Every generation of anime has a trend that explodes in popularity and defines the medium for years to come. Gundam made mecha anime popular, Tenchi Muyo kickstarted a wave of harem shows and Naruto made the Shonen action genre more popular than ever when it first hit the scene. These days, every anime around seems to an Isekai show.
The premise is usually simple enough to follow: A regular Joe from our world, gets stuck in a fantasy world that usually has several video game mechanics attached to it. You’d think that after a few years of studios pumping out shows from this well, that the genre would have run dry by now. You’d be wrong though, because Isekai anime has proven itself to be surprisingly versatile and able to take that idea in wild new directions.
Want to hop in and give it a watch? Well here’s a list of ten great Isekai anime to binge on, with links to Crunchyroll for the official and latest streams.
It is the future year of…2022, so it’s not that far off. Current virtual reality technology makes the Oculus Rift like a tin can on a string, everybody is going mental for virtual reality massively multiplayer games and the Fortnite of this era is easily Sword Art Online. As long as you have a NerveGear helmet, you’re capable of hopping into a world where you can actually feel what’s going on around you as you embark on adventures with your avatar.
Only problem? After 10 000 players enter the game and a new area, they discover that they’re trapped within the game until they conquer all 100 floors of the Aincrad castle. Anyone who dies in the game or tries to back out by removing their NerveGear helmet, dies for realsies. Who’ll save the day? None other than closed beta legend Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya who uses his experience and knowledge of the inner workings of Sword Art Online to forge a path to victory all on his own.
For a while, at least.
Isekai anime has a formula that clearly works, but it’s also one that allows for plenty of variety. Take Rising of the Shield Hero, which takes the usual concept of easygoing youth from our world being summoned to a fantasy land that has video game rules, and flips it entirely on its head by making the protagonist a complete jerk.
Not through any fault of his own though! Naofumi Iwatani was having a great day until he got sucked into a parallel universe, joining three other fellas from different universes to become the four cardinal heroes of the land. Equipped with a legendary shield, Naofumi got the short straw in more than one way as the kingdom of Melromarc quickly turned on him when his companion Princess Myne framed him for sexual assault.
Shunned, hated by the kingdom and without a penny to his name, Naofumi has to start his adventure from scratch and without zero support as he built himself back up as a cunning warrior who may be the only hero in the land competent enough to save it from extinction-level events of invading monsters. That, and the show has Raphtalia. Raphtalia is the best.
Lookit dat pout face!
Okay, imagine this: An Isekai show BUT the hero is pretty much your dad. Middle-aged loner Satoru Mikami finds himself HORRIBLY KILLED in a mugging gone wrong, reincarnates and wakes up in another world entirely…as one of the most common cannon fodder creatures in RPG games, a slime. Stuck in a gelatinous body, Satoru quickly finds new friends and allies thanks to his overpowered predator ability and embarks on a quest to save the day and spread wisdom amongst his younger allies.
Imagine you’re summoned to a fantasy world! Adventure, mystery and you instantly fall in love with the first princess you meet because that’s how life works. Also, you’re immortal. Kind of, because Subaru Natsuki discovers that he can Groundhog Day his way back to previous events in his adventure every time he dies.
And buddy, he dies A LOT. Also, in mostly horrible ways as well while he tries to figure out how to reset his timelines and fix the mistakes that he has made on his path. It’s basically Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap, but with more magic, kaiju and demonic servant girls who can crush your head like a grapefruit if you get on their bad side.
Need an anime with a double dose of irony? Well here ya go: There’s an atheist Japanese manager, who has climbed the ranks of his company so that he can reach the top. Only his ruthlessness results in a fired employee revealing himself to be the equivalent of super-God, and decides to give the unnamed salaryman a dose of karma.
The man awakes in the body of an orphaned girl by the name of Tanya Degurechaff and is faced with a choice: Either he genuinely accepts that the entity who exiled him to a new reality is god and he learns to have some faith, or if he dies an unnatural death he’ll be kicked out of the circle of reincarnation and condemned to hell for the sins that Tanya committed in her previous life. Sounds easy enough, right?
