What is a light novel (for the purposes of this site)?

So the standard definition of a “light novel” is just something published under a light novel publishing label. And what is a light novel publishing label…?

Well, that’s where the messiness starts, yeah? Usually it’s pretty unambiguous, but sometimes it’s not. I think the first big ambiguity is the ライト文芸. The publishers say that these are not light novels and are aimed at adults, but I think a lot of people will say they’re basically glorified light novels and lump them all in together. I think I’ve only read one (タイムカプセル浪漫紀行 | L34), and don’t have a strong opinion but it’s definitely more aimed at adults, but if it were published as a light novel that’d make sense too. ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖 (1) ~栞子さんと奇妙な客人たち~ | L31 (currently classified as a “light novel”) might be a bit of a more high-profile one, or 君の膵臓をたべたい | L31 (currently a “novel”).

Another publisher ambiguity I’ll specifically bring up is ハヤカワ文庫JA, which is a rather old science fiction publishing label. If you google whether they’re a light novel label or not, there’s no agreement, but they publish some things that are well-known as being light novels (e.g. 星界の紋章〈1〉帝国の王女 | L37??), but also a bunch of stuff that doesn’t look like a light novel (i.e. spaceships on the covers rather than animu-girls).

And the last one is books that were originally published as a light novel, and later republished as a regular novel. Given we only have one version in the database, is that classified as a light novel or just a novel? e.g. 星へ行く船シリーズ1星へ行く船 | L30 - which was originally published in 1981 as a light novel and republished in 2016 just as a regular science fiction novel.

Now, does this matter? Probably not a lot, but I like things to be accurately or at least consistently categorised even with extremely meaningless categories like “light novel” (which are just novels really). It would be nice to have a working definition rather than just having them classified willy-nilly.


So, I just want to chime in on how things operate right now.

Generally, but not always, if something has an AniList/MyAnimeList entry that lists it as a light novel, we try to mark it as a light novel. However, if a user requests something that doesn’t have an AniList/MyAnimeList entry and marks it as a light novel, we sometimes list it as a light novel as well.

I’m happy that you’re bringing up this topic though @Aik! It’s valuable and a bit confusing for us too. So any better standard than “if it has an AniList/MyAnimeList entry” would be welcome :slight_smile:


Besides AniList/MAL, I also check Wikipedia since it’s usually mentioned there. As a last resort, if it has pictures it’s probably a light novel.


Which is interesting, because I’m reading 魔法が消えていく… right now. It’s listed as a light novel, but it certainly doesn’t have any pictures in the way light novels do. There’s a small picture next to each chapter number (a single item like a teapot or cup) and that’s it. So in my mind it’s definitely a novel. Not that it really matters though I suppose.

I think that’s unambiguously not a light novel - it’s a translated (middle grade) children’s novel. The Amazon page even has ‘児童書’ in the title.


I don’t think it’s a meaningless category. It’s more or less equivalent (note that I didn’t say identical) to young adult fiction in the English publishing world. I personally don’t enjoy that category much and find it helpful to know which they are to avoid them, and a great many people love them and purposefully seek them out.


Yes, I think the categorization is helpful for this reason.


For me light novels are aiming at teenagers, young adults are by-catch. And a typical sign for something being a light novel is that the MC is a teenager.

Bookmeter uses Lightnovel as a book format (alongside 単行本、文庫 etc.) rather than a category, which makes things even more confusing… :sweat_smile: but BM at least seems consistent… :thinking:

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I don’t see any practical way to be consistent, though? :thinking: As OP mentioned, there are stuff that are just too borderline, especially since, if we lump together ライト文芸 with light novels, we are not talking about the actual publishing category but the “vibes” of the books. I think that’s a more useful categorization (as people have noted), but that means there’s really nothing that can catch all books systematically.
Even relying on MAL just means you are delegating the decision to someone else’s vibe check.
All that to say that I think the site is doing well as is and I don’t see anything we could do better myself :sweat_smile:
train a neural network to categorize books based on the free preview? That could work, actually


I feel bad for anyone (even a bot) that has to read all those awful LNs!


Eh - yeah, it is somewhat equivalent to young adult fiction, but “young adult fiction” is also a kind-of meaningless marketing label.
There’s not really any generalisation you can make about light novels that’s true for all of them, except maybe “they all have anime-style art on the cover”. There’s a huge range of genres that all get lumped in, and they don’t all have teenage protagonists, or simple writing styles, or the light novel “vibe” (whatever that is). There’s plenty that could be republished as general fiction and no one would notice. Plenty that couldn’t too of course, because there are lots of light novel specific niche subgenres and tropes - but they’re far from universal.

