Last month, a new English light novel distributor emerged on the scene. Called J-Novel Club, it promises to publish the latest light novels worldwide in digital format. You might have seen my interview with the site’s owner on Crunchyroll, which goes into more detail about what the site is all about and what sort of titles are available there already.
Needless to say, I’m a supporter of the website. It’s a risky and experimental venture, but I definitely want it to succeed. If J-Novel Club manages to take off, we could see more light novels available in English, including the more obscure titles without anime adaptations. I never thought the day would come when I’d be able to read an official English translation of My Little Sister Can Read Kanji, but now that it has arrived, I fall on my knees and thank God I’m alive.
So what’s next in the world of English light novels? While I have no way of seeing the future, I do have some tentative predictions about the prospects of J-Novel Club, which I’d like to share in this post.
During my adventures on the Japanese web, I rarely see people say anything good about the recent trend towards isekai (“stuck in another world”) stories, particularly in light novels and web novels. The stories are frequently dismissed as shallow, masturbatory and full of cheap wish fulfillment. It’s overdone, they say. It’s trite and cliche. Stop adapting so many of these stories into anime.
Japanese readers have even come up with memes to make fun of the recent trends. 「俺TUEEEE」(“I’m so stroooooong”) basically means “Overpowered MC”. When a story is filled to the brim with all the various wish fulfillment tropes, it’s referred to as a narou-type work. Narou comes from Shousetsuka ni Narou! (“Let’s become a novelist!”), which is far and away the most popular website for posting amateur web novels. If you check out the top-ranked series, the vast majority are isekai stories where the MC does pretty much nothing to earn his 俺TUEEEE status.
The Japanese fandom is like the English fandom in the sense that the majority of internet commentary about this trend is snarky and negative, but a significant number of people are hooked on these stories nevertheless. There are plenty of netizens who attempt to explain the appeal of the narou genre, but because they’re clearly disdainful of it, their explanations occasionally seem condescending, even pathologising (e.g. “it’s a shallow power fantasy aimed at nerds who will never find a girlfriend!”) Nevertheless, there are bloggers who articulate why they like the narou genre quite thoughtfully, so I thought I’d focus on their perspectives in this post.
Because I cannot accept their points at face value, I’m going to respond to them critically in this post. However, I invite you to come to your own conclusions.