Enjoy the best 25 light novels of all time to read in English including the classic series and latest trends
A light novel is one of the coolest modern Japanese cultures while anime and manga have been known more commonly as leading Japanese contents recently. However, don’t forget that light novels which are generated by Japanese pop culture (or subculture) becomes the basis of anime and manga adaptions. Current popular anime series are adapted from the light novels.
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Speaking of Japanese novels, Haruki Murakami, Soseki Natsume and other modern authors are famous worldwide. At the same time, light novels can be positioned as part of Japanese literature.
The definition of light novels are not clear in a general way. To put it plainly, light novels often have an anime-style illustration on the book cover and some character illustrations are added inside the book as well. That kind of novels were sold in Japan from around the 1970s and it is said that light novels originate with that date.
Light novels became widely recognized when the legendary Slayers written by Hajime Kanzaki (illustrated by Rui Araizumi) was published in 1989 though there were a small minority of the fans in the whole society. Since then, now-famous titles have been released in Japan and the light novel is one of the most popular book genres as well as manga and novels in the present day.
Today, I’d like to introduce the best light novels of all time for both beginners and advanced readers. Many popular books are translated into English and other languages so that you can enjoy reading them in your native languages.
25. Goblin Slayer
A popular ongoing dark-fantasy light novel Goblin Slayer (ゴブリンスレイヤー)was originally released on a Japanese textboard in 2012. And then, the current format as a light novel has been published since 2016.
The main character Goblin Slayer is the soldier who takes his life on hunting goblins. The manga and anime adaptions have been made for its popularity.
Author:Kumo KagyuIllustrator:Noboru KannatsukiPublished: from 2016Genre: Dark fantasy, Adventure
24. Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?!
Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?! (私、能力は平均値でって言ったよね!), which has been published since 2016, is categorized as fantasy and Isekai.
A high school girl Misato is killed in a traffic accident and is born again in the parallel world as a teenage girl namedAdele. She finds out that she has a much more powerful abilities than average while she asks to make her abilities just average.
Author: FUNAIllustrator:Itsuki AkataPublished: from 2016Genre: Isekai, Naro, Comedy
23. Katanagatari (Sword Tale)
Katanagatari (刀語), which means Sword Tale in English, was written in 2007-2008 byNisio Isin who is one of the most famous light novel authors in Japan.
The historical story is set in the fictional Japan around the Edo period. The protagonist Shichika Yasuri begins his journey to collect the 12 legendary swords fighting the owners and other enemies. Katanagatari was made into an anime adaption with 12 episodes in 2010.
Author:Nisio IsinIllustrator: TakePublished: 2007-2008Genre: Historical, Action
22. The Rising of the Shield Hero
The Rising of the Shield Hero (盾の勇者の成り上がり) is the popular ongoing Naro light novel published as both online and physical books from 2012.
The university student Naofumi Iwatani is suddenly transported to the fantasy world and given a role asthe Shield Hero. There are three other heroes in the same situation, but they have offensive weapons such as sword, lance and arrow. The Shield Hero manages to fight enemies with the defensive shield.
Author:Aneko YusagiIllustrator:Minami SeiraPublished: from 2012Genre: Naro, Isekai, Adventure
21. Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest
Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (ありふれた職業で世界最強) has been published on the user-generated novel website Shosetsuka ni Naro since 2013 while its paper books are also published from 2015.
A nerdy high school boy Hajime Nagumo is summoned to the fantasy world with his classmates. He is represented as an antihero or dark hero in the story. The first season of the anime adaption was released in 2019.
Author:Ryo ShirakomeIllustrator: TakayakiPublished: from 2013Genre: Naro, Isekai
20. Spice and Wolf
Spice and Wolf (狼と香辛料), one of the most known fantasy light novels in the 2000s, has been published since 2006.
The setting is the fictional world that is inspired by the medieval Europe and the story focuses on the two main characters. Atraveling merchant Kraft Lawrence encounters various incidents on his trip with the wolfpersonifiedHolo who looks like a human-wolf hybrid.
Author:Isuna HasekuraIllustrator:Ju AyakuraPublished: from 2006Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
19. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (デスマーチからはじまる異世界狂想曲), the typical Naro novel, is one of the most read light novels on Shosetsuka ni Naro in the recent years.
