From freely published web novels to super-successful series, there’s a unique story behind many of our favorite light novels. Quite a few started out as self-published works online, before eventually getting picked up in a serialized format with a publisher.
Sometimes these stories can change a lot in the transition from a rough web novel to a completed light novel, while others have mostly maintained their original spirit.
Today on Honey’s Anime, we’re talking about 5 Light Novels That Were Originally Self-Published!
5. Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-)
- Authors: Nagatsuki Tappei
- Genres: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Mature, Psychological, Romance, Seinen
- Volumes: 19+
- Published: August 2016—present
Kicking off our list today is one of the most popular isekai of the current generation, Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-). Summoned to another world, protagonist Subaru’s only power is to go back in time—whenever he dies. With this gruesome power, he becomes embroiled in this new world’s politics in a vicious spiral of blood and revenge.
The original web novel, published online from 2012, is widely considered a “rough draft” of Nagatsuki’s eventual light novels. In particular, the “fourth arc” (Volumes 10-15, or “The Everlasting Contract”) was originally the same size as the ten light novels preceding it. Nagatsuki revised that content, stripping out a huge amount of extraneous content to deliver a more polished end result.
It seems getting the chance to rework your original story is a golden opportunity!
4. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! (KonoSuba - God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!)
- Authors: Akatsuki Natsume
- Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, Shounen
- Volumes: 16+
- Published: February 2017—present
An oddball crew of adventurers that acts as an ironic foil for the isekai genre? Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! (KonoSuba - God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!) has grown a huge cult following since its original release in Japan, with manga adaptations and spin-offs. The entire plot is like an anti-isekai, with comedic antics that poke fun at skills, quests, and character archetypes.
Before this useless gang was trying to stop a demon king, they were found in web novel format on the user-generated platform Shousetsuka ni Narou. When Kadokawa bought the rights to KonoSuba, some elements were changed, while the main story structure was kept roughly the same. All of the main characters were de-aged by several years, and fan-favorite Princess Iris was given multiple volumes to shine.
Keep an eye out for KonoSuba’s final volume when it releases in August 2022!
3. Kimi no Suizou o Tabetai (I Want to Eat Your Pancreas)
- Authors: Sumino Yoru
- Genres: Drama, Romance, School Life
- Volumes: 1 (Complete)
- Published: November 2018
Here’s a surprise entry on the web novel list—the award-winning tear-jerker, Kimi no Suizou o Tabetai (I Want to Eat Your Pancreas). Serialized on the popular online platform Shousetsuka ni Narou, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas tells the heart-wrenching story of a high school girl dying from pancreatic disease, and the boy who fell in love with her.
The light novel was officially a best-seller in Japan, hitting number one on the Bestsellers 2016 lists for both NIPPAN and Tohan. The anime movie in 2018 was also highly applauded, scoring well among film critics—although the author, Sumino, claims they have “mixed feelings” about the adaptation since some elements of the light novel were changed.
The web novel was unaltered in its light novel adaptation (aside from adding character artwork), which proves that award-winning self-published works are out there just waiting to be discovered!
2. Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (The Rising of the Shield Hero)
- Authors: Yusagi Aneko
- Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, Seinen
- Volumes: 22+
- Published: September 2015—present
Another success story from Shousetsuka ni Narou is Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (The Rising of the Shield Hero), which has spawned manga adaptations, an anime, and an entirely rewritten light novel series (22 volumes and counting!).
While many web novels are simply polished into their light novel formats, The Rising of the Shield Hero saw some rather large changes. Perhaps it stems from the web novel being complete at 409 chapters, and author Yusagi having the opportunity to revise the original work.
In the web novel, the main character Naofumi retains his bitter outlook on life much longer, with harsher and more negative interactions with other characters. Fans generally see the light novel as a “mellow” or “more positive” Naofumi, since the author rewrote characters and interactions to shift Naofumi’s attitude towards his responsibility as a summoned hero.
The light novel series is still ongoing, and it’s unknown whether the web novel and light novel will have the same ending—there hasn’t been a new volume since 2019. If you’re already caught up on the main series, the author has also been writing the spin-off series Yari no Yuusha no Yarinaoshi (The Reprise of the Spear Hero).
1. Sword Art Online
- Authors: Kawahara Reki
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Shounen
- Volumes: 23+
- Published: May 2014—present
One of the best-known VRMMORPG stories, Sword Art Online is a huge force in the light novel industry, with numerous spin-offs and manga adaptations. The series has gone from strength to strength during its run, delving into the psychological aspect of virtual worlds and the border between “real” and “virtual.”
The series had humble origins, however. The author, Kawahara, wrote Sword Art Online’s first volume all the way back in 2001, but when the story exceeded the word length of the Dengeki Novel Prize, he published everything online under a pseudonym. In 2008, Kawahara won the Grand Prize for the same competition…for his other series, Accel World. As part of the contract with ASCII Media Works, both Accel World and Sword Art Online were picked up.
Kawahara then rewrote most of the Sword Art Online web novel (which he wrote from 2002 to 2008), chronicling his changes and thoughts in the afterwords of each light novel volume. For the most part, Kawahara was able to keep the general spirit of Sword Art Online, while rewriting and improving the original story.
As of 2022, 30 million copies of Sword Art Online are in circulation—a true success story for any self-published author!
There are so many amazing novels out there just waiting to be picked up! If you’ve been encouraged to give self-publishing a go, don’t forget to check out Honeyfeed, our very own web novel community—you might even get scouted and have your own novel published!
These are just five light novels that were originally self-published, but we’d love to hear about your favorite web novels in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading!