Have you ever wondered where all the light novels you’ve been reading come from? And you wanted an answer more specific than just Japan? Kuuderes Shadow has put together this list of twelve major publishers in Japan to help us out. (Note: I offer some commentary as well, marked by my name [Cho]. Everything else is by Kuuderes Shadow.) This is not meant to be an exhaustive resource, but instead is intended to work as a general overview of what some of the big light novel labels are in Japan. Hopefully this can give everyone an idea of where most of their favorite series originate from, and what kinds of stories have yet to gain traction among English readers outside of Japan.
The largest light novel label in Japan. Has a sister label in the form of Dengeki Game Bunko. Has a lot of mega hits but also a lot of things that don’t sell well at all.
Label name – Dengeki Bunko (電撃文庫)
Ownership – Ascii Media Works, a brand company of Kadokawa. Originally Media Works.
Date of first releases – June 1993
Some well-known titles published under the label – Sword Art Online, Ookami to Koushinryou (Spice and Wolf), Toaru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index), Shakugan no Shana, and many more.
Official Website – http://dengekibunko.dengeki.com/
Twitter – @bunko_dengeki
Cho: Dengeki Bunko is likely the most recognizable Japanese label for light novels among English readers these days. Many of the most popular series available in English are originally from Dengeki Bunko, and likewise there are a lot of popular anime adaptations for these stories. You can find a nice list of titles on its Wikipedia article. Accel World, Baccano!, Ballad of a Shinigami, Black Bullet, Boogiepop, Durarara!!, Gekkou, Golden Time, Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora, Hataraku Maou-sama! (The Devil is a Part-Timer!), Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey), Missing, Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, Strike the Blood, Toradora!, Tsukumodo Antique Shop, Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria, Zettai Naru Isolator (The Isolator)… There’s a lot there. If you are a fan of many of these franchises and like video games, there is also a fighting game available in English for PS Vita and Playstation 3 titled Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax.
Label name – Famitsu Bunko (ファミ通文庫)
Ownership – Enterbrain, a brand company of Kadokawa.
Date of first releases – July 1998. Formed as a merger of Logout Bunko and Famitsu Game Bunko.
Some well-known titles published under the label – Bungaku Shoujo series (Book Girl), Baka to Test, Kokoro Connect.
Official Website – http://fbonline.jp/
Twitter – @FB_twi
Cho: Not the largest light novel label, but there are still a lot of good titles that many English LN fans should recognize. My favorite author, Miho Takeoka, has her books published here (Book Girl, Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Itakoro, Kyuuketsuki ni Natta Kimi wa Eien no Ai wo Hajimeru). Other works can be found on this Wikipedia list, including Gakkou no Kaidan, Inu to Hasami wa Tsukaiyou (Dog and Scissors), Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, Muv-Luv Alternative: Schwarzesmarken, Psycome, and Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin (Nanana’s Buried Treasure). There are quite a few LN adaptations of visual novels and video games as well it seems, including Monster Hunter and Granblue Fantasy.
Fujimi Fantasia Bunko
Usually the second-largest light novel label in Japan. Has probably had the largest number of hit series of any light novel label, although few on the same level as Dengeki’s biggest titles. A sister label to the slightly older Fujimi Dragon Book, its first titles were serialized in Fujimi Shobo’s Dragon Magazine, and a few of them (along with those titles released by Fujimi Dragon Book) still have chapters released in that magazine today – making it perhaps the only paper magazine that still serializes significant numbers of light novels. (Note: This has not been verified.)
Label name – Fujimi Fantasia Bunko (富士見ファンタジア文庫)
Ownership – Fujimi Shobo, a brand company of Kadokawa.
Date of first releases – 1988, making it the oldest label on this list, although far from the oldest in existence (the oldest extant one is probably Cobalt Bunko, which can trace its origins back to 1965–well before the term “light novel” existed).
Some well-known titles published under the label – Slayers, Date A Live, Highschool DxD, Chrome Shelled Regios, Full Metal Panic!, and many more.
