The Spring 2018 Light Novel Guide

by Rebecca Silverman and Lynzee Loveridge,

While this list is far from exhaustive, here's a selection of new and notable light novels releasing this spring. Peruse our selections - and if you have recommendations of your own, we'd love to hear about them in the forums!

April

Infinite Stratos volume 1 by Izuru Yumizuru, J-Novel Club, $6.99

Harem stories centered on one guy inexplicably enrolled in a program that's typically only for girls have been around for a while now, but that doesn't have to mean that they've been done to death. Unfortunately for Infinite Stratos, it didn't get the message that an old concept can be reworked to feel new again, because this novel is about as textbook as they come. Ichika's strange ability to pilot a sort of body armor/mecha crossover unit known as an IS lands him in a prestigious school for IS pilots, all of whom prior to his discovery were female. Not only does this get him a lot of attention as the sole boy able to use an IS, he also garners it as the sole boy in school. Before many pages have passed, Ichika is caught in a three-way love tangle involving not just one, but two childhood friends and a hot British blond of the ojou-sama persuasion. None of the girls are anything other than standard female cutouts, more moving scenery than actual characters, and Ichika's attitude towards women is troubling to say the least. Mostly he retreats into statements like “all girls love gossip/desserts/shopping,” and all the statements about how women now largely run the story's world because of their ability to pilot ISes simply feels like a justification for either the author or the character's dissatisfaction with women having more power, hence the sexist stereotyping. There's also a problematic undercurrent of racism in the sense that each race has specific characteristics and abilities unique to it, mostly found in Ichika's inner monologue or narration. The art is attractive, but it does have a tendency towards the broken spine school of drawing women – contorted so that both breasts and butt are on full display. If you watched the anime, this source novel does do a much better job of explaining how the ISes function, but unless you absolutely love harem stories or are a major fan of the anime, there's more wrong than right with this book and you might want to go read Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension instead.

I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out my Level volume 1, by Kisetsu Morita, YenOn, $14.

If there's one message that Kisetsu Morita wants readers to take away from the somewhat awkwardly-titled I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out my Level, it's that you should always practice a little self-care. At first that seems like an odd choice for a book nominally about a young woman reborn as an immortal witch in a fantasy world, but the more you read, the more it seems like the fantasy setting is just a vehicle to get that point across. Azusa Aikawa, as she mentions frequently in her dual role as heroine and first-person narrator, died at age twenty-seven from overwork. She consistently refers to herself as having been a slave in a corporate life where she felt powerless to do anything but overwork, and that resulted in her death a mere five years after joining the working world. This time, she's going to do better. When a goddess offers her reincarnation with any bonus she desires, Azusa opts to be immortal (presumably so that if she screws up again work-wise, she can bounce back and have a third chance without actual death intervening), and she wants to be able to take it easy. The goddess gives her the requested immortal body (which appears to be age seventeen) and places her as a witch in a fantasy land. Azusa really only uses her powers to kill low-level slimes in order to make money to live, and she becomes the medical practitioner of her village over the course of three hundred years…both of which lead to her becoming super powerful. That Azusa is aghast when her status is revealed has a lot to do with her fears that her nice, peaceful life will be disrupted by people challenging her to fights, but what actually happens is that she takes on apprentices and learns that family was another thing she missed out on the last time.

It's a shame that the writing isn't quite up to the story Morita wants to tell, or perhaps that either Morita or their editor doesn't trust the readers to get the message without cheap fantasy trappings. Technically speaking, the whole “level” conceit isn't needed, and attempts at interjecting yuri elements just feel like Morita is trying too hard. The constant repetition of how Azusa died the first time around also begins to feel heavy-handed, which doesn't help Morita's point to resonate naturally. This only being the first book, these issues may resolve themselves going forward, but right now they're just hampering a story that has a valid message to share, and not enough confidence in its ability to do so smoothly.

The Magic in This World is Too Far Behind volume 1, by Gamei Hitsuji, J-Novel Club, $6.99.

