You may be reading this page and be wondering "What is a visual novel?"

Well, visual novels are games where there is actually little to no gameplay. Instead, most of the "gameplay" is simply reading through lines of text with still images in the background... almost like a novel!

Visual novels tend to get some flak for being treated as video games despite having no gameplay, but a bunch of them have great stories that make up for the lack of gameplay. This list will cover some of these.

The vast majority of visual novels have choices similar to choices you would find in a Choose Your Adventure book. These choices can either alter minor dialogue or vastly change the ending depending on the choice and the visual novel.

Most visual novels have some romance even if it isn't necessarily an important part of the main plot. Most also have "routes" which are entered based on some of the choices you have picked and have different story elements and endings.

For people who want to reread certain parts of a visual novel or want to read every route or choice, most visual novels have some sort of "Skip text you’ve already read" feature, which will help you get to the parts you want to read quicker.

Most visual novels have some bad pornographic scenes (which I will refer to as "H scenes"), but thankfully they're short and you can skip them easily.

Besides the above mentioned, pretty much every visual novel has elements of a typical video game such as background music and a save/load feature.

This list has 10 visual novels that I think are worth giving a shot. I tried to cover as many possible story genres as I could.

Keep in mind that all these visual novels are made in Japan, and have plots/characters that are similar to ones you’d find in anime.

"It's useless! It's all useless!"

Genres: Mystery? Fantasy? A battle of wits!
H scenes?: No
Length: There are Eight "Episodes", each are about 7-10 hours each. Almost 50 hours total combined.

Umineko no Naku Koro ni has quite the premise. 18 members of the rich Ushiromiya family meet up on an island called Rokkenjima to discuss what will happen to patriarch Kinzo's inheritance once he passes away. In the middle of these arguments, a typhoon traps all 18 people Rokkenjima and the family finds a mysterious letter from someone called "Beatrice".

This letter supposedly claims that unless someone solves the riddle of the epitaph on her portrait before midnight on October 6th and becomes the family successor, Beatrice will claim everything that the family owns, including the ten tons of gold that Kinzo claims will be given to the successor. This only fuels arguments even more but then mysterious murders start to happen.

...And that's just the synopsis for the first 1/8 of the whole series.

The main character, Battler Ushiromiya tries to figure out who the mysterious murderer (or murderers) are but at the same time he has to argue with Beatrice to prove that the killings weren't done by "magic" or witches. This presents a problem for Battler as he does not want to directly accuse any of his fellow members.

Beatrice uses her powers to show Battler different scenarios of the Rokkenjima incident that all eventually end up in the same way as the first time in order to help Battler but to also treat it as a game to alleviate her endless boredom.

Umineko no Naku Koro ni is divided into 8 "episodes" or story arcs between it and Umineko Chiru. The story of Episode 1 is considered very slow among and doesn't start to get eventful until DINNER TIME of said episode. From there most fans start to really love the series.

Umineko is unlike many visual novels in that it has no H scenes or routes. The whole story is extremely linear, and can be read almost like a typical mystery novel, except that there's (possibly) magic involved.

There aren't any choices until Episode 8, and there are only 2 very major ones but they are still important in deciding which ending you get.

Umineko is well-known for having very large amount of characters. Along with the 18 people trapped on the island in Episode 1, there are at least 2-3 characters introduced every episode. There are a bunch of throwaway characters, but for the most part almost every character has a decent role in the main plot.

The character designs are very hit-or-miss to most first time readers, try not to let them affect your opinion on the story as a whole, it ends up being worth it for the most part.

In terms of episode quality there is no universally-accepted "best" and "worst" episode in the series. Some people don't mind the slow pace of Episode 1, some really like Episode 5, Episode 2 can be seen as the best by some people, and Episode 6 the worst.

The one thing that's almost universally loved about this Umineko is it's music. There are a ton of composers who did this visual novel, and there are plenty of very popular songs that are listened to even outside of the game such as: worldendomaintor, hope, Life, Dread of the Grave and dreamenddischarger.

Umineko isn't without faults though. There are plenty of times (not just in Episode 1) where the plot is slow-paced at times, especially with certain flashbacks. The overall ending of the series is somewhat controversial.

Umineko is considered a very entertaining classic by many, so if any of what I said sounded appealing to you, you should check it out.

"Come, lovely child! Oh come thou with me! For many a game I will play there with thee!"

