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LitRPGs are incredibly entertaining

LitRPG stands for ‘Literary Role Playing Game,’ and if you think that sounds like isekai in anime, you would be correct.

In Isekai, the protagonist is forced to survive in a video game setting, usually after dying and resurrecting in a fantasy world. LitRPG follows a similar structure. The sources I have seen blame EKSMO (a publishing house) for coining the term ‘LitRPG’ in 2013. Before it became commonplace, authors and publishers alike struggled to identify a fitting genre for novels with significant MMORPG elements.

I saw one article in which a reader argued that ‘LitRPG’ initially referred to tabletop RPGs where dramatic stories and character development were prioritized over completing missions and leveling up.

If that is true, ‘LitRPG’ probably dates back to the early 90s and late 80s. The concept has a growing fanbase today because it features miserable protagonists. They feel lost and powerless, and an MMORPG allows them to take control of their lives.

One example is the hero of Hugo Huesca’s ‘Dungeon Lord’ who spends his days tolerating a hostile boss at a job he hates. So naturally, he jumps at the chance to become a Dungeon Lord in an RPG. Some LitRPGs do the opposite. They allow the protagonist to access gaming mechanics in the real world.

Either way, you get that ‘Zero to Hero’ element fantasy readers love.  To clarify, you can’t call a novel ‘LitRPG’ simply because the protagonist transitioned from the real world to a fantasy setting. LitRPGs have explicit game mechanics. The protagonist can level up their stats (health, strength, intelligence, etc.).

Additionally, they are restricted to a defined set of rules. The story’s focus may vary. Some books expect the protagonist to merely survive a post-apocalyptic setting. Others want him or her to acquire new skills and hunt monsters. You also have those that compel the hero or heroine to seek out allies as they construct a new society.

If you’re tempted to experiment with this genre, many readers have identified ‘Survival Quest’ by Vasily Mahanenko as the best of the bunch. Daniel Mahan, the protagonist, is expected to spend the next eight years of his prison sentence in Barliona, a classic fantasy world where he may eventually earn enough money to buy his freedom.

‘Dungeon Crawler Carl’ by Matt Dinniman tends to attract mixed reviews because of its crude humour. Carl, our hero, lives in a world where the human survivors of an apocalypse entertain alien viewers by scrambling for gear, leveling up, and fighting for their lives in a chaotic game.

Carl is somewhat fortunate. His companion is a cat with decent intelligence and incredible stats. Unfortunately, the game is designed to break humans like him.

‘Warlock: Reign of Blood’ by Edwin McRae follows Mark, a hapless hero in a virtual reality game where the NPCs act like real human beings. Mark feels compelled to protect them from the ancient evil threatening their lives.

‘He Who Fights With Monsters’ by Shirtaloon was a web series before it became a popular book. Jason wakes up in a fantasy world and learns that he can overcome impossible odds by mastering the fantasy RPG and cultivation elements at his disposal.

However, the protagonist’s most powerful tools are the values he obtained from his life on Earth, and which continue to confound his new friends and colleagues.

One of these novels is bound to pique your interest, assuming you like fantasy. I should point out that many LitRPG novels are self-published, which is concerning because so many indie novels are badly written and poorly edited.  But the hard work of sifting through the sea of garbage to find some notable LitRPG gems is worth it.


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