We're all familiar by this point with the story of the summoned hero, a (typically) teen-age boy from our mundane world magically transported to a fantasy kingdom to save it from the horrors of the Demon Lord. This is not that guy's story. Instead, it's the tale of his best friend, Suimei, who, along with their pal Mizuki, just happens to be with Reiji when he's summoned as the hero to the aforementioned fantasy kingdom to defeat the Demon Lord. Reiji and Mizuki are all gung-ho about their new adventure, but Suimei's less than thrilled. Saying that he was kidnapped by the king and his mages and furious that he can't be returned to his original world, Suimei flat-out refuses to help fight some highly dangerous demon, because frankly, summoning a hero is a cop out and the kingdom should have dealt with their problem themselves. Needless to say, this does not ingratiate Suimei to most of the population (although it should be noted that the king is very sympathetic and understands where the kid is coming from), especially court mage Felmenia, who decides that Suimei is a grade-a jerk.

He's not, of course, or at least, no more than any other angry person. What Suimei is is a magician, a magic user from our own world, and because our magic systems are, according to the story, much more technically evolved due to the presence of science, Suimei's not impressed with the court mages. He really does just want to go home, and he's sure that he can use his magic to do it, but since magicians are hidden from the rest of the populace, he can't tell Reiji or Mizuki what he's up to, because that would just make things weird when they got home. Therefore, Suimei has to work in secret, taking the abuse hurled at him…mostly. All of this makes for a fun story that's an interesting take on the usual isekai novel, and the translation does a particularly good job of making Suimei sound like an ordinary angry teen who has just about had it with everyone's crap. That largely means that there are a lot more f-bombs dropped, but unless you have an aversion to profanity, that's a good thing in this story. While not quite a self-aware isekai novel, it's pretty close to it, and that makes it an enjoyable read even beyond having a good plot.

Me, a Genius? I was Reborn into Another World and I Think They've got the Wrong Idea volume 1, by Nyun, J-Novel Club, $6.99

The overpowered protagonist has been a staple of fiction since at least Beowulf, and he's been an issue for some readers for at least that long as well. That's part of what makes this book so much fun – Kouki may be grossly overpowered, but he has no clue that he is. Mostly this is because of the other familiar conceit of the novel: Kouki was an average guy from our world who died in an accident and was reborn in a parallel one. The catch is that there's nothing supernatural or all that unusual about his new Earth – it's just like ours except that history played out a tiny bit differently, resulting in different technological advances. The result is that, with his memories of his old life, Kouki accidentally keeps creating dangerous chemical weapons (an ordinary weed killer in our world) or using his anime knowledge to inadvertently inspire mechs in a world where the technology is present. Because of this, everyone around Kouki assumes that he's some sort of morally corrupt super villain in the making, and he becomes the subject of international surveillance.

In their afterward, author Nyun says that the book is intended to be about different perspectives of the same thing, and this first novel definitely succeeds on that front. While seeing the same exact event from multiple viewpoints can feel a little repetitive at times, it also is pretty funny to see Kouki and his best friend Shingo trying to make cloaking technology so that they can peep on their girlfriends in the shower while all of the adults around them worry that they're planning to invade a small nation. All of the adults always assume the worst of Kouki, and he's just busy trying to be a teenage boy and figure out what the hell is going on with all of this special treatment he's getting. I'm not sure how long the series can pull this premise out, but the juxtaposition between everyone's realities and the nice fact that both Shingo and Kouki have steady romances by the end of the book, eliminating any wearisome harem angles that could have overloaded the story, make this a fun read. No matter how you feel about OP heroes, if you have an opinion on them, this is well worth checking out.

Mia and The Forbidden Medicine Report Volume 1, by Fumi Yamamoto, Cross Infinite World, $7.99

For readers searching for a light novel starring a female protagonist, Mia and The Forbidden Medicine Report is a surefire place to start. It's not exactly breaking any molds—its protagonist is still surrounded by eligible romantic interests in a magical world—but it offers enough uniqueness in its heroine and its focus on pharmacology to shake the dust off the genre a bit. While there are definitely more options in the Japanese market, female leads are scarce in the English light novel market. Mia herself isn't any pushover either.

The setting also adds a new flavor. The Kingdom of Isea is one of magic, but Yamamoto also imbues it with a steampunk aesthetic. Magic students walk side by side with law scholars and the country's future doctors. This pairing at the academy is what allows Mia to form her research team across multiple disciplines and grounds the world's magic rules overall. Science and magic are intertwined in that way, but it's also a world where magic power is almost inseparable from war; the magic students' instruction is under the watchful eye of Royal Army.

