In Defense of Light Novel Adaptations

Adaptations of a pre-existing work are pretty commonplace when it comes to the medium of Anime. While the idea of original TV Anime has become more prominent in the modern era, if you were to look at pretty much any seasonal chart, you’ll quickly notice that Anime adaptations take up the vast majority of its space.

And these adaptations can come from a variety of different kinds of source material. There’s Manga adaptations, there’s Anime based on video games and there’s even some series that are adapted from mobile phone applications.

But if there’s one particular type of adaptation that has exploded in recent years, it’s that of Light Novel adaptations.

These Anime series are adapted from a style of Japanese novel, referred to as Light Novels, which are primarily intended for a teenage audience, although naturally this isn’t the exclusive demographic. These novels tend to be the size of the average Western novel, with the defining characteristic of normally being a part of a long-running series that is published fairly regularly, with some authors publishing a new novel every couple of months.

This little series is pretty notorious for that…

In the modern era of Anime, an incredibly large number of the series that are coming out are adapted from Light Novels, so much so that there are many seasons where the number of Light Novel adaptations easily exceed that of the once far more popular and more common Manga adaptations.

And this surge in the popularity and quantity of Light Novel adaptations has spawned an insanely unreasonable amount of negativity.

It’s no secret at this stage, but a lot of Anime fans aren’t big fans of Light Novel adaptations. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that the vast majority of Anime fans approach just about every single one of these adaptations with heavy caution.

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Many have even gone on to claim that almost all Light Novel adaptations, outside of one or two exceptions, are “bad” and that the entire “genre” consists mostly of cliche, samey, poorly written storylines that only exist for the purpose of making a quick buck, before moving on to the next cheap, passionless, Light Novel based project.

This is a mindset I don’t agree with in the slightest.

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Now, I understand the mass negativity towards Light Novel adaptations. As someone who’s read far too many Light Novels in his spare time, and has watched even more Anime based on them, I won’t deny that I’ve found a good portion of these kinds of shows to be pretty mediocre. However, this is also true for Manga adaptations, where I’ve seen just as many bland, mediocre and uninteresting series. And this is the case for just about every type of adaptation out there, at least for me.

But the sheer quantity of these adaptations, makes them seem like more of a problem than they actually are. For example, there may be a greater number of terrible Light Novel adaptations compared to that of Manga adaptations, but there’s also a high probability that the opposite is also true, and that because there are more of these adaptations as a whole, that more good series also come from them. And of course, because there’s so many shows based on Light Novels, the chances of coming across a series that doesn’t line up with your tastes is significantly higher.

But since what’s considered “good” and “bad” is more or less entirely subjective, let’s forget about all the percentages and focus on the content of these kinds of stories, along with the criticisms that are often directed towards them.

Whenever I see Light Novel adaptations discussed in a negative light (pun not intended), the same sort of terms always seem to crop up.  “Generic”, “uninspired”, “cliche”, “soulless”, poorly written”, etc.

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I can’t say I agree with any of these criticisms. At least not when it comes to the entire medium of Light Novel adaptations.

Sure, there’s plenty of “generic” Light Novel adaptations out there, but this is true across all of Anime, and is hardly exclusive to this one type of adaptation. To say that the entire genre, or even that the majority of the genre, is “generic” and completely lacking in creativity is flat out wrong. There are plenty of unique and interesting Light Novel adaptations out there.

Despite the criticism it’s often subject to, Sword Art Online is a pretty unique take on the “trapped in a video game” sub-genre of isekai. It starts off like many of these stories do, with the characters trapped in a video game, with no means of escape and real permadeath being a constant looming threat, all while the overpowered main character slowly builds his harem through performing selfless deeds. But as the series progresses, it eventually begins to develop a unique identity of its own by dropping the harem almost entirely and developing a genuine, heartfelt romance between the protagonist, Kirito and the female lead, Asuna. The series also prematurely ends the inescapable death game, and completely shifts the focus to a completely new game world, with a completely different set of stakes that have less to do with dying and more to do with time. And that’s not even getting into how the show completely subverts the all-too-common “sister loves her brother” storyline by examining the subject in a mature light instead of fetishising it like the majority of other shows do.

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I went there… Fight me.

