Light novels and visual novels are two very different genres but are both popular in Japan, both of which have received a lot of hit anime adaptations.
Anime and manga are perhaps Japan’s two most popular forms of media, but they’re not the country’s only cultural storytelling medium. Light novels have become increasingly popular due to anime adaptations of them, with visual novels being similarly well received, if to a lesser extent. Of course, with their names sounding quite similar, many might wonder if these two vehicles are the same.
The difference between visual novels and light novels is not just the medium, as the type of stories they tell and the way they tell separate the two types of fiction. This also makes one of them more suitable to be an anime than the other, at least in terms of already existing material. Here’s what anime and manga readers should know about visual novels and light novels, some of which have become their favorite series in recent years.
Light Novel vs Visual Novel: What separates the two Japanese mediums?
Light novels are explained quite well by describing their medium. These titles are typically around 50,000 words and are fairly easy to read, most of them aimed at middle or high school students (although this is not always the case). Although they are of course published in the traditional novel format, many are also serialized in magazines. This makes them similar to the “pulp magazines” that were once popular in the West. As novels, the stories are relayed through text, although manga-style illustrations are used for the cover and some other parts of the book. The use of visuals helps make these titles easier to sell, especially to anime and manga fans.
Visual novels are something entirely different, with these stories essentially being a kind of video game. A form of interactive entertainment, they focus on narrative and have very few features of realistic gameplay as it is thought in the West. This makes them both similar and different from the popular point-and-click adventure titles on PC in other countries, as well as the “walking simulators” of modern games. Due to the lack of interaction besides scrolling through dialogue, these titles are still quite relevant outside of Japan, even though there is a huge market for them back home.
Light novels and visual novels are not specific to any particular genre, although there are some notable comfort zones within each medium. For example, light novels can be based on real-life stories, with the classic romantic comedy Toradora! demonstrate this. However, fantasy settings are also often present, such as in the light novel adaptations of Slayers and modern isekai novels such as Reincarnation as a Sword. Visual novels also come in a variety of genres, even if romance is the most famous of them all. Erotic and adult visual novels are also popular, some of which have even been adapted into anime.
Light Novels are more suitable for anime adaptations than Visual Novels
While both mediums have plenty of cartoons based on them, one is slightly better than the other in terms of being prepared for adaptation. Light novels, as mentioned, often have illustrations that match their content. So the character designs were laid out, reinforcing the character’s appearance in a way that normal novels often leave the imagination to. This makes it easier for animators to copy said designs for easier anime adaptations. Popular light novels are often adapted into manga before becoming anime, giving the aforementioned anime plenty of material to adapt and help avoid the problem of filling in gaps.
The same goes for visual novels, but the strength of visual novels is actually a disadvantage in adapting an entire story into an anime series. Visual novels are known for their branching paths, with different endings decided based on small player actions. This gives them a lot of replay value as a game but makes it difficult to fit all of this into a cohesive whole. Visual novel anime like Clannad heartily “fixes” this with additions depicting these alternative paths, but it’s definitely an efficiency issue. That wasn’t always the case, and great visual novel adaptations like Stein;Gate still exist. However, this particular reason may be why so many light novels have turned into manga and anime when compared to visual novels — and with the growing popularity of the isekai genre, that’s unlikely. change soon.
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