Random Curiosity

Light Novels: Kino no Tabi v01 »

Light Novels: Introduction

Random Curiosity hasn’t been intellectually sophisticated enough, so I’ve taken it upon myself to bring Japan’s utmost cultural excellence to the site in the form of light novels. Since you may not be familiar with the concept, allow me to explain it in simpler terms: text anime.

The name “Light Novels” was coined some 20 years ago on an electronic forum, when the administrator wanted a way to collectively refer to paperback novels that were aimed at youngsters and quick to read. The definition remains vague, but the books often share some common elements: they’re around 250 pages, they have manga style cover illustrations, and the intended audience is young adults. Over time the boundaries have grown even hazier, and nowadays you can find all kinds of literature being called light novels, as some titles have been republished with new covers as “proper” literature (12 Kingdoms), while old classics conversely have gotten new editions with manga illustrations (Ningen Shikkaku).

The most apparent difference from regular literature is the abundance of illustrations in most light novels. Every 20 pages or so there will be a grayscale illustration depicting a scene that is taking place, while the covers are colourfully eye-catching to attract buyers browsing the bookshop shelves. The influence of the artist can be massive in light novel publication, as there are certain types of customers who go around picking things to read solely based on the illustrated goodness found inside. With the huge amount of anime and manga adaptations based on light novels, it can also have an effect on character design and, as a consequence, the popularity of such works.

Speaking of adaptations, perhaps you have started wondering if you’ve heard of any light novel titles before, so here’s a tiny list of light novels that ended up as anime:

• Arslan Senki (The Heroic Legend of Arslan)
• Asura Cryin’
• Baccano
• Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan
• Boogiepop Phantom
• Full Metal Panic
• Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu (Legend of the Galactic Heroes)
• Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora
• Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu
• Juuni Kokki (12 Kingdoms)
• Kanokon
• Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey)
• Kurenai
• Lodoss-tou Senki (Record of Lodoss War)
• Maria-sama ga Miteru
• Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu
• Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice & Wolf)
• Seikai series (Crest/Banner of the Stars)
• Shakugan no Shana
• Slayers
• Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuu-utsu (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya)
• To Aru Majutsu no Index
• Toradora!
• Zero no Tsukaima

Economically, light novels are far behind manga in sales, but between 2004 and 2006 the market grew by 30%, while manga publication seems to be shrinking by the year. To put some perspective on the chasm between the two formats, here’s a list of recent first week sales for the most popular volumes:

1) One Piece, 1200k units
2) Nana, 600k
3) Fullmetal Alchemist, 530k
4) Naruto, 504k
5) Bleach, 480k
Light novels
1) Saiunkoku Monogatari, 100k
2) Koukaku no Regios, 64k
3) Toradora!, 61k
4) Zero no Tsukaima, 60k
5) To aru Majutsu no Index, 56k

Yet as the weeks pass, sales pile up quite a bit. With all the volumes added together, popular series like Kino no Tabi and Suzumiya Haruhi have sold over 6 million copies each, which is nothing to sneeze at. It should be noted that these sales can be boosted enormously by movie/anime adaptations coming out, as was the case for Koukaku no Regios, which was only selling 25k copies before the anime began its broadcast.

By now you’ll be excited enough to wonder how you can take part in the magical world of light novel reading. Publishing houses like Tokyopop, encouraged by the rising popularity of anime and manga, decided to give light novels a shot a couple of years ago, but perhaps it was too soon, or a poor choice of titles. In the words of one of the English translators who worked on light novels, “they’ve mostly died a horrible death [in the USA].” Now your best bet is to learn Japanese for about 3 years. Even so, Yen Press is still publishing English translations of some established series like Haruhi. The easiest way is probably to read fan translations at Baka-Tsuki’s wiki. They’re working on a whole bunch of titles, although the quality is unknown by me.


This is the first instalment of the new Light Novels feature on the blog, where I will be writing about whatever book I most recently finished. The idea is to bring light novels into public knowledge and promote discussion, since it’s quite a pleasant form of entertainment. Every year dozens of titles are transformed into anime series, and chances are I’ll be mentioning something that eventually shows up on your TV screens. Some upcoming animation productions are Bungaku Shoujo, Bakemonogatari and Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu. No doubt these will be interesting and fun to watch, but I bet the original work is deeper and more satisfying.

