What is Isekai Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect

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Welcome to my post on what is isekai manga.

Honestly, I wasn’t planning to do this post cause this genre is kinda trending right now and I’m scared that I will screw this up and have a horde of angry fans correcting my dumb butt (o_ _)o ~~~

Bbbbuuuutttt…….I cannot talk about prominent genres in Japanese media without mentioning isekai because of how popular it is right now so let’s do this ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ

So the word ‘isekai’ basically translates to ‘different world’ in English and the overarching plot is pretty self-explanatory — the protagonist suddenly finds himself in another world (assuming that he’s from our Earth originally). Sounds pretty neat right?? But did you know that the genre itself is not new? Case and point: The Wizard of Oz. People think this genre is recent but there are lot of works that have touched this before, the reason why it is so popular now is because the Japanese media has finally given it proper form and shape, making it a proper trope that writers can use over and over again until we are all sick of it hahaha (BTW, check out Overly Sarcastic Productions’ Trope talks, they are the bomb! I love how they analyse popular plot devices).

In fact, I’m personally very sick of isekai. In 2016 alone, I have seen over 20 new isekai series in anime, manga, and light novel and more just keep coming to the point where I have to tell my friends that I don’t look at isekai anymore because I’m just tired of it, I need to cleanse my palate guys (っ- ‸ – ς) Did you know that in 2016, Japanese publishers like Kadokawa banned any short stories with isekai elements in their writing competitions because it was so overused?

However, that doesn’t mean I won’t help break it down to help those who want to see some isekai. Of course, I may not look at it anymore but I take pride in my memory skills so I know enough to guide you all through this massively popular genre known as isekai.

Light Novel Special

The isekai genre is prominent in light novels and that’s where the genre first started to take shape.

You would know the anime Zero no Tsukaima (or The Familiar of Zero) and Sword Art Online but did you know that both of these series were light novels and were published in 2000 and 2002 respectively? These two are pretty much the works that kickstarted the light novel trend of writing isekai. Of course, Zero no Tsukaima was animated before SAO but rights to animate a work is complicated and I’d rather not go into the nitty-gritty details here.

Point is that the isekai genre is a light novel staple meaning any isekai manga (or anime) were probably light novels first. This makes things interesting because if the manga isn’t finished, you can just go to the novel (if it’s translated) and read ahead. Believe me, when I was into isekai, I did this like all the time.

Anything Goes…LOL

Besides the premise of I’m-suddenly-in-another-world-what-do-I-do kinda thing, the actual plot of an isekai manga is pretty free form. Depending on what kind of person the author is, the world our dear protagonist gets sent to can range from horrible death and destruction to someplace pretty chill.

People ask me what they should anticipate from an isekai manga and all I can give them is honestly nothing because anything can happen. I think it’s because the trope is still kinda fresh out of the oven and hasn’t had time to cool yet so people are still in the experimental stage.

I can tell you though that you are pretty much in for a ride with this genre: People can end up in RPG land and have epic adventures, people can just basically restart their lives and the manga turns into some fluffy domestic light-hearted series, people can end up in war zone fighting for their lives, etc. The possibilities are endless.

So if you want something that screams ‘anything goes lol’, check out some isekai.

Types of Transformation

No idea what to put as a header. I can’t say ‘Types of Teleportation’ as sometimes the protagonist dies in his original world before being reincarnated in the new one so ‘transformation’ it is (*≧▽≦)ノシ))

While I did say that the isekai genre is not a solid trope yet, there has been progress in solidifying some of the aspects of it and one of it is the way that the protagonist gets to the other world.

There are two main ways a protagonist starts his adventures in isekai:

1. The protagonist is physically taken to the other world by some means, either by a magic spell, talisman, or machine. This type of transformation is the most common and the easiest to write because all the author is doing is moving your hero to another place with no complicated math-sciency thing to make us readers all confused. Some writers have taken this method of transformation to a whole other level by adding virtual reality so the mind is only sent or using ‘reverse isekai’ where someone ELSE from another world comes to ours but the basic idea is that Person A is physically sent to another place.

