[Updated 1st February 2017]
These are, in my opinion, the best translated Visual Novels out there. Keep in mind that if I haven’t read them they can’t make it here, so don’t worry if you don’t see your favorites. Likewise, if they’re not in English I can’t read them.
I’ve recently removed a few titles from this list; the remaining Visual Novels are ones I feel a lasting connection to.
If you’re new to visual novels and want to know more about them, feel free to ask either here or using one of the options on my “Contact / Follow Me” page (under the “About” tab). Also, keep in mind that any PSP titles mentioned are available to play on emulators.
Disclaimer: Some of these titles contain adult content. They have been marked.
Must-Read Visual Novels
Muv-Luv Alternative is the third and final part of the Muv-Luv series (though the first two parts – Extra and Unlimited – are included in a single package). Whereas I would describe the first stories as average and good, Muv-Luv Alternative is an absolute masterpiece and should be read by all visual novel enthusiasts.
The series as a whole shifts from slice of life romantic comedy to hardcore science fiction, taking characters you already know from a normal setting and putting them in a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and human-piloted mechs are their only hope for survival. There’s plenty of action and emotion in the latter two parts, and you should definitely play them all in order.
Regardless of whether you’re into mechs or not (I know I wasn’t before I read this), I would be very surprised if Muv-Luv Alternative’s amazing storytelling and characters didn’t enthrall you.
G-Senjou no Maou (The Devil on G-String)
G-Senjou no Maou is another masterpiece that can’t really be compared to anything else. There’s nothing supernatural or fantastical about it but I have had few experiences as gripping or exciting as this Visual Novel. From its soundtrack to the method used to tell its various stories, G-Senjou no Maou is very nearly perfect.
It’s a tale about a youth’s connection to the criminal underground and his interactions with his normal peers during the day. There’s a whole lot of mind games and mysteries, with some very intelligent people constantly trying to out-think one another. Together, it makes for an incredibly compelling read; there were many times I was unable to put this visual novel down (figuratively speaking).
Dangan Ronpa (PSP/PSVita)
What do you get when you lock 15 very strong personalities in a school and tell them to kill each other? What if you then tell them they’ll be allowed to leave if they aren’t caught? Add in a psychopathic robotic bear and you have Dangan Ronpa. Being a video game/visual novel hybrid, this is an experience that takes you along for the ride and does an amazing job of making you feel involved.
For a set of murder mysteries that require you to think way, way outside the box, you really shouldn’t look any further than this. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a story with more sheer personality than Dangan Ronpa.
R18 (PG patch exists)
If you ask about well-known visual novels, Fate/Stay Night probably sits somewhere near the top of the list. It’s a monster story that’ll take you a while to finish, but after a slow lead-in you’ll enjoy every minute of it. It has some of the best action scenes visual novels have to offer and multiple anime adaptations to keep you occupied once you reach the end.
Telling 3 main stories, Fate/Stay Night crosses a few different genres. Magic and more medieval weapons feature heavily, though the setting is modern day Japan. While it may sound cliché: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll find yourself glued to the screen while your blood surges with adrenaline.
Though it may look dated, there’s a reason that this series has spawned multiple video games, anime series and collectible figures: people just don’t want to let it go, and once you’ve played it you’ll know exactly why.
The House in Fata Morgana
When you awake in The Mansion, you find that you are but a shade of your former self. You are greeted by The Maid, who assures you that your return has been long awaited, and that you will most definitely be able to recall your identity in due time. The Maid decides to guide you through The Mansion, and behind each new door you are shown the history of the people that have come before you. You share in their happiness, and in the inevitable tragedy that befalls them. Each. And. Every. One. For The Mansion is cursed, and you are its Master.
More than perhaps any other visual novel I have read before, The House in Fata Morgana is a production that strikes me as a labor of love; it is a completely unique and captivating experience unlike any other currently available on the English market. It is not colorful, it does not feature larger than life heroines aiming to leap off the screen and into your heart, and it is not full of the same Japanese tropes you might expect. What it is, however, is something very special. The House in Fata Morgana is an intensely fulfilling tale of tragedy, empathy and love that thrives on its uniquely crafted and immersive atmosphere. You’re not quite the same person you used to be once you’ve finished The House in Fata Morgana.
Highly Recommended Visual Novels
Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo
Sharin no Kuni has an incredibly interesting concept. Imagine a world where criminals are given punishments directly related to their crimes; for example, a con-man may be denied his right to speak. Now imagine a world where such punishments apply to even the most basic crimes (and non-crimes, even) and you have Sharin no Kuni.
