The History of Visual Novels: From Japan to the World

Visual novels have become a popular genre of video games in recent years, but their history goes back several decades. These interactive stories, which combine elements of literature, anime, and gaming, have their roots in Japan. In this article, we'll explore the history of visual novels, from their origins in Japan to their global popularity today.

What are Visual Novels?

Before we dive into the history of visual novels, let's define what they are. A visual novel is a type of video game that emphasizes storytelling over gameplay. Players make choices that affect the outcome of the story, but the gameplay is usually limited to clicking through text and images. Visual novels often feature anime-style artwork and voice acting, and they can be quite lengthy, with some taking dozens of hours to complete.

Origins in Japan

The first visual novel is widely considered to be "The Portopia Serial Murder Case," a game released in 1983 for the NEC PC-6001 computer. Developed by Yuji Horii, the creator of the popular "Dragon Quest" series, "The Portopia Serial Murder Case" was a groundbreaking game that combined text-based adventure gameplay with graphics and sound. It was a huge success in Japan and paved the way for future visual novels.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, visual novels continued to gain popularity in Japan. Many of these games were developed by small indie studios, and they often featured romantic storylines aimed at a male audience. One of the most popular early visual novels was "Tokimeki Memorial," a dating sim released in 1994 that spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs.

Rise of the Eroge

In the late 1990s, a new type of visual novel emerged in Japan: the eroge, or erotic game. These games featured explicit sexual content and were often criticized for their objectification of women. Despite this controversy, eroge became incredibly popular in Japan, with some estimates suggesting that they accounted for up to 70% of all visual novel sales.

Eroge also played a significant role in the development of the visual novel genre as a whole. Many of the innovations that eroge developers introduced, such as branching storylines and multiple endings, became standard features of visual novels. However, the explicit content of eroge made them difficult to market outside of Japan, and they remained a niche genre in other countries.

Globalization of Visual Novels

In the early 2000s, visual novels began to gain a following outside of Japan. This was due in part to the rise of fan translations, which allowed non-Japanese speakers to play games that had never been officially released in their language. Visual novel fans also began to create their own games, often inspired by Japanese titles but with their own unique twists.

One of the most influential fan-made visual novels was "Katawa Shoujo," a game developed by a team of volunteers that was released in 2012. "Katawa Shoujo" tells the story of a high school student who falls in love with a girl with a disability, and it was praised for its sensitive portrayal of disability and its mature handling of romantic themes. The game was a huge success, and it helped to popularize visual novels outside of Japan.

Mainstream Success

In recent years, visual novels have become more mainstream in the gaming industry. Many major publishers have released visual novels on consoles and PC, and some have even been adapted into anime and manga. One of the most successful visual novels of all time is "Doki Doki Literature Club!," a game released in 2017 that has been downloaded over 10 million times.

The success of visual novels has also led to the creation of new sub-genres, such as the "otome" game, which is aimed at a female audience and features romantic storylines with male characters. Otome games have become increasingly popular in Japan and are starting to gain a following in other countries as well.


Visual novels have come a long way since the release of "The Portopia Serial Murder Case" in 1983. From their origins in Japan to their global popularity today, visual novels have evolved into a diverse and innovative genre of video games. Whether you're a fan of romance, horror, or sci-fi, there's a visual novel out there for you. So why not give one a try and see what all the fuss is about? Who knows, you might just fall in love with this unique and engaging form of storytelling.

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