Over the past year, I’ve become something of a light novel addict. #BlameBtT. Inspired by what Frank has written about light novels, I thought it might be worthwhile to survey the light novel series I’m reading. With a couple exceptions, these are overall impressions of each series, not reviews of individual volumes. Since I can never pick a favorite, instead of doing a top ten list, I have graded the titles in rough groups based on how highly I view them. Hopefully you’ll find some possibilities for your future reading. Also, feel free to compare my views to Frank’s top 10 for some interesting similarities and differences!
I consider the following series the best of the best, the ones I can recommend with no qualifications:
My first light novel series ever was Infinite Dendrogram, and it remains one of my favorites. It’s kind of isekai-ish, insofar as most of the story takes place in a virtual world, but the protagonist still very much lives in our world. The characters are likeable and interesting, the world-building is rich, and the battles are the best of any light novel I’ve read. The story follows protagonist Ray as he begins playing an oddly named VRMMO (seriously, Dendrogram? Tree-writing?!). The narrative is enriched by a lively collection of supporting cast members and some intriguing world-building. For a story nominally taking place within a game, Dendro does an impressive job of making me feel like there are high stakes for the conflicts that occur. Almost from the outset, Dendro starts hinting at mysteries and plot twists, and keeps gradually introducing deeper questions to its narrative. I’ve devoured all nine volumes that are available and can’t wait for the next one.
Invaders of the Rokujouma!? is easily the longest series I’ve read, and probably has the most well-developed characters. A high school boy living on his own has his apartment invaded by a ghost, a magical girl, a space alien princess, and a mole person. The landlady forces them to handle the conflict in a non-destructive manner, and the story just gets more awesome and hilarious from there. Thanks to the extended length of the series, every character in the huge cast gets opportunities to shine; likewise, relationships between the characters grow in a really satisfying way. The story has some great foreshadowing, and has done a surprisingly fine job weaving together many initially separate plot threads in a logical way. Amazingly, all twenty-one translated volumes are available for free, so please do yourself a favor and check it out.
Probably the funniest series I’ve read so far is Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?!, a reincarnation isekai story with the gimmick that protagonist Adele is ridiculously OP and DIDN’T WANT TO BE. She begins the story by heroically giving her life to save a child, making her immediately sympathetic. Because how stressful and isolating her life was as a perfect student in Japan, she asks the godlike being who reincarnates her to make her totally “average.” However, you probably remember that in math, “average,” can mean several different things. Well, the god creatively misinterprets her request in ways that technically qualify as “average” yet totally miss the spirit of the request. Adele’s magic power, for example, is the average between a human and the strongest living creatures in the world, an elder dragon; thus, while technically “average” from a certain point of view, her magic is thousands of times stronger than any human’s. The story chronicles Adele’s efforts to make friends, while struggling valiantly to convince anyone she’s just a normal girl. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all six volumes that have come out so far. Also, volume one of this series is the reading for this month’s edition of the Light Novel Club and we all enjoyed it.
These are LNs I fully recommend—they just don’t quite attain to the greatness of the previous section:
Probably the darkest series I follow is Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chronicles. That’s not to say it’s a brutal grimdark horrorfest or anything, but the setting definitely showcases more evil and suffering than is typical of the light novels I’ve read. This is another reincarnated-into-a-fantasy-world isekai story, with a plot exciting enough to keep me coming back for all five volumes available in English. The protagonist dies in our world and reawakens as a traumatized orphan. He gets a new lease of life when he’s plucked out of the slums and sent to the royal academy, but his troubles persist and transcontinental adventure follows. Rio eventually becomes pretty OP, but it takes a couple volumes for him to get there. In other series, the OP protagonist would kill any sense of danger in the story, but because the world is so fraught with real wickedness, the sympathetic characters feel more imperiled than is usual for a light novel. Similarly, the good people in the story shine all the more brightly for being in a setting dominated by the proud and cruel.
Like Abilities Average, I Shall Survive Using Potions! is also written by FUNA, is also hilarious, and also stars a comically OP female protagonist reincarnated in a fantasy world. In contrast to Adele and her desire to be normal, Potions‘ protagonist, Kaoru, takes the opposite approach. She ASKS to be given OP cheat powers and has few qualms with letting others find out about them. Unlike Adele’s dogged striving to avoid attention, Kaoru quickly lets herself becomes an international sensation. There’s a lot of fun in watching her revel in over-the-top power and alter the course of world history with her knowledge and abilities. Two volumes have been released, and they’re both delightful.
