Did you know that Maria-sama ga Miteru was originally a book — not a manga, but a primarily text filled book-book? No? Then how about Record of Lodoss War? Irresponsible Captain Tylor, perhaps? Probably not, because none of them have really been released in the US. There are a couple of reasons why Light Novels suffer this fate.
- When they are released in the US, they usually don't do so well compared to manga and anime. The few light novel releases that come to America often get cancelled after 3-6 volumes. Then again, even fan translations generally lose interest at that point.
- Many bookstores put light novels in the manga section, simultaneously driving away otaku who aren't interested in books and bookworms who aren't interested in manga. Even the English translations of the Spice and Wolf novels, which attempted to combat this by replacing the original manga-style cover with a more stereotypical one likely to draw in fantasy fans, are usually put in the manga section.
- Light Novels released as tie-ins to existing manga often are at a lower reading level and are more wholesome than the source material, making them uninteresting for some manga readers (such as the Fullmetal Alchemist and D.Gray-Man light novels). This possibly is the result of the Japanese expected audience for a title. (Many anime series have a lower-age minimum for expected audience in Japan than in the States. For example, if a series' expected audience is 12 - 16 in the US, it may be rated for 8 - 18 in Japan. Sailor Moon did something like this).
- There's also the issue that translating a light novel is a lot more work than translating a manga, because pictures don't need to be translated. And manga makes it easy to divide up the work: one person can translate dialog, one can translate sound effects, one can arrange text into bubbles, etc. With a light novel, most of the work has to be done by one person to keep the result consistent, so it takes a lot longer.
- And to add insult to injury, anime adaptations of light novels almost never adapt the full series, usually stopping after the first few books. Want to see how much further the characters change and grow? Want to see what other adventures they go on? Want to find out how the engrossing Myth Arc is resolved? Well, sucks to be you.
- Oddly enough Japanese novels with a higher difficulty level are not affected by this. Probably because those end up being sold in an actual library. One wonders though if they get a release outside of Japan and Western Europe though.
- Dragon Magazine (not that one) is a potential kick in the crotch for an anime fan who wants to read the source material, as a lot of the light novel originated anime come from here: Sorcerer Stabber Orphen, Slayers, Slayers x Orphen (bet when Orphen was compared to Slayers in its western release, no one thought they came from the same place), Full Metal Panic!, Maburaho, Scrapped Princess and Kaze no Stigma are the notable ones. It also printed the Chrono Crusade manga. Out of those, which one got a complete western release? Chrono Crusade, because it's a manga. Crotch hurting yet?
- Eight Slayers books have been released in the states so far... out of fifteen.
- Tokyopop licensed the first two volumes of Good Witch Of The West and the first five volumes of Full Metal Panic! (with volumes four and five being released as a single volume). It sat on the former series for ten years, and there was a two year wait between the third and fourth volumes of the latter series. And then Tokyopop went out of business, meaning that all their series are dead in the water until further notice.
- Viz Media released the first two volumes of Shakugan no Shana. Then they quietly dropped the series.
- At first it looked like the Kara no Kyoukai light novels were going to get released in the United States.That was in 2008. Fans will have to be content with a $400 box set with no dub that reduces a lot of the plot of some chaptersnote . To add insult to injury, the announcement that the light novels had been licensed stopped the intial fan translation.
- Vampire Hunter D appears it may avert this...but its translations have become more garbled with each new release.
The big Light Novel push of 2013-2015
In 2013 Yen Press released the currently final volume of Haruhi Suzumiya, and announced that it had licensed Sword Art Online and Accel World. Then in 2014 Yen Press revealed that they were creating a new publisher imprint called Yen On, which exclusively publishes light novels. (Sword Art Online and Accel World were a "soft launch" for the imprint). One of the first series to be published by Yen On was A Certain Magical Index, something that no-one ever thought would come to America in light novel form. Even more series were announced in 2015, including Durarara!!. Yen Press has also stated that Sword Art Online was more successful than they expected, and so they will release even more light novels than they originally planned.
Not to be outdone, in 2015 Vertical announced they had also licensed several light novels, including Kizumonogatari.
Clearly, there is a big attempt to push Japanese light novels into the American marketplace. Even Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, a Massive Multiplayer Crossover made up of light novel characters, was announced for an American release in 2015. (It's probably no coincidence that several characters in the game appear in the light novels picked up by Yen Press). Whether the push is successful remains to be seen...