If you were given a task to define the word ‘isekai’, you’ll probably answer two things. From a weeb perspective, a genre of anime that takes place in another world and the MC is reincarnated or transported there. From a linguistic point of view, ‘isekai’ is translated literally as ‘different world’.
So technically any anime that is set in a different world or parallel world with the MC transported is an isekai. Even though they won’t be deemed as so by normal convention. But, a huge but, I still consider them isekais. So let’s revel in technicality and make some people mad with 7 isekais that don’t feel like isekais but it is.
The classic anime that all people growing up in the 2000s would know. It feels like if you haven’t watched Inuyasha already, you’re not a true weeb. Now some people don’t consider this as isekais but instead as time travel.
Yes, Kagome is transported from modern day Japan to the Sengoku period but the catch is this past isn’t the same as usual. This world 500 years ago is filled with demons and Yōkais and Kagome has to collect all the fragments of the Shikon Jewel with the help of Inuyasha, a half-demon and half-human. You definitely should watch this if you haven’t already yet.
2. Angel Beats!
This one is definitely a happy anime, no sadness here at all. Jokes aside, Angel Beats! is quite famous, particularly for its tasteful blend of musical performance, humor and gorgeous action scenes. But have you realize something? They’re in an afterlife which technically is another world and we’re in a technicality game right now so this absolutely counts as an isekai.
I won’t spoil too much but I can give you a short retelling of the story. Yuzura Otonashi, our MC, is a boy with amnesia and met Yuri Nakamura to join her organisation Shinda Sekai Sensen or SSS to rebel against God for their unfair life. The main antagonist is Angel, a student council president and is believed to be God’s associate. Otonashi does some missions while questioning their motive for doing so. That’s as much info you need and you should definitely bump this one up on the watchlist since it’s so goddamn good.
3. The Vision of Escaflowne
Moving forward to the 90s, we got The Vision of Escaflowne or just Escaflowne for short. Another classic anime that aired in 1996, Escaflowne tells the story of a high school girl named Hitomi Kanzaki after she’s pulled from our beloved Earth to Gaea. A planet that’s so similar to Earth that even its atmospheric composition and the seasons are the same.
Hitomi is then thrusted into a conflict between the Zaibach Empire and several peaceful countries that surround it. She, along with Van, one of the kings of the peaceful countries, attempts to stop the Zaibach Empire from accomplishing their goals of reviving a legendary power. Oh there’s mechas too in this so if that interests you then give this one a shot.
4. Digimon Adventure
Yep, Digimon is an isekai. You probably never thought of it as one just because isekai as a term back then wasn’t widely used yet. But Digimon, especially Digimon Adventure, has all the hallmarks of an isekai. Transported to another world? Check. Searching for a way back home? Check. Hotel? Trivago.
I feel like everyone should know this already but just in case, I’ll give you a short synopsis of the story. Seven kids on a summer camp suddenly find a Digivice in front of them and are then transported into the Digital World. These kids found out that they’re fated to save the Digital World. Their way of doing it is by befriending a couple of digimons and digivolve them using the Digivice. Anyways, watch this if you haven’t, it’s a classic for a reason.
5. Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai
This is kind of niche but it’s got an interesting premise. We start with a pair of childhood friends named Sasshi and Arumi. They’re residents of the Abenobashi commercial district in Osaka. After a particular accident, they’re transported to an alternate world of swords and magic.
Their attempt to go back leads them to a myriad of alternate worlds that are built based on Sasshi otaku interests. But we soon found out that maybe just maybe with the news of his childhood friend leaving and the destruction of the Abenobashi shopping arcade, Sasshi doesn’t want to go home. If you’re hooked by this already the same as I do, then this is a definite addition to the ever growing watchlist.
6. Spirited Away
Studio Ghibli, the legendary studio that made countless anime at the highest level. But who would’ve thought that one of them is an isekai and add to that, probably the most famous one too. Spirited Away, released in 2001 by Toho, it received numerous awards and is the highest grossing film in Japanese history until Demon Slayer the Mugen Train.
So what makes this an isekai you ask, well Chihiro and her parents encounter a strange tunnel leading to an abandoned amusement park. Once inside, they found a restaurant filled with food and Chihiro being a smart little girl, didn’t fully trust this place. And her caution proved to be fruitful as she found her parents transmogrified into pigs. The rest you already know but that tunnel is the portal to another world, it’s literally an isekai. Fight me.
7. Doraemon (the movies)
This one is probably gonna shock you or send you down for a path of unending denial. But Doraemon is an isekai. Trust me on this one for a bit. So Nobita and Doraemon usually they’re in the modern Japan of our world but in the movies, they always seem to find themselves in another world either by accident or willingly.
I mean just take a look at one of the movies, Doraemon: Nobita and the Steel Troops since I’m in a mecha mood. In this Doraemon and Nobita argue back and forth as usual until Doraemon is upset and travels to the North Pole where Nobita follows and discovers an orb that can make parts of a giant robot. So they went back and decided to make it in a mirror world accessed by using *Doraemon voice* Opposite World Entrance Oil. Boom, that’s an isekai now.
It’s the end of the list and I gotta admit, Doraemon is way off the left field as it’s considered a fantasy. But the other ones on the list are isekais by definition and technicalities. Yet, why are they not considered isekai by most people? We got to see when the word ‘isekai’ gained popularity and a short Google search later, we found that it started in the early- and mid-2010s. And what anime is released in that time period that is isekai and so widely known? Of course it’s Sword Art Online (SAO).
SAO is an isekai with litRPG elements that popularized the isekai genre as a whole even though it’s not the first of its kind. Because the word started around this time period, our preconceived notion of the word is tied around “reincarnation/transported”, “game elements” and “OP”. Because of this, there’s even more anime and manga that are of the isekai genre that followed those notions.
Thus, reinforcing that isekai is SAO-like and anything not like it is likely not considered as one. The word isekai is also a bit vague, it literally just means another world so does an afterlife like Angel Beats! counts as an isekai or does something like Inuyasha counts as there’s nothing mentioning another world but we know it’s an isekai by its story and settings.
I don’t know but what I do know is there’s a lot of anime that I’ve watched that are isekai but it’s not commonly defined as one. Probably you too experienced something like this so let me know in the comments or on our discord server. That’s all folks and see you next time as I fly away with my Take-copter.