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Getting into Light Novels for Girls

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Some of you may be surprised that there’s such a thing as light novels for girls, but yes, they do exist. In fact, they’re a dime a dozen in the Japanese market. Just look how many “shojo” light novels are on Bookwalker – and that’s not even scratching the surface.

At the same time, it is true that Japanese light novels these days are fairly skewed towards male readers. It is said that the ratio of male-to-female light novel readers is 9:1 for male-oriented light novel labels. These include the very popular labels which you may have heard of, such as Dengeki Bunko and Fantasia Bunko. The 9:1 male-to-female ratio lies in contrast to the average ratio of 3:7 across the Japanese fiction market.

(I don’t know how precisely accurate these ratios are, but for reference, one of the editors at GA Bunko says that women in their twenties make up 15% of shonen manga readership. He doesn’t specify how many women outside that age group read shonen manga, though.)

Light novels for girls don’t usually top the sales charts, but the ones that do are usually tie-ins for popular anime. For example, the Haikyuu! and Kuroko no Basuke novels managed to crack the top ten bestsellers for 2014. Yes, neither of them are “shojo” light novels, but you can bet your life that most of the readers were female. Other popular light novels aimed predominantly at female readers are The Twelve Kingdoms, Ghost Hunt and Saiunkoku Monogatari. 

It’s a pity that there are not many English translations of these light novels for girls. A few of them are really quite interesting, especially if you’re sick of the “stuck in a game world” shtick, which can happen to the best of us. So I’d like to dedicate this post to some of the more off-beat light novel titles I’ve been reading lately.

Alice in the Country of Diamonds: Bet on My Heart

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I have never played any of the Alice in the Country of — games, nor have I read any of the various manga adaptations, so by all accounts I should have been completely lost reading the Diamonds light novel. Yet besides the initial confusion caused by the overload of characters, I followed the plot easily enough. It’s one of those fish out of the water stories, so I could very much relate to the heroine as she spent half the novel wondering wtf is going on.

I’m guessing that the appeal of the series lies in its refreshingly pragmatic protagonist. She reminded me of a slightly less snarky Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club. She does make some bafflingly stupid decisions for plot-convenient reasons at times, but at least her thought process is sensible. For example, she mainly acts out of self-preservation for most of the story, which makes sense considering that she’s caught up in a mafia war. When she falls for the male protagonist, I could understand why she rationalised her feelings instead of acting upon them immediately. Her life was literally on the line, and she was never entirely sure whether she was experiencing a kind of Stockholm Syndrome or simply latching onto a familiar face in an unfamiliar world.

What impressed me the most about the story was the worldbuilding. The idea of travelling between worlds is not a new one, but Quin Rose (the game developer) makes things interesting by tweaking the personalities of the characters in each permutation of Wonderland. From what I understand, the differences between the Country of Hearts and the Country of Clovers are relatively minor, but in the Country of Diamonds, everyone is radically different. There’s a growing mystery about how the secrets of the world, but all of it is left unexplained even at the end of the novel. This was a not so subtle hint to play the games.

The descriptions themselves are rather sparse, even for light novel standards, and there’s a measure of authorial laziness in terms of how people are described. It is awfully convenient that anyone who is not a named character is “Faceless” and therefore barely described at all. I will give credit to the writer Sana Shirakawa for using comparisons very effectively, though. By showing the heroine comparing the various worlds she’s been in, Shirakawa manages to create a distinct image of the Country of Diamonds, a world that feels simultaneously sparse and yet full of danger.

I did not read the novel in Japanese, so I cannot comment on the translation accuracy, but I thought that William Flanagan did a good job producing a breezy and readable translation, so I’d recommend getting an English copy if you can.

Vampire Knight: Ice Blue Sin

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I have only vague memories of Vampire Knight. I remember thinking that Kaname came off as kind of a pedo and that Zero was the world’s biggest teenage edgelord, but that’s about it.

