The Spring 2022 Light Novel Guideby Rebecca Silverman & Kim Morrissy,
Sometimes all the waiting pays off. As light novels become more ubiquitous in English translation, that can mean a chance to finally read the source material for a story you've seen in anime (or manga) form, and that happily is the case with at least one title in this guide, The Misfit of Demon King Academy. That's welcome news, though hardly the only hit in the months we're covering. There are, of course, plenty of villainess reincarnation stories still floating around as well as plain old power fantasies, but we also have an unusual takes on both genres in Ishura and The Holy Grail of Eris. Meanwhile, Cross Infinite World seems to be doing its level best to give us some stories from genre fringes and Yen On offers up two titles with significant yuri content. All in all the light novel boom is being pretty good to us – and if we keep on waiting, who knows what will come our way next?
Story by Ryūō, art by Rinrinra. English translation by Mittt Liu. Cross Infinite World, $7.99 digital, $13.99 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Takumi is a wage slave who works overtime all the time. Only his little Maltese, Leo, can brighten his day. One day, however, he wakes up to find himself deep in an unknown forest. At his side is his pampered pup…who's now a giant mythical wolf! With his silver fenrir companion and his mysterious new “Herb Cultivation” power, he'll finally have the laid-back life he's always dreamed of!
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
I love the theory behind this one: when black company wage slave Takumi collapses at home, the kindly isekai gods not only put his shoes back on him before dumping him in the forest, they also whisk his little Maltese Leo along with him. Takumi gets the ability to grow any medicinal plant he can think of (a bit like the heroine's power in I'll Never Set Foot in That House Again!). Leo? She turns into a gigantic, intelligent silver Fenrir. That the dog gets her own power alongside her human is one of the most fun aspects of this otherwise laid-back story, and both the author and (presumably) the translator have a lot of fun with various canine vocalizations, making it clear that Leo's got a varied vocabulary that contributes to the believability that Takumi can understand his pup's every utterance. She also retains her basic personality and love of sausages, so even though she's huge, it's clear that she's still the same dog Takumi saved when she was abandoned by the side of the road a few years ago.
Unusually for the publisher, this is much more of a typical light novel in that it's narrated by a male lead and he's got at least two ladies interested in him. Claire, the daughter of a duke, is initially rescued by Takumi and Leo when she's set upon by an orc (which tastes like pork), and she's clearly the main love interest here. She's a good character, with brains and determination, and this makes up for the more rote aspects of the narrative. Her little sister is a bit too precious and frankly feels more like a plot device than a character, there to remind us that the duke their father is unhinged when it comes to arranging marriages for his girls (she's all of eight) and to be cute in Leo's presence. But the story is still low-key and charming, and Rinrinra's illustrations have wonderful character, giving a really clear picture of everyone's personality and reactions. If you like easygoing isekai and dogs, this is a nice one.
The Holy Grail of Eris
Story by Kujira Tokiwa, art by Yu-Nagi. English translation by Winifred Bird. Yen On, $8.99 digital, $15 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Connie is a young noblewoman whose only standout quality is her sincerity. Maybe that's why she loses her fiancée and gets framed for a crime in the span of one night. Just as all hope seems lost, the ghost of an infamous villainess who was executed years ago possesses her and clears her name. With her incomparable charisma and intelligence, the spirit of Scarlett Castiel turns the tables in the blink of an eye. In return, Connie insists that she help uncover the truth surrounding her new benefactor's untimely death and a conspiracy that continues to this very day.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
In light novels there are few things better than a book that takes an established genre trope and twists it. The Holy Grail of Eris begins as many villainess time loop stories do, with the execution of the villainess presumptive, sixteen-year-old Scarlett Castiel. Like many who came before her, Scarlett is accused of attempting to harm the woman who stole her fiancé, the crown prince, but unlike her maybe-evil brethren, this really is the end for Scarlett – she dies and she isn't coming back. At least, not in terms of being reborn to right the wrongs that led to her public decapitation. That's because Scarlett isn't really the heroine of this story – that role belongs to Constance Grail, the daughter of a lesser noble house. Connie, who is something of a doormat, finds herself the third wheel in a love triangle when her fiancé starts an affair with another woman, and let's just say that Pamela isn't thrilled with Connie's presence. But when she tries to publicly humiliate and socially destroy Constance, Scarlett steps in…to Connie's body, possessing the other girl in order to save her. The catch? Now Connie needs to help Scarlett solve the mystery of who set her up to die ten years ago. Thus begins a very oddball friendship that does both girl and ghost a lot of good while also setting up a solid mystery in a world that sounds a lot like 19th century Europe.
