America has Hollywood, Korea as has K-pop, and Japan has anime (among other cultural phenomena).
While Japan has a lot to offer and is known for a plethora of things in terms of food, landmarks and culture, perhaps the one thing that everyone thinks when they think Japan is anime. In Japan, you can find anime characters on clothing, food and beverage packaging, gift cards, and even used as advertising for major companies. Anime is everywhere and for good reason: it gives people an escape from the pressures of their daily lives, it teaches children morals and ethics, and promotes common values of hard work, friendship, love and much more. Popular anime even spawn film, video game and novel adaptations. For those of us who are both anime lovers and bookworms, novel adaptations or novel spin-offs of popular anime are exactly what we’re looking for.
The five novels on this list have either been adapted from popular anime or the source material from which the anime was created and of course — all of the novels on this list are available in English.
1. Death Note: Another Note
Death Note is an anime with a very unique plot that somehow managed to break into the mainstream realm of the industry. The anime follows Light Yagami, a high school student who finds a notebook on the ground. The notebook has instructions which claim that whoever’s name is written in the book shall die. Light, an academic genius and bored by the tediousness of school life takes it upon himself to rid the world of all crime by using the notebook to murder the world’s worst criminals. The manga and anime were so popular that they spawned film, tv series, video game, and novel adaptations.
The novel follows an FBI agent named Naomi Misora and a sleuth private detective named L who were assigned to capture Light. However, the novel is about another set of murder cases which serve as a prequel to the main Death Note series. Fans of murder mysteries should definitely give this book a read. The novel itself is a solid murder mystery, strong enough to stand alone from the Death Note series. The creators of the series Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata are also well known for their recent hit Bakuman.
- Death Note: Another Note (Nisioisin, VIZ Media LLC, February 2008, ¥1,744).
2. Sword Art Online: Aincrad
When it comes to popular mainstream action anime of the last decade, Sword Art Online is at the top of that list. Many people first encountered Sword Art Online as a popular anime series, some people may have seen the highly acclaimed recent film adaptation Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, and others may have played the Sword Art Online video games. However, very few people know that the huge franchise of Sword Art Online began as a light novel series.
The first novel, Sword Art Online: Aincrad is the source material for the first anime series simply titled Sword Art Online. Set in the near future, the story follows Kirito and Asuna, two high school students who find themselves trapped in the virtual reality game world of Aincrad. They must fight alongside the thousands of others trapped in the game to either beat the game or literally die (in the real world) trying.
- Sword Art Online: Aincrad (Reki Kawahara, Yen On, April 2014, ¥1,444).
For those of us who are both anime lovers and bookworms, novel adaptations or novel spin-offs of popular anime are exactly what we’re looking for.
3. Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) is a title that needs no introduction. The global hit anime movie took over box offices in Japan and abroad, becoming the highest grossing anime film ever, surpassing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The film was so popular that pop-up cafes with movie themed drinks were created for a limited time in Japan. The film was adapted into a manga and two light novels. Kimi No Na Wa follows the story of Taki and Mitsuha, high school students who switch bodies in their sleep and embark on a quest to find each other in the real world. However, realizing they are separated both by distance and time makes things a bit tricky.
While this was the first film that brought Makoto Shinkai, the film’s creator and director, to international stardom, Shinkai has been around for a long time and has an impressive filmography. Fans of romance and drama anime should definitely check out Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second and Garden of Words.
- Your Name (Makoto Shintai, Yen On, May 2017, ¥1,663).
Fans of horror should definitely not overlook Another. The story of the novel is truly chilling and manages to inspire fear and spookiness without the common overused tropes of the horror genre. The story follows Koichi, a newly transferred student at Yomiyama Middle School. He learns that in 1972 a popular student named Misaki of class 3-3 befell a tragic accidental death which devastated her friends and staff at the school. To cope with the tragedy, the students and teacher in her class pretended that she was still alive and in class with them. To their horror, the dead girl appeared on their graduation photo as if their pretending had willed her back to life. Since then, students and staff and anyone somehow connected to class 3-3 have fallen victim to coincidental and often gruesome deaths. Unluckily, Koichi is placed in class 3-3 where he meets a girl also named Misaki, who everyone including the teacher ignores as if she doesn’t exist. Why are they ignoring her? What is the cause of the class’ misfortune? Koichi must figure that out before more fall victim to the curse.
- Another (Yukito Ayatsuji, Yen On, October 2014, ¥2,624).
5. The Devil Is a Part-Timer
Sound crazy? Well it sure is. The Devil is a Part Timer is a fantasy-comedy light novel series in which Satan, the dark lord of the demons, is overthrown by the hero Emilia and the forces of heaven. He is then forced to flee to earth where his magic powers are strongly depleted. Because of this he is forced to find a minimum-salary job working at McRonalds, a fast food burger chain. He is pursued by the hero Emilia, whose one goal in life is to rid the world of Satan. However, she too finds herself with no magic power and must work at a call center to make ends meet. The first novel in the series won the Silver Prize of the Dengeki Novel Prize Awards in 2010. A short, 13-episode anime of the same name was adapted from the series and this wacky, fantasy-comedy anime is one of the funniest anime to come along in a long time.
- The Devil Is a Part-Timer (Satoshi Wagahara, Yen On, April 2015, ¥1,672).
These are just five novels based on popular anime — or the source material for some uber-popular titles — that would make great summertime reads (with an added side benefit of getting you away from the television!). There are many more out there to suit whatever your taste in Japanese anime. A good place to find new light novels (and manga or anime) is on the publishers’ websites, like Yen On and Viz Media.
If you have some natsu yasumi (summer holidays) coming up, take some time to relax and and maintain your cool with an icy drink in one hand and a good and a good read in the other — the anime you create in your head may inspire you!
Do you have any recommendations for some anime reading this summer? Let us and our readers know in the comments below!