The light novel was good, though, mostly because it kept things simple and didn’t descend into the soap opera dramatics that the manga is infamous for. The LN is divided into two novellas, both of which are set before the main story begins, so there wasn’t much room for a complex story. Our heroine Yuki is only a minor character here. Most of the focus was on the cruelty of the Vampire Knight world.

I always knew that Zero had the short end of the stick, but his dilemma really comes into perspective through the novel’s first story, which centers around a young girl’s transformation into a blood-sucking monster. While the heroine of the novel eventually accepts her impending death with grace and dignity, Zero fights tooth and nail against his fate. I gained a much better appreciation of his struggle after seeing another person cope with the same dilemma. Suddenly, Zero’s angst didn’t feel so overblown.

I can’t for the life of me remember what happens to Zero in the end, but come to think of it, that “tragic childhood friend” premise was pretty good. It really took the whole “THE CHILDHOOD FRIEND NEVER WINS” trope to a whole new level.

The second story in the LN tells a story about Zero’s past. I didn’t like this one as much because it felt more rushed, and also the plot twist was waaaaaaaaay too convenient. It ended up going overboard on the whole “crapsack world” theme. I mean, the struggle to remain in touch with one’s own humanity in the face of a terminal illness is something that even non-vampires can relate to. But I doubt that many people can relate to the dilemma which Kaito faced in this LN in any shape or form.

Overall, I enjoyed the Vampire Knight novel because it reminded me that the series had some neat ideas going for it, and that these ideas are well suited to the short story/novella format. I should pick up the other Vampire Knight novel available in English some time – Fleeting Dreams or whatever it’s called.

Once again, I read the Ice Blue Sin novel in English. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print. You can read a dirty fan translation of the first story here, though.

Henai Psychedelic

Strange_Love_Wiki_MainHenai Psychedelic is written by Natsuki Mamiya, the author of the psychological teen drama Gekkou. Like Gekkou, Henai Psychedelic is unafraid of dealing frankly with morbid subjects. This time, the focus is on teen suicide and depression.

This is one of those series that I wish had an English translation because it’s refreshingly free of all the usual ecchi romcom tropes, even if it does stick to the high school setting. The friendship between Riko (the red-haired girl) and Sana (the black-haired boy) has to be one of the most genuine and inspiring I’ve seen in this sort of story. There’s no hint of romantic feelings from either of them, which makes it even more remarkable. I’m about two-thirds through the first volume, but I can’t wait to start the second volume because I hear it focuses on their friendship in even more detail.

As for the story itself, so far it feels very much like the introductory volume that it is. Henai Psychedelic lacks the danger and urgency of Gekkou, instead going for a more laid-back comedic sort of tone. Nevertheless, there are scenes that revolve around clever psychological tricks and subverting the reader’s interpretation of the characters, so I was never in any doubt that Mamiya wrote this. Expect a full review when I’m finished with the series.


Are there any light novels for girls (or written by girls) that you find interesting? Let me know in the comments!

Edit: I added some context to the statistics at the beginning of the post.

