Every year since 2005, a light novel guide book titled Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! (This Light Novel is Amazing!) is published in Japan by Takarajimasha. It features lists such as the top 10 most popular light novels and top 10 favorite light novel characters.
The poll has two categories of voters: the homepage survey (general public) and 56 collaborators (critics, writers, bookstore workers, bloggers, etc). 2,215 people participated in the survey. Both groups had the same voting power — they are only distinguished for the sake of demographics which we will go into later — and they could rank their top five choices on the survey. Their ranking matters because ranking a series as #1 gives them 10 points. As you go down the list, the points gradually become lesser: #2 is 9 points, #3 is 8, #4 is 7, and #5 is 6. Illustrators and characters follow the same principle for voting except voters can choose three entries: #1 gets three points, #2 gets two points, and #3 gets one point.
Once the voting period (September 2016 to August 31 2017) was over, the staff pruned the fraudulent votes and compiled the list to what we have today. The list includes not only the most popular works, but also some relatively overlooked titles that are well-received by those in the light novel industry. There are however some possible manipulation in the rankings because the light novels that won big are not popular with the light novel fanbase but with booksellers and publishers wanting more money.
Light novel series that have won in the past include Zaregoto, Spice and Wolf, Book Girl, A Certain Magical Index, Sword Art Online, and My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected.
The Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! 2018 guidebook features three interviews with up and coming writers who have ranked high in the rankings. New and old book recommendations fill up the second half of the book. Series recommended include Cop Craft by the Full Metal Panic writer Shoji Gatou, Yume Mizuasawa’s Gonna Be the Twintail!, and Mareni’s Youki no Otomurai.
Top 10 Light Novels (A6 – Bunkobon)
- The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! [#1] by Shiratori Shirow (art by Shirabi)
- 86 -eightysix- [new] by Asato Asato (art by Shirabi)
- Infinite Dendrogram [new] by Sakon Kaido (art by Taki)
- Tsuki to Raika to Nosferatu [new] by Keisuke Masano (art by Karei)
- Sword Art Online [#4] by Reki Kawahara (art by abec)
- Boku-tachi no Remake [new] by Nachi Kio (art by Erette)
- Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun [#8] by Yuuki Yaku (art by Fly)
- Gamers! [#7] by Sekina Aoi (art by SABOTEN)
- Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? [#18] by Fujimi Omori (art by Suzuhito Yasuda)
- A Sister’s All You Need [#12] by Yomi Hirasaka (art by Kantoku)
Cho: The number in brackets notes the light novel’s ranking from last year. As you can see, this is the second year in a row that the Ryuo has won the championship. The first volume of the shogi-themed series has been recently released in English digitally, courtesy of BookWalker Global. Also congratulations to Shirabi, the illustrator for both Ryuo and 86, the #1 and #2 series in the rankings.
Titles releasing in English include The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!, Infinite Dendrogram, Sword Art Online, and Danmachi. There will also be an English release for A Sister’s All You Need, volume 1 coming in May 2018.
Titles that have recently received anime adaptations include Gamers! and A Sister’s All You Need, both available streaming on Crunchyroll. There was also an adaptation for Danmachi‘s spinoff series, Sword Oratoria. Next year look forward to an anime for Ryuo, as well as another season for Sword Art Online.
Kastel: So a bit more about the rankings and how they work. Most of the winners, especially the new titles like 86 -eightysix-, scored high because of the collaborator demographic. Most people who voted through the homepage rated stuff like Sword Art Online and KonoSuba (at 12th place) highly, but those two works don’t match the voting numbers of the collaborator demographic.
I recall Watari of OreGairu fame decrying the rankings as a popularity contest, but I think it is more apt to describe it as what booksellers and publishers are trying to sell the most. The biggest winners are basically unknown titles that are supposedly critically acclaimed; however, there is a clear divide between the two demographics. 86 -eightysix– has only come out quite recently, but it has managed to get the second ranking overall all by the collaborators’ score. Tsuki to Raika‘s ranking is only bolstered by the collaborators; very few outsiders have considered putting it on their rankings. It is obvious that they won because their votes are pooled together into certain works.
This is not to say their achievements are immediately false or anything, but there are ulterior motives behind some of the voting in the rankings. Some are deserved though. The Ryou’s Work is Never Done has won first place because of both the collaborators and the readers; the collaborators overall have placed it as their number one work and the readers overall their second favorite. If the readers didn’t put in their votes, 86 -eightysix– would have gotten first place.
