Isekai is a sub-genre within the fantasy genre that is used to describe series in which the main character is transported to another world, thus the label, with “isekai” translating to “strange world”. Of course, most people can name a handful of popular shows that fall into the isekai sub-genre right now. While it has been around for awhile, it wasn’t populated enough to merit any thought. However, in recent years, it has exploded with a number of hit series not only running with the tropes, but also finding innovation in upending them.
For many, Digimon probably evokes some fond memories from childhood. However, you probably never thought about it as an isekai show, but that is exactly what it is. From the original series all the way through its many other incarnations, this series is about a group of kids getting transported to the digital world, often without a desire or knowledge of what is happening, then having to figure things out from there. First premiering in 1999, Digimon probably wasn’t the first series to go isekai, but it signaled the beginning of a craze.
This is another beloved childhood classic, but it is only somewhat of an isekai show. It begins that way with main girl Kagome being thrown down a well and transported to Feudal Japan, which, contrary to history, is flush with demons. However, it isn’t long before she finds a way back to the modern world, allowing her to transport herself back and forth. Yet, this long-running monster still counts as one of the earlier isekai series.
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
The Grimgar anime series only sports a few hints of it being an isekai series and they are brief. The characters find themselves without memory of how they got to a fantasy land, but characters have sparse bits of modern knowledge despite not remembering much other than their own names, like how the main character had the instinct to reach for his cell phone, but then wonder what a cell phone was.
Throughout the first season, this mystery was never addressed, but it followed the typical isekai trope of showing the characters as they tried to adapt to this new world, but struggled to survive both fighting and financially.
No Game No Life
No Game No Life was leeching onto the coat tails of other recent isekai series by transporting characters to a game world. However, instead of being a fantasy MMO-type world, the world in No Game No Life is just another world where citizens resolve disputes via games. As notoriously great gamers from the real world, needless to say, the main characters Shiro and Sora dominate in this new world.
Log Horizon has the unfortunate circumstance of premiering after Sword Art Online, which means a lot of hype train fans saw it as a rip-off. However, the truth is that Log Horizon provided a story that was more mature and had the potential to be a better “trapped in an MMO” isekai story. As it focused on a group of players rather than just a solo player that interacted with others, there was more of a focus on tactics and teamwork rather than just OP moves. However, there is no denying how similar their overall plots were.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
Who says an isekai series can’t be just pure fun? Apparently most creators who make a modern ones. While Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a little dated, it combines all the fun of a parody series under the guise of an isekai plot. Throughout the series, the characters try to navigate and escape various worlds that are ultimately based upon Sasshi’s geeky boy hobbies and interests.
While the debate between which is better – Log Horizon or Sword Art Online – is a fierce one, there is always the low-key good series that was Hack//Sign. The .hack series was the original “trapped in an MMO” isekai series made when even MMOs were a young genre. Still, for its time, it was daring and surprisingly well made with a plot that was intriguing enough to draw you in.
The Devil is a Part-Timer
Typically isekai series focus on your average run-of-the-mill student being transported to another world where they find themselves slightly more special. The Devil is a Part-Timer shows a different take on the isekai idea by taking a villain from another world and transporting him to modern day Japan. There that villain is rendered inept without any magic and thus turns into your run-of-the-mill citizen who gets a part-time job to scrap by. While many of the major plot points are his interactions with other characters from his world coming over, it is still an exciting and hilarious take on a dead horse of an idea.
Sword Art Online
Ah, yes. When people say isekai (and you actually know what it means) this is likely what you think of. Some say that Sword Art Online is responsible for the explosion of the idea as well as series featuring people stuck in games, and they might be right. After all, when something is as wildly popular as Sword Art Online was, other creators tend to copy it in order to cash in.
Like the Devil is a Part-Timer turned certain parts of popular isekai tropes on its head, so, too, does Overlord. In this series, a gamer is logged into his favorite MMO right before it is shut down. However, when midnight strikes, he still finds himself in the game with the NPCs come to life. Instead of actively trying to get out, he decides to conquer the game world.
Now and Then, Here and There
Most isekai series aren’t exactly what you would call “brutal,” they are more wondrous with a heavy dash of comedy. However, Now and Then, Here and Now features a kid who gets transported to a world that is significantly worse than his own. It is a world filled with cruelty and injustice making this isekai far from a happy series.
Despite the extreme rise in isekai series, almost all of them decided to take a more serious route. Like Abenobashi of old, KonoSuba decided to do things a little differently by making a series that is almost exclusively about comedy. It takes the isekai sub-genre as well as the game world setting and makes it hilarious by combining characters that are terrible people and terrible at everything they do.
Re:Zero is the most recent isekai phenomenon, and while it started off playing it straight, but things began to change. As you get further into the series, you find the traditional tropes that people used to love, but now are sick of, and turned on their head. Of course, audiences loved it. Carried heavily by its many characters, Re:Zero worked hard to earn a place in our hearts, and while it started off as a slow burn, as it went on, you couldn’t get enough.
Think we missed any more great isekai recommendations, tell us about them in the comments section below.