A 29 years oldgaming programmer named Ichiro Suzuki works too hard and has a nap in the office. He wakes up to become aware that he is in the of the role-playing game that he is making. 12 episodes of the anime adaption were aired on TV in 2018.
Author:Hiro AinanaIllustrator:shriPublished: 2013-2020Genre: Naro, Isekai
18. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (転生したらスライムだった件) is a popular ongoing Naro and Isekai light novel with the unique theme.
Main characters are reborn in the different fictional world as a human, but the protagonist ofThat Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime isReincarnatedas a slime named Rimuru. The strange slime’s adventure is also depicted in the anime adaption broadcasted from 2018.
Author: FuseIllustrator:Mitz VahPublished: from 2014Genre:Naro, Isekai
17. Classroom of the Elite
Classroom of the Elite (ようこそ実力至上主義の教室へ), published from 2015, is one of the hottest school-themed light novels.
It focuses on everyday life of the highest-level high school and there are highly intelligent students in the school including the protagonist Kiyotaka Ayanokoji. Each class fights with others with a variety of mind games. The following story, which started from 2020, begins afterKiyotaka and his classmates go to the second grade.
Author:Shogo KinugasaIllustrator:Shunsaku TomosePublished: from 2015Genre: School, Thriller
16. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (ダンジョンに出会いを求めるのは間違っているだろうか), which was uploaded on the user-publishing website Arcadia, has been published since 2013.
The setting is the fantasy world Orario where there are lots of underground labyrinth known as Dungeon. The main character Bell visits Dungeons to live from day to day and get stronger, and then he falls in love with thepowerful swordswoman Ais.
Author:Fujino OmoriIllustrator:Suzuhito YasudaPublished: from 2013Genre: Fantasy
15. The Irregular at Magic High School
The Irregular at Magic High School (魔法科高校の劣等生) was first released on the Shosetsuka ni Naro website in 2008 and the light novel has been published as a paper book since 2011.
The ongoing sci-fi novel has the theme of magic in the fictional Japan. The story centers on the two students in First High School: the brother Tatsuya and his little sister Miyuki.
Author:Tsutomu SatoIllustrator:Kana IshidaPublished: from 2008Genre: Naro, Action, Science Fiction
14. My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected
My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected (やはり俺の青春ラブコメはまちがっている。), which is also known asMy Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, is the romance light novel published from 2011 and completed with the vol.14 (and 3 short books) in 2019.
It depicts the high school life of the pessimistic boy Hachiman Hikigaya and his school service club members including the heroine Yukino Yukinoshita. The final season of its anime adaption is being released in 2020.
Author:Wataru WatariIllustrator:Ponkan8Published: 2011-2019Genre: Slice of life, Romance
13. Zaregoto Series
Zaregoto Series (戯言シリーズ) is one of the most popular light novel series written by Nisio Isin. The first title of the series isDecapitation: Kubikiri Cycle (クビキリサイクル 青色サヴァンと戯言遣い) published in 2002 and all 9 volumes were released by 2005.
The main character “I” and his friend Timo Kunagiza meet a variety of unique characters and get involved in lots of incidents. The spin-off seriesNingen Series with 7 volumes and Saikyo Series with 4 volumes are also related to the main series.
Author:Nisio IsinIllustrator:TakePublished: 2002-2005Genre: Mystery
As one of the most popular Naro light novels,Overlord (オーバーロード) should be picked out. It was published at first on the websites Arcadia and Shosetsuka ni Naro from 2012. Momonga, the player ofVRMMORPG(Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) namedYGGDRASIL, finds out he is transported to the different world fromYGGDRASIL as the game character called Ainz Ooal Gown.
Author:Kugane MaruyamaIllustrator:so-binPublished: from 2012Genre: Naro, Isekai
11. The Saga of Tanya the Evil
The Saga of Tanya the Evil (幼女戦記), a unique fantasy light novel, started its publication on the website Arcadia in 2011 and as a physical book in 2013. The setting ofThe Saga of Tanya the Evil is inspired by the World Wars in Europe. A salaried worker is sent to another world in the past as a little girl namedTanya von Degurechaff. Theyoung, blonde girl survives in the world as a member of the military. The light novel has been adapted into manga, anime and movies as well as other popular novels.
