A light novel (ライトノベル, raito noberu) is a novel primarily targeting teenagers and young adults. The term "light novel" is a wasei-eigo, or a Japanese term formed from words in the English language. Light novels are often called ranobe (ラノベ, ranobe) or rainobe (ライノベ, rainobe) for short. They are typically not more than 40-50,000 words long (the shorter ones being equivalent to a novella in US publishing terms), usually published in bunkobon size, and are often illustrated. The text is often serialized in anthology magazines prior to collection in book form.
In recent years, light novel stories have been popular choices for adaptation into manga, anime, and live-action films (for example, the light novels of Tatsuhiko Takimoto have been adapted into all). Light novels are often serialized in literary magazines such as Faust, (Gekkan) Dragon Magazine, Dengeki hp/Dengeki Bunko Magazine (ended in 2020), Charano! (ended 2013), and The Sneaker (ended in 2011), or media franchise magazines like Comptiq and Dengeki G's Magazine. Magazines featuring light novels often don't have a long life with examples like Super Dash & Go! only lasting from 2011 to 2013.
Light novels have become very popular in Japan, and the publishing companies are constantly searching for new talent with annual contests, many of which earn the winner a cash prize and publication of their novel. The Dengeki Novel Prize is the largest, with over 2000 submissions annually. They are all clearly labeled as "light novels" and are published as low-priced paperbacks. In 2007 it was estimated (according to a web site funded by the Japanese government) that the market for light novels was about ¥20 billion ($166.7 million at ¥120 to the dollar) and about 30 million copies published annually. Kadokawa Group Holdings, which owns major labels like Kadokawa Sneaker Books and Dengeki Books, has a 70% to 80% share of the market.
There are currently many licensed English translations of Japanese light novels available. These have generally been published in the physical dimensions of standard mass market paperbacks or similar to manga tankōbon, but starting in April 2007, Seven Seas Entertainment was the first English publisher to print light novels in their original, Japanese format of 10.5 cm × 15 cm. Other English-language publishers that produce light novels are Tokyopop, Viz, DMP, Dark Horse, J-Novel Club, and Del Rey Manga.
Light novels are a kind of popular literature, read purely for entertainment by non-demanding audiences, so the writing style utilized in them is adequate, very different from the one used for adult fiction. They frequently have very short paragraphs, containing 1-3 sentences and are dialogue-heavy. Writers also restrain the role of form in the literary work in order to contain a maximum amount of pure, concrete content. Light novel authors use literary minimalism, mainly to increase reading speed, so they can be read at a pace only slightly lower than when reading manga.
Also, light novels introduced a new, original way to use furigana, which later spread onto other media such as visual novels. In the original Japanese light novels, furigana are not only used to show young readers who do not have a strong command of kanji, how some more complicated characters are read, like in shōnen manga. Many light novel writers prefer to give some kanji a completely new reading, usually of foreign descent (English terms or completely fictional, invented names for existing objects). This way authors utilize a certain property of kanji - unlike the letters of the Latin alphabet, each kanji is associated with not only its sound, but also the meaning. Some of this style may be lost in the process of translation.