Ah, the “Isekai” trope. In recent years, the Isekai trope has permeated nearly every single anime release season and 2016 was an especially beautiful year for fans of isekai anime. For those of us who are unfamiliar, “Isekai” is a reference to a situation in which characters find themselves transported to an alternate dimension or universe. Marooned in an unfamiliar place, characters have to display exceptional adaptability in order to survive long enough to find a way back to the world from whence they came. There are countless titles that are driven by this fairly simple plot device and while bordering on cliché, the isekai trope is still one of the most beautifully developed in anime and it can be argued that anime does it best! Without wasting anymore time, let’s jump through this portal into the worlds of the Top 10 Isekai Anime!
10. Isekai Shokudou (Restaurant to Another World)
- Episodes: TBC
- Aired: July 2017 –
At the bottom floor of a building with a dog-shaped signboard, in the shopping district of a certain town near the office street lies a cafeteria named “Youshoku no Nekoya”. Having been in business for 50 years, the cafeteria serves all sorts of customers, mostly the salarymen who work at the nearby offices. Despite being open for so long, there is a secret to Nekoya that even its most faithful customers do not know: when the restaurant is closed on Saturdays, special guests are invited to have their meals there. However, these aren’t ordinary guests – when a certain bell rings, customers from different realms arrive in order to have the regular Western cuisine served to the general public. Since these are customers from different worlds, food at this cafeteria is exotic to them and every week when the bell rings, Youshoku no Nekoya becomes Isekai Shokudou.
This slice of life anime plays with the Isekai trope in a way that hasn’t really been seen all too often. Instead of having characters trapped in another realm, the show’s premise allows for the conditions which allow characters to move in between worlds are very quickly explained and understood. The main focus is simply the experiences of the various characters of a plethora of different otherworldly backgrounds eating food in the normal world. Such an anime is an enjoyable watch perhaps right after enjoying another isekai anime with a heavier plot. Isekai Shokudou’s animation is beautiful and the dishes served are mouthwatering – if you’re a fan of other worlds and food, you’ll love this!
9. No Game No Life
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2014
Brother and sister combo Sora and Shiro spend their days cooped up in their room playing games online. Offline, they are a pair of shut-ins; however, online they are Blank, an unbeatable entity in the world of online gaming. Whatever the game, they will win. Their confidence shows itself when they receive an anonymous challenge to a game of chess. After easily dispatching the challenger, Sora and Shiro find themselves transported to the world of Disboard, a parallel world where everything is dictated by the outcome of games. The individual who issued the challenge which saw them teleported to this place was none other than Tet, the God of Games and reigning deity of Disboard. Tired of their mundane lives in the normal world, Sora and Shiro embark on a quest to lead the human race in Disboard to conquering the fifteen other races which populate the land.
Adapted from a light novel of the same name, No Game No Life is an isekai anime that skyrocketed to popularity back in 2014 for the unique spin on the isekai trope that it displayed. Long story short, this anime is brilliant. From concept to execution, No Game No Life seems to effortlessly tick all the boxes that make an isekai anime great. Its characters are decent, the story allows for the creation of quite a vast amount of lore and the high-stakes nature of the games Sora and Shiro play makes No Game No Life the perfect edge-of-seat anime. Art and animation are beautiful, the music score is unforgettable and at the end of the 12-episode-long ride, you feel yourself pining for more… more that might never come.
8. Vision of Escaflowne
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1996 – September 1996
Kanzaki Hitomi was just an ordinary girl with an interest in fortune telling when one night, a strange boy named Van Fanel suddenly appeared in the sky alongside a ferocious dragon. Thanks to a premonition Hitomi had, Van eventually slays the beast, but a pillar of light appears, engulfing them both. When the light dissipates, Hitomi finds herself trapped in the far off world of Gaea, with the Earth looming in the distance. Hitomi then realises that Van Fanel is a prince of the Kingdom of Fanelia, which later falls under attack by the evil Zaibach Empire. In an attempt to ward of the attackers, Van boards his family’s greatest treasure: a mechanized battle suit, or “guymelef”, called Escaflowne. Unfortunately, Fanelia is destroyed in the ensuing battle, leaving Van and Hitomi no choice but to flee. They then encounter the handsome Asturian knight Allen Schezar who looks just like Hitomi’s crush back on Earth. With new friends in tow, Van and Hitomi try their hand at fighting back against the evil Zaibach Empire.
A classic in its own right, Vision of Escaflowne is a mecha, shoujo isekai anime that finds itself on this list on grounds of its uniqueness. With stacks of action and combat, Escaflowne gives viewers just a little bit more on grounds of romance – everything unfolds from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl. Unlike most other isekai anime, Vision of Escaflowne gives its homesick protagonist a constant kick in the ribs as Hitomi can literally see the Earth decorating Gaea’s night sky, but she can only dream of being back on the rock she calls home, despite it being within eyesight.