Or how about Chaika: The Coffin Princess, which serves as a very unique take on the typical fantasy story where X amount of chosen heroes band together to defeat an evil overlord. Chaika takes place after such a story, with the overlord already defeated, and the noble heroes who defeated him have become corrupted by their own selfish desire for power. And the protagonists themselves? They’re hardly saints either. They’re Saboteurs, super powered soldiers for hire, who’s only purpose in the world is to participate in war, and in the now peaceful world, that is lacking in conflict, they no longer have a goal to live for and are deliberately assisting in resurrecting the evil overlord for the sole purpose of creating conflict and regaining their place in the world.

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Or a more recent example: Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor, which originally presents itself as a typical magical high school series with an overpowered teacher protagonist, who is quickly revealed to be not-so-powerful and terrible with magic, specialising purely in the theory behind magic as opposed to the execution of magic itself, which really changes things up quite a bit.

How about A Certain Magical Index? Do I even need to explain how its well developed setting alone instantly escalates it to a realm far beyond that of “generic”?

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Say what you will about the quality of these shows, but to call them “generic” or to say they are completely lacking in creative ideas is just… Not accurate… Like, at all.

Do I even need to mention the Light Novel series that haven’t been adapted into Anime yet? HakoMari is arguably both better written and uniquely executed than the majority of Anime, and Tsukumodo Antique Shop is an insanely creative series of episodic stories with a slightly less heavy overarching narrative that is chock full of inventive ideas and well thought out plot twists.

Then we have the criticism that these kinds of shows are some how uninspired, soulless, cash grabs, which is something else I find to be simply baffling. Do people really think that the people working on these shows aren’t passionate about them? That everyone involved in these productions doesn’t give a single damn about them? That nobody views these series as their passion project?

Because like it or not, someone wanted to make Sword Art Online. Someone is probably proud to have had the opportunity to work on a show like Death March. Someone is likely honoured to have played a part in the production of Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?.

While not every show is equally well produced, due to a variety of tangible and intangible factors, to say that a show is “soulless” or “uninspired” in its presentation simply because it’s based on a Light Novel is freaking absurd. Many of the teams behind these shows put their very best efforts into them, and a lot of them have some incredibly well done sequences that are just as breathtaking as any moment from a Manga adaptation or original TV production. Just look at the minotaur fight from DanMachi and try to tell me that it’s an uninspired, effortless scene with no passion or love put into it at all.

Totally uninspired! No effort was put into this at all!

I feel that the stigma against Light Novels and their respective Anime adaptations is pretty unfair. It’s gotten to the stage where a large number of people literally aren’t even willing to bother giving a show a chance solely because of the “Light Novel” source tag on its MyAnimeList page, regardless of what it’s actually about or how much potential it has to be something that’s a worthwhile watch.

But hey, maybe I just have bad taste. I like Sword Art Online after all. Herpdy derp!

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What are your thoughts on Light Novel adaptations?

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18 thoughts on “In Defense of Light Novel Adaptations

  1. I have enjoyed a lot of anime based on light novels which is why I started reading them last year. While there are some terrible adaptations, there are plenty of terrible anime based on other things or even original series that just don’t work.
    By the way, I love that fight in Danmachi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got into Light Novels way back in 2010, and wasn’t even aware they were adapted into Anime until Sword Art Online got adapted. At the time, I was a huge fan of the novels, so seeing it adapted was a real treat!

      Agreed. There are some really bad adaptations. But as you said, this is true for pretty much all types in the medium, including original series.

      And heck yeah! It’s a really entertaining fight. Completely blew me away the first time I saw it and was a real turning point for my enjoyment of the series as a whole.

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  2. Yeah, blanket statements. Always fun to run into those.

    This was a little side thought that popped into my head from reading your post:

    When it comes to anime adapting from a certain type of source material, I’ve actually found myself anticipating LN adaptations more than manga adaptations (ofc only if I’ve read the source material and somewhat know what to expect). Lately it has been between My Hero Academia 3rd Season and Sword Art Online: Alicization.

    I like both franchises and I’m more or less up to date with both source materials. But I haven’t developed much enthusiasm for MHA3 despite it airing soon. Alicization is half a year away and it’s probably my most anticipated anime this year.

