The term comes from Japan and is used for young adult illustrated books. They are closer to American pulp fiction novels than graphic novels as they don’t have heavy art. They aren’t like Manga, a standard comic, or a webcomic in that respect. They were made to pump out as much content as possible with as little art as needed to sell.
These hit the stands in the late 1970s as pulp magazines focused on Science fiction and fantasy began to explode all over the world. The general format was a powerful cover image and one or two great illustrations for each chapter or story. In America, these digest-sized, pulp anthologies, were best represented by publications like “Asimov’s Science fiction Magazine” and “Analog”. Where the American counterparts focused on adult readers the Japanese marketed to the young adults and Manga readers.
Today light novels can be found on the shelf right next to Manga. Like comics, these are the larval form of a franchise. Many of the high-profile properties of the last 30 years started out in these pulp formats. All the way back in 1982 with the publication of the “AKIRA” manga, to the web-based light novel “Sword art online” which is now an Anime seen around the world and its own mega-franchise.
The 23rd Archive has chosen the light novel format for a few reasons. Comics are increasingly difficult to develop on a budget or with a small team. The level of art that is expected from a comic book is much higher than it was in the past. With so much emphasis on art, it becomes increasingly difficult for small or independent teams to compete. The light novel format allows the artist to focus on creating a few beautiful pieces with depth and expression.
Serial stories have been popular with readers since the Victorian Era. Charles Dickens famously serialized Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Today’s technology and interactivity allows writers to work at a faster pace and with the added ability to instantly respond to reader interest. Episodic tales are now the normal expectation of fantasy and science fiction content.
What is a light novel? It has DNA from as far back as the Victorian Era. Astronaut shine from the hard science popular in the ’70s, and powerful ownership from Japanese young adult novels. Light novels are the first stages of some of the biggest franchises in geekdom and ultimately, they are the best format for the indie developer.
I hope you’ll take some time to check out our light novels here at the 23rd Archive. Like what you see and want to see more? Help indie creators with a monthly pledge on Patreon.