19 June 2019

That time I was reincarnated...

I've been tracking my reading on Goodreads since 2010, with a peak of 159 books in 2011 (I was having a big Rex Stout binge), but halfway through this year Goodreads tells me I've read a grand total of four books.

Now, the site has never captured all my reading, since it's very much focused on traditionally published media (by that I'm not talking about self-published or not - I mean the reading of things that have ISBNs or ASINs or things that there's some kind of formal system of indexing).  I've never tried to track the webcomics I read, or even more formal 'Western' comics, let alone the volume of illicitly translated manga/manhua I tend to read.

Earlier this year, the reading of webtoons led me to a translation site of the vast reams of web novels that often form the basis of webtoons.  These are almost all Chinese, Japanese and Korean language stories that aren't available in English (and thus the translation site exists in a legal shadowland in much the same way as fan translations of manga).  These translations are practically the only stories I've been reading since February.

As the title of this post indicates, reincarnation is the hot trope in web novels at the moment (and for the last few years), combining neatly with the other hot trope, isekai (other world) stories.  Many of these are fantastically indulgent power fantasies, but that's okay, I like fantastically indulgent power fantasies.  Better still, not all of these power fantasies feature your Standard Ordinary Guy Lead.

The three countries these stories are sourced from do have some distinct variants (at least in the stories I read - never underestimate the sheer variety of stories out there).

The Korean stories I read tend to fall into two categories.  Girls who pull fantastic derp faces while lying to mystical creatures who have strayed into modern Korea, and guys in some kind of gaming environment becoming supremely powerful and looking incredibly cool while being underestimated.  [I like zero to hero stories like this so long as they don't turn into harem stories.]

Half of the Japanese stories I've been reading are "I've been reincarnated into an Otome game, and I'm the villain!".  [An Otome game is a story-focused romance game aimed at girls.]  The web novels almost always have the 'villain' trying to avoid the execution waiting at the end of the game through good deeds, while somehow failing to realise that she's made all the people she expects to be her enemies absolutely adore her.  But there are quite a few variants - one where the would-be villainess embraces her role (probably in attempt to avoid the love interest being executed in her place).  The other half are straight isekai or reincarnation (transported or reborn into another world that's not an Otome game).  A good third of these are homages to Japanese cooking, where earnest Japanese strays introduce deprived other worlds to things like spices, and not drowning your food in oil, and other basics of cooking.  Being reborn into your own past and attempting to save the lives of soon to be murdered family members is another common one (Lady Baby being an amusing entry here).  But there's some wild variants - the girl with the magic bear suit, the girl who became insanely powerful killing level 1 slimes, and wildest of all, the girl who saves the magical kingdom by hiring mercenaries from her own world and taking down those dragons with tanks - while wearing a gothic lolita princess dress.

But it's really the Chinese reincarnation stories where I've spending most of my time.  Not least because these are frequently 1000 to 2000 chapter stories, but also because many of these stories fulfil my yen for overpowered female mages (in a sub-genre called 'Cultivation' stories).  I rarely make it to the end of any of these stories, not least because they're often not fully translated, or are still on-going, but I enjoy reading them until I can't take the power ups any more.  They take your traditional zero to hero story, focus it around a female character, and add lashings of slapping, family politics, coughing up blood (a sign of fury/chagrin), epic beat-downs, ruthless pragmatism, and fifty servings of revenge (both hot and cold).

Not all of the things I've been reading are magical power fantasies, however.  "To be a virtuous wife" by Yue Xia Die Ying is this amazingly languorous story about a very lazy 'reincarnee', and is also one of the most nuanced 'tell it in the spaces around the words' stories I've ever read.  If you want to read a story about the heights of formality and restraint, this one's for you.  And there's a series of stories which starts off with a detective and a forensic pathologist reborn as two of three sisters (which, amazingly, have actual endings to the stories, even if they're all interlinked).

If I had one negative for the Chinese sub-set of these stories is that most of these girls are thirteen to fifteen years old (not counting their reincarnated souls), and are considered 'too old' if they hit seventeen unmarried.

Anyway, that's how I've been spending my reading time.  Still working on Tangleways - slow going because it's such a damn complex world and I struggle to turn infodump into story flow.  And I think I'm going to have to go straight into book 3 of Trifold once I finish Tangleways, rather than hop back to Singularity because it's super hard to keep all the details this world in my head.

[Also coming up to a major anticipated game release, which will significantly impede writing progress for a few weeks.]


  1. I too (as you've seen on GR at various times) have found myself falling into the "reincarnated" novels (having always been obsessed with portal fantasies). I belong to so many web-toon services now bc of this and my tabs open for all the series I want to read is ridick on my phone. I think my fav still remains Villain in the Otome Novel/Game World ones, but if I could find a good civilization building one that's ensemble cast and doesn't have a harem aspect to it (like Log Horizon) I'd fall onto that so hard.

  2. Not a comic or web novel, but have you read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August?

    Really looking forward to Tangleways and the next Singularity novel.

  3. Tangleways, huzzah! I just love that world, and it made for really excellent short stories and novella.

  4. This might sound weird considering isekai is always discussed as an anime/manga trope but I think the first 'otherworld' story I ever read is actually Stray! Now isekai is everywhere, although female protagonists are still too rare. I need to find those webtoons!

    1. Isekai used to be very female-focused (Inuyasha, Escaflowne, Spirited Away), but now in anime is very male-focused. There is tons of female-focused manga (mostly involving otome games) but I don't see any anime being produced from them. It's a pity - I'd enjoy another Inuyasha.


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