Speaking of The Ryou’s Work is Never Done, the writer Shirou Shiratori seems aware about this and is grateful by the outcome. It is unusual for a non-OreGairu work to top the rankings for the second time in a row after all. But it may have come in a good time because in the first interview for the guidebook, the writer reveals that his mother has passed away while writing the fifth volume of the series and his father had passed away the year before. This has taken a toll on the writer, especially when his grandparents have disapproved of his work during his father’s funeral. To them, light novels are a waste of time. However, he ends up arguing to himself that he wants to write light novels that are without a doubt entertaining. Even if his parents disapprove of his work, he wants to make something that will entertain them and make them smile. To that, he dedicates the fifth volume to his mother.
I have not read the series, but I was somewhat touched by the interview. I might give it a spin by watching the anime adaptation coming out next season and see if it’s for me first.
Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten the time to read most of the series mentioned in the rankings so far. All I know are pieces of trivia here and there. For example, Tsuki to Raiku is written by one of the scenario writers of Persona 5. Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun‘s premise is about two high school characters who bond over fighting games and discuss if life is a kamige or a kusoge. And I’ve read one volume of Gamers!, which I liked but basically think of it as Nisekoi with a passion for gaming culture.
My section got a bit too long here, but there’s one more book I like to talk about later: 86 -eightysix-. Because that series has topped the new book rankings, I’ll be talking more about that there.
* * *
Cho: Like last year, there is a second list for top 10 light novels. The first ranking was for the classic small-sized volumes of light novels, while this second ranking is for the larger-sized releases.
Top 10 Light Novels (B6 – Tankoubon)
- Honzuki no Gekokujou [#5] by Miya Kazuki (art by You Shiina)
- So I’m a Spider, So What? [#3] by Okina Baba (art by Tsukasa Kiryu)
- The Saga of Tanya the Evil [new] by Carlo Zen (art by Shinobu Shinotsuki)
- Overlord [#1] by Kugane Maruyama (art by so-bin)
- Monogatari [#2] by Nisio Isin (art by VOFAN)
- That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime [#8] by Fuse (art by Mitz Vah)
- Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation [#4] by Rifujin na Magonote (art by Shirotaka)
- Yokohama Eki SF [new] by Yuba Isukari (art by Tatsuyuki Tanaka)
- Majo no Tabitai [new] by Jogi Shiraishi (art by Azul)
- If It’s for my Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord [new] by CHIROLU (art by KEI)
Cho: The full title for the winning series is Honzuki no Gekokujou ~Shisho ni Naru Tame ni wa Shudan wo Erandeiraremasen~, which can be translated as “Ascendance of a Bookworm: Stop at Nothing to be a Librarian.” The premise for this one is a woman looking forward to becoming a librarian, but dies in an earthquake and is reincarnated as a child into a violent world without books. So even though she’s only five years old in this new world, she decides to start writing her own library of books. There are eleven volumes out for this series in Japan so far.
Series releasing in English include So I’m a Spider, Tanya the Evil, Overlord, Monogatari, Reincarnated as a Slime, and If It’s for My Daughter. The Tanya and Slime series are getting their first volumes in English on December 19th.
Kastel: Not much to say since most people would know about the extremely popular works like Mushoku Tensei and that slime thing. But there is one other popular work some English readers may not know.
Moya Kazuki’s Honzuki no Gekokujou is the subject of the third interview in the book. It is about a university student and bibliophile who has died when an earthquake tumbled libraries of books onto her. She asks God to please give her another life because she has too much of a backlog to go through. Relatable. Then, she reincarnates into Maine, a young but sickly girl, in a fantasy world. She is distraught when she learns that the world only knows wars, not books. She decides to make books and teach the fantasy world how cool books are based on the knowledge she has accumulated reading books.
The series is famous for having really good infodumps on papermaking (50 chapters of that) and being quite close to reading like a light novel for young girls. In fact, this is one of the few series on the rankings that has a good division of the sexes: both men and women enjoyed seeing Maine’s exploits in making books happen in the world. This is quite important because not many series can have that sort of appeal.
And I think that shows in the interview. Moya Kazuki, the writer, says she came across the website, Shousetsuka ni Narou, while looking for mobile romance novels to read. Narou, as it is often called, is where writers publish free content to read and it is something like a Japanese version of DeviantArt if it was successful. A good number of writers and series like Re:Zero have gotten their start from there. Kazuki talks about how Honzuki originally was a video game script she thought of penning while her children were in school and it began to flesh out as a novel under the supervision of her husband. She also wrote it when her arm was injured and reminded herself not to stress herself out too much. The character she seems to flesh out the most is Ferdinand, who got eighth place in the top male rankings; he is the only character there mostly voted by women. Everyone loves the relationship dynamic between Maine and Ferdinand and wants to read more.
Friends have said that it is the best thing on Narou. I personally think the writing sucks… but I definitely can see the appeal of the series and think it’s cool that the writer hasn’t deleted her story off the Shousetsuka ni Narou website. The tankoubon books are the definitive versions though since it fleshes out the worldbuilding and setting details even more.
