One way of classifying manga is by demographic categories like shonen and shojo (for more information, check out the previous Manga 101 blog post). However, manga can also be divided into genres of similar subject matter. While some popular manga genres are familiar, like romance or horror, others might require a bit more explanation. One such manga genre is isekai.
The literal translation of the Japanese word isekai is “different world,” and that concept is the foundation of the genre. In isekai stories, the protagonist is transported to or reborn in a different (and usually more fantastical) world than our own.
Some isekai stories involve being transported from one world to another. These other worlds often have fantasy (e.g. Welcome to Demon School Iruma-kun) or historical fantasy settings (e.g. Inuyasha); another popular setting for isekai stories is being transported into a video game (e.g. Sword Art Online or Overlord). In addition to simply traveling to another world, another common isekai set-up involves the main character being reborn or reincarnated in a new world (e.g. Ascendance of a Bookworm).
Often, a protagonist’s skills and knowledge from the previous world will allow them to thrive in the new setting. Sometimes an isekai protagonist is reborn as a powerful hero, but frequently isekai stories involve the main character being reborn as an insignificant or seemingly minor character in the new world (e.g. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime or So I’m a Spider, So What?).
Isekai itself is a broad genre, with a number of subgenres. One popular subgenre of isekai is otome isekai. These stories usually feature a female protagonist being reborn in the world of a romance game or novel, frequently as a “villainess.” The protagonist often needs to use her foreknowledge of the setting to avoid the terrible fate awaiting her character (e.g. Villains Are Destined to Die or Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion).
Yet another spin on the isekai genre is called reverse isekai —in this case, a character from a different world finds themself transported to an ordinary, contemporary world that resembles our own (e.g. The Devil Is a Part-Timer).
Isekai stories are popular even outside of manga — many light novels, manhwa (Korean comics), and webcomics center around isekai premises. Isekai is also similar to the concept of a portal fantasy in Western fiction. For more of the library’s isekai series, check out this list or browse the isekai category on Comics Plus.
We’ll explore even more manga genres in our next Manga 101 installment!