It perhaps isn't surprising that author Kujira Tokiwa mentions that Fujino Ōmori (of DanMachi fame) was something of a mentor, because this is a much better put together story than many other light novels. It does a good job of setting up its world without over explication, it uses bits and pieces of familiar European history and mythology (the Eris in the title is, in fact, the Eris from Greek mythology), and we can see both Scarlett and Connie grow over the course of the novel. This first book is mostly set up in terms of the mystery, but already we can see that Scarlett, who it must be admitted probably wasn't a nice person in life, was the victim of a much deeper plot than even she imagined. Solving the mystery of her execution stands to uncover a whole lot more than even she's anticipated, and if you don't mind a bit of a slow burn in terms of getting to that point, this is definitely worth picking up – especially since, as a bonus, each chapter ends with a chart of who all of the characters are and how their role is evolving.
I am Blue, in Pain, and Fragile
Story by Yoru Sumino. English translation by Diana Taylor. Airship, $8.99 digital, $14.99 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Two young people in their first year of university, drawn to each other's passion, establish a secret society to pursue those ideals. But as time passes, the demands of a world that isn't kind to dreamers threatens to force them apart, filling the space between them with shattered hopes and the fallout of lies. A tender, tragic tale about growing past pain and the cruelty of youth, by acclaimed author Yoru Sumino.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
In some ways, the easiest frame for this story is to simply call it the deconstruction of a manic pixie dream girl. That's not the whole picture, of course, but as we piece together what happened between the narrator and the young woman he met in his first week of college there's a very real sense that that's who he wanted her to be: the wacky, magical young lady whose quirky outlook on life saves him. In fact, he's so invested in this image of her that when the second – and longest – chapter of the book opens, he repeatedly tells people that she's “no longer part of this world.” The easiest assumption, which we should by now know better than to make in a Sumino novel, is that she's dead, but as we keep reading, it becomes apparent that she's only dead to him…because she had the temerity not to stay the person he thought she was or wanted her to be. He frames her growing up as a betrayal of who she was when they first met, and therefore a betrayal of him, and it's easy to get sucked into his view of her. But as other people he's recruited to help him take down her club start to drop away from him, the story becomes uncomfortable, because they, who are watching him from the outside, are clearly beginning to see something that we, who are in his head, are not. And by the end of the book, it's hard to say if he deserves our forgiveness. I realize this sounds like spoiler territory, but it really isn't, because I am Blue, in Pain, and Fragile isn't about how we feel about the narrator or even about his erstwhile dream girl. It's about how we grow up and how we don't, and what the real distinction between those two states are. As with all of Sumino's books, it's a bit facile, but it stands on solid ground and gives you something to think about when the last page is turned.
The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady
Story by Piero Karasu, art by Yuri Kisaragi. English translation by Haydn Trowell. Yen On, $8.99 digital, $13 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Despite her supposed ineptitude with regular magic, Princess Anisphia defies the aristocracy's expectations by developing “magicology,” a unique magical theory based on memories from her past life. One day, she witnesses the brilliant noblewoman Euphyllia unjustly stripped of her title as the kingdom's next monarch. That's when Anisphia concocts a plan to help Euphyllia regain her good name-which somehow involves them living together and researching magic! Little do these two ladies know, however, that their chance encounter will alter not only their own futures, but those of the kingdom...and the entire world!
