25 Best Light Novels of All Time

Enjoy the best 25 light novels of all time to read in English including the classic series and latest trends

Best Light Novels

A light novel is one of the coolest modern Japanese cultures while anime and manga have been known more commonly as leading Japanese contents recently. However, don’t forget that light novels which are generated by Japanese pop culture (or subculture) becomes the basis of anime and manga adaptions. Current popular anime series are adapted from the light novels.

Speaking of Japanese novels, Haruki Murakami, Soseki Natsume and other modern authors are famous worldwide. At the same time, light novels can be positioned as part of Japanese literature.

The definition of light novels are not clear in a general way. To put it plainly, light novels often have an anime-style illustration on the book cover and some character illustrations are added inside the book as well. That kind of novels were sold in Japan from around the 1970s and it is said that light novels originate with that date.

Light novels became widely recognized when the legendary Slayers written by Hajime Kanzaki (illustrated by Rui Araizumi) was published in 1989 though there were a small minority of the fans in the whole society. Since then, now-famous titles have been released in Japan and the light novel is one of the most popular book genres as well as manga and novels in the present day.

Today, I’d like to introduce the best light novels of all time for both beginners and advanced readers. Many popular books are translated into English and other languages so that you can enjoy reading them in your native languages.

What is Isekai or Naro?

There are two recent light novel genres you should know if you want to enjoy the modern books. One thing is Isekai (異世界) which means “another world” or “parallel world”. Characters who die in an accident are transported to or reborn in an fantasy world in the Isekai light novels. The second new genre is Naro (なろう) or Naro-kei (なろう系), which is named after the online novel publishing website Shosetsuka ni Naro (which means Let’s Become a Novelist in English). Naro is similiar to Isekai, and characters are suddenly sent to a parallel fantasy world with an extraordinary power. The titles of Naro light novels tend to be longer like a sentence.


25. Goblin Slayer

Goblin Slayer Light Novel
Goblin Slayer Light Novel

A popular ongoing dark-fantasy light novel Goblin Slayer (ゴブリンスレイヤー) was originally released on a Japanese textboard in 2012. And then, the current format as a light novel has been published since 2016.

The main character Goblin Slayer is the soldier who takes his life on hunting goblins. The manga and anime adaptions have been made for its popularity.

Author: Kumo Kagyu
Illustrator: Noboru Kannatsuki
Published: from 2016
Genre: Dark fantasy, Adventure

24. Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?!

Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?! Light Novel
Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?! Light Novel

Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life?! (私、能力は平均値でって言ったよね!), which has been published since 2016, is categorized as fantasy and Isekai.

A high school girl Misato is killed in a traffic accident and is born again in the parallel world as a teenage girl named Adele. She finds out that she has a much more powerful abilities than average while she asks to make her abilities just average.

Author: FUNA
Illustrator: Itsuki Akata
Published: from 2016
Genre: Isekai, Naro, Comedy

23. Katanagatari (Sword Tale)

Katanagatari Light Novel
Katanagatari Light Novel

Katanagatari (刀語), which means Sword Tale in English, was written in 2007-2008 by Nisio Isin who is one of the most famous light novel authors in Japan.

The historical story is set in the fictional Japan around the Edo period. The protagonist Shichika Yasuri begins his journey to collect the 12 legendary swords fighting the owners and other enemies. Katanagatari was made into an anime adaption with 12 episodes in 2010.

Author: Nisio Isin
Illustrator: Take
Published: 2007-2008
Genre: Historical, Action

22. The Rising of the Shield Hero

The Rising of the Shield Hero Light Novel
The Rising of the Shield Hero Light Novel

The Rising of the Shield Hero (盾の勇者の成り上がり) is the popular ongoing Naro light novel published as both online and physical books from 2012.

The university student Naofumi Iwatani is suddenly transported to the fantasy world and given a role as the Shield Hero. There are three other heroes in the same situation, but they have offensive weapons such as sword, lance and arrow. The Shield Hero manages to fight enemies with the defensive shield.

Author: Aneko Yusagi
Illustrator: Minami Seira
Published: from 2012
Genre: Naro, Isekai, Adventure

21. Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest

Arifureta From Commonplace to World’s Strongest Light Novel
Arifureta From Commonplace to World’s Strongest Light Novel

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (ありふれた職業で世界最強) has been published on the user-generated novel website Shosetsuka ni Naro since 2013 while its paper books are also published from 2015.

A nerdy high school boy Hajime Nagumo is summoned to the fantasy world with his classmates. He is represented as an antihero or dark hero in the story. The first season of the anime adaption was released in 2019.

