Before you ask—no, watching Anime all day will NOT turn you into the greatest light novel author who ever lived. If you want to get better at writing, you have to write. A lot.
But that isn’t to say that watching Anime won’t help you. I wouldn’t have written anything if not for the hundreds of Anime series I’ve seen throughout my many years as an Otaku.
Anime (and any other form of entertainment) can make you a better writer so long as you use it as learning material.
Note: For this article, I will speak from the mindset of an Author. However any type of Creator (Mangakka, Game Designer) can benefit from this methodology.
So, how does one learn from Anime?
Eye of the Creator
By developing what I call a ‘Creator’s Eye’. Or: treating everything you encounter as something you can learn from.
Any time you sit down to enjoy any form of media, observe it not only through the lens of someone wanting to be entertained, but also as a student.
While it’s fine to enjoy media for the sake of enjoying it (as that’s the primary purpose of entertainment), you can get so much more out of it by using your Creator’s Eye (CE).
Alright, before you yank your favorite series of the shelf, grab a notepad. Just as no student should ever head to class without pen and paper, neither should a Creator be caught without a notepad of some sort.
Because I always have my phone with me, I use a simple notepad app I can quickly type or speak into. Ideas can strike at any time from any source, so you need to be prepared to record them lest you forget later.
Ideally, you should ‘study’ at home where you can pause whatever you’re studying to take notes. But if you’ve primed your CE, a movie date night can turn into a lecture on brilliant dialogue.
Just make sure you have that notepad. It’s difficult to try and remember every idea you had and record them four hours later when you’d rather sleep.
Ask Yourself a Million Questions
Ok, great. I have an excuse to watch Anime and play video games all day, but how do I learn from them?
By always asking questions. Your goal as a student is to break down each element and learn from them. If you encounter a beautiful setting, an interesting character design, or anything else that impresses you, ask yourself these two core questions (more will be provided shortly).
- Why is this good? Or, how did this element work so well? Knowing the why and how of something that impressed you is more important than the element itself.
- Can I use this or repurpose it? While it’s not useful (and probably illegal) to copy concepts wholesale, you can use them as inspiration for your own ideas.
Before we dive into what each following form of media can teach you, I have a recommendation.
The best way to utilize your CE is by re-watching (playing, reading, etc.) whatever you’re learning from.
Why? Because you’ll be more focused on learning. If you already know what will happen, you won’t have to fight the impulse to be entertained while trying to learn.
Now that you’ve got your CE primed and a notepad at the ready, let’s get started.
Following are several forms of media, what I think is the best they have to offer in terms of learning material, some example questions to ask while studying, and a few recommendations.
Watch and Learn
Anime / Live-Action Film
Moreso than other mediums, Anime and film provide strong visual elements given that their primary focus is cinematography.
Location / Setting
Anime provides vivid visuals in a variety of settings. Most are unique given the special effects budget is limited to the artists’ imagination.
Whether it’s set in a high-school or a fantasy isekai, study the visuals and take note of their strongest aspects. The best (and easiest) way to describe your story’s setting is to know what it looks like.
- What makes this setting interesting?
- How can I translate a beautiful image into words?
- What emotions does a ‘beachside sunset’ or ‘a field of flowers at dusk’ bring forth?
There’s not much time to establish each character’s personality. So, Anime relies on characters’ outward appearances to do much of the character building.
For example, 9 times out of 10 the girl with blonde twintails is a Tsundere. You, as an Author, obviously have more time to develop your characters.
But you can use the same methods to quickly establish your characters’ personalities. Doing so will make readers remember and relate to your characters with ease.
Plus, it’s much easier to design your characters by studying others.
- What does a character’s appearance say about their personality?
- How does clothing reflect the setting? (Characters in fantasy worlds typically wear medieval-style outfits)
- How does each characters’ design make them distinct from each other? (Many Anime give every character a different hair color. Generic? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.)
Even when characters aren’t speaking with words, they’re always speaking with their bodies. A simple smile or a look of despair can be more impactful than any line of dialogue detailing the same emotion.
Actually seeing such actions performed on screen will make capturing them with your words much easier.
- How does a character’s body language reflect their personality?
- Which gestures are realistic/believable? Which aren’t?
- Can a character’s body language tell a story all by itself? If so, how?
Flow / Focus
Anime can only pack so much content into its short runtime (as opposed to hundreds of pages of a novel), so each scene must flow without missing a beat. And the only way it can is by having focus.
