Are you tired of reading the same old books? Maybe it’s time for you to try web novels! Most people are not aware of their existence. They are very similar to book novels, yet completely different. Therefore, I’m here to introduce you to the beautiful world of web novels.

As the name suggests, web novels are published online, instead of as a book. Anyone can be the author of a web novel—all they need is a website to publish their work. There are a few differences between a web novel and a book novel. Unlike the latter, the former is not yet complete when it’s published. Instead, it is released online chapter-by-chapter like a manga. The length of a chapter is also usually a lot shorter than a book novel’s, albeit having a lot more chapters than the latter. As a result, it takes longer to finish reading one—but this also gives you a reason to wait for each day’s update!

Web novels can be divided into three general categories, based on their country of origin: Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Although there are some web novels from other countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, etc., they are not as popular or mainstream. Each of the three countries listed has its own distinct style of writing their web novels. Of course, there are some works that do not conform to the usual style of their place of origin. In this article, I will discuss the main differences between each style and recommend some popular web novels from each one!

Korean web novels are very new compared to the other two, having only gained popularity around 2016-2017. Two of the earliest works in this language, which I think also catapulted Korean web novels to popularity, are “The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor” and “Ark“, which were released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. They are two of the earliest web novels to write about virtual reality games. The beginning portion of both works are very similar to each other (a practice common in web novels), but eventually, both took different paths in their stories. “Ark” has ended a long time ago and even had a sequel, while “The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor” continues to this day, albeit not as popular as in its heyday.

The influence of these two novels on Korean web novels, and even Japanese and Chinese web novels, is undeniable. Because of them, many Korean web novels have also adopted a “virtual reality game” concept or have incorporated game elements in the story. Some examples of “virtual reality” Korean web novels include “Overgeared“, “Emperor of Solo Play“, “Taming Master“, and “Praise the Orc”, while those with “game elements” are “Everyone Else Is A Returnee“, “Seoul Station’s Necromancer“, “The King of the Battlefield“, “Infinite Competitive Dungeon Society“, “Reincarnators“, “I Alone Level Up“, and “Dimensional Sovereign“.

The second set of web novels actually falls under another concept that rose to popularity among Korean web novels recently—the inter-dimensional concept. The web novel’s main character (or everyone on Earth) is either transported to another dimension or is given access to other dimensions. I do not know which web novel started the trend, but many of the current popular Korean web novels use this concept.

I started reading Korean web novels back in 2014. Although, the only available (popular) novels back then were “Ark” and “The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor“. I discovered the latter first, loved it, then tried other works similar to it—which is how I found out about the former. I can still remember the days when the list of popular web novels all originated from China and Japan and did not include any from Korea. However, the rankings now have a few from the latter at the top. While I experienced the sudden influx of inter-dimensional Korean web novels, I did not like them because they tend to introduce a ridiculously overcomplicated backstory as a lame excuse for the appearance of other dimensions. Usually, the writer will foreshadow it from the beginning of the story, but it doesn’t really give you any insights and will just make you feel annoyed instead of excited.

Japanese web novels have been around for quite some time, albeit under a different name—light novels. Although there are also some Japanese web novels, most of the time they are just the abridged versions of their light novel counterpart. The two are quite similar in that they are both published online, but unlike web novels, a light novel’s chapter is longer and the whole story revolves around a major central plot. It is composed of several volumes, with each one having around ten chapters and a distinct story arc. On the other hand, a web novel makes no distinction between story arcs, and it keeps on adding chapters to infinity and beyond. Its story arc will usually last from fifty to two hundred chapters—yes, you read that right—and is usually full of fillers with barely any major plot until much later in the story. A light novel revolves around a small number of characters and develops them thoroughly, while in web novels, many characters are one-dimensional and most of them will be gone after a few chapters. Hence, a light novel’s plot usually involves drama, with some heavy themes and characters dying, whereas web novels are very light-hearted and straightforward. If you prefer reading something that is plot-heavy, I suggest reading Japanese light novels over web novels.

