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What is a Light Novel?

Video: How to Read a Light Novel

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Well when you really get right down to it, a light novel is basically the kid you'd get if a manga and a novel were to get married.

And yes, I'm fully aware that books can't actually have sex.  This is just the best way that I can think of to describe it.  Light novels are basically the Japanese equivalent of the young adult novels in America as they're short stories that are aimed at older teens and young adults in their 20s.  You can trace the origins of light novels to early Japanese pulp fiction stories, which is a genre of stories that got their name from the cheap wood pulp that they were published on.

Light Novels Before the 2000s

Before the Crazy Shit Decade, light novels were mainly fantasy and science fiction stories.   The first light novel titles were things like Guin Saga, Slayers, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes.  The first two were your traditional fantasy stories, but the last one was more the type of story that the Otaku of the time actually preferred.

This is because Japan has the problem that every one of their stories generally has to take place in Japan, and this would get boring to people after a while.  So they have to come up with unique ways to make stories that take place somewhere other than Japan.  And back in the olden days of when Macross was the big shit along the lines of what the Dragonball franchise is today, they were solving this problem with space dramas.

Light Novels in the 2000s

But aside from those big three hits, light novels becoming big enough to be made into anime just wasn't a thing.  But things started to change in the late 90s to early 2000s with the releases of Fullmetal Panic, Shakugan No Shana, and The Familiar of Zero.

But the Japan problem also got another answer around this same time because of the release of the .hack franchise, which went on to become the forefather that paved the way for other "trapped inside of a video game" stories to follow such as Accel World, Sword Art Online, and Log Horizon.  And while this isn't important now, it will become important later on.

And when you really stop to think about it, it really does make sense why these kind of stories would become so popular.  We Otaku are gamers, so the idea that a video game could malfunction while you're in the middle of playing it in a way that you can't return to the real world without playing through the game and winning the game and you'll die for real if you die in the game would get any gamer's attention.

While I can't speak for any other Otaku, or any other gamer for that matter, I know for a fact that I could not play a video game to save my life.  Even with all the years of gaming experience that I have under my belt going all the way back to the Super Nintendo, I have yet to be able to play a video game from start to finish without ever dying.  Unless it happens to be a game where the possibility of dying does not exist, for example Phantasy Star Online where your character is only KOed and then wakes up in the hospital.

So if I were to get trapped inside of Aincrad (Not sure if I spelled that right.), it'd be nice knowing you since I'd be on my way to meeting my maker.  Unless I get lucky enough to run into someone like Asuna, in which case my ass is sticking to her like glue.

The only other ways I could see me surviving is if knowing the risks would make me slow down so much and become so careful and cautious that that video game would be my first time playing through a game without ever dying, or I come up with some weird an crazy plan like staying in the beginners area until I've killed enough of the weak monsters that I've leveled myself up to 99 and only then played through the game.

The Impact of Haruhi Suzumiya on Light Novels

However, I have no doubt anywhere in my head that anyone can easily argue that the big turning point for light novels had to have been the release of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in 2003, and the anime adaption in 2006.  Yes that's right, the very anime that I have always argued would have easily stolen Goku's crown if only it had a run on Toonami.  It was THAT huge!

Before Kyoto Animation decided to release Haruhi, they were a very small anime studio that only had two prior releases.  The first was the aforementioned Fullmetal Panic, which is the very anime that most people point to when they need an example of an anime that became popular without needing to be shown on TV.

The other was one was Air, which is one of my all time favorites (Now that I think about it, why haven't I reviewed it yet?  I should fix that soon.).  But the wild success of Haruhi is what launched Kyoto Animation into becoming one of the big name anime studios.

Now looking back at Haruhi all these years later, it's very easy to see why it was such a huge deal.  It was simply the fact that Haruhi, a very self aware moe show, just so happened to come out at the perfect time in the history of anime.

