When you think of light novel genres, you probably think of fantasy and isekai stories. Maybe a supernatural or mystery title appears here and there. Romance light novels, on the other hand, might not immediately come to mind. But if you stop to think about it, romance pervades many light novel plot lines. Sometimes, it lingers in the background but often times, it’s a major subplot. After all, while the mention of Sword Art Online makes many light novel readers grimace, we can’t pretend that the relationship between Kirito and Asuna isn’t a major component of the series.
That said, it’s rare for romance light novels to sole focus on romance. They usually fall into other genres too — especially fantasy. Fantasy, and its sub-genres like the ever-present isekai, is the most popular light novel genre currently. There’s no escaping it. But as the North American manga market — of which light novels are a part — continues to grow, we can expect to see more titles translated into English. And with that continued expansion, we can hope for more variety — even within genres that seem glutted and worn out like isekai, as you’ll soon see.
Start With These Romance Light Novels
Toradora by Yuyuko Takemiya
Toradora is one of the best completed romance light novels out there. Romance readers will immediately latch onto the classic tropes. Taiga is the epitome of little but fierce. Ryuji looks like a delinquent but is gentle at heart. Taiga likes Ryuji’s best friend. Ryuji has a crush on Taiga’s best friend. The two decide to help each other out, but love likes to surprise everyone.
I’m in Love With the Villainess by Inori
One great thing about the modern light novel market is how many of them feature queer romances — more specifically, yuri. Does I’m in Love with the Villainess fall into the isekai genre? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. An overworked office worker reincarnates into her favorite dating sim as its heroine. But instead of pursuing any of the game’s original male love interests, she opts to romance the female villain.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight by Riku Misora
In an alternate Earth, people called Blazers have supernatural abilities, including the ability to manifest weapons as an extension of their souls. Ikki comes from the distinguished Kurogane family. Too bad he’s considered low-rank and weak. By contrast, European princess Stella is widely considered to be a prodigy. When Stella transfers to Ikki’s school, she’s assigned to be his new roommate. Of course, this leads to Ikki walking in on his new roommate while she’s changing. Enraged, Stella challenges him to a duel on the condition that the loser must do anything the victor wants. The result seems obvious, but Ikki wins. And to his credit, he only wants them to be roommates who get along.
Tearmoon Empire by Nozomu Mochitsuki
Rather than an isekai story, Tearmoon Empire is a reincarnation story. Mia was the spoiled princess of an empire that underwent a revolution. Given that she represented everything the uprising hated, she met a bad end by guillotine. But Mia gets a second chance and wakes up to find herself a preteen again. Armed the knowledge of what happens to her in the future, she now works to avert that fate — by bolstering existing alliances, forging new relationships, and not being a terrible person in general. The young romance here is charming because instead of pursuing a perfect prince, Mia chooses to cultivate a relationship with the overlooked second prince of another kingdom.
Unnamed Memory by Kuji Furumiya
One of the first fantasy romance light novels to come to mind, Unnamed Memory follows a cursed prince who seeks help from a powerful witch. The romance that grows out of this premise may be expected. The mystery that comes attached to the witch? Less so.
Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura
All right, strap yourself in for some slow burn. And when I say slow burn, I mean slow burn. Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant who dreams of opening his own shop. Holo is the wolf deity he finds sleeping in his cart. Together, they travel the world! We’ve read romances between vampires and humans, but this is one between a human and an actual goddess — and all the complications that kind of relationship entails.
Full Metal Panic by Shouji Gatou
We see all sorts of meet-cutes in romance stories. This meet-cute involves a young man from a private military organization and the regular young woman he’s assigned to protect. Well, regular in the sense that Kaname is beautiful enough that everyone admires her but also forthright enough that no one wants to date her. She’s less average in the sense that she subconsciously has technologically advanced knowledge. Hence, the reason for Sousuke protecting her. What makes this bodyguard romance is that Sousuke protects Kaname from the organizations who want her for their own self-interests, but Kaname protects Sousuke from the harsh world of high school, which he obviously has no experience with.
The Emperor’s Lady-in-Waiting is Wanted as a Bride by Kanata Satsuki
Our heroine was once known as Qatora, an imperial knight who died while saving a noble. You’d think that’d be the end of it, but she is reincarnated as Lyse, a poor baron’s daughter from a neighboring country. Now, she serves as a lady-in-waiting in that country’s royal palace. But fate often throws life into chaos. In this case, Lyse is chosen to attend the visiting emperor — the very emperor she served in her previous life, in fact. And to complicate matters even more, one of the attending imperial knight recognizes her and wants to bring her home.
The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor by Yuruka Morisaki and Tsukito
Ebel is a count with a problem. He’s a werewolf and would like some clothes to wear after he transforms back to human form. This leads him to Rock’s shop. Rock, aka Roxy, dresses as a man to survive and doesn’t know what to make of this count who decides to court her. As with most books with genderbending premises, there are some questionable elements here, but The Werewolf Count and the Trickster Tailor does some interesting things with LGBTQ themes that you normally don’t see in light novels.
Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter by Reia and Hazuki Futaba
In this isekai romance light novel, an office lady dies and reincarnates as Iris, the villainess of the dating sim she’d been playing. Even worse, she incarnates at the exact moment that Iris’s fiancé rejects her in favor of the dating sim’s original heroine. Through some quick thinking, she manages to avoid Iris’s original fate — being sent to a nunnery — and returns to her home fief. There, she uses knowledge from her previous life to bring positive change, which of course puts her at odds with her ex-fiancé. So where’s the romance, you ask? Don’t worry. It’s not the ex-fiancé. However, it might be with a young man who works for Iris and who is far more than he claims to be.
As I mentioned, you will find lots of fantasy with your romance, but even within the genre many different approaches and premises exist. If you’d like to explore more light novels — romance light novels or otherwise — here’s a list of the best light novels and another of new light novels (and manga) to pick up.