Having been around for a long time, Japanese light novels have accumulated a variety of genres and cannot be simply grouped under one conceptual umbrella. If I were to identify the most popular type of Japanese light novels, it would undoubtedly be fantasy novels. This usually involves the main character reincarnating/transmigrating from the normal Earth into a parallel universe where magic is real. Examples of these novels are “Death March“, “The Time I Reincarnated Into A Slime“, “Mushoku Tensei“, and “Tate no Yuusha“. There is also another common concept, albeit less popular than the “reincarnation/transmigration” concept. In these stories, the main character gets stuck in a game and everything in it becomes “real” like “New Gate“, “Overlord“, and “Sword Art Online“. Out of all these examples, I would highly recommend “Mushoku Tensei“. I think many will agree that it is one of, if not the best Japanese light novel ever written.

I started reading Japanese web novels around 2013, a bit earlier than Korean web novels, after watching “High School DxD“. The anime left me hanging, so I went to read the light novel—the source material of the series—to know what happens next. To my surprise, the anime only covered up to the second volume (out of twelve at the time) of the light novel. Then I binged all the volumes and that is how I started reading Japanese light novels. To be honest, I have not read a lot of Japanese light novels because I am not very fond of them. Many times, the plot will take a drastic twist, either by killing one or several of the characters I’ve grown to like or by introducing heavy and dramatic topics. Ironically, I have only finished a handful of web/light novels in all my years of being a fan, and two of those—”Mushoku Tensei” and “Tate no Yuusha”—are Japanese light novels.

Lastly, Chinese web novels are the oldest type and are also the most numerous. There are three main categories of Chinese web novels: wuxia, xianxia, and xuanhuan. Wuxia web novels are about martial arts; xianxia web novels are the most popular type of Chinese web novels and are about cultivation and the teachings of Taoism; xuanhuan is the Chinese equivalent of fantasy novels (swords and magic). Of course, given that Chinese web novels are so prevalent, they also offer different types of web novels, some even similar to the style of other countries.

Regardless of the type of novel, what I love most about Chinese web novels is the humor. A common feature of these novels are the witty remarks made by the main protagonist that will certainly make you laugh. It is also common to have overpowered* main protagonists—some start as very weak but eventually grows to become extremely strong by the end.

The first Chinese web novel I ever read was around 2012. However, it was not one of the three main types of Chinese web novels. At that time, I had no interest in reading real Chinese web novels; I would only read comedies like “I’m Really A Superstar” and “Zhan Long“. It wasn’t until around 2015 that I went from a casual reader to an avid reader and started reading xianxa web novels. Personally, I have never read wuxia web novels and have only read a handful of xuanhuan web novels. I think you can enjoy Chinese web novels the most by reading xianxia novels.

If you’re looking for a deep plot, Chinese web novels have very few to offer. Most of the characters in the story are very one-dimensional and you’ll rarely see them again in later chapters. These web novels are meant to be enjoyed at the moment, to go on a journey with the protagonist, and to watch the character grow as if it were you. Unfortunately, most of these web novels are too long, so I have dropped many of them in the middle. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean they’re bad. In fact, I love reading Chinese web novels. My journey with their protagonists simply came to an end.

For recommendations, I can’t really give any as reading Chinese web novels is an acquired taste. However, once you fall in love with one, you will definitely like the others because many are cliché and contain some common tropes. Some web novels even bear a heavy resemblance to one another in the first few chapters. To get a feel of these stories, I suggest trying out works from popular authors like “I Eat Tomatoes” (“Coiling Dragon“, “Desolate Era“, “Swallowed Star“, etc.) and “Er Gen” (“I Shall Seal the Heavens“, “Renegade Immortal“, “A Will Eternal“, etc.). I also recommend reading the Chinese manhua version first, and if you like the premise, try out the web novel.

I find reading web novels fun because we learn a lot about the culture of these countries. This is, in fact, one of the major reasons why I am a big fan of Chinese web novels. Through web novels, I discovered things about different cultures and have found them very fascinating. This made me fall in love with their beliefs, traits, practices, principles, and many others. Most of all, it’s satisfying to watch the main character persevere through all difficulties and succeed in life and do things I can only dream about.

*Overpowered: terminology used in video gaming, where a person or group has become or is too powerful