Author: Ryo Shirakome
Illustrator: Takayaki
Published: from 2013
Genre: Naro, Isekai

20. Spice and Wolf

Spice and Wolf Light Novel
Spice and Wolf Light Novel

Spice and Wolf (狼と香辛料), one of the most known fantasy light novels in the 2000s, has been published since 2006.

The setting is the fictional world that is inspired by the medieval Europe and the story focuses on the two main characters. A traveling merchant Kraft Lawrence encounters various incidents on his trip with the wolf personified Holo who looks like a human-wolf hybrid.

Author: Isuna Hasekura
Illustrator: Ju Ayakura
Published: from 2006
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

19. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Light Novel
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Light Novel

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (デスマーチからはじまる異世界狂想曲), the typical Naro novel, is one of the most read light novels on Shosetsuka ni Naro in the recent years.

A 29 years old gaming programmer named Ichiro Suzuki works too hard and has a nap in the office. He wakes up to become aware that he is in the of the role-playing game that he is making. 12 episodes of the anime adaption were aired on TV in 2018.

Author: Hiro Ainana
Illustrator: shri
Published: 2013-2020
Genre: Naro, Isekai

18. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Light Novel
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Light Novel

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (転生したらスライムだった件) is a popular ongoing Naro and Isekai light novel with the unique theme.

Main characters are reborn in the different fictional world as a human, but the protagonist of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is Reincarnated as a slime named Rimuru. The strange slime’s adventure is also depicted in the anime adaption broadcasted from 2018.

Author: Fuse
Illustrator: Mitz Vah
Published: from 2014
Genre: Naro, Isekai

17. Classroom of the Elite

Classroom of the Elite Light Novel
Classroom of the Elite Light Novel

Classroom of the Elite (ようこそ実力至上主義の教室へ), published from 2015, is one of the hottest school-themed light novels.

It focuses on everyday life of the highest-level high school and there are highly intelligent students in the school including the protagonist Kiyotaka Ayanokoji. Each class fights with others with a variety of mind games. The following story, which started from 2020, begins after Kiyotaka and his classmates go to the second grade.

Author: Shogo Kinugasa
Illustrator: Shunsaku Tomose
Published: from 2015
Genre: School, Thriller

16. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Light Novel
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Light Novel

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (ダンジョンに出会いを求めるのは間違っているだろうか), which was uploaded on the user-publishing website Arcadia, has been published since 2013.

The setting is the fantasy world Orario where there are lots of underground labyrinth known as Dungeon. The main character Bell visits Dungeons to live from day to day and get stronger, and then he falls in love with the powerful swordswoman Ais.

Author: Fujino Omori
Illustrator: Suzuhito Yasuda
Published: from 2013
Genre: Fantasy

15. The Irregular at Magic High School

The Irregular at Magic High School Light Novel
The Irregular at Magic High School Light Novel

The Irregular at Magic High School (魔法科高校の劣等生) was first released on the Shosetsuka ni Naro website in 2008 and the light novel has been published as a paper book since 2011.

The ongoing sci-fi novel has the theme of magic in the fictional Japan. The story centers on the two students in First High School: the brother Tatsuya and his little sister Miyuki.

Author: Tsutomu Sato
Illustrator: Kana Ishida
Published: from 2008
Genre: Naro, Action, Science Fiction

14. My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected

My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected Light Novel
My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected Light Novel

My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected (やはり俺の青春ラブコメはまちがっている。), which is also known as My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, is the romance light novel published from 2011 and completed with the vol.14 (and 3 short books) in 2019.

It depicts the high school life of the pessimistic boy Hachiman Hikigaya and his school service club members including the heroine Yukino Yukinoshita. The final season of its anime adaption is being released in 2020.

Author: Wataru Watari
Illustrator: Ponkan8
Published: 2011-2019
Genre: Slice of life, Romance

13. Zaregoto Series

Decapitation: Kubikiri Cycle Light Novel
Decapitation: Kubikiri Cycle Light Novel

Zaregoto Series (戯言シリーズ) is one of the most popular light novel series written by Nisio Isin. The first title of the series is Decapitation: Kubikiri Cycle (クビキリサイクル 青色サヴァンと戯言遣い) published in 2002 and all 9 volumes were released by 2005.

The main character “I” and his friend Timo Kunagiza meet a variety of unique characters and get involved in lots of incidents. The spin-off series Ningen Series with 7 volumes and Saikyo Series with 4 volumes are also related to the main series.

Author: Nisio Isin
Illustrator: Take
Published: 2002-2005
Genre: Mystery

12. Overlord

Overlord Light Novel
Overlord Light Novel

As one of the most popular Naro light novels, Overlord (オーバーロード) should be picked out. It was published at first on the websites Arcadia and Shosetsuka ni Naro from 2012. Momonga, the player of VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) named YGGDRASIL, finds out he is transported to the different world from YGGDRASIL as the game character called Ainz Ooal Gown.

