2021 has been a great year for visual novels. We’ve had a ton of great ones released in English. Shiravune has made a big splash by dropping repeated surprise releases. We’ve seen some surprisingly good indie releases too. As we roll over into 2022, we’d like to take a look back. KuroKairin, Wes Playfair, and myself (Thomas Knight) have worked together to put together a number of the top visual novels of 2021 and chosen some we’re looking forward to in 2022.
As always for these types of lists, they are both subjective and based on the games that we have personally played. It may be updated to add in a few more titles, particularly for the later releases of 2021 that we haven’t completed yet.
Top Visual Novels of 2021
5 – Olympia Soiree
Olympia Soiree paints a kaleidoscopic world filled with vivid colors, yet also one where many people can only see beauty in those like themselves. Each individual on Tenguu Island is born with one or more colors, and a color-coded caste system shapes every facet of life and society. Olympia, the last woman of the color white and servant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, sets out to find a husband, continue her bloodline, and fulfill her mother’s wish that she find true love. While Olympia stands apart from the color system, she sees the injustices it causes and aspires to change the world. Facing the secrets that shaped Tenguu Island won’t be easy, but luckily she’ll have help from some very handsome and eligible bachelors along the way.
Olympia Soiree tackles difficult topics and leans heavily on its worldbuilding, but does so without losing its sense of pace. Likewise, the characters are incredibly human. Olympia and her friends face complex challenges in their journey to build a better society, and those who oppose them might be wrong, but they’re not blindly evil. Through their shared struggles, Olympia can build exciting romances with a fun selection of love interests, and Olympia Soiree brings everything to life with stunning art and a memorable soundtrack. Olympia Soiree is a complete package and one of my 2021 highlights.
A full review of Olympia Soiree can be found here.
4 – Aquadine
Aquadine is a heartfelt tale of myth, friendship, and love. Robin, a high school boy struggling to care for his sick mother, secretly works as a gondolier under the alias Ciel. Ciel’s unfaltering smile pays the mounting medical bills, but if it came out that Ciel was really the aloof and cynical Robin, it could all collapse in an instant. Robin’s not the only one hiding his burdens though, and if he’s willing to open his heart to the friends around him, he might find he’s not as alone as he thinks.
Every piece of Aquadine, from a vivid setting inspired by folklore to endearing characters who radiate kindness and warmth, is brought to life with lush, beautiful art just as striking as that of many big-studio visual novels with ten times the budget of this independently produced original English language work. Add in an emotional story with a touching message about treasuring connections, and you have a recipe for one of my favorite visual novels of 2021.
A full review of Aquadine can be found here.
3 – The Blind Of The New World
The Blind of the New World flew under the radar, which is a shame because it’s a gripping sci-fi with a lot to say. Set in a near future where illusory holograms are the new reality, The Blind of the New World is a story about people and perspective. The protagonist, Seejay, can’t see these holograms and is “blind”: useless and cut off from the world. But when a mysterious girl streaks like a shooting star across his formless, colorless sky, can Seejay finally find a place for his gaze to rest? What will it cost if he does?
Though a compact experience focusing on the relationship between its leads and the forms that might take, The Blind of the New World is at once thoughtful, moving, and haunting. With a script unafraid of ambiguity and a willingness to tie bold visual choices to its story and themes, The Blind of the New World never stopped pushing me to seek new perspectives and dive into its emotional core. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget and one of my favorite visual novels of 2021.
A full review of The Blind Of The New World can be found here.
2 – Renai Karichaimashita: Koikari – Love For Hire
Renai Karichaimashita: Koikari – Love For Hire grabbed my attention with its concept and pulled it off brilliantly. The protagonist is in need of money and decides to work for a shady ‘Human Rental Agency’. Whether pretending to be a lover or a brother, it uses the idea for some great situational comedy.
While the idea is great, Koikari’s eccentric cast of heroines made it stand out more than most other titles this year. While it didn’t win #1 overall, it’s certainly my personal favorite this year and certainly deserves a place in the Top Visual Novels of 2021.
1 – The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Ace Attorney is the premier name in murder mystery visual novels, and The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles represents a high water mark for the long-running series. Step into the shoes of Phoenix Wright’s ancestor Ryunosuke Naruhodo as he travels across the ocean to fight for justice in the courtrooms of Victorian London’s Old Bailey alongside friends old and new.
All the hallmarks of Ace Attorney are here, from wacky witnesses rendered in art bursting with moxie to thrilling courtroom showdowns set to dynamic, memorable music, further bolstered by exciting new mechanics and the addition of one Great Detective Herlock Sholmes. Even more significantly, the story and characters are some of the best yet. Friends and foes alike harbor shades of gray while the ambitious story creates stakes that continuously test Ryunoske’s resolve. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles also builds on the themes of its predecessors, sometimes in surprising ways. Believing–in one’s client, in truth, in justice, and in oneself–might not be easy or without consequences, but The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles shows it’s worth doing all the same and is my pick for best visual novel of 2021.
