Should you get excited about Isekai Anime?
The Isekai subgenre of anime refers to any show in which a character from our world (or at least one a lot like it) gets magically transported to a different universe or timeline. The main character often winds up in a medieval fantasy landscape, but some shows get creative with the premise.
If you’ve only ever heard of Isekai this year, don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need your nerd card revoked. The genre has exploded with the emerging popularity of That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime and The Rising of the Shield Hero in the anime landscape. And the continued success of properties like Sword Art Online certainly add to the movement. But what’s the deal with these shows anyway? Why is Isekai Anime so popular all of the sudden?
It’s certainly not a new genre.
You might be forgiven for thinking that Isekai anime is a recent genre given the circumstances. But hilariously, this