Light Novels, known in Japan as Ranobe, are a Japanese phenomenon targeted primarily at teenagers. They are usually between 40,000 and 50,000 words, and have manga-style pictures on the covers and often inside as well. This word count sets them within the suggested limits for a novella in the UK and the US (20,000-50,000 words), so they could be classed as novellas – until you notice the differences between the two.
The definition of a Light Novel is not entirely clear and can sometimes be mixed up with manga. The Light Novel is similar to a normal novel but with pictures spaced throughout, mostly told through dialogue, with each paragraph ranging from one line to four. Sound effects are given their own line for emphasis. Manga is perhaps similar to its closest Western counterpart, the graphic novel, except they’re read right-to-left, back-to-front. Light novels, then, seem to blur the line between purely text-based literature and visually-focused manga.
So what makes Light Novels so popular? In many cases, they are more popular than some novellas in the western world, perhaps due to their episodic nature. The stories within Light Novels often end on cliffhangers and many of the series have hundreds of books continuing the story. If the reader wishes to keep track of the narrative, they must buy every single book. Much more akin in this sense to manga series than to a single novella, a much fuller world is created.
Light Novels were originally written for pulp magazines like Faust and Comptiq, based on popular anime, video games and films such as Star Wars. More recently, many Light Novels have been transformed into television shows and manga. They are largely popular in Japan, raking in around the equivalent of £150million every year, but there are speculations that once they become more widely recognised by Western consumers, Light Novels will enjoy a similar surge in popularity in the UK, America, and beyond.