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Posted on January 11, 2016, in Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Ah, I have a few comments to make, so I guess I’ll bullet point this:
    > When I was living in Japan, it really surprised me when I first walked into the light novel section. First it was neat just to see how many there were in general (a whole aisle of them), but it was interesting to note all the different demographics that were covered. There was a whole bookcase of children’s light novels (basically chapter books, but clearly fashioned in the same way regular light noels are). And then there was also a bookcase full of what were clearly “shoujo” light novels. Perhaps a hundred different series, all with pretty much the same cover (as your link to Bookwalker well demonstrates, ha ha). I’ve bought a bunch of these just for the lovely artwork… and motivation to keep studying Japanese, of course. >_> SIGH!
    > Regarding why these series aren’t licensed and released in English, I imagine it stems from the fact none of them ever get adapted into anime. The anime/manga crowd outside of Japan (or East Asian region) has only recently learned what light novels even are. So as can be expected, most of the stuff brought over the past few years have been for series that recently received anime adaptations (not so strange, considering how books in general tend to sell tons more when a film adaptation releases). Meanwhile, most shoujo stories that get anime are going to be based off the most popular manga (or sometimes an otome VN). And adding to all this, well, girls are a lot more likely to read stories aimed for boys than the other way around, so there’s that too. But thanks for expanding your horizons a bit, Frog-kun! ;) It’s good to try different things.
    > Alice in the Country of Diamonds — I have this, but still need to read it. I was thinking of reading the Hearts manga again first, because I remember liking it? I like most anything with Wonderland in it though.
    > Vampire Knight: Blue Sin — You might have to help me find this? I’m not seeing it anywhere… But yes, I feel like I might want to return to the manga for that series again too one day. I remember liking it, but then it got really confusing at some point… The earlier volumes had a nice balance between the melodrama and more lighthearted sequences, but the comedy was completely dropped later unfortunately.
    > Henai Psychadelic — I found Gekkou interesting, so I’d probably like to read this too. One day, perhaps? I’m all for more pensive titles getting translated.
    > Not a lot of shoujo LNs have been translated, so I’ve only read a few. Last year I did read the first volume of Sugar Apple Fairytale though, which I found cute. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was a nice easy read.
    > Some of my favorite LN author women: Mizuki Nomura (Book Girl), Kazuki Sakuraba (Gosick), and Yukako Kabei (Kieli). And Mizuki Nomura is my favorite author of all fiction actually, not just for light novels.

    • Regarding why these series aren’t licensed and released in English, I imagine it stems from the fact none of them ever get adapted into anime.

      Indeed. It’s worth pointing out that popular novel series for girls tend to be adapted into live action TV or movies instead of anime. Most English-speaking LN readers tend to associate LNs with anime, though.

      I was thinking of reading the Hearts manga again first, because I remember liking it?

      I know I said that I understood Diamonds without reading Hearts, but I get the feeling you’ll probably appreciate the characterisation better if you’re familiar with the Hearts and Clover worlds. So I say go ahead and read the manga before trying out the Diamonds LN!

      Vampire Knight: Blue Sin — You might have to help me find this?

      I’m not surprised that you couldn’t find it on the usual sites. I don’t think it got an English release outside Australia. Here’s the Madman page: http://www.madman.com.au/periodicals/home/601/vampire-knight-novella-ice-blue-sin

      And here’s the Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7099920-vampire-knight

      I’m not sure if the novel qualifies to be on your site, but somehow I managed to stumble across it in my local library…

      Last year I did read the first volume of Sugar Apple Fairytale though, which I found cute. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was a nice easy read.

      I haven’t read that one yet. I should get around to it.

      And as always, good luck with your Japanese study!

  2. Dark Lord Wendt

    I definitely knew that there were light novels aimed for girls. I was kind of wondering of where most of them were, but it’s just that they are not as popular. I am a little familiar with a couple of them, such as Maria sama ga Miteru. Haven’t read it but I love the anime, and would love to read it. I don’t think they are available in English however. There are also two Revolutionary Girl Utena novel told in Micky’s and Saionji’s perspective.

    • You’ll find that most anime franchises these days have light novel tie-ins. They’re an excellent form of cross-promotion. Very few of them get translated, though.

  3. I’ve read a few light novels here and there, but in general I’m just an anime kind of girl – light novels, manga, gaming, etc. aren’t really my thing (which is probably just as well given how much time I already sink into Japanese pop culture-related hobbies). For what it’s worth, I did watch all of the first season of the Vampire Knight anime at some point. I tried watching the second after that as well, but by that time I was fresh out of patience, as nothing of consequence ever seemed to happen. It was mostly just tons of angst and melodrama with nothing to show for it, so I got bored and left.

    • Honestly, I can’t remember a thing that actually happened in Vampire Knight. So you must be right that nothing of consequence happened. I can’t say I outright disliked it at the time, though. It was a nice thing to put on the TV while doing my homework. I guess it was like watching one of those daytime soap operas?