Official Website – http://www.fujimishobo.co.jp/fantasia/
Twitter – @fantasia_bunko
Cho: Looking through the list on Wikipedia, some more titles you might recognize include Amagi Brilliant Park, Black Blood Brothers, Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (The Legend of Legendary Heroes), Hitsugi no Chaika (Chaika the Coffin Princess), Kami-sama no Inai Nichiyoubi (Sunday Without God), Kaze no Stigma, Kore wa Zombie Desuka? (Is This a Zombie?), Only Sense Online, Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (Saekano), Scrapped Princess, Seitokai no Ichizon, Tasogare Iro no Uta Tsukai, Tokyo Ravens, and Uchuu Ichi no Musekinin Otoko (The Irresponsible Captain Tylor). Lots of action titles, and overall I think this LN label could be classified as squarely aimed for the shounen demographic.
Label name – GA Bunko (GA文庫)
Ownership – SB Creative, the publishing branch of Softbank.
Date of first releases – January 2006
Some well-known titles published under the label – Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka (DanMachi), Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry (Chivalry of a Failed Knight), and the light novels of Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica. Used to publish Oda Nobuna no Yabou until that switched to Fujimi Fantasia Bunko from volume 10 upon starting to be serialized in Dragon Magazine.
Official Website – http://ga.sbcr.jp
Twitter – @GA_bunko
Cho: A few more titles perhaps worth mentioning are Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, Hundred, Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de (When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace), Nourin, and Saijaku Muhai no Bahamut (Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle) — Source: Wikipedia. I’d say DanMachi is their really big hit at the moment.
Has a sister label in the form of Lululu Bunko (which is aimed at a female audience). A relatively recent label, the two were created as Shougakukan’s re-entry into the light novel market after pulling out in 2001 with the closure of its Superquest Bunko. With the explosion of the popularity of OreGairu the label has recently come to be highly dependent on just a single series.
Label name – Gagaga Bunko (ガガガ文庫)
Ownership – Shougakukan
Date of first releases – May 2007, on the same day as its sister label.
Some well known-titles published under the label – Yahari Ore no Seishun Love-Come wa Machigatteiru (OreGairu), various Toaru Hikuushi series, Imouto Sae Ireba Ii. Also publishes light novels based on Shougakukan manga such as the KamiNomi light novels.
Official Website – http://gagagabunko.jp/
Twitter – @gagaga_bunko
Cho: Some more titles you might recognize include Aura: Maryuuinkouga Saigo no Tatakai, GJ-bu, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita (Humanity Has Declined), Jinsei, Ore Twintail ni Narimasu, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, and Shimoneta. As Kuuderes Shadow mentioned though, OreGairu (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) is definitely its most popular series in Japan these days. For those curious about Lululu Bunko, it looks like most of their light novels are romance stories (and generally only one volume). Random examples: Ojou-sama no Warudakumi, Minari Kishi-hime no Koi Chigai, and Kagirohi Sayaka.
A label that can be divided into two parts: original titles, which tend to get almost zero publicity and sell very poorly–and spin-offs of popular Shueisha manga series, which are almost always big hits. The west has basically zero exposure to the former, and it’s possible that most Japanese who buy the latter don’t even realize the former exist.
Label name – JUMP j-BOOKS (ジャンプ ツェイ ブックス)
Ownership – Shueisha
Date of first releases – March 1993, although some related releases were made in 1991.
Some well known-titles published under the label – basically any light novel spin-off of a Shueisha manga series, including the various spin-offs of Naruto, Death Note, Kuroko no Basket (Kuroko’s Basketball), Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (Assassination Classroom), etc. Oishii Coffee no Irekata is the only original series of any note at all, but this was also published under other labels.
Official Website – http://j-books.shueisha.co.jp/
Twitter – @JUMP_j_BOOKS
Cho: Some more info about Jump J Books can be found here. Many popular shounen manga have light novel tie-ins in Japan, but only a few of them have made it into English over the years. (For example, there are some Naruto books currently being released by Viz Media.)
Kadokawa Beans Bunko
The largest light novel label specifically aimed at a female audience.
Label name – Kadokawa Beans Bunko (角川ビーンズ文庫)
Ownership – Kadokawa
Date of first releases – established in 2002, gradually replacing Kadokawa Teens Ruby Bunko, which in turn had been created in 1998 by splitting the non-yaoi titles out from Kadokawa Ruby Bunko.
Some well-known titles published under the label – Saiunkoku Monogatari, Kokuhaku Yokou Renshuu, Shounen Onmyouji. Also re-releases works originally published under other Kadokawa labels, including GOSICK.
