What Illustrations Should You Have in Your Light Novel?

When it comes to writing a Light Novel (LN), I’m sorry to say—

Your words aren’t enough.

Without illustrations, you’ll only have a novel, not a LN. There are exceptions, but the vast majority of LNs contain illustrations. Yours should too.

But how many? What kind? How do I decide which scene deserves an illustration?

Don’t fret. I had the same questions when writing my first LN. So, I researched as many LNs as I could and discovered several patterns among their illustrations. Patterns I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

There are no real ‘rules’ for LN illustrations. You can have as many as you like of any variety. But I suggest you stick to the following if you want to have the greatest impact on your readers. An illustration is a chance to double the power of your words or convey something that can’t be put into words.

If you’re a LN Author, learning how to use illustrations effectively is just as important as learning how to write well.

So, let’s get started.

How Many Illustrations Should You Have in Your Light Novel?

Sorry, there is no definitive answer. You can have as many or as few as you like. That said—

On average, Light Novels contain a total of 15 Illustrations. Of those 15, you should have:

  • 1 Full-Color Front Cover (FCI)
  • 1 Full-Color Introduction Page (IP)
  • 3 Full-Color 2-Page Spreads (Spread)
  • 10 Monochrome Illustrations (MCI)

Does that seems like a lot? Perhaps, but this is the average I found. And whether you like it or not, once a standard has been established, readers expect it to be followed. Rarely will you find an LN with less than 10 Illustrations or more than 20.

Unfortunately, ‘how many?’ won’t be a question of what you want, but what you can afford. Most LNs have large companies with big budgets backing them, so they can easily adhere to this standard.

Personally, at the time I wrote both my LN series, I couldn’t afford the standard. But I was able to come close.

Garden of PSI Volume 1 has:

  • 1 FCI
  • 1 Spread
  • 10 MCIs

On Creating the Ultimate Weapon Volume 1 has:

  • 1 FCI
  • 1 Spread
  • 7 MCIs

The total cost varied because I employed two different artists (the second costing 3 times more than the first!). I wrote a design document that matched the standard, but ended up chopping it down to fit my budget.

While I would’ve liked to have more, doing this allowed me to really think about and choose the best possible illustrations.

Alright, with the standard in mind and the terror of what it’s going to cost boiling your brain, let’s move on what those illustrations are even supposed to look like.

The Different Types of Light Novel Illustrations

There are three primary types of illustrations you’ll find in a LN. These are the Front Cover, the Spread(s), and Monochrome Illustrations. There are other types such as:

  • Chibi versions of your characters on the Table of Contents page or elsewhere.
  • What I call the Introduction Page (the first page you see when opening the LN). It typically features the FCI with its design elements (book title, etc.) removed or a new illustration entirely (usually of whoever is on the FCI).

I’ll touch on these later, but they are more or less optional, so don’t worry about them too much. Instead, let’s focus on those that you must have in order to call your work a LN.

Front Cover

One of the artists I employed told me: “You should spend the most time thinking about the front cover because it will be the face of your LN”.

She is absolutely right.

When readers see your LN in a digital catalogue or pick it up in a bookstore, the cover will usually be the first thing they see. And as you anyone will tell you—first impressions are key.

Here are the most common types of LN covers and why they work (or don’t).

The Focus

The focus of the Illustration, as in—who you want readers to notice first.

Single Character (SC)

One character featured alone.

This character is usually the first major character the protagonist meets. Rarely does it feature the protagonist.

Why? Typically because readers are ‘seeing’ the story through his/her eyes. This is common in Harems in which volume one has the first girl, volume two the second, and so on.

This method was popular a decade ago, but you don’t see it much anymore. I used it in both my LNs as I think it does a much better job of catching readers’ eyes than the other methods. If you intend to write each volume centered around one specific character, the FCI should reflect that.

Two Characters (TC)

Both the first major character and the protagonist featured together.

The common style (in case of male protagonist) features the main female character taking up most of the illustration with the protagonist in the background.

This method got popular when the style of protagonists switched from mostly being blank slates for readers to imprint upon to more developed characters. Given their greater importance, it becomes necessary to make their presence better known.

I like this method, but only if the protagonist truly takes a backseat to the main girl. If he takes up too much space on the cover, it can detract from the impact the main girl should be making. And vice versa. Plus, it can be difficult for readers to know who they’re supposed to focus on.

Group of Characters (GoC)

3 or more major characters featured together.

The common style features one character taking up most of the cover in the foreground, a smaller second character behind them, and another/group in the far back. This method has become popular in recent years. A decade ago, it basically didn’t exist.

I advise against this method. LN covers are typically small, so the more elements you pack into them, the less each one matters. For readers, this translates to information overload and an inability to know who or what to focus on.

It can work if the background characters are so small as to not distract from the primary focus, but why include them anyway at that point?

The Background

Just that. What’s behind the Focus of the illustration.


A plain, white background. This makes the character(s) stand out, but can be a bit boring if too much is visible. You can make up for this with graphic design elements (logo, author name).

Use them to cover any white space that the illustration doesn’t. It was popular during the early days of LNs, but only a handful still use it today.

This style is great because it puts all the focus on the character(s). Readers will know exactly who is going to be important in the LN. It works best with SC.


A simple background featuring basic shapes / patterns / textures in plain colors (usually gradients). This style makes the character(s) stand out without distracting from them.

The elements should match the subject matter of the LN, while the colors should match the character. A character with a blue color scheme should have a blue (or complimentary color) background. It is still used today quite frequently.

This is my favorite style and the one I used in Garden of PSI. It can be used to reveal a bit about the LNs story and make the illustration really pop. It works best with SC and TC.


A heavily detailed background reminiscent of a painting. What it features depends on the genre. Fantasy has forests/castles, while SF has spaceship interiors/futuristic cities. This style is becoming the standard.

I dislike this style for the same reason I do the GoC method. There’s simply too much going on in the illustration. It ruins the overall experience.

One of the LN medium’s greatest strengths are its loveable characters. They should stand out the most. To readers, a detailed background can imply that the characters are secondary to the world they inhabit, which is rarely the case in LNs.

This style can be used on any of the three, but works best with GoC as it provides a frame to stick them all in.

2-Page Spread(s)

Once you’ve hooked readers with your cover, it’s time to get them really interested in your LN. The first few pages of a LN are always in Full-Color and usually drawn in landscape format, hence the term: 2-Page Spread.

Most LNs contain both of the following, but they could be anything you think best fits your LN.

There are other types of Spreads (such as fold-out portrait-style posters), but the below two are the most common and the easiest to implement.

Key Scenes

An important scene in your LN which features the major characters.

The most typical would be when the protagonist first meets the character on the FCI. Alongside the illustration is the text from that scene. These spreads are typically light-hearted/fanservice-heavy with sparsely-detailed backgrounds as to not distract from the characters.

Such spreads are great because they’re basically extra MCI illustrations. Any scene you feel is too important to be an MCI can be used as a spread instead. Plus, they can play a dual role of introducing characters via a speech bubble / text box near them.

I used this type in my series, On Creating the Ultimate Weapon, as I felt the opening scene had the most impact and would really sell it to any potential readers.

Character Introductions

A line-up of the LN’s major characters.

The background is typically simple, featuring only colored patterns or textures.

Next to each character is a speech bubble/text box detailing their name, age, or anything else relevant to the story.

They could be all be crammed into one Spread or split up across all three. If you want to put more focus on your characters rather than the situations they’re in, this method is best.

This is what I used for my other series, Garden of PSI. I wanted to establish the overall mood of the LN rather than detail any specific scene.

Monochrome Illustrations

Monochrome illustrations are those found within the main text of your LN. As their name implies, they are colored in monochrome. Pretty much the same standards and logic that applied to the FCI also apply to these.

So, below is a bit regarding their composition. In the next section, I’ll detail exactly what variety of illustration is typically featured in a MCI.

Number of Characters

  • 1 is the standard.
  • 2 are featured on occasion.
  • 3 or more are extremely rare.

You don’t want to risk breaking your readers’ immersion too much.

So, it’s better to keep the character count down and the complexity of their pose simple.

The less information readers have to process the better. MC illustrations are frosting on a cake, delicious, but not the main feature (though you always want more).


MC illustrations almost never have backgrounds.

If they do, they are very simple, nothing more than a soft pattern or light effects.

Again, the focus should be on the character/scene that you want to have extra impact alongside your text. Detailed backgrounds will only serve to distract.

What Deserves an Illustration in Your Light Novel?

Ok, now that you know what types of illustrations to include in your LN, it’s time to decide which scenes deserve an illustration.

But how do I decide with so many to pick from?

A difficult, but not impossible question. You can only choose so many and each one costs money, so knowing which to include is truly important.

Thankfully for you, I researched several LNs and determined the core themes each illustration attempts to well, illustrate.

The FCI is an exception to the following as it should only adhere to one of these two:

  • If one (or more) character(s) are the focus of that volume: she should be featured.
  • If your protagonist is the most important: he should be featured.

As for the Spreads and MC illustrations, each needs to be built around two questions you must ask yourself:

  1. What’s the Theme/Genre of my LN?
  2. Who is my Target Audience?

Once you answer those, the illustrations you should include will be a little clearer.

Each of your illustrations should elicit a certain emotion from your readers or serve some purpose to the LN as a whole.

What either of those might be is dependent on your answers to above questions.

In my case, because I write Action-Adventure / Harem with plenty of female characters, my illustrations feature them.

This reveals the target audience: men. And because it’s safe to assume men enjoy action and fanservice, that’s what I include. Depending on your genre, you might have illustrations completely different from mine.

In truth, it doesn’t matter what sort of illustrations you have as long as they have some emotional impact or meaning. But, as always, it’s better to know what the standards are.

Here are the most common varieties of illustrations I found:


These are illustrations that help the reader understand the LN better.