Reincarnated as a Sword is yet another reincarnation isekai story—with the entertaining twist the protagonist has become a sapient sword. As swords go, he’s quite OP, but he’s still a sword, which imposes serious limitations. Eventually he finds a wielder: Fran, an adorable beastgirl escaped slave. The parent-and-child-like interactions of the grown-up minded sword and his child wielder are cute and fun. The humor comes from more than just the two leads—for example, vol. 2 introduces a comical yet charming necromancer! There are also hints of a big-picture plot and mysteries that are slowly unfolding, but so far it’s been a pretty lighthearted adventure. I would note that the series makes heavy use of RPG-style, level-up mechanics, and while that didn’t detract from my enjoyment, I can see it getting annoying for some readers.
And now for something completely (?) different: Obsessions of an Otome Gamer. The two volumes that have been translated so far comprise yet another reincarnation isekai story… except that the isekai world is based on a fictional otome game and thus is almost exactly like the real world (aside from people having anime hair). However, as the story develops, circumstances turn out to be more complicated than the initial setup leads readers to believe. The mysteries of the plot are solid, but the real draw here is the warm relationships the protagonist has with her family — you’ll get warm fuzzy feelings, trust me. The other unusual feature of this series is its focus on classical music; the protagonist is a budding pianist, and the books are loaded with references to famous composers and pieces.
Welcome to Japan, Ms. Elf is isekai, but it turns the standard isekai formula around by having the protagonist accidentally transport an elf from her native fantasy world into our world. It turns out they can go back forth between worlds by falling asleep while touching—or by getting killed! The eponymous Ms. Elf first awakes in Japan when she and the protagonist (who thought he was just dreaming) get incinerated by a dragon. The story alternates between fantasy-adventure sections and medieval-elf-encounters-modern-Japan segments. This is a cute, fun, lighthearted romance story with some adventure elements mixed in. The second volume adds a dragon to the mix (who also ends up visiting Japan!).
Another fairly new series, Ascendance of a Bookworm is, once again, a reincarnation isekai story. The protagonist dies when an earthquake causes her book collection to crush her, and reawakens as a small, sickly child in a prosaic medieval world. It’s a laid back tale free of OP protagonist shenanigans. Instead, her struggles and misadventures are those of a feeble six-year-old trying to figure out how to craft a medium for writing, as well as use her modern knowledge to improve the quality of life for herself and those around her. What really made the book enjoyable for me was the heartwarming interactions between the protagonist and her loving family and friends. In an unusual twist for isekai tales, the first book is devoid of magic (aside from some odd, not-explicitly-magical flora and fauna that we hear about). However, vol. 1 wraps up with a hint that magical things may be happening in the future, and vol. 2 shares the protagonist’s shock at realizing she’s in a fantasy world.
Cooking with Wild Game is once again isekai. A few factors distinguish it from most entries in that genre, however. Aside from the unknown cause of protagonist Asuta getting isekai’d, there’s been no sign of supernatural forces. Asuta is a normal human being and is in no way OP. And the story so far has been every bit as low-stakes as one might expect for an ordinary protagonist — the fate of the world is not on the line. As a chef trainee, his only real skills are cooking related, so his biggest struggles have involved trying to produce a meal that would impress the local chieftain, and catering a wedding. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how interesting a story about frontier cooking could actually be. Asuta is a strong protagonist — a bit immature, but impressively conscientious (I’ve never seen an isekai protagonist thoughtfully worry over whether it was right to introduce Japanese ideas and practices to his new culture). One warning though: the second volume contains…well, it just barely stops short of becoming attempted rape (committed against Asuta!); it’s pretty intense and troubling, and doesn’t feel like it’s really been resolved yet.