If you’re curious about who the person writing this section is, you might remember me from the first round of Snapshots posts. I’ve been studying Japanese for five years, and have read some 40 light novels so far, including Toradora! 1-10, Zero no Tsukaima 1-11, and, strangely, Kanokon 1-4. On the English side of things, my favourite novels are The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin, Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, and Stardust by Neil Gaiman, to give you a reference to weigh my opinion against.

May 18, 2009 at 6:11 am
  • May 18, 2009 at 6:19 amNosgoroth

    Excellent. I’m so there.

    I’m just starting to learn kanji myself, so I probably have a long way to go before I can read untranslated light novels, but it’s a worthy goal.

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:24 amRootz

    Hehehe! I just did 6 months of Japanese!!!
    Mada mada dane!!!

    The worst thing is that I know that the book is there and I can’t read.
    Sometimes I envy the Japanese, and this is one of those!

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:26 amSadamitsu

    I have only read and finished 12 Kingoms since thats the only one thats been translated and a few Sekai novels.

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:30 ambaka~

    i was wondering if ever this section would be popping up way back when i had questions about shana and haruhi. do note however that i have no knowledge in kanji and would refer by reading fan translated works mainly contributed by baka-tsuki ^_^

    anyways i’ll be looking forward to this and if you won’t mind, would you care to compare the visual novel that you finished with a particular scene from the anime adaptation?

    good luck! ^_^

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:43 amrandomperson

    I have read light novels in chinese.
    I have Suzumiya Haruhi series 1-9, spice and wold 1-7, baka to test to shokanjuu 1-3, toradora special, and a random title i duno the original name.

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:47 ammagnumslinger

    Hope you’re planning on reviewing the light novels too, particularly Haruhi Suzumiya, Shakugan no Shana (most especially), TAMNI, and Chrome Shelled Regios (the anime and light novels of this are actually pretty awesome; you should have followed it).

  • May 18, 2009 at 6:48 amROFLWAFFLELAWL

    You must’ve read American Gods and Good Omens then eh? ;]

    Light novels rule ;]

  • May 18, 2009 at 7:01 amlastSKYsamurai

    Wow. Haruhi was a light Novel? Somehow I’m fascinated by that, I don’t even like the show that much, Over rated! COMON!. – You have though peaked my interest into getting Kino’s Journey, I have the DVD’s, & love em’! I wonder now, If the LN goes into the prequel of the story. I would find that a much more fulfilling read.

    - You guys should check out some of Tatsumi’s Gekiga if your brave. Far from a Light Novel, or anything else for that mater. It’s seriously screwed up that S%*t… – Thank-you, AWO…. lol.

    I fondly look forward to your articles then PATRIK. – Show me what were missing out on. WD

  • May 18, 2009 at 7:06 amomo

    I’ve been reading some of the translated light novels released in the US too, and there’s actually quite a few available even after TP’s “death” of the genre. Too bad they’ve released some of the ones I’d actually like to read.

  • May 18, 2009 at 7:27 amribbonz

    good to se you back, patrik

  • May 18, 2009 at 8:10 amMaiku

    WOW! Awesome, i’ve waited long for this to come here.
    Really hope you’ll blog Spice&Wolf and Index, they are my favorite.

    There will be pictures of course, right? ^^~

    >next on the list to add to randomc: ero game< XD

  • May 18, 2009 at 8:17 ambanzemanga

    One more thing about light novels is that they tend to have about only 5 pages of illustrations while the rest is text. And for that reason, it seems to be less appealing for a lot of children and therefore when a light novel gets popular enough to be on anime; they also make a similar one for manga. (although like comparing manga and anime; sometimes the original light novel story seems to be better)

  • May 18, 2009 at 8:17 amWingZerozxt


  • May 18, 2009 at 8:27 amEleutheria

    I’ve also read Kino no Tabi 1-11, the Haruhi ones, and some of the other series (after I saw the anime).

