So, as you can garner from the synopsis, this story is another isekai with a funny title. In light novels, there is a lot of isekai, so it is difficult to find titles worth the read, especially when so many are just a concept about some weird self-insert main character in a ridiculous situation. The basis for the "other world" situation is simple in Kumo Desu, but at the same time pivotal to the plot: otherworldly death of an entire classroom of individuals (teacher included) and subsequent reincarnation in their new world with no explanation, but all their memories intact as newborns.
That's enough about the reincarnation explanation; though I consider the type of reincarnation used to be important for first impressions. Anyway, what makes Kumo Desu worth reading? Well, there are a few reasons for this, starting with the word "isekai" itself and ending with literary techniques used to craft the story, and then everything in-between from characters and their relations to world-building.
So, many of you know the isekai shtick, right? MC dies by some wayside accident on Earth and is reborn in another world and has some incredible overpowered ability, or quickly gains said ability, or was already overpowered in the first place. Well, first and foremost, that's thrown out the window in Kumo Desu straight away. Not only is there no convenient character to explain the situation of their reincarnation to any of the students that where killed in the opening chapter, but the main character (henceforth referred to as Kumoko), is born as the weakest monster in the world inside of largest, most dangerous labyrinthine cave on the planet. If you're tired of overpowered main characters who face very little opposition before gaining their power, that's already one point in your book. Kumoko fights for survival in a world that is stacked against her before gaining any sort of power. She earns her strength.
On top of this, isekai are often presented with a baked-in game-like system much of the time. Sometimes it's a minor thing like "Skills" and "Spells" and "Stats" that is used to give a quantifiable value of strength for the reader to reference such as Arifureta, but other times it's overblown to the point of ridiculousness like Re;Monster. Often, though, what makes this game-like state natural to the world is not addressed, or it is eventually left in the wayside like in Overlord. Needless to say, Kumo Desu has one of these systems. To alleviate a concern, though, I can say that not only is this system structured in such a way that all of the details are organizable and quantified (as you can see by how I have organized the data on the Fandom Wiki, spoilers in link, be warned), but that it is never left in the wayside, and as a matter of fact is a major point of conflict in the story. Saying any more than this would be encroaching on spoiler territory, so I will refrain from speaking further into this topic.
That's just a minor thing, though. The real golden nugget of this story comes from the writing of the plot itself. See, another big thing with isekai is that rarely is the mystery of the reincarnation or summoning ever really addressed. There are some that deal with it as a part of the current world, but with no interest in Earth, like Slime Tensei, others that make pivotal to the main character, like Re;Zero, and still more where returning to Earth is a major goal, like Arifureta. Generally in the community, these types are considered isekai light novels worth reading, though, with much of the rabble of isekai barely even addressing the reincarnation aspect after the first few initial chapters. So, where does Kumo Desu land itself in this regard? Well, the whole reason for the reincarnation in the first place ties back into a great secret that slowly unveils itself as the story moves forward. This is a constant technique that gets used.
See, what makes Kumo Desu such compelling writing is that it uses a writing technique called "backwards script-writing;" coined by Yoko Taro - director and writer of Nier:Automata. The entire story and web of interconnected characters and events was planned out long before the pen was put to paper and the real writing started, from end to beginning, and then everything in-between. The further you read into the story the more the secrets are unveiled, but at the same time the more questions start to stack onto each other. On top of that, the narration style and perspective shifts allow for Okina Baba to lead the reader where they want them to, allowing for fun engaging reading to those who try and figure out the mysteries beforehand. Good use of a lot of not-so-obvious foreshadowing makes rereading fun as well. You can find details in the first volume where that won't be answered until much later in the story (beyond what is currently serialized in Japan, believe it or not). The perspective shifts between characters, comparable to Game of Thrones in this sense, also presents rich character interaction and growth, as well as moments of hilarious misunderstandings that only the reader is aware of. The use of backwards script-writing, amazing foreshadowing, and perspective shifts to create an intricate plot that all ties back to the very first chapter of the story are the heart of Kumo Desu.
Now, that isn't to say the story isn't without its faults. The main one being that the secondary character in the first five volumes, Shun, is the very stereotype of a dry, boring, OP isekai protagonist. He's completely unrelatable as a character; the ideal "hero" that no one would really strive to be. This is a constant complaint about the series that is impossible to ignore, and so I will address it: he is written like this on purpose. If you are having difficulty relating to him as a character and find his actions frustrating and difficult to understand, congratulations! You are among the majority of people that are feeling exactly what Okina Baba intended when she wrote Shun. Though his chapters are a dry spot in the series that takes away from the humorous and charming main character, I would like to point out a few key things: the chapters in Shun's perspective are short, really start to ramp up into a fast-paced chaotic spiral by the end of Volume 3, and reach a crescendo at the end of Volume 5 that doesn't get continued for a long time. By the time you reach the end of his side of the story, you'll be wanting more of it.
