The light novel is a staple of Japanese literature — existing as installments of prose that are published in monthly anthologies like their manga cousins. In fact, a great deal of them are published in monthly anthologies with illustrations often supplied by established character designers and illustrators used in the manga/anime field. Many go on to be adapted as radio dramas, anime series, or live action dramas and even more increasingly so these past few years.
One of my favorite examples in this genre would be the Twelve Kingdom series written by Fuyumi Ono. For those of you who are in the N. American region, you’ll recall it was first released as an anime series by Mediablasters, followed by a release as a series of novels by the now defunct Tokyopop Publishing. The illustrations were put together by Akihiro Yamada who is well known for designs from RahXephon and for the movie “Shinobi: Heart Under Blade.”
Another example of a series that finally made it to book form after importation of the anime into the North American market was the “Trinity Blood” series by Sunao Yoshida, illustrated by Thores Shimaboto. The novel series did not complete due to the death of the author and the disappearance of Tokyopop. However, the gothic art style was phenomenally different from many of the other series in the industry, spinning off a large number of art books prior to and alongside the anime release.
There are actually quite a few examples of these light-novel serials turned novels/anime still in the market. I’ll defer further discussion of these as for the most part these, in Japan, follow the more traditional path of serial published in a magazine/anthology format, adaptation to new multimedia version (i.e., radio drama, anime on tv, anime film, etc. etc.)
While the supposed rule is light novels in their compiled form are not long, there have been exceptions. In that sense the definition of “light novel” should not be focused so much on the length but the initial serialized publication format.
Recently “Sword Art Online” has been making a rather huge impression in the online anime fandom. This, too, had light novel origins. However, digging into the Wikipedia and searching the web reveals that SAO was initially an online web novel . What appeared in publication was apparently the second volume in this series, submitted during an annual contest call for fiction. TE Water’s research supplements the claim that SAO was initially a webseries. (See http://wordgear.x0.com/novel/novelcgi2/diary.cgi ). The success of volume 2 resulted in the author’s previous web work being also pulled from the web and then published formally as a print novel.
The light novel is probably unique to the Japanese market. However, China also has had similar success for serial fiction becoming other types of multimedia properties. (See the link and discussion at Novelr.com: http://www.novelr.com/2011/04/14/linked-chinese-web-literature-authors-are-profitable-and-have-been-for-sometime-now .)
But what about here in the West?
As it turns out, several folks have been exploring the light-novel concept on their own. They’re not well-integrated into the current serial community IMHO, but with some gentle pushing (cough), have started to list their works on some of our serial directory sites.
The first is the long-running series “Three of Swords.” I think this series has been around for at least 3-5 years. So far, it appears to have been targeting webcomic readers as I remember running across a link to it on a webcomic site affiliated with Tomgeeks. From what I was able to gather the series is produced by two sisters with one of them taking up art chores. Like the traditional light novel, she posts entire chapters at a time with one-two scenes from the chapter. The author/artist also appears in several Eastern US anime/fandom convention artist alleys to promote her work and other art.
The second light-novel series I’ve run across is “Tokyo Demons“, written by Lianne Sentar and illustrated by Priscilla Hamby (rem). Lianne and Priscilla also have a link back to Tokyopop Publishing and the manga industry. (Currently REM is lead artist on the serialized manga adaptation of Gail Carringer’s “Soulless” paranormal steampunk series.) Lianne appears to be quite familiar with the entire light-novel enterprise for aside from the posting of text and illustrations, she is working with Rebecca Scoble to produce an audio drama with a visual novel adaptation in the plans for the future.
It should be noted that in an environment where few online novels/ webfiction properties have made any equivalent dent in Kickstarter like their webcomic cousins, “Tokyo Demons” was quick to fund with Kickstarter. The promise of things more than books, i.e., sketches, audio books, and the visual novel, obviously excited the faithful readers but also the people who discovered the project through Kickstarter.
I’m legitimately interested in watching these two webserials/ web novels or English light-novels if only because I think they’re trying to figure out how to carve out their niche in a very crowded pool of online novels. I also think it’s cool how their properties are inherently not just fiction but multimedia IP with merchandise licensing potential.
As I also illustrate, I’m thinking what I can learn from these two projects in continuing forward. The idea of serial novels as intellectual property/character licensing opportunities keenly interests me. I haven’t had great success in commercializing the store/shop I have so far, but I haven’t given up hope yet ;).
Incidentally, if anyone knows of other light-novel type of web serials/online novels, please drop me a note/comment. I’d love to check them out.