Why do Light Novels Have Such Ridiculously long titles, isn’t it kind of hard to remember and not really catchy marketing or maybe it’s a language thing and they’re shorter in Japanese?

This is a repost that was originally published on 100 Word Anime. 

First of all, no… I looked it up and the titles are just as long in the original Japanese language….

If you’ve been an otaku for a while, you’ve probably come across manga’s wordier cousin, light novels. These are essentially young adult or youth-targeted novels that may feature a few illustrations and have gotten a reputation for having unwieldy titles. The trope is so common that it’s become a running joke within fan communities.

Personally, I have always liked the trend, but I started to wonder why it’s so prevalent. As my own post title mentions, there are drawbacks to naming your series in such a way that most people can’t remember it and it takes 15 minutes to type out whenever you want to talk about it. Traditional advertising wisdom goes completely against it. You’re supposed to pick names that are snappy, catchy and short. Preferably one word!

Turns out, it’s not just a weird cultural flight of fancy. There are in fact very specific reasons for this tendency. Down to earth, business-oriented reasons at that!

anime-business
magical!

In short, you can think of it as an analogue version of cramming all the potentially relevant tags in your posts. In Japan, the light novel market is both wide-ranging and potentially very lucrative and also very crowded. Moreover, like a lot of popular media these days, it tends to get dominated by whatever tropes happen to be popular at the moment. When you need to make your work stand out and grab readers somehow, one of the quickest ways is to put the right hashtags in.

That’s essentially what those titles are trying to do. Put in enough information to grab all the angles that could potentially draw fans in. If you have a romance heavy action-adventure in a post-apocalyptic setting that features both zombies and cyborgs and some sexy times, all of that needs to be reflected in your title.

It also serves as what boils down to a one-sentence plot synopsis. The idea is that your average fan scanning through hundreds of titles at the local book store won’t have the time or motivation to pick up individual books and read the back, they have to be interested in the story just by the title on the spine.

Also, light novels are usually printed fairly cheaply. You can’t count on gorgeous dust jackets and beautiful bound hardcovers to draw the eye. That title is your entire sales pitch. When you think of it that way it starts to make some sense.

Confused+Anime+Girl

 

my confused girls are invading Karandi’s blog

On a more esoteric level, I saw several arguments that boil down to “nerds are wordy”. More specifically hardcore manga and anime fans, which also happen to be the target demographic for light novels, (and chuunis) have a tendency to use really long sentences and pepper their speech with lots of adjectives. Hmmm…. Why does this sound kind of familiar…I wonder…

So those titles could also be considered a publisher’s attempt at teenspeak or something like that. How do you do, fellow kids? 

fellow kids

I’m not so sure about that second reasoning but it doesn’t really matter. To me, the business/marketing angle is more than enough to justify the titles. And I have to say, I’ve seen a similar trend with my posts since I started this blog. Sure, short obscure titles may pique people’s curiosity, but you need to give them enough info if you really want them to click on your post. And I’m just trying to convince people to look over a few paragraphs of randomness for free. I’m not selling an entire novel. My most successful posts, in terms of views and interaction, have always had clear titles that spell out the content of the article.

But is it really worth the drawbacks, I hope you’re asking yourself cause that’s what I’m going to address now?  And to this I say, what drawbacks? 

For those of you that don’t know, I write my posts while I commute to and from work. Some of my long-time readers may be a little worried right now that I am making my way to work completely sloshed. But no! Entirely sober, I promise.

Yes, the downsides of the protracted title that I mention above do still apply. However, the light novel industry has a very easy and organic way to get around them. Mainly, we fans shorten everything. We give our beloved ships cutesy little compound names. Our favourite characters have their monikers reduced to a syllable or two at most and endless light novel titles will usually get their own nicknames as soon as they gain any level of popularity. KonoSuba, DanMachi, you get the idea. Having that cute little handle makes a series even cooler. That way you know who the real fans are, and everyone wants to be a real fan!

DanMachi Bell and Hestia

 

I know I could find DanMachi pics here!

