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Have you ever wanted to be fully immersed in your favorite video game? The dream of virtual reality might still be a while off for gamers, but there’s a hugely popular genre of manga and light novels that cater to your dream—MMORPG stories! Popularized by series like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon (and .hack for even older readers!), narratives about MMORPGs blend the best parts of isekai and sci-fi. Maybe the protagonist gets reincarnated into their gaming avatar, or maybe they’re experiencing a hyper-realistic VR game. Although there are lots of isekai that use “stat windows” and “skills,” today we’re focusing entirely on massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). So log online with us at Honey’s Anime as we talk about the 5 Best MMORPG Light Novels & Manga!
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5. Leadale no Daichi Nite (In The Land of Leadale)
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Kicking off our list today is a relative newcomer: Leadale no Daichi Nite (In The Land of Leadale). Keina Kagami is a teenage girl on life support, sick with an incurable disease. Her only escape has been the virtual reality MMORPG, Leadale, where she found friends and created a life as one of the game’s top players. When a real-world power outage causes her life support to fail, she awakens in the world of Leadale…two hundred years after she last logged on. Leadale’s prime may sound bleak, but the story is surprisingly light-hearted. Now in the body of her avatar, Cayna, our leading lady sets off to discover what happened in the past two hundred years—and along the way, meets faces that have survived all familiar years without her. In The Land of Leadale has the original light novels, an anime adaptation from Winter 2022, and a manga serialization that began English publication in May 2022.
4. Shangri-La Frontier
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Another fresh face on the MMORPG scene is Shangri-La Frontier, a tongue-in-cheek story about “crappy” video games and beating them for enjoyment! Second-year high school student Rakurou Hizutome is interested in just this—and “Shangra-La Frontier” is the latest VR game for him to conquer. No game is too badly designed for him, so he challenges himself by skipping the prologue, min-maxing his stats, and diving straight into the action. But Shangri-La Frontier holds many secrets…and its thirty-million-strong player base is playing one of the biggest and best RPGs ever made. Can Rakurou’s gaming talent help him decode the mystery behind this best-worst-RPG?! Shangri-La Frontier is a manga series, available digitally only.
3. Infinite Dendrogram
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A little more serious than the last two suggestions, Infinite Dendrogram is all about the possibilities of fully-immersive VR games. To celebrate finishing his college entrance exams, Mukudori Reiji buys himself the world’s first VRMMO game: Infinite Dendrogram. Joined by his brother, Shi, and an enigmatic character named Embryo, Reiji embarks on a journey into the “City of Duels.” But Infinite Dendrogram is an ever-evolving world, where the line between “real” and “virtual” is paper-thin… Infinite Dendrogram has fourteen light novels in English, nine manga volumes, and an anime adaptation.
2. Hai to Gensou no Grimgal (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash)
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One of the most critically-acclaimed and long-lived series on our list, Hai to Gensou no Grimgal (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash) is a little lighter on the MMORPG elements than the other titles, but packs a solid punch in terms of action , friendship, and adventure! Haruhiro awakens without any knowledge of himself or his past. The small group of people around him are similarly struck with amnesia—and when they find their way into the light, they discover a world of monsters, magic, and omnipresent danger. Starting from the bottom without any skills or knowledge of this world, Haruhiro and his companions enter into the world of “Grimgar” and a dark land where it’s kill-or-be-killed. Hai to Gensou no Grimgal (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash) has seventeen light novels available, and side stories still being written!
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1. Itai no wa Iya nanode Bogyo-Ryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu (BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense)
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Who said that MMORPGs had to be dark? Our top pick of the best MMORPG light novels and manga is the ever-adorable, impossible-to-hate, BOFURI. Or to use its ridiculously long name, Itai no wa Iya nanode Bogyo-Ryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu (BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense). BOFURI is cotton candy shaped like an RPG, as we follow high schooler Kaede—Maple, as she’s known in-game—as she journeys through her first VRMMO game. Determined not to get hurt, she builds the most broken character build ever, turning herself into a veritable fortress of defense! Along the way, she’s joined by her IRL bestie, a few in-game buddies, and even forms a legendary guild! BOFURI is pure energy to the soul, with Kaede’s infectious optimism (and dumbly broken gear) driving a fun story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although the light novels have only just started English publication, there are twelve in Japanese, along with a manga adaptation by Yen Press and an anime version as well.
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In all of these stories, you’ll find common threads about friendship, hard work, and conquering your demons—even if those demons have HP bars! The real draw behind MMORPG stories lies in the idea that our virtual lives have equal meaning to our “real world” ones, and that the connections we make, and the time we spend in those worlds, matter just as much. Have you read any of the entries on this list? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading!
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