It is a story that has been told many times before, but this genre of anime and manga tells the tale in different ways. For one thing, instead of following some ancient hero on their quest to slay an evil dragon or restore peace to the land (okay, so maybe there are dragons), they follow someone from our world who gets trapped into another dimension. Usually, it centres around how these characters must try to adjust not only themselves with new customs but also learn what was happening within other lands as well.
In English literature, an equivalent to Isekai works would be “portal fantasy“. In this category of fantasy, a clueless character living in their normal life with no magic is transported through some sort of portal or magical event and ends up fighting monsters and whatnot for survival on fantasy worlds that they know nothing about before being taken there.
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The Isekai formula
The earliest isekai story is about Urashima Taro, a fisherman who helps a turtle. The turtle transforms into a woman and takes him to an alternate realm where they marry happily before he eventually chooses to return home, only for his world to be gone in its entirety.
When it comes to Japanese light novels, manga and anime, there are two popular subcategories of the isekai genre. One is Isekai Ten’i; the summoned to save the parallel worlds trope, which involves a character’s physical transportation into another world. And the other one is Isekai Tensei, in which the spirit only transfers from our world with nobody going along for this spiritual journey; this usually involves the appearance of gods and goddesses.
These are the common tropes of the entire genre: a normal school student dies and meets a god and gets another chance at life in a parallel universe (Isekai Tensei); a person living their normal life gets summoned by residents of a magical realm to help in defeating a demon lord (Isekai Ten’i).
Basically, all you need to be a part of this category is to travel through a portal or get reincarnated into a parallel universe. But there are also common tropes that define the genre. The most prevalent one wishes fulfilment or satisfaction of desire in an indirect way. This often plays out as transforming a nobody with average abilities into an overpowered character.
Revision to The Formula
As the genre grew, creators took the overpowered main character with incorruptible morals trope and turned it sideways. Two of the most popular isekai series today have relatively weak protagonists: KonoSuba and Re:Zero presents the struggles of living in an alternative universe and facing a dangerous situation without incredible powers.
Some isekai anime would put Tensei and Ten’i subcategories together in anime series like Sword Art Online, How Not To Summon A Demon Lord, and Overlord that involve video games mechanics to explain qualities that are unexplored or outright broken. The character uses magical powers or an array of abilities that they wouldn’t normally have access to apart from the virtual worlds.
Isekai Anime with Different Approaches
Many anime fans automatically think of Isekai as shōnen, given that the protagonists are usually male and they have a tendency to have incredible powers. But not every protagonist is male or superhuman – Spirited Away and Inuyasha wouldn’t exactly classify as shōjo. But it would be interesting to see different interpretations of this genre beyond just the basic setting. Below are the popular isekai anime that take different approaches to the genre.
The Vision of Escaflowne
In The Vision of Escaflowne, Hitomi helps Van defeat a dragon and get pulled into the world of Gaea. Once there, she finds it’s a war-torn world with flying mechs involved making it one of the strangest Isekai worlds ever seen!
The 90’s anime Fushigi Yuugi is one of the first shows to introduce a genre that has become popularized over time. The show transplants two girls into a world based on Chinese mythology and tasks them with different missions as priestesses on opposing sides. There are no truck-kuns transporting them across dimensions in this story; rather, there are books that transport Miaka and Yui out of their normal lives through transportation magic into another dimension within its pages where they must fight for their respective gods.
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The main premise of Gate follows Japan’s Self-Defense Force at war against an invading kingdom from parallel world. In addition to forging friendly relations with the inhabitants of the new world, the JSDF also battles a variety of fantasy creatures, including dragons and other fantastic beasts. The series does an amazing job at blending both modern-day and fantastical elements, giving it popular reception amongst fans.
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Saga Of Tanya The Evil
Tanya Degurechaff is a Japanese salaryman who is reborn into the body of Tanya in this new world. Armed with knowledge from her past life and innate magical talent, she rises through the ranks to become an elite military officer – all while being threatened by Being X’s attempts to turn her devout follower. With such ruthless cunning strategies, the viewers can’t help but love and cheer for Tanya.
KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World is a humorous yet serious anime. Unlike most other Isekai series, the show focuses mainly around Kazuma Satou getting into ridiculous situations that are both hilarious and exciting to watch. The cast of characters includes Megumin, who only has one obsession- explosion magic; Darkness, who is surprisingly masochistic for being a knight; Aqua, who, despite her title as a goddess, seems useless in every way possible while also lacking any sense or reason whatsoever. KonoSuba isn’t intense like some other Isekai titles but rather very lighthearted with just enough badass moments to keep it from falling flat.
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The Devil Is A Part-Timer!
The Devil Is a Part-Timer! is an anime like no other. What if you woke up one day and found yourself in the human realm with all your demonic powers stripped from you? You would be down on earth at Fast Food restaurant, working on getting by. Our protagonist, Satan, experiences just that, and now he is hell-bent to rise to the top of the fast-food corporate ladder.
What’s so exciting about Drifters is that it is not about someone from the modern world getting used to a magical world. Instead, the isekai protagonist transported to another world is Toyohisa Shimazu, a rearguard in the Japanese military in 1600. Alongside other warriors from different eras and worlds, Toyohisa serves as a warrior in this war against the Ends who established The Orte Empire and persecuted elves or magical creatures with impunity.
It’s no surprise that the isekai genre has continued to prosper. But with so many stories and adaptations already out there, what more can be done? Well, for one thing, we hope new takes on the concept will continue to expand it in new directions – subverting tropes or even inventing entirely different angles of attack from which to approach this premise. We hope you have found our guide helpful!