Anime has always been a forum for niche interests: Anime about sports or swords, we have whole genres, such as Magic Girls or Mega Mecha Robots. The list is never-ending. Do you prefer idols who steal hearts or vampires who steal blood? We’ve got both! Whether you like psychological thrillers, or anime that lampoons anime, there’s a place in the anime verse for it all! And that brings us to one of the largest, most popular genres with the strangest parameters: Isekai Anime.
Isekai Anime literally translates to “in another world” and as you can imagine, the main formula for this genre is an MC who is either transmigrated, trapped, or reincarnated into a world unlike his or her own. It can either be a fantasy world, an RPG or video game interface, or even a world within a novel! As unique and exciting as these narratives are, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing; and thus the isekai genre was quickly oversaturated with formulaic storylines and tired tropes. And that’s when a quirky niche trend took over and soon disrupted the isekai landscape: Otome Isekai.
What is OI?
To put it simply, Otome Isekai is a subgenre of the isekai genre inspired usually by otome games. Targeted at the female demographic, these games or visual novels work kind of like dating sims. They’re characterised by beautiful design (read: for the female gaze), especially with a host of bishounen and romantic plots with any kind of action, adventure, mystery, etc. being relegated to a secondary subplot. Simply, it works almost like a kind of female wish fulfilment. So earlier versions of the genre were more about transmigration and teleportation like Fushigi Yugi or Escaflowne or Twelve Kingdoms which almost always had a fantasy element, a magic girl element, and romance.
Usually, character-driven, with often a warm and wholesome overtone, where you see the strong female lead who everyone can relate to come into her own, subvert expectations, and find happiness ever afters. You know, the epic life we viewers all secretly wish we could have.
The New Sub-Matrix of the Isekai Genre
Isekai was already a heavily saturated genre that in recent years had evolved to be adjacent to shounen. With its RPG-style narrative of having players trapped in immersive game worlds like Sword Art Online, content has been geared towards a male gaze and traditionally masculine interests. OP fight scenes, harems, action, violence, and gameplay reminiscent elements with design and aesthetic to capitalise on the same, there is a clear formula on how these shows play out.
Otome Isekai, however, works a little differently. The newest sub-genre of isekai is geared towards a female gaze. As we mentioned earlier, the genre is marked by historical Victorian-era esque settings, fantasy or historical elements, with romance as a primary plot with plenty of character growth, epic world-saving, and subversion of traditional stereotypes relegated to a secondary but nonetheless equally important role.
The newest developments in the genre focus on tropes of reincarnation, omniscient knowledge of future events either due to the isekai world originating as a video game/manga/manhwa from the MC's original reality, motivating factors of the plot being centred around avoiding the dreaded “bad ending,” and finally (and most importantly) the transmigration of the MC into a villainous character (almost every time)— that is, either as the central villain or as a horrible character. And while this may not seem terribly exciting, it’s so fundamentally different from existing content and yet so satisfying as a type of wish fulfilment, that viewers can’t help but want more!
Bakarina and the OI Boom
With all of the buzz with 2023’s otome isekai anime lineup, let’s take a moment to pause and go back to where it all started: Bakarina. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Roads Lead to Doom was a romantic comedy anime that splashed across our screen in the Spring of 2020. With its lovable, bumbling heroine, the villainess Katarina Claes, My Next Life as Villainess (or Bakarina) changed the game. It had been a while since a quality anime in the isekai genre was made specifically to work on shoujo, and romcom tropes to attract a female audience, and boy, did this anime do just that! Bakarina’s take on isekai was fresh, it literally was the new sub-matrix of Otome Isekai.
Usually, MCs in these scenarios were the protagonists, the heroes who save people, usher in eras of transformation for the overall betterment of societies, and amass power in a conscious positive way. Bakarina’s MC reincarnated as, you guessed it, a villainess— and a fairly untalented one to boot, who had no special powers or great mission beyond avoiding her predestined doom and it subverted all expectations we had of content in this niche. The slice-of-life, happy-go-lucky, loved-by-all quality of this show made it a warm reprieve where you have a character overcome the odds through some very real poignant moments of growth, understanding, and empathy. Bakarina’s power is that she’s a good person in a place where her goodness is recognised, which is something that resonated with viewers and had them flocking to this wonderfully campy display. It ushered in a fanbase for a reinvented otome isekai: quirky and fun and fulfilling, and ever-so-satisfying in its entirety.
And naturally, where there are stans, there will be anime for them. And then came the boom.
Upcoming Anime: The OIs Takeover
With a solid lineup of OI heavy hitters making the jump from manga/manhwa to the silver screen, it’s safe to say that we’ve got a whole new anime sub-genre to dive into!
Tearmoon Empire, The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Saviour, I’m in Love with the Villainess, The Reason Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion, and so very many more. This year may as well be dubbed The Year of the OI Takeover!
Return of the Redditors
While a genre teaming with content, Otome Isekai has only recently made the jump into animation. However, it’s been around long enough to have a pretty large and dedicated community in the place for all fandoms: Reddit.
The r/otomeisekai subreddit thread may have started as a place for Bakarina Stans, but it’s grown into an online community where fans of the genre, its nuances, and evolution beyond the otome game to a novel, manhwa, and manga isekai all gather. So if you’re already on the OI train and want to find your tribe, head on over to Reddit: you’ll find the latest updates across the genre, the hottest new OIs on the block, and quite frankly, the very best memes.
So if you’re shopping for your next fav genre, the addictive world of Otome Isekai is definitely worth your time. Don’t believe us? Just take a glimpse at Reddit!
So are you an OI fan? Are you intrigued with this new direction in Isekai Anime? Do you have any fav OIs you want to see on screen? Let us know in the comments below!