I enjoy these series enough to keep reading, but not enough to recommend them unequivocally:
How A Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is another isekai story. The protagonist is summoned to a fantasy world to be a hero, handed the throne, and proceeds to save the country by implementing economic reforms. The first volume was okay, but I found the protagonist an insufferable know-it-all who spent way too much time monologuing. Sorry, I don’t read light novels so I can be lectured. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Because Frank has spoken so highly of the series, I decided to give it one more chance and tried the second volume. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it a lot more than the first. There were more interesting character interactions, a more exciting plot, the protagonist was more human and relatable, and there were noticeably fewer intellectual monologues. So, considered yourself warned that the first book might be a bit of a slog, but the series really does get better from there! The administrative and diplomatic focus continues throughout the series, and is pretty unique among light novels I’ve seen. There’s also some harem romance elements that are kind of a mixed bag; Souma eventually amasses five fiancees, and some of the relationships are cute while others leave me wondering why the author even bothered with them.
An Archdemon’s Dilemma: How to Love Your Elf Bride is a fluffy fantasy romance full of quirky characters and comical developments. The central romantic relationship develops in a charmingly slow, awkward manner. Besides the leading the couple, the cast includes the couple’s adopted dragon-girl daughter, a knight templar turned butler, a clone of the elf girl, and more. Another supporting character is unusually crass as LN characters go, and it grates on me a bit. Along with that issue, the other factor knocking this down to B-ranking is that the quality of the writing is sometimes a little weak. Still, I’ve read all the volumes that have been released so far and plan to keep up with the series. Also, this one of the rare not-isekai series I’m reading, so if isekai is not your cup of tea, you may appreciate Archdemon’s Dilemma even more.
I picked up these series in the middle, trying to follow where their respective anime left off, so although I liked them, I don’t feel qualified to give an opinion on the LN series as a whole:
When I decided I wanted to try a physical light novel (rather than reading another ebook on my Kindle like I usually do), I settled on Sword Art Online Alicization. I started with volumes 15 and 16, which pick up right where the anime left off. The latter portion of the anime proved deeply thought-provoking, and these books are a satisfying continuation that explore some really profound issues while telling a fantasy-adventure story. A sociopathic IRL villain appears, while a major war breaks out in the Underworld, and Kirito is effectively missing in action. I look forward to the future of the anime, but I also plan to stick with the light novels (and may at some point even go back and read the earlier volumes). I understand SAO is somewhat polarizing, so whether you’d like these books probably depends on how you feel about the series more generally.
After greatly enjoying the anime, I decided to check out That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Like with SAO, I attempted to pick up where the anime left off. As best I can tell, the show adapted the first three books plus a section of the fourth, so I read vol. 4 and vol. 5. Rimuru and friends’ continued adventures are very much what you’d expect if you’ve seen the anime — fantasy-adventure with an insanely OP protagonist, loads and loads of characters, and abundant humor. Similar to SAO, it’s worth reading if you enjoyed the anime, but if you didn’t care for the show, the books aren’t likely to change your mind.
That takes care of all the light novel series I’m currently following. I also figured I’d offer capsule reviews of some books I’ve tried and found wanting. Saving 80,000 Gold in Another World for My Retirement is an inferior version of of Survive Using Potions and Abilities Average, from the same author. The humor is still there, but the characters are flatter and there’s less of a plot; still, you may find it an amusing isekai tale. This time the protagonist’s quirk is the ability to easily teleport back and forth to our world, which she hopes to use to get rich. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is another otome-game-world isekai saga, but the protagonist is painfully dense and the harem elements ridiculously forced. Volume 1 was mildly amusing, but not enough that I have any desire to continue. In Amagi Brilliant Park, a high school student gets roped into running a magical amusement park. I didn’t actually bother finishing the first novel—parts were hilarious, but there was also way too also too much crude humor for my tastes. I gave up on Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension in a similar way. The isekai protagonist is summoned to a fantasy world as a hero—and his special power is instant access to a fancy bath wherever he is, leaving him floundering to find creative applications for this “useless” power. The concept is interesting, but the implementation was way too fanservicey for me to enjoy. Perhaps I’m a prude, but I just couldn’t enjoy these two books. Lastly, there’s Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody. While the title is amazing, the womanizing isekai protagonist is not — I grew weary of his incessant comments about the attractiveness of every single female character he met. And overall I just found the book to be a boring slog that couldn’t hold my interest.
There you have it: my favorite light novels, and some I rejected. What about you, O reader mine? Have I piqued your interest regarding any of these? I certainly hope so. If you do try anything I recommended, be sure to report what you thought! And of course, this question can go the other way: are there any light novels you’d recommend to me? I’m sure there are tons of series out there that I haven’t even heard of, let alone read. Do you have any favorites to share?