Trends in Japan > Pop Culture > Light Reading
Comic-Like Novels Are All the Rage
(February 28, 2007)

The genre of books known as light novels is enjoying growing popularity among readers these days. These books are increasingly part of a multimedia strategy, as plans are afoot to make a number of them into anime movies.


The cover of Inukami (c) MAMIZU ARISAWA / MEDIA WORKS

Illustrations Included
In Japanese, "light novels" are also known as ranobe for short. And while there is no firm definition of these publications, they are in general books enjoyed mainly by readers in their teens and twenties that are heavy on dialogue and place an emphasis on an easy-to-understand plot development. In order to make the world inside the novel more accessible, these books usually contain a number of anime- or manga-like illustrations.

In addition to school-based dramas that feature young girls as the protagonists and romantic comedies, other light-novel subgenres include science fiction and fantasy. To make these books easier to buy, they are all clearly labeled as light novels and are published as low-priced paperbacks.


The cover of Kino no tabi (c) KEIICHI SIGSAWA / MEDIA WORKS

While this type of book was once known as the "teen novel," many of which were novelizations of anime programs and video games, light novels increasingly feature original content. And with a writer of light novels going on to win a literary prize for an ordinary novel, this new type of literature is continuing to garner attention.

Three Works Made into Movies
The market for light novels is said to be worth about ¥20 billion ($166.7 million at ¥120 to the dollar), with about 30 million copies published annually. Targeting people who tend to read less than others, publishing companies have begun battling over this genre, as it is easy to develop these stories into a multimedia mix spanning anime, manga, video games, and e-books.

Among the companies putting out these books, Kadokawa Group Holdings, the firm that owns such major labels as Kadokawa Sneaker Books and Dengeki Books, has a 70% to 80% share of the market. This group decided to take three of its works - Kino no tabi (Kino's Journey), Shakugan no Shana (Shana of the Burning Eyes), and Inukami! (Dog Metaplasy) - and turn them into anime movies, all of which are due to be released simultaneously this April in the aim of expanding the market for light novels.


The cover of Shakugan no Shana (c) YASHICHIRO TAKAHASHI / MEDIA WORKS

Meanwhile, publisher Shogakukan last year started giving out a Light Novel Award, for which it solicits works from anyone who wants to enter. This spring it will launch the Gagaga Books line aimed at boys and the Lululu Books line targeting girls. Other publishing firms are following suit and looking to increase the number of books they can print using their existing labels.

Japanese light novels are even attracting attention from overseas as another form of subculture along the lines of anime and manga. In North America, Tokyopop has published some 20 such works, including Kino's Journey. And Seven Seas Entertainment will this April launch a new light-novel label and publish such works as Shinigami no baraddo (Momo the Girl God of Death). It will publish these works in the same pocket-size paperback form common in Japan and at the same low price.

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