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
There's a balance problem with this novel, and that's even more of a shame than it usually is, because the actual story lurking underneath all of the world building is a good one. Anisphia, better known as Anis, awakens to her reincarnated status as a little girl and from that moment on becomes obsessed with magic, in part because she can't use it, despite having a lot of magical power within her. With her new memories, however, she sets about founding the field of “magicology,” which is basically recreating appliances from her previous life using magical items that anyone can make work, magic or no magic. Her father, despairing of his eldest child, declares her younger brother the heir…but then Anis witnesses him throwing over his fiancée Euphyllia like a villainess from an otome game. Since Anis has a bit of a crush on Euphie, she rescues her, and the two go off together to work on magicological tools and kill a dragon. It may not be wholly original, but it is fun, and author Piero Karasu has a nice touch with the girls' attraction to each other that makes the romance really slow and sweet. The problem? All of this is buried under too many pages of world building and explanation. While it makes sense that Karasu would want to establish the difference between “magic” and “magicology” early on and to let us know exactly why Anis is able to do one but not the other, it becomes a veritable mudslide of information, with chapters trying to handle content that's 75% world building and 25% plot. It really doesn't do anyone any favors.
It's also too bad because Karasu isn't a bad writer, just one who didn't get the lesson that the authors should know 80% more about their world than they share with the audience. The reason behind this is because not everyone has the patience to read a Tolkien-sized tome, and not every fantasy novel even needs that much information to get the point across. Anis and Euphie are both good characters (I'm not sold on Ilia or Orphans), the gag about Anis' brother pulling an otome game scene out of his ass to get rid of Euphie is a nice bit of commentary, and the family dynamics really work in the book's favor. Even the art is nice. This may be a series worth giving a second volume to see if the wrinkles are ironed out, because it has a potential that it simply isn't achieving in this book.
The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Savior.
Story by Tenichi, art by Suzunosuke. English translation by Emma Schumacker. Airship, $8.99 digital, $14.99 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Pride Royal Ivy is only eight years old when she realizes that she's been reincarnated, destined to become the future wicked queen and final boss of an otome game. She's got it all in this new life: razor-sharp wit, boss-tier powers, and influence over the kingdom as crown princess. Princess Pride decides to drop the maniacal villainess plan and protect the male love interests instead, cheating her way to saving everyone she can.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
It can feel like otome game villainess novels are a dime a dozen at this point, so to make an impression a new one needs to be either extraordinarily well done or somehow unique. The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Savior isn't quite either of those things, but it still uses the tropes of the genre to its advantage, making it a solid read. Mostly it stands out in the sheer number of characters who get to have a first-person voice – we not only get heroine Pride's thoughts, but also both love interests and a fair amount of side characters as well. This does backfire on author Tenichi a bit, because only one of the characters has a voice that's at all distinct from the others due to his manner of speech, but it also means that we get a much more balanced view of what's going on than in other books. That's important, because Pride, who recognizes that she's now living as the truly vile villainess of a dark otome game, is completely blinded by the game's storyline. She's trying to make changes that won't result in death and destruction, but she doesn't really believe that she can change anything. We can see that she is, but like many other comparable heroines, she's stuck in the idea that the game world is still a game, and therefore immutably written. It's a major blind spot for her, and without Stale's or Arthur's narration, the novel could be very frustrating. It still is a bit even with them, but we're out of Pride's head for at least half of the novel, which is both an interesting approach and a bit of a boon. Voices aside, the book is also one of the better written light novels to come over, and it's easy to see why it won an award in Japan – and based on the author's afterword, a lot of effort was put into the transition from web novel to light novel as well. The names of the characters are fairly bad (Stale? Really?), but the fact that original game heroine Tiara is one of the few people whose head we don't get inside is an interesting bit of potential foreshadowing and this just seems very well put together overall. Hopefully the author's craft is honed as the series goes on, because this has potential – especially if the villainess isekai subgenre is already one of your favorites.
The Vexations of a Shut-In Vampire Princess.