    One thing I’ve noticed is that you can’t really learn “good prose” from light novels. Conversely when you read some Murakami or try some Yasunari Kawabata (the Nobel Prize Winner), some of the phrasing just floats off the page, although the difficulty level is that much higher.

  • May 18, 2009 at 8:47 amSergio

    I read light novels in Japanese to practise it.

    Damn, I’ve been trying like crazy to find the Toradora novels but they seem to be unavailable in all Japan, including all major retailers like amazon

    So far I’ve read Toradora 1-3, Zero no Tsukaima 1-4, Wolf and Spice 1 (hardest one for me so far), Nogizaka Haruka no himitsu 1 and Suzumiya Haruhi no yuutsu (1) in Japanese. I’ve also read Maria-sama ga miteru 1-3, but in German, which I’m also learning. The good thing about learning languages is taht ni GErman only the 5 or 6 first books have been translated so far, so when I run out of them I can just start reading the Japanese ones.

    My Japanese level must be around JLPT 2 (which I’ll be taking in December although I’m already studying JLPT 1 grammar and kanji), and I know around 1300-1400 kanji. I first started reading manga one year and a half ago, because long texts would be too much for me at that level, but last fall I started reading light novels, and now I only read manga when I really want to follow a story (currently reading Hidamari Sketch 4 and Hayate no Gotoku 14), not to learn Japanese per se.

    Light novels have become the backbone of my Japanese practise and now I even work out how many days it will take me to read each one so I can order more novels accordingly so I don’t run out of them at any time. Currently, it depends on the novel -Wolf and spice was particularly hard, with all those expressions about economy-, but I try to read around 20 pages every day, which means I usually complete your average 260-300 page light novel in around 2 weeks. Of course the more vocabulary I learn, the easier it becomes so by the end of the summer I’d like to reach an average of between 30 or 40 pages a day

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:13 amtautau

    Light novels as a whole definitely came a long way…back in the 90′s the market was almost completely dominated by fantasy settings like the ones seen in Slayers and Orphen – nowadays it pretty much covers everything.

    I generally find them to be enjoyable reads, but there’s definitely a few that aren’t exactly “good prose” (as Eleutheria mentioned) – To aru Majutsu no Index is definitely an example of this; some readers went so far as to call it an “acquired taste”…

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:15 amSoulstrider

    Great idea, hope you post some illustrations of the novels

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:24 amSadmask

    Blog Bungaku Shoujo or Baccano and I’ll force you to marry me.

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:25 amSadmask

    Oh and welcome back Patrik.

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:46 am7

    Read Regios.

    It’s awesome, srsly.

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:57 amTadloS

    It seems that Toradora and Index doing very well. I just wonder why Haruhi isn’t on top 5 :/ Anyway, I only read Haruhi novel (1-6 volumes). And it was really good. Now reading 7th novel on bakatsuki ^.^

  • May 18, 2009 at 10:10 amruy

    The only good thing in those novels are the covers

  • May 18, 2009 at 10:38 amTwinks

    I look forward to your posts Patrik.

  • May 18, 2009 at 10:53 amLonelyRurouni

    You guys should try Baka-tsuki, it lists alot of these light novels.

  • May 18, 2009 at 10:54 amLewin

    I hope the trend of splitting books in small parts never reaches my country. The three Crest of the star books would perfectly fit into a single one.
    Anyway it’s good that you are bloging them , otherwise I would only notice the ones with an adaption.

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:13 amKaratula3

    I like most light-novel animes so I think your idea of bringing light novel onto your blog would be great!

    Unfortunately, like in the manga world, Light Novels sold in languages other than Japanese are so difficult to find, the only Light Novel I’ve come across my local Manga store is Shakugan no Shana chapter 1. =[

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:17 amunknown2

    Baccano <3 & Durarara <3 & 12 Kingdoms


  • May 18, 2009 at 11:23 amMark

    Very interesting post. Toradora got me interested in seeing what light novels are like.

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:38 amBK-110

    I’ve written the Suzumiya Haruhi novels through, English fan-translated. Right now I’m trying to get my hands on the first officially translated novel.

    A little question: Anyone here know if the originals feature furigana?

