If you are new to anime and have barely watched a few anime movies, odds are you’ve already watched a few isekai masterpieces. But you probably don’t know what ‘isekai’ means, so you are here looking it up.
In this article, we will discuss what isekai means, what it features, and why it’s growing more popular every day, and we’ll also go through a list of must-watch isekai anime.
The Japanese word “isekai” means “other world,” and it refers to an anime genre where a protagonist gets transported to a different world and faces new challenges but thrives because of his unique qualities and ends up becoming crucial to the destiny of characters in that world.
This is a brief description of what isekai is all about. But there is much more to this term. So, let’s take a deeper look!
Isekai Meaning – Explained
As mentioned above, the word ‘Isekai’ is translated to “Other World” or “Different World.”
As a genre, isekai refers to an anime where a protagonist gets transported to another world. This may involve one of the two ways where a character either falls into some magical portal and gets transported to another world; or dies in the human world only to be reborn in another.
But most isekai transitions are involuntary, i.e., the character moves to a new universe without their knowledge or consent.
That means these isekai protagonists are kinda stuck in their new world in survival mode.
This new world can be a fantasy land like in Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World, a virtual world like Sword Art Online, or a mix of both, like in the Digimon Series.
However, transportation within the same universe at different timelines is not considered isekai, even if the timeline presents an entirely new universe, as observed in Dr. Stone.
Anyways, in most of the isekai titles, the protagonist usually has a unique quirk that makes him important or famous in the new universe. It can be as simple as having unique hair color or as complex as having medical, engineering, cooking, managing, or writing skills.
Though the isekai genre is considered a recent genre, it has its roots in Japanese folklore.
The most famous of these fables is the “Urashima Taro” fairy tale, where a fisherman rescues a turtle only to be taken to a distant ‘Dragon Palace’ where he spends a few days with Princess Otohime. But when he returns home, 300 hundred years have already passed.
Notably, ‘Urashima Taro’ is the first isekai anime film from 1918. Unfortunately, the film reels couldn’t be preserved, so it’s a lost film now.
That said, contemporary scholars argue that the isekai genre may be a product of Japanese mythology and English literature with works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Regardless, isekai experienced a period of slow growth as Japan suffered from World War II. The genre remained limited to only light novel series even in the 1950s when Osamu Tezuka renewed the foundations of the entire anime industry.
It was not until 1986 that the first modern-day isekai movie, i.e., “Super Mario Bros: the Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!” featured a video-game-based character, Mario, stuck in a virtual world.
This was followed by various isekai series, with Digimon Adventure capturing the most attention. However, it was the 2001 movie “Spirited Away” that gave the isekai genre its global iconic image.
And so, many isekai masterpieces were born, such as Sword Art Online, Re: Zero, Knights and Magic, The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Mushoku Tensei, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.
Since several of these received simultaneous anime adaptations, the world of isekai suddenly exploded, and it ended up becoming one of the most popular anime genres worldwide.
What Makes an Anime an Isekai Anime?
For any anime to qualify as an isekai, it must feature characters leaving their world and entering a completely different world.
But based on how a character enters this new world, isekai can be divided into two types:
The first category of isekai involves a “character getting summoned to another world” by another character or characters living in that new world. Since this implies the protagonist may return home after his purpose is served, the character suffers from the confusion of missing home but ‘fitting in’ better.
Such a character is often a legendary prophesied hero or someone crucial for the new world’s survival. A typical example is The Rising of the Shield Hero and How NOT To Summon a Demon Lord.
The second category features a character dying in his universe and then “getting reincarnated in another world” as either an ordinary person, a legendary hero or villain, some new creature, or sometimes even an inanimate object.
Death usually involves the hero getting hit by a vehicle, typically a truck, i.e., “Truck-Kun.”
Since the reincarnated protagonist retains all the knowledge from his previous life, he is remarkably intelligent yet may sometimes suffer from past-life trauma, which hinders his growth. A perfect example of this category would be Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation.
Most isekai anime series combine multiple genres, including magic, science-fiction, portal fantasy, rom-com, harem, action and adventure, and LitRPG.
That said, there is a genre called “reverse-isekai,” where a character from another fantasy world gets transported to the human world. The best examples of reverse-isekai anime include Re: Creators and The Devil is a Part-timer!
Why is Isekai Genre in Anime So Popular?
Now that you know what does isekai mean, you might be curious to know exactly why the genre is more popular than other anime genres!
Perhaps, isekai is famous because people find second chances and escape fantasies relieving or survival in a new unknown world somewhat relatable. Or, it may just be that there are so many isekai series that fans interact with these anime much more than they do with other genres.
A typical isekai features a protagonist who didn’t have much of a life on Earth. Most isekai heroes either are traumatized from their past experiences or have been doing so much work that they barely had time to breathe.
And so, the isekai genre presents second chances at life with usually better prospects because of experiences and wisdom from the past life.
However, the growth of character is often shown in real-time. For instance, Rudeus Greyrat from Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation remains traumatized from his past life and doesn’t leave his house until his mentor Roxy Migurdia helps him.