Top 10 Female Characters
- Mikoto Misaka (A Certain Magical Index) [#1]
- Maine (Honzuki no Gekokujou) [new]
- Asuna Yuuki (Sword Art Online) [#4]
- Mai Sakurajima (Seishun Buta Yarou) [new]
- Megumi Katou (Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend) [#6]
- Yukino Yukinoshita (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) [#5]
- Yui Yuigahama (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) [new]
- Rem (Re:Zero) [#2]
- Iroha Isshiki (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) [new]
- Othinus (A Certain Magical Index) [#10]
Cho: This is the third year in a row Mikoto has won first prize, and her eighth time total. She’s won every year since 2010, save for in the 2015 ranking when Oregairu‘s Yukino edged past her. What is it that everyone likes about her, I wonder?
At fourth place is the lead girl from a series called Seishun Buta Yarou, but I believe the full title is actually Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl-senpai no Yume wo Minai, which might mean “That Bastard Pig of Youth Doesn’t See the Bunny Girl Upperclassman’s Dream.” I tried reading the synopsis a couple times for this one, but in all honesty I still don’t really get what it’s about.
Though Oregairu didn’t make it into the top ten light novel series this year, at least fans seem to still love the characters. Yukino, Yui, and Iroha all placed here, as well as Hachiman in the male characters poll.
Kastel: As mentioned, Maine from Honzuki is well-loved by both men and women in the survey. Megumin from SaeKano is all guys. Everyone else is a mix of mostly men and some women. It is a bit bizarre though that a Dengeki Bunko series like Index is still going and that it’s still popular. Jeez…
Top 10 Male Characters
- Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya (Sword Art Online) [#2]
- Hachiman Hikigaya (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) [#5]
- Touma Kamijou (A Certain Magical Index) [#1]
- Tatsuya Shiba (The Irregular at Magic High School) [#7]
- Accelerator (A Certain Magical Index) [#3]
- Sora (No Game, No Life) [#9]
- Subaru Natsuki (Re:Zero) [#4]
- Ferdinand (Honzuki no Gekokujou) [new]
- Kazuma Satou (Konosuba) [#8]
- Kiyotaka Ayanokoji (Classroom of the Elite) [new]
Cho: Sword Art Online‘s Kirito proves himself to be a Beater for the third time now, previously winning in the 2012 and 2013 rankings. He was in the top three from 2014 to 2017, but was bested by Hachiman and Touma for those years. The protagonists of Oregairu and Certain Magical Index placed second and third respectively this year.
At tenth place is Kiyotaka, the protagonist of Classroom of the Elite (AKA Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e in Japan). There was a recent anime adaptation for this series, which you can find streaming on Crunchyroll. The setting for this series reminds me of the manga and anime Assassination Classroom, in that the characters are in a prestigious school’s “low-rank” class, so the students are ridiculed by their peers. Kiyotaka is described as average, but I’m going to assume there’s more to him than that if he’s placing in the Sugoi rankings.
Kastel: Well, Cho is right. The writer of Classroom of the Elite is famous for writing the Akatsuki no Goei visual novel series, a moege-turned-terrorist-game-talking-about-what-peace-really-is, and its spiritual successor Reminiscence. In both series, the protagonists are average as hell dudes who aren’t sociable on first glance. However, they have some sort of badassery deep inside them. Kaito Asagiri from Akatsuki no Goei for example is a wisecrack bodyguard who can withstand being thrown off several stories of buildings and feel no pain because he’s just that badass. Sort of a Gary Stu character but really fun to watch. Kiyotaka is more like Reminiscence‘s Hidetaka Shimuzu, a seemingly average bloke who turns out to be Machiavellian and can turn the tide around with some dirty but clever political tricks.
Kiyotaka is more of a high school version of Hidetaka. He really doesn’t care about what will happen to the class until it affects him. He is neither witty nor badass but is a more believable version of the protagonists from those two visual novel series. That might be why I don’t think he is that charming. He just feels lackluster.
I may talk about the series at some point. I have read two books and gotten the third book a while back. But I personally don’t think it’s that good, even though Japanese readers really love it. The pacing is off and I don’t find any of the characters quite interesting to follow.
Top 10 Artists
- Kiyotaka Haimura (A Certain Magical Index) [#1]
- abec (Sword Art Online) [#2]
- Kurone Mishima (Konosuba) [#4]
- Ponkan 8 (My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected) [#6]
- Keiji Mizoguchi (The Pet Girl of Sakurasou) [new]
- Kantoku (A Sister’s All You Need) [#3]
- Kurehito Misaki (Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend) [#7]
- Shirabi (The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done!, 86) [#8]
- Saki Ukai (Isekai Meikyuu no Saishinbu wo Mezasou) [#10]
- Kihiro Kangi (Eromanga Sensei) [new]
Cho: Though Ryuo’s Work and 86 took the top two spots for light novels, Shirabi takes eighth place for artists, same as last year. Also like last year, the winning artist is Kiyotaka Haimura, known for the Index series as well as Danmachi‘s spinoff Sword Oratoria. This is what the latest cover looks like for the Certain Magical Index: New Testament series in Japan.
