Taking a Break from Textbooks: Light Novels to Read During the Pandemic


Photo courtesy of theculturetrip.com

-Brittany Eldridge

     College students, especially during the middle of the semester, might find themselves preoccupied with heavy reading assignments, such as reading Othello and King Lear. Or, perhaps, their professor assigns three chapters of a history or sociology textbook each week. If that is the case, then they may be interested in some light reading. Light novels may provide that need for light reading.

      Light novels, or Japan’s equivalent of young adult novels, span approximately 165 pages in length. They typically contain some manga-like illustrations and cover a wide range of genres, from science fiction and fantasy adventures to tragic romantic dramas. Some genres are even seemingly derived from light novels, such as the isekai genre. Many of these light novels are later adapted into popular anime and manga series. Conversely, some anime and manga series are later compiled into light novel forms. Light novels often expand upon previously constructed worlds and allow fans of those worlds to read about characters and events not explored in the main story arc. In addition, they may appeal to a different demographic from their anime or manga adaptation.

        According to Anime Planet, the most popular light novels right now (each with a rating of at least 4.5 stars) are Overlord, Your Name, Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, Saga of Tanya the Evil, and The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Silver Yarn. Overlord is a mystery light novel series that takes place in a game world. The series currently consists of 14 volumes and began serialization in 2012. The protagonist is a member of a guild in a popular immersive game that is coming to an end. He becomes trapped inside the game and must determine why he lost their ability to access the game controls. Overlord falls into the popular light novel genre known as isekai. In isekai light novels, the protagonist is unintentionally transported to another world, typically by falling into a portal or by being reborn into that world. 

       In Your Name, a country girl and a city boy swap bodies and learn of each other’s worlds and possible futures. This is a more dramatic novel, because unlike in many of these scenarios, the two realize what is happening and must decide whether or not to find one another. It is a story about closing the mental distance between two physically distanced young adults. The film adaptation, created around the same time as the light novel, won several awards for best animated feature, including one from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Your Name is ideal for fans of realistic fiction that feature just a few supernatural elements.

        Fantasy and science fiction light novels to consider include A Certain Magical Index, Wandering Witch, From the New World and Kaze no Stigma. A Certain Magical Index takes place in a high-tech world where the majority of individuals possess psychic powers. In this world, one of these low-level psychics comes across a young nun with encyclopedic knowledge who turns his world upside down.

       From the New World is a darker fantasy with a dystopian setting. In this world, psychic abilities are far less common and tend to be feared. In it, the gifted protagonist learns that the school for psychics she attends is not as ideal and safe as it is designed to be. The protagonist and her friends must uncover the secrets that the adults are hiding. This is more of a coming of age story with an emphasis on character development. Fans of The Promised Neverland, The Maze Runner, and The Giver will most likely enjoy this light novel.

        Those interested in comedy and parody stories may want to look into Karin, Is this a Zombie?, FLCL, and Toradora! A comedy that appeals to a younger audience, Karin, or Chibi Vampire in the english version, explores the concept of a vampire who fails at being a vampire. Karin, the title character, does not have an adverse reaction to sunlight as her parents do, and finds herself unable to feed off of people. She works to keep her family’s identity a secret, as well as to bond with family members whom she cannot very well relate to. 

        Toradora! parodies anime character tropes. It also includes a famous anime character type called tsundere. A tsundere character starts off as behaving in a very disagreeable and close-minded way, but then opens up as they bond with the protagonist. In Toradora!, the protagonist has the face of a delinquent, but is actually quite agreeable. In contrast, he meets a girl who looks very tiny and doll-like, but has a violent temper. The two agree to help each other fall in love with their best friend.

       Those looking for drama and tragedy may enjoy Anohana, Angel Beats, I Want to Eat your Pancreas, and Violet Evergarden. Despite the seemingly horror-story-like title, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is actually a tragic romance between a dying girl and a boy who finds her diary. The novel experiments with the effects that perspective can have on illness and tragedy. The novel is ideal for fans of Your Lie in April and A Silent Voice.       

      Isekai and reincarnation light novels to look into include The Rising of the Shield Hero, Ascendance of a Bookworm, Sword Art Online, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!,That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and So I’m a Spider, So What? In My Next Life as a Villainess, a teenage girl obsessed with otome games, or story-based romance games with role-playing components, is reincarnated as a character in one of these games. She learns that she is the game’s villainess and, therefore, is doomed to either die or be exiled. She must use her knowledge of the various possible routes in the game to change her future. 

        In Ascendance of a Bookworm, a librarian in her twenties is reborn as a sickly girl in a world where books are quite rare. She decides to make and sell her own books and uses the knowledge she has obtained from books to do so. Fans of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Matilda, and Spice and Wolf will most likely be interested in this light novel.      

       While dark fantasy and isekai light novels are more common, two supernatural and horror themed novels are Blood + and Devil May Cry. For fans of darker vampire tales, Blood + is a good fit. The young female protagonist suffers from a type of amnesia, but starts to regain memories of her hazy past after meeting a young man who claims to be her servant. Her family is then attacked by strange monsters and she must then learn that she, herself, may not be as human as she once thought.

        Hidden gems that are not often talked about include The Third, The Twelve Kingdoms, Spice and Wolf, The Devil is a Part-Timer!, The Story of Saiunkoku, and Shakugan no Shana. Those who study economics and marketing will be pleasantly surprised by Spice and Wolf. In this light novel, a wolf deity and a businessman team up with the goal of opening up a store. 

        Anyone who has worked in food service will most likely appreciate The Devil is a Part-Timer! This is a comedic light novel in which Satan is forced to hide in Japan and masquerade as a human. He works at a restaurant flipping burgers and struggles to make ends meet. 

        Twelve Kingdoms describes the adventures of a young schoolgirl who is thrust into a politically unstable fantasy world riddled with monsters. From the very beginning, she must fight for her life and uncover what happened to the mysterious man who literally dropped her there.

       College students can learn more about these, and other available light novels, by visiting Goodreads. Amazon has a large selection of light novels, as well. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble sell both digital and print versions of light novels. Some light novels can be preordered, as well. Students can also choose to become a J-Novel Club member. At J-Club, fans translate light novels that do not have official English translations, and then club members can read these novels by paying a monthly fee.