An illustration can serve a variety of purposes like creating emotional impact, but they can also be purely functional. One of the most common illustrations in LNs is what I call the ‘character introduction’.

When a major character first appears in the text, it’s common practice to include an illustration of them alongside with their introduction. This reinforces the importance of a character and instantly cements who they are and what they look like in a reader’s mind.

Useful illustrations can also be of specific locations or objects. Such as a character holding a unique object or weapon that is integral to your story. Think a super-weapon capable of destroying Tokyo or a legendary sword.

If you’re writing Sci-Fi, you might want to include a unique piece of tech you’ve created to which words alone don’t do it justice.

That said, I don’t recommend including illustrations without your characters. As they are the focal point of LNs, they should receive the highest priority. Make sure they’re standing in front of that cool location or holding that piece of tech.

Useful illustrations can be emotionally impactful, but ultimately, they’re purely functional.

Examples include:

  • The aforementioned character introduction. Usually, the angle is dead-on or a profile view.
  • A character holding a unique object/weapon.
  • A map of your world. This shouldn’t feature your characters, but should be in the first few pages of your LN. Having it as an MCI risks breaking readers’ immersion.


These are illustrations that serve to elicit some emotion from readers.

Whenever a major emotional event occurs in your story, you should include an illustration depicting it to really drive home whatever feeling you want to provoke in your readers.

Such illustrations are most common in romances. Think a first kiss or a prince asking for a dance. But they can also be of grief (someone crying in the rain) or loss mixed with action (a character being shot through the heart).

Be careful to not include too many emotional illustrations. Due to the frequency effect, the more a reader is exposed to such emotional strain, the less impactful it will be the next time.

One heartbreaking image among ten normal ones can be quite powerful. Ten of them in the same LN will only result in readers rolling their eyes.

Examples Include:

  • Romance: A first kiss or proposal.
  • Drama: A character screaming or accusing another of something.
  • Grief: A character lying in a hospital bed or standing over a grave.


These are illustrations that serve to elicit a different kind of emotion from readers.

You know it when you see it. You’re happy when you see it. And for some reason, you keep flipping back to take another glance.

Fanservice illustrations are just that. They offer no deep emotion, but can certainly make an impact. You’ll find these mostly in harems or romantic comedies.

If your story is full of situations that warrant such illustrations, save them for where they’ll create the greatest effect. Swimsuit illustrations during beach trips are the most common.

But that’s just for the MCIs. Most harems include a Spread fanservice illustration before the novel even begins. This is a cheap, but effective way to get new readers to give your LN a shot, as it’s one of the first things they’ll see.

But again, nothing but fanservice illustrations will diminish their power. One or two per LN is the safest bet and common practice.

Examples Include:

  • A character in a swimsuit during a beach trip.
  • A character in a bath towel.
  • A character tripping and landing in a compromising position.


These illustrations serve to create a sense of movement in an otherwise rigid medium.

These are often used in battle-focused LNs featuring characters in mid-strike or posed to attack.

Despite having a couple in my LNs, I more or less despise them and recommend you avoid these. They have their place, but rarely offer much in terms of being emotionally impactful or useful.

As an Author, you should try to write well enough to allow your readers to imagine the action all on their own.

If you have to rely on an action illustration, save yourself, your Illustrator, and your readers some time by going back and making your text stronger.

Examples Include:

  • A character with their fists or sword posed to strike.
  • A character jumping/dodging. This usually features ‘action lines’ in the background to suggest movement.
  • A character using/charging their ultimate attack.

Spacing Them Out

But what if all the scenes I want illustrated are too close together?!

First of all, it’s fine to have 2 or 3 MCIs close to each other in the text. I certainly wouldn’t line them all up in a row, but don’t panic if a couple are close.

That said, you should try to space them out as evenly as possible.

Many readers (such as myself) can get irritated when there are huge gaps between illustrations as they can serve as a nice treat for readers.

When you cram all your illustrations together, readers can feel as if they’ve been cheated out of them. Whether or not you met the standard of 10 is irrelevant.

In short, if you have ten chapters, give each chapter one illustration. If you have five, give each chapter two illustrations.

Phase One Complete

Unfortunately, you read that right. Deciding on which illustrations you want is only the first step toward getting them into your LN. But don’t worry, I’ve got the other two steps covered in the articles below.

Step two involves creating a Design Document detailing the particulars of each illustration (character(s), pose, outfits, etc.).

Step three involves finding and hiring an Illustrator to send that Design Document to.

Deciding which illustrations you should have in your LN may seem like a daunting task, but it should be much easier now that you know what readers expect.


Hey, my name's Azuma. I first dove deep into Otaku culture in 2010 and never quite grew out of it. After a million different anime, light novels, manga, and visual novels, I learned a lot about each art form. Knowledge I want to share with you from writing advice to drawing tips. I'm also the Author of two light novels series, Garden of PSI and On Creating the Ultimate Weapon. Happy creating!

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