Yamamoto spends considerable time establishing the world of Isea but never gets too caught up in the world-building details. She's got a lot of ground to cover in a scant 200 pages and seems happy to spend the page count establishing Mia has a head-strong girl with a mission than getting too bogged down in the details of the royal court or magic mechanics. And of course, drawing out the romantic drama between Mia and the handsome Felix and the social hurdles she must face after announcing plans to cure the highly infectious Demon Claw. The story really excels at creating enough tension from all these angles but maintaining its thematic focus.

Mia and The Forbidden Medicine Report does hit some of the basic shojo plot beats that come along with any “girl starts academic career at prestigious school” and of course the pharmacology program is considered the “least prestigious” of the Academy's four branches, but it's never dull and not so predictable that its events can be predicted from a mile off. It's a worthwhile read if you haven't tried light novels yet or are looking for something different to get excited about the genre again.

Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon volume 1, by Hirukuma with illustrations by Ituwa Kato, Yen On, $7.99

Isekai, or alternate world stories, are a dime a dozen and each year we see creators trying to come up with a new concept trying to repackage their version of Sword Art Online into something unique. This has lead some truly interesting stories like Re:Zero with its 'save points' and Tanya the Evil with its antihero protagonist. Fewer have tried the direct comedy route, so leave it to a novel series about a sentient vending machine to fill the gap.

Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon is selling exactly what it sounds like, starring a nameless guy who was a 'vending machine maniac' as he tries to navigate a fantasy world with limited speaking options and no mobility...because he's a vending machine. He has very few options if he's going to survive in this world, namely get customers. The book's author Hirukuma is also going to jump some hurdles to sell this book beyond its comedic title, by adapting the same format as So I'm a Spider, So What and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, namely applying RPG game mechanics to a immobile, non-combative machine. For the most part, Hirukuma succeeds. Boxxo acts more like a merchant's portable shop, and the story spends quite a bit of time focusing on Boxxo's inventory decisions and pricing scheme.

Which is to say, it also manages to invent game mechanics dumps too. There's not really a need to convert the fantasy world's currency into Japanese currency followed by life points. The author seems to be fixated on (or believe the audience is) keeping perfect math of their character's HP when really that kind of minute detail is uninteresting and reads unnaturally. I'd say on a whole, the writing quality itself is pretty weak. It definitely reads like fan-fiction-level quality, where very little detail is described, instead blatantly told to readers. I understand that the story is in first-person perspective, but Boxxo doesn't think or reason in any kind of naturally flowing way.

This is most evident whenever the book tries to be sexy. Boxxo's description of Lammis' cleavage is one example, or whenever Boxxo's dropping descriptions of his deepening feelings for her. Despite the writing quality though, this is still an engaging read. It never takes itself too seriously and Boxxo is a nice guy. It moves at a pretty brisk pace so even when it gets caught up in its mechanics, they never outstay their welcome. I also can't help but wonder if Boxxo will reach his dream of growing legs.

May

A Sister's All You Need. volume 1 by Yomi Hirasaka, YenOn, $14

Itsuki Hashiba is a talented novelist whose obsession with little sister romances is beginning to hamper his career. Haruto Fuwa is a less talented but much more savvy novelist who wishes he had Itsuki's talent, despite his arguably larger successes. And Nayuta Kani is a very gifted writer held back by her overwhelming lust for Itsuki, causing frustration all around with her antics. Welcome to the world of light novel authors as portrayed by Yomi Hirasaka.