Now that Volume 6 has been released, though, another set of strengths of this series comes into play besides the constant battles Kumoko deals with in the first five: character relations, personalities, development, world-building, and pacing. See, there's a lot more to Kumo Desu besides the constant battles and struggle for survival. You'll get hints of it throughout the first few volumes, inter-spaced between Kumoko's antics and Shun's story, but the heart of the story doesn't really begin until Volume 6, which is why I've waited so long to write this post. Needless to say, Volume 6 slows things down and changes the focus to character development and world-building. Okina Baba is extremely good at developing each character's internal conflict and personalities, as well as how they interact with each other, properly creating unique characters with proper relationships. At the same time, world-building is expanded upon from the web novel, which many current readers consider to be a true rough draft of the story. The world-building is also not narrated in a dry, boring tone of a reliable narrator, but through the experiences of the people on the ground. It is not like Overlord or Youjo Senki, which are detailed to an extreme degree of precision through narration, but the events and speech of the characters themselves that build the world. In a way, it presents itself in a more western-like writing style than most light novels, such that the flow of events and world-building is smooth and written in almost nonchalantly, even though it is just as detailed as other light novels when you begin to analyze it. Although Volume 6 begins to change the pace of the story, it is still strengthening everything that came before it.
All-in-all, Kumo Desu Ga, Nani Ka? is my number one favourite series of all time, across all media. That's a subjective opinion, and I do realize that it has faults in some places, but the compelling story, written as a web of character relations, events, and mysteries, is one of the best-written pieces I've ever had the joy of experiencing. Having read the web novel, I can wholly recommend the light novel for a multitude of reasons: the humorous, sarcastic, and prideful main character, the sense of unveiling mystery revolving around the reincarnations, the cool battles, the properly structured and plot-critical game-like system, everything about the other characters (except Shun), the style of writing and world-building, and more. Okina Baba has written so much new content for the light novel, properly tying up loose ends that are present in the web novel and adding so much more detail to her world that I can recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone even remotely interested in the isekai genre. If I haven't convinced you to at least try it out, I don't know what will.
There's a lot of things I think are great about this story, and honestly I have a hard time putting my thoughts in order without spoiling anything, so I'll try my best.
First I love how this story both plays straight and subverts the typical tropes of current trend isekai. In that, not only does this story uses those tropes to the best they can be (e.g. the video game-like system is actually developed and an integral part of the world-building rather than a tool our hero has for no reason, not to mention our protagonist doesn't start with a cheat that makes her jump to level 100 effortlessly and actually has to start at the bottom like everyone), but it also goes above into deconstructing those tropes by justifying their existence (WHY is there a video game system in the first place? After all it can't be a natural phenomenon) and the story builds itself from there. There are numerous cases like this and I'd love to give concrete examples but that'd be major spoilers.
Which brings me to number two, a big strength of this story is that the author wrote it in a way reminiscent of a mystery novel, in that you're only given key information when needed and you are left to piece the answers yourself as to what's really happening behind the scenes through contextual clues (sometimes foreshadowing things that will only get revealed 10 books later) which makes rereading a blast as you can see how the big picture falls into place. Do not worry though, if it's not your thing the story WILL give you the answers once they're necessary to keep going, but don't expect them to be given fast.
This also brings another thing worth mentioning: the characters. The story is as much plot-driven as it is character-driven, and their interactions are some of the best I've seen in recent memory for the genre. The cast starts small but expands throughout the series without ever becoming overbearingly huge, each of them having their own distinct traits and personalities which provides a lot of funny but also touching interactions. This is also greatly helped by the fact that the story follows numerous points of views, allowing us to see the perspective of many characters instead of being restricted to our protagonist, and leads up to many situations of misunderstanding that only the reader is aware of. Their different experiences really help shape the world even more, and the author even uses this first-person narration as unreliable narrators, after all they only know what they know, and people are not always right or honest even with themselves so you can't take everything at face value.
The story is generally presented as lighthearted and funny at first glance, but the struggles are real and the consequences dire, so it definitely has a more serious side to it. And it's in combination with all the previously mentioned things that this story really stands out for me.
Why should you read "So I'm a Spider, so what?
Premise: Whole classroom gets isekaid and our main character becomes a Spider. Standard isekai procedure, right? But there is a difference and that is with the Kumoko. The story follows her journey in the Great Elroe Labyrinth as she gets stronger and stronger while managing to barely survive. It's quite a shift from standard reincarnated premises when the MC is not overpowered by any means in the beginning of the story(Tensura) It is also divided between her PoV and her classmates which serves as a complete 180 to her situation.
Characters: The main appeal of the title is of course the main character who has a quirky and cheerful personality having lots of fun and positivity in life trying her hardest to survive. What makes Kumoko different from others is how the author manages to portray her, you see she has quite the personality and it really shows when the inner monologues happen and the story is written in First Person. We also got a huge ton of others like Reincarnations and all but that would be spoiler territory and I cannot say more than that other than them being very unique in some aspects but generic intentionally in others.