I mean, I get why someone would avoid light novels, because it is a dumping ground for lots of low-effort garbage and if you’re not into certain genres that are well represented in light novels it’s probably not worth sifting through looking for the good ones - but I think a category that you can’t make any accurate generalisations about is kinda meaningless.


Ah, I guess I could have phrased that better.
The way I draw the line between light novels and novels is that the former is written for entertainment and the latter for some literary purpose (i.e., it’s art).
The problem is that we are just moving to another unsolvable question (“what is art?”). Also, novels can be entertaining (obviously!) and light novels can be well written.
Still, I guess that sums up my feelings about both categories:
Light novel → I can read that drunk and/or tired and still have a good time (assuming I like the content)
Novel → I’m reading it for a more intellectual purpose. I’m going to need my brain to enjoy it.


I’m sure you know this already, but that delineation really doesn’t intersect with reality much, or we’d have to move almost all genre fiction into the “light novel” category (and a bunch of light novels out of it). And then argue about what has literary merit endlessly. :grimacing:

I strongly disagree. Or maybe you are overestimating my reading capabilities while drunk.

For me, that’s literally where I would draw the line, though. In most cases, “I know it when I see it”, as they say (what I called a “vibe check” in my original post). There’s a noticeable difference between the writing style of light novels (at least the ones that are adaptations of なろう style web novels) and novels (even genre novels).
天冥の標 (series) | L36 is a SF series (so, genre), but it’s absolutely not a light novel.

On the borderline side of things, I can think of クォンタムデビルサーガ アバタールチューナーI | L29. Also SF, but definitely closer to my internal light novel line. It wouldn’t faze me if it was put in either bin (currently registered as novel).

図書館の魔女 (series) | L37 is fantasy (so, genre), but definitely not a light novel. I’d say the same about 鹿の王 (series) | L35.

On the other side of things, 記憶屋 | L30 is registered as a light novel, but I wouldn’t mind if it was in the novel category.

I think classifying them on writing quality is a working definition (or, at least, a meaningful one, since it tells me what to expect from a book). I don’t see any way to do that in a consistent way, though (and if we tried, we would trigger an endless discussion, as you said), so I would rely on the feeling of the person adding the book (or resources like MAL, but that’s just delegating the decision to a different person).


My equivalent gauge is when I’m tired. For example, I can read 本好きの下剋上 in pretty much any state (barring particularly complex scenes, e.g. those that get into deep political discussions), even when lacking sleep or after a mind melting day at work.

I can’t really comment on this in Japanese because I don’t read a ton of variety, but for English at least I’m not sure I even know what “literary purpose” means. For me, either a book is enjoyable or not. Either it’s written such that I don’t notice anything irksome or it draws my attention in a negative way. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book and thought “wow, the writing was so profound, my life is now enriched by having read it” (i.e. the writing never draws my attention in a positive way; it’s either neutral or bad). On the other hand, I’ve definitely felt “wow, the story/characters/setting was so interesting/entertaining, I’m really glad I read this and want to read more”. Light novels seem to hit the “bad/irksome writing” note more often than novels, but both have equal potential to be enjoyable or terrible.


The first “true” light novel I read (I think it was はたらく魔王さま! 1 | L30) was a bit of a shock, since I had never read anything like that in another language. Even pulp (which is not really known for its highbrow content) felt different, so I think it’s hard to draw a direct comparison?
Things might be different for a younger audience (than us, I mean), since light novels are now published in other languages (translated from Japanese), so they may be familiar with it already :thinking:

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Unfortunately I think we’re also lacking a common basis for discussion a bit, because we haven’t read a lot of the same books.
But, let’s say we published a Harlequin Romance book in Japanese. I think we can broadly agree that these are complete dreck with no literary merit, and you could read them while drunk. Are they light novels? I don’t think many people would agree.

And, there are a lot of light novels that I don’t think you could read while drunk. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list from my library (and I’ve excluded things I think you could read while drunk but that I nevertheless think have literary merit):

I can’t think of any real argument of how these wouldn’t be considered light novels when you could show pretty much any random Japanese person one and they’d tell you it’s a light novel.

I can definitely see the desire to change it from a meaningless marketing term to something that indicates quality, but I think it would be even more confusing when no one else is using it that way.


Dare: Reread 新世界より while drunk!


The term “light novel” simply isn’t well defined, according to Japanese Wikipedia. I just don’t see any quick and easy way for Brandon to objectively apply the light novel label.

If it were me, I’d remove light novels as a book types category and leave it instead to the (eventual) tagging system. I think the high level categories should be generally agreed upon formats (fiction vs non, novel vs short story vs comics, etc.) and not about vibes. And you gotta consider the future, when the website expands to include other languages. The light novel category isn’t applicable to most other languages, unless you take the stance that it’s simply juvenile/young adult literature.