Isekai: a word that any anime enthusiast has come across. In recent years, fans are seeing more and more anime series and franchises that have Isekai as their overall theme.
It has also reached a point where avid anime watchers can easily distinguish titles and posters from an Isekai genre. So why is Isekai all the rage in Japanese media?
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What is an Isekai anime?
Isekai, in literal Japanese, means “another world” or “different world”. These storylines feature the main characters being transported to another world other than the one they live in. Contrary to popular assumption, Isekai is more of a theme than an official media genre. It's only been in the last few years that Isekai has finally solidified itself as a recurring genre.
Isekai also branches off different subplot variations. Although many people generally know that Isekai are only one-way portals, there are also animes with a two-way portal, such as Inuyasha and The Boy and The Beast. Some anime such as The Devil is a part-timer feature a reverse Isekai storyline.
Anime featuring an Isekai plot evolved throughout the history of the industry. In the 90s, characters that allowed fate to transport them to another world bore the burden of surviving and finding a way to return to their world. In contrast, modern Isekai is about thriving in a new place. Either way, Isekai is one of the reasons 2022 appears to be a good year for otakus, so far.
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Why is Isekai becoming a mainstream trend?
The Isekai genre was not a new sub-genre in the anime industry, as there were many shows from the 90s. During the 90s, Isekai was a relatively new concept of world transportation, so nobody coined the term Isekai until the early 2000s. the novelty of the concept has stapled many classic anime like Inuyasha and “Now and Then, Here and There” into the halls of history.
So why did Isekai become a trend only recently? The answer lies in how Isekai has become an easy format for fantasy genres. Basic pop fiction dictates content across consumable media around the world, specifically in Japan. And because fantasy-based and even MMORPG elements dominate mainstream media, they need a format where they can unleash story ideas. This explains why anime series feature isekai genres with homogeneous groups, easy-to-follow plots, and generic themes.
10 Anime under the Isekai genre
With that said, for beginners looking to explore the medium, or avid fans looking to indulge more in the isekai style, here are 10 isekai-themed anime.
Sword Art Online
One of the most infamous animes in mainstream media, Sword Art Online earns a love-hate relationship in mainstream media. Known for the protagonist's outburst and the obvious plot armor, SAO offers a complex fantasy world with interesting characters. Inspired by virtual technology before its public release, Sword Art Online paved the way for the isekai game genre.
No game No life
Imagine a world where games decide fate and outcome. No game no life is a popular isekai anime with fun fantasy and magic mechanics. The show also introduces Sora and Shiro, two multi-talented brothers with insane gaming skills. These two are great at constantly beating all odds against them.
Nostalgia as it is, many anime fans hailed Inuyasha as a quality Isekai anime during its time. While he hasn't aged well by modern standards, Inuyasha retains the charm of well-defined characters like Kagome and Inuyasha. Inuyasha is also one of the anime that features an Isekai plot with characters returning to their old world.
The Devil is a Part-Timer
This Isekai show is a fantasy genre anime that features reverse isekai – i.e. characters from another world being transported to Earth. If Isekai's reverse storyline wasn't a clear enough point, the show is also meta with the whole Isekai bent. The setup yields good laughs, an interesting plot to follow, and a fourth wall to break.
Many consider Re:Zero to be a modern staple in anime classics. This is due to the mundane elements where characters like Subaru, Rem, and Emilia roam. Action-fantasy anime Isekai is also great at pacing, something studios have a hard time executing. Fans should note that the first season exhibits world-building exposition, while the second season finally gives the show some purpose to work towards.
The Boy and the Beast
Coming from the genius storytelling mind of Mamoru Hosoda, The Boy, and The Beast is an anime film with a tranquil take on the Isekai genre. While there was plenty of screen time for the action tournament arcs, the core theme focused more on character development and internal monologues.
Zero no Tsukaima
Another anime from the early 2000s, Familiar of Zero is one of the first Isekai anime to feature ecchi. The Familiar of Zero gains fame by helping the fan service dominate a newly defined genre. This introduces a lot of humor into an almost slice-of-life anime genre format.
An underrated action anime in the sphere, Drifters is an immediate A-level anime because of how interesting the show is. While there is the conventional good versus evil plot, the overall theme proves just how unorthodox the show is. The show stays true to its traditional style, from the art style and the humorous cross-overs of figures to the lack of historical accuracy.
The dot hack series is one of the earliest forms of Isekai's subgenre, MMORPG games. This subgenre follows a formula of transporting main characters into the games they play. While the dot hack series' animation doesn't age well, it nevertheless shows the evolution of Isekai genres in their earliest forms.
The Rising of the Shield Hero
“Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari” was one of the most popular shows in 2019. That year, the Isekai genre dominated the charts of well-known anime lists for the first time. This anime is a well-balanced mid-level show, ranging from fantasy to action scenes and even world-wide politics.
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