Both light novels (LNs) and manga enjoy massive readership in Japan as well as other countries abroad. In fact, a sizable portion of popular anime – from Re:ZERO to Jujustu Kaisen – are adaptations from either a manga or LN source. 

How is a light novel different from a manga?

Manga are much more akin to traditional comic books that mostly contain drawings and illustrations, while light novels – true to their name – are a type of novel. As with other novels, LNs primarily rely on text to tell a story. We’ll explain the distinctions between manga and LNs further in the sections below.

What is a Light Novel? 

A light novel is a popular publication format, similar in word count to a lengthy novella by Western standards. In fact, LNs are also called Japanese novellas. 

Each volume of a light novel has a self-contained story that is told through narrative prose. To provide a better depiction of its characters and scenes, a volume may also feature several stand-alone illustrations done in the manga art style.

example of a light novel
Example of a light novel

In Japan, light novels occupy roughly the same niche to consumers as cheap paperbacks, although many LN’s are celebrated and adapted into other media. Light novels are influential for popularizing the isekai genre through hits like Overlord, The Saga of Tanya the Evil, and Konosuba.

What is a Manga?

Manga, simply put, are Japanese comics. Unlike their Western counterparts, they are usually read from right to left, and primarily feature detailed black-and-white illustrations. 

While comics are regarded as a geeky hobby in other countries, people of varying demographics in Japan enjoy manga. Many manga series cater to adolescent boys or girls (shōnen or shōjo). While they can vary wildly in genres – from action adventures to romantic comedies – manga usually contain overarching moral themes.

Manga example
Manga example

People traditionally read manga through magazines which featured new chapters from several series in each volume, or through a republished volume of collected chapters called a tankōbon. 

Differences between a Light Novel and a Manga

Etymology

Surprisingly, the term “light novel” is an example of a wasei-eigo – a new Japanese word constructed from terms in English – reflecting how an LN volume is often a shorter and more digestible work of fiction than regular novels.

The two kanji characters that make up the word “manga” (漫画) are generally translated as “whimsical pictures.” The Japanese use the term to cover both comics and animations, while the West narrows its definition to a Japanese-style comic.

Medium

Light novels rely on prose to tell their story. Their volumes are composed primarily of text, similar to other novels. However, it is considered a standard feature of LN’s to include manga illustrations between chapters or important arcs.

A manga is more oriented towards visual storytelling. It conveys the plot and setting through panels of drawings, which can include other elements such as speech or thought balloons to show dialogue.

Story

The story of a manga is typically told through chapters. Each chapter can cover a handful of scenes to progress the story in a piecemeal fashion. It is not uncommon for tense moments, such as fight scenes, to be drawn out due to the limited number of pages per chapter. Dialogue is usually the primary means of moving the story forward.

A light novel has the liberty of telling a much more detailed story. It often ends with a satisfying conclusion that can stand on its own, although many LN’s are part of a larger series. Prose and narration drives events in the story. 

Length

Traditionally, manga chapters in magazines would span 17-20 pages. This convention applies both to print publications, as well as many web-based comics. Monthly magazines can contain larger chapters with 30-50 pages. The number of panels, illustrations, and lines of dialogue can vary dramatically.

A light novel can possess a word count of approximately 20,000 to 60,000 words. Many LN’s that exist as a part of a series have an average of 40,000 to 50,000 words. Each chapter may have 1,500 to 5,000 words.

Production

Unsurprisingly, it is much easier to create a few chapters of a manga than it is to publish a light novel volume. 

The principal author of a manga is called a mangaka. They work alongside a company editor and a handful of assistants to produce each chapter – the process can take roughly a week or two.

The mangaka of Berserk, Kentaro Miura
The mangaka of Berserk, Kentaro Miura

Publishing an LN volume is dependent on the speed at which its author writes the story. The light novel industry in Japan promotes tight publication schedules, so popular series can issue new releases every 6-9 months

Price

Most Japanese light novels are available for 600 to 1,500 yen. Outside of shipping and other costs, this translates to 5 to 12 USD, with paperback volumes being naturally more expensive than ebooks. Note that other fees – including translation and licensing - can inflate the price to as much as 25 USD or more.

The average tankōbon volume in English can run from 700 to 1,200 yen. The upfront price for many popular collected volumes ranges from 8 to 20 USD.

Comparison Chart: Light Novel Vs Manga

AreasLight NovelManga
EtymologyJapanese word derived from English – wasei-eigo.Japanese term 漫画 – whimsical pictures.
MediumProse and textDrawings and other visuals; dialogue
StoryStand-alone and more detailed. Relies on prose.Fragmented. Uses dialogue.
LengthRoughly 20,000-60,000 words per volume.Ranges from 17-50 pages per chapter.
ProductionTakes longer to publish. New releases every 6-9 months.Easier to produce. Chapters take 1-2 weeks to publish.
Price600-1500 yen (5-25 USD)700-1200 yen (8 to 20 USD)

How is a Light Novel similar to a Manga? 

As publication formats, light novels and manga have garnered an avid international reader base. Light novels, as well as their cousins – web novels, are just as popular and available online as many manga series. 

They are often used as the source material for anime and video games. Their fanbases enjoy comparing a series’ anime adaptation to the original work.

While LN’s focus on text, they also usually feature manga-style illustrations. The artists that work on these drawings are often affiliated with manga or cartooning work. 

FAQ

What are the most common types of manga?

Manga typically caters to five major categories of readers. Shōnen mostly offers action-packed and light-hearted stories for young and teenaged boys. As they grow older, boys can move on to seinen, which contains darker and more mature themes. 

Shōjo is often romantic or adventure-based. It is designed for young girls and tweens. Manga for older female audiences are called Josei, and feature slice-of-life, romance, comedy, or adult themes.

Lastly, kodomomuke or kodomo refers to manga packed with good morals and lessons. These are specifically created for toddlers or younger kids.

Why are light novel titles so long?

Light novel fans – and weebs, in general – enjoy poking fun at how wordy many light novel titles can be. In fact, some LN’s can have names containing up to 30 words. 

Pan Tachibana, a light novel author, explains that long light novel titles are a product of necessity to distinguish one’s novel from several other books competing for a buyer’s attention. Such long and descriptive titles quickly inform a potential reader about relevant details and stoke their interest.  

Conclusion 

Manga and light novels are modern-day giants in the Japanese publishing industry. They are responsible for producing a sizable portion of original content to entertain readers worldwide, and fuel the creation of today’s most beloved anime series. 

Manga tell their story through a collection of short, visually impactful chapters. They can be produced on a short timescale with only a few artists and editors.

A light novel volume takes longer to write and publish. Each volume can paint a vivid description of the world, the characters, and the story through prose and a select number of illustrations.

References