2. The protagonist dies and is reincarnated in another world. This one is a lot newer and is generally more popular among fans since it involves the ever so tempting idea of living a second life without all the mistakes you made in your first one. Our hero usually remembers his past life and is in a different body 90% of the time. Like the previous kind of transformation, there are variations such as reincarnating into a whole other species like slime for example (if you know what series I’m talking about, you get a gold star!) or inanimate objects.

Because these ways of getting to the other way is so common, it has become a method that fans use to tell what is isekai and what is not and it’s a really useful method indeed hahaha.

Overused???

I mentioned earlier that the isekai genre is very overused as of this year.

It’s a bit of a shame as the trope hasn’t fully formed yet. The only analysis I could really find is “Isekai is so popular it’s overused blah blah blah…..stop writing it, we need a break!” There is nothing significant about the tone or story structure, (although it is starting to head towards the harem direction as of late) just the fact that it takes place somewhere other than our world. It gets boring after a while because there’s nothing significant about the plot as we’ve seen it in other genres that have established said trends. Even Shield Hero with its jaded protagonist and the genius way emotions are presented gets a little too familiar as it is so similar to fantasy manga and I’ve seen a lot of those over the years.

I really hope that this genre becomes a little less everywhere and establishes a set formula that people will love because I do think isekai has potential and I want to like it! It’s just right now, it’s not enough to convince me that I should continue reading more manga-adapted isekai.

Final Thoughts

Although the concept of ending up in another world isn’t new, the way it is being presented to us as a written form certainly is.

It is sadly pretty overused but it has potential to improve and build on it’s experimental ideas and forms that adventurous authors have used.

Isekai is an exciting genre when you see it for the first time but I suggest you don’t saturate your brain with it, for now, it’s a great plot device but it’s still too new to really be analysed as a whole genre. Perhaps after a few years, I may redo this post and include a more in-depth look at the aspects that make isekai such a prominent genre in manga.

As always, if you have anything to say about my post, feel free to drop a comment down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂

5 Comments

  1. Hi, this subject is new to me, so I really appreciate all the information you put out there. I’m curious, is there a game that has the isekai manga series in it? Perhaps for the Xbox or PS4? Thanks for your take on isekai. I am looking forward to your answer.

    1. Isekai for Xbox or PS4 huh…Sword Art Online has been turned into a game recently so that’s one. It’s the only one I know because there was hype surrounding it so you can check that out 🙂 I haven’t played it personally so I can’t give any take on whether it’s good or not.

  2. I haven’t read this one, but this overview is a great analysis that gives cool insights on how popular the book has been. You are really good at narrating and analysing; not me, I often find it hard to be able to make a thorough narration. I’ll try to get the Isekai manga to read in order to know more about it myself. Thanks.

  3. Wow glad to find an article that dig deep into isekai troupe in manga industry. I agree that isekai is an overused genre n manga and anime, especially those with ‘RPG’ elements such as level and player status. Being an overused genre, it’s a bit hard to find good and epic isekai. There is another weird trend that the isekai manga title is a very long title containing its main synopsis. 

    I remember the ‘slime’ manga LOL, it is funny but become a bit boring later. I find Shield Hero’s first arc is interesting, but the next arc kind a bit let down (especially with those three other stupid heroes who may never redeem theirselves -.- ). Any more recommendation for isekai or reverse isekai manga? When I’m bored with japanese isekai mangas, I usually go with Korean fantasy manhwa. There are many good fantasy manhwa in the webtoon (and they are colored). 🙂

    1. Oooh is Korean fantasy manhwa good? Like is it like Japanese manga or does it have its own set of rules? According to my sister who reads manhwa time to time, they are actually webtoons so that’s why they’re coloured or something, I’m not too sure haha

      Ah yes, it’s mostly the anime adaptations of Shield Hero and Slime that’s getting all the hype these days so I’m not surprised that the plot has gone a bit on the cliche side since isekai is so experimental. Thanks for reminding me about the long-ass titles, I’d forgotten to add that in lol.

      As for epic isekai, I’d recommend Drifters which is about historical figures entering some strange ass world and end up fighting each other (or more like fighting in lieu of the native population). Old grudges (like actual historical grudges) come up now and again. It is not like any of the fantasy RPG-ish isekai that is dominating the scene. Its blood, gore, war, strategy, magic, demons, and a lot of dying. It’s pretty epic but right now, the story is progressing pretty slowly but if you wanna see some action, check out Drifters.

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