Its very easy to disregard the light novel genre completely as it is responsible for the creation of quite a number of unoriginal, bad and shameless pandering anime in recent years. However there still are worthwhile stories within the genre. They are just a little less known.
Description: A 34-year-old NEET otaku was chased out from his house by his family. This virgin, plump, unattractive, and penniless nice guy found that his life was heading towards a dead end. He recalled that his life could actually become much better if he can get over the dark history of his life. Just when he was at the point of regret, he saw a truck moving at a high speed with 3 high school students in its path. Mustering all his strength, he saves them but ended up getting run over by the truck, which kills him. The next time he opens his eyes, he had reincarnated to a world of swords and magic, as Rudeus Greyrat. Born to a new world and a new life, Rudeus declared, “This time, I’ll really live my life to the fullest with no regrets!” Thus begins the journey of a newly made man.
The good: This is pretty perfect wish fulfillment. This book is of a genre that has recently popped up and for now I just refer to it as the reincarnation gerne. It normally details a character getting reincarnated/thrown into a new world and focuses on him grow steadily stronger. This starts the main as a child and the writer has the patience to let him grow slowly and not overpower him from the get go. Unlike many of this genre which the mains undergo what I would like to refer to as “kiritoization” where they become overpowered behemoths whom every girl wants. Take note that this story really does follow his life. Going from boyhood to teenager and adult. Even as far as marriage and parenting. It has a large cast of dynamic characters who while are not particularly deep are still fairly likeable. Honestly there are few stories like this and in my opinion this is so far the best written of its kind. It also follows very little of the traditional light novel formula.
The bad: The protagonist truly starts as the scum of the earth. In the beginning he is highly unlikeable with some of this thoughts raising an eyebrow or two. If you are easily offended then this is not the novel for you. There are a few insulted individuals who mislabel this a “lolicons dream fantasy” even though the content wouldn’t be very titillating for that questionable fanbase. He does grow into a much more respectable character and it is the development that is the main driving force behind the plot. But still those beginning volumes might turn people away. It is also very long at currently 21 volumes and the story is the very definition of a slow burn.
Recommendation level: 75%
Current number of translated volumes: 21, It also has a manga but due to how much story is cut out its not recommended.
Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari
Description: Iwatani Naofumi was summoned into a parallel world along with 3 other people to become the world’s Heroes. Each of the heroes were respectively equipped with their own legendary equipment when summoned. Naofumi coincidentally received the Legendary Shield as his weapon. Due to Naofumi’s lack of charisma and experience, he ended up with only a single teammate while others have several. Unfortunately, on his third day Naofumi was betrayed, falsely accused, and robbed by the said teammate. Shunned by everyone from king to peasants, Naofumi’s thoughts were filled with nothing but vengeance and hatred. Thus, his destiny in a parallel World begins…
The good: The rising of the shield hero is a bit of an odd duck. Reading it is somewhat a masochistic experience. This is a story that will make you filled to the brim with righteous indignation. I make no joke when I say one chapter managed to make me literally red with anger. But because of this the moments where the villains get well deserved comeuppance is incredibly sweet and satisfying. Its human nature to root for the underdog. So to see the shield hero get stronger and put others in their place is a fun read
The bad: Despite saying how these villains rile you up I will say they are very one dimensional. They are designed with the intent to anger the reader but because of this they have to be made very stupid and ignorant to make it work. They are not well written characters, no matter how much they make you wish for their suffering. The other characters are passable but not standout. But the big strike against it is that at the end of the fourth volume it has what I can only see as an endgame climax. All issues are more or less resolved and the only thing left is the battle against some faceless rpg endboss. It was also disappointing to see harem elements become more apparent. The first four novel had foreboding signs but it at least managed to avoid them becoming too featured in the story. I found my motivation for continuing to be lacking. While not bad per say the content after volume four just felt like an extended epilogue.
Recommendation level: 60%
Current number of translated volumes: 4, through the translations continue to cover the ongoing light novel and are at chapter 197 currently. The translation speed is also lightning fast. There is also a manga and it is adapted faithfully so far. Though the novel is much further along if you are willing to accept some dodgy translation.
Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria
Description: Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria, or The Empty Box and The Zeroth Maria, tells the story of Kazuki Hoshino, who is almost madly attached to his everyday life, and his antagonist Aya Otonashi, who suddenly transfers into his class at the end of the school year—for no less than the 13,118th time. Without hesitation, she announces her intent to “break” him. Kazuki’s struggle to defend his everyday life begins, and the many secrets it is built on start to come to light.
The good: Highly original concept with good execution. Characters have interesting dark sides and the “box”s monkeys paw nature is belovedly twisted. To those who saw Kokoro Connect and thought heartseed was a villain too good for the show, “0” is that style of character given justice. There are no magic superpowers to speak of. The only weapon these characters have is their mind.
The bad: The first novel is confusing with an endless eight/groundhog day scenario. It also doesn’t help that some characters have similar names, making it hard to understand whos who. Characters tend to talk in a manner that is heavily logical. Think bakemonogatari, but the long winded ramblings actually being connected to the plot.
Recommendation level: 90%
Current number of translated volumes: 6, with the next being confirmed as the last.
Rakuin no Monshou
Description: The countries of Mephius and Garbera have been waging a war for ten years and are trying to put an end to this long fight through a political marriage between the two royal families. Orba, who was driven from his home because of the war and was forced to become a gladiator, looks exactly like the crown prince of Mephius, and it has been decided he will be substituting him during the wedding ceremony. On the other hand, Vileena, the princess of Garbera, has secretly decided to ensnare the crown prince for her own country’s interests.
The good: The main character is Batman-esque with his handling of his alter egos. Its fantastic seeing maintain the facade of an incompetent prince while secretly planning for victory. I am reminded of code geass though with much better writing and a more high fantasy setting. The first two volumes are excellent and from what I hear the story has an ending at 7 volumes.
The bad: Very slow translation. If theres anyone with more time and can translate Japanese then implore you to work on this. Or better yet get an anime studio working on it. The story is hard to get into at first as it takes a while to grasp the setting.
Recommendation level: 95%
Current number of translated volumes: 2