On and off throughout the years I’ve kept a reading log, sometimes for my curiosity, and sometimes because my worryingly bad memory causes titles to slip from my brain. As 2023 draws to a close, I’ve read just over 50 light novels, so I thought I’d curate my Top 10, comprising both new releases and “new to me” light novels from 2023. If you haven’t gotten around to starting some of these series, then they might be a perfect addition to your own 2024 backlog!
Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Light Novels of 2023!
10. Sword Art Online: Progressive, Volume 1
This ‘remake’ light novel series by original Sword Art Online author Reki Kawahara serves as the basis for the two most recent Progressive films, Aria of a Starless Night and Scherzo of Deep Night. The general idea behind Progressive started as a floor-by-floor retelling of Sword Art Online‘s Aincrad arc, but has instead shifted into a canonical reboot of the Aincrad events, with character meetings happening at different times, brand-new characters and storylines occurring that are later referenced in Sword Art Online: Unital Ring, and our main characters Kirito and Asuna adventuring together on a closer, more personal level than the original novels suggested.
Despite some of these heavy-handed changes, I enjoyed the first volume Sword Art Online: Progressive, especially the nostalgia of (full)diving back into Aincrad all over again!
9. Goblin Slayer, Volume 1
Another “new to me” title on this list, I was completely ignorant of Goblin Slayer—in novel or anime format—beyond the controversy of the series opening episode/chapter. In truth, Goblin Slayer isn’t a macabre, depressing fantasy akin to Game of Thrones, but—as per author Kumo Kagyu’s own words—a “tabletop RPG” brought to life. Of course, that does nothing to lessen Goblin Slayer‘s brutally enjoyable violence as the titular main character carves his way through the villainous monsters with a murderous intent that concerns even his own party members.
And speaking of party members, the dynamics between the various side characters add a wholesome level of charm and comedy, really tying together the “TTRPG” adventure concept. Goblin Slayer, Volume 1 was a pleasant surprise in its willingness to deviate from the fantasy norm, and a nicely refreshing read.
8. The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Volume 5
One of the first entries on this list to be deeper into the series, The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Volume 5 represents a climactic reveal of lore and backstory, all painted against shifting agencies and high-stakes combat. Without spoiling anything for the anime-only watchers, the fifth volume takes the mysteries of the church to a whole new level, while intensifying the clashing emotions between time-traveling Akari and her supposed executioner, Menou.
Everything comes to a head in the holy lands of the church, where the world’s lore is laid bare in shocking detail, akin to the grand underlying plot of Fullmetal Alchemist, all while simultaneously evoking intense character emotions. The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Volume 5 is definitely a high water mark for the series, and a perfect example of what author Mato Sato is building with their series.
7. Date a Live, Volume 4 (Itsuka Sister)
Date a Live is something a guilty pleasure read for me—it is, after all, an undeniably dumb series (in a good way). The general premise revolves around one high school boy needing to woo a literal harem of otherworldly girls (Spirits) all vying for his attention, lest they run amok with their supernatural powers and destroy the world as we know it. And let’s not forget his classmate who’s somehow a military officer who wants to kill those Spirits, or the main character’s little sister, who heads up a secret battalion devoted to saving the Spirits instead. And yet—it all works seamlessly to produce a thoroughly enjoyable read that never fails to brighten my day.
The fourth volume, Itsuka Sister, places the focus squarely on said little sister, with some surprising tenderness and an extremely memorable battle sequence, managing to perfectly balance Date a Live’s comedic moments with genuine emotion and stakes. I might always be a Kurumi stan, but Kotori Itsuki will always have a special place in my heart.
6. Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter, Volume 1
Another series I picked up this year, Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter is a refreshing spin on the so-called “otome isekai” genre. After our main character, Iris, goes through the usual “engagement break up” event, she uses her knowledge of modern-day Japan to revitalize her father’s Duchy with some new-fashioned science. With her former skills as an accountant, she brings about double-entry bookkeeping, establishes public schooling, introduces cosmetics, and affirms herself as a powerful force within the kingdom.
Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter doesn’t miss a beat—from the supporting characters to Iris herself, down to some impressive historically-accurate details, the first volume is an engaging read, and quite frankly it’s a mystery why we don’t have an anime adaptation yet! A surprise announcement in 2024, I hope?
5. The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten, Volume 5
Entering the top half of my list is the most recent English-translated light novel of The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten. As anyone who watched the anime knows, this series is sugary-sweet, a complete and utter treat for the romantics-at-heart; a perfect middle-ground between the blind lust of shonen, and the angsty drama of shojo. As our characters, Mahiru and Amane, entwine their daily lives ever-tighter, you might assume the series would want to draw their relationship out, perhaps with a few misunderstanding tropes or additional love rivals.
Which is the very reason why Volume 5 earns its place on my list—it progresses our couple’s relationship into a firmly “confirmed” status. Forget stepping around the issue for another ten volumes like every other series; there’s no fake confession ruined by fireworks or a train; this a bonafide, honest-to-God romance, closer to Horimiya than anything else. An oasis in a desert for the romance-starved—and we’d expect nothing less from The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten.