Isekai isn’t even an official genre, and yet it’s gotten so big and fat over the years. To the point of it, in some aspects, getting lazy with its writing.
That’s another story though.
What I wanna get into is the definition of Isekai and what it actually means. As opposed to what people WANT it to mean with mental gymnastics.
A lot of this debating and arguing stems from:
- Toxic fans
And westerners (not all) trying to flip definitions and tell the very countries who created the definition what it’s supposed to mean.
It’s nuts to me, but it’s a common occurrence that goes well beyond anime.
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So what is Isekai?
Isekai is so popular nowadays that you have the youngest fans who know what it looks like, but not what it means.
It’s basically where the main protagonist is transported to another world, dimension, etc. With cliché stories taking place after the protagonist dies in “the real world”.
They’re then reborn as a different character, creature, etc. And usually have benefits, powers, privileges they couldn’t have hoped to have in real life.
But that’s not always how the egg decides to boil.
The simple definition of Isekai
Isekai, which is a Japanese word, translates to “another world”. That’s the SIMPLE definition of what it means.
In fact that’s the ONLY definition for Isekai. “Another world” is where the definition starts and where the definition ends.
Anything or anyone trying to explain that away or make it more complicated are only fooling themselves.
That’s the joke really.
It’s so simple that people are driven to make it more complicated, because the simplicity of Isekai’s definition leaves fans in disbelief.
That’s how people react to “simple” solutions by making it more complex in real life as well. So it’s a human trait I guess.
Types of Isekai anime:
Transported to a brand new world
So many Isekai anime fit into this category. It’s the most common example you see. It’s cliche at this point.
Anime like Outbreak Company are different in the fact the main character isn’t dead. He’s just transported to another world and predominantly lives there.
They basically “hire” the protagonist to bring Japan’s Otaku culture to their own fantasy world.
Shield Hero is like this as well. Naofumi Iwatani, the MC, isn’t dead. Just transported to another world and given a mission while there.
Magic Knight Rayearth, an influential, old school Isekai does this as well.
In most other anime like Tensei Slime, Jobless Reincarnation, Re:Zero, Konosuba, and so many others, the protagonist dies and is reincarnated instead.
It’s part of the reason why the cliché of “Truck-Kun” exists (being killed by a truck).
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MMORPG + Virtual Reality
An obvious example of this would be Log Horizon. An anime that’s airing in January 2021 (season 3).
The main and support characters in this world are trapped in their favorite game called Elder Tales. And so they decide to make peace with the facts.
They then create their own society within this world and despite them being inside a game, it’s realistic.
And better yet: it’s “another world”.
anime, is based in a virtual reality. Despite season 1’s madness associated with the gamers lives being in danger, they can usually “log out” of this world.
Because of this there are some fans in the west who try to single out SAO and claim it’s not Isekai.
Remember the definition? Another world.
As long as this simple condition is met, and the MAJORITY of their time is spent in this other world, it’s an Isekai.
I’ll get into concrete examples in a minute.
Most other Isekai anime are related to gaming and fantasy in some way.
Influential Isekai anime that started certain trends
.hack is an anime that started long before Sword Art Online. Well, not “long” before but it’s the influence behind SAO.
It’s the first anime series to take the Isekai approach of VR. In fact it was so ahead of its time it never managed to blow up and get famous.
Even with its dedicated fan base, it remains an underground classic more than anything else.
Sword Art Online took those concepts and turned it into something big.
So big, that the Isekai genre wasn’t “cool” until Sword Art Online came onto the scene and had insane amounts of success.
Anime studios didn’t give a sh*t until after the fact.
VR Isekai is all thanks to anime like .hack!
Magic Knight Rayearth is another anime that started trends in the 1990’s.
All 3 main characters are transported to another world called Cephiro from Tokyo Tower.
Once there, they’re given the task of saving the world from destruction, with the power of what they call magic knights.
Years after its release we see this type of Isekai with Inuyasha, Spirited Away, Magical Shopping Arcade, and the rest is history.
Before that there was Aura Battler Dunbine (1980’s) and a few others.
These anime are the reason shows like GATE and I’m standing on 1,000,000 lives can exist.
Same is true for Restaurant To Another World.
Related: The REAL Reason Why Isekai Anime Is So Popular, And How It Started
anime, according to the JAPANESE
Believe it or not, but even anime like Digimon, a show you wouldn’t think of, is considered ISEKAI in Japan.
That proves the point even more of the simple definition “another world” being the bare minimum for Isekai.
Taken from Wikipedia:
“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 Sword Art Online (2002 debut) following in their footsteps.”
This is mentioned in the Modern Japanese media section of Isekai on Wikipedia. With real references and links.
Top 15 Isekai in 2017, according to JAPANESE fans
Goboiano, a fairly sized anime site BEFORE it was shutdown, reported on 15 Isekai anime ranked by Japan.
They took the details from Goo Ranking, an official Japanese site.
Here’s the list:
- 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)
If you pay attention to the list, #3 is Sword Art Online.
As we clearly see, the particular argument of SAO not being an Isekai (or anime like it) is debunked in black and white.
“Another world” is what Isekai translates to, and these top 15 anime ranked by Japan in 2017 (plus every other similar anime) is Isekai by definition.
That’s the reality of the situation, and shouldn’t be an argument in the first place.
THAT is what the real definition of Isekai is. And the misconceptions fans make outside of Japan.
The motherland of anime.
Share your thoughts.
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