Story by Kotei Kobayashi, art by riichu. English translation by Evie Lund. Yen On, $8.99 digital, $15 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Shut-in vampire Terakomari, or Komari for short, awakens from her slumber to find she's been promoted to a commander of the army. The thing is, though, her new squad has a reputation for being violently insubordinate. And although Komari was born to a prestigious vampire family, her hatred of blood has made her the picture of mediocrity—scrawny, uncoordinated, and inept at magic. With the odds stacked against her, will the help of her trusty maid be enough for this recluse to blunder her way to success.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
If you don't mind or actively enjoy the predatory lesbian trope, add a star to the rating for this book, because that's what knocked this book down for me. It's a shame, because without those two characters, The Vexations of a Shut-In Vampire Princess is actually pretty funny. Poor Terakomari is a scion of the esteemed Gandesblood vampire family, but she doesn't like blood (for sensory and sanitary reasons) and rather than carry on the aggressive policies of both family and nation, she'd really rather just stay in her room and work on her novel-writing career. Unfortunately for her, her doting father takes a statement she made to get her sister off her back much more literally than intended, and he arranges for her to take up a high-ranking military position with the eventual goal of becoming the heir to the current empress. To say that Komari is aghast would be to understate things; she basically feels like her ultimate nightmare is coming true. But this being the sort of book that it is, Komari somehow manages to fake being hypercompetent at her new job, which distresses her even more. Add in that she keeps accidentally killing this one guy (who is constantly resurrected only to be taken out by her again) and she's not living the dream, she's stuck in its opposite.
The problem here is that both Komari's new maid and the empress fully embody the idea that consent isn't necessary if the characters are both girls, because that's either hot or funny, if not both. Vill is definitely the worse of the two because Komari explicitly tells her no in pretty much every single scene they share; the empress at least fakes wanting consent. Komari repeatedly refers to them as “perverts,” and while she seems to be getting used to Vill's unwanted touches by the end of the book, it really casts a pall over the rest of the story. Again, if this isn't your issue, there's a good chance you'll really enjoy the novel, because it has a decent Irresponsible Captain Tyler thing going, there are a lot of nice illustrations, and the writing is pretty solid, which makes it a shame that Vill and the empress are the characters they are.
Story by Keiso, art by Kureta, English translation by David Musto. Yen On, $8.99 digital. $15 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: In a world where the Demon King has died, a host of demigods capable of felling him have inherited the world. A master fencer who can figure out how to take out their opponents with a single glance; a lancer so swift they can break the sound barrier; a wyvern rogue who fights with three legendary weapons at once; an all-powerful wizard who can speak thoughts into being; an angelic assassin who deals instant death. Eager to attain the title of “True Hero,” these champions each pursue challenges against formidable foes and spark conflicts among themselves. The battle to determine the mightiest of the mighty begins.
Rating: (Kim Morrissy)
Ishura has a slow start, but it's ultimately one of the most interesting light novels of the past three years. By mashing together a slew of colorful characters, each with a more outrageously overpowered combat ability than the last, this book is like the Fate series on steroids. You're reading because you want to see how these cataclysmic matchups shake out, while mere mortals can only watch on in stupor.
I can't guarantee that Ishura's specific style of genre pastiche will work for everyone. Because it's an “Anything Goes” sort of setting where characters from other worlds can show up willy-nilly, the story struggles to build a unified worldview at first. It throws a bunch of proper nouns and lofty-sounding character titles at you from the start that are difficult to keep track of. Moreover, each chapter introduces a new overpowered character in a way that starts to feel tedious after a while. The story only really picks up in the second act, when the stories begin to intersect and the characters actually start fighting and killing each other.
Nevertheless, when it clicks, it all falls into place. The novel is particularly effective at drawing out the distinctions between power and godly power, and the relationship between strength and agency. Yuno's rage at her helplessness in the face of this reality bookends this story with relatable human emotions, but there are other little moments of pathos scattered throughout the book that make it more than just a series of over-the-top skirmishes.
It's easy to recommend Ishura for fans of Ryohgo Narita novels like Durarara!! and Baccano!, but it's also an enjoyable read for anyone who likes tournament arcs in shonen manga, or those who want to see the overpowered protagonist in an isekai fantasy setting experience a bit of competition for once.