2006 was not only the very height of the moe bubble, it was also the time when video sharing websites like YouTube first started taking off and becoming popular.  Anyone who was on YouTube at this time has without a doubt, seen the Haruhi dance Hare Hare Yukikai, because that dance almost immediately went viral the minute it was uploaded to YouTube.

Of course this doesn't mean that the original source material is anything to be sneezed at.  The Haruhi light novel had to have been incredibly good for it to have even been considered for an anime adaptation in the first place after all.  And when you take into account that Haruhi itself is the product of a generation of light novelists who themselves grew up watching anime, then this should come as no surprise at all.

This means that they were very well versed in the conventions of the medium, and this is clearly shown in Haruhi.  Starting with how the characters themselves are reflective of the different character tropes of the genre, and then how the story has many of the 2000's cultural references.

How Light Novels Led to Isekai

The huge, runaway success of both the anime and the light novel of Haruhi is what caused the explosion of anime adaptions of light novels.  And this is where the importance of the aforementioned .hack franchise now takes center stage.  Because of the need to solve the "taking place in Japan all the time" problem, as well as seeing the success of "trapped inside of a video game" stories, lead to the start of what is now known as isekai.

This is because the "trapped inside of a video game" stories were technically the very first isekai.  They just weren't ever called that at the time they came out because, as the very first stories of what was a brand spanking new genre at the time, the name isekai simply didn't exist yet.  Of course looking back on them with hindsight, we can without a doubt easily say that they're isekai now and that the very first .hack was the very first isekai ever.

Of course this doesn't mean that the "trapped inside of a video game" genre has ever ground to a halt.  As of the time of this writing, the newest "trapped inside of a video game" story that I'm aware of is Overlord.  The way I understand it, this is the story of a guy who is very upset that his favorite online computer game is being shut down.

So he decides to log in and stay until the time that the game is to be shut down so he can fully enjoy it for the last time.  Only for the time that it was to be shut down to come and go but nothing happened.  Only to then find out that, you guessed it, he can't log out.

Haruhi Suzumiya's Impact on School Life Light Novels

Now getting back to the isekai genre, the very first light novels to get popular were not actually isekai at all.  Because of the success of Haruhi, a school life story, the first light novels to get very popular were in fact other school life stories such as Toradora, Bakemonogatari, and Baka & Test.

Now right away, I can tell you that Baka & Test was the very first one that I became familiar with.  Mainly because it was the only one that I found in my local brick and mortar anime store, which is still my preferred way to shop (Yes I know, I'm an old wrinkled grandpa who finds that sometimes the old ways are still the best.).

I only really became familiar with Bakemonogatari because one of my favorite YouTubers loves it so that he even got his waifu from it.  And I've only just recently been getting familiar with Toradora because the main character Taiga is the very character that is always pointed out when someone needs an example of a character that's a Tsundere.

Although most of the Tsundere characters that I'm familiar with are never as bad as the definition of a Tsundere character is made out to be.  Sure they get angry, but they only do so when they're right to be angry.  That pervert just grabbed her on the butt, so it's only natural that she'd get angry and kick his ass.

Otherwise she's just as happy and cheerful as all the other characters, nowhere near the "angry 24/7 for no reason and every little thing pisses her off" type of character that Tsundere characters are made out to be.  This is why whenever a character in a new anime that I'm watching is pointed out to be Tsundere, I'm always completely surprised.  "What!  She's a Tsundere?  Are you serious?"

And I'll be going into the topic of waifus later on, but for those of you who can't wait that long I'll give you a skimming of the surface.  If you want to know about my waifu then my answer is it depends on how you mean it.

If you're talking about before I found out what the word waifu meant and was guessing it's the anime girl that you're in love with and got the hots for and you know you'd marry her if she had been a real person, then my answer is I don't have a waifu but I do know that if I was ever told that I have to choose someone to be my waifu right here and now, I would go with Super Sonico.

But if you're talking about after I found out that your waifu is the anime girl that you wish to protect her from something, then I know now that my waifu is a girl named Koyomi.

