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Light Novels vs Manga: What’s the Difference? Plus, Recommended Light Novels

Do you know the difference between manga and light novels? There are probably many people who have heard the term “light novel” but have no idea what it actually means. If you are one of those people, read on for a detailed explanation on the difference between manga and light novels, and for an introduction to some recommended light novels to read today!

What's the Difference Between Manga and Light Novels?

What Is Manga?

A manga is a book in which illustrations flow from one frame to the next to form a narrative together with the dialogue of the characters. While no specific definition of manga exists, it comes in a variety of genres with everything from comedy to tragedy. They say that manga first appeared in Japan in the Heian period (794 - 1192). Today, it is near and dear to the Japanese, as evidenced by the existence of shops dedicated to manga and even hotels that offer guests a library of manga to read during their stay.

What Are Light Novels?

Light novels are classified as a type of novel. It was around 1970 when a novel that pioneered the light novel genre emerged, while the name “light novel” apparently appeared around 1990. At that time, it was considered as a medium that mixed manga, anime, and games.

The term “raitonoberu” (light novel) was coined in Japan, combining the English words “light” and “novel." At the turn of the 2000s, pop culture enthusiasts (more commonly called “otaku”) began to grow in number, and that led not only to the boom in manga and anime but also to more attention being given to light novels.

So, what's the difference between light novels and standard novels such as mystery novels or romance novels? The main differences are as follows:

〇 Standard novels
・Many of these books are written in a literary style with sentences that are formal and sometimes difficult to comprehend.
・Most have very few illustrations.
・Many of them have stories with realistic content.

〇 Light novels
・These are written in easy-to-understand sentences. Many are written in a colloquial style.
・They have covers and illustrations that are characterized by anime-style drawings.
・Many of them have stories with fantastical content.

Light novels mainly target teens and people in their 20s, so most of them feature sentences and story development that are easy to grasp and follow. They are also considered as an extension of manga and anime, so those who are interested in pop culture will feel more affinity with them. Light novels come in a wide range of types, from single-volume stories with an ending to serialized novels. Make sure to pick up and read one if you get a chance!

Introducing 5 Recommended Light Novels!

1. Haruhi Suzumiya Series

The "Haruhi Suzumiya" series is a huge hit, with cumulative worldwide sales topping 20 million copies. It is a light novel about Haruhi, the main character with a unique personality, and the science fiction and school stories she and her club-mates create. The more I read this novel, the more I was captivated by Haruhi. It may sound a bit self-indulgent, but it got to the point that I wished I’d gone to school with the naive Haruhi. This novel is definitely recommended to those who love light novels or to those who will be reading it as their very first light novel.

2. Kizumonogatari

"Kizumonogatari" is a light novel that has been getting a lot of buzz not just in Japan, but also overseas. It is a mystery-fantasy novel that begins when the main character, Kotomi Araragi, meets and helps a dying vampire. Some of the depictions are quite scary, and I even felt my heart pounding while reading it at some points. However, there are also many funny scenes, so I finished it without getting bored! This novel is recommended for thrill-seekers.

3. The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria

"The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria (original title in Japanese: Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria)” is a popular light novel that has received a high score of 8.81 out of 10 from many users in MyAnimeList, the world's largest anime community. In this novel, different stories unfold around “mysterious boxes” that are said to make the owner’s dream come true. It is a mystery novel, something that is rarely seen in the light novel world. The stories unfold one after another, so you've got to read it from beginning to end. If you are a fan of mystery novels, then this is a must for you!

4. Saga of Tanya the Evil

"Saga of Tanya the Evil (original title in Japanese: Yojo Senki)" is a controversial novel with an interesting plot that is not like any other light novel. Its story begins with an elite salaryman (office worker) being killed by a colleague who resented the salaryman for firing him. It is a work of fantasy in which the salaryman is reincarnated as a young girl who is sent to earth during wartime and has to engage in various battles. This novel features a profound story that got me completely absorbed in it.

5. So I’m a Spider, So What?

“So I’m a Spider, So What? (original Japanese title: Kumo desu ga, Nani ka?)” is a novel that has gained so much prominence in the pop culture world that it will be adapted into an animated series in 2021. The trailer of the anime series for the overseas market has been released and is now generating a lot of attention. The story begins with a shocking scene where the character “I,” who must have been a high school girl, wakes up to find herself in the body of a spider. This novel is a fantasy novel about this girl who has to use her human wisdom and positivity as weapons when she faces different challenges in a world where poisonous frogs and spooky monkeys live. The story that unfolds from a spider’s perspective is truly captivating!

So, did you get a better feel for what light novels are all about? If you have a chance, try to pick up a novel you’re curious about and enjoy the unique world of light novels!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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