Categories Animology Feature

Looking at the Popularity of Isekai and its History

Isekai, the new trend and genre in anime and manga. Since few years ago we have seen that this genre is getting more popular and become a strong staple within anime industry. But actually, before we realize it, even before the term of isekai is defined, the concept of a teenager who was thrown into a fantasy world is not new.

Decades ago, we all were served with a lot of good shounen anime. Shounen has always been popular at all ages even until now, but around 2 or 3 decades ago, since 90s, there were few popular specific sub-genres, they were fiction adventure and also school-life sports. Well, both are also part of shounen genre.

For years, those two genres had dominated the anime and manga industry, they have several giant titles under the genres. To name few, in fiction adventure we have Dragon Ball, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, and Naruto. And for school-life sports, we have Captain Tsubasa, Slam Dunk, Shoot, Whistle, and Prince of Tennis.

Slice-of-life comedy anime also found its peak with Doraemon and Crayon Shin Chan, so did detective stories such as Detective Conan, Detective Kindaichi, and Detective School Q. Just like any other media, anime and manga also has their own cycle of trend.

Since few years ago the trend was changing. Now, tt’s the era of isekai, another world of fantasy with sword and magic. Demon and dragons. Sometimes, it is completed with harem touch to make it more interesting, and not it become a common template for an isekai.

So what is isekai? Isekai is a subgenre of fantasy in which the main character is suddenly transported from their world into a new or unfamiliar one. In short, it is a story of a main character who is living in another world or fantasy world. Isekai itself means ‘another world’.

The concept of isekai has been growing and become more popular since Sword Art Online was broadcasted and loved by the market. Since then, we have enjoyed a lot of great isekai titles such as Overlord, That Time That I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Log Horizon, Wiseman’s Grandchildren, The Rising of a Shield Hero and many more.

Despite many titles and the development of isekai, the first chapter of a lot of isekai titles are quite template. They have template-way of how the main character are transferred into another world.

They are died after being hit by a truck then they are reincarnated in another world, they are summoned to another world where they become a hero or a chosen-one, or they are trapped inside a game and they are become their own game characters.

Now, It is More than Sword & Magic

Sword Art Online

A lot of anime fan might be enjoying isekai anime since the popularity of Sword Art Online. The anime offered us something new and might be relate to the trend of VR gaming as well. Sword Art Online or also known as SAO tells the story of a teenage boy named Kirito who is trapped inside a game titled Sword Art Online.

He and all other players cannot log-out from the game, the only way to save themselves is to defeat the last boss of the game who resides in the 100th floor of Aincrad. After a while, Kirito then become the strongest player inside the game. Now the title is already has few seasons under its belt. It can be said that SAO plays a big part in the recent success of isekai.

Since then, the concept of isekai is developing. It is no longer just being an adventurer with sword and magic skills to defeat the last boss. The genre has expanding beyond action stories. Even lately animation companies, light novel authors and mangakas are attempting to put a fascinating new spin on this trend.

Isekai is getting more touch with politic genre. A lot of main characters from isekai anime have to do politics to aim their goals. They have to negotiate with other guild, original residence, or other races such as Log Horizon. Some of isekai even going further with ‘let’s-build-a-nation’ story such as That Time That I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.

Isekai is a form of escapism for our fantasy from the mundane story based on real-life background. The genre itself also sometimes have unclear objective from the main character or open ending with several side stories and spin-off.

Take an example from Once Piece where Luffy is aiming to become a Pirate King, Detective Conan where Conan is aiming to go back to his original form, or Captain Tsubasa where he is aiming to be the top football player.

A lot of isekai has no such aim introduced in the story. While some of them has goal to defeat a Demon King or corrupt noble, but some of them is like an open-world MMORPG game where the story is just developing without us knowing what is next. The upside is the mangaka has a lot of freedom to develop several side stories or spin-off stories to satisfy the fan.

That’s why some isekai have definite goal such as finishing all mission and defeating the last boss and going back to their own world, meanwhile some of them are enjoying to live in their new world and ended-up building their own nation and live there forever.

It Was Started Before We Realize

Inuyasha and Kagome

The concept of isekai is not actually a new one, it has been existed for quite sometimes but it was never defined until few years ago when the concept of ‘transferred into another world’ become a trend.

In the Japanese pop-culture, the first Isekai is a manga titled Ouke no Monshou (Crest of the Royal Family) by Chieko Hosokawa, published in 1976. In the same year there was also an Isekai novel titled Warrior from Another World by Haruka Takachiho. The first anime isekai was Aura Battler Dunbine by Yoshiyuki Tomino, aired in 1983.

The first world-wide known isekai anime film was actually a popular title, it was Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, aired in 2002. By that time, the term isekai is not yet used by the fan or the industry.

Without we realize, several popularly world-wide anime also adapted the concept of isekai before the term was defined and before the concept was popular. Take a look at Inuyasha, Kagome Higurashi the female main character is transported into another world to Japan’s feudal era through a shrine’s well. There she meets Inuyasha and others.

Another example of Isekai that skipped from our sight is Hunter x Hunter. During the Greed Island’s arc, Gon and Killua are transported into inside the game of Greed Island for Gon to meet his father, Gin. Another fine example is Yu Yu Hakusho where Yusuke the main protagonist begins his adventure in the underworld after died when he was hit by a car.

Both Inuyasha, Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter’s greed island arc are both heavy on fighting and adventure. Both also have the elements of weapons and magic. The formula has been adapted since long ago.

Alongside the epic adventure that has become a genre hallmark, isekai is also known for its action-packed animation and storylines. Alongside the epic adventure that has become a genre hallmark, isekai is also known for its action-packed animation and storylines.

While isekai provides a new realm to be explored, action and adventure become the primary ways for characters to grow familiar with their surroundings. Whether it’s a virtual world or a fantasy world, isekai uses the thrill of adventure to journey across the new world while characters interact and learn about its greatest secrets and satisfying one fantasy about another world.

Oleh : Putu Radar Bahurekso
t : @puturadar | ig : putu.radar


Written By

Editor-in-Chief of
Film critics, and pop-culture columnist.
A bachelor in International Relations, and Master's in Public Policy.
Working as a Consultant for Communications and Public Affairs.


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5 months ago

Thank you very much for sharing, I learned a lot from your article. Very cool. Thanks. nimabi

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