Light Novel vs. Manga: What Are the Differences?

Light Novel vs Manga: What Are the Differences?

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The animanga market is one of the largest and most lucrative markets in the whole world. And while the anime segment doesn’t interest us now, the publishing aspect of this market is enormously important and generally serves as the basis of this market. There are numerous publications in this market and the two major ones are light novels and manga. And while the difference doesn’t usually matter, we at Fiction Horizon have decided to help you understand it, as we are going to tell you the difference between a light novel and a manga comic in this article.

What is a light novel?

A light novel (Japanese: ライトノベル, raito noberu, literally “light novel”, meaning “illustrated novel”), sometimes abbreviated ranobe (Japanese: ラノベ) or LN in the West, is a type of Japanese novel intended for an audience of young adults (equivalent to high school and college students). The term light novel is a wasei-eigo, a Japanese word formed from words in the English language.

Light novels are written with popular entertainment in mind, so their style is often very different from novels intended for adults only. Typically, light novels will use short paragraphs and be written in the form of dialogue. These works generally do not exceed 40 to 50,000 words, and are most often filled with illustrations.

Like manga, light novels are usually first published in chapters in a magazine before being bundled and sold in bunkobon format. Light novels generally use more furigana than adult works for two reasons: furigana helps young readers who do not yet have a complete command of kanji; the authors have revived the use of furigana to give a reading (pronunciation) to kanji different from their usual one.

These readings can be inspired by foreign words or even be completely invented. This technique, used to give several levels of meaning to certain words, is inspired by the fact that each kanji (or group of kanji) has both a linguistic meaning and a series of pronunciations. The same phenomenon is also widely present in manga.

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For example, Toaru Majutsu no Index is written “とある魔術の禁書目録” with the furigana “インデックス” (Index) above the last 4 kanji, while “禁書目録”, literally index of forbidden books, is normally pronounced kinshomokuroku.

Light novels were initially first published in literary magazines such as Faust, Gekkan Dragon Age, The Sneaker, Dengeki hp, Comptiq and Dengeki G’s. However, since the mid-2000s and with the development of the light novel market, direct publication has become increasingly important. Japanese popular works are often present in several media.

Often the same franchise exists as a light novel, manga, and anime, with each of the three forms possibly being the starting one. In addition, the port under another medium can be an adaptation as well as a sequel or a prequel. Kämpfer exists in all three forms, each an adaptation of the same story, and the light novels are the original version.


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Kimagure Orange Road was sequeled as light novels years after the anime and manga were released. With the textual format lending itself to it, light novels often give many additional details about the universe of the story.

The international translation of light novels is rarer than that of anime and manga, even when they belong to a franchise that has export success. We can cite the Evangelion -ANIMA- novels, not translated, while the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is famous in the Western world. The same goes for some Bleach light novels; only one of them has been translated into English.

Even amateur translations of the series are very rare, compared to those of the manga. Among the most famous titles, we can mention Shakugan no Shana, Read or Die, Spice and Wolf, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Sword Art Online.

What is a manga?

Manga (Japanese: 漫画) is a Japanese term for comics originating in Japan. In Japan, on the other hand, the term generally indicates all comics, regardless of the target, themes, and nationality of origin; even some children’s anime are called manga in Japan. Due to the specific style present in these works, people often (wrongly) think of manga as a children-focused product.

The origin of this feature is actually a cultural loan that dates back to 1946 when Osamu Tezuka, a famous comic book author, began to publish his works, first of all, Maa-chan no nikkichō; a great admirer of Walt Disney, he admitted that he was inspired to make Kimba, the White Lion in the style of the feature film Bambi made by Disney in 1942 (curiously, later. Disney, due to some controversy over the similarity between The Lion King and Kimba, admitted that the former was also inspired by Tezuka’s work).


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However, it is now difficult to consider the above as a typical trait of manga since over time other and numerous authors have presented very different drawing styles – such as Angel Heart or Berserk – and the original childish traits are no longer a defining feature of manga. The substantial differences between manga and western comics lie in the layout, in the style of representation and in the narration.

Furthermore, the manga are made with a wider layout than the western one (18×27 cm) and the standard format of the table is the B4 series JIS (257 × 364 mm) for professional volumes and A4 (210 × 297 mm) for doujinshi, self-published magazines, while in the West it is generally made on a larger format, from A3 upwards.

The manga is read in reverse with respect to Western comics, that is, starting from what for Westerners is the last page, with the binding on the right; similarly, the cartoons can be read from right to left but always from top to bottom. There are, however, exceptions of works made to be read according to Western custom.


Initially, the vertical arrangement of the cartoons prevailed but subsequently, but from the end of the 1940s, the horizontal arrangement was introduced which was then maintained by replacing the vertical one. It may also happen that these two provisions overlap, both being used, creating a rather complex reading path for a precise stylistic intent.

A Japanese reader, trained in non-alphabetic reading, is more easily able than a Western reader to orient himself in this universe of signs, where he is offered great freedom of path. The eyes wander the page initially grasping some details, they choose to dwell first on some types of text and then on others, obtaining in the end not an analytical reading of contents, but a general impression of what is happening.

The layout is based on the cuts and the shots remain the same used in any other comic style, with the exception of the action plan, which is almost never used.

Generally, the panels are in black and white, without colors or gray scales, as it will be published in magazines that generally do not have color and, to avoid unnecessary printing costs, it is preferable to use inexpensive black and white printing; in addition to this, the magazine is a sort of “preview”, to attract consensus for a title from readers, and then in the future, print the tankōbon volumes reserved for it.


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Shadows, even while maintaining black and white, are rarely given by solid blacks and more easily by scratch-off screens; the colors of any color pages of special editions and magazines tend to be made in a very special manner and are very rare.

The dialogues are present – even if the manga tends to “illustrate” and not “explain” – and are placed in variable clouds, the size of which also depends on the volume of the dialogue: a shocking sentence will be given greater importance in the panel than others, so it will be placed in a very large cloud while in western comics this effect is achieved with bold lettering.

Short dialogues prevail and the lettering is done by hand. Captions are rare. Specially made materials are used, such as squared sheets in cyan, a color not visible when scanning in black and white, nibs with various modulations, specially prepared rulers for kinetic lines, screens, and tools to apply them.

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