Otaku media is full of different mediums to enjoy. A couple of the most popular are those of Manga and Light Novels. Of the two, Manga is undoubtedly more popular than Light Novels. But why is this the case?
Manga is more popular than Light Novels for a number of reasons. Manga is easier to get invested in, easier to read, more accessible in terms of availability, and for the simple reason that Manga have been around far longer than Light Novels.
Light Novels (LN) are undoubtedly popular and profitable, but nowhere near that of Manga’s marketing prowess. This is true both in Japan and in Western markets, but doubly so for the latter. LNs are only just starting to gain traction in the west and make up only a fraction of the total Otaku-related book sales.
But a couple bullet points don’t tell you exactly why this is the case. Let’s break down each to figure out why LNs can’t match up to Manga.
Manga Is Much Easier to Get Invested In
When faced with a choice between a Manga and a Light Novel, Otaku will typically pick the former. Not necessarily because it’s better, but because on a subconscious level, they determined the Manga to be the most rational choice. For three reasons:
Low-Risk Time Investment
You can read a Manga much faster than a LN. Manga is made up almost entirely of illustrations and usually only a few sentences per page. Conversely, LNs have an average of 10 illustrations amongst hundreds of pages of text.
To the reader, this knowledge equates to a low-risk time investment with Manga. It only takes a few minutes to read a chapter of Manga. If you don’t end up liking it, you didn’t waste too much time. Plus, it doesn’t take long to get invested in the story, characters, and world.
A LN might take around 4 hours to read; a major time investment. And one that’s a complete waste if you end up not liking it.
It’s simply safer to read Manga if you value your time.
It Looks Like Anime
Many begin their Otaku lives by watching Anime. Manga, looking quite a bit like the Anime they’re used to, is instantly engaging. If it’s a series you’re familiar with, you’ll already know what’s going on by a quick glance through the Manga.
LNs, however, might be a stretch for fledgling Otaku. They have Anime-style illustrations, but are full of text, not pictures like you’re used to in Anime and Manga.
It’s hard enough trying new things, and there’s no incentive when there are so many ‘safe’ Manga to read.
Manga are released either weekly (15-20 Pages) or monthly (30-50 Pages). Because they come out so frequently and are easy to read, they can be rather addicting to read.
Every chapter completed is a quick, cheap dopamine hit to the reader’s brain. And they can have a ton of hits if they’re reading several series simultaneously.
LNs not only take 3 months on average for a new volume to release, but take far longer to get the dopamine hit from completing each volume.
Blame it on our short-attention-span society, but Manga are more popular simply because of how addictive they are.
Reading Manga Is Easier Than Reading a Light Novel
Manga being what it is, doesn’t exactly take much effort to read. It’s not at the same level as watching Anime where you don’t have to think at all, but just absorb. But still, Manga is 90% pictures that you just have to look at to understand.
LNs, on the other hand, require constant thinking and use of your imagination to full comprehend and enjoy the story. The few illustrations can tell you what the characters look like, but you have to imagine the rest on your own.
Obviously, this makes Manga far less stressful and time-consuming to read. And for those not wanting to try too hard (most people given it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance), Manga is the obvious first pick.
In fact, I’ve spoken to those who swear they can’t read ten pages of a book without falling asleep, but can read Manga for hours on end.
That said, the experiences themselves aren’t really comparable. Manga provides a different reading experience than a LN does. But without a doubt, Manga is so much easier to read.
And not only because of the mental aspects, but because of convenience as well. Manga doesn’t require a lot of focus, so it can be easily read in pretty much any situation.
Popping open a LN for a quick read doesn’t really work because it takes a few minutes to get in the flow and focus of reading it. Manga is the opposite.
A distinct memory I have of a bus ride in Japan is that of watching a man tear through hundreds of pages of Manga on his phone in the short 15-minute ride.
Manga’s easy to read and can be consumed at any time, any place—making it far more popular than LNs.
Manga Is More Accessible Than Light Novels
And by accessibility, I mean: in the case of the western market, Manga and LNs must be translated first.
LNs aren’t necessarily difficult to translate, but there is a whole lot more to translate. Not only does this take longer, but opens up the potential for more mistakes. More to translate = more to edit = more work.
Plus, the Japanese language doesn’t always translate well. What makes sense in Japanese literature doesn’t necessarily make sense in English. For example, LNs are full of:
- Solid-Snakeism: Repeating whatever a character just said:
- “I work for the secret agency known as the Banana Rangers.”
- “The Banana Rangers?!”
- Honorifics: –chan, –kun, –sama
- Cute Noises: uguu~, desu~
- ‘Non-Words’: –de arimasu, –nano desu, –dattebayo!