A Sister's All You Need is kind of a frustrating book to read. In some ways, it is absolutely brilliant – the depiction of the anxieties of the writer's life is spot-on, and Hirasaka uses the way Itsuki is obsessed with a single character type to the detriment of his career in a way that you can sympathize with both Itsuki and his editor (and his long-suffering friends), because we've all read that author who really needs a new gimmick but is good enough at the old one that you'll keep reading them anyway. Likewise anyone who works in a creative field knows the pernicious voice in your head that tells you that your peers are so much better and more talented than you are, something both Itsuki and Haruto struggle not to give in to. The problems arise when the story tries to play with light novel tropes themselves, and most of the issues are attributable to Nayuta. Her sexual fixation on Itsuki crosses a lot of lines, and the fact that he repeatedly tells her to stop it makes it uncomfortable (and annoying) when she doesn't. Her advances are unwelcome, something even Hirasaka is aware of, as we can see in his note about not emulating her during tabletop RPG sessions, and although it's clearly meant to be funny, the other characters' annoyance and discomfort with her cuts the legs out from under the humor. That's too bad, because the writing is solid and the parts without her work very well. If she's not likely to push your buttons, this is worth reading, especially if you're a writer yourself, because when this is right, it really hits the mark.

Attack on Titan Choose Your Path Adventure: Hunt for the Female Titan by Hajime Isaya and Tomoyuki Fujinami, Kodansha, $10.99

Rejoice, children of the 1970s and 80s who are also fans of Attack on Titan – Kodansha has released a second Choose Your Path Adventure book in the franchise. This one takes place during manga volumes eight through ten, the “female Titan” arc, and as in the previous CYOA book, you take on the role of an unnamed member of Eren's squad. It's definitely better if you have a working knowledge of this part of the story, because that helps you to experience the setting more fully – after all, part of the game here is to try to save people who died in the original. (Or kill people who survived; whatever makes you happy.) There are additional game elements to the book beyond just picking what section you want to go to as well, making this worth the price tag: there are hidden puzzles to solve, maps to follow, and characters to form affinities with, which may come back to help or hurt you later. There is a handy section for notes in the book, but records are just as easily kept on separate sheets of paper if you'd rather not write in the book itself. It's good book to just have around for rainy days or on a long trip – decently fun, interesting, and with enough different options to give it high replay value.

Toradora! Volume 1 by Yuyuko Takemiya, Seven Seas, $13.99

I feel like we've been waiting forever for this series, and luckily it's been worth it: Yuyuko Takemiya's slice-of-life romance is just as charming as its anime adaptation. The story follows second year high school student Ryuuji Takasu, a sweet and caring young man plagued by thuggish looks, and his classmate Taiga Aisaka, a tiny girl with a temper so fierce she's known as “the palmtop tiger.” Like Ryuuji's outer appearance, Taiga's fierce presentation causes her to be misunderstood, although in her case it's deliberate – Taiga suffers from anxiety and fear of abandonment based on her family life. She covers it up with apparent viciousness, but as Ryuuji discovers when her failed attempt to confess to his best friend throws them together, underneath she's vulnerable and more than a little sad. She is the classic tsundere in a lot of ways, but Takemiya's novel makes it clear that it's not just a fetishy gimmick – Taiga has very good reasons for being the way she is. That Ryuuji, who lives with his incredibly irresponsible mother, needs someone to care for as badly as she needs to be cared for makes this book feel like the start of a slowly building love story that relies on character development rather than tropes and devices. This first book takes it slow, with both main characters currently crushing on other people, and gives Ryuuji and Taiga a firm base for their later relationship to grow on, revealing parts of Taiga's past and showing how Ryuuji begins to win her trust. They go from kind-of friends to something much closer, and it feels like an organic process. Yasu's illustrations don't always compliment the text (there are a couple that don't quite fit the descriptions), but for a series so long overdue for a translation, this first book is well worth the wait.