There’s some comedy and action but overall this visual novel is about overcoming adversity and the human relationships involved in that struggle. It has much the same feel as G-Senjou no Maou, mentioned earlier, in its latter stages, being a previous work of the same company. Featuring an amazing ending and one of the best plot twists I have ever experienced, Sharin no Kuni should most definitely not be missed.
Hoshizora no Memoria
Hoshizora no Memoria is gorgeous to look at, fun to read and its characters are unforgettable. There’s a little something supernatural going on but the focus is on everyday life and character relationships. Though there are some feels involved they’re not quite as potent as dedicated nakige (games designed to make you cry) and you’ll find yourself laughing and having a good time far more often than not.
I can’t express just how wonderful this visual novel looks and think it’s well worth your time, especially if you enjoy astronomy/astrology and looking up at the starry sky.
Aselia The Eternal (Eien no Aselia)
Aselia was my first visual novel, before I even realized visual novels existed. It has a fairly heavy gameplay component but the fantasy-themed plot is nothing to sneeze at. The protagonist is hurled from our own world into one with a slightly different take on the usual swords and magic formula, where he doesn’t even speak the local language and has to learn to fit in from scratch. As you might expect, things ramp up from there and transform into an epic tale that’s hard to stop reading.
The gameplay is basic but entertaining, though I would advise checking out the freely available guide released by the game’s translators. If you don’t mind putting some extra time in for your story, then Aselia the Eternal is most definitely for you.
Corpse Party (PSP)
A.K.A: Corpse Party Blood Covered Repeated Fear
I’ve always enjoyed horror and Corpse Party is a shining example of how that genre should be done. It’s on the PSP and has a gameplay component but features a true visual novel style complete with sprites and CGs that will make you squirm in your seat. It’s gruesome in the best way possible.
Unfortunately you’re unable to skip past text you’ve already read and some of the bad endings come out of nowhere, so I would recommend using a guide for at least the final chapter or two.
Chou Dengeki Stryker
R18 (With All-Ages Versions Available)
When Yuuki Yamato encounters the Memory Collector as a young child, he has no idea what’s in store for him. His wish to become his favorite comic book hero, Stryker Zero – one of the famous Dengeki Stryker cyborgs charged with defending Japan from the dreaded Balboran Empire – backfires when all of his memories are taken from him, and the hero of the tale takes his place in the real world. Suddenly having reverted to the body of a child living in a Japan that is very different to the one he remembers, Zero vows to continue his sworn mission of protection. Precious years pass as the body he has inherited grows, allowing him to hone his skill at using the electricity-based mechanical addons that remain from his previous life – he is absolutely certain that the Balborans will not lie quiescent forever.
The first thing you have to know is that Dengeki Stryker isn’t a story that can be enjoyed if you try to take it seriously. It has that “detached from the real world” feeling that allows you to forgive it for plot holes that would be crippling otherwise. It has the “let’s have the hero and the villains live right next to each other in tiny apartments in a world they know nothing about” comedy that has you laughing so hard your sides hurt. It has the “throwing all of your strength and commitment at an enemy to defend the people you care about” action that revs your engines and has you cheering from the sidelines as fights unfold. It has both the warm, confident feelings that make your days end on a high note, and a dash of the fluttering, heartbroken lows that make you value what you have in life, if you look hard enough. Basically, if it’s your kind of story, it can be a heck of a lot of fun, and for a superhero-themed comedy action romp with that little something extra, you simply cannot do much better.
OVERDRIVE Duology – Kira Kira and Deardrops
Both R18 (With All-Ages Versions Available)
Kira Kira has a horrific translation, an incredibly slow start and was the first visual novel to make me cry (incredibly manly tears). It’s also way upbeat (for the most part) and has some very lovable characters and an amazing original soundtrack. Think K-On! with plot and romance and Kira Kira is pretty much what you get.
Deardrops is like Kira Kira’s elder sibling. They’re both about bands and enjoying youth, and a number of Kira Kira characters make an appearance in this second title (so you should play Kira Kira first!). Having said that, Deardrops is a much more mature representation of rock-band life. It’s still funny, it’s still emotional, but it will also appeal to those who found Kira Kira to be not quite to their tastes.
The world’s in a pretty pathetic state, by anyone’s standards. Those who have managed to survive this long do so by rummaging through former societies’ leftovers, and are constantly plagued by the Rain which eats through just about everything it touches. Lured by the promise of untapped treasures, a lone Junker makes his way through an abandoned city. Wary of deadly robots and lethal mines, he’s more than a little surprised to find he’s the 2,500,000th customer of what must be the sole surviving planetarium on Earth. Its attendant humanoid robot girl wouldn’t let something as insignificant as the end of the world get in the way of delivering the best possible experience to her customers, however, even if she could understand that her most prized performance was never going to be seen again.