The art style that stands out to me the most in these rankings is probably Saki Ukai’s. English light novel readers will recognize him as the illustrator for the Black Bullet series. Volume 9 of Isekai Meikyuu no Saishinbu wo Mezasou released in Japan in September of this year, and the cover looks like this.
Top 10 New Works
- 86 -eighty six- by Asato Asato (art by Shirabi)
- Infinite Dendogram by Sakon Kaido (art by Taki)
- Tsuki to Raika to Nosferatu by Keisuke Masano (art by Karei)
- Boku-tachi no Remake by Nachi Kio (art by Erette)
- Yagate Koisuru Vivi Rain by Koroku Inumura (art by Minako Iwasaki)
- Hajimari no Mahoutsukai by Kanto Ishinomiya (art by Fal Maro)
- Tobakushi wa Inoranai by Ren Sudou (art by Nilitsu)
- Hiraura Familism by Ryuuichi Amane (art by Yuu Sakamoto)
- Kimi to Boku no Saigou no Senba, Arui wa Sekai ga Hajimaru Seisen by Kei Sazane (art by Ao Nekonabe)
- Yuujin Character wa Taihen Desu Ka? by Yasushi Date (art by Benio)
Cho: The series that will stand out the most to English light novel readers here is Infinite Dendrogram, which is already getting its fourth volume translated by J-Novel Club. The fifth volume released in Japan in September this year. This virtual reality series has quickly won a lot of fans, and is perhaps a good example of the isekai and isekai-like trends that have become so popular over the past few years.
Kastel: Unsurprisingly, 86 -eightysix– is number one on this list. After all, it got 2nd overall. This seems to be a particularly strong newcomer book and it has gotten a lot of attention before these rankings have popped up.
But when I browsed the book a while ago, I thought the writing was dull and not at all interesting. It doesn’t really have good flow nor are the characters interesting from the get-go. Nothing really hooked me in the few pages I read, though to be fair many Japanese books I love have the worst pacing. So I ended up shelving the book again to look for cooler works.
The writer Asato Asato however seems to be more interesting than her own work because she talks about what inspires her in the second KonoRano interview. As a young girl born in a family mostly composed of boys, she grew up watching the third Mobile Suit Gundam multiple times and read all the famous mecha light novels like Full Metal Panic religiously. The only shoujo anime she grew up with was Magic Knight Rayearth, which is of course a mecha anime. So it makes sense to her that she would end up writing the light novel series 86, a mecha series as well.
She writes her stories to the tune of Black Hawk Down‘s soundtrack and researches how tanks and planes work with primary sources from the library. When asked about why she has a rather particularly weak tank in the series, she starts talking about the passionate romance driving that kind of vehicle into a war. Asato is also inspired by horror movies like the film adaptations of Stephen King’s Mist and Philip K Dick’s “Second Variety” (titled Screamers) as well as JRPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and the video game adaptation of Mardock Scramble‘s Tou Ubukata’s Black/Matrix.
The premise of 86 reflects all of these disparate influences: a kingdom with 85 districts that claims to use vehicles without any humans in them — except they do and the 86th district’s regiment rides in them. The claim that the war is a victimless battle is not true; there are victims, just not recorded officially.
Asato says she was inspired by a newspaper clipping about how drones will help warfare and lower the number of human deaths. She ponders about the ethics and what it means to have unmanned warfare in a world like ours. Isn’t it still war anyway? And there’s going to be victims in the form of civilians and the such. You can’t avoid deaths in any kind of war.
She also says she is planning to write about 13 volumes worth of content and will be moving characters around the world. There are also mecha designs in the series, all pretty cool in my opinion, and she seems ready to take the series to another level.
Even though I think Asato is a writer I’d like to take a drink with and talk about the complexities of the UC Gundam, I don’t think her forte is writing. She seems great at envisioning a world where evil isn’t the evil we think about most of the time but the mechanisms in society that convert human lives (intangible) to a meaningless statistic (tangible). Asato seems to have a great grasp on the politics she is planning to portray, but her writing is a bit too dull for now. If the series gets more acclaim, I may consider giving another shot.
* * *
Cho: And that’s it for our commentary on this year’s Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! If you have any thoughts on any of the light novels Japan’s readers voted for, be sure to leave a comment. What series have you been enjoying already, and what series would you be interested in reading if they get translated?