- Onomatopoeias: doki doki
- No Dialogue Tags: Usually, a character’s speech pattern is obvious to the reader, so there’s no need to add dialogue tags. If translated literally, most readers would have no idea who is talking.
It’s hard enough to localize these in Manga. Accounting for the thousands found in a LN is an even bigger headache.
Manga has the exact same problems, but there are far less words, so western publishers are more likely to take the cheaper, faster option. Besides, Manga has already proven to be popular. Why spend more money and time translating an LN that might not be profitable?
In fact, in the past, western publishers would publish the Manga adaptation of a LN series first to see how it faired. If it did well, then they would publish the original LN series.
LNs have proven a worthy investment nowadays, but publishers will still pick Manga every time in terms of profit power.
Light Novels Don’t Have a Great Reputation
As a LN Author, it pains me to admit that they have a bad name. But it’s true. Many factors are to blame, but most of the issue stems from their typically poor quality of writing.
LNs writing style originally stemmed from Visual Novels, which feature sparse description and tons of dialogue. LNs have to write far more prose to make sense, but they’re still composed of about 50% dialogue. You can learn how to master the LN writing style in this article if you’re interested.
Unfortunately, this translates to ‘bad’ writing. Few authors take time to write engaging prose and just use it as a vehicle to move between sections of dialogue.
This makes most readers, in the west at least, think: “Why would I read this inferior novel, when I can read a well-written one in the same genre?”
A Fantasy LN and a Fantasy novel have the same ingredients minus the Otaku tropes present in the LN. Unless you’re already a fan of LNs, the regular novel is the obvious pick. That, or a Manga.
Because even if a Manga doesn’t have the best writing, the entertainment one gets from the art can make up for some of the bad writing. LNs only have their writing to carry them. If it’s bad, the handful of illustrations aren’t going to help much.
Furthermore, they don’t have the best reputation in Japan either. Because Manga has been around much longer and is one of their largest exports, Japan treats it as an art form worthy of respect.
LNs are relatively new and associated entirely with Otaku culture. And while the perception of Otaku isn’t nearly as negative as it once was, mediums that are strictly ‘Otaku’ like LNs or Visual Novels are still looked down upon somewhat.
In fact, many non-Otaku (normies) wouldn’t think twice about reading a popular Manga like One Piece or Demon Slayer. But the odds of them grabbing a LN are basically zero. LNs are simply too ‘out there’ for normies.
Perhaps because of this, most LNs don’t try to be ‘great’—they’re not likely to get much recognition anyway. Manga is more popular and LNs know it.
Manga and Light Novels Have Different ‘Prices’
Manga and LNs both in Japan and the west have varying prices. It depends on the publisher, popularity, and length of each volume. But on average, Manga cost slightly less than LNs.
It’s more complicated, but let’s just blame it on the fact LNs aren’t as popular, thus: lower demand = higher price.
So, it stands that Manga would be more popular because they’re a low-cost investment compared to LNs. Yet on paper, this makes no sense. For example:
- It takes 1 hour~ to read one volume of Manga versus 4 hours~ to read one Light Novel
- Manga cost about 30% less than Light Novels, so
- Hypothetically, if a Manga costs $7.00 and a LN costs $10.00, then
- $7.00 = 1 Hour of Entertainment, but $10.00 = 4 Hours of Entertainment
So, with Manga: you’re paying $7/per hour. With LNs, you’re paying $2.50/per hour.
LNs are the better investment in terms of cost.
But due to all the reasons listed above, most consumers would readily sacrifice more money to have a product they enjoy more. And most people simply enjoy Manga more.
Furthermore, and this is not based on anything but my own observations over time, Manga is far easier to acquire ‘for free’ (read: via internet piracy).
LNs take a long time to translate, so there aren’t nearly as many fan translation projects as there are for Manga. And most fan translations are released ages before any official translation.
Manga readers are spoiled for choice and lightning-fast access to any series with a couple internet searches. This has lead to Manga being perceived as extremely ‘cheap’ because of how easily it’s acquired ‘for free’.
Thus, Manga is the ultimate form of low-cost investment—making it so much more popular than LNs.
And Yet the Times Are Changing
Manga are undoubtedly more popular than LNs, but this isn’t cause for despair as a LN fan or Author.
LNs will never outrank Manga, but they are more prevalent than ever before:
- A vast majority of recent Anime are adapted from LNs.
- LNs used to be mixed in with Manga in western bookstores, but now they have their own separate section.
- Many western publishers focus almost entirely on LNs rather than Manga (J-Novel Club).
If you decide to create a LN, now is the best time you could hop on the popularity train. They still have a bad reputation to combat, but that only applies to fledgling Otaku or normies. Write for Otaku (i.e. your target audience) and you’re sure to find fans.
And if you’re wondering whether or not you can even write a LN given that you’re (probably) not Japanese, check out this article that answers that question and more.