    I thought why this is and concluded that I simply feel like I have more to look forward to with text-to-animation adaptation vs manga-to-animation. Manga is in many cases like a finished storyboard for an anime. You already know what many things will look like from environments to characters to choreography to even camera angles. Pure text leaves more room for interpretation and I want to see how the things I imagined translate to a more visual medium.

    Will hopefully get to enjoy both regardless.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the problem is that light novels (particularly the isekai genre which dominate light novels right now) exploded all at once. It’s a train so many authors hopped onto, and just as many directors/studios hopped on to. It’s hard to tell the good from the bad when you have so many similar shows released in a short period of time. I can understand the temptation for studios since a couple of volumes of a light novel can cover more story than a couple of volumes of manga, but I hope the Japanese publishers start pushing more light novel genres to get anime adaptations just like how a wide range of manga get an anime.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Even as someone who loves the isekai genre, and actively defends it on a frequent basis, I can’t deny that it’s become very oversaturated in recent years, and is definitely part of the problem.

      Hopefully things diversify a little in the years to come (and it’s seeming that way, given the number of isekai has been slowly declining in the most recent seasons!)

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The only time I get disappointed it is an VN adaptation is when I have loved a particular anime and go to look for the source material. My attention span is too short to read novels. Other than that, I don’t really care. The only time I actually know the source of an anime is if I by chance has read the manga or played the game.

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  5. I think it’s not light novels themselves that are a problem but simply the fact that since isekai became popular, both LN authors and production studios started capitalizing on that. At this point there’s too much isekai with too little difference between different stories but since such stories sell well, they continue to be made. People think “Ah, I’ve already seen that”, look up that that was a LN adaption and come to conclusion that all LNs are bad. It’s just that a particular genre is being overproduced but apart from that there’s tons of great LNs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I haven’t heard people complaining about LN, but the complaints you mentioned are just like every other complaint regarding any kind of genre of anime. It’s cliche, it’s generic, it’s the same as everything we’ve seen before. [It’s the same with books too. Once Twilight got popular, everyone hopped on the vampire paranormal train. With Hunger Games, there was an over-saturation for dystopian novels]

    I don’t think the medium is the problem. The problem these people are facing is that they’re reading/watching the same genre over and over again without any breaks. If you do this with anything, then you’ll start feeling sour about it. Or, you’ll start expecting a new anime to be like that anime that you liked before and if it isn’t, then you’ll hate it.

    There are good adaptations of LN and some really bad ones, but that’s how it is with everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think in general novel/light novel/manga (even games) adaptation is always a little bit risky since producer doesn’t necessarily have the same resource (time and money). Some author take years to write a book while studio doesn’t always have that liberty, but of course it also depend of how the studio is willing to make a good adaptation.

    So far I haven’t read any light novel that was or would be adapted, in fact I don’t read a lot of light novel. I read some “Fullmetal Alchemist” and I’m currently reading “Seraph of the End: Guren Ichinose, Catastrophe at Sixteen”. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Seraph of the End LN being adapted, but I would probably still be a little be worried knowing what they did with the anime series.

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  8. I agree with you totally on this. For me the type of source material really has no bearing on whether I watch a series or not. I love some light novel adaptations like Index and Chaika and there were some that didn’t do much for me. Blackballing a series because of its origins causes you to miss out on some gems. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obviously I feel the same way. Whether something is based on a Light Novel, Manga or Video Game, or whatever I always go into it with an open mind. Because everything has the potential to be something new and exciting.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting perspective. The light novel tag is normally a red flag to me because I’ve been let down a whole lot by them while watching the shows. Maybe I never would have noticed them being a light novel though if so many people hadn’t criticised light novel adaptations so much!

    My perspective comes from seasonal anime but from a time where I didn’t actually like seasonal anime very much. So it was more the season than the genre of adaptation. But I like this anime season now so I don’t know. I will aim to give them more of a chance in the future with the ones you liked though to see if I was wrong the whole time.

    The idea of light novels being a rushed medium where they’re written in months instead of the years novels are written in makes them sound good. But that doesn’t neccessarily mean that the anime adaptation cannot improve it and give it some passion it needs to do well, or that the original wasn’t good.

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