VTuber Legend: How I Went Viral after Forgetting to Turn Off My Stream
Story by Nana Nanato, Art by Siokazunoko, English translation by Alice Prowse. J-Novel Club, $6.99 digital. May 30 Release
Synopsis: Twenty-year-old former wage slave Yuki Tanaka now works among her idols: the streamers of Live-On, one of Japan's top VTuber companies. As the gorgeous, polite Awayuki Kokorone, she delivers only the most ladylike content. Unfortunately, her subscriber count and savings are at rock bottom. One evening, after Yuki thinks she's ended her stream, she cracks a few cold ones—and more than a few crude jokes—while watching Live-On's video archives. But her viewers hear it all, and clips of her bawdy, drunken commentary go viral overnight. Yuki thinks her career is over...until her manager reveals that everyone at Live-On has been waiting for her to snap all along and gives her free rein to drink on-stream. Now free of all feigned purity, she jumps right into her new “rowdy drunk” character and is welcomed into the fold by her fellow Live-On VTubers, who turn out to be just as crazy as she is! With her views and finances skyrocketing, Yuki's work—for the first time in her life—is actually fun!
Rating: (Kim Morrissy)
The title more or less tells you the entire story here. The novel opens with the scene of the heroine forgetting to turn off her stream while she gets drunk and makes crude jokes. Instead of being a source for drama, her manager and viewers completely embrace her slipup and encourage her to go all-out with her chaotic persona. The rest of the book then details her streams and the wacky in-jokes between herself, her audience, and the other VTubers at her agency.
This book is 100% accurate to VTuber culture. hololive was obviously the big inspiration here; the agency has more than a few talents who are comfortable with cracking dirty jokes on stream and playing up the yuri shipping with their fellow VTubers. Audiences, for their part, are always willing to play along with the joke and introduce their own variations, which then get incorporated into the streams. The novel is pitch-perfect at portraying the interactions between the streamer and chat, and how an in-joke can mutate until it's almost unrecognizable from its original context.
On the other hand, the book doesn't offer much more than text distillations of VTuber streams. Awayuki does hang out with her fellow streamers offline at various points throughout the book, but there's no tension between their public and private personas, nor are there any external narrative conflicts. Awayuki's biggest problem—her money shortage—is solved at the start with her viral stream.
The first few chapters are fun, but when the book kept hammering the same jokes without any semblance of plot progression, I found myself thinking that I would rather use my time to watch a real VTuber. Without introducing any original plot elements, a novel can't quite capture the appeal of livestreams or the charisma of a successful online personality. It's an interesting narrative experiment that doesn't pan out.
The Dragon's Soulmate is a Mushroom Princess!
Story by Hanami Nishine, art by poprucha. English translation by Evie Lund. Cross Infinite World, $7.99 digital. Available now.
Synopsis: As a result of the divine spirits' protection, Agnes has an unusual and often embarrassing power: whenever she experiences strong emotions, she makes mushrooms sprout on people! One day, her royal fiancé, who claims to have dragon's blood, breaks off his engagement to Agnes claiming to have found his true soulmate. Her reputation tarnished, Agnes vows to return to commoner life, when she's unexpectedly summoned to a ball by her ex-fiancé's cousin, a prince who is far from horrified by her mushrooming him. “This is fate! I promise you, it's no spore-of-the-moment decision! My morels are not questionable! You and I would make the mushiest couple imaginable! Would you marry me?” Agnes has a lot to deal with: her personal “flaws”, an endless onslaught of mushrooms, and the attentions of a prince with a serious fungal fetish. Can Agnes get through this and face up to her true self, or will it all prove just a little too mush?
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
Mycophiles, your light novel has come. That's not just because protagonist Agnes has the power (or curse, in her mind) to sprout mushrooms of an unimaginable variety when her feelings get to be too much, but also because author Hanami Nishine ends every chapter with a description of each mushroom that appears in the story, complete with whether they're edible or not and how they feel about Agnes' current state of being. Even if you're not into mushrooms, it's hard to deny that this is a fun little gimmick, especially since this sort of detail in light novels is more likely to be game-style stats. It also lets us know that whatever Agnes may think about her mushrooms and her unusual pink hair, they're both signs that the spirits of nature love her – and they want her to be able to love herself and be happy.
