“Light Novel”: Who invented this term?

The image on the left is from Vampire Chamberlain, book one of the famous “No Hero” series published in Taiwan in recent years. The series features a teenage vampire who works as a housekeeper. His master and best friend is from one of four ancient clans that have been competing for the world’s domination for thousands of years. As the two become involved in a series of confrontations among the clans, the young vampire also has to manage his own family and love affairs.

Authored by Taiwanese writer Yu Wo, the seven-part “No Hero” series is a prestigious example of the “light novel” genre that is extremely popular in Japan, Taiwan and China. As explained by Wikipedia, “light novel” is a style of Japanese novel that primarily targets middle and high school students. A typical light novel is short (40,000-50,000 words), features plenty of dialogues and vocabularies that are popular among teenagers, and is often illustrated. The subject can range from ordinary school love to sci-fi, fantasy, horror and historical detective, and often derives from existing computer games and comic books.

Having experienced a boom in Japan in the beginning of the 21st century, light novels arrived in Taiwan and China through translation. Various local writers and illustrators soon emerged, however, displaying their own unique styles and featuring characters and story plots that are familiar among local teenagers. As a result, in the past three years or so, light novels have spread throughout the Taiwanese and Chinese markets like a wild fire.

Light novels in Taiwan and China have much less illustrations when compared to their Japanese counterparts. While they may be fantasies full of supernatural heroes and romances, reading them is like surfing through comic books that are fast-paced and full of thrilling actions.

Take the aforementioned author Yu Wo as an example. Her eight-part series “The Legend of Sun Knight” depicts the evolution of a land that is dominated by three ancient churches — the God of Light, the God of Chaos, and the God of War. As each church has control of its own kingdom, their knights have to negotiate not only with forces from other churches and/or kingdoms but also with the demands of local royalties.

Yu Wo’s 12-part series “1/2 Prince” features a group of characters who have met each other through the online game “Second Life” (not the one developed by Linden Lab). Within the game’s simulated realm — which is said to be so realistic that a player can hear the birds chirping and feel the wind blowing past — there are five continents on which various cities are established. As the characters negotiate with each other both within and outside of the game, their “avatars” also have to compete against the game’s numerous NPCs (non-player characters) for the continued survival of these cities.

Thus the likely conclusion is that although light novels appear to be short, easy and extremely entertaining to read, they are difficult to write. It is certainly no easy task to create a series of books containing numerous characters and stories that are so full of twists and turns that readers often burst out laughing while being glued to the spot. Perhaps this style of story writing can serve as an inspiration to writers in the West.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Popularity of “Light Novel” in Taiwan | Voices under the Sun

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