Author: Kugane Maruyama
Illustrator: so-bin
Published: from 2012
Genre: Naro, Isekai

11. The Saga of Tanya the Evil

The Saga of Tanya the Evil Light Novel
The Saga of Tanya the Evil Light Novel

The Saga of Tanya the Evil (幼女戦記), a unique fantasy light novel, started its publication on the website Arcadia in 2011 and as a physical book in 2013. The setting of The Saga of Tanya the Evil is inspired by the World Wars in Europe. A salaried worker is sent to another world in the past as a little girl named Tanya von Degurechaff. The young, blonde girl survives in the world as a member of the military. The light novel has been adapted into manga, anime and movies as well as other popular novels.

Author: Carlo Zen
Illustrator: Shinobu Shinotsuki
Published: from 2011
Genre: Fantasy

10. Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Light Novel
Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Light Novel

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!  (この素晴らしい世界に祝福を!) was released in 2013 after it had got popular among users in the website Shosetsuka ni Naro, and the story just came to the end in May, 2020.

The Isekai comedy light novel, which can be also looked on as the Naro genre, features the 4 main characters: Kazuma, Aqua, Darkness and Megumin. Kazuma, who dies in an accident when he is a high schooler, is sent to the fantasy world with the goddess Aqua.

Author: Natsume Akatsuki
Illustrator: Kurone Mishima
Published: 2012-2020
Genre: Isekai, Comedy

9. Toradora!

Toradora! Light Novel
Toradora! Light Novel

As one of the most read light novels in the 2000s, Toradora! (とらドラ!) is known especially in Japan. The slice-of-life light novel consists of 1o volumes and 3 spin-offs published between 2006 and 2009.

In the story, everyday and romance of the high schoolers Ryuji, Taiga and their friends with comedy. On the other hand, they have lots of problems in their lives such as family problems of the heroine Taiga.

Author: Yuyuko Takemiya
Illustrator: Yasu
Published: 2006-2009
Genre: Slice of life, Romance

8. Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World-

Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- Light Novel
Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- Light Novel

Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- (キノの旅 -the Beautiful World-), one of the longest modern light novel series, has been published with 22 volumes since 2000.

The adventure novel focuses on a teen girl named Kino who travels around the world with a talking motorcycle named Hermes. She visits a variety of fictional counties that have unique customs and social systems. Each episode stands alone, which has a kind of allegoricalness. Two seasons of the anime adaption have been released.

Author: Keiichi Sigsawa
Illustrator: Kohaku Kuroboshi
Published: from 2000
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

7. No Game No Life

No Game No Life Light Novel
No Game No Life Light Novel

No Game No Life (ノーゲーム・ノーライフ) is a famous ongoing fantasy light novel and anime series. Remarkably, the same person, whose name is Yu Kamiya, both writes the story and illustrates the characters on the cover.

It follows 18-year-old boy named Sora and his 11 years old sister-in-law named Shiro, who are undefeated gamers with high intelligence. They are transported to Isekai (another world) and fight various unique games there.

Author: Yu Kamiya
Illustrator: Yu Kamiya
Published: from 2012
Genre: Fantasy, Isekai

6. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Light Novel
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Light Novel

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (青春ブタ野郎はバニーガール先輩の夢を見ない), which is also known as Seishun Buta Yaro Series, is the first title of the recent popular light novel series published from 2014. In the story, lots of strange supernatural events happen around the main character Sakuta and people around him including his family and classmates. Those things are often caused by their psychological problems.

If you enjoy this light novel or other Japanese pop culture, you need to know the word Senpai, which means a senior especially in schools and other communities. In this case, the main heroine Mai is the Senpai (one grade ahead) for Sakuta. A manga adaption has been published since 2016 and the first season of the anime adaption was released in 2018.

Author: Hajime Kamoshida
Illustrator: Keiji Mizoguchi
Published: from 2014
Genre: Fantasy, Slice of life

5. Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Light Novel
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Light Novel

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Re:ゼロから始める異世界生活), which is abbreviated to Re:ZERO, is one of the most popular Isekai light novels of all time. Its online publishing started on Shosetsuka ni Naro in 2012 and over 30 volumes of light novels have been published since 2014.

Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is set in the parallel world where the main character Subaru Natsuki is sent for any reason. He is transported to another world but is not granted any powerful ability while a main character of many Isekai light novels gets something special.

However, there is the one extraordinary thing he can experience in the world: Shinimodori (“Return by Death”). He goes back in time to the past in the living state, which is triggered by his death. The story follows him and his meeting various unique characters such as the heroine Emilia and the twin maids Ram and Rem.

