I've had an itch to make this topic for a while now. It's been harder and harder to find pure discussion about good quality Japanese stories, and with the omnipresent shift of anime toward demographic pandering, story quality has eroded considerably and I find very few good shows released each year. It's suffocating, compared to 2006 when almost everything was watchable, and frankly boring, since there's no ongoing discussion between like parties on a subject that's mutually appreciated. I've talked to several people in this forum and gotten them to play visual novels, to much acclaim (I'm really glad you liked them!!) so I know there's interest, and with an anime/manga project like The World God Only Knows already making awareness of VNs more accessible to a wider audience, the time for this topic has come.
What are visual novels? Wiki can help you there. Chances are you've played visual novels in the form of games like Phoenix Wright, but the actual novel part is what many consider the "cut scene". They are effectively choice-tree sound novels with art. The medium is thus as flexible as traditional books, but doesn't suffer from demographic constraints like anime. If you like shounen style, there are shounen-styled VNs like Daibanchou! Big Bang Age. If you like serious drama, there are those too. Sci fi? Horror? Everything you could want, there's a novel with strong plot, characters, etc. Of course there's junk too, but when it comes to translated VNs, most people would not bother to translate junk, they translate what they like.
Why am I posting this in Other Manga/Anime? Visual novels aren't games really, they have all the interactivity of clicking the PLAY/PAUSE buttons on Media Player Classic. Likewise, their fans have little in common with "gamers" and I don't think there would be any interest in this subject in that subforum. Plus, most of my contacts are from this forum, so I want to maximize appeal.
I would also like to draw attention to a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Remember11 -the age of infinity- had an English patch released in October 2010. It is by KID, who created Ever17, although I personally don't feel it's up to the same godly standards as Ever17. However, R11 occurs over a six day period, from 11 January 2010 - 17 January 2010, and from personal experience, it is an incredible feeling to be playing the novel in real-time with the events depicted in-game. I had the opportunity to do this with Chaos;Head two years ago, it was utterly magical, and I highly recommend trying it out. You'll only get one shot at this, I suggest play one day/each day of the week.
Interestingly, I just got finished with Katanagatari and I think the release month/month setting worked well up until the last two episodes. It's really cool.
VNs I have played:
Ever17 -the out of infinity- (9.7/10)
Fate/stay night (7.4/10)
Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume (8.0/10)
Remember11 -the age of infinity-
Sengoku Rance (9.4/10)
Saya no Uta
My current play queue:
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors