2023 has been a fantastic year for English visual novel releases. While we can’t claim to have played each one, between us, the NookGaming team has certainly read a lot of them. As this year comes to a close and we start 2024, we want to take a look back, highlight some of our personal choices for Top Visual Novels of 2023, and mention a few that we’re looking forward to with an anticipated 2024 release, whether due to announcements or current progress.
As always with GOTY lists (or VNOTY in this case), these choices are subjective, and only based on the visual novels we have personally played. It may later be updated to add in a few more titles, particularly for the later releases of 2023 that we haven’t completed yet.
Top Visual Novels of 2023
5 – UsoNatsu ~The Summer Romance Bloomed From A Lie~
If you told me at the start of 2023 that one of my top visual novels would be a thoughtful all-ages yuri story about the nature of love, family issues, and self-discovery, I’m not sure I would’ve believed it. UsoNatsu ~The Summer Romance Bloomed From A Lie isn’t the type of story I usually read. It surprised me with just how good it was.
It lightened the sometimes dark moments with amusing character quirks and witty banter but was an emotional experience with a serious take on women falling in love, realistic issues, and unconventional relationships. Beyond that, it has some beautiful art.
Please check out our full review of UsoNatsu ~The Summer Romance Bloomed From A Lie~. You can find the store page here.
4 – Anonymous;Code
As the long-awaited culmination of an overarching storyline the Science Adventure series spent a decade building, Anonymous;Code had big shoes to fill. Fortunately, it’s up to the task. Anonymous;Code trades the introspection of earlier Science Adventure games like Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate for a stronger focus on adventure, but makes it work with tightly-paced action, a charismatic lead, and a thrilling climax that’s a fitting sendoff for this era of Science Adventure.
The presentation also lives up to the Science Adventure series’ reputation as visual novel royalty. Colorful character designs, dynamic animation, a soundtrack full of bangers, and spectacular manga-style event graphics serve as the perfect complement to Anonymous;Code’s high-octane narrative. Put it all together, and you have one of the best visual novels of 2023.
3 – Clover Day’s Plus
Clover Day’s Plus is a story of childhood promises, the importance of family, and forbidden love. With a nice mix of dramatic moments, time spent with some very charming heroines, and constant laughs, it was one of the better reads of 2023. The production values were amazing too, making good use of the E-mote system.
Readers waiting for Clover Day’s Plus didn’t have the best experience in the world. Initially stuck in programming hell, it then launched with significant technical issues that let down an otherwise excellent experience which was reflected in my review. Fortunately, an update has since mostly resolved these.
2 – The Shell Part I: Inferno
The Shell Part I: Inferno is a remastered release of Innocent Grey’s 2008 visual novel, Kara no Shoujo. The remaster comes with a new translation, HD visuals, a new prologue, and some QoL improvements. Reading through The Shell was the best experience I had with a visual novel in 2023.
Mixing a murder mystery narrative with some evocative, difficult themes, and humanistic character writing, The Shell is a triumph of storytelling. I can’t wait to play subsequent entries in the series and see where Reiji Tokisaka’s story goes from here.
1 – Nukitashi
Set on an island where sex is everywhere and participation is enforced by the law, you’d not expect Nukitashi to have the story as a priority. Qruppo’s first visual novel release is surprisingly plot-heavy, with Junnosuke’s quest to change society always pushing the story along.
The style of localization has certainly caused some controversy, but I found myself laughing at the frequent flow of jokes and silly insertion of sex terms into everything. Nukitashi might not be for everyone, but I found it hilarious. What kept me engaged though was the surprisingly thoughtful look at the characters, at different points of view, and at this dystopian society they are trying to change.
Honorable Mention – Sugar Sweet Temptation
Sugar Sweet Temptation (or Shugaten as it’s commonly known) takes an overdone café-esque setting and the unoriginal idea of an amnesiac protagonist, yet pulls off a unique and sugary sweet story with romance that stands out among the released titles this year. It doesn’t skip out on the drama at all though and takes the story to some unexpected places.
While the characters and relationships are the main highlights, Shiratama’s artwork is absolutely beautiful and certainly stands out. From the catchy opening song to the voicing, the audio is great too, aside from some very unfortunate sound effects.
Honorable mention – Criminal Border: 1st Offence
Criminal Border: 1st Offence is the first entry in a four-part episodic visual novel from Purple Software. The plot focuses on a young man who accidentally creates a “digital aphrodisiac”, and is subsequently pulled into Japan’s criminal underworld.
Criminal Border surprised me with a thoughtful approach to its characters, and their often questionable actions. It does an excellent job of exploring a moral gray zone, whilst building your attachment to its characters. Criminal Border 1st Offence is an excellent opening to what might prove to be an excellent series.
Upcoming Visual Novels of 2024
While we certainly hope for some more announcements over the year, a good number of potential Top Visual Novels of 2024 have already been revealed. Here is our list of some of the upcoming visual novels that we’re looking forward to.
As a fair warning, inclusion in this list doesn’t mean these visual novels will absolutely be released in 2024. Release dates are subject to change, progress may go slower than expected, or delays may happen. In fact, if you take a look at our 2023 upcoming list, you’ll find a few on there now scheduled for 2024 that we’re still looking forward to.
Yume to Iro de Dekiteiru
I often love stories about close-knit groups of friends, which is why you’ll have seen Clover Day’s Plus and Majikoi appear on these lists before. Yume to Iro de Dekiteiru by feng may be another to add to those ranks.
Yume to Iro de Dekiteiru follows a group of seven friends who lost touch after their leader had to move away. She returns surprised to find out that they’ve grown apart and makes it her mission to reunite them with a new school club. It sounds like there are some deeper mysteries about the protagonist not wanting to rejoin and other things going on in the background to discover.
Between an interesting premise and having enjoyed the humor in feng’s lower-budget Special Place trilogy by the same writer, I’m expecting to enjoy this one quite a bit.
As an aside, we interviewed the translator for this a while back too.
Tsukihime -A piece of blue glass moon-
The long-awaited English localization of TYPE-MOON’s first visual novel is finally coming! Tsukihime -A piece of blue glass moon- is the first half of the remake of TYPE-MOON’s visual novel Tsukihime released back in 2000. It adapts Arcueid and Ciel’s routes which make up the “Near-Side” scenarios. A second part titled Tsukihime -The other side of red garden- which adapts the “Far Side” routes is currently in development.
The story follows Tohno Shiki, a young boy who, after an accident, wakes up with the ability to see the lines and cracks on everything. These lines and cracks, when traced, permanently cut anything. Although he’s able to live with this predicament through a pair of glasses given to him by a female mage he encountered, his life turns upside-down once again when he’s overcome with the urge to kill a blonde woman who passed by him…
Tsukihime is the second TYPE-MOON visual novel to receive an official English localization, following Witch on the Holy Night (Mahoutsukai no Yoru). This release is a welcome one for TYPE-MOON fans, hopefully setting a precedent for potential translations of their other visual novels, such as their flagship title Fate/Stay Night. It’s also the culmination of the promise made by Kinoko Nasu, the scenario writer, back in April 2008 when they announced the Tsukihime remake for the first time.
As a reader of his other work, I’m very much excited to see how Nasu has grown as a writer. It’s hard to imagine how he could further improve a title so well-loved by its fans already. And so far, the reception has largely been positive, with both old and new readers enjoying the experience. I can’t wait to dive into it myself!
If you read the top 5 list above, you’ll not be surprised to find that I’m looking forward to Nukitashi 2. Taking place after the events of Nukitashi, it takes the protagonist and several former enemies to a new world through the most absurd method of transmigration I’ve heard of. Finding himself in a world where he is what he’s always hated most, it’ll be interesting to see how Junnosuke handles it. It seems to retain the hilariously absurd humor that the first title had, so I’m expecting a lot of laughs when it comes out. Perhaps if it does well, we might even get Qruppo’s most recent work too?
For those who complained about Nukitashi’s localization, it is worth noting that the translator and editor involved will be different for Nukitashi 2. Whether that changes the style of localization will have to be discovered on release.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Ace Attorney is a great series that has been held back by one not-so-small issue: to actually play the games you had to own a Nintendo DS. Fortunately, Capcom has moved throughout the last decade to make these games available to a wider audience, and the upcoming release of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is the latest step in this process.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy packages the fourth through sixth mainline Ace Attorney games into a single release. The story follows the eponymous Apollo Justice, Phoenix Wright’s protege, as he takes the fight for courtroom justice into a new generation. With its promises of clever mysteries, thrilling trials, endearing characters, and zany hijinks, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is a visual novel I can’t wait to get my hands on.
I took a look at the demo of Lovesick Darlings back in 2019, and at this point, it’s a NookGaming tradition to add it to our upcoming list. It’s been delayed significantly, always seemingly expected to be ‘next year’, but it now finally has a release date: 26th March 2024. The developer seems confident that it will finally be released this time.
While the story just follows a normal group of friends in school, LoveSick Darlings stands out with brilliant character writing and how much it changes based on your actions. The sheer scale of the script is amazing with 980,000+ words due to the changing nature of the story.
Criminal Border: 2nd Offence
After Criminal Border 1st Offence impressed me so much, it’s only natural I’d be looking forward to the follow-up. There are a lot of promising narrative ideas set up for Criminal Border 2nd Offence, and with a shift in heroine focus to Kotoko, the daughter of a Yakuza boss, I’m expecting the stakes to ramp up pretty significantly.
Only time will tell how Criminal Border plays out as a whole, but the quality of its first episode has given me high hopes. If the second episode bangs as hard as the first, then I’m confident we’re in for an excellent ride.
What did you think of these choices? Are these what you would you choose for the Top Visual Novels of 2023? What are you looking forward to in 2024? 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.