2020 might have not been a good year in many ways, but at least for light novels, it was a great year. The two might not be unrelated, either; I know that light novels have helped me through a lot of this year, and I bet plenty of other people found light novels to be a good way to pass the time in quarantine. So let’s talk about some of our favorite light novels of the year!
Jeskai Angel and I will be going over some of our favorite light novels that released this year. Obviously, we have not read every light novel that came out, so if we missed a really good light novel, well, that’s what the comment section is for! Anyway, there will be two parts to this post: the first part will focus on light novels that debuted their first volume this year, while the second part looks at new volumes from titles that started before this year.
Before we begin, though, we should mention that we will not be including any of the light novels we have covered in the Light Novel Club and Reader’s Corner, since we want to highlight novels we weren’t able to cover through those ventures. That said, Tearmoon Empire and The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent are definitely two of our favorite light novels from the year, so if you want to know what makes them so good, check out our discussions on them!
The New Recruits
Choosing favorites would be incredibly difficult if we didn’t cheat to narrow down the options. Taking into account the exclusions mentioned above, there are two new series I wish to highlight, and they’re both part of J-Novel Club’s “J-Novel Heart” sub-brand. The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! is a charming light novel consisting of only three volumes, meaning it both debuted *and* finished in 2020. Main character and fantasy world native Lucia is a laundry maid with stain-removal magic who gets dragged into the world-saving adventures of a temperamental isekai heroine. A sweet mix of romantic-comedy and fantasy-adventure, SOAP also manages to play with isekai tropes in fun ways, throw in some thoughtful messages and interesting plot twists, and wrap it all up with a deeply satisfying ending. The Sorcerer’s Receptionist is another delightful fantasy romcom, but with more slice-of-life elements, and its unusual *tsundere* narrator provides a lot of humor and gives the story a different flavor from similar stories. I’ve read many light novels where the protagonist provides first-person narration, but this is the first time such time I’ve encountered a protagonist-narrator who is so blatantly tsundere, and it’s great. The story follows the school / work / social life of protagonist Nanalie the ice mage, especially the way she butts heads with the handsome fire mage Alois Rockmann. ~ jeskaiangel
So having to pick stuff I haven’t talked about before definitely makes all this harder, since almost everything I liked was already discussed elsewhere. In fact, pretty much the only title I have left to mention from J-Novel Club–and also from their Heart lineup–is I’ll Never Set Foot in That House Again! Its portrayal of a child abuse victim and how she learns to overcome that and find a family that actually loves her is really sweet and heartwarming. There are other elements that are interesting, from protagonist Chelsea’s “seed creation” skill to the hint that her main rescuer, Glen, was reincarnated from another world. It might not be the most well-written or intricate novel of the year, but it is exactly the kind of feel-good novel I wanted to read in 2020. Beyond that I guess I have to highlight notable works from other publishers… and this is where I have to give kudos to one of the newest light novel publishers, Tentai Books, for their release of There’s No Way a Side Character Like Me Can Be Popular, Right? It’s a surprisingly engaging look at the “fake” relationship between an unpopular guy and his popular friend’s sister, both of whom have their own complexes and quite a lot of character complexity and development to them. Likewise, their relationship is easy to cheer on, as their “fake” romance draws them closer. ~ stardf29
The Old Guard
In terms new entries for ongoing series this year, I’ve also got two highlights. Nothing tops Sword Art Online volume 18 for me. It’s the delightful, heartwarming finale of the Alicization arc that started way back in the ninth volume, and it feature the return of Kirito (after being effectively absent for the previous three volumes). I love this story and these characters and how their story played out here. This volume came out before the anime covered this material, so It was great to “read ahead” in a way, and then months later be able to watch the anime with a sense of anticipation for the incoming awesomeness, notice how the anime differed from the LN, and understand certain points that the LN covered but the anime failed to explain. The other book I consider noteworthy is Reincarnated as a Sword volume 6. It’s noteworthy I felt like the series was kind of dragging in the previous couple of volumes, so I decided I’d drop it unless the next volume turned things around. Well, suffice it to say that I was very pleased by the plot and world-building in vol. 6, and I will keep reading this series. As the volume that kept me from giving up on the series, it’s certainly notable to me on a personal level. ~ jeskaiangel
I’m going to have to bend the rules slightly here, since I know Jeskai technically covered volume 4 of this series, but I have to put Welcome to Japan, Ms. Elf! Volume 5 on this list, because it is such a great volume in so many ways. On the Earth side we get a fun visit to Not-Tokyo-Disneyland, with some fun reactions from the elf slave that was rescued in the last volume. There’s also a nice conclusion to the dealings with the evil “hero” candidate, and a nice flashback to how Kazuhiro and Marie first met. And then there’s the relationship development… Yeah, this was definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. If I had to pick another notable volume within the restrictions, I’d have to give it to In Another World With My Smartphone Volume 21. The series itself is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, and its been of middling quality at best, but this volume has a few things going for it: not only does it feature the long-awaited wedding between Touya and his wives, but more notably it actually has him taking his girls… back to his own world? Huh, why do both of my selections have to do with isekai casts visiting our world? Have I been missing going outside that much? Anyway, it makes for some uniquely fun moments, and that’s on top of a nice moment when he gets to properly say goodbye to his family before returning to the other world. Again, it’s not like I would recommend the series overall, but at least this volume was good. ~ stardf29
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