Author:Carlo ZenIllustrator:Shinobu ShinotsukiPublished: from 2011Genre: Fantasy
10. Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! (この素晴らしい世界に祝福を!) was released in 2013 after it had got popular among users in the website Shosetsuka ni Naro, and the story just came to the end in May, 2020.
The Isekai comedy light novel, which can be also looked on as the Naro genre, features the 4 main characters: Kazuma, Aqua, Darkness and Megumin. Kazuma, who dies in an accident when he is a high schooler, is sent to the fantasy world with the goddess Aqua.
Author:Natsume AkatsukiIllustrator:Kurone MishimaPublished: 2012-2020Genre: Isekai, Comedy
As one of the most read light novels in the 2000s,Toradora! (とらドラ!) is known especially in Japan. The slice-of-life light novel consists of 1o volumes and 3 spin-offs published between 2006 and 2009.
In the story, everyday and romance of the high schoolers Ryuji, Taiga and their friends with comedy. On the other hand, they have lots of problems in their lives such as family problems of the heroine Taiga.
Author: Yuyuko TakemiyaIllustrator: YasuPublished: 2006-2009Genre: Slice of life, Romance
8. Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World-
Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- (キノの旅 -the Beautiful World-), one of the longest modern light novel series, has been published with 22 volumes since 2000.
The adventure novel focuses on ateen girl named Kino who travels around the world witha talking motorcycle named Hermes. She visits a variety of fictional counties that have unique customs and social systems. Each episode stands alone, which has a kind ofallegoricalness. Two seasons of the anime adaption have been released.
Author:Keiichi SigsawaIllustrator:Kohaku KuroboshiPublished: from 2000Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
7. No Game No Life
No Game No Life (ノーゲーム・ノーライフ) is a famous ongoing fantasy light novel and anime series.Remarkably, the same person, whose name is Yu Kamiya, both writes the story and illustrates the characters on the cover.
It follows 18-year-old boy named Sora and his 11 years old sister-in-law named Shiro, who are undefeated gamers with high intelligence. They are transported to Isekai (another world) and fight various unique games there.
Author:Yu KamiyaIllustrator:Yu KamiyaPublished: from 2012Genre: Fantasy, Isekai
6. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (青春ブタ野郎はバニーガール先輩の夢を見ない), which is also known asSeishun Buta Yaro Series, is the first title of the recent popular light novel series published from 2014. In the story, lots of strange supernatural events happen around the main characterSakuta and people around him including his family and classmates. Those things are often caused by theirpsychological problems.
If you enjoy this light novel or other Japanese pop culture, you need to know the word Senpai, which means a senior especially in schools and other communities. In this case, the main heroine Mai is the Senpai (one grade ahead) for Sakuta. A manga adaption has been published since 2016 and the first season of the anime adaption was released in 2018.
Author:Hajime KamoshidaIllustrator:Keiji MizoguchiPublished: from 2014Genre: Fantasy, Slice of life
5. Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Re:ゼロから始める異世界生活), which is abbreviated to Re:ZERO, is one of the most popular Isekai light novels of all time. Its online publishing started on Shosetsuka ni Naro in 2012 and over 30 volumes of light novels have been published since 2014.
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is set in the parallel world where the main character Subaru Natsuki is sent for any reason. He is transported to another world but is not granted any powerful ability while a main character of many Isekai light novels gets something special.
However, there is the one extraordinary thing he can experience in the world: Shinimodori (“Return by Death”). He goes back in time to the past in the living state, which is triggered by his death. The story follows him and his meeting various unique characters such as the heroine Emilia and thetwin maids Ram and Rem.
Author:Tappei NagatsukiIllustrator:Shinichiro OtsukaPublished: from 2012Genre: Dark fantasy, Isekai, Naro
4. A Certain Magical Index
The longest and most popular light novel A Certain Magical Index (とある魔術の禁書目録) is categorized as action and fantasy. It consists of three titles so far: the firstA Certain Magical Index published between 2004 and 2010, the second New Testament: A Certain Magical Index published between 2011 and 2019 and the thirdGenesis Testament: A Certain Magical Index started from 2020. The number of the total series volume reaches 50.
