One of the things I was most excited to learn at Book Expo America 2014 was the launch of Yen On, a light novel initiative from Yen Press. Yen Press publishes a lot of my favorite manga series — including Soul Eater, Soul Eater NOT!, and the Madoka*Magica franchise — and the titles they’ve announced for Yen On are all really exciting.
A light novel is a style of book in Japan designed to appeal to manga and anime consumers. Often science fiction or fantasy and very plot-centric, light novels are sometimes serialized in magazines the way manga chapters are, and many light novels have been adapted into anime. A few of these include Toradora!, Sword Art Online, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Spice & Wolf, and Durarara!!.
Six light novel titles to be published in 2014 were announced this year, with two from a single series (Sword Art Online) in addition to four additional titles I’ll talk about here. You may have noticed I’ve included links to IndieBound (print books) and Bookish (digital books) instead of Amazon — currently, many titles from Hachette Book Group, which owns Yen Press/Yen On, are not available due to the Amazon-Hachette feud. Independent bookstores as well as large chains like Barnes & Noble and Books A Million continue to keep Hachette titles in stock, which is why I’ve linked to those vendors in this article.
Sword Art Online 1: Aincrad
From the publisher:
In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online-a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other-opens its virtual doors, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in the game world by manipulating their brain waves to create a wholly realistic gaming experience. But when the game goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing one of the most basic functions of any MMORPG-a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world of Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom. But in the warped world of SAO, “game over” means certain death-both virtual and real…
My familiarity with the Sword Art Online franchise comes from the anime, as is the familiarity of many in the anime and manga fan community. The first light novel covers parts at the beginning and end of the first arc of the anime, and presumably the second will cover the parts in the middle — the anime follows the chronological order of events, while the novel is told in medias res.
I truly enjoyed the SAO anime, and I’m looking forward to the Series II premiere this summer — I’ll probably be glued to Hulu every week to watch it. As I read the light novel, though, I find myself both recalling the beautifully-animated scenes in the show as well as liking the main character much more. (I found him pretty insufferable in the anime.)
You can find my full review of Sword Art Online 1: Aincrad at Girls in Capes. Sword Art Online 2: Aincrad will be available August 26 – check it out on IndieBound here.
Accel World 1: Kuroyukihime’s Return
Light novel July 2014; Manga August 2014.
No matter how much the times change, bullied kids aren’t going anywhere. And fat junior high school student Haruyuki is one of them. But one day, Haruyuki encounters Kuroyukihime, the most beautiful and elegant girl at school, who gives him a mysterious program: “Brain Burst”…and the secret of the “Accelerated World.” He may be at the bottom of the food chain at school, but Haruyuki and his destiny begin to “accelerate” with incredible speed in the virtual realm as he aims for the top!!
Accel World is by the same author as Sword Art Online, and its video games-as-real life concept is very similar. It was also adapted into an anime, available on Hulu and Crunchyroll with English subtitles. I enjoyed the Accel World anime, but not nearly enough to be interested in buying the light novel. The characters just didn’t interest me, though I could see why they might be appealing.
Fans of the anime, however, would be very interested in checking out either the light novel or its manga adaptation, both out this summer from Yen Press.
Digital available. Hardcover October 2014.
In the spring of 1998, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School. In class, he develops a sense of unease as he notices that the people around him act like they’re walking on eggshells, and students and teachers alike seem frightened. As a chain of horrific deaths begin to unfold around him, he comes to discover that he has been placed in the cursed Class 3 in which the student body head count is always one more than expected. Class 3 is haunted by a vengeful spirit responsible for gruesome deaths in an effort to satisfy its spite. To stop the vicious cycle gripping his new school, Kouichi decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but is he prepared for the horror that lies ahead…?
Another has both a manga and anime adaptation, and while the anime is kind of known for being — uh — hilariously bad, the manga is creepy and, to be frank, horrifically gross. I’m typically not a horror reader of any sort — the Scream movies game me nightmares for weeks, and we won’t talk about my reaction to other horror movies — but Another‘s mystery component kept me engaged through the whole book.
I have the Nook edition of the Another light novel, which was released digitally some time ago, but I’m looking forward to picking up a physical copy in October — it’ll be a perfect creepy read for Halloween. You can get the digital copy on Bookish now.
A Certain Magical Index 1
In Academy City, magic and science coexist in an unwavering power struggle. Toma Kamijo, an academically-challenged student in Academy City, wields the power of the Imagine Breaker in his right hand, which allows him to completely negate all supernatural powers – as well as his own luck. When he happens upon a mysterious nun named Index, whose mind has been implanted with the Index Librorum Prohibitorum – 103,000 ancient texts banned by the Church – Toma’s luck is about to be pushed to its limits when he finds himself in the middle of a war he never expected!
I’ve heard of A Certain Magical Index – you can watch the anime on Hulu – but I’ve never checked it out. I’ll probably end up watching at least 5 episodes of the anime to see if it’s a book I’d enjoy – at $14 for a trade paperback, I’d like to know I’ll be getting something that isn’t so sexist as to be mildly horrific, and the series description hints at a little bit of that.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Vol. 1
In Orario, fearless adventurers band together in search of fame and fortune within the monstrous underground labyrinth known as Dungeon. But while riches and renown are incentive enough for most, Bell Cranel, would-be hero extraordinaire, has bigger plans.
He wants to pick up girls.
Is it wrong to face the perils of Dungeon alone, in a single-member guild blessed by a failed goddess? Maybe. Is it wrong to dream of playing hero to hapless maidens in Dungeon? Maybe not. After one misguided adventure, Bell quickly discovers that anything can happen in the labyrinth-even chance encounters with beautiful women. Only problem? He’s the one who winds up the damsel in distress!
Before Book Expo, I’d never heard of this series, but the title and description are very appealing to my (admittedly bizarre) sense of humor. A guy who wants to fight monsters so he can pick up girls? A guy who wants to fight monsters so he can pick up girls who ends up needing to be saved himself? It sounds freaking hilarious, so much so that the $14 trade paperback price tag that made me hesitate on A Certain Magical Index doesn’t make me balk at all. I’m definitely grabbing this one when it’s out.
While I can definitely see the anticipation behind all of these titles, I personally am most anticipating Sword Art 2: Aincrad in August, Another in October, and Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Vol. 1 in December.
Most of these series are currently available as anime. I would recommend watching the Sword Art Online anime before reading the book — I feel the buildup to the climax of the first light novel is more well-done in the anime, and the novel offers interesting insights into Kirito’s point of view when you read it after watching. Those who enjoyed SAO would probably also enjoy Accel World — keep that in mind as you pick out books.