s Family
Imagine you’re just a diligent high school kid, strict with your principals, going about your life, with no fanfare. And then one day, you wake up in the body of a spoiled noble, an evil man who the hero defeats. At least, according to the novel you were reading the night before.
So, you do the rational thing: You turn your doomed character’s personality around to not be as trashy as before and avoid the wrath of the hero! That’s right, instead of being evil and conniving, your character is now…lazy? And peace-loving? And nice?
That’s right! Choi Han, the high school teenager, is now Cale Henituse, the terrible noble. And he will make sure to avoid confrontation at all costs!
Hilarious and charming with an amazing plot to boot, Trash Of The Count’s Family is an ‘unsung hero’ stereotype in the best way possible.
Cruel Gods and their folly shape the events of this novel. Kang Hansoo is the ‘chosen one’ amongst the last humans that survived after being sent to a harsh world named the Abyss, created by said terrible being out of boredom. And so Kang Hansoo is transported 55 years back into the past, to stop humanity from the despair of this new world.
This story is unique in its not being an Isekai. Fantastical, thrilling, and just a hint of dark, Reincarnator is an engaging read.
8. Return Of The Female Knight
She is no damsel in distress! Elena Blaise is the daughter of a count who has her world turned upside down, when the current ruler, King Paveluc, usurps the throne as Carlisle, the Crown Prince, is assassinated. In return, her own family is massacred for supporting Carlisle in the first place. Left as the sole survivor, she trains to be a knight and vows to avenge her lost loved ones. After the usurper and Elena finally duel, only for a blow to knock her back into the past, an exact year before House Blaise is to be decimated.
So, what does she do? She walks up to the now living Carlisle, offering her sword and hand in marriage! The crown prince is intrigued, and the game has only begun.
If you’re like me and love a strong female protagonist in romance, you can bet this will be to your liking! And the best part? You can find all of Elena’s escapades in illustrated form since this novel has been adapted into a manhwa!
So, what are you going to pick as your first read? Or are you already a seasoned light novel connoisseur? Let us know what your picks regarding these top Korean light novels are and which ones we should give a try.