Author: Tappei Nagatsuki
Illustrator: Shinichiro Otsuka
Published: from 2012
Genre: Dark fantasy, Isekai, Naro

4. A Certain Magical Index

A Certain Magical Index Light Novel
A Certain Magical Index Light Novel

The longest and most popular light novel A Certain Magical Index (とある魔術の禁書目録) is categorized as action and fantasy. It consists of three titles so far: the first A Certain Magical Index published between 2004 and 2010, the second New Testament: A Certain Magical Index published between 2011 and 2019 and the third Genesis Testament: A Certain Magical Index started from 2020. The number of the total series volume reaches 50.

The setting is the high-tech town in the fictional Tokyo where supernatural power and magic are a reality. There are 2 main groups in the world: Espers based on science and Sorcerers based on magic. A Certain Magical Index focuses on the main character Toma Kamijo who belongs to the side of Espers and the main heroine Index on the side of Sorcerers. In addition to a variety of attractive characters, powerful battle scenes of Toma are one of the highlights in the light novel.

The spin-offs A Certain Scientific Railgun (とある科学の超電磁砲) featuring Mikoto Misaka and A Certain Scientific Accelerator (とある科学の一方通行) featuring Accelerator are very popular among fans as well.

Author: Kazuma Kamachi
Illustrator: Kiyotaka Haimura
Published: from 2004
Genre: Fantasy, Action

3. Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Light Novel
Sword Art Online Light Novel

Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン), abbreviated to SAO, is one of the most famous and popular Japanese light novels all over the world. The fantasy adventure novel, published from 2009, can be divided into 5 main parts: Aincrad, Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet, Alicization and Unital Ring.

The story mainly proceeds in the virtual reality world. Sword Art Online is set in the fictional world 2022 where the advanced VR online game called Sword Art Online is invented. The FullDive technology enables players to immerse themselves in VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), which means they can feel all senses for fighting, eating, sleeping and so on there.

The story begins when the players of SAO are trapped in the game world as they are unable to log out including the main character Kirito and heroine Asuna. The current seasons of anime adaptions are highly rated among the fans of the light novel.

Author: Reki Kawahara
Illustrator: abec
Published: from 2009
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

2. Monogatari Series

Bakemonogartari Light Novel
Bakemonogartari Light Novel

In terms of quality of contents and popularity, many light novel fans look on Monogatari Series (物語シリーズ) as the best one of all time. Monogatari Series, written by the popular author Nisio Isin, has been top-rated as both a light novel and a normal novel. There are 20 titles with 26 volumes and a spin-off (as of 2020) in the series, and a new volume is still released every few years lately.

The popular series begins with Bakemonogartari (化物語) focusing on the high school guy Koyomi Araragi and his girl friends and his sisters. The theme of the novel is an aberration called Kaii in Japanese, which is a sort of an evil spirit. The characters are possessed by the aberrations for any reason, and Koyomi tries to help them while he is also possessed by a vampire.

One of the highlights in the light novel is speedy conversations by the characters who have unique personalities. You can enjoy various essences such as battle scenes, human drama, mystery, etc. The three seasons (from Bakemonogatari to Zoku-owarimonogatari) have been adapted into an anime, and fans expects other parts to be made into anime adaptions in the future.

Author: Nisio Isin
Illustrator: Vofan
Published: from 2006
Genre: Fantasy

1. Haruhi Suzumiya Series

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novel
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novel

Haruhi Suzumiya Series (涼宮ハルヒシリーズ), which is also known for the first title The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱), started its publication from 2003. It’s a matter of course that Haruhi Suzumiya Series is ranked 1st in the best light novel list since it has played a large role in the light novel industry. It is also not too much to say that light novels could be much less popular without the legendary series.

The story centers on the main character Haruhi Suzumiya and the other members of SOS Brigade, which is a high school club. They are aliens coming from other planets or the future except the human being named Kyon. It’s interesting that they enjoy an ordinary school life while supernatural phenomena interfere in their lives, which happen due to the unconscious force of Haruhi.

The fans were surprised by a unique method of light novels: “Time Loop” meaning characters go back in time to the same past point repeatedly. In the Endless Eight part, Haruhi with the SOS Brigade members experience the same two weeks (from 17th to 31st August) for over 15000 times.

Of course, an anime adaption, consisting of 2 seasons, has been popular among fans of the original light novel and anime lovers.

Author: Nagaru Tanigawa
Illustrator: Noizi Ito
Published: from 2003
Genre: Fantasy, Slice of life

You can buy and start reading those light novels right now with e-readers like Kindle. If you are interested in the digital books, check out which device is the best to buy in this article!

If you like light novels, it is strongly recommended to enjoy watching anime and reading manga! Here are the best selection lists of anime and manga!

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