Understanding Japan's Light Novel Rankingsby Kim Morrissy,
What is Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi!?
Every year, Takarajimashima publishes a light novel guide book called Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! (This Light Novel is Amazing!) which lists the top 10 light novel series of the year, as well as the top 10 male and female characters. The book has covered every year since 2005, and some of the top light novels it has identified include The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2005), Spice and Wolf (2007), and Full Metal Panic! (2008).
Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! (or KonoRano, as it is commonly abbreviated in Japan) isn't just a popularity contest or an indicator of the latest fads, however. Multiple categories of voters are considered in the final listings, with the industry insiders and critics being given the biggest weighting. The full list includes not only the most popular works at the moment, but also some more obscure titles that show potential. Thus, the guide book essentially serves two purposes: keeping track of what's currently popular and providing exposure to promising new authors.
As a result, KonoRano is an important publication for anyone interested in the trends in the light novel industry - ANN reported on this year's edition here. The 2017 edition also included some interesting changes to the rankings, so let's take a closer look at it and see how we can interpret the results.
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU has been dethroned as the top light novel series
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU has been the top light novel series for three years running, but this time it was disqualified from the top novel rankings because no new volumes were released this year. Hachiman and Yukino do still have a place in the top characters ranking, however, as the character rankings are decided merely through popular vote instead of the more complex voting system used for the top novel rankings. (More on this below.)
Light novel fads can be fleeting, but it's important to remember that at its prime, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was both a popular and critical success. And its continued presence on the character and artist rankings indicates that the series is still beloved in Japan despite the lack of new releases. The cover of this year's KonoRano was even drawn by Ponkan8, the artist of the My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU novels. If Wataru Watari publishes the highly anticipated volume 12 next year, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU may yet recover its ranking.
This year's top series is Ryūō no Oshigoto!, which is written by Shirō Shiratori of Nourin fame and illustrated by Shirabi. The story is about a teenage boy who happens to be a shogi master. One day, a nine-year-old girl turns up at his house, announcing that she will take him as her disciple. From there, all kinds of wacky hijinks ensue. It's rare for a light novel to center around a niche subject like shogi, but the novel is an accessible read even to who have no interest in the game. Maybe one day it will receive an anime adaptation…?
There is a new ranking for “tankōbon” releases
In a departure from previous years, the 2017 issue has two separate lists for the bunko-sized light novels and the tankōbon-sized ones. Bunko refers to the classic small-sized paperback books, the format of most light novels. Tankōbon, on the other hand, are larger-sized books, often published in hardcover format (although not always).
In all likelihood, the separate tankōbon list was created to give consideration to series that fall into that gray area between a “light” novel and a “regular” novel. In previous years, Nisio Isin's Monogatari and Boukyaku Tantei series have not been represented strongly on KanoRano, despite being massively popular with the Japanese public. This is because they are published by Kodansha BOX, which mainly publishes regular novels. The question of whether they count as light novels has been heavily debated by readers, leading many voters in previous years to simply not count them.
The tankōbon list also has a heavy representation of web-novels-turned-print-novels, including the overall winner Overlord. Mushoku Tensei, Kumo desu ga, Nani ka?, and Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken are also extremely popular on the “Let's Become a Novelist” website. Overall, the existence of this list indicates that the definition of “light novel” remains unclear, and that despite the massive popularity of web novels in recent years, they have yet to be fully accepted as “light novels” within the Japanese publishing industry. It will be interesting to follow this list in future years to see the trends that emerge among the top-ranked tankōbon novels.
The voting system has also changed
Until this year, the KonoRabe’s top novel rankings were determined by three types of polling: the Takarajimashima online poll, the collaborators’ poll, and the monitors’ poll. Each group ranked their favored five light novels in order, with the first novel getting more points than the second one, and so on.
The Takarajimashima online poll (ホームページ内でのアンケート, or HP) is posted on Takarajimasha's website up to one month before the corresponding issue of KonoRano is published. Anyone can vote on this poll. The top five choices are worth 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points respectively.
The collaborators (協力者), on the other hand, are a small focus group consisting of people who have a vested interest in the light novel industry. These people include authors, critics, publishers, university club members, and prominent bloggers. They tend to vote for the more obscure titles, and their top five choices are worth 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 points respectively.
The monitors (モニター) refer to a focus group facilitated by the marketing research company Macromill. This group represents the hardcore light novel reader. Monitors need to have read over 51 light novels in one year in order to participate. Because their votes are invalid unless they vote for every category, they tend to pick the same series for each category, and they're also heavily biased toward titles that have an anime adaptation.
In 2017, the monitors’ poll was removed, which has shifted the results accordingly. There also appear to have been more collaborators voting this year, large number of them being internet bloggers. The influence is immediately obvious: less than half of the top 10 have an anime adaptation. The collaborators’ preferences are also clear when you look at the point allocation behind the top series. Ryūō no Oshigoto! received 321.05 points from the collaborators compared to 78.17 points from the online poll. Meanwhile, A Certain Magical Index received 191.54 points from the online poll but received 0 points from the collaborators. Among popular light novel titles with an anime adaptation, Re:Zero fared best among collaborators, receiving 75.44 points, but that's still less than half of the online vote (161.26 points).
With the collaborators having greater influence in this issue's polling, it's no surprise that the lesser known series would have a stronger presence compared to previous years. These results may surprise the casual light novel reader who doesn't keep up with the latest releases in Japan, but there's a fairly high possibility that these titles will become more well-known in the future. KonoRano has anticipated successful series in previous years. Alderamin on the Sky, for instance,was in the top 10 rankings for the last three years, and this year it was adapted into an anime. Goblin Slayer, which ranked fifth in the top series poll this issue, is getting an English translation despite the fact that the series only began last year.
If you're looking for future light novel hits or just an entertaining read, then, be sure to check out the KonoRano rankings!
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