That she can't is a relic of her past relationship. Originally betrothed to Philip, Agnes spent years being gaslit by him as he systematically took down her self-esteem and gave her a skewed idea of how her mixed heritage (her dad was from a different country where things like pink hair are the norm) was perceived. After breaking up with her in the sort of scene more often seen in villainess stories – publicly and with his sweet new girl by his side – Agnes decides that she's just going to give up, become a commoner, and move to the countryside. The one thing stopping her is that one of the princes, Claude, not only comes to her rescue, but also begins pursuing her fervently. Agnes undergoes a variety of mental contortions to convince herself that he's not serious, and in all fairness, he does propose in a way that's on par with Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice. Ultimately, however, the story is about Agnes finding worth in herself with Claude's help, and that's really charming. The breezy writing and truly staggering amount of mushroom puns definitely help take the sting out of Agnes occasionally seeming too stupid to bear, and on the whole this is a frothy read – especially if you're into mushrooms!
Survival in Another World with My Mistress!
Story by Ryūto, art by Yappen. English translation by Julie Goniwich. Airship, $8.99 digital, $14.99 paperback. Available now.
Synopsis: Kousuke suddenly wakes up alone in a vast forest that clearly isn't anywhere on Earth. Now he has to find some way to eat, drink, and survive. Luckily, Kousuke also has the power to craft using a special video game menu that allows him to harvest resources and build whatever he can imagine. However, every time he goes to sleep, he's attacked by one of the many non-human races of this world, all of whom despise humankind. Enter Sylphy, the beautiful dark elf who lays claim to Kousuke and vows to protect him--after all, she's taken him as her property.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
It must be said that Ryūto is a very thorough writer. We know all of the minutia of the world that Kousuke is randomly sent to and the game system that he can envision to use as a powerful cheat for his survival. In fact, about the only details that we aren't privy to are those of Kousuke and Sylphy's active sex life; we know that it's, well, active and apparently quite good, but no more than that. And honestly, it's a shame that there isn't more of that sort of implied description in the rest of the book, because Survival in Another World with My Mistress! is overdone to the point of dragging quite a bit. In part that's because of the way that Kousuke uses his survival sandbox game know-how to navigate it; he early on discovers that he can envision keyboard shortcuts to open menus, move in a variety of ways, and just generally scam the real world. That's neat take on the old video game concept, but the overuse of stats and material requirements for crafting takes away from it, making the story feel very similar to its genre friends while also bogging the book down with unnecessary elements. Kousuke himself is a much more proactive protagonist than we often see in this kind of isekai, which is great – he's out there doing things, interacting with Sylphy's villagers, and when Sylphy propositions him, he's all for it (as is she). I also like that he and Sylphy aren't tiptoeing around the sex and romance; it may start abruptly, but they do have a pretty good relationship, even with the whole “he's got to pretend to be her slave” thing. (Whether or not she thinks he's pretending is less clear, but their interactions are fairly equal.) All of that makes this a disappointment, because there's real potential here, but that's eclipsed by the author's own enthusiasm for overwriting his story.
The Misfit of Demon King Academy.
Story by Shu, art by Shizumayoshinori. English translation by Mana-Z. J-Novel Club, $6.99 digital. June 27 release.
Synopsis: Despite their appetite for destruction, even demon kings tire of all the blood and chaos sometimes. When Anos reincarnates in the hopes of a more peaceful life, he ends up going to school with his descendants in his old castle 2,000 years later. But with magic on its last legs in this era, no one is able to assess Anos' true power.