Official Website – http://www.kadokawa.co.jp/beans/
Twitter – @beansbunko
Cho: The closest thing I have found to an English list of titles for this label is this one at LNDB.info. For a full list (in Japanese), there is the lineup featured on Kadokawa’s website, where you can see the vast majority of these titles will be unfamiliar to the average English reader outside Japan. It’s pretty rare for shoujo light novels to be adapted into anime (which shoujo-wise is typically reserved for the most popular manga series and otome visual novels), so it’s not surprising these LNs slip under the radar for the general anime/manga crowd. Since it’s not likely these will be picked up for official English release, perhaps in time more fan translations will become available? (For one example out there, I did review Sugar Apple Fairytale a while back.)
Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko
Was the largest light novel label in the early 90s. Originally published literally everything, but spun off its female-audience and yaoi titles in 1992 into Kadokawa Ruby Bunko. Got its own magazine in 1993 titled The Sneaker, in which some of its releases have been serialised.
Label name – Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko (角川スニーカー文庫)
Ownership – Kadokawa
Date of first releases – Evolved gradually as a sideshoot of the larger Kadokawa Bunko label in the late 80s. First releases under the Sneaker Bunko name were in February 1989.
Some well-known titles published under the label – Suzumiya Haruhi series, Lodoss Senki (Record of Lodoss War), Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? (Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They?), Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!). Has also re-released various works originally published under other Kadokawa labels including Another and Bakemono no Ko (The Boy and the Beast), as well as spin-offs of manga and anime such as the FLCL novels.
Official Website – http://sneakerbunko.jp/
Twitter – @kadokawasneaker
Cho: Some of the older light novels familiar to English fans can be found from this label, including tie-ins for anime such as Blood+, Eureka Seven, Vandread, and various Gundam series. A few other titles readers here may be familiar with: Dantalian no Shoka, Goth, Red Data Girl (a re-release), Rental Magica, Shinmai Maou no Testament (The Testament of Sister New Devil), and Trinity Blood. (More titles listed here.) The popular Haruhi Suzumiya series from this label is often credited as a big influence for modern light novel trends.
Arguably several labels in one, Kodansha BOX is more defined by the distinctive style of its publishing (releasing every book as it does in a cardboard slip cover) than the contents of what it releases. Kodansha BOX is not so much a light novel label as a label that happens to publish light novels–it also publishes other novels, manga and even non-fiction. Some of these sub-sections also have their own names, webpages, etc.
Label name – Kodansha BOX (講談社BOX)
Ownership – Kodansha
Date of first releases – November 2006
Some well-known titles published under the label – the novel versions of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (Higurashi When They Cry), Monogatari series, Katanagatari, Boukyaku Tantei series.
Official Website – http://kodansha-box.jp/
Twitter – @_BOXtw
Cho: As Kuuderes Shadow said, many of the titles in Kodansha BOX’s lineup aren’t what we’d readily term light novels, though it seems a significant portion of their works is still aimed for a young adult audience. Looking through some of their other available titles, there probably aren’t too many others that English readers will recognize (other than perhaps novels for K Project or Umineko). There appears to be a wide variety of genres covered though in this label’s releases.
Kodansha Ranobe Bunko
Like all the Kodansha bunko labels, Kodansha Ranobe Bunko (or KODANSHA LIGHTNOVEL) is technically a sub-label of the broader Kodansha Bunko. Kodansha Ranobe Bunko itself is a relatively young sub-label, far younger than the other still-active sub-label Kodansha X Bunko White Heart (aimed at girls, best known perhaps for publishing Juuni Kokuki, AKA The Twelve Kingdoms). Kodansha Ranobe Bunko is probably still the smaller of the two if you exclude the spin-offs of manga that it publishes.
Label name – Kodansha Ranobe Bunko (講談社ラノベ文庫)
Ownership – Kodansha
Date of first releases – December 2011
Some well-known titles published under the label – Outbreak Company, Clockwork Planet. Also publishes light novel versions of popular Kodansha manga, including the Shingeki no Kyojin and Owari no Seraph light novels.
