It’s amazing how the Otaku subculture has taken over the general pop culture stratosphere in the last decade or so. Thanks to the emergence of anime, it’s become so much more than just the odd Shonen gaining popularity in the West. But what anime enthusiasts aren’t aware of is that a lot of the time, their favorite show isn’t sourced from a manga, but rather through another popular medium in Japan: Light novel.
If you’re an older weeb, you probably know what light novels are. But even then, so many people don’t realize how big the genre is. Light novels have been around since the dawn of the modern internet, and they’ve gained a lot of traction over the years thanks to their compatibility with smart devices and bite-sized content.
Light novels are exactly what they sound like – a lighter, more compact version of a traditional novel that is meant to be read in quick bursts with ease of accessibility. Because let’s face it: Not everyone can afford the time to invest in a 6-part book series that you have to buy from a bookstore. Sometimes, you just want something quick and easy to get interested in.
This is where light novels shine. It’s also why they’ve gained so much hype with anime producers. The stories some of these light novels create are extremely engaging and translate to animation extremely well. But what exactly is a light novel? How does it properly differ from, say, something like a normal published book and even web novels? Let’s discuss!
Light Novel: A Brief History
It’s amazing to think that light novels originated from something as mundane as 70’s Japanese pulp magazines. Back then, they were just excerpts accompanying some form of illustration with a brief little story attached. But now a lot of light novels are just as decorated as popular manga.
The modern light novel, however, is more of a novella-type situation. Usually, a light novel is no longer than 50,000 words, making it a fast read. The most popular genre in the medium is Young Adult, which makes sense considering the target demographic is high school or middle school attendees. So, it mostly incorporates fantastical settings such as science-fiction and fantasy with some romance thrown in. And thanks to its manga-style illustrations, it brings in a lot of anime fans.
The term ‘light novel’ was first coined by Keita Kamikita, the admin of a Sci-fi forum back in the 90s. So, it’s safe to say that light novels have existed for a very long time. And it’s their similarity to manga dynamics that make them a popular choice for anime adaptations.
Difference Between Light Novel And Web Novels
Because how light novels and web novels are both talked about in the same context, it is easy to confuse one for the other. But the truth is that there are fundamental differences between them.
A web novel is a usually self-published work. It involves the author doing everything from writing, to editing and posting the story online on web novel hosting sites. There aren’t nearly as polished and refined as light novels but also aren’t limited to the same word count. This is why they are often considered the rough draft version of an eventual light novel and only released in a digital format. For example, Sword Art Online started as a web novel.
It’s often these web novels that get picked by publishing companies to be later made into light novels. If they show potential, they are given proper editors, illustrators, and the like to turn it into something that can be released digitally and be turned into physical copies as well, like paperbacks.
So, it’s easier to see the difference between the two mediums if you view the web novels as the rough draft of a professionally finished light novel. But again, that’s not always true since some light novels are only published as such. For example KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
Are Light Novels Better Than Manga?
So, this is a hard question. Because often the best manga themselves originated as light novels. And there is some amazing anime that was adapted from light novels, that never even got a manga serialization in the first place. This was the case with the hit anime series Violet Evergarden.
So it’s not about which medium is better, but which you’re in the mood for. As someone who thinks that sometimes manga can be a little overwhelming with the panel work and tons of chapters but still want something to indulge in, light novels work as the perfect compromise.
They are the perfect work commute read. You don’t need to invest a lot of time or patience in consuming light novels because of their short chapter count and the illustrations keep things interesting. Plus, they don’t take up much room on your smartphone.
Maybe this is why light novels have blown up amongst busy millennials like myself!