Pretty much a discussion about anything Isekai. Isekai is a very prevalent genre right now and I believe it will only get bigger and more widespread.
I think Isekai is a genre that will continue to stay and will not die out. Isekai is not a ridged genre, it is a genre with great adaptive skills. Its able to change and grow into new and interesting places. Both the main narrative and the meta narrative have near infinite possibilities. If you are creative you can take any genre anywhere you want but it us much easier for Isekai. Just take the old zombie craze, the meta narrative might have some degree of diversity among the genre, like say consumerism and addiction. Isekai on the other hand has both a diverse meta narrative and a main narrative. Shield Hero and Overlord should not even be considered in the same realm as each other.
I really like it when people just wake up/appear in the other world.
Truck-Kun doesn’t make an appearance, God doesn’t appear before them, they don’t die in their old world, and they aren’t summoned.
So I guess stories like Log Horizon, Overlord, Death March, and to a lesser extent Elf-San & Infinite Dendogram.
Although it’s a really small detail and for the most part won’t necessarily make a huge impact on the story, it’s just something I have been known to enjoy.
God doesn’t appear before them
But if they use facing the god thing in some ways, I find that really interesting like in Tanya.
@rahul-balaggan You're counting Dendro as an isekai? I don't totally disagree with you. The story was "in game" for so long I almost forgot that Ray was starting college.
In my opinion isekai is not really genre but a way to start a fantasy story. All isekai series starts with someone going to another world and the rest is basically the same as any fantasy story out there while sometimes mentioning knowledge or experience from the original world where the MC came from.
What I don't like about using the "iskeai" way of starting a fantasy story is that most of them make the MC OP at the start of the story. A good example is Smartphone wherein Touya beats most enemies by just using Slip and abusing the cheats that God gave him from the start. Although I like Smartphone because it hilarious. The only "isekai" that I think that used the OP MC setting the best is Arifureta because it actually showed how the weak Hajime became as strong as he is now.
In short I prefer my "isekai" to be about a weak MC who actually struggled in the other world to become strong. Just like Kazuma from Konosuba and Haruhiro from Grimgar. Both are weak but they struggled to live and survive in the other world. Although in Konosuba's case the story is pure comedy so the struggle ain't that bad since most enemies are just as stupid as the stupid Goddess so Kazuma and his scheming self can win just fine but on Grimgar's case the story is so damn tense that sometimes it's just too depressing to read but the question of "Will they survive?" forces you to continue following the series.
I agree that the genre has limitless possibility, however right now it's really underuse even if Grimgar and Shield hero or Overlord are nothing alike story-wise, they're still quite similar: it's still someone going to a fantaisy world, sure there's some difference: sometime it's only one person sometime it's a group, sometime the MC is a male sometime it's a female, sometime it's a game world sometime not,... but even the more exotic one like JK harue are still quite similar to something more common mike Arifureta: they're in a fantaisy medieval europe-like world, it's a group summon, harem, and other thing that would be spoil.
Most isekai stay quite similar because when it got too different from the usual isekai setting most of the time those novel aren't consider isekai, like are "Echo" or "The empty box and Zeroth Maria" isekai ? there not label as such despite both MC being transport to other world or dimension, and on the other hand should we really consider "So i'm a spider so what" an isekai ?
The word "isekai" in itself may just mean "other world" and the genre definition be "a story were the protagonist go to another world" but actualy the isekai genre is way smaler, and limited.
@bartzbb If you want to talk about OP MC's, let's namedrop Subaru from Re:Zero. Let's face it, in a one-on-one with a a certain type of monster,
Touya could get killed, if not for plot armor. Wouldn't matter to Subaru. He just gets to keep trying until he finally gets it right.
But to stay on topic, an OP MC is a pretty common trope in isekai. Souma (Realist Hero) is probably the least OP isekai MC I know of.
So in talking about isekai, I think the big question is, what about isekai appeals to readers, either personally or the isekai-loving audience overall.
I know that for myself, one thing I really enjoy in isekai stories is how the protagonist brings elements and knowledge of the modern world to the fantasy world. This fusion of two worlds makes isekai unique from just another fantasy story that happens to have its protagonist come from another world. On that note, stuff like Realist Hero, Outbreak Company, and even something more low-key like Cooking with Wild Game are isekais I love. On the other side, I couldn't really see Isekai Mahou as my kind of isekai because Suimei doesn't really bring modern world elements to the other world, but rather "modern-world-inspired magic", which felt a bit too distant from me to really get attached to that part.
OP MC's do seem to be popular in isekai, but I think some such stories end up focusing too much on those OP powers that the whole "isekai" element ends up being more of an afterthought. For example, Smartphone early on felt more like "Touya solves problems with his mastery of elements", without as much use of the titular smartphone and all of its access to modern world information. It has gotten somewhat better in this regard and it's a fun story regardless but it's definitely not among my favorite isekais.
The thing is, in many cases, modern knowledge in and of itself is a "cheat" power. Realist Hero exemplifies that well; Souma might not be "OP" in the traditional sense, but the way he leverages his knowledge to improve his country's situation has given him a large amount of political and military power, which makes him "overpowered" in a different (and arguably more interesting) way.
On that note, my favorite isekai power is easily the Unlimited Bath from Mixed Bathing; it introduces modern world elements in a fun way and gives its Touya a unique way of acquiring power that must be used creatively to make the most of it. (Oh, and mixed bathing fanservice too, I guess.)
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I disagree that isekai is a genre at all. It is a trope that is used in some fantasy stories.
I've never seen myself as someone that enjoy's isekai books, I've always said that I love reading fantasy books, and it just happens to be that stories that have the isekai trope are fantasy stories.
I find that with quite a lot of stories, the isekai element to them has disappeared after the start of the story, and it just becomes a fantasy story. There are only a handful of stories that i can think of where the element of the different worlds stay's relevant throughout the story (eg. Outbreak Company, Master of Ragnarok).
@stardf29 Yeah, i also thing that showing how modern knowledge or element interact with a fantaisy world is a big part of lot of isekai appeal, in fact seeing how the world react to them in general is one of the most interesting aspect.
However a lot of time the moderne knowledge is too op, it feel unatural. For exemple in something like "Saving 80000 gold" and in Funa work in general the way the mc are able to give advice to everybody, or the fact that nobody thought of/understand crossbow is strange, it doesn’t make the MC look smart it make the world look dumb. In FUNA's work it's not really a problem but in more serious work it can become really annoying. Same for the usual modern food is mind blowingly good or applying modern knowledge to magic make it totaly op. Personaly i prefer something like Ascendance of a bookworm where the MC knowledge is at time usefull but a lot of the time people allready have a good enough solution or moderne knowledge isn't usefull without modern civilization. Same for magic, something like Mushoku Tensei where modern knowledge enable the MC to be a powerfull glass canon, not to master all magic or be all powerfull, is more interresting.
Overall i think it best when moderne knowledge isn’t the solution to everything since it make the MC interactions with the world less predictable and more interresting.
I agree with many commenters here: isekai isn't a genre so much as it is a trope/mcguffin, and similar tropes exist and are popular as well
To summarize (in my opinion) isekai stories have at their base the transportation of a character form a contemporary/modern "real" setting to a fantasy one (often a 'swords and sorcery' high fantasy setting that follows the rules of world-building from popular fantasy or RPG's)
Similar situations occurred in western literature for a long time (see An American Yankee in King Aurthur's Court, by Mark Twain, published in 1889) Variations include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (published in 1900) and Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars books (1912) and a relatively common trope in fantasy/sci-fi stories ever since.
I think part of the particular appeal is isekai stores in Japanese literature is the connection to contemporary (Japanese) culture. Reincarnation is part of the Japanese zeitgeist much more than in western culture, Isekai often uses this as a mechanism to transport a character, the mechanics of the world often sharing video or RPG game is also a shortcut to connect the reader to the (foreign) setting. I believe this has the added appeal of more easily allowing the reader to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the fictional setting ('that could be me transported to another world') The trope also allows for the use of 'fish out of water' comic relief and to explore contemporary themes without the aesops being too much of an anvil drop (decriminalization is wrong, see how bad the demi-humans feel?) In addition it's an easy/lazy shortcut to escapist wish-fulfillment.
Notable contemporary western examples:
list itemDungeons and Dragons (the Saturday morning cartoon series from the 1980's)
list itemthe film Galaxy Quest is a variation
list itemthe Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
As many mentioned Isekai is just a trope but that doesn't prevented these stories from falling into certain categories. Personally, I prefer a lot of isekai series that came out before the isekai boom.
Anyway, there are many elements that either hook me or irk me:
On the irking side: Adaptability and acceptance.
I always find it baffling when a character just wakes up in another world and the first thing he thinks of is 'ah, it's isekai, shall we move on, y'all know where this is going, right?'...
Like It's fucking another world and you treated like you woke up in some alley after getting totally hammered? 'ah, I drank too much last night and woke up in weird place...'
Especially when they ain't told about all of this beforehand.
Like the first thought is not 'I'm hallucinating' or 'I am going crazy' but 'I am in a totally different world, separated from my own with no knowledge how I got here or how to go back, and it looks just like how an ol' regular teen otaku would think his perfect waifu dwells or the game that I have been playing for the past 2 years and became OP character in it.'
Also, how these people adapt way too quickly to the situation annoys me a lot.
It's different when they have to this to survive like
Or they are actually running away from their original life like
or when there is a motive presented to the character like
On the irking side: Adaptability and acceptance.
I always find it baffling when a character just wakes up in another world and the first thing he thinks of is 'ah, it's isekai, shall we move on, y'all know where this is leading, right?'...
Well, just think about how much Isekai stories there are now. It would make sense that the MC is aware of the tropes around Isekai. I have always found it baffling if the main characters have no idea what a Zombie is for example. I am sure you and I would know the common tropes around Zombie apocalypse, the first thing we probably will try is to aim for the head for example. We might be wary of seemingly happy and well off civilizations, they might be cannibals for all we know! I don't think an MC that is quick to adapt the he is in another world is that much if a problem, it just depends on what kind of story you want to make.
I won't really compare a zombie to a whole new world.
Also knowing something is totally different from believing or accepting it. (Like knowing/being familiar with what death is or feeling of losing someone won't help you accept death of someone close to you right away.)
And people may tend to accept one weird thing existing in their surrounding without doubting or questioning themselves but when you wake up or cross some door and find the whole world you know cease to be, it's really weird that there is no panicking involved and they are just like "oh, it seems like a new world and I can do super cool stuff , and let's have fun" (Overlord went around it by adding this calming effect/skill to him)
That kind of extreme adaptability that borderlines psychological issue or complete lack of personality ends up irking me and as I result, I can't view the MC as "a person", just a window/eyes to the world.
Don't misunderstand my post as dislike since I'm going to mention two series which I would list as favorites, but point out issues/flaws which seem relevant. First is High School DxD. I know, it's not technically an isekai, but more of an unknown expansion of the "known world". Issei is killed as a plot tool to introduce him to the reality that demons exist and induct him into that aspect. It's always been bothersome that he was so readily able to accept either his own reincarnation or the reality of demons since both of those should be a major shock to someone with modern sensibilities. In that regard, being familiar with the concept of zombies, and finding one munching on your neighbor are always going to be two completely different things. Acceptance would always be an issue when dealing with something which an understanding of reality is suddenly thrown out the window. We may understand that something exists in a "fantasy", but suddenly integrating that into reality would inevitably be a WTF moment.
At the same time, I tend to enjoy stories which make fun of this culture shock, or the expectations. Kazuma automatically assuming that he has some sort of amazing power laying dormant just because he was reincarnated in a different world is a perfect example of this. Even now, I'm still waiting on the day when a series begins playing on our preconceived notions of what a fantasy world should be. IE, elves don't have to be naturally attractive or intelligent. They could just as easily look like short mountain trolls and have half of the intelligence, but be viewed as beautiful and intelligent by the standards of their world. "The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind!" kind of touches on the idea of those preconceptions, but the MC is technically overpowered even by the standard of his known world.
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@pleco_breeder Conserning what you said at the end of your comment, maybe you should try "So i'm a spider so what", it kind of has what you're looking for and it's great overall. The published versions isn't far enough tho.