  4. I’d certainly be interested in seeing the Saiunkoku Monogatari light novels – that’s on my comfort anime list, but I’ve only seen 39 episodes (I know there’s more but I don’t think they were ever released with translations).


  5. I’m surprised your format is so shit.

    Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of light novels, but as for any light novels written by girls that I like, you know I like Mimizuku :)

  6. “It is said that the ratio of male-to-female light novel readers is 9:1, which is in contrast to the average ratio of 3:7 across the Japanese fiction market.”
    The source isn’t saying that. It’s saying that’s the ratio of male-to-female readers of light novels aimed at men. (Incidentally your source for shounen manga doesn’t say that 15% of shounen manga readers are female either – it says 15% are female AND between 19 and 29 years old – that twitter post only covers 71% of the total, and that 15% is more comparable to the 28% for males of the same age group)
    Going by Oricon sales and/or POS rankings, the best-selling ongoing light novel series aimed at women, incidentally, is Kokuhaku Yokou Renshuu.
    Also, yaoi female-oriented light novels seem to do disproportionately well in ebook formats, which aren’t counted in the data.

    • “It’s saying that’s the ratio of male-to-female readers of light novels aimed at men.

      That’s an important thing which I forgot to note. Thanks for pointing that out. I assumed that the user answering the question was talking about the mainstream labels (Dengeki Bunko, etc.), but I conflated “mainstream labels” with “light novels in general”. Bad mistake.

      “Incidentally your source for shounen manga doesn’t say that 15% of shounen manga readers are female either – it says 15% are female AND between 19 and 29 years old”

      I did say “women in their twenties”, which covers the 19-29 age group.

  7. Saiunkoku did top the LN sales charts for quite a while, which its fan (I’m a huge one~) are really proud of since it was competing against a lot of modern populist works (like Index/SAO) with a literary piece that’s focused around life lessons, overcoming social norms/challenges, and traditional/Confucian themes (while sidestepping the fact that Confucius is totally sexist~).

    Vampire Knight killed much of its fandom when it spiraled downhill and out-of-control towards its very much WTF ending.

    There’s actually quite a number of LNs aimed towards girls (with many being adapted to manga; but almost no anime). I’d have to say that overall, the quality is noticeably higher over on that side of the fence, even if most of them still don’t stand up to scrutiny. Fun to read though (the humor is better timed and less cliche than male-targeting ones too :3)

    One thing I do wonder is… I once heard in passing that women in Japan are more interested in stuff like cell-phone novels than light novels (which makes sense since female audience typically puts less emphasis on artwork than males; they simply have a better sense of imagination ^^). Question is how would something like that affect the LN market for women with its competition.

    • I once heard in passing that women in Japan are more interested in stuff like cell-phone novels than light novels

      Yeah, while doing research for this piece I found out that 86% of high school girls read cell phone novels: http://www.japantoday.com/category/arts-culture/view/cell-phone-novels-come-of-age

      I don’t know the exact relationship between cell phone novels and light novels. From my experience, though, they are written very similarly in terms of prose style, etc. There’s also been a huge upsurge of web novels lately, some of which written on mobile and/or published on mobile-friendly websites. And some of those web novels go on to be published as light novels. So it’s hard to tell the difference between a light novel and a cell phone novel at times. The only surefire method is to look at the publishing label and see if the publisher calls it a light novel.

      If you ask me, the difference between cell phone novels and light novels is more about branding and image. Cell phone novels have a poor reputation as trashy literature (er, even trashier than light novels), so light novel authors feel more “legit” than cell phone novelists. So you could say the difference is like fanfiction versus YA literature.

  8. It looks like the three novels you list that are “bestselling” shoujo novels seem to sideline romance for story. I am just wondering it Japan faces a similar issue that the US faces and that thinking that women want romance everytime, ALL the time when it’s like… nope, gotta have some action.

