What is the Difference Between Light Novels and Manga? — Your Quick Guide

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Welcome to my post on the differences between light novels and manga.

In my last post, I brought up the topic of light novels and their upcoming popularity in the world of Japanese media. Today, I will cover the main differences between the two book mediums which seem pretty similar but are actually not.

Related post: What are Light Novels?

Light novels and manga are incredibly similar in a lot of ways. For one, they are books and have almost the same kind of content. This is why a lot of people get a little confused between the two.

I remember an old friend of mine asking me if a light novel is a manga but shorter because “light” must mean that there is less stuff to read (*≧▽≦)ノシ))

Well, that’s to be expected as the genre itself is still kind of new to the international community. Even the physical copies are not in abundance in anime and manga bookstores. I recall that in my local Kinokuniya, there was only one bookshelf dedicated to light novels and it was under a completely different description. Instead of light novels, I think they put “anime novels” or something like that.

Regardless of that, don’t worry as some people like myself are just as fond of light novels as well as manga so we can see the differences.

So let’s begin this post on how to identify the differences between light novel and manga.

Just Think of Comics vs Actual Books

Once again, let me bring up my comics reference that I used in my previous post on the differences between anime and manga.

Related post: What are the Differences Between Anime and Manga?

By far the most obvious difference between light novels and manga is what the inside of each medium actually looks like.

Manga is basically comics with detailed illustrations of action scenes and sound effects while a light novel is just full of words and paragraphs — you know, an actual book lol.

And like I mentioned in my last post, light novels tend to have manga illustrations spliced in between the pages of the book. Usually, there will be one picture every chapter but sometimes there will be two, occurring when the chapter is a little longer. This is very different from manga as it’s basically devoid of expressive pictures, not that having no pictures is bad. In fact, it leaves a lot of room for the imagination.

So if you are planning to get a light novel, I suggest you crack open the book and check for paragraphs — you know, like an actual book hahaha.

Even the Nature of the Illustrations are Different

Manga illustrations are full of expression and sound effects. This is because the story is told in terms of what we see and interpret based on. The medium is extremely visual and relies on huge “cues” to tell us what is happening. In a manga where looks matter more than anything else, expressive illustrations work.

In a light novel, the illustrations are less detailed. There are no words on the picture and the background is usually empty. It’s like putting a piece of drawing in an artbook, letting the work speak to you instead of the author. The light novel relies on its descriptive language to tell the story of the image on the next page. This medium, as a result, tends to use the human imagination instead of the human eye for interpretation of the plot.

Nature of Words

Like I mentioned in my last post, the kind of vocabulary used in light novels is equivalent to middle-school or high-school level in terms of language prowess. Compared to a manga, it seems that a light novel is a bit unsuited for young children as they won’t understand the context.

The language used in manga is pretty casual and easy to understand no matter how old you are. The medium is meant for everyone to enjoy despite the age restrictions on some genres (eg. horror and ecchi). In contrast, light novels are meant for the teenage demographic so the language is a lot more descriptive and flowery.

Anything in the Isekai Genre

I’ve mentioned the isekai (another world) genre a number of times and you may be wondering why I put it here of all places.

This is because a lot of famous light novels are of this genre. In fact, this is where the genre came to life. As of this year, I’ve seen at least 4 light novels that contain the isekai genre as its main plot driver of the story.

I don’t know why but the genre works really well in the light novel medium. Maybe it’s because mysterious adventures in another world can only be told the best through expressive descriptions and paragraphs and not through moving pictures. I honestly don’t know, what do you think? I’m happy to hear your opinions in the comments down below.

I am not sure how long this trend of light novels being mostly of the isekai genre will go on for but right now, it is not stopping. I’m seeing more isekai light novels come out and take the ratings by storm in just a couple of months. Honestly, though, I’m quite tired of seeing this genre, it’s pretty saturated and I’m moving on to other things.

Final Thoughts

I’m sorry that this post is a little on the short side. It’s just that manga and light novels have a lot of similarities — book form, illustrations, rely on reading ability, etc. However, there are a number of differences between the two that I just have to mention as well hence I decided to make this post.

In my last post, I talked about how this form of Japanese medium is starting to gain popularity but it is way too early to say that the light novel is an actual driving force for the popularity of Japanese media. I do have high hopes for the genre and thanks to the isekai genre becoming so well-loved (I’m sick of it, honestly (; ̄д ̄)) I think the light novel will be catapulted to stardom in just a couple of years.

As always, if you have any opinions on my post, feel free to comment down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂


  1. What in interesting article and I like how you have explained the difference between light novels and magna.  I would never had known this. I must say I do like the magna illustrations I feel you have to be a very talented artist to create magna illustrations.  Great article and you have taught me something new today thanks.

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