That is: making each scene truly matter. The same should be done in your writing. Having more time doesn’t give you the right to drag your story out.
Readers love progress. So, make each scene progress the story. Doing so will create a natural flow that makes reading through your story a pleasure.
- How does each scene flow from one to next? (Each scene must be related to the last in some way or another. Anyone would be upset if the story in A Part was left unfinished and traded for another in the B Part.)
- Does each scene really matter to the story as a whole? (Avoid chasing unrelated subplots or going through pointless sidequests that only serve to pad out the story.)
If you are a LN Author, it only makes sense to learn by reading LNs. You could learn how to write solely through observing every element of an LN, but I would advise against it. Why?
Because you can learn the art of dialogue, setting, etc. from other forms of media. Sure, you could learn all that from LNs. But the other forms simply do it better.
A picture of a castle will get your brain juices flowing much better than a description of one. The description might help with your sentence structure or vocabulary, but it won’t stick in your head like a picture will.
So, what should you focus on learning from LNs?
LNs are unique for two reasons. One they are almost always a series. And two, they are typically short (50K words being the average). You should match this unique structure as LN readers will expect it from your LN.
- What would an outline of an LN’s plot look like?
- Does each volume have its own unique problem to solve? Does each problem bring the characters closer to solving a bigger problem?
- How are new characters introduced? Do they stick around in later volumes?
With LNs, it’s not enough to slap a stock image and fancy-font title on the front. Readers expect several illustrations and other design elements. I created the graphic design elements for my LNs almost entirely by studying other LNs.
From the Cover to the Copyright Page, you need to provide visually appealing designs to give readers extra incentive to pick up your LN.
- What design elements make one LN stand out from the rest?
- Do the designs fit the theme of the LN? (My series On Creating the Ultimate Weapon is about swords, so I put swords everywhere…it’s easier than you think.)
- Can certain elements hurt your LN? (Like anything, you can take it too far.)
Annoying as it is, literature chases trends to make sales. Especially LNs. I’m sure you all remember when Sword Art Online aired and the next thousand Anime were set in MMO-style worlds. Then came Re:Zero and the pile of Isekai flooding in behind.
You don’t have to write whatever is popular to succeed. However, understanding why a genre is popular can greatly help your writing.
- Why did this genre become popular? What about it makes it appealing to the current generation of LN readers?
- What elements of it are the most interesting? Can they be transferred to other genres?
- How can I subvert readers’ expectations of the genre to make my LN unique?
As an LN Author, your goal is to appeal to LN readers. Once you determine what makes an LN great, you can apply that knowledge to your own work. Doing so will bring in the greatest number of readers.
Whatever medium you work in, you want to appeal to readers who are already fans of that medium. It’s great if Anime fans start reading your LN, but they won’t be the first ones to discover your LN. Study what appeals to LN fans.
- What is unique about LNs?
- How can I make those elements shine?
- What’s currently popular? (Again, you don’t have to chase trends, but try and stay on top of them anyway. It’s useful to know if readers expect something that wasn’t a staple of the genre a few years ago. For example, many LNs feature heavily detailed backgrounds on their Front Covers recently compared to stark white backgrounds in the past.)
Visual Novels (VNs) are essentially interactive films. Unlike a normal film, you (the player) progress the story at your leisure. And you can choose which parts of the story to read in whatever order you want.
This allows for a whole lot of room for an Author to move. However, bringing the story together as a whole can be difficult if readers don’t go in the order the Author thinks they should.
Here are a couple things they do better than other forms of media.
All the visual elements of a VN are established through backgrounds, CGs, and character sprites. Because of this, the Author can focus entirely on dialogue. One could say the same for Anime, but it’s better to learn through VNs.
You have to process a lot of information while watching Anime. So, you won’t have time to process the dialogue in a useful way.
It is much easier to read a still screen that is up to you to move forward. Plus, you’ll often have access to a backlog and save files if you want to review a certain part.
Analyze each line and determine why a bit of dialogue was good or not. Because VNs have so much dialogue, you’ll have plenty of examples to learn from.
- What was said? Could I rework it to fit with my story?
- How did it flow? Were the sentences long or short? Was it easy to read?
- Was it believable/realistic? Did I ever think “no one would ever say that in real life”?
- What emotions did it provoke? Can a single line completely change how I perceive a character?