The Internet's Impact on the Rise of Isekai

But the big change that happened in the 2000's came from the rise in popularity of the internet and the invention of cell phones.  Now this may sound like no big deal now, but back in those days this was the cutting edge newest thing to happen to technology.  Unfortunately I wouldn't know this firsthand because technology has never been something that I find interesting.

Sure I always buy the newest Nintendo the day it comes out, but it has nothing to do with being interested in all the newest and latest technology behind it.  I just want to continue playing my favorite adventure games.  I couldn't care less about how much prettier looking the games are or any of that.  I'm basically of the mindset, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

And I need to remind you that I was a little baby not old enough to know anything about sexism or to be able to tell if a girl is good looking or any of that at the time that Sailor Moon was on TV and was big shit and it was impossible to find a girl anywhere who did not think that she was a sailor scout.  So I got interested in Sailor Moon for the very same reasons that other boys got interested in Dragonball, completely 100% clueless that nothing but girls are supposed to like Sailor Moon.

And there's a very pressing reason why I need to remind you of this, and that's because this was in the 90's.  So what I'm basically pointing out is that I'm from the very last generation of before cell phones were invented.  And because of this, I still remember how to do everything without them and therefore I've never seen a reason for why I need one.

Sure everyone always points that you can't get any help if your car breaks down, but how do you think we did it before cell phones were invented?  We just never went anywhere without our families already knowing beforehand where we're going.  If the car breaks down, we don't have to do anything but just sit there and chill.  After we're not back home at the time we're supposed to be, they already know where to look for us.  So where's the need for a cell phone?

And by time I found out that cell phones could now do more than just make phone calls, my Game Boys and DSs were already fully capable of doing all of those very same things.  Even when cell phones started being able to play video games, I still found my DSs being far superior to cell phones in every way.

As I said before, the only thing Nintendo needs to do to compete with cell phones is to give the 3DS, or whatever portable that they'll come out with next, the ability to make phone calls.  That is literally the only thing left that cell phones have over the 3DS.  And the fact that the N - gage DID do it, and Nintendo themselves already did it with the Wii U, means that Nintendo can do it with the 3DS.

And yes I do remember the day that cell phones first came out, and it was absolutely crazy how everyone just instantly turned completely and totally stupid.  "All of a sudden, I no longer know how to do anything without a cell phone."  Me, "The same way you were doing everything YESTERDAY!"

"I no longer know how to live without a cell phone."  Me, "The same way you were living YESTERDAY!"   "I no longer know how to eat without a cell phone."  Me, "The same way you were eating YESTERDAY!"  "I no longer know how to sleep without a cell phone."  Me, "The same way you slept YESTERDAY!"  "I no longer know how to fart without a cell phone."  Me, "The same way you farted YESTERDAY!"

And I also need to remind you about how my parents still had their Commodore 64 when I became old enough to remember anything, so computers and the internet were always a part of my life and was old hat to me.  Which is why I never even noticed it when the internet suddenly became the newest big thing.  Like the saying goes, when something you're already into becomes popular, you will be the last person to find out.

Because of this, authors were now free to publish their works on the internet any time day or night they wanted.  They no longer had to go to all trouble of getting their work to get approved by an official publisher.  And this is what led us directly to Sword Art Online.

Before it was released by an official publisher, Sword Art Online was self published by the author on his own website and went on to become hugely popular.  And unlike .hack and InuYasha which were isekai that came out before they came up with the word isekai and therefore were not labeled as isekai during their time, Sword Art Online was the first isekai that was.

And this is what led to the rise in isekai stories by authors who all wanted to follow in Sword Art Online's success.  Stories like Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average In My Next Life, Konosuba, That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, RE;zero, In Another World With My Smartphone, and The Rising Of The Shield Hero all got their start in the same way as Sword Art Online.

This created a positive feedback loop where because isekai stories are so popular, people would want to create their own isekai, creating many more popular isekai and the cycle continues.  So the next time someone complains to you about there being too many isekai, you can point out that it was an inevitable result of the rise of the internet.  And then just for fun, you can mess with their head by telling them that technology is a curse because it gave us Sword Art Online.