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:42 amBK-110

    Oh damn, wrong word, I mean ‘read’. Wow, this makes me sound stupid, I need an edit button… >____>

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:43 amgenesiscopy

    i heard that the light novels for trinity blood is way better than the anime/manga. damn~ oh btw i also frequent baka-tsuki’s since i dunno japanese…

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:48 amEcureuilMatrix

    I admit I have trouble thinking of Legend of the Galactic Heroes as “light” novels.

  • May 18, 2009 at 12:44 pmKinny Riddle

    Thanks for the informative post. For ages, light novels present an untapped minefield waiting to be explored.

    Of course, as with every genre, for every gem like Toradora and Haruhi, there’re sub-par works like Index and Dokuro-chan.

    Which is why I choose my light novel titles very carefully. I’ve so far only collected three series: Haruhi, Shana and Toradora.

    Haruhi – You know, all the hype and such. Credit where credit’s due, the opening premise is indeed very engaging, and Disappearance was at a peak.

    Shana – Picked up the novels after sensing something missing from the anime adaptation, upon reading the novels even more, I’m more of the feeling that Shana is one of those light novel series whose potential is wasted by its anime adaptors, who didn’t do the story justice.

    Toradora – It was only after many rave recommendations that I decided to give Toradora a try, of course, hearing that an anime was to be made helped. I was glad I picked up this series. The anime adaptation was also brilliantly executed.

    Concerning quality on Baka-Tsuki’s translations, I can personally vouch for Haruhi and Toradora’s quality, simply because I’ve personally been involved somewhat. xD I don’t know about the other series.

    LOL BK110, I was very close to asking for your autograph, you know?

  • May 18, 2009 at 12:50 pmKinny Riddle

    Bungaku Shoujo would be an interesting title. Back when it started in 2007, it managed to rank within the top 8 of a favourite light novels poll, even without any manga or anime adaptation. In 2008, it ranked 3rd, and this year it ranked 1st.

    Production I.G . has certainly picked up a potential gem here. If done well, it could certainly be up there with Toradora.

  • May 18, 2009 at 12:50 pmFlyTaggart

    Hmm I still dont get the difference between Manga and light novel

  • May 18, 2009 at 1:00 pmMicchi

    Light novels are really good for keeping up with your Japanese. I really like the illustrations. It has a different feel from manga. I haven’t really read that many, but they’re good.

    @FlyTaggart: Light novels only have occasional illustrations, whereas manga is entirely illustrated. As a result of this, light novels have more dialogue instead of action and leaves more to the imagination of the reader.

  • May 18, 2009 at 1:11 pmFlyTaggart

    ah ok thx

  • May 18, 2009 at 1:12 pmPatrik

    FlyTaggart, in a light novel, 90% of the pages look like this:

    BK-110, there’s some furigana, but not much. Depends a bit on what age group the book is written for, and what the jargon is like.

    TadloS, the latest Haruhi novel came out in 2007, so it can’t compete with new titles on a one-week basis.

    Soulstrider, I wish I could post a bunch of illustrations, but I don’t want to rip apart my precious novels to do so, considering how much it costs to buy and ship them over here.

    tautau, Eleutheria, I agree that the prose isn’t always up to snuff (FMP is atrocious, ZnT quite poor), but with the enormous spectrum in the “genre”, it really depends on what book you pick up. Spice & Wolf is quite well written, as far as I can tell.

    ROFLWAFFLELAWL, I’ve read Stardust, Neverwhere, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline, Good Omens and the Sandman comics, plus Smoke & Mirrors.

    Magnumslinger, I intend to review a bunch of titles as I read them, starting with Kino no Tabi. Not entirely sure it’ll be worth reading my thoughts, however. ;)

  • May 18, 2009 at 1:46 pmmangaka-chan

    Some light novels get translated into Chinese by Taiwanese publishers, which is how I read most of the Saiunkoku novels and the Gundam Wing novels back in the days. Recently there are plans to bring the Gundam 00 novels out in English, something I’m looking forward to as reading a novelization of a series, be it the original or an adaptation, is a fun experience.