The setting is the high-tech town in the fictional Tokyo where supernatural power and magic are a reality. There are 2 main groups in the world:Espersbased on science andSorcerersbased on magic. A Certain Magical Index focuses on the main character Toma Kamijo who belongs to the side of Espers and the main heroine Index on the side of Sorcerers. In addition to a variety of attractive characters, powerful battle scenes of Toma are one of the highlights in the light novel.
The spin-offsA Certain Scientific Railgun (とある科学の超電磁砲) featuringMikoto Misaka andA Certain Scientific Accelerator (とある科学の一方通行) featuringAccelerator are very popular among fans as well.
Author:Kazuma KamachiIllustrator:Kiyotaka HaimuraPublished: from 2004Genre: Fantasy, Action
3.Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン), abbreviated to SAO, is one of the most famous and popular Japanese light novels all over the world. The fantasy adventure novel, published from 2009, can be divided into 5 main parts:Aincrad, Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet, Alicization and Unital Ring.
The story mainly proceeds in the virtual reality world.Sword Art Onlineis set in the fictional world 2022 where the advanced VR online game called Sword Art Online is invented. TheFullDive technology enables players to immerse themselves in VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), which means theycan feel all senses forfighting, eating, sleeping and so on there.
The story beginswhen the players of SAO are trapped in the game world as they are unable to log out including the main character Kirito and heroine Asuna. The current seasons of anime adaptions are highly rated among the fans of the light novel.
Author:Reki KawaharaIllustrator:abecPublished: from 2009Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
2. Monogatari Series
In terms of quality of contents and popularity, many light novel fans look on Monogatari Series (物語シリーズ) as the best one of all time. Monogatari Series, written by the popular author Nisio Isin, has been top-rated as both a light novel and a normal novel. There are20 titles with 26 volumes and a spin-off (as of 2020) in the series, and a new volume is still released every few years lately.
The popular series begins with Bakemonogartari (化物語) focusing on the high school guy Koyomi Araragi and his girl friends and his sisters. The theme of the novel is anaberrationcalled Kaii in Japanese, which is a sort of an evil spirit. The characters are possessed by the aberrations for any reason, and Koyomi tries to help them while he is also possessed by a vampire.
One of the highlights in the light novel is speedy conversations by the characters who have unique personalities. You can enjoy various essences such as battle scenes, human drama, mystery, etc. The three seasons (from Bakemonogatari to Zoku-owarimonogatari) have been adapted into an anime, and fans expects other parts to be made into anime adaptions in the future.
Author:Nisio IsinIllustrator: VofanPublished: from 2006Genre: Fantasy
1. Haruhi Suzumiya Series
Haruhi Suzumiya Series (涼宮ハルヒシリーズ), which is also known for the first titleThe Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱), started its publication from 2003. It’s a matter of course thatHaruhi Suzumiya Series is ranked 1st in the best light novel list since it has played a large role in the light novel industry. It is also not too much to say that light novels could be much less popular without the legendary series.
The story centers on the main character Haruhi Suzumiya and the other members ofSOS Brigade, which is a high school club. They are aliens coming from other planets or the future except the human being named Kyon. It’s interesting that they enjoy an ordinary school life while supernatural phenomena interfere in their lives, which happen due to the unconscious force of Haruhi.
The fans were surprised by a unique method of light novels: “Time Loop” meaning characters go back in time to the same past point repeatedly. In the Endless Eight part, Haruhi with the SOS Brigade members experience the same two weeks (from 17th to 31st August) for over 15000 times.
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Of course, an anime adaption, consisting of 2 seasons, has been popular among fans of the original light novel and anime lovers.
Author:Nagaru TanigawaIllustrator:Noizi ItoPublished: from 2003Genre: Fantasy, Slice of life
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One of the most popular light novel publishing company Kadokawa offers all-you-can-read deals! You can enjoy reading unlimited light novels and manga published by Kadokawa. The website here is in Japanese, however, Google Translate can easily help you to read it in English! Just click the right mouse button or tap the menu button on your smartphone to use the translation function! >> Check more details about the light novels unlimited service!
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You can buy and start reading those light novels right now with e-readers like Kindle. If you are interested in the digital books, check out which device is the best to buy in this article!