A visual novel is an adventure game featuring mostly static graphics, usually with anime-style art. As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels or tableau vivant stage plays. Visual novels are especially prevalent in Japan, where they make up nearly 70% of PC games released. They are rarely produced for video game consoles, but the more popular games are sometimes ported to systems such as the Dreamcast or the PlayStation 2. The market for visual novels outside of East Asia, however, is limited.

Visual novels overlap with Japanese adventure games in many ways, including a menu-based interface for all navigation and interaction, reminiscent of ICOM games. Japanese adventure games very seldom feature on-screen avatars or inventory based puzzles in general, and visual novels have an even further diminished emphasis on puzzles, or indeed gameplay. Instead these titles are driven by narrative, focusing almost exclusively on character interaction, in a structure similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure story.