7. Youjo Senki (Saga of Tanya the Evil)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2017 – March 2017
Nine-year-old Tanya Degurechaff is a young soldier infamous for her ruthlessness and uncanny tactical aptitude, traits which saw her being dubbed the “Devil of the Rhine”. However, unbeknownst to her colleagues in the military, her tiny body hosts the soul of a man who challenged an entity known as Being X, the self-proclaimed God. This challenge saw the man being reincarnated as a little girl at the bottom of the food chain, in a world defined by magical warfare. With her personality, intelligence and ruthless ambition intact, Tanya aims to climb the country’s military ladder in hopes of one day recreating the peaceful world in which she once lived; however, Being X remains a great obstacle in her way.
2017 started out with quite a bang as Youjo Senki quickly became extremely popular for its intelligent plot, breakneck action and beautiful characters and animation. The rivalry formed between Tanya and Being X facilitates extremely profound thought on concepts of God, morality, ambition and strife, making this one of the more immersive isekai anime on this list for anime fans who like to analyse the social commentary posed in the anime they enjoy. Youjo Senki took the Isekai trope to a different realm – almost like the trope itself had wandered into unknown territory with a main character being reincarnated as a totally different individual in an unknown realm. The conditions force Tanya to adapt to her newer, harsher surroundings and the way in which she does so makes for an epic tale.
6. GATE: Jietai Kanochi Nite, Kaku Tatakaeri (GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There!)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2015 – September 2015
Off-duty Japan Self-Defense Forces officer Itami Youji is on his way to attend a doujinshi event in Ginza, Tokyo, when suddenly, a mysterious portal appears in the city. From this portal, or “gate”, emerge innumerable supernatural creatures and warriors which then wreak havoc across the city. With his quick thinking and decent combat ability, Itami is able to save several lives as the rest of the JSDF fend off the invasion. Three months later, Itami is selected to lead a recon team that will be sent to the world beyond the gate, in order to investigate the cause of the incident three years prior. This area, now called “the Special Region”, is one they must brave in order to learn more about the situation at hand. They must attempt to befriend the ruling empire in order to prevent catastrophes like the one in Ginza from happening again.
Taking a somewhat anomalous route from the various other isekai anime out there, GATE had the main character’s home world, which is based on reality, invaded by otherworldly beings. Now seeking to understand and reach some sort of diplomacy with the empire sitting at the apex of the invading realm, Itami’s home country of Japan begins its journey into the world beyond the gate. So GATE is a two-way Isekai anime as characters from both realms end up having experiences in foreign worlds. Since Itami Youji is an otaku, this isekai anime also finds several roots and references to anime culture in its characters and dialogue.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2016 – December 2016
At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Shimazu Toyohisa is rearguard for his retreating troops. Upon sustaining critical wounds, he finds himself in a gleaming white hallway. In this hallway, he finds himself face to face with a stoic man named Murasaki and hundreds of doors on both sides of this hallway. Suddenly, Toyohisa is dragged into the nearest door and thrown into a different world. This is a world of fantasy, where warriors of different eras from Toyohisa’s world have found themselves unfortunate enough to be in the same situation. These individuals, thought to be dead in Toyohisa’s world, have been summoned as “Drifters” in order to fight against the “Ends”, people responsible for the creation of the Orte Empire which has taken it upon itself to persecute elves and other demihumans. Now Toyohisa and the other Drifters must work together to protect the Empire’s subjects.
Stacked with heaps of action and adventure, Drifters is yet another banger from 2016 which employed the isekai trope. With a fantasy world that is beautiful and dangerous, Toyohisa’s serious personality alongside the other Drifters from his realm seems to stand out greatly from the fantastical land of elves and other creatures. The animation is beautiful and the plot is instantly gripping, Drifters is honestly an isekai anime that can be recommended to anyone keen to binge something heavy and exciting.
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: April 2017 – September 2017
Humans are responsible for the creation and design of countless worlds. To us, these worlds exist for entertainment, borne from the unique imagination of the creator. One such creator, Mizushino Souta, is a high schooler with ripe talents and aspirations of writing and illustrating his own light novel. One day while watching anime for inspiration, he finds himself momentarily transported into the fierce fight scene that was transpiring on TV. Soon after, he finds himself back in his room but something is off: the anime’s heroine, Selesia Upitiria has returned into the real world with him. Before long, many other main characters and villains find themselves inhabiting the real world, with all their quirks, personalities and powers intact. Alongside Selesia and Meteora Österreich, a librarian NPC, Souta works to uncover the reasons behind the recent course of events, as well as to identify the strange woman in full military regalia who seems to be at the centre of it all.
Re:Creators is a brilliant and unique take on the isekai trope. In the parallel worlds realms that humans unknowingly create themselves, this isekai anime manages to tackle several themes that are sandwiched into the entertaining plot. This isekai anime brings to question themes surrounding the morality of creation and creativity, and those with a keen eye for the finer details will notice how there is an underlying theme underlining religion and religious faith, especially where the sapience of deities is concerned. The fights are awesome and the art does the show justice with both character designs and animation. Overall, Re:Creators is highly recommended for those who wish to see an isekai anime break away from the mould.
3. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World)
- Episodes: 10
- Aired: January 2016 – March 2016
A young shut in named Satou Kazuma decides to head outside for the first time in a long time in order to buy a new game. However, he never arrives at the store as he dies a pathetic and laughable death. As a result of his terrible death, he finds himself sitting in front of the beautiful and obnoxious goddess, Aqua. She gives Kazuma two options: continue to Heaven, or receive a second chance at life in a real fantasy realm! Kazuma chooses the latter option, which means that he gets to enter his new life with any item of his choosing to help him in his quest to slay a Demon King. He chooses the goddess Aqua herself, believing her to be of incredible worth. Boy, was he wrong! In addition to selecting a completely useless item, Kazuma’s life in this new fantasy realm is far from that which he sees in video games and before long, both he and Aqua have to work hard in order to pay for their living expenses. However, with the plethora of quirky characters and strange occurrences that seem to follow the duo, they haven’t quite experienced life just yet.
KonoSuba is the kind of isekai anime that you pick up on a whim and fall completely in love with for the simple fact that it is hilarious. With seriously eccentric characters and a plot line unlike any other Isekai anime out, this isekai anime seems to be both a parody and a staunch follower of this trope. Somehow, it is comparable to Re:Zero, yet another 2016 isekai anime; however, the direction KonoSuba has taken sees it drop into the top 3 of our list. The characters have great chemistry, getting up to some of the funniest antics of any isekai anime on this list. The show’s brilliance comes in the form of anti-climactic humour, as well as the focus on the mundanity of Satou Kazuma’s life in a realm that was meant to be anything but mundane.
2. Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World)
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: April 2016 – September 2016
A shut-in named Natsuki Subaru decides to head out to the nearby convenience store to get something to eat; however, as he leaves the store, he is instantly transported to a strange fantasy world. Not long after his arrival, the unfortunate teenager is attacked by a group of thugs. Luckily for him, a white-haired beauty named Satella appears at the scene and saves him. Upon hearing that she is looking for the one who stole her insignia, a thankful Subaru offers his help in her search and later that night, they find what they’re looking for. Minutes later, Satella and Subaru are brutally murdered. However, Subaru reawakens to a similar scene – he finds himself standing in front of the same stall, attacked by the same thugs and his confusion and bewilderment increases as he inexplicably finds himself re-experiencing the same events…
Out of all the isekai anime on this list, Re:Zero is by far the most gripping and dramatic. With Subaru’s unexplained transportation to the strange realm and his ability to experience death and respawn at a particular point in time much like checkpoints in a video game, this show allows the viewer to experience the main character’s emotional and psychological journey through another realm like none other. Like most other characters in his predicament, Subaru salivates at the chance to live in a world that is not unlike the games he’s played. However, his constant and brutal deaths does not leave him emotionally unscathed and we see his character grow and regress several times throughout the show. Re:Zero’s characters are intricate, and the Return By Death plot device allows for the anime to explore its characters with a freedom unlike any other Isekai show. Trust us when we say Re:Zero is one hell of a ride.
1. Hataraku Maou-sama! (The Devil is a Part-Timer!)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2013 – June 2013
With ambitions of conquest, the Demon Lord Satan and his vast armies strike fear into the hearts of many; however, the hero Emelia appears to thwart his plans to conquer the land of Ente Isla. Driven into a corner by the hero’s efforts, Satan attempts to quickly retreat through a dimensional portal but this portal ends up sending him tumbling into the streets of modern-day Japan. Alongside his loyal underling Alsiel, Satan sees himself assuming a powerless human form and subsequently becoming “Maou Sadao”, an enthusiastic employee at the local MgRonald’s, a fast food joint. Seemingly enjoying human life, Satan’s plan to conquer Ente Isla falls to the wayside as he switches to wanting to climb the corporate ladder!
A fresh take on the exiled demon trope and a breath of fresh air in the isekai trope, Hataraku Maou-sama is the brilliant depiction of the mundane aspects of everyday human life – as experienced by a character that is anything but human. The brilliance of this isekai comes in its approach with the main character, Satan. Finding himself stranded in the human realm completely changes his personality, ambitions and goals. It is an entertaining take on anime’s tendency to romanticise the demons which are commonly vilified and a mere change of scenery sees Ente Isla’s villain become Earth’s hero on a few occasions, as well as the hero receiving customers’ orders!
The isekai trope is a well-used device in anime and it has brought forth a multitude of amazing shows. The aforementioned titles are some of the most memorable, as well as some of the most creative and entertaining instances of this trope. However, one must also give props to isekai anime like the .hack\\: franchise as well as Overlord, two isekai anime titles which propagate the “trapped in a videogame” trope but also count as isekai anime in their own right. Are there any Isekai anime that you really enjoyed that aren’t on this list? Drop a comment below and allow us to travel to more beautiful realms!