Official Website – http://lanove.kodansha.co.jp/
Twitter – @K_lanove_bunko
Cho: There are a lot of titles offered by this label–but similar to Kodansha BOX, many of these might not be well-known to English readers (or at least, I don’t recognize many of them). A great number of these appear to fall under “light novel romcom hijinks,” many involving some kind of supernatural element in its premise. There are a few tie-ins for action shounen properties as well though (e.g. Fairy Tail).
MF Bunko J
A light novel label with something of a reputation for slightly, or occasionally not so slightly, ecchi titles. Not all their series are like this, though. A few years ago MF Bunko J was comfortably the third-biggest light novel label, although with quite a few of its bestselling titles having ended in the last few years this may no longer be the case.
Label name – MF Bunko J (MF文庫J)
Ownership – Media Factory, a brand company of Kadokawa.
Date of first releases – July 2002
Some well-known titles published under the label – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (Haganai – I Don’t Have Many Friends), No Game No Life, Zero no Tsukaima (The Familiar of Zero), Hidan no Aria (Aria the Scarlet Ammo).
Official Website – http://www.mediafactory.co.jp/bunkoj/
Twitter – @MF_bunkoJ
Cho: As the Wikipedia article for this label puts it, MF Bunko J is largely “aimed at young adult males with a focus on visual novel-style plots and harem romantic comedies.” English readers may recognize a lot of the titles thanks to the many anime adaptations that are made for these stories. Absolute Duo, Eirun Last Code, Gakusen Toshi Asterisk (The Asterisk War), Infinite Stratos, Junk Force, Kampfer, Machine Doll wa Kizutsukanai (Unbreakable Machine-Doll), Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku (Mikagura School Suite), MM!, Mushi to Medama, Re:Zero, Seiken no Blacksmith (The Sacred Blacksmith), Seikoku no Dragonar (Dragonar Academy), Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance (Bladedance of Elementalers), Sekai no Owari no Encore… and a lot more.
Media Factory’s label for publishing web novels. There are quite a few such labels around, of which this is one of the largest. Most of the works published in this and other such labels were originally serialized on the web novel site Syosetsuka ni Narou. Interestingly, unlike most light novel labels that predominantly target teens or young adults, the official target demographic for MF Books is men in their forties.
Label name – MF BOOKS (MFブックス)
Ownership – Media Factory, a brand company of Kadokawa.
Date of first releases – August 2013
Some well-known titles published under the label – Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (The Rising of the Shield Hero), Fairy Tale Chronicle, Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu.
Official Website – http://mfbooks.jp/
Twitter – @MFBooks_Edit
Cho: Web novels are becoming ever-more-popular in Japan (and in the rest of the world), so it’s no surprise more of them are going on to get book releases through a publisher. Here are some of the titles available from MF Books. I don’t have much to say about these series, but I do rather like the artwork for most of their covers. Many of these series appear to be fantasy adventures (or “swords and sorcery”), which is always a popular genre.
Kuuderes Shadow: Incidentally, going down my list of light novel sales (which of course backdates only to 2008) the vast majority of titles that sold well have either had a release in the West or an anime adaptation. Most of those that haven’t aren’t really light novels. Outside of those, the top ones are the Boukyaku Tantei series (written by NisioisiN); Kokuhaku Yokou Renshuu, which is mentioned above and is Kadokawa Beans Bunko’s top-selling light novel title at the moment (around the same level as post-anime boost DanMachi) and based on a Vocaloid song; Oishii Coffee no Irekata (also mentioned above, from Jump j-BOOKS amongst other non-light novel labels, with the latter having sold most of the copies); Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online (a spin-off of Sword Art Online); and then the Furachi series, a yaoi series published under Daria Bunko.
Cho: As I hope this post has managed to show, there are a lot of light novels released in Japan. But even then, this is only a portion of what you can find there, as there are many other light novel labels not listed here. In fact, there are about 3,000 light novel volumes released in Japan every year, stemming from over 1,000 different series, and spread over more than 100 different labels. Good luck keeping up with all of that!
At any rate, a big thanks to Kuuderes Shadow for gathering all this useful information! I hope this will prove helpful for English readers to get a basic overview of what some of the major light novel labels are in Japan. Feel free to comment on any of these labels, or any of the others you may know of. Also, if there is any other light novel-related information you’re interested in learning for future articles, be sure to leave a message!