Planetarian is absolutely the best visual novel of its length out there, fitting the role of a short story in visual novel form expertly. It keeps its readers well entertained for its entire length and manages to include poignant emotion in a unique way that is definitely worth experiencing. Despite being an older title its visual and audial components work together well even if they don’t stand up to either newer or longer visual novels’ standards. All in all, I think it is almost required reading for visual novel lovers and even makes for a great entry point into the genre for newcomers, especially considering its easily-digestible length.
Piova, The City of Rain. That’s what it used to be known as, at least. Now it is called The City of Music due to the prestigious Piova Communal School of Music within its bounds. As far as Chris Velding is concerned, however, the original name may as well have been kept. Rain falls every day without stopping, as he shops, as he wanders the town, and as he walks to his Fortelle lessons. The town itself is used to its weather, though, so Chris and the other students tend to ignore it. What he cannot ignore, however, is the distance between himself and his girlfriend, Arietta, living hours away in their home town. While letters may be all that connect them now, Chris’ time in Piova is coming to an end with his graduation recital but a few months away. With the rumor spreading that recital partners often fall in love, however, he may find them to be the most trying months of his relationship.
Symphonic Rain was a fantastic read due to both the comfort induced by its common route and the emotion invoked by its climaxes. The characters, art and story mesh in a way that allows for quick and deep emotional bonding, which gives those emotional highs and lows that much more impact. The use of a rhythm game, which in itself is not fantastic, nevertheless manages to complement the visual novels other components near-flawlessly with original vocal tracks that carry the emotion of the story with them.
Manakravte, the use of purified energy found coursing through the veins of the world and all living things, has characterized life in the Inner Pole for as long as anyone can remember. It has enriched every aspect of life, from creation to communication, and when the capital of one of the region’s kingdoms, Rughzenhaide, falls under attack, it allows the princess Selphine and her protector Ritona to escape with their lives intact. They are whisked away by Manastreams flowing underneath the soil and emerge in the last place they would have thought possible. The Outer Pole, the Godforsaken Continent, is a place where Mana has never been plentiful and people have had to struggle to merely survive. Using the mysterious discipline known as ‘science’ to harness what little Mana they can get their hands on, those of the Outer Pole have developed massive corporations and technology that the royal pair have never seen in their homeland. On the journey to return home, they meet a happy, bubbly girl by the name of Rune who agrees to show them around. The locals don’t trust Manakravters, however, and any caught in the Outer Pole risk suffering Manashock Syndrome.
fault is an episodic type series that has really come into its own following the release of its second installment. It likes to focus on smaller stories coursing through an overarching epic plotline that feature a great deal of emotion and foster some very enjoyable character development. Add onto that the exploration of some notably poignant and relevant themes, as well as boasting some fantastic visuals, and you get a franchise that I am very happy to recommend. Of the currently ongoing visual novel series, fault is the one I am the most excited about.
Kara no Shoujo – The Second Episode
Hitogata Village lies in the mountains of rural Japan. Even in the modern day it is ruled over by the powerful Hinagami family, the owners of Hinagami Pharmaceuticals in Tokyo, and given religious guidance by the esteemed Shigusa family. The settlement worships the god known as Hinna-sama, who has been known to curse and kill those that disobey its will. When women are being murdered and stuffed with the god’s likeness, detective Tokisaka Reiji is tasked with discovering the hidden links between the victims and the isolated settlement the curse stems from. Such killings have also occurred in the past, however, and their perpetrator has never been found.
As you might be able to guess Kara no Shoujo – The Second Episode – is a sequel to both Kara no Shoujo (Review Here) and Cartagra (Review Here). It’s easy to see that Innocent Grey has come a long way since their original release, as the series’ most recent entry takes a step up in quality to become the best they have written so far. In terms of story complexity and production quality there’s little more you could want from a mystery, and as a stand-alone tale that happens to use the same characters as its predecessors it is excellent.
[Note: For those wondering whether the earlier VNs need to be read to enjoy Kara no Shoujo – The Second Episode – my opinion is that KnS1 is required while Cartagra is optional. Several concepts from Cartagra show up but are explained within KnS2, and Cartagra isn’t good enough for me to recommend going back to it.]
Little Busters! – Slice of Life + Crystallized Friendship
Utawarerumono – Japanese Fantasy Setting + Basic Tactics Gameplay
Remember11 – Modern Snowy Mountain Survival Story + “Supernatural” Aspects
Kara no Shoujo – Mysteries Within Mysteries + Gruesome Murders
Phenomeno – Short But Sweet Horror
If you are interested in more recommendations, please visit my VNDB profile. Anything with a score of 7 or above can be considered worthwhile.