Well, imagine you’re in this scenario and you happen to live in a world that resembles World War 2 with magic warfare. Figuring out that the best way to stay alive and not near a battlefield is to enlist in the Empire Mages Division, climb the ranks once again and use that managerial ruthlessness to land a cushy desk job. Only things don’t go according to plan in this crazy scenario.
Kazuma Sato may be a nerd who lives all day in a dank room playing video games, but he’s also a crafty shut-in. When his untimely death results in him meeting a goddess by the name of Aqua and being offered a chance at reincarnation in a fantasy MMORPG world with an overpowered item of his choosing, Kazuma decides that Aqua herself should accompany him.
After all, what’s better than having a goddess by your side in a fantasy world? The only problem here is that Aqua is a bit on the ditzy side and causes more trouble than she actually solves. With an explosion-addicted magician by the name of Meumin and a warrior who has read way too much Fifty Shades of Grey (his handle of Darkness is fitting), Kazuma needs to slay the Devil King if he ever wants to find any peace in his new life and return Aqua to gates of eternity.
Which is easier said than done when the Devil King’s generals keep bumping into you.
Dinner and a show? At The Western Restaurant Nekoya, you’ll get that and more with this quaint little eatery that offers traditional cuisine, western food and a Saturday-only doorway to a fantasy realm. That little secret has made this restaurant a darling with regulars, as they visit every Saturday for a day to meet up and hang out with elves and dragons. It’s basically Cheers crossed with Lord of the Rings.
Who’s to say that what happens inside of a video game isn’t as real as what happens in real life? Overlord is that scenario, as it centres on an incredible MMORPG finally calling it a day after 12 years and trapping one of its last remaining members inside of its wall. Unable to find a way out of the Yggdrasil game, a player known only as Momonga needs to uncover the hidden mysteries of Yggdrasil if he ever wishes to escape.
What makes it stand out from the pack though? Momonga himself isn’t a brave hero in a video game, but rather one of the more reviled and hated villains of the world who happens to be an Elder Lich king. Forced to play the role for real this time, the salaryman behind Momonga has no choice but to be the villain that every hero wishes to stop, even if he is, in reality, a socially awkward outcast.
Great characters and a fantastic premise just proves that being bad has never felt so good, even if Momonga has no idea that he’s accidentally taking over the world in his pursuit of freedom.
Okay, this one is weird even by anime standards, so I’m just going to bullet point this anime’s plot:
- Two siblings, Sora and Shiro
- Unbeaten in an online game called Blank
- One day, they beat an actual god by the name of Tet at chess and jokingly accept his offer to be transported to a proper fantasy world
- Inside the world, they discover that the Ten Pledges spell prevents anyone from inflicting phsyical harm on to another citizen
- All differences have to be resolved by gambling in games whose rules are enforced by magic
- Players can cheat to win, but the rules will only kick in if said cheating is acknowledged and outed by the opponent
- To escape, Sora and Shiro have to defeat numerous races and species to be crowned humanity’s representative, so that they can challenge Tet once again to a game
So it’s an anime about a game within a game that changes frequently. Basically, it’s kind of brilliant.
Elder Tale is the hottest game in town, it’s on expansion number twelve and millions of players are still invested in it. Well, until the Homesteading the Noosphere expansion manages to transport thousands of players to a fantasy land and trap them there. On the bright side, every player is still flexing their muscle as their in-game avatar, with the series focusing on a player by the name of Shiroe.
There’s plenty of danger out there, but the adventure ahead is more than worth it in a series that feels like a more mature take on the genre and features a more charismatic protagonist relying on cunning to save the day instead of brute forcing his way to a solution. Combined with the heavy political themes running throughout the saga, and you have the equivalent of the love child of Game of Thrones and the classic Dungeons ‘n Dragons anime series.
Last Updated: June 14, 2019