The Unwanted Undead Adventurer volume 1 by Yu Okano, J-Novel Club, $6.99

The best way to give an accurate idea of what reading this book is like is to think of it as the child of Overlord and So I'm a Spider, So What?. Protagonist Rentt Faina is eaten by a dragon while exploring a dungeon within the first few paragraphs of the book and is reincarnated, or rather, revived, as a skeleton, a typical RPG dungeon monster. Now undead but retaining all of his skills and memories, Rentt has to figure out how to survive not only in the dungeon, but also outside of it, as he really isn't ready to give up on life. The fact that he's the only sentient monster in the place certainly doesn't help; there's really nothing for him if he remains underground. To that end, Rentt begins exploring the process by which undead and other monsters evolve in the story's world, a sort of evolution that will allow him to become more and more human with time. That's an interesting goal, and a hopeful one if you're looking for the potential harem romance that's lurking within the plot, and it does help to make this novel stand out in the crowded field of fantasy that draws directly from role playing games. What hampers this story thus far is that Okano is quite repetitive in his writing, telling us the same basic facts over and over again in not only each chapter, but at times within the same chapter. While this may be a result of serialization so as not to lose new readers who may come in at chapter four, it does hamper the reading experience for those of us picking it up in book form, making it drag where it really doesn't need to. This does lessen as the book goes on, which is a very good sign for volume two, and as Rentt's goals start to look attainable, albeit with some pretty serious side effects, this may turn into a different kind of story further down the line, especially if we consider the mysterious woman Rentt encounters late in the book. This isn't a perfect or particularly polished novel, but it is interesting enough to merit at least one more volume, because with the pesky set up out of the way, this could go places.

June

Didn't I Say to Make my Abilities Average in the Next Life?! volume 1, by Funa, Seven Seas, $13.99

When it comes to wishes, it always pays to make sure that you and the god, fairy, or djinn are all on the same page in terms of granting it. That's a hard truth Misato learns when she's killed just after her high school graduation saving a little girl under divine protection. Because the young man calling himself God screwed up and the little girl almost died, he offers Misato the reincarnation of her choice as a reward, memories from this recent life intact. Misato, who has been burdened with the label of “smart and special” her entire eighteen years, asks God to make her “average.” Unfortunately for her, when she regains her memories ten years into her life as Adele, she realizes that God took a literal, mathematical approach to “average,” meaning that she's even more special than when she was Misato.

In terms of reincarnation isekai stories with overpowered protagonists, this one is pretty great. Adele is so desperate to remain “average” that she's totally oblivious that most of her efforts are failing miserably, and when she does try to rectify the situation, she really just makes things worse. That she is intellectually intelligent and physically and magically gifted in no way makes up for her emotional naiveté, but her earnestness and determination wins her back points that she inadvertently loses when she routinely emasculates her male classmates, insults people, or just generally does something really stupid. This can, as you might imagine, get irritating at times, and Adele (or Mile, as she later renames herself) occasionally beggars belief in her words and actions. Funa does remind us multiple times that as Misato, she had limited (read: no) social interactions, but even then things slide into ridiculousness a bit too often for the story to fully work. There's also the issue that Funa sometimes get sidetracked with science information from Adele's former life, leading to page-long tangents that really don't add much to the story, especially since Adele lives in a magic-based pseudo-19th century world with no science or technology to speak of. But that Funa manages to keep the fact that the heroine of the book goes by no fewer than three names over the course of the two hundred pages easy to follow speaks well of the writing, and may indicate that these problems will eventually fade. If you missed this one when it was released as an e-book back in February, it's worth picking up in hard copy – it works well within its subgenre and is also a nice break from the general tendency towards bringing over isekai works with heroes rather than heroines.

Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me by Kenji Kamiyama, YenOn, $14

Writing a screenplay and writing a novel are two very different skills, requiring different emphases. That's why novel authors are not always the best writers for the screenplay adaptations of their work, and in the case of Napping Princess, it might have benefitted from a different writer. The story here is solid – teenager Kokone has recurring dreams of her parents' past based on the fairy tale version her father used to tell her as bedtime stories. When her deceased mother's old enemy comes for her legacy, Kokone starts to see her dreams and her reality blend in a manner reminiscent of Satoshi Kon's Paprika. It's a fascinating concept that speaks of not only her parents' enduring love, but also of her mother's wish to protect her daughter and husband and to ensure their happiness from beyond the grave, and the idea of dreams as messages from the afterlife is one that has a rich literary legacy. The issue, therefore, is not in the story itself, but in the execution thereof. The writing's separate elements work well – it's very visually written so that you can really see what's happening in your mind, and the dialogue feels naturally and propels the story forward. But none of these individually good pieces work well together, and it ends up feeling like reading a script without stage directions. As you go through the book, you can't help thinking what a better movie it would make. So it's fortunate that there is a film version of this story – because despite all of the important and beautiful messages about family and sticking together against those who would destroy your work and your world, this just doesn't quite pull off being a compelling read.


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