A light novel (ライトノベル, raito noberu) is a style of Japanese novel primarily, but not exclusively, targeting high-school and middle-school students (young adult demographic). "Light novel" is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese term formed from words in the English language. Light novels are often called ranobe (ラノベ) or LN in the West. The average size of a light novel is about 50,000 words long, the equivalent size of an american novel, and are usually published in bunkobon size (A6, 10.5 cm × 14.8 cm), oftenly with dense publishing schedules. One of the most remarkable characteristics of a light novel is that they are illustrated with anime and manga art style, oftenly being adapted into such mediums. They are mainly published in separate book volumes, while some of them have their chapters serialized in anthology magazines before collection in book form, comparable to how manga are published.
Light novels are an evolution of pulp magazines. To please their audience, in the 1970s, most of the Japanese pulp magazines, which had already changed from the classic style to the popular anime style covers, began to put illustrations in the beginning of each story and included articles about popular anime, movies, and video games. The narrative evolved to please the new generations and became fully illustrated with the popular style. The popular serials are printed in novels.
Very oftenly light novels are chosen for adaptation into anime, manga, and live-action films, and some of them are serialized in literary magazines such as Faust, Gekkan Dragon Magazine, The Sneaker and Dengeki hp, or media franchise magazines like Comptiq and Dengeki G's Magazine.
Publishing companies are constantly searching for new talent with annual contests, many of which earn the winner a cash prize and publication of their novel. The Dengeki Novel Prize is the largest, with over 6,500 submissions (2013) annually. They are all clearly labeled as "light novels" and are published as low-priced paperbacks. For example, the price for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in Japan is ¥540 (including 5% tax), similar to the normal price for trade paperbacks — light novels and general literature — sold in Japan. In 2007 it was estimated (according to a website funded by the Japanese government) that the market for light novels was about ¥20 billion (US$170 million at the exchange rate at the time) and that about 30 million copies were published annually. Kadokawa Group Holdings, which owns major labels like Kadokawa Sneaker Books and Dengeki Books, has a 70% to 80% share of the market. In 2009, light novels made ¥30.1 billion in sales, or about 20% of all sales of bunkobon-format paperback books in Japan.
There are currently many licensed English translations of Japanese light novels available. These have generally been published in the physical dimensions of standard mass market paperbacks or similar to manga tankōbon, but starting in April 2007, Seven Seas Entertainment was the first English publisher to print light novels in their original Japanese Bunkobon format. Other English-language publishers that license light novels are Tokyopop, Viz, DMP, Dark Horse, Yen Press, and Del Rey Manga. The founder of Viz Media, Seiji Horibuchi, speculates that the US market for light novels will experience a similar increase in popularity as it has in the Japanese subculture once it becomes recognized by the consumer audience.
Most of the light novels are published by Japanese writers, with very few exeptions, for example, Yū Kamiya, author of No Game No Life, is a Japanese-Brazilian writer who lives in Japan and publishes his novels through major Japanese publishing labels.
Popular literature has a long tradition in Japan. Even though cheap, pulp novels resembling ranobe were present in Japan for years prior, the creation of Sonorama Bunko in 1975 is considered by some to be a symbolic beginning. Science fiction and horror writers like Hideyuki Kikuchi or Baku Yumemakura started their careers through such imprints.
In the 1980s, epic novels by Yoshiki Tanaka — The Heroic Legend of Arslan — took young male Japanese audiences by storm. Also, RPG-inspired Record of Lodoss War novels achieved popularity. All of those were later animated.
The 1990s saw the smash-hit Slayers series which merged fantasy-RPG elements with comedy. Some years later MediaWorks founded a pop-lit imprint called Dengeki Bunko, which produces well-known light novel series to this day. The Boogiepop series was their first major hit which soon was animated and got many anime watchers interested in literature.
Dengeki Bunko writers continued to slowly gain attention until the small light novel world experienced a boom around 2006. After the huge success of the Haruhi Suzumiya series, suddenly the number of publishers and readers interested in light novels skyrocketed.
Light novels became an important part of the Japanese 2D culture in late 2000s. The number of ranobe series put out every year increases, the most celebrated artists from pixiv illustrate them and the most successful works are animated and made into manga and live action movies.