It’s becoming a fairly standard cry each and every season. “There’s another light novel adaption with all its tropes and cliches.” And then fans of the source get defensive, those who dislike light novel adaptations start throwing out every poor adaptation ever as evidence that the entire idea of adapting a light novel is fraught with peril, and then there’s everyone else who is sitting on the fence and wondering if this light novel adaptation is going to be interesting, a train wreck, or an interesting train wreck.
So is there a problem with the number of light novels getting an anime adaptation?
I will admit, there’s a lot of generalisations about light novels and anime adaptations out there. Just watching season after season it is easy to buy into the idea that the anime industry is actually being taken over by light novel adaptations or that somehow they’ve become almost the staple source of adaptations. I certainly believed there were a lot more than it turns out there actually are.
So I decided to look into this a little bit. Just doing my own quick count on MAL for the anime that aired in 2018 (not continuing series) I found that unsurprisingly Manga remains the main source of anime adaptations. In fact, when you include web manga and 4-koma manga in the mix it accounts for nearly 50% of all source material for anime airing in 2018 that MAL includes in its seasonal pages (I’m totally open to the fact that this is not the be all and end all definitive source of information regarding this but it probably is a reasonable enough representation for this discussion).
What I was surprised to discover was that original anime accounted for 21% of anime in 2018. While I knew Zombieland Saga and one or two other titles were anime originals, I was unaware of just how many other original anime came out.
Then we have games, light novels and other (which accounts for ‘other’ as listed on MAL and novel and visual novel adaptations) which all come in at close to 10%.
I genuinely did not see that coming when I first decided to see if Light Novel adaptations were in fact becoming too prolific. While I knew manga adaptations would still be the highest, I kind of thought light novels would be second or third, or at least close to a large chunk of the releases, but it is actually only sitting at 9.1%.
Then when you look at the highest scored title on MAL for each season, you see that in every case it was an anime based on a manga. The only light novel adaptation that came close was actually Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai in the Autumn season.
So why do people think there are too many light novel adaptations or that light novel adaptations are ruining anime, or that they get too much attention?
One of the reasons might be how widely discussed these anime are, even if they aren’t scoring the highest for technical proficiency or story-telling. When looking at the number of members each title has in each season we start to see light novels rising significantly higher in popularity than their score rating would indicate. Winter 2018 see’s Violet Evergarden in the top spot with the Overlord sequel in third. Spring was dominated by manga adaptations so the only light novel adaptation that made it into the top 5 was the Sword Art Online spin-off series. Summer saw Overlord 3 and How Not To Summon a Demon Lord in the second and third spots respectively. Finally in Autumn all three top spots were taken by light novel adaptations including Goblin Slayer in the top spot, followed by Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai and Sword Art Online Alicization.
Following along on Twitter or just what gets reviewed on blogs, there is no denying that light novel adaptations are well watched each season. While they may not all rise to high critical acclaim they do generally entertain a wide audience and by and large they provide a bit of fun even if they don’t necessarily have depth. Then again, I was pretty stunned to find Violet Evergarden’s source listed as a light novel and I wouldn’t call Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai particularly shallow in terms of the emotional scope it tried to encompass.
And I can already hear some people arguing that those aren’t the light novel adaptations that are complained about. It is the other ones. You know the ones. The ones with self-insert protagonists that get transported to another world and live out some harem or power fantasy (or both).
Sure, we could look at The Master of Ragnarok and shake our heads in dismay at the state of the entire anime industry being reduced to that kind of light novel adaptation. Then again, we could see that as The Master of Ragnarok just not being very well written or produced as an anime and even by isekai/harem standards it ended up pretty woeful (personal opinion).
I kind of feel most people constructing an argument around whether there are too many light novel adaptations, or that light novel anime adaptations are somehow subpar, or who are arguing for light novel adaptations, all suffer from cherry picking the titles that support their argument. For every Master of Ragnarok there’s a Bunny Girl Senpai. And while isekai power fantasies may not be your personal thing, clearly they sell well so there’s definitely an audience out there for them. Declaring the entire genre trash or that every single story is the same is a little closed minded.
Admittedly, I’m not jumping up and down and saying that everyone should watch How Not To Summon a Demonlord anytime soon. There’s an audience for it though, and that audience greatly enjoyed it. Even some people who normally aren’t up for an isekai story full of fan-service and the like ended up enjoying Demonlord as it went about writing a story with fairly good pacing and combining its base elements to most entertaining effects.
So why is the number of light novel adaptations a problem?
I don’t believe it is. It is another source of stories same as other novels, games, manga, etc and when adapted well can lead to some truly interesting anime. While it might feel like there’s too many similar light novels being adapted we need to consider the fact that clearly there’s a market for that story if it keeps selling, some of the adaptations are actually pretty good (while some are fairly objectively terrible) and that maybe it just isn’t your genre. Someone who doesn’t like shoujo love stories would declare those all the same as well and yet a die-hard romance fan would argue that every single one is different because of how the characters are constructed and the combination of elements around them.
It’s only been since starting the blog that I ever began reading light novels, and what I’ve found from reading them is that there’s a huge range in the quality of writing and the stories being told in them. However, I started reading light novels because there were some anime adaptations that were based on light novels that I fell in love with and I wanted more of the story. Which kind of means the anime did its job at promoting the source and was entertaining enough in its own right (or else I wouldn’t have bothered). So while I get that some people don’t like light novel adaptations, and some people hate isekai, I don’t think it is ‘taking over’ anime or that it is too highly represented, or even that adapting light novels is a problem. Like with everything it is about looking at each work on its own merits, or lack of them, and the personal opinions of the viewer. So while some people will continue to avoid these titles, others will eagerly await the next announced title.
That said, I’d love to know your thoughts so leave me a comment below and you can also check out my pretty terrible infographic with my findings from spending an afternoon reading MAL below.