Manga vs. Light Novel – what’s the difference?

Mangas and light novels are not the same – although they can be found in the same bookshelves in stores and the library. There are significant differences, which I will point out in this article.

What is a Manga?

I know that this is a completely trivial question to most of you but for thoroughness’ sake I will give a brief definition:

Manga 漫画 is the Japanese word for Comic – no matter where they are from. In the rest of the world, the word Manga is used for Comics from Japan or Comics that resemble a typical Japanese Comic.

What is a Light Novel?

Manga vs. Light Novel

The term light novel comes from Japan (ライトノベル raito noberu or  ラノベ Rainobe) and is a written novel but is titled as „light“ because they are supposed to be easy to read. That is why they are often written in Furigana and in a colloquial style. Additionally, the text of light novels is often broken up with pictures similar to the ones you see in Manga. Light Novels are often written for teenagers or young adults. The „light“ in Light Novel doesn’t stand for less content or lower quality but the way certain stories are presented: in a creative and dynamic way to engage especially young readers.

What do Light Novels look like?

(c) Kusanagi, Mizuho, Fujitani, Touko

The covers often look like Manga covers because there are detailed drawings of the characters on them, but it depends on the light novel of course. They are presented in bunkobon size which is roughly 105 × 148 millimeters or 4,13 x 5,82 inches, which makes them slightly smaller than a regular paperback book – although this can’t be generalized as well, it depends on the publisher. Light novels have up to 300 chapters, so don’t be fooled by the name: It doesn’t mean that you get less content.

Manga vs. Light Novel – When did light novels become popular?

Many popular Anime or Manga series like “Attack on Titan” or “Neon Genesis Evangelion” have their standalone Light Novel. Let’s take Akatsuki no Yona for example. There is an ongoing Manga for the story and an additional Light Novel that consists of short stories that are supposed to enrich the story.

In Japan Light Novels are very popular. The sales really took off in the 90s and this new lighthearted way to tell a story really became iconic. So the Japanese market for light novels is huge and makes at least more than 100 Million dollars every year. In recent years, light novels have also gotten more popular in the US, but they are still sold on the same shelves as Manga. That’s also a reason, why some readers are confused about what the difference is.

What comes first: Light Novel or Manga?

With many popular Manhwa you can definitely say that the light novel comes first and if it gets enough sales, it gets adapted into a Manhwa. With Manga it’s often the same, so the hierarchy goes like this: light novel > Manga > Anime. So, if the light novel is popular, it gets adapted into a Manga and if the Manga is popular it gets an anime. But obviously, it’s not always like that. “Akatsuki no Yona” for example got a light novel after the Manga-series started getting more and more attention.

Manga vs. Light Novel – what‘s the difference?

Manga Light novel
Pictures: In Mangas the pictures are the base of the book and text is only the secondary part of a Manga – but still necessary. In Light Novels the pictures are there to loosen up big passages of text or are placed at the beginning and the end of a chapter.


The depth of the feelings for each character are shown through the drawing and text. It depends on the Manga, but the reader is supposed to get to his own conclusions. As the Light Novel mainly consists of text, certain situations or feelings can be explained more thoroughly than in a Manga, as the author can tell the reader exactly what he is supposed to feel.


Manga consists of two things: text and pictures. Text is only shown in small speech bubbles or as a narrative in small panels. Light Novels are completely text based. It is still a light novel though, so not too heavy vocabulary.


Manga depends on pictures as well as text, so when the art is a bit messy or the panels are chaotic it can be hard to follow. Additionally, there are many Kanji in Mangas – depending on the target audience though. The focus of Light Novels is their readability. They are written in prose with easy to understand vocabulary and in Japan light novels are written with Furigana – to ensure that a younger audience can understand them.
Serialization: There are many publishers who offer anthologies with chapters of different Mangas each week or month. For example: Dessert, Shounen Jump, Hana to Yume. Light Novels often appear on their own and are not published chapter-wise, but as a standalone book.

Where can I read Light Novels?

These sites are based on fan-translations most of the time, so I am not sure if it is completely legal. I am guessing that this works like mangadex – but for novels and light novels. Here is a short overview, of some of the most popular ones:

  • lightnovelpub
  • readlightnovel
  • webnovel
  • novelonlinefull

Do you want to know where you can read Manga and Webtoons legally? Check out this article: Where can I read Manga and Manhwa legally?

Here are some publisher-imprints, who focus on selling light novels:

  • Dengeki Bunko (from ASCII Media Works)
  • Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko (from Kadokawa Shoten)
  • MF Bunko J (from Media Factory)
  • Kōdansha Ranobe Bunko (from Kōdansha)

Manga vs. Light Novel – which is better?

Manga vs. Light Novel

It all comes down to your personal preference. If you are into visuals – like myself – reading Manga probably is the better choice, as some Manga are just stunningly drawn and you spend minutes just looking at the beautiful panels. And there is one big upside for Manga as well: kissing scenes just hit harder when you get so see how the author envisioned it.

If you want to let your imagination run wild and like to picture scenarios in your head, I think you will be very happy with a light novel. Although the occasional picture is a treat for the eyes, you can still read a light novel as a normal book, but written in a more lighthearted way.

At the end of the day, I think light novels and Manga really complement each other well and if you are a fan of one particular series it would probably be best to read them both, as light novels often add additional information to the story.

Manga vs. Light Novel – Here are some examples for well-known light novels:

  • Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World
  • Overlord
  • A Certain Magical Index
  • Sword Art Online
  • Monogatari Series
  • Toradora!
  • The Saga of Tanya the Evil
  • My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected

Do you need some good Manga recommendations? Check out these lists:

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