But then, isekai doesn’t just give second chances but an ideal fantasy ending to the ordinary.
For instance, Rimuru Tempest from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime gets to be everything that he couldn’t be in his past life, even though he did everything right in his first life.
However, isekai may be popular because people find survival in a new world empathetic.
This comes from the idea that everything is so uncertain, even within this known world. And so it is a relief that the protagonist within the new world is also exposing himself to new challenges because he knows there is no other choice.
This makes the isekai anime genre relatable to all those overwhelmed by our very world.
However, isekai also gives the freedom to create a new world with new rules. For instance, Reincarnated as a Sword features a talking sword that can think for itself – a unique idea that may not have made much sense in the regular world.
It’s not just the freedom of animated expression but also the freedom to target all genders and all age groups. In other words, isekai anime can be made for all demographic groups.
For instance, isekai can be found as a shonen title in “The Rising of the Shield Hero,” as a seinen title in “The Saga of Tanya the Evil,” as a shoujo title in “Kamigami no Asobi,” or as a josei title in “Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits.”
This means that isekai has a high chance of gaining the attention of all anime fans. And so, a higher chance of becoming popular.
Besides, there are plenty of isekai anime series, highly-rated isekai manga, and several light novel series to consume.
Whatever the reason for isekai’s popularity, it is currently one of the top-grossing genres of anime. Also, one must get familiar with the isekai series to qualify as an otaku.
So, if you are looking for a few recommendations, I present to you:
Popular Isekai Anime Examples:
1. Re: Zero − Starting Life in Another World
As Subaru Natsuki, a NEET, comes out of a convenience store, he finds himself in a fantasy land where he gets attacked by a band of thugs, only to get rescued by Stella. To thank her, Subaru decides to help Stella find her lost sigil, but they both get murdered in its pursuit.
Only Subaru wakes up to a familiar scene of getting attacked by the same band of thugs while Stella saves him again. However, she has no recollection of Subaru and is still searching for her lost sigil.
2. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
A 34-year-old NEET gets killed while trying to save a group of teenagers, only to get reincarnated as a child named Rudeus Greyrat in another world. Still traumatized from his past, Rudeus remains confined to his house and reads books on magic.
Later, his mentor Roxy Migurdia helps him overcome his fears, and he meets an elfish girl named Sylphiette. Though Rudeus still has low esteem, he has started to dream of something he could have never imagined – a life full of love.
3. That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime
After getting stabbed, a 37-year-old office worker reincarnates as a slime in another world. Now, he can devour anything and mimic its properties. But of everything in this new world, he encounters Veldora, a dragon imprisoned for the past 300 years.
He befriends the dragon and decides to help free him from his imprisonment. He consumes the entire cage and Veldora to analyze the seal and destroy it.
Meanwhile, the slime, now named Rimuru Tempest, meets several new species and races in this new world and somehow ends up being in charge of a new nation where all monsters and humans can live in peace.
4. No Game No Life
A brother-sister duo, Sora and Shiro, are shut-in teenage gamers. On defeating an unknown gamer, they are offered a life in a world based on games. Thinking of it as a joke, they accept the challenge only to land in Disboard, a place where 16 different races decide their matters through games.
But all other races have magic, except for humans. So Sora and Shiro must find more information and new friends to win this game of life.
As the virtual reality game YGGDRASIL is set to end, Momonga of the Ainz Ooal Gown guild decides to stay online until its last moments. But instead of getting logged out after the servers are shut, he discovers that the non-player characters have developed personalities, and the players still within the game get stuck inside. Now, Momonga must investigate this new world to find an escape or to become its new ruler.
6. Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
After dying an embarrassing death, Kazuma Satou is greeted by an afterlife goddess named Aqua, who offers him either heaven or reincarnation in a game-like universe to defeat the Demon King. Enraged at Aqua’s humiliating demeanour, Kazuma decides to go to the gaming universe.
But instead of taking a weapon of choice as his ‘one wish item,’ he chooses Aqua, only to learn that she is a useless goddess. Now, Kazuma and Aqua are stuck in a fantasy world until they defeat Demon King. However, they must earn to eat and pay taxes.
7. Spirited Away
On their way to a new home, 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents take a shortcut. However, they find an abandoned theme park with a fully-stocked restaurant. But instead of leaving, Chihiro’s parents start eating food.
A bored Chihiro goes outside only to encounter a strange boy named Haku, who warns her to run away immediately.
I hope this article answered all your queries about what isekai means. It is a genre where the protagonist, or a group of characters, finds themselves in another world via a summon or reincarnation.
Unlike the shonen genre or the seinen genre, the isekai genre is an amalgamation of all kinds of anime genres and is targeted to people of all age groups. So, this anime genre can be enjoyed by people of all age groups and from every corner of the world.
In conclusion, I hope this article helped you understand the meaning of isekai in depth. And if you were able to grasp the meaning and definition of the genre, share the article with your friends who also ask you the question – what does isekai mean in anime – and help them understand its meaning and significance!
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