Honorable mention – Dohna Dohna ~ Let’s Do Bad Things Together
I didn’t expect to enjoy Dohna Dohna ~ Let’s Do Bad Things Together when I first started it, mostly because it has themes that I don’t enjoy, including rape. But I was convinced to give it a try, hoping the RPG elements and amazing artwork would make up for it. I was surprised to find a really interesting world slowly revealed through the story, along with some fun characters. The combat and management were better than I’d come to expect from visual novels with gameplay too.
Honorable mention – BUSTAFELLOWS
BUSTAFELLOWS is an otome noir mystery visual novel that follows Teuta Bridges, a freelance journalist, as she embarks on a thrilling and dangerous journey in New Sieg. This is PQube’s first localization of an otome game and it certainly lived up to the hype. A story that is a wild ride full of feels with memorable characters and places full of personality, paired with eye-catching art, emotional music, and superb voice acting — BUSTAFELLOWS is one of the top-tier otome visual novels published this year.
A full review of BUSTAFELLOWS can be found here.
Honorable mention – Kinkoi: Golden Loveriche
Kinkoi: Golden Loveriche follows the well meaning protagonist Ouro, who happens into a chance to attend school with the rich and powerful. For the most part, it’s a light and comedic story that explores relationships from the past and the meaning of making use of the current time and current opportunities. It slowly reveals its story through the various character routes. I particularly liked how each different heroine explored a different aspect of the plot, which may have only been briefly mentioned in other routes.
While it doesn’t quite get into the numbered section of the Top Visual Novels of 2021 list, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The other routes were enjoyable for their comedy and romance, but the final route in particular stood out as making the entire experience worth it.
Upcoming Visual Novels of 2022
If you’ve been following this site for a while, you may have realized that I enjoy rom-coms and moege. Clover Day’s doesn’t look like it’s trying anything too new, but it’s full of popular tropes. It has the protagonist reuniting with heroines. There are childhood friends. Multiple twins appear, with one pair being adopted stepsisters. Mixing these with what looks to be a sweet romance story, high production values and a lot of comedy, I’m certainly looking forward to it.
NekoNyan has confirmed that they definitely plan a 2022 release for Clover Days, with the porting expecting to be finished in the coming months (as of Dec 2021).
UPDATE: This game has now released
While I enjoy a good school rom-com as much as the next person, it’s always exciting to see visual novels explore new settings. Set in an alternate history where the Cold War never ended, Voyvod Arts’ upcoming visual novel One Spirit very much fits this bill. The story follows the coming of age of a young man named Yuri in the fictional Western bloc nation of Sysica. Sysica is a quietly decaying husk littered with broken promises and the remnants of shattered dreams. Still, the people do what they can to make it home. To Yuri, it feels profoundly stagnant and isolating, but there are whispers in the shadows, and sometimes it only takes one spark to set the world ablaze.
One Spirit currently has a free demo that Voyvod Arts have spent the last few months continuously improving, and I thought it was quite promising. The prose can be on the literary side, so slow-paced and not exactly action-packed, but digs into One Spirit’s thought-provoking themes. The art does great work bringing Sysica and its visceral gloom to life while extensive lore available for those interested in a deep dive into Sysica shows Voyvod Arts put a lot of thought into the world they’re building. I think One Spirit has the potential to offer something striking and unique, and I’m excited to see what the planned 2022 full release will bring.
Update: The KickStarter was cancelled in July 2021. We spoke to the developer, who said they’d be canceling and postponing. Since then, their website has gone down, they have made their Twitter private, and no more information has been shared.
Tomorrow Will be Dying
Estimated to release in 2022, Tomorrow will be dying is a relaxing slice-of-life indie visual novel by Team Robo. The story centers on B and her three friends, and explores their everyday friendship when they are university students. So far, I’m quite enchanted by its gentle art, pleasing pastel color scheme, and overall serene vibe.
Update: Team Robo have stated they now expect a April/May 2023 release.
I took a look at the demo of Lovesick Darlings back in 2019, and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. It’s an Original English Language visual novel (OELVN) that was expected to release in 2020, but it has since been revised to 2021 and now 2022 or beyond. While delays have been repeated, it’s being worked on and progress reports have been consistent.
The game follows Sydney, a teenager in an Australian high school. It’s a fairly normal setting, but stands out based on it’s brilliant character writing and how much it changes based on your actions.
What did you think of these choices? What would you choose for the Top Visual Novels of 2021? What are you looking forward to in 2022? As always, feel free to let us know your choices on Twitter or our Discord.
Want to see our choices for the other years? Check out the full list here:
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.