7 Japanese Fantasy Light Novels to Get You Started

7 Japanese Fantasy Light Novels to Get You Started

In Japan, a light novel (LN or ranobe) is the equivalent of a tween/young adult book. They’re shorter than normal fantasy books, running about 50,000 words, and are often illustrated with manga-style drawings. They are normally published first in pulp magazines as serials and then compiled in book format. Being fantasy such a popular genre in the country, there are plenty of fantasy light novels written in Japanese.

Fortunately, some of this fiction has been translated into English by publishers such as Tokyopop, Viz or Dark Horse.

In the Sci-Fi genre, the movie Edge of Tomorrow (2014), starring Tom Cruise, was based on a light novel called All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Another example is the fiction that inspired the hit anime Slayer. The word “light” seems particularly appropriate in these books.

Just take a sneak peek at the first two paragraphs of the first Slayers novel, “The Ruby Eye”:

So there I was, tearing through the woods at top speed, a gang of murderous bandits hot on my tail.

Why were they chasing me, you ask? Well, it’s a long, boring story and besides, where I come from, it’s not all odd to find yourself being chased through the woods at top speed by a gang of murderous bandits. Especially if you’re me.

The author uses a conversational tone that may not appeal to all readers, but it definitely engages and pushes the action forward.

Fantasy light novels are perfect if you’re looking for a quick read, one of those books you bring with you when you’re travelling or waiting for your dentist’s appointment.

There is a huge overlap between light novels and manga or anime, because when a manga is popular it triggers a series of parallel light novels or, if the novel came first, the anime and the manga usually follows.

A list of fantasy light novels follows. You can take a look at the Anime-Planet website for many more examples of multiple genres:

The Rising of the Shield Hero

Naofumi Iwatani, an uncharismatic Otaku who spends his days on games and manga, suddenly finds himself summoned to a parallel universe!

He discovers he is one of four heroes equipped with legendary weapons and tasked with saving the world from its prophesied destruction. As the Shield Hero, the weakest of the heroes, all is not as it seems. Naofumi is soon alone, penniless, and betrayed. With no one to turn to and nowhere to run, he is left with only his shield.

Now, Naofumi must rise to become the legendary Shield Hero and save the world!

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

As players of Monster Hunter and Dungeons & Dragons know, the slime is not exactly the king of the fantasy monsters. So when a 37-year-old Tokyo salaryman dies and wakes up in a world of dragons and magic, he’s a little disappointed to find he’s become a blind, boneless slime monster.

Mikami’s middle age hasn’t gone as he planned: He never found a girlfriend, he got stuck in a dead-end job, and he was abruptly stabbed to death in the street at 37. So when he wakes up in a new world straight out of a fantasy RPG, he’s disappointed but not exactly surprised to find that he’s not a knight or a wizard but a blind slime demon. But there are chances for even a slime to become a hero…

Clockwork Planet

The Earth has died, but the entire planet has been reconstructed using gears and clockwork. One thousand years later, a mysterious black box crashes into the house of a high school gearhead named Naoto Miura, a machine otaku who is obsessed with tinkering. The box contains the broken body of an automaton girl. When Naoto repairs the automaton, and she becomes his clockwork companion, Naoto’s world will never be the same again.

Being this blog as it is, with The Lundenwich Society novels, a bit of steampunk was in order. You can get the Japanese vision of a steampunk world by reading Clockwork Planet. You can also take a look at the manga and the anime series, but remember that the light novel came first.

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Game-loving shut-in Kazuma Sato’s life as a young schoolboy in Japan abruptly comes to an early end…or at least it was supposed to. When he opens his eyes, though, he sees a beautiful goddess that offers him a once in an after-lifetime chance to be reborn in a parallel world. The catch is that the world is violent and threatened by a growing evil!

Fortunately, he can choose anything to bring with him. So he chooses the goddess Aqua!

And so his adventure with his gorgeous companion begins–if he could just get enough money and food to survive, keep his goddess out of trouble, and avoid grabbing the attention of the Demon King’s army!

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist

Another sort of steampunk saga. If you don’t know Fullmetal Alchemist, you should.

The compelling story of the Elric brothers is quite an interesting read, and the way the author treats alchemy is very original and has nothing to envy to the famously well-developed Brandon Sanderson’s magic systems. In this case, the manga was the first one to appear, and a series of novels followed. In the first one, The Land of Sand, they travel to an old mining town and encounter powerful alchemists.

I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years

Yes, it’s the second book about smiles on the list, but I could not resist. As far as fantasy light novels go, this one is a must. If you’ve ever played an RPG, you will probably find this synopsis hilarious:

After living a painful life as an office worker, Azusa ended her short life by dying from overworking. So when she found herself reincarnated as an undying, unaging witch in a new world, she vows to spend her days stress free and as pleasantly as possible. She ekes out a living by hunting down the easiest targets – the slimes! But after centuries of doing this simple job, she’s ended up with insane powers…how will she maintain her low key life now?!

Spice & Wolf

The life of a travelling merchant is a lonely one, a fact with which Kraft Lawrence is well acquainted. Wandering from town to town with just his horse, cart, and whatever wares have come his way, the peddler has pretty well settled into his routine- that is, until the night Lawrence finds a wolf goddess asleep in his cart. Taking the form of a fetching girl with wolf ears and a tail, Holo has wearied of tending to harvests in the countryside and strikes up a bargain with the merchant to lend him the cunning of “Holo the Wisewolf” to increase his profits in exchange for taking her along on his travels.

What kind of businessman could turn down such an offer? Lawrence soon learns, though, that having an ancient goddess as a travelling companion can be a bit of a mixed blessing. Will this wolf girl turn out to be too wild to tame?

This is the end of the list of Japanese light novels, or not quite. Do you now any other fantasy light novels that you find interesting? Please, drop me a comment, so I can add them and discover new authors and stories!