  • May 18, 2009 at 2:54 pmEriol_elric

    Bueh ~ I am new here and I like the kind of work you do man, maybe it sounds bad but I hope that talk of light novels that affect culturally and not as pure wannabe TORADORA is very overrated for his release D:
    It is also grateful for the info

  • May 18, 2009 at 3:06 pmNerei

    Great! I do hope there’ll be more reviews of light novels in the future! I’m one of those guilty of shifting my preference from manga to light novels. I started off with Trinity Blood, and then I’ve been enjoying Juuni Kokki, Saiunkoku Monogatari, Kino no Tabi, Trinity Blood, and Maria-sama ga Miteru, among others that haven’t been animated yet. Next on my reading list are Baccano!, the Guardian series (Seirei no Moribito), Hakushaku to Yōsei, Shigofumi and Haunted (not anime-adapted).

  • May 18, 2009 at 3:20 pmJustin Olbrantz (Quantam)

    Yes! Yotsuba is being continued (in English)!

  • May 18, 2009 at 3:37 pmSpeedyVT

    Being able to read kanji is a rewarding venture regardless of the purposes to read manga. I hope to read manga in kanji or even visit japan one day. ^________^ I find all foreign cultures and experiences rewarding in life. I know a bit of hiragana at the moment just a little.

  • May 18, 2009 at 3:48 pmdavid

    you miss kara no kyoukai , i hopu you’ll blog it , it`s a exceelet light novel

  • May 18, 2009 at 4:03 pmhagges01

    good, in my opinion this is just great, another source of information, hope to hear more from u

  • May 18, 2009 at 4:29 pmnisertw

    In before the pretentious crowd who claim light novel is always better than anime.

  • May 18, 2009 at 5:55 pmGrant

    It’s really irritating for me, to say that kanji is difficult for someone used to 26 symbols is an understatement. I am grateful that I can at least read things like Haruhi.

  • May 18, 2009 at 8:41 pmg0rth0r

    Seirei no Moribito is seriously lacking from that list :P

  • May 18, 2009 at 9:31 pmPutang


    be nice if you blog Suzumiya Haruhi (should it ever continue)…

  • May 18, 2009 at 11:37 pmSonicbug

    The problem with releasing light novels in America is the licensing. American’s aren’t used to buying such short books, and at the prices they sell them at it’s a rip-off. However, combining the books into longer volumes is twice for the licensing because the original publishers still charge by original volume. So the American publishers are stuck in a situation where to make the books a better sell here they have to #1. Strip the original cover art and make it look like a novel. #2. Get it stocked in the young adult section. #3. Try to make it have a lot of pages by artificial means, like larger type.

    It’s a hard sell. Maybe someone can find way/means. I hope Yen does okay with it, I’d like to read more.

  • May 19, 2009 at 12:05 amOnizuka-GTO

    yoosh! :)

    Looking forward to any future light novel reviews you might have in mind.

    Also thank you to all the readers who visit and contribute to the Baka-Tsuki translation community!


  • May 19, 2009 at 1:50 amNegativeZero

    Let’s be honest here: Tokyopop effectively destroyed their own market, and then wrote it off as a failed experiment. I picked up their releases of Kino and Seikai no Monshou (Crest of the Stars) and was extremely disappointed with how rough their work was. The translations themselves weren’t so bad, the problem was the level of editing. Kino’s chapters are apparently reordered and the language in Seikai was significantly dumbed-down to try and pitch it at a younger audience. And don’t get me started on the annoyance of having to flip to the glossary at the back of the book four times a page to figure out what the hell someone means when they start yabbering about Frybars and so on. It was a painfully amateurish read.

    On the other hand, their 12 Kingdoms releases are fine. Just far too slow and too expensive (given that they release in hardcover) to ever have a hope of selling well.

    It also didn’t help that the only other companies trying Light Novels at the same time were doing it very half-heartedly. I’m still angry at the fact that I was effectively prevented from buying Boogiepop Phantom because it was a borders exclusive. Not that that series is ever getting finished now either, since no one actually read it. Due to not being able to buy it.

    Light novels certainly have to potential to work in the US market, but the trick I think is picking the right novels and marketing them in the right way to the right market. I think had Tokyopop started with a title that actually had a significant fanbase like Haruhi they may have fared a bit better.

