The last few years have been great for English light novels. We have now reached the point where there are dozens of new releases per year. There’s also more diversity than the popular anime adaptations will have you think, so you don’t have to read a story with the same “transported to another world” setup if you don’t want to. If you are looking for something new and fresh, you’ve come to the right blog post. Here are my favourites among all the new releases this year:
5) My Stepmom’s Daughter is My Ex
Digital-only from J-Novel Club.
This series got an anime this year, so you might already be aware of it, but just in case it slipped you by, the premise is simple: It’s about two teens who used to date each other in middle school now having to live as stepsiblings when they can no longer stand each other. Shenanigans inevitably ensue.
Although the setup might sound gimmicky, the story is a surprisingly honest portrayal of a young teen relationship, from their initial puppy love to the awkward friendship they strike up later as exes. Mizuto and Yume make for a fun pair with the way they trade barbs with each other and swap perspectives throughout the narrative. Amusingly, you can tell that they’re both still into each other but refuse to admit it even to themselves. Even as I found myself thinking every couple of pages “Shut up and kiss already!” I couldn’t help but get the impression that they understood each other better as exes than they did as a couple, which made for an interesting relationship dynamic.
By the way, if you are wondering why the title says “Stepmom’s Daughter” instead of “Stepsister”, I think it’s because “older sister” and “younger sister” are different words in Japanese, and Mizuto and Yume can’t even agree about who is the older one.
4) Silent Witch
Print and digital from Yen Press.
A magical academy story with a boatload of humour and charm. Silent Witch follows the incredibly shy Monica Everitt, who learned how to cast spells silently because she hates speaking that much. Before you can get tired of yet another overpowered light novel protagonist, the story throws her completely out of her comfort zone. Much of the appeal of the first volume is watching her get into totally avoidable scrapes because of her lack of social skills but still manage to make friends anyway.
It’s also impressive how well-structured the story in the first volume is, to the extent I was surprised to discover that it was adapted from a web novel. Much like any good first volume in a light novel series, it tells a satisfying standalone story while opening up the narrative for a continuation. It’s not a surprising book, but it is very heartwarming and satisfying.
3) Sabikui Bisco
Print and digital from Yen Press.
Set in a Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic Japan filled with giant mushrooms and bizarre animals, Sabikui Bisco has a totally unique world for a light novel. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, cramming colorful details and flamboyant action on every page. A single volume of Sabikui Bisco manages to tell a completely satisfying adventure that most light novel authors would drag out across at least two or three books.
The story follows the wanted man Bisco as he journeys across Japan with the young doctor Milo for a cure to a mysterious rust disease. In a series filled with bizarre and whimsical events, their friendship stands out for its sheer sincerity. The Shinji Cobkubo author once told me that his writing is inspired by old-school shounen manga like Fist of the North Star and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, so if you like that kind over-the-top storytelling and sentimental machismo, you should definitely check out Sabikui Bisco.
2) Dragon and Ceremony
Print and digital from Yen Press.
Gosh, this series makes me so emotional. Filled with subtle melancholy and the weight of forgotten lives, it’s more of a subdued sort of fantasy tale than an epic adventure. Our hero Ix, an apprentice wandmaker, tries to uncover the material to repair a girl’s wand, and in doing so discovers a long forgotten history.
Perhaps the best way to describe the unique appeal of Dragon and Ceremony is that it’s structured like a mystery. Although the story is fairly slow and uneventful at first, it carefully lays clues about the truth buried by time and how that impacts the present day. The ending is unexpected in how masterfully all the themes and events come together, tugging the heartstrings in a way that makes you want to quietly reflect on the nature of life and loss. This is a truly underrated gem.
1) Qualia the Purple
Print and digital from Seven Seas Entertainment.
Qualia the Purple used to be my favourite light novel ever until Torture Princess dethroned it just last week. This single volume story takes the reader on a wild journey, combining hard science-fiction with yuri and gore. If you’ve watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica or read Last and First Idol, this specific combination of genres won’t take you by surprise, but Qualia the Purple will still bend your mind because of just how far it takes its core concept. The basic story is about a girl who can see people as robots, but things get complicated after she gives her only friend an upgrade that makes her capable of accessing parallel worlds.
I remember first reading this story until past 2 in the morning, utterly engrossed. This story explores transhumanist themes from a creative angle, as we see many different versions of the characters. As the sci-fi elements become denser, the protagonist’s humanity becomes starker, even as she acts in ways that would repulse most people. I am so delighted that this story is finally available in English translation for everyone to enjoy.
As a bit of trivia, Qualia the Purple was one of the inspirations behind Approximation of a Brother Complex: A Sibling Love Story, the novella I published this year. It’s a big creative influence for me.
Other Recommended 2022 Light Novels
- Ishura: A fantasy battle royale story recommended for anyone who likes the works of Ryogo Narita (Baccano!, Durarara!!).
- Chitose Is in the Ramune Bottle: A romcom told through the perspective of the popular guy in school. A refreshing take on the genre with an unusual protagonist.
- Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian: Cute and heartwarming romcom. I wrote a blog post about this.
- Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte: Amusing take on the “villainess” genre, as the players can communicate with the male love interest to change the plot of the game. This one is getting an anime next season.
- The Misfit of Demon King Academy: The Demon King gets reincarnated, only for nobody to recognise him. The jokes are all very funny, and Anos is a charismatic character. The anime adaptation is very popular.
- Your Forma: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s an interesting sci-fi story about AI and was well-received by light novel fans.
It’s the last day of the year and I wanted to mark it with an article that’s not too exhausting to write, so here we are. Happy New Year, everybody! Hope you find this post useful, and feel free to recommend other noteworthy light novels in the comments!