Isekai (Japanese: 異世界, transl. "different world" or "otherworld") is an "accidental travel" genre of light novels, manga, anime and video games that revolve around a normal person from Earth being transported to, reborn or otherwise trapped in a parallel universe or fantasy world.
In some versions, the protagonist is depicted as being already familiar with the parallel world, as it is often a fictional universe from a fictitious work published in the protagonist's origin universe (see Sonic Storybook Series). It is equally likely the parallel world may also be unknown to them, as is the case with 'Reverse Isekai' stories such as Sonic X, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, and Isekai Quartet. The new universe can be an entirely different alien world where only the protagonist retains knowledge and has any memory of their former life, as in Saga of Tanya the Evil and Ascendance of a Bookworm. How the protagonist gets there can vary greatly: in some media, they are reincarnated into that world after dying; in others, they are summoned or teleported to that world by accidental or intended reasons, as in the case of Isekai Cheat Magician; or they may unknowingly have walked through a portal connecting two worlds, as in the case of Spirited Away and Inuyasha. In Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, an entire population of humans appeared in the magically created world was transported from Earth and got partially mixed with local dragonlike Heavenly Beings. It may also be one where a formerly virtual world turns into a real one, such as in Log Horizon and Overlord.
The subgenre can be divided into two types "transition into another world" (異世界転移, isekai ten’i) and "reincarnation into another world" (異世界転生, isekai tensei). The former, where the protagonist gets transported to another world (e.g. by traveling into it, being summoned into it, or taking possession of another being), was more common in earlier works. Whereas the latter, where the protagonist dies in their original world and is then reborn in another world, became more common in newer works. The common usage of "truck-kuns" as plot devices in the deaths (and thus reincarnation) of the main protagonist led to a popular internet meme, as well as being parodied in KonoSuba when the main protagonist is killed by a tractor.
In some works the person being transported is a NEET, shut-in, or gamer (as in No Game No Life), who in the new fantasy world, are now are able to succeed through use of their comparatively unimportant-in-real-life genre knowledge or skills, or they may have special skills or equipment, such as a game interface only they can access. Their power can range from tremendous magical abilities surpassing anyone else, as in In Another World with My Smartphone, to relatively weak, as in Re:Zero, where the protagonist does not gain any special power beyond the ability to survive death in a type of temporal loop. These common isekai cliches and tropes are often parodied in such works as KonoSuba, where the protagonist Kazuma Satou receives no powers, and is forced to develop as a character in the typical fantasy setting "from the ground up".
While the protagonist of an isekai work is usually a "Chosen hero", there have been a large number of alternative takes on the concept. In Drifters, the people entering the fantasy world are historical generals and other warriors who are more brutal than the inhabitants of the world themselves, and in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, where the protagonist starts as a slime with special abilities rather than a human. Some stories involve people being reincarnated as unusual inanimate objects, like a magical onsen. Others, known as "reverse isekai", follow beings from a fantasy universe who have been transported to or reincarnated on modern-day Earth, including the anime Laidbackers and Re:Creators. There are also some works, referred to as "two-way isekai", in which beings from both modern-day Earth and a fantasy universe interact inside each other's worlds such as GATE and Fushigi Yûgi.
The concept has origins in ancient Japanese literature, particularly the story of Urashima Tarō, a widely known folk tale in Japan that isekai writers grew up with. It is about the fisherman Urashima Tarō, who saves a turtle and is brought to a wondrous undersea kingdom, but the story has a twist: after spending what he believed to be four to five days there, he returns to his home village only to find himself 300 years in the future. The folk tale was adapted into one of the earliest anime films, Seitaro Kitayama's Urashima Tarō, in 1918. Other precursors to isekai include portal fantasy stories from English literature, notably the novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), Peter Pan (1902), and The Chronicles of Narnia (1950).
Modern Japanese mediaEdit
Early anime and manga titles that could be classified as isekai include Aura Battler Dunbine (1983 debut), Mashin Hero Wataru (1988 debut) NG Knight Ramune & 40 (1990 debut) Fushigi Yûgi (1992 debut) and El-Hazard (1995 debut), in which the protagonists stayed similar to their original appearance upon entering a different world. Other 1990s titles identified as isekai include the novel and anime series The Twelve Kingdoms (1992 debut), the manga/anime/game franchise Magic Knight Rayearth (1993 debut), the visual novel adventure game YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (1996), the manga and anime series InuYasha (1996 debut), and the anime series Now and Then, Here and There (1999 debut). The anime film Spirited Away (2001) was one of the first worldwide known isekai anime films, although the term "isekai" was not commonly used at the time.
The role-playing adventure game Moon: Remix RPG Adventure (1997), and the Digimon Adventure (1999 debut) and .hack (2002 debut) franchises, were some of the first works to present the concept of isekai as a virtual world, with Sword Art Online (2002 debut) following in their footsteps. A popular isekai light novel and anime series in the 2000s was Zero no Tsukaima (2004 debut), where the male lead Saito is from modern Japan and is summoned to a fantasy world by the female lead Louise. Another isekai anime series from the 2000s is Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (2002).
The genre eventually became so popular that in 2016, a Japanese short story contest organized by Bungaku Free Market and Shōsetsuka ni Narō banned any isekai entries. The publisher Kadokawa banned isekai stories as well in their own anime/manga-style novel contest in 2017.
Isegye (Korean: 이세계; Hanja: 異世界; RR: Isegye), as the genre is known in South Korea, has also grown in popularity with many web novels and manhwa being released featuring the same themes. Many of these titles have also been translated and released overseas and have seen levels of popularity similar to Japanese isekai manga and anime. Fusion Fantasy (Korean: 퓨전 판타지; RR: Pyujeon pantaji) is a genre created by fusion of fantasy and wuxia or oriental world, and this is a South Korean term for the Isekai. This was popular in the 2000s.
There are also modern fictional works from other countries that contain isekai elements. Examples include the Chinese–American film Forbidden Kingdom (2008) starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the American novel Ready Player One (2011) which was later adapted into a 2018 Hollywood film by Steven Spielberg, and the British Danny Boyle film Yesterday (2019) which has a similar premise to the isekai manga Boku wa Beatles (2011). Other examples of films with Isekai elements include Tron (1982), Army of Darkness (1992), Super Mario Bros. (1993), Jumanji (1995), Space Jam (1996) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003).
Isekai anime seriesEdit
In 2017, Goo Ranking conducted a poll in Japan asking people to name their favourite isekai anime of all time. The following were the top fifteen titles.
- Spirited Away (2001)
- Pop in Q (2016)
- Sword Art Online (2012 debut)
- Magic Knight Rayearth (1994–1997)
- Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World (2016 debut)
- The Twelve Kingdoms (2002–2003)
- KonoSuba (2016–2017)
- World Trigger (2014 debut)
- Kyo Kara Maoh! (2004–2009)
- Gate (2015–2016)
- No Game No Life (2014)
- The Boy and the Beast (2015)
- Log Horizon (2013 debut)
- Restaurant to Another World (2017)
- Drifters (2016–2017)
- Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World (2016 debut)
- KonoSuba (2016–2019)
- The Rising of the Shield Hero (2019 debut)
- The Devil Is a Part-Timer! (2013)
- That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (2018 debut)
- Overlord (2015–2018)
- No Game No Life (2014)
- Dog Days (2011–2015)
- Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren't They? (2013)
- Cautious Hero: The Hero Is Overpowered but Overly Cautious (2019)
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