The Way Light Novels Have Been Adapted Into Anime

One last thing to mention is anime adaptions.  Now the very first thing that I want to mention is that whenever you see an anime with a very long, and often very goofy sounding title, you're more than likely looking at a light novel adaption.  But why do light novels have such long titles?  Well it's because people are lazy.  But it is not the light novelists that I'm talking about.

Strangely the majority of light novel readers, and I can safely say "the majority" because I know for a fact that I'm not one of them, are often too lazy to bother to turn the book over to read what the story is going to be about on the back cover.  Because of this many light novels that are actually very good will get overlooked.  So to solve this problem, light novelist had to come up with the idea of having the title say what the story is going to be about.

So anime titles like I've Been Killing Slimes For Over 300 Years And I've Maxed Out My Level, I Don't Want To Get Hurt So I'll Max Out My Defense, In Another World With My Smartphone, and Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average In My Next LIFE, are all perfect examples of anime that are adapted from light novels.

Now here's a fun little challenge that I just might think of adding to site as another just for fun activity, and that's what would anime not adapted from a light novel have been named if they were adapted from a light novel.  I'll bet Naruto would've been named something like, "Because I Grew Up Hated By Everyone For Having A Fox Demon Sealed Inside Me, I'm Going To Become The Greatest Hokage."  One Piece would probably have been, "I Am A Stretchy Rubber Man Who Will Become King Of The Pirates."  And Dragonball would have probably been, "I'm A Super Strong Monkey Boy Who's On A Quest To Collect The Seven Magical Wish Orbs."

Now that brings us to the point of where did the idea of describing the story in the title come from, and everyone knows the answer ironically.  The very first one to attempt this and with huge success was Oriemo, or as it's otherwise known My Little Sister Can't Possibly Be This Cute.  Clearly had this one not gotten as hugely popular as it did, this idea would not have taken off.  Oriemo also proves that many light novelists can choose to also give their stories an alternative shorter name if they like.

Danmachi is one such example.  With it's real name being Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, you'd get a much better sense of what the story is going to be about, but Danmachi is much easier to remember.  And for those who don't already know, the best way that I can think of to describe it is to imagine what The Legend of Zelda would've been like if Link had been a super saiyan.

One last thing to mention however, is to do not think for a second that just because you've seen the anime that there's no need for you to check out anything else because you already know the story, because very often the anime will skip over very important details and even go so far as to change the story around entirely.  I know for a fact that the Sailor Moon anime made all of these changes to the story.

First off, the whole thing about the girls having to do a long winded song and dance routine naked every time they transform doesn't even exist in the manga.  The way they transform in the manga is no different from how those guys on Dragonball Z transform into super saiyans.  It's just "Moon Prism Power" and then bam, she's Sailor Moon.  There's nothing else to it.

Second, was that the anime completely skipped over a whole entire season.  The real second season of Sailor Moon was about a brother and sister who came to earth looking for the Silver Imperium Crystal.  What the anime showed as the second season was actually the third season.

The girls had a hideout in their favorite arcade that can only be unlocked by being so good at the Sailor V video game that you must be a Sailor Scout yourself to possibly be that good.  A very cool detail that the anime completely omitted.

The anime had Sailor Moon herself as the leader and depicted the girls as super heroes who fight to save the world, but the manga has Sailor Venus as the leader and Sailor Moon was their princess that they have to protect.

Sailor Moon only had powers so she can protect herself as a last line of defense, and protecting their princess was the only thing they cared about.  They couldn't have cared less about saving the world, it just so happened that Sailor Moon's Silver Imperium Crystal was always what the bad guys were after so protecting their princess was the same as saving the world.

The anime had a completely different ending to the Dead Moon Saga than the manga, though I have to admit that the anime's ending was far better and cooler in my opinion.  The same thing happened with the Sailor War Saga, but here it was the manga that had the much better ending in my opinion.  And no I'm not giving away any spoilers.

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