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
Now this is how you write an overpowered character. Anos Voldigoard is the once and future demon king, something he's grown weary of in his life two thousand years before the story proper begins. He's experienced more than his fair share of warfare, and now he's ready to put an end to the whole thing and arrange to be reborn. And the plan seems to work – except that when he's reborn no one remembers that Anos was the demon king. They all think it was some other guy Anos has never heard of. But being the sort of guy who, in his own words, wouldn't die even if he was killed, he more or less takes things in stride. And why shouldn't he? He knows he's powerful enough to prove his true identity to everyone when push comes to shove. It's Anos' confidence, which never turns to overconfidence, that makes him such a winning character and such a fun person to read about. Things surprise him, and sometimes make him uncomfortable, but he never doubts that things can and will be made right eventually. So instead of fussing, he just sits back and watches how things have changed since he last walked the earth, turning his attention to fixing what he can and (in his mind) low-key proving that he is who he says he is. In this volume that takes two forms: beating the ever-loving crap out of two jerk brothers who have it in for him, and helping Sasha and Misha, two girls in his class, to resolve their issues. The former is delightfully over-the-top even as it's also incredibly brutal; the latter is a good display of how “demon” is really just the name of a race of beings and Anos is actually a really nice person. There is a bit of a harem feel to his relationship with Misha and Sasha (and his over-eager parents absolutely think that's what's going on), but there are enough fun beats that riff on other well-known isekai stories and popular British children's novels about a certain wizard school that it really doesn't matter even if you dislike that sort of thing. It's just an enjoyable read, an isekai that knows when to wink and nod and when to play it straight. If you enjoyed the anime, the source novel will likely suit your taste as well.
Story by Kono Tsuranori, art by ttl. English translation by JCT. J-Novel Club, $6.99 digital. July 7 release.
Synopsis: Three years ago, dungeons suddenly appeared on Earth after an experiment in Area 51 went awry. Now everyone—from average citizens to soldiers—explores these monster-filled labyrinths in search of wealth, power, and magic. Keigo Yoshimura is an office worker with no sense of adventure, who dreams of quitting his job to live the easy life. While out on a business call, he stumbles on the birth of a new dungeon and accidentally gains a magical skill that turns subterranean exploration into an RPG. Things spiral out of control and Keigo winds up as the world's top explorer. With help from Azusa Miyoshi, his mathematically gifted colleague and new business partner in dungeon diving, he might be able to turn the status screens he sees into piles of cash. Unfortunately, Keigo ends up under the scrutiny of the military, government agencies, and even more sinister forces. What happened to his dream of taking it easy?!
Rating: (Rebecca Silverman)
Take the fantasy trappings of dungeons suddenly appearing all over the world (a scenario we see in Solo Leveling), add in the thrill of probability and statistics and data-based researching, and you might end up with something like this. D-Genesis is, if nothing else, a break from the glut of isekai dungeon fantasies because while protagonist Keigo spends time in dungeons, the story is very much rooted in the real world. Dungeons appeared three years prior to the story's 2018-set plot, and Japan wasted no time in quickly imposing bureaucratic infrastructure on them. Now dungeon divers need licenses, training classes, and additional credentials if they want to sell the items they find, all geared towards maintaining safety in a world where new and strange (and possible abusable) magics have suddenly appeared. Hapless Keigo gains his own unique ability when a dungeon opens right in front of his car, causing him to hit a goblin and then a truck carrying rebar. The rebar plunges down to the lowest level of the dungeon, and boom! It kills the boss. And because Keigo is the one who facilitated the process, he reaps the benefits.
What follows is a story that's by turns stultifying and pretty darn engaging. Keigo and his colleague Miyoshi stumble their way through using his skill (which gives us the inevitable stats) to make money, quickly figuring out how to turn things incredibly lucrative. But this catches the eye of several international governments, all of whom want to know who the cringily named group “D-Powers” are and how they're able to auction off so many high-powered items. Since neither Keigo nor Miyoshi really understand the international situation (or market) and are really more interested in funding their own research, there's some nice suspense as we watch them bumbling around, knowing that they're heading someplace that may not be entirely healthy for them. If you're not interested in their scientific research, parts of this can really bog you down, but it's still an interesting take on the dungeon fantasy and the illustrations are particularly nice. It's just different enough to make up for its sins.
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