It’s not so much that VNs are good at this, but more that they are often extremely long (30 hours of reading being the norm). Thus, they have a lot of space to spend on worldbuilding.
Your LN series could be just as long. So, it pays to learn how to cram in as much worldbuilding as you can without distracting from each volume’s story. After all, readers will more likely return to a world they find unique or interesting.
- What makes a setting interesting? (It is often a combination of several elements such as the world’s history, politics, or geography.)
- What is the balance between worldbuilding and narrative? (If you stop to explain the setting, you risk slowing down the story.)
- What type of worldbuilding is common in my story’s genre? (Cyberpunk Authors already know there are going to be corrupt mega-corporations and street gangs in their world.)
Video games are another form of interactive movie. However, the focus is on gameplay rather than a long, intricate narrative (though many do contain these).
Their approach to storytelling may be different from a novel, but their techniques can be replicated in your LN.
Did you know? You can tell an entire story without dialogue or a narrator’s thoughts. Games rely on this tactic often to tell a story entirely through the environment. They do this to avoid taking away the player’s agency by making them sit through a cutscene.
A series of well-written images can create a story in the reader’s mind without you ever needing to tell them what actually happened. This can be more fun for readers than if you told them outright.
- What story does each room/level tell? What does it mean for the rest of the game?
- Could I elicit horror in my readers by describing a dark, bloodstained attic without any input from my characters?
- Is there a scene in my writing where it would be better to replace bland dialogue with an evocative image?
One of the hardest emotions to create in a player is immersion. Or: when you feel you are not just playing a game, but actually living inside the game world.
You’ve probably experienced it at least once. You start up a game and eight hours go by before you realize how much time has passed. You were immersed. And you want your readers feel the same while reading your LN.
- What elements make a game immersive? How can I translate that into my writing?
- Does an immersive game ever come to a stopping point? Fallout 4, for example, is designed so that players never run out of things to do. This makes it easy for players to get immersed, but difficult for them to stop playing. Your LN series could do the same by the use of cliffhangers. Make it hard for your audience to stop reading.
Manga is an inverted LN. All illustration and little dialogue as opposed to the reverse. So, you might be thinking they’re useless as learning material. However, they have plenty to offer.
Showing, Not Telling
Manga is an almost entirely visual experience. It’s forced to say more with its art than with the small amount of dialogue its tiny bubbles will allow. Every panel is an opportunity to tell a story. And those that tell good stories show rather than tell.
- What story does each panel tell? How are each related to one another?
- How can a panel convey meaningful information with few words or without any words?
Your LN will likely feature several illustrations. But they are not the focus. Your writing is. However, each illustration can serve to make your writing even stronger. Manga saves its best illustrations for the most powerful scenes. Your illustrations should follow the same logic.
- What types of scenes were considered powerful enough to warrant a full-page or two-page spread? (A first meeting or first kiss are common in romances. The final blow in a fight or a death scene are common in action.)
- Would an illustration be more impactful than my words? Could it make my words even stronger?
There are countless forms of media you could learn from so long as you have your CE at the ready. Hey, I’ve gotten ideas from cable TV commercials. Here are a few more examples to show you that ideas can spark from anything.
While writing, I listen to music that matches the genre of my LN. For fantasy, I listen to light, airy instrumental tracks with lutes and wind flutes. For intense cyberpunk battle scenes, I listen to dark synthwave.
Doing so generates numerous ideas and emotions that I can translate into writing. Sometimes, I just sit and listen such music and imagine a story or scene that fits it.
One writing exercise I did was to take an indistinct black-and-white photograph and try and make a story out of it. I did after some effort and its few paragraphs later served as the basis for one of my LN series.
You can do the same with any form of art. A few broad strokes of vivid colors might be all it takes for you to get inspired.
No sports Mangakka ever sat down and decided to write and draw about baseball without ever having seen a game. Same with fishing, sowing, or anything else. You can draw story ideas from just about anything, anywhere, and anyone.
Forever a Student
Well, what are you waiting for? I gave you permission to watch Anime all day. But don’t forget your Creator’s Eye and notepad. And remember to put the information to use.
You’ve heard it all your life and it’s true. Practice makes perfect. If you want to be a great LN Author, you must write LNs.
Thankfully, it should be easy now. You just gained a million new sources of inspiration. No matter where you go, what you see, or who you talk to, every experience can be a learning one.
So, go on and learn. From this day forth, you will forever be a student.