What is a Light Novel? Part 4 – Rob’s Definition

Over the past three days I have looked at the different ways people see light novels.

  1. From the Japanese point of view
  2. From the non-Japanese point of view
  3. Taking apart the six different ways you could look at light novels

Today, we’re going to go over my own definitions of a light novel based on looking at it from all of those angles. You might agree with my definitions, or you might disagree with them, but before you debate them I strongly suggest you read the previous posts to understand where these definitions came from to save time.

Kino's Journey: The Beautiful World, Vol. 1 by Keiichi Sigsawa
I feel like I’ve been on a journey too while writing this series!

Anyhow, on with the show!

Now, my initial goal was to try and come up with a simple but complete one-sentence definition of light novels, but in the end I don’t think that’s possible. There are simply too many factors involved what makes a light novel a light novel to boil it down to a single sentence, but in the interest of giving it a go, here is my attempt…

Light novels are accessible books for young adults which use eye-catching anime-style art, and dramatic, fast-paced, and simple stories to appeal to fans of other media.

R.A. Paterson

As you would see if you look back at Part Two, this definition draws from Justus’ and Kazesenken’s ideas, with a mix of some of the Japanese definitions of Part One thrown into the mix. I still don’t think “pulp fiction” is a good way to describe them because that term is to vague, but I think the definition of pulp fiction as being “dramatic, fast paced and simple stores” describes light novels well. Also, I think Justus is onto something when he points out they’re inherently tied to other media, which has been true since the first light novels were about people describing their TRPG fantasy campaigns to others.

Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch (Gold Edition): Mizuno, Ryo, Izubuchi,  Yutaka: 9781626925700: Books - Amazon.ca
Is it just me, or doesn’t it look like that dragon is grinning while typing its story into a laptop? I bet it’s writing a light novel about elf girls with long ears…

However, in the interest of being complete, if I were to try to give a definition of a light novel which took into account both cultural perspectives and all six different angles, the following is the best definition (or maybe description?) for light novels I could come up with. It might not be perfect, and I might revise it later, but this is the clearest I’ve been able to put together at the moment….

Light novels are young adult stand-alone and serialized stories typically written by members of fandom groups and published by professional publishers in novella-length installments of 40,000-50,000 words (in English). Written in simple, accessible ways of writing for both readers and writers, they generally have a lighter, aspirational tone and focus on popular topics which are important to young people, with young protagonists discovering their place in the world, navigating their futures, and finding love.

Most commonly romance and fantasy stories, they are escapist by nature and act as a way for their readers to let off stress and escape into fantastic worlds and situations which act to comfort them and support them through difficult times, and which let them feel they have a place somewhere in this world (or another one) where they will be accepted for who they are.

They also often incorporate parts of otaku/gaming/anime fandom culture in both their characters, settings and presentation, and act as a way for fandom to gather together and share the joys of fan culture while also being a creative outlet for fandom itself. Finally, light novels most often incorporate anime-style artwork which serve to signal their target audiences while enhancing the novels and presenting them as easy and fun reads to attract new readers.

There we go, it’s a bit long and dense, but that is the most complete definition of light novels I could come up with while trying to incorporate the six different perspectives and give a definition which could work for everything from fantasy and romance to slice of life.

Now, I can see how some people might disagree with incorporating what the reader gets from light novels into the definition, but I think that it’s a key element of helping to define what light novels are and why the ones which succeed do so. In the end, light novels typically reflect the Hero’s Journey of a young person finding their place in the world, and very few popular light novels don’t have some element of community in them. These are often written by lonely people to give comfort to themselves and others, and reflect their longings and desires to bond with others that may or may not be possible due to their current circumstances.

Amazon.com: Lord of Goblins, Vol. 1 (Light Novel) eBook: Werbrouck,  Michiel, Bendakji, Hadi, Comics, Darkness, Lo, Nadine, MoonQuill: Kindle  Store

Also, while it might irk some purists, these definitions leave the door open for Original English Light Novels by not specifying that light novels have to be from Japan or published by Japanese publishers. I considered adding a reference to their Japanese origins, and might in the future, but for now I think this will do.

So, for everyone who asks me how I define a light novel – here you go. And for everyone who wants to write one, here are the best working definitions I can come up with. If you don’t agree, then that’s good too, maybe you just need to convince others that something is a light novel and it becomes a light novel.

In any case, these will be my working definitions going forward as I continue to explore light novels in the coming months, including a more detailed breakdown for writers that will be part of my upcoming revised edition of my book next year.



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