    ALSO sad that more shoujo novels aren’t translated. The only kinds that come over are yaoi novels and that’s… a very niche market.
    Hopefully maybe having a 13th volume to 12 Kingdoms might inspire someone to pick up the series again and give it a retransation? As for the other shoujo novels out they seem to be tie ins to long running manga series like Alice or Vampire Knight (or Pandora Hearts if that counts…..)

    I was hoping someone would pick up Earl and Fairy, Saiunkoku, Kyou Kara Maou and other’s like that because they had anime and even manga attached to them.. NOPE.

    I mean looking at the top 10 LNs in Japan and it’s all Seinen/Shounen is VERY sad. Most of those novels are of the ecchi harem variety that are little more than porn books too. So that makes it even sadder.

    Kinda also how there are a ton of fan translators and corprate translators to get the next eroge/bishoujoge out but next to 0 to get the latest and greatest otome game out. :c Aksys Games is like ONE that is releasing Japanese otome games and their translations are poor, games have bugs in them and they tend to put out a product that looks rushed with unfinished fonts that just kills the presentation.

    I’m also hoping for some NOVEL Novels to come out. I hear Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu is in translation. Maybe Shinsekai Yori will come out as well as No 6 and some more Yoshiki Tanaka novels like Tytania…

    • You bring up a lot of good points in your comment. It’s sad that otome games face similar obstacles, especially since lots of game developers these days are talking about getting girls more involved with gaming. Otome games have the potential to appeal more broadly, but if the only English releases we’re getting are poor, it will be difficult for them to catch on.

      Hopefully maybe having a 13th volume to 12 Kingdoms might inspire someone to pick up the series again and give it a retransation?

      This has happened with manga before, but not with light novels. This could be because LNs are still a growing market over here, so there’s a lot to translate before worrying about retranslating something. Fingers crossed, I suppose!

      I’m also hoping for some NOVEL Novels to come out.

      Technically, there are more novel translations being published each year than light novel translations. Of course, not many novels are adapted into anime, so it may seem like only a small number of novels get translated if you’re only following the anime/ranobe scene. In any case, I am definitely happy that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is getting an English release!

      • I guess for me it’s also hard to find the NOVEL novels because they aren’t curated by an anime/manga or even an LN group despite not being LNs. Like how manga is curated under anime, it’d be nice to see not LNs that get translated curated under LNs…

        I’m really hoping some of the TP LNs get either a re-release, or a retranslation and release and I think all of them were unfinished. “12 Kingdoms” was one that was a shame however. “Seirei no Moribito” was another but that was Scholastic.

        I guess what bugs me about shoujo LNs not getting translated is that there are very few fan translators that seem willing to work on them, or at least put them in a place like Baka Tsuki where they can be easily found. Like “Earl and Fairy” is on a WordPress and Saiunkoku is on a LiveJournal and of course NONE offer PDFs/ePUBs/etc. of volumes. :/

  9. Frog-kun, you can’t have this post and expect me NOT to comment on it! xD

    From my experience, fan-translated light novels for girls are rather rare, but it seems to me that web novels are picking up lately (web novels for girls included). I mean, yes, there’s quite a bit of stigma on web novels in the older group of translators (particularly on Baka-Tsuki), but I’m currently feeling that web novels are probably “the future” and a few of them are quite compelling.

    I’m going to drop a few sites and blog posts:

    http://moonbunnycafe.com/ — Run by alyschuu I believe; she curates quite a few web novels targeted to girls. “I Reincarnated into an Otome Game as a Villainess With Only Destruction Flags…” is a reverse-harem/comedy for instance.

    Another pretty good list xD: https://oniichanyamete.wordpress.com/other-stuff/list-of-novels-that-feature-protagonists-with-vaginas/

    Also, if you venture outside of the Japanese into some of Wuxia/Xianxia, there are quite a few extremely romantic web novels targeted to girls. Sansheng, Death Exists Not at the River of Oblivion is a good example on moonbunneycafe.

    Annndddddd, apart from that, I <3 you frog-kun~

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