The Isekai trope is apparently as old as time itself, too Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Ozand The Legend of Narnia leads the way in extraterrestrial adventures. The genre has become very popular in anime since The Twelve Kingdoms, .Hack//Sign and especially, Sword art online; however, the uncreative overuse of the stereotypical narrative has flooded the industry with predictable content.
In an effort to keep the genre alive, several series aim to deconstruct the familiar themes instead, as Isekai should not be discarded as a dead horse trope, but simply treated with the respect it deserves. Subverting the expected plot points or exploring the darker side of a reincarnated life, the following anime saves the day for Isekai with its original, thought-provoking stories.
8/8 Grimgar, Ashes and Illusions (aka Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash)
An often overused trope in the Isekai genre is about the classic hero who easily assimilates into his new lifestyle with grace, suffering minimal problems and often accompanied by an overwhelmed skill set. While talented players may have the upper hand in an RPG-inspired realm, not all reincarnation stories have techno-guru origins, and some unlucky souls generally don’t have the first clue of what to expect next.
Haruhiro’s party is seemingly filled with lost farts trying to navigate a whirlpool, having a very vague understanding of their role in the team, but not always able to fulfill it effectively. The group has a faint recollection of past lives, but lacks definitive memories, like trying to remember a dream as it fades away. The result provides a realistic representation of what the average Joe would experience if suddenly Isekai would, further emphasized by how effortlessly Renji and his party dominate Grimgar’s RPG-styled system.
7/8 Romantic killer
Anzu Hoshino is painfully aware of the fact that she is currently immersed in an Otome setup after being tricked by a pear wizard who is paranoid about the country’s prosperity. Although the declining birth rate is a serious (and real) problem in Japan, Anzu is quite content to waste her days playing video games, but when her life actually becomes a video game, she couldn’t be more furious.
The logical way out of this unbearable scenario would only be to play out the “story” to the end and hope to escape back to reality, which would be especially easy for Anzu, considering her familiarity with the “Romantic Thriller” plot . Stripped of all supernatural abilities, the rambunctious redhead doggedly tries to avoid every “mission” set before her and quickly identifies every stereotypical trope that dangles in her face as the story progresses.
6/8 Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World
Many reincarnated heroes are blessed with an Isekai bonus, which generally gives them an incredible advantage in their new life; But sometimes this particular skill is lacking instead. In Subaru Natsuki’s case, he mistakenly assumes that he has fallen into a typical Isekai adventure and immediately acts as the protagonist should, but is shocked to discover that his only superpower has a Groundhog Day effect.
The rather untalented Subaru will be revived in the same place every time he dies, fully aware of the past but unsure of the present (as things are constantly changing ever so little). The young man’s reincarnation is weighed down by several traumatic memories as his companions are brutally and regularly slaughtered before his eyes, making life even more difficult for the struggling hero. Being a NEET with minimal social skills doesn’t help Subaru either, and his extensive knowledge of video games does little to help him survive.
5/8 The Rising of the Shield Hero
As with many Isekai heroes, Naofumi Iwatani is summoned to another world to save it from destruction; but he gets a raw deal in this whole scheme and is utterly disgusted by the people he has to serve. The typical MMORPG tasks are handed out (spear, sword, bow and shield), but things don’t go according to plan, and Naofumi is vilified and banished from the pompous kingdom.
The shield hero is certainly put through the wringer, but finds a way to channel his mind productively; however, he (rightly) develops intense trust issues as a result of his constant abuse. Seemingly obvious advantages derived from typical game mechanics (such as finding magical items) should not be taken lightly, as this is, after all, reality now.
4/8 Uncle from another world
Don’t just do it Uncle from another world aggravate the Isekai community by essentially throwing over the other world adventures, but it also adds an almost reverse Isekai element to the story when the magical Ojisan returns to Japan. At nearly forty years old, Ojisan has spent half his life in a coma and subsequently has nothing besides some powerful magical abilities that could possibly come in handy.
Some entrepreneurs in Ojisan’s shoes might have found a way to become a famous superhero (or a criminal expert); However, this SEGA-obsessed NEET prefers to use his overwhelmed abilities to further his YouTube career. Although an avid gamer, Ojisan is unable to understand the RPG format of Granbahamal to the detriment of himself and those around him. He messes up his Isekai bonus wish, completely skips entire parts of the Flame Dragon story, and is oblivious to the development of the Tsundere love interest who follows him around (while Takafumi looks on in awe of his uncle’s naivety).
3/8 Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is tough on mobs
Life would have been relatively easy for Leon Bartfort if he had simply been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and the only real challenge he had to adapt to is the fact that women hold all the authority in the Holfort Kingdom. Alas, he’s clearly not the chosen one, but at least Leon is familiar with typical Otome Isekai structures and quickly formulates a plan to somehow work his way to the top.
This trivial mob character eventually slips into the Royal Academy (after ten years of painstaking graft), but that’s only the first hurdle ahead of him, as his success isn’t as evident as he’d hoped. The series delves into the darkness of impostor syndrome as the natural order of things is turned upside down when a female reincarnate is discovered interfering with the seemingly predetermined story.
2/8 The Twelve Kingdoms
It’s not uncommon for Isekai to feature relatively light-hearted content, and while many shows have a strong life-or-death element, few are as dark and twisted as The Twelve Kingdoms. Yoko Nakajima and her classmates, Ikuya Asano and Yuka Sugimoto, are tricked, kidnapped and mercilessly thrown into a fantastical monarchy, powerless and desperate to return home.
Each of the youngsters explores different Isekai narratives through their horrific experiences, and all make a point of revitalizing the expected tropes in the process. While Yuka’s strong Chūnibyō complex affects her every move, Yoko starts out confused, overwhelmed and completely relatable but rises to greatness (by sheer luck), while Asano is less fortunate and suffers a complete mental breakdown from the drastic and traumatic Isekai – the escapade.
1/8 Now and then, here and there
No one is safe in this dystopian alternate reality, and everyone has the potential to endure agonizing trials regardless of their role in the narrative, which is reportedly a reference to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Horrific events are fleshed out in excruciating detail as Shu doing his best just to survive while trying to protect Lala-Ru and receiving very little help from the local residents, who have no desire to mix with a strange outsider.
Now and then, here and there is certainly not for the faint of heart and is likely to keep viewers up at night, delivering the same level of nightmarish content than Made in the abyss (if not worse!) Reincarnation can be a double-edged sword, as one would probably wish oneself dead (too good) after witnessing the war crimes firsthand, especially when children are involved.
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