Why Is The Number of Light Novel Adaptations A Problem?

Light Novel Rage

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.

Zombieland Saga Episode 2

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%.

Huh.

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.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Episode 6 - Sakuta

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.

How Not To Summon a Demon Lord Episode 7

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.

Not from 2018 but still an awesome light novel adaptation.

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.

Thanks for reading
Karandi James
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Infographic - Anime By Source in 2018
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24 thoughts on “Why Is The Number of Light Novel Adaptations A Problem?

    1. That is definitely a problem when so many light novels are stories that go on for volumes and volumes and there’s no way to adapt the whole thing in a single season. It either leaves us with an unsatisfying ending or a to be continued ending where there may never be a second season. Though anime based on long running manga end up in a similar state at times.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, they certainly did dominate highest scoring anime of the year on MAL which makes sense given their ongoing popularity and fan base. I wish I had more time to properly research this and dig deeper. As Marth pointed out there are plenty of other factors and considerations. Unfortunately this was all I could do with my current time available and I found this really interesting.

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  1. I think the hatred against LNs is overblown – most of the time, it’s the quality of the source material that matters for the anime’s adaptation more than the type of source material. It’s much easier to make a good anime if you’re working from a story that’s already good to begin with – most of us can probably count on one hand the number of anime we’ve watched that took mediocre-to-bad source material and improved it significantly (out of the titles I’ve both read and watched I can think of exactly one: K-On). Because of the challenges of anime production itself (low budgets, low pay, rushed deadlines, and in many cases appeasing rabid fanbases ready to destroy you for the slightest deviation from their holy source material), most production teams won’t have either the time or the incentive to get too creative with their adaptations, even if they think it would make the show better.

    But getting back on topic, what I just said above is an anime adaptation problem in general, not an LN adaptation problem. LNs often have certain common flaws that need to be ironed out in the adaptation process, but so do adaptations of VNs and video games, and the latter two categories don’t get a tenth the vitriol of LN adaptations, even though I’d argue they both have an even poorer track record of being turned into genuinely good anime over the last 6-8 years than LNs do. And even if you’re someone who hates the glut of power fantasy isekai, that isn’t the fault of the anime studios. They’re just making the projects that the publishing companies like Kadokawa and Shueisha are paying them to make, and those companies will keep investing in isekai LNs for as long as the Japanese public keeps buying them.

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    1. I agree that proportionally the amount of criticism I see levelled at the idea of LN adaptations is overblown. Besides, people do have the option of not watching them and clearly that isn’t a massive percent of the anime produced so they’ll still have plenty to watch even if they choose not to watch any LN adaptations. Of course, then there’s the chance of missing something amazing like Bunny Girl Senpai which most people agreed was pretty great.

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      1. For sure, but that’s their loss, just like anyone who refuses to give an otherwise good show a chance because of yaoi, or moe, or 3DCG, or whatever their personal pet peeve is. I admit I have my own pet peeves (as most of us do), but source material’s never been one of them. As it happens, my top 6 favorite anime are pretty diverse: two anime originals, two LN adaptations (Toradora and Haruhi), one VN adaptation, and one manga adaptation.

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        1. Yes, the source material isn’t something I worry about too much. Since I started reading LN’s there have been anime where I’ve actually read the source before them which is a different experience, but I wouldn’t pick watching an anime because it was or wasn’t based on a game or an LN or a manga or whatever else.
          I’m far pickier when it comes to genre and I never used to watch sports anime. That was something I tried when I started seasonal coverage on my blog and I’ve found that I missed out on some quite good anime by avoiding the entire genre for so long. I still tend to drop cute girl anime or slice of life anime pretty quick unless there’s something that hooks me in though.

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    2. “most of us can probably count on one hand the number of anime we’ve watched that took mediocre-to-bad source material and improved it significantly”

      Arguably Aokana – which took a viewer-insert harem game and turned it into a serviceable sports anime. (And produced the Best Girl you refuse to acknowledge.) That’s the only one I can think of off hand.

      (Sorry Karandi, it’s a running joke between Wing and myself.)

      On the larger topic, I don’t generally skip anything simply because of it’s source. I do however tend to go into game adaptations with a certain amount of skepticism. Only rarely does that skepticism turn out to not be justified.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s possibly another, though I didn’t think it was fair to count it without actually having played the VN myself. I do plan to play it if/when the announced localization eventually comes out, just to get the Real Best Girl’s complete story arc if nothing else.

        And yeah, I’m generally with you on the game adaptations – those have really produced some of my biggest disappointments over the years – looking at you, Disgaea and Sakura Wars! – with Persona 4 being the one notable exception I can think of (and even that’s really the only good anime from that franchise – I hated the first Persona 3 movie).

        Liked by 2 people

  2. There is much…MUCH that needs to be said on Isekai (and LHs) squandering their potential by going back to the same story beats again and again. That’s a real legit complaint. However when a show like Demon Lord, Slime or (so far) Shield Hero come along and give a mirror shine on the standard. I’ll take it gladly.

    I mean, sure we all get sick of the same sandwiches, but you’ll always find room in your stomach for a REALLY good version of that sandwich.

    (But seriously, Isekai have so much potential, stop doing the same story again and again)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll agree. Looking for a new light novel series to pick up the number of titles that included ‘reborn in’ or ‘reincarnated as a’ is slightly terrifying. I like isekai and even I think that some works are getting quite derivative (which is fine if you are improving but not so fine if you are a poor imitation). And I’m just looking at works with an English translation.

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  3. i mean, i feel like there are a few factors that might be missing here. for example, let’s say manga adaptations take up 50% of the adaptations we’ve seen recently. was there a larger proportion of them before? could this “rise in light novel adaptations” be a literal increase in the percentage of light novel adaptations irrespective of the absolute amounts?

    additionally, there’s also the matter of context. i imagine (but this could be a false impression) that manga series come about more often than light novel series. so, what if it’s the case that a larger proportion of the available light novel series are being adapted than the proportion of available manga series?

    and if we’re being specific, you start the post out with this idea of someone complaining about “another” light novel adaptation with all of its tropes and cliches. that doesnt even sound like an argument about numbers. im not saying i agree with this stance, but it sounds more like someone saying that they dont like the idea of seeing an adaptation of stuff they’ve seen before.

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  4. While I don’t mind light novel adaptations mainly cause since I don’t really read light novel, I watch the anime without knowing the original source, I feel like some people just might be tired to light novel adaptations.
    When you looked at it, we had a lot of adaptations in a short lapse of time.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As representation yes there is more manga adaptation than light novel, but since there was a lot of LN adaptation happening in a short amount of time, people probably feel there is a saturation, plus a lot of those adaptations where anime series people talk a lot about.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, light novel adaptations do tend to get a lot of conversation going. Or at least, some do. Others tend to fly a little under the radar. But I can fully understand getting sick of hearing about the same titles over and over again.

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