    Still holding out hope that someone somewhere tries again and gives me my Marimite light novels. Would also settle for Saiunkoku Monogatari.

  • May 19, 2009 at 2:39 amAssassin @ Honoo

    you miss kara no kyoukai , i hopu you’ll blog it , it`s a exceelet light novel


    Kara no Kyoukai is not a light novel, it’s a full-fledged novel (like how you would read your average bookstore novels as).

    … Speaking about light novels, I remember a novel I used to ask its author whether she’s going to make a possible sequel as her series of novels only had three volumes in total (with the last one out on last 1st of April), although based on what I read from her reply is that it depends on the situation, but I perceive it to be not likely. D=

  • May 19, 2009 at 2:56 amShin

    Awesome post. I’m glad the light novels don’t go unnoticed.

    As for me, I still can’t read effectively enough to get through a book in Japanese but I do have just the two English volumes of Shakugan no Shana. I’m pretty disappointed that they stopped localizing them but that’s just more motivation for me to work on my Kanji and reading.

  • May 19, 2009 at 3:23 amBlacksun88

    thx for sharing this with us patrik. it is a shame that i cant read japanese, if not i would like to read the Full Metal Panic orginal light novel version, where all the greatness begins ^^

  • May 19, 2009 at 4:57 amVertigo

    Not enough light novels come to english territories :(. Its a shame, since a lot of light novel series sound much more interesting than manga series, IMO.

  • May 19, 2009 at 7:25 amConfusedGirl29

    I don’t really get what’s the difference between light novels and manga… does light novels have pics?

  • May 19, 2009 at 8:53 amOnizuka-GTO

    The difference between Manga & Novels is like the differences between a Western Novel and western comic books.

    The differences between a full fledge novel and a light novel is that a light novel occasionally includes a few pages of illustrations and rarely some full coloured pages.

    Very much the same sort of format you might encounter in some teen targeted novels marketed in the west.

    While the western teen-targeted novels are relatively short and have been formatted in such a way to make it far easier to digest, proses and plot wise.

    Japanese light novels on the other hand have a large range of proses style, formatting and plots, that can be just as complicated as any “fully-fledge” novel.

    Some of the light novels plot and writing style are pretty much serious novels but have bee annoyingly cut down so that they can have frequent weekly releases, its a handy business model to be honest.

  • May 19, 2009 at 12:25 pmKinny Riddle

    @Eriol_elric, Toradora overrated MY ARSE.

    Just how many high school romance series have you ever seen a clear cut resolution with all loose ends tied up? I’m talking “high school romance”, not “twenty something romance” here.

    Most other “high school romance” I’ve seen usually follow a daft eroge harem formula, where the male lead is usually pathetic (a la Makoto of School Days) and indecisive. Ryuuji has none of that.

  • May 19, 2009 at 10:27 pmSilver

    I’m surprised that Record of Lodoss was actually originally a novel. Did not know that at all but whatever, I loved that series.

  • May 20, 2009 at 1:45 amFayt

    Sweet, Definately looking forward to any reviews of LNs, esp the ones i havnt seen already.

    I’ll have plenty to read once the shipment arrives from HK~ =3 (Chinese Trans)

  • May 20, 2009 at 4:36 amYohJay

    I like all anime manga and light novel…so if a series has all 3 i would read/watch all 3
    and baka-tsuki is a really nice translator group thou i would hope ppl would help them more so they would release faster…i just wish i could read japanese

  • May 20, 2009 at 11:37 amrentarou

    Intellectually sophisticated and light novels in the same sentence… lol.

  • May 21, 2009 at 2:13 amnexusil

    I did two years of Japanese and bought kemono no souja which is probably as easy as it gets but still too hard =(

  • October 3, 2009 at 9:48 pmMearex

    I guess you REALLY LOVE READING THEM AFTER ALL those research.

  • March 1, 2010 at 11:24 pmEvo

    For someone who has only watched anime and have started to delve into translated light novels. Is there anything one should know, before they want to take the plunge and learn japanese to read other light novels, ie. bakemonogatari, and sword art online?