Genres: Thriller, Drama
H scenes?: Yes
Length: 15 hours if you do just the main story. 25 hours if you do every route.

Kyousuke Azai is considered by most people a nice and sociable high school student. However, he's secretly a highly intelligent and ruthless businessman who works for his adoptive father, Gonzou Azai who happens to be a yakuza leader.

The main plot has 5 chapters and they revolve around Kyousuke and main female, Haru Usami trying to capture Maou, a man who commits a lot of crimes and also shares a deep history with Haru herself.

I can't say too much more about the plot, but it has a lot of very interesting twists and turns, you'll constantly be on the edge of your seat and constantly guessing what crazy event Maou will pull off next. Just keep in mind that Chapter 1 has very little of Maou, and most of his schemes are in Chapter 2-5.

The majority of the characters in this visual novel are quite good and most contribute to both comedic and serious moments of the visual novel very well.

Even though this visual novel has routes, they work a bit differently than other visual novels. These routes are more like side stories that get off tangent from the main plot and are therefore considered "non-canon" with Kyousuke getting with one of 3 girls: Tsubaki, Kanon or Mizuha.

Even so, these routes are my character-oriented, with the girl you have chosen getting a decent amount of development in the end. The routes are slower-paced than the main plot, however and you can skip them if you really want to.

One of the cooler things is that G-senjou's BGM consists of a whole bunch of remixes of classical music, which is symbolic of Kyousuke's love of it. For example, the title screen song is a remix of Bach's "Air on G String". There may be a few other songs you recognize throughout the visual novel if you're a fan of classical music.

Give G-senjou a shot if the premise of the main plot sounds interesting to you and/or if you're interested in seeing some decent character development of the main female cast.

"People die when they are killed."

Genres: Action
H scenes: Yes
Length: About 40-45 hours.

Fate/Stay Night's plot is centered around a contest of sorts called the "Holy Grail War" to see who can win the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail can grant a person's wish, even one that can transcend time. There are 7 contestants, each of them get a "Servant" with some kinds of unique powers to assist them. The different Servant classes are: Saber, Archer, Lancer, Caster, Rider, Berserker, Assassin and each is based on an ancient hero such as King Arthur. However, even if you get the most powerful servant it is not wise to simply go out in the open with your powerful Servant running amok wrecking chaos where everyone in town can see.

Based on that premise, you can guess there will be quite a bit of action and this visual novel does not disappoint in that regard.

A good amount of the plot consists of the main characters trying to figure out the best time to attack and when to go out, since all the masters and servants start the War not knowing what kind of powers each other servant and master have exactly. This amount of strategy along with the great atmosphere create a very long but very rewarding and exciting plot.

All 7 Servants and Masters are all interesting characters, and you'll especially care for the main characters in their fight for their wishes to make on the holy grail. There are some good side characters as well.

There are 3 routes in Fate/Stay Night: Fate, Unlimted Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel. The branches into these routes are quite early into the visual novel, making all three very different 10-15 hour scenarios with different story themes. However, you have to go through them in a linear order. Fate is the only route that is unlocked at the beginning, and you need to finish it in order to get the branch to Unlimited Blade Works. You get access to Heaven's Feel by finishing Unlimited Blade Works.

One thing that is quite memorable to people is how many bad endings there are in the story. That is due to how many choices you have to make throughout the story in each route, and can help you really get into the story. However, even if you get a bad ending there is a "Tiger Dojo" scenario that pops up for each bad ending you get and two characters vaguely comment on the wrong choice(s) you made and give you a general idea what you should pick to continue on with the main story.

Given how long the overall visual novel is, there are bound to be a bunch of spots that are slow-paced. Usually these moments are in-between fights to serve as a breather and/or to devise more planning but there are times when the main characters are just eating and relaxing inside the main character's house.

If a mix of strategy, action, drama and a little romance are what you looking for, make sure you give Fate/Stay Night a chance.

"Even if your own life is what's most important to you, you can't protect it alone."

Extra Genres: Comedy
Unlimited/Alternative Genres: Mecha, Drama
H scenes? Yes
Extra Length: 10 hours for the first route, 1-2 hours at most for each subsequent route.
Unlimited Length: 10 hours for the first route, 30 minutes at most for each subsequent route you take.
Alternative Length: At least 40 hours.

Well-known as one of the longest and most-well liked visual novel series ever.

The novel "Muv-Luv" happens to have both Extra and Unlimited while Alternative is sold separately.

Muv-Luv Extra is the first novel in the series and is a typical light-hearted romantic comedy you would find in an anime. It has incredibly mixed reception overall, but some people are fans of what it offers. Even if Extra's story isn't your cup of tea, it is important to at least do the main 2 routes to unlock and understand the story for the next two games.

Muv-Luv Unlimited is unlocked when you finish Extra and while it has most of the same characters, there is a slightly more serious plot: there is an alien species called BETA and the main characters have to learn how to pilot Humongous Robots in order to combat them. Before that, they have to learn how to fight on a battlefield in general. This is generally more well-regarded than Extra, having a decent mix of action, comedy, and a slight bit of drama. While there are 5 routes in this scenario, it is only necessary to one route before continuing to Alternative.The music used in Extra and Unlimited is decent, mostly lighthearted but good for setting the mood.

Muv-Luv Alternative is where the real meat of the story begins, being twice as long as Extra and Unlimited but also almost twice as good quality-wise overall. While it appears to have almost exactly Muv-Luv Unlimited's premise, said premise is really the only thing the two share. Alternative is much longer, has more action, more drama, more heartbreaking scenes, more heartwarming scenes, and better music. The music in particular is quite good at setting the mood. There are slow piano/violin for the more emotional scenes, faster paced music for fight scenes, and even great fitting music for War Preparation. Alternative also gets some of the better tracks from Extra/Unlimited and uses them just as well as its original pieces. Despite what you thought about Extra or Unlimited you will not be disappointed by Alternative in the slightest.

Extra and a little bit of Unlimited are the main reasons why this entry is only at #7, but like I keep saying do not skip either of them as they are both important to this very engaging story.

"I don't ask for any rewards because of... only love."

Genres: Romance, Drama
H Scenes?: No
Length: About 10-15 hours.

The story of Symphonic follows Chris, a third-year Fortelle student at Piova Communal School of Music, located in a city that never stops raining. His hobbies include staring blankly at rain, talking to an imaginary fairy that only he can see, and writing letters to his sweetheart, Arietta, who lives in a distant town. It is via one of Arietta's letter that we are first introduced to Chris' plight: With the finals fast approaching, Chris must find a vocalist to partner up with for his final graded performance.

Symphonic Rain is known as breaking the mold compared to most visual novels in that actually contains gameplay in the form of a musical mini-game. In fact, how well you perform in the mini-games becomes a factor of whether you get a good or a bad ending for a route. All the songs you perform are vocal songs, and how much you like them depends on how much you like the sound of japanese singers. The songs have some have nice-sounded instruments and fitting/nice lyrics.

There are difficulty settings for each song, and if you get tired of playing a certain song over and over you can set an option to have the game play the song for you and get the best score.

Unlike most visual novels on this list, there isn't too much of a plot outside of Chris bonding with the main female he's going for and both of them mastering the song they are planning to play.

There is still some drama, but it's usually added towards the end of each route with one BIG exception that is spoilers. The story also has plenty of heartwarming moments.

Keep in mind that after you do the first 3 routes in any order, there is a linear "Al Fine" route that is unlocked. Because of this, it is recommended you do Torta's route third. After you beat Al Fine there is another route that is unlocked in the main story "De Capo". This happens to be the true ending to the whole story.

Although every character's goes to a college, the art style makes it look like all the characters go to an elementary or middle school instead. This is the only real big flaw I have with the series, and it is otherwise quite good in every other aspect.

If you don't mind a story without much plot and having a decent amount of character interaction and romance then this visual novel is for you.

"Do you like this school? I really, really love it. But nothing can stay unchanged. Fun things... happy things... They can't all possibly stay unchanged. Even so, can you keep on loving this place?"

Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance
H Scenes?: No
Length: AT LEAST 50 hours to get the best ending.

While Muv-Luv Alternative and Fate/Stay Night are very very long, Clannad tops both of them in overall length, currently being the largest VN that has some sort of English translation.

The visual novel stars Tomoya Okazaki, an ordinary high school senior who doesn't take his studies seriously, is always late for school, and doesn't particularly like his life. However, the many girls and guys in (and out) of his school are all people that can help Tomoya have a better life.

Clannad is in many ways THE definite version of what most people see as a visual novel. Tomoya chooses which girl to get involved with, helps with her life problems and eventually starts to go out with her. The catch is there are 10 total main routes in the whole visual novel, as opposted to the usual 4-6. 3 of these are have no romance (due to guys being involved) but all quite good in their own ways, each bringing their own sets of unique drama and comedy. It's hard to gauge how long each route is exactly but most are at least 4-5 hours each.

After you beat the main heroine Nagisa's route, an "After Story" for her route unlocked. This serves as a story that tells what happens between her and Tomoya after they become a couple. This is highly regarded as the best part of all of Clannad, due to the amount of great drama that is presented. Family themes become more important in After Story and you will come to care about Tomoya and Nagisa even more than you did in previous routes. However, in order to get the best ending for After Story you have to had beat every single main route in the visual novel, so it is recommended you do so before starting After Story.

Clannad's background music is very very nice. While it has fitting lighthearted music, Clannad's music truly shines in the more dramatic parts of the novel. There are many great piano/violin pieces that accentuate each powerful scene they play in the game.

Overall, Clannad is a very touching, emotional and hilarious visual novel that you will really like, assuming romance is a genre you're looking forward to.

"I'm sorry...... that's all I can leave you with......"

Genres: Drama, Comedy
H scenes: Yes, but installation of the VN has an option to remove them.
Length: Shouldn't take more than 15-20 hours.

The main premise of Cross+Channel is that a bunch of teenagers/young adults are enrolled in a school called Gunjo Gakuen (Deep Blue School) which is basically a school to isolate students who are very unlikely to adapt into society. This is determined by an adaptation exam mandated by the government, and the higher adaptation coefficient you get on the exam, the more "special" you are considered.

The interesting thing about this premise is that the main characters of the story in this school are all... based on archetypes you would see in a Japanese RPG or anime. For example you have the extremely perverted main character, the grouchy girl who just wants to be loved, the energetic girl, the seemingly emotionless girl, etc. However, unlike most representations of this archetypes, this story shows a 'darker' version of these in the story. For example: What if the pervert literally goes over the top and actually pull down girls' panties? Just what are the causes of a girl who becomes extremely grouchy and what are some of the consequences of her finding someone she loves?

A lot of the story is everyone trying to adapt to this new situation, finding out what happened, and Taichi Kurosu attempting to rebuild many bonds that were broken before the main story started. A main plot point is a few of the main characters, trying to fix a broadcast radio (since they were part of the Broadcast Club before everyone disappeared), and trying to reach out to anyone who's alive or who can hear them at all.

The last important plot point, is that.. at the end of every Sunday, all the main characters' memories get reset back to the beginning of the week when they first find out that all of the living population besides them have disappeared.

Character development is quite good overall. During the visual novel, you discover all the problems every character has, yet almost every single one of them definitely develops in a nice positive way throughout the story and it's nice to see the changes of each character as you go on.

I will not say anymore about the actual plot, but if you really liked the premise that I described, reading this story will be quite a treat since there a lot of twists, turns, and a surprising amount of great humor. However, considering the main character, Taichi Kurosu, is a big pervert a lot of the humor will be quite sexual so make sure you keep that in mind when thinking about reading this.

Cross+Channel has routes like a typical VN, however they are divided into "weeks" into this game and they are read in a pretty linear fashion. It's pretty confusing to explain and this is the one instance where I would highly recommend reading a walkthrough guide on this site so you won't make the wrong choices.

I will say that Cross+Channel is not for everyone.

If you don't mind all the perverted humor caused by the protagonist and a story that is a bit darker and more complicated than your average game than I would definitely recommend you reading this visual novel.

Make sure to save some tissues for when you get towards the end of the novel.

"Who are you?" "Who am I"?

Genres: Mystery, Drama
H Scenes?: No
Length: About 25-30 hours.

Ever17's premise is an interesting one: 6 students are trapped in an underwarter park called "LeMU" through an accident and they have to work together to find a way out. There are two protagonists you can play as and they both have 2 routes each. The true route is unlocked after doing the previous 4.

Saying anymore about the story wouldn't be wise, as there are many great plot twists, drama and heartbreaking moments that you will not see coming.

I will say that this is one of the most well-liked visual novels for a reason. Everything in the story from the atmosphere, to the character interaction, to the mystery of the whole situation, to the build-up and the climax of each route, just about everything in Ever17 is really really good.

It's a shame the company that licensed and translated the visual novel has gone bankrupt, since the visual novel can now go up to $100-200 new.

"I cannot afford to waste my time making money."
"The child is father of the Man."
"What force is more potent than love?"
"I shut my eyes in order to see."
"There is no such thing as society."

Genres: Drama, Comedy
H scenes?: Yes
Length: About 15-20 hours.

Sharin no Kuni takes place in a country where law is based upon deterrence and criminals are assigned "obligations" fitting for their crimes. If a criminal disobeys an obligation, they are sentenced to live their lives in a concentration camp, where most die before finishing their prison term.

Within this society, the protagonist Kenichi Morita aspires to the position of Special High Class Individual, one who holds authority over said criminals and is in charge of rehabilitating them to become productive members of society.

Unlike most VNs with routes, Sharin no Kuni takes a slightly different approach. The main story is the same in whichever route you take, with the only difference is that the girl you end up at the end of the story being differnet.

Sharin no Kuni's plot is all about those OBLIGATIONS I mentioned above that the 3 girls have and how the main character Kenichi helps the 3 of them find a way to get over them. The story is great and has a lot of realistic development but what really makes the visual novel are how great overall the characters are in this.

Kenichi in particular is one of my favorite characters in fiction ever. He's one of the most consistently hilarious characters I know, cracking sarcastic or just plain weird jokes often. However, when he gets serious he knows how to do his job well.

All the main females are good characters as well. Sachi is a hyper energetic girl who's really lazy, Touka is a grouchy but caring girl, and Natsumi is a really quiet girl who definitely has more to her than meets the eye. These 3 characters in particular get the most development out of anyone in the whole cast. You will come to care for obligations, you will be frustrated with some of their actions throughout their story, but you will come out really enjoying how they develop and turn out.

It's worth noting that the main villain Masaomi Houzuki, happens to be Kenichi's boss and you will really come to love to hate him for the stuff he does and makes Kenichi do.

Sharin no Kuni is a novel you will really enjoy if you love character development, even if some parts may frustrate you.

"Good morning, Yamato. I love you."
"Don't get me wrong. I gave you one because it's annoying if you keep begging me."
"Ohhh! Momo-senpai's super awesome today like always!"

Genres: Comedy, Action
H scenes?: Yes

Unlike the other entries to this list, Shinken/Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai (usually shortened to MajiKoi) is a very light-hearted and comedic visual novel compared to the others. It may be surprising to have a mostly-comedy VN as #1, but it really is just THAT DAMN GOOD.

Right from the beginning you're treated to a lot of over-the-top comedic situations such as your childhood friend constantly showing affection for the main characters through perverted actions and words, an extremely powerful girl beating up 15-20 armed men attempting to bully her with her fists and a girl who literally rides to school on a horse.

The story is mainly about a group of 7 childhood friends who formed a group called the "Kazama Family". They consist of: A tactician (the main character), the extremely energetic yet oblivious leader, an super powerful female loved by girls, an energetic girl who adores the super powerful girl, a down to earth quiet guy, and a quiet girl who has the hots for the main character. Throughout the story they go through life hanging out at their dormitory, going to school, taking trips, and just generally have a great time hanging around each other and goofing off.

This visual novel has a ton of minor characters and a whole bunch of them are great. There is an otaku who is very vocal about his interests, a lovable sex maniac, a ninja maid and a prime minister voiced by Norio Wakamoto just to name a few. All the characters contribute to a lot of the funny dialogue and each get at least get one moment of glory.

Even though a lot of the visual novel is comedic, there are some interesting serious themes about friendship and accepting others.

There are quite a number of fights in the visual novel some are one characters vs another, one character vs 3-4 characters, or a whole army of characters vs another army of characters. These fights can get really crazy and over-the-top and make this visual novel a very fun experience.

If there is one visual novel I would recommend to everyone it would EASILY be this one, if you are a fan of comedy, friendship or over-the-top fights you are bound to enjoy this a lot.

There are plenty of liked visual novels I haven't read (Katawa Shoujo, Sengoku Rance), some I liked but didn't include (Tsukihime, Remember11) and ones I don't like but others do (Planetarian, Saya no Uta).

However, the 10 I mentioned should all be good starting points if you're interested in starting a visual novel for the first time.

If you've already read (and liked) a visual novel before, be sure to check at least a few of these options.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this list and gained an interest in visual novels!

List by superange128 (02/29/2012)

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