So what is a light novel?
The exact definition for a light novel is in debate. Traditionally, it is a type of Japanese published and printed work that targets young adults (approximately 13-25 years of age). It is written in a way so that it can be easily digested through the use of modern kanji, a type of Japanese written character. A light novel usually contains some manga-like illustrations and is a tad longer than English novellas.
As posting on the web became more common, the term started to take on different meanings. It began to encompass Japanese web serials because they were sometimes published into light novels and their writing styles were alike.
I’m not sure if the term is being used this way for web serials in Japan, but in English, it definitely is. On the web when an English speaker asks for light novel recommendations, they are also referring to good translated works of Japanese web serials/stories.
However, the term recently took on a broader meaning. It has been used to refer to some Chinese and Korean works, along with some English web serials.
This is most likely due to the misunderstanding about the origins of the term “light novel.” Although it is composed of two English words, “light” and “novel,” the phrase itself is Japanese. It was created by taking words from a foreign language to create a new Japanese word/phrase. These creations are often known as loanwords, and they are quite common in Japanese.
So, when this term is written in English, anyone unaware of Japanese culture will not be able to identify its origins because it sounds English. They believe that it is an English term and try to coin their own meaning to it by logically examining its two parts, “light” and “novel.” From “novel” they get book, words, story, etc, which is accurate, but “light” is where it becomes tricky.
The English written language does not have any components comparable to written kanji, so people cannot notice the differences between words when they are written with modern kanji as it is nonexistent. Therefore, English speakers attribute the meaning of “light” to the actual content. Since Japanese light novels tend to be action and dialogue heavy, English speakers tend to connect “light” to this storytelling style.
Therefore, there are now more and more English speakers who are terming non-Japanese works as light novels. It is to the point that when someone asks for light novel recommendations, they are referring to anything easy and quick to read.
Furthermore, most people expect foreign works to appear at the mention of light novels. There are three possible reasons for this. (My own speculations)
First reason: it is the result of an amalgamation of people who are aware of Japanese light novel culture, of people who are semi-aware, and of people who are unaware. This creates a strange, underlining definition of light novels among web communities that light novels are Asian due to the haziness about the term’s definition.
Second reason: the term “light novel” is more frequently mentioned in groups who have the same interests such as Asian literature, because the term originates in Japan. These members could be more interested in reading these translations rather than English web novels due to personal interest or taste. This somewhat stumps/slows down the term’s spread to the communities who commonly read English web novels.
Third reason: English web serials, which could fall under the newer coinage of light novel, are being vastly outstripped in quantity and popularity of translated works. These web serials are also being buried and are mixed with other web serials that would not be “light” enough to be a light novel. It makes identifying and finding them harder to do.
I believe that when more “light” English web serials appear on the Internet, the expectation of a light novel will also include works originally written in English.
Here are four works that are generally considered to be light novels. Country of origin and authors are also listed.
Sword Art Online: Japan and written by Reki Kawahara
Legendary Moonlight Sculptor: Korea and written by Nam Heesung (not exactly sure how to write his name)
Coiling Dragon: China and written by I Eat Tomatoes
The Zombie Knight: United States and written by George M. Frost*
Here is a table of how the different coinages of the term “light novel” pertains to these works. “Yes” means they would be and “no” means they would not be considered light novels.
Traditional= light novels are Japanese printed works. (see first paragraph)
Modern= light novels are action and dialogue heavy. Expected to be foreign (Asian).
Relatively New= light novels are action and dialogue heavy. Does not matter where they come from.
|Sword Art Online
|Legendary Moonlight Sculptor
|The Zombie Knight
I believe that my two current series, The Polyglot’s Rune and The Siren’s Rune would fall under the “relatively new” coinage category and be considered light novels. Some people, depending on how strict they are with the term “light novel,” would not consider my works to be light novels. Instead, they would call them regular old web novels, web serials, books, stories, etc.
*George M. Frost labels The Zombie Knight as a dark fantasy novel, and I do not know if he would consider his own work a light novel. However, there have been other people who have called his work a light novel, and it is action and dialogue heavy. Therefore, I have listed this web serial under light novel.
Note: These later coinages of the term “light novel” were based on my personal observation of the uses of the term “light novel”. Whether or not someone just considers these uses as “wrong” or a result of “ignorance,” I wanted to post this encompassing article because words change over time and under different contexts. What could be wrong one day could be completely accurate another day.
For example, take a butterfly, moth, bee, ant, or even a cockroach. Now, none of these are true bugs, yet we call them bugs. Under the definition of bugs, they are bugs, but they are not true bugs. So, are you wrong for calling them a bug, or is it accurate? People have always called them bugs, so is it the true bugs that are inaccurate? Why were they named true bugs if other insects were already called bugs? What happened here? What came first, the chicken or the egg?