Did you know that a huge number of your favorite anime started out as light novels? From rom-com adventures like Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka (Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?) to isekai like Mushoku Tensei or Kumo Desu ga, Nani Ka? (So I'm a Spider, so What?), light novels are the beating heart of many anime adaptations.
Unfortunately, as with many adaptations, some of these anime cut out vital parts of the story, or else miss the mark entirely. So if you’ve ever wondered whether it’d be worth reading the original story behind some of your favorite anime, then look no further than today’s article!
Join us on Honey’s Anime as we talk about Ten Light Novels that are Better Than Their Anime!
- Authors: Takemiya Yuyuko (Story), Yasu (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Harem, School Life, Shounen
- Volumes: 10 (complete)
- Published: May 2018 - August 2020
We’re kicking this list off with a slightly older entry! Toradora!’s anime hit the screens in 2008, two years after the Japanese light novels were released — but it would take a whole decade before we saw the light novels in English. Starring tsundere Taiga and her hopeless-in-love neighbor, Ryuji, Toradora! is beloved for its characters and their romantic troubles.
While the anime was a faithful adaptation, the light novels add more depth to Ryuji and expand on key moments. Ryuji’s stubborn insistence on chasing after his classmate crush Minori (and ignoring his growing feelings for Taiga) comes across more clearly in the novels. The extra space also expands Ryuji and Taiga’s daily relationship, which adds wholesome content for those who want to see more of this adorable totally-not-a-couple!
9. Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou (Arifureta: From Commonplace to World's Strongest)
- Authors: Shirakome Ryou (Story), TakayaKi (Art)
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Romance
- Volumes: 11+
- Published: February 2018 — present
Let’s be honest. The anime for Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou is not great; from the awful early-2000’s-looking CG to some questionable pacing issues, it’s no wonder the anime barely scraped past the 6.5-star rating on MyAnimeList. Fear not — we have the perfect solution in the form of the novels!
Reading the light novels is an entirely different experience. For starters, you can imagine the fight scenes in high quality, and without the terrible jazz music backing every encounter (or you can, if you like, but we’re judging you just a little). You’ll also get more depth from the characters, as well as chapters that focus on other important people — so this is the definitive way to read Arifureta!
8. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! (Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!)
- Authors: Akatsuki Natsume (Story), Mishima Kurone (Art)
- Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, Shounen
- Volumes: 16+
- Published: February 2017 — present
Speaking of isekai — let’s talk about KonoSuba. The anime adaptation is, quite frankly, one of the best we’ve ever seen – it’s hilarious in both sub and dub, and has given us some classic GIFs, not to mention that it has a huge cult following. So, why are we suggesting that the light novels are better than the anime?
Firstly, the anime hasn’t seen a third season, and at the rate we’re going, it might only get a film or spin-off adaptation. That means anime-only fans have been deprived of the greater comedic heights that come in the later chapters, such as our lazy hero Kazuma’s pursuit of a ‘little sister’ (in the form of the Kingdom’s princess)! The later light novels also have serious character-building moments, especially related to Kazuma’s “maybe” relationship with the party’s explosion-crazy mage Megumin.
7. Imouto Sae Ireba Ii (A Sister's All You Need)
- Authors: Hirasaka Yomi (Story), Kantoku (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Ecchi, Romance, School Life, Seinen
- Volumes: 11+
- Published: September 2019 — present
Another victim of seasonal pacing, Imouto Sae Ireba Ii (A Sister's All You Need) spends far too long adapting the first handful of light novels, and entirely does away with some of the most crucial aspects of Hashima Itsuki’s life. Admittedly, the anime brings a lot of life and color to the story — especially to the high-maintenance (and eternally pervy) girl Nayuta. But this comes at the cost of really drilling into Itsuki’s sister complex and the headaches of being a light novel author.
A Sister’s All You Need’s anime is an enjoyable ecchi comedy with elements of more serious life discussions. But the light novels expand on the reality of becoming an adult, chasing your dreams, and success and failure in a high-stakes industry. If the cliffhanger ending of the first season left you wanting a lot more from the show, the light novels will definitely be a winner!
6. Shokei Shoujo no Ikirumichi (The Executioner And Her Way Of Life)
- Authors: Satou Mato (Story), Nilitsu (Art)
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Shoujo Ai
- Volumes: 4+
- Published: March 2021 — present
Okay, this is a little presumptive of us, given that Shokei Shoujo no Ikirumichi (The Executioner And Her Way Of Life) (or “Virgin Road,” as you may also know it) has only aired its first few episodes. Sitting over here in the “we read the Light Novels before it was an anime” camp, we’re reasonably impressed with the anime adaptation — but it’s missing the magic (quite literally) of the novels!
It’s strange to say this about a fantasy, but the magic system in The Executioner And Her Way Of Life works better on paper than on screen. The novel’s usage of stylized text and scripture passages reads better than it watches; and if that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, then try picking up the first volume yourself. We guarantee you’ll be impressed with Satou Mato’s writing!
Without going into spoiler territory, the novels also handle other characters’ emotions better, especially with the awkward love triangle brewing between our three main girls!
5. Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e (Classroom of the Elite)
- Authors: Kinugasa Shougo (Story), Tomose Shunsaku (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Drama, Psychological, Harem, School Life
- Volumes: 10+
- Published: May 2019 — present
We’ve recently discussed the manga adaptation of Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e (Classroom of the Elite) and how poorly it adapts the light novel’s content. In our opinion, the anime performs better than the manga, but still stumbles on some fundamental nuances of the light novel. Perhaps it’s just a curse of how brilliantly the novels are written, but consuming Classroom of the Elite in any other way just feels … lesser.
Not only did the first season of Classroom of the Elite change material in the back of Volume 3, but pacing issues in the first few episodes completely fumble our protagonist Ayanokouji Kiyotaka’s personality. The anime plays Ayanokouji off as some dense, unsociable wall, where the light novel shows that he’s desperately trying to make friends and “fit in”.
The anime does bring the characters to life pretty well, but at the significant cost of our protagonist’s characterization — so if you felt like Classroom of the Elite’s anime was lacking some depth, pick up the light novels instead!
4. Tsuujou Kougeki ga Zentai Kougeki de Ni-kai Kougeki no Okaa-san wa Suki desu ka? (Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?)
- Authors: Inaka Dachima (Story), Iida Pochi (Art)
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, Seinen
- Volumes: 11 (Complete)
- Published: November 2018 - December 2021
Much like Arifureta earlier on the list, the impressively titled Tsuujou Kougeki ga Zentai Kougeki de Ni-kai Kougeki no Okaa-san wa Suki desu ka? (Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?) sacrificed a lot to make it into anime form, and was received rather poorly, hitting just a bit over 5.6 on MyAnimeList. Part of the reason the anime feels so off is that the “ecchi mommy” idea is too awkward on screen without any of protagonist Masato’s thoughts.
The light novels are hugely buoyed by Masato’s constant mental criticism of his mom and his party members, along with his mixed emotions about his young and attractive mother accompanying him on this MMO journey. The novels are very light-hearted, and perhaps people expected something “different” out of the anime, but if you’d like to give your Mom another chance — check out the novels instead!
3. Seishun Buta Yarou (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)
- Authors: Kamoshida Hajime (Story), Mizoguchi Keiji (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, School Life
- Volumes: 6+
- Published: April 2018 — present
The surprise hit of Fall 2018’s anime season, Seishun Buta Yarou (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)’s clever marketing took the expectations of “yet another ecchi romance” into the depths of psychological trauma. Although there’s plenty to laugh at, Rascal Does Not Dream is a heavy series, and deserving of its praise.
In this case, the light novels are not “better” in the sense that the show was “bad”; instead, the light novels offer a deeper, slower, and at times more painful look into the “Puberty Syndrome” afflicting the main characters. From being forgotten, to switching bodies, to being pulled out of time — all of these concepts feel much heavier and more impactful in the novels. If you’re thinking of reading the original work, we recommend bringing along some tissues — these books are real tear-jerkers!
2. Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatte Iru. (My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong as I Expected)
- Authors: Watari Wataru (Story), Ponkan 8 (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Drama, Psychological, Romance, School Life
- Volumes: 13+
- Published: September 2016 — present
Much like Classroom of the Elite earlier on the list, a cynical main character with a particularly warped view of the world doesn’t always translate perfectly to anime. Although Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatte Iru. (My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong as I Expected) (or OreGairu, to use its more common shorthand) is an excellent anime in its own right, it fails to truly capture the cynical depths of Hachiman’s inner monologue.
Hachiman isn’t always cynical, though – there are nuanced shades to his character, and OreGairu is quite a psychological read. The light novels have the room to fully explore Hachiman’s contradictory views of the world as he struggles to balance his cynical worldview with the fact that he’s, honestly, a pretty alright guy. This back-and-forth mental tug-of-war plays out excellently in the novels, and paints a much richer portrait of Hachiman’s personal delusions.
1. Sword Art Online
- Authors: Kawahara Reki (Story), abec (Art)
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Tragedy
- Volumes: 23+
- Published: April 2014 — present
Okay, before the anime fans rush to storm the comments section, hear us out! Sword Art Online is, undoubtedly, a massive force in the light novel and anime scenes, and despite the wider anime community disparaging the show, at the time of writing it’s still holding midway on the “most popular” rankings on MyAnimeList. The show has clearly done something right, but if you’re one of the people who couldn’t connect with Kirito and his MMO adventures, then — well, we understand. And it’s entirely because the anime skips huge amounts of context from the light novels.
Kirito is traumatized by the Aincrad death game, by the deaths of people he knew, and by the criminals who have bled into the real-world. He’s smart, but highly emotional, and driven by untreated survivor’s guilt that leads him to undervalue his life; while at the same time, he hasn’t worked through the built-up trauma he sustained from years of life-or-death situations.
Many anime-only fans criticize Kirito’s character, but it’s because the anime doesn’t have the room, nor the headspace, to drill into Kirito’s depression and guilt. The light novels reveal the excellent writing ability of author Kawahara, who was literally a decade or more ahead in predicting the future of VR technology and its applications in our daily lives. Genuinely, every person who watches Sword Art Online should read the light novels (or listen to the fabulous audiobooks voiced by Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh)!
And there we have it — our Top Ten Light Novels that are Better Than Their Anime! Adaptations will never be perfect (that’s part of the business!), but some anime miss the mark more than others, while some earn unworthy ire thanks to the divide between visual and literary mediums.
What do you think about our list? Are there other light-novel-to-anime adaptations you think we should have covered? Let’s talk down in the comments below!
As always, thanks for reading!