The popularity outside of Japan is no comparison to how commonplace light novel and anime are in Japan. There are nearly a hundred light novel magazines with circulations of over ten thousand copies. The top-selling boy’s light novel magazine Shonen Jump, for example, sells close to three million copies per week, followed by Shonen Magazine way over one million copies. Top weekly light novel magazines for adult men have sales over 600,000 copies each.
“Light novel magazines for adults?” Yes, many adults openly enjoy light novel in Japan. You may very well run into adults in business suits reading light novel in commuter trains or coffee shops. Some public white papers by the government are published in light novel form. One of Japan’s most beloved light novel series, Sazae-san, was adapted into an anime in the late 60’ s continues airing to this very day. Every season, dozens of new anime shows are broadcast on television and anime films are regularly shown in theaters. In a survey conducted by researchers at Tokyo Polytechnic University, the majority wished to introduce and promote animation and light novel overseas. It goes without saying that Japan treasures these artistic forms.
There are several ways to categorize light novel, the most important and widely used being the target demographic. These include shonen, shojo, seinen, josei, and kodomo. These categories do not act as genres, nor do they refer to any established standard of stylistic or narrative codes. They only refer to the target audience as defined by the magazines they are serialized in (e.g. Shonen Jump). Describing something as “shonen” doesn’t really say much, as you will soon discover.
Shonen light novel technically target boys in upper elementary to middle school grades. However, many older boys, girls and adults enjoy shonen light novel. For example, award-winning light novel-ka Rumiko Takahashi’s work is loved all around the world. In Japan, Urusei Yatsura and Ranma ½ were serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday, but the former was popular with older male readers, and the latter more popular with girls. Today, many magazines cater to the expanded audience that enjoys shonen light novel, making it by far the most popular and widely read type of light novel.
Shonen light novel stories typically involve battles, power quests, and the main character’s growth through them, be it in sports, SF, or fantasy settings. Given the broad readership, however, there are little restrictions with regards to genre and content. Though action and adventure dominate, there are also romance, comedy, drama, and “harem” series.
Shojo is the girl’s equivalent to shonen light novel. Shojo light novel are also read by teens and adults, male and female. There are notable differences between shonen and shojo, which we will be considered in a later chapter. However, the two genres have influenced each other so much that the distinctions between them are no longer very clear. Differences in visual and storytelling style are also not enough to create a clean, solid distinction between shojo and shonen. The creator’s gender has nothing to do with it, as there are male creators of shojo light novel and female creators of shonen light novel. The most definitive way to distinguish one from the other is to find the magazine that publishes the work. The term seinen refers to men over 18, primarily in their 20s and 30s. Seinen works tend to focus on plot and character development over action, with a greater emphasis on realism and “mature” themes. Examples include Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor. The “mature” aspects are not standard, however; seinen works also include more relaxed and light-hearted series, such as K-On! or Hidamari Sketch. Just like with shonen works, seinen light novel is read by males and females of all ages.
Josei light novel may include rediisu komikku (“ ladies comics”) for women in their twenties and up. It may also include yangu rediisu (“ young ladies”), which are for women in their twenties. In either case, the target demographic is older females. Significant portions of josei works are yaoi in nature, that is, they involve same-sex romantic relationships between males. Kodomo light novel may be called jido light novel or yonen light novel. They are primarily for children younger than those targeted by shonen and shojo, however, there is overlapping between the age groups.
Other methods of categorizations of light novel include any genres, sub-genres and themes commonly used for fiction and media. Certain genres and themes are predominantly found in light novel and its demographic categories, like mecha for shonen light novel, magical girl for shojo, and yaoi for josei.
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