Narration: Light Novel is divided into chapters dedicated to Kumoko and to other Reincarnations commonly referred to as Hero Side. The chapters are very close to each other and just like one could see in the anime it transitions like that. What is key to this is the fact that because we have so many PoV of characters we can clearly see how can one interpret let's say Kumoko's actions in their way contrary to others which gives it the feeling of liveness each has their role and personality even if at times generic isekai archetypes.
System: In isekai titles it's often the game-y like stuff with skills and all that is as generic as possible you've got bunch of overpowered abilities that can oneshot anybody.What is weird and interesting about Kumo Desu is that the author does not provide clear answers about the mysteries surrounding the world, like it has a lot of foreshadowing that one could easily miss but if paid attention would pay off a lot. Due to not giving answers right away the readers are forced to slowly process what has been happening and give their own take for the truth and THAT is absolutely sick. Conclusion: If you are sick of overpowered protagonists that tend to get their powers in a cheat like form, tired of generic harem and stories that have no clear goal, and wish to see a very cool spider girl doing sick stuff then Kumo Desu is for you.
The main character, she's my favorite. I would read her even if the story was utter shit. But, the story isn't shit so this series is pretty perfect to me. She's the type of character who's unexpectedly relatable at times, surprising at times, real entertaining to watch, well-built, and silly. And she really has a strong mental state and I was surprised how she didn't break at times. And what I like is that she follows her personal ideals and doesn't overtly even care to be a "hero" in situations. Not to mention she's a good strategist.
Now onto the story. It's a realistic take on isekais. Everything the protagonist does feels heavily earned, underearned at times actually. The story also shows that humans really aren't overly powerful like in most of these settings, one wrong move and they can even lose to a weak monster.
Also, the problem I have with isekais is that most of them feel disappointing. They have tropes they can expand on but they don't so it feels like a waste. I've fully accepted this until I found this series.
Personally, with fantasy I don't want to read the protagonist in a dream-land, I'm looking for a grounded take on what it is like to live in another world from the harshness and all. I'm looking for solid world-building and this series delivers. This series also discusses the harshness of being summoned in another world. Of course being summoned in another world and losing your past life is going to be pretty tragic, and it explains that the characters have to deal with that. So they have to face loneliness for a while and find some resolve. This series actually gives importance to the reincarnations' past lives and it is what really affects them throughout the story in some way. Most isekais protagonists don't even remember their past lives and I'm like "then what's the point of it being isekai?"
This series also has a magic system that isn't built onto for the convenience of the MC having cool scenes, but it actually plays an important role and is well-built. What I like about it is that it feels like it's an already established system and the protagonist has to find creative ways to use it.
What I like about this series is that everything has a purpose. So many details will probably come together.
As you've heard this series focuses on not only our MC's perspective, but we also have another plotline focusing on the perspective of one of her classmates. This classmate is very stereotypical and generic as a hero, but he's one that makes sense. His situation makes sense, you can get where he is coming from even if you don't agree, and it's hard to call him a bad person. It's hard to hate him when he's well written, the author was able to explain his situation well. Also what's an interesting aspect of this series is that the reincarnations all gain their past memories the moment they are newborns instead of gaining them when they are ten years old or something, so with this you can see how they spent a heavenly long time in this world. Having lived in this world for a long time and while knowing their past lives conflicts them, which is really awesome I've always wanted isekais like this that show the mental realism.
I’m a Spider So What is - I would say - objectively one of the best isekais’ up to date. The protagonist ‘I’ goes through many trials and tribulations; facing many enemies and achieving results with actual hard work that not many isekais’ actually present. Unlike many isekais, everything in I’m a Spider So What is intricately planned, with many actions, side characters justified and are incredibly relevant to the story. The world-building surrounding the whole story contributes to the plot which many isekai novels fail to do. The emotions that the author expresses with the characters are so fleshed out. The story contains many plot-twists that the average reader will never expect. I’m a Spider So What shows two sides of the story in which shows the ‘Human Side’ and shows the ‘I’ side. The Human Side would seem like a boring plot to some people coupled with plot holes that the reader might think the book has; however, as one gets further into the story, every single detail layed out in the ‘Human Side’ has relevance and ties in with ‘I’s story. The justification of every single detail including the existence of the reincarnation is so thoughtfully laid-out that it makes you think that the whole story was all planned from the beginning. For the cherry on top, this is not to go that the author writes every single detail accurately, down to the stats. Overall, I believe that I’m a Spider So What represents what a masterpiece is. The amount of planning, thought and detail that Okina Baba poured into the story is a cut above most isekai novels out there currently.
The interesting main character, extensive worldbuilding, unexpected but satisfying twists, and almost every side character has more thought put into them than most protagonists in this genre get. The plot (which doesn't feature much in volumes 1 and 2, but snowballs from there) is serious, but there are enough comedic elements to lighten the mood when necessary.
This isn't just one of the best Japanese works I've seen. I count this as one of the best series I've read in general.