How to Identify Good Novels

Hi guys! Today I'll be discussing the categories of light novels. We all know about xianxia and wuxia, but some might notice the difference between the quality of these LNs. Why and how do they differ from one another in terms of style, entertainment quality, and plot? Knowing this may be important and can affect how you identify/select high-quality LNs that will be translated in the future.

One of the reasons for their difference is because they vary in genre/category. There are a countless number of major/minor genres that are available thanks to the authors. For example, infinite, xuanhuan, VR, and the ones mentioned above. For the sake of simplicity, I will organize them into 3 categories.

1. Simple Light Novels (SLNs)


The SLN category is the mainstream of LNs. One of the reasons why they are so popular is because it grabs the reader's attention and satisfies them quickly; it makes MONEY quickly. Therefore, authors that want to get rich quick would write these novels, and the fact that SLNs are repetitive in terms of settings and plot means that all the SLNs look like duplicates of one story with some variations in between. It gets boring after a while. However, do not be ashamed if you like these novels, they are, quite frankly, satisfying to read and have a high entertainment value.

How to identify SLNs:

For SLNs, the plot generally follows this: Encounters bad guy → Bad guy somehow dislike MC and wants to kill MC → MC too weak to challenge him/her → Lucky encounter, MC stronger → Challenges bad guy → Kills him/her → Encounters bad guy → MC too weak to challenge him/her..... etc. This trend will continue until the MC becomes the strongest on the "map", meaning that he is the strongest in this or that realm or whatever. After this, the author will 100% decide to change the "map", meaning the MC will go to another dimension, where the MC will encounter more bad guys. Of course, the author will add spices. For instance, auctions, the supposed "face-slapping", girls, revenge, and funny dialogues. SLN characters are often one dimensional, have negative IQ (except for MC who has IQ of 1), contradictive characters, same plot over and over again, stable characters that do not develop from the beginning to end, characters underestimating MC, and the MC being the only one that gets the good stuff. BTTH, WDQK, SOTR, IGE, and ATG are all examples of SLNs. 

2. More complex Light Novels (MCLNs)

This title might not be the most creative, but then again, for the sake of simplicity. MCLNs are created for authors that truly dedicate themselves to the novel writing. The MCLNs often progress at a slower pace, and are unique amongst another.

How to identify MCLNs:

I have to get this straight: MCLNs DO NOT follow the SLN plot mentioned earlier but it does have a SIMILAR plot. What does this mean? It means that MCLNs are similar to SLNs in terms of plot - without all the crazy and stupid stuff. Because without this SLN plot, how is the MC going to progress and how will the story attract readers? MCLNs do the plot in a more logical way. There are realistic, 3-D characters, the story progresses at a slower pace, the story might have literary elements added, such as suspense, dramatic irony, etc. The characters actually develop or remain the same without their personality diverting from when they were originally introduced (no contradictive characters). The story also brings new concepts to the world of LNs. Examples of MCLNs can be: WMW, ISSTH, TI, and RMJI, which can be recognized as a classic (3rd category).

3. Classics

There is no real definition for this category; everyone recognizes their own classic. Yes, I have said previously RMJI could be treated like a classic since it is groundbreaking and made the author famous and rich. To exaggerate a bit, even BTTH can be a classic. This is the LN that made the author famous. Again, no real definition is given for this category. You can define your own classic. At the end, I do want to introduce some rock solid LNs that are commonly recognized as classics. The works of Jin Yong, Gu Long, and Huang Yi (together makes JGH) are all classics of the 20th century. Some of these LNs can be found on WW and Novel Update. Just search their names (though their work has not been fully uploaded to these websites). 


Some LN recommendations:
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/pursuit-of-the-truth/  (do I have to say anything?)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/pivot-of-the-sky/     (brand new ideas from famous author)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/release-that-witch/  (Haven't read it but heard it's pretty good though)
http://www.wuxiaworld.com/rmji-index/   (Way too underrated)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/the-ultimate-evolution/  (Just like Terror Infinity but polished)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/death-sutra/  (Wuxia evolved)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/purple-river/  (Yes! It's finally here!)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/great-dao-commander/  (Quite different)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/cultivation-chat-group/  (Comedy)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/throne-of-magical-arcana/  (WHY IS THIS SO UNDERRATED)
http://www.novelupdates.com/series/worthy-of-respect-in-one-age/  (Established new genre)

Comments

  • Interesting links, thanks!

    I believe your analysis of the first category is spot on (fast gratification, simple, formulaic, repetitive). However, I wouldn't say that those are bad. That can be enough to carry a story, and be entertaining. I'd compare them to fast food - good enough for a quick fix, but if you try to subsist on just that for the long term, you'll be less happy than you'd be on a more balanced diet.

    The classics category is ok, as well. 

    But the more complex category doesn't really work IMO. You have the formulaic novels, and then you put everything else into a second category. It's too big to be useful, and there could be writers who do the formulaic thing but make it super enjoyable. I'd contrast them with the Western fantasy author David Eddings. His books are so formulaic he basically reuses his characters, and they were simple archetypes to begin with. Even so, the books are enjoyable, a good romp. Or, the summer action flick. Very formulaic, but that's the point. 

