Popularity of “Light Novel” in Taiwan

LightNovelBack in June 2012 I published an article called “‘Light Novel’: Who invented this term?“. Since then I have received much feedback from readers who are interested in this literary phenomenon in Asia/Taiwan.

Interestingly, the issue of light novels recently re-surfaced in Taiwan, when a renowned independent literary agent lamented over the popularity of these books among not only teenagers but also college/university students. His sentiments triggered a series of heated debate online, where people argued whether light novels are too “light” to be considered as “proper” literature and whether young people should aspire to other “serious” and “high-standard” literary genres.

According to Taiwan’s Apple Daily, light novels have enjoyed a steady 30% growth rate each year since 2009. The number of light novels sold in Taiwan has grown 120% in the same period, with their patrons being mainly teenagers and college/university students. From January to April this year, the number of light novels sold in the island nation boasted a 60% increase when compared to the same period last year.

As mentioned in my previous article, light novels feature “plenty of dialogues and vocabularies that are popular among teenagers, and (are) 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”. As a result, “reading them is like surfing through comic books that are fast-paced and full of thrilling actions”.

So, is there any wonder that young readers like these books? For example, the latest volume of Taiwanese author Hu Xuan’s “The Unique Legend” series (see image above) was launched on April 17 and had sold 6,369 copies up until May 5, i.e. nearly 354 volumes per day. When Taiwanese author Yu Wo’s eight-part series “The Legend of Sun Knight” was launched several years ago, within as short a time frame as eight hours, as many as 3,000 volumes were sold. What is curious is that these sales mainly took place at dawn. Why? Nobody knows. But publishers quickly followed suit and many have since launched their own light novels in the very early hours of the day.

Many people complain that light novels are too “shallow” and contain too much “moe”, a Japanese slang word meaning “a rarefied pseudo-love for certain fictional characters (in anime, manga and the like) and their related embodiments”. The term “moe”, according to Wikipedia, derives from a Japanese word that literally means “budding”, which, in this case, very much relates to pre-adolescent girls. The term is also related to the Japanese word “burning”, and thus can be used to describe a burning passion felt for the cute and adorable characters.

Other people point out the covers of light novels are often too similar to the so-called ACG (Animations, Comics and Games) for these books to be taken seriously. Whether this is a strategy adopted by publishers to attract the attention of young people, or a response of theirs to the demands of these readers, is unknown. What is for sure, however, is that an increasing number of readers in Taiwan have associated this type of cover design with light novels.

As a result, some of the “serious” literary genres such as sci-fi and fantasy have been introduced to Taiwan using this type of ACG-like cover designs, perhaps in the hope of grabbing the attention of teenagers and college/university students. Some of them indeed became popular, but many others suffered because readers judged these books by their covers and considered them to be “light”, instead of “serious”, writings.

LightNovel01A good example of such misunderstanding is Scott Lynch’s fantasy novel The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006), whose Chinese translation was launched in Taiwan on December 10, 2012 (see image to the left). There have been so many people thinking the book as a light novel, or a children’s book, or even a romance novel, that its sales were, let us just say, far, far less than encouraging. The book is now being sold with a huge 34% discount, reduced from the original price of 599 New Taiwan dollars (~US$19.48) to the current 395 (~US$12.85), until mid-June 2013.

Finally, the debate that lingers, perhaps not only in Taiwan but also in the West, concerns the values of “light” and “entertaining” books when compared to “serious” and “literary” ones. In Taiwan, there are sentiments such as “those above the age of 18 should progress from light novels to serious literary books”, “there is very little or hardly any literary values in light novels”, “those who read light novels have low literary standards and/or tastes” and “serious and/or professional authors don’t write light novels”. The problem is, while readers do and should have their own choices, to what extent have these choices affected — and been affected by — the promotional strategies of publishers remains an issue to be explored.

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