How did this seemingly stupid series- titled Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (published in English by Yen Press)- utterly sweep me off my feet and win my heart?! It’s a silly ecchi series with an overpowered, self-insert protagonist has no grounds through which to actually be taken SERIOUSLY. Yet here we are, after eleven volumes, and DanMachi has become one of my favorite light novel series of all time.
DanMachi‘s premise is dirt simple. Bell Cranell, the self-insert boy, has moved to the Dungeon City of Orario to become an adventurer for the sole purpose of picking up girls. This little fart of an idea would somehow spread into a massive cloud that covers the light novel market and never goes away no matter how much you wash it.
The backbone that forms DanMachi is its worldbuilding, or rather, citybuilding. But hey, Orario alone has more engaging worldbuilding than most entire WORLDS in modern fantasy. This city is built on top of the Dungeon, a sprawling labyrinth full of monsters that are constantly birthed from inside its walls. It’s dangerous as heck. Prep work is everything when going into that place, and it shows in the series’ opener when Bell almost gets gutted by a Minotaur.
Fortunately, people have the gods on their side. There are a myriad of gods who run little clubs called Familias, and they use a special power to record markings, called Falna, on their members’ backs. DanMachi runs on JRPG physics, and this is literally how they explain the existence of stats. The important thing to note is that characters can only gain stats by reporting to their god after gaining all the experience. There is a lot of depth to this system- including the rules and regulations regarding Familia themselves- and not letting you experience it all for yourself organically would be a disservice to DanMachi. Just note that it’s very intuitive and explained in a very engaging way compared to most other fantasy novels.
The city of Orario itself is insanely fascinating. The city has a lot of setpieces that help make it memorable. The best part is that it’s all introduced gradually; just when you think you’re familiar with the Orario, it throws you a curveball that hits you square in the bottom jaw.
But like in any city, the most important aspect of it is its people, which is my segue into discussing the large and amazing cast of DanMachi. Bell, as previously mentioned, is kind of a generic, “gotta-save-the-waifus” guy who has plot armor. However, due to the fantastic prose of the author, his nakama power actually feels like genuine accomplishments and moments of utter catharsis.
Meanwhile, we have Hestia. She’s one of the gods of Orario, and one of the worst in terms of social class. In fact, at the start of the series, Bell is the only member of her Familia! But not that far behind are Lily and Welf. Lily starts off as kind of damsel in distress, but her analytical nature makes her very resourceful when it comes to dungeon crawling. Welf is a blacksmith whose family is stained with tragedy. Naturally, both of these people enter spiritual awakenings when they meet up with Bell.
Outside of the main cast is a whole slew of important side characters. Notable characters include Eina, an elf who is charged with looking after Bell and making sure he doesn’t get killed. There is also Aiz Wallenstein, one of the strongest adventurers in Orario and Bell’s idol, as well as Freya, the goddess of beauty who is Bell’s stalker. The reason why someone like her is obsessed with Bell is actually contextualized as the narrative progresses. There are a ton of other characters but I won’t spoil them for you.
The art is the weakest aspect. It’s kind of bland and the character designs lack detail. When it comes to light novel art, I want more detail, mainly because they’re much more sparse, thus the illustrator has the time to make it stellar. But due to that sparseness, it’s not really an issue.
DanMachi is a series that’s meant to ease you in and let your guard down before it goes for the jugular. It begins as a decent, light-hearted comedy fantasy, but starting from around volume 5, it becomes so much bigger and more intense than ever before. If you love fun fantasies that also have great worldbuilding, then I HIGHLY recommend DanMachi, provided that you can get used to some of its tropes.