So, there you go. Sadly, it’s not some shadowy conspiracy to impose the Japanese language on the world by forcing fans to learn all of it in order to name their favourite light novel series. Before I leave you, here are a few light novel titles I came across while researching this post, that I particularly like:

  • I Leveled Up Through Parasitism But I Might’ve Gone Too Far
  • I’m Bad at Communication, But I Maxed Out My Negotiation Skills So I Got Reincarnated
  • They Say You Can’t Get Reincarnated in a Fantasy World If You Get Hit by a Truck, So I Decided to Work with a Pretty Girl
  • What If the Guy in the Village Before the Final Dungeon Lived in the Starting Town?
  • Do You Like Your Mom? Her Normal Attack is Two Attacks at Full Power
  • I’ve Been Reborn as an Aristocratic Pig, So This Time I Want to Tell You I Like You
  • Will You Like Me If I’m Cute But Slutty?
  • Sew It Up! Take It Off? Change!! My Girlfriend Failed Her High School Debut and Became a Hikikomori, So I Decided to Coordinate Her Youth (Fashion)

To name just a few, light novel titles are hilarious!!! I have to say, I think there’s really something to the strategy. Just by reading through the titles, there are at least a dozen series I’m now interested in!

Do you have a favourite light novel title? Please share it. I think I want to start a collection!

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

13 Responses

  1. foovay says:

    I suspected it was the marketing thing. I know Amazon suggests to their Kindle writers to get all the keywords you can into the title as their search engine gloms onto that first priority, but I don’t know how much of the LN market really goes through Amazon so I wasn’t sure. It seems like an online strategy – but I also get the words on the spine thing. Bookstores here are really searching for ways to help people find what they want and buy, please, buy a physical book (they are starting to sound a little desperate) and that’s a good idea since there are so many books to choose from and most of them are shelved in such a way you don’t see the cover illustration and even I get blurb fatigue when looking for a book in the store. Thanks for yet another interesting and well researched article!

  2. Shoujo says:

    “They Say You Can’t Get Reincarnated in a Fantasy World If You Get Hit by a Truck, So I Decided to Work with a Pretty Girl” had me ROFL!! (≧∀≦) This post was so fun lol

  3. negativeprimes says:

    Thank you for the fascinating article! As someone who worked in publishing for a long time, up until last month, I can confirm that there is a need to get key words on the spine, and hence in the title or subtitle.

    Or there was, until the publishing industry caught up to the internet. All that information can now go in the book’s metadata, where it can easily help potential readers find the book while freeing up the title. Also, readers are far more likely to find a book browsing online rather than looking at a shelf in a bookstore. So putting keywords in the title is a lot less critical these days.

    It sounds to me like Japan’s LN publishing industry might be a bit behind the English-speaking pub world, or else that the Japanese market is just different and still has a sizeable bookstore market.

    • Irina says:

      From the little I have read, the Japanese market is very different. Multinationals have to adjust their marketing considerably to break through in Japan but once they figure it out, it’s fair;y formulaic. I found an article where fast food chains were comparing how differently they needed to approach Japan from other countries and it was really interesting.

  4. You have it right, it’s mostly for marketing reasons.

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    I’m not really knowledgable about light novels, so I have no idea how far back the long-title trend goes there, but I noticed it exploding after Ore no Imotou ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (OreImo) became a hit. Interestingly, I think the next long title (or one following closely behind) I remember was an anime original: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Name o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (Anohana). Others around the time were Oregairu and Watamote (I’m not going to write out the full titles).

    I don’t really buy tag-worthiness as an explanation for the long titles, since for the most part not many of the words are actually tag-worthy. In OreImo, the only tag-worthy word is “imouto” (and maybe to a lesser extent “kawaii”). The titles don’t get long because people cram as much tag-worthy content in. They get long because they simulate someone talking to you (lots of them are first person accounts; definitely all of the example I gave, but also definitely not all of the examples you gave). I think it just caught on at some point and has become a convention. I do think OreImo was one of the first to spread that virus to anime.

    If I had to guess, long titles in isolation get accepted because they stand out just because they’re long, and when one of them gets a hit, then you’ll find many imitators, each with other ideas of what makes a good long title.

    I think I’ve once seen a youtube video to the effect of “light novel title: real or fake?” I’m not often on youtube so I don’t remember who or when, but it was a fun guessing game.

    Also, two of your sample titles have anime, one of which is airing this season, though they’ve been translated slightly differently:

    “Do you Love your mum and her two-hit multi-target attacks?” and “Suppse a Kid From the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town”

  6. Isok says:

    Interesting idea that the titles are a collection of hashtags! Never thought of that.

    One other reason I’ve heard is that with the long title, you basically force the fans to call by a nickname and thus increase the emotional bond between them and the series.

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