    There's no single thing that separates bad from good, and no single way for a novel to be a good one. A 'more complex' category just doesn't describe the variations well enough.

    I think it'd be better to describe the positive attributes in more detail, to e g. describe how to recognise three dimensional characters, character develipment, world building etc.

    I feel like WMW is very much a formulaic novel, it fits the way you described  simple light novels to a T. Fortunate encounters, more power, enemies, girls, MC becomes strong, finds new realm, repeat. What do you think raises it above the base fare? I like the novel too, I'm just not sure what you think are its differences. Leylin having to run sometimes? Slightly different world/setting? 
  • Endoperez said:
    Interesting links, thanks!

    I believe your analysis of the first category is spot on (fast gratification, simple, formulaic, repetitive). However, I wouldn't say that those are bad. That can be enough to carry a story, and be entertaining. I'd compare them to fast food - good enough for a quick fix, but if you try to subsist on just that for the long term, you'll be less happy than you'd be on a more balanced diet.

    The classics category is ok, as well. 

    But the more complex category doesn't really work IMO. You have the formulaic novels, and then you put everything else into a second category. It's too big to be useful, and there could be writers who do the formulaic thing but make it super enjoyable. I'd contrast them with the Western fantasy author David Eddings. His books are so formulaic he basically reuses his characters, and they were simple archetypes to begin with. Even so, the books are enjoyable, a good romp. Or, the summer action flick. Very formulaic, but that's the point. 

    There's no single thing that separates bad from good, and no single way for a novel to be a good one. A 'more complex' category just doesn't describe the variations well enough.

    I think it'd be better to describe the positive attributes in more detail, to e g. describe how to recognise three dimensional characters, character develipment, world building etc.

    I feel like WMW is very much a formulaic novel, it fits the way you described  simple light novels to a T. Fortunate encounters, more power, enemies, girls, MC becomes strong, finds new realm, repeat. What do you think raises it above the base fare? I like the novel too, I'm just not sure what you think are its differences. Leylin having to run sometimes? Slightly different world/setting? 
    Hello Endoperez, and than you for supporting my discussion! I agree with you on the points you've mentioned and I would want to fix some of the things in the disscusion (I wrote this within two hours so it is not of good quality), and unfortunately, I can't right now, cuz, procrastination... 

    I feel that WMW is somewhat of a MCLN, or at least in between the SLNs and MCLNs. The MC sort of use his brains, and antagonists are not so naive. In addition to that, the MC is different from MCs of novels such as BTTH; the MC is evil (at least compared to other MCs), so WMW might not be a complete SLN. 

    Lastly, I want to introduce http://forum.wuxiaworld.com/discussion/8790/the-history-of-web-novels-by-chu-de-lai-translated-and-edited-by-forty-two . You can tell from the URL that it is another discussion that I started :smile: . If you're interested with why LNs are like this now, then this page is a good one to see.

  • Surely just changing a few things around isn't enough to make a simple novel complex?

    WMW's protagonist is evil, but not to an extent where it has a major influence on the plot. He is selfish, and driven by selfish goals, but his evilness is mostly portrayed as him not being a perfectly altruistic protagonist and in him sometimes doing questionable things to side characters.

    I'd argue that the protagonist of Martial God Asura is about as evil as Leylin. Both do petty, evil things and don't care.

    I also have a hard time calling Leylin intelligent. It's an informed ability. We're told he's smart. Then he does something, and we're told it works because AI chip. 

    Upgrade Specialist in Another World has a protagonist who actually is closer to an actual scientist. Leylin gets a potion recipe fragment, waits half an arc, and then has the whole thing, out of empty air. In USAW, Bai Yunfei actually makes premises and theories based on the information available to him. USAW also handles statistics better. WMW constantly has the AI chip say it has analysed e.g. 7% of something after getting a fragment of something - how does it know that it's missing 93 %, when it doesn't know how much it's missing?

    If there is a difference in WMW, I guess it'd be that part of the story is spent on observing the world, instead of reacting to it with highest possible amount of power. The way Leylin reacts to the world and the way the world reacts to him are what makes WMW different, I think.
  • I have to add one thing, now. 

    Wow, those simple light noves can be incredibly repetitive at their simplest. I looked a bit into Library of Heaven's Path or whatever, and in 2 days the MC got from 3rd major level to 6th, his power increased 100+ times, his money went from 8 to 150000 gold pieces, he healed the mysterious illnesses of 2 rich noble beauties... and the story claims he's holding low profile.

    Sheesh.
  • Hello.

    I have read Tales of Demons and Gods & Martial God Asura. Reading them feels like playing an offline game. It's interesting at first, but all the favors the Authors granted their MCs make the novels boring after a while.

    Is there a good novel, in which there is no real MC but multiple characters compete for power, or MC is just an ordinary person who happens to witness the power struggle?

    Thanks in advance.
  • Regular Mortal's Journey to Immortality has a slower pace. The MC is still a cultivator, but he is low on the ranks and at best he reacts to the power struggles, instead of influencing them.

    World of Cultivation at Dreams of Jianghu follows a young fool with little talent in sword cultivation. He makes do with other things - using spells to grow herbs, making formations to trap his enemies or hide from them, etc. During the story, he grows in two ways - first, he becomes an OP main character who beats his enemies etc. Second, he finds friends and a rag-tag team of helpers, and accidentally founds a sect. The parts I most enjoy in the novel are the parts that focus on MC when he is weak, or his allies trying to help him. The fights - meh, they're the typical fare, especially later on. Unsuspecting enemy trying to bully a guy who just made a city-sized formation on top of a volcano or something, though... :P Plus the characterisation is hilarious at its best!

    Way of Choices over at Gravity Tales contains the usual elements (low power, misunderstood main character with a secret, hidden potential, quick rise, etc etc) - but done in a more complex way. It is slow-paced, even philosophical. The translation is also excellent. However, it also feels like reading a tragedy - it's about small choices which end up creating big changes, and one of the themes seems to be that the protagonist also makes some bad ones. I've taken a break, even though it's one of the better Chinese web novels I've seen so far.

    I've ended up enjoying Upgrade Specialist in Another World quite a bit. The MC has an op secret and learns very good combat skills, but he's honest and down-to-earth. It's refreshing to see someone who's a nice person as a protagonist.

    Also, give a try to the suggestions in the original post. 

    Hmm, and actually some of the novels for women are quite close to ordinary woman (from earth, reincarnated) just witnessing a power struggle (and falling in love with one of the powerful men in that struggle). 
    Some stories are about the female MC being assassin / alchemist / poison master / hidden expert, etc, and are quite similar to the stories of OP male leads. Others give the MC a modern skill that makes them special but not powerful. Maybe give A Mistaken Marriage Match: Record of Washed Grievances a try? It's more historical than a typical cultivation-type novel, but when the MC can't fight any way, it doesn't really matter that much. 
  • Way of Choices is the one I'm looking for. Thank you very much :)
  • edited September 2017
    Endoperez said:
    I have to add one thing, now. 

    Wow, those simple light noves can be incredibly repetitive at their simplest. I looked a bit into Library of Heaven's Path or whatever, and in 2 days the MC got from 3rd major level to 6th, his power increased 100+ times, his money went from 8 to 150000 gold pieces, he healed the mysterious illnesses of 2 rich noble beauties... and the story claims he's holding low profile.

    Sheesh.
    I read the raws up to 600~, its the most repetitive story ever. I can't even begin to describe, it's at the very least on the same level as PMG, and loaded with plot holes.  But there are some enjoyable parts.
  • Endoperez said:
    Surely just changing a few things around isn't enough to make a simple novel complex?

    WMW's protagonist is evil, but not to an extent where it has a major influence on the plot. He is selfish, and driven by selfish goals, but his evilness is mostly portrayed as him not being a perfectly altruistic protagonist and in him sometimes doing questionable things to side characters.

    I'd argue that the protagonist of Martial God Asura is about as evil as Leylin. Both do petty, evil things and don't care.

    I also have a hard time calling Leylin intelligent. It's an informed ability. We're told he's smart. Then he does something, and we're told it works because AI chip. 

    Upgrade Specialist in Another World has a protagonist who actually is closer to an actual scientist. Leylin gets a potion recipe fragment, waits half an arc, and then has the whole thing, out of empty air. In USAW, Bai Yunfei actually makes premises and theories based on the information available to him. USAW also handles statistics better. WMW constantly has the AI chip say it has analysed e.g. 7% of something after getting a fragment of something - how does it know that it's missing 93 %, when it doesn't know how much it's missing?

    If there is a difference in WMW, I guess it'd be that part of the story is spent on observing the world, instead of reacting to it with highest possible amount of power. The way Leylin reacts to the world and the way the world reacts to him are what makes WMW different, I think.
    True. Thanks for replying!

  • A good novel not based on plot well in my mind a good novel like when you eat you feel full,happy and satisfied, like me I like ED because the mc was so OP this is OP genre and here we go my friend said it was trash because the plot were obvious, Mc meet enemy>kill but so what it bring me joy.but my friend like issth well in this case issth is trash in my eyes,Mc struggle from the weak when in the late chapters became so strong to the point he kill his enemies with one move,I'd like watch mc kill his enemy with one move from the start, not to mention no harem, so I mean there is taste and it was the only thing you Identify a good novel, But it's my thoughts and you have yours so I'm just sharing here tho 
  • Ah and what do you think about ED? Which category did it stand in your opinion? 
  • Way of Choices was promising, but frustrating in the end.
    I hoped for somebody to finally kick Chen Changsheng in the ball while he was holding his sword horizontally before his eyebrows. That would look truly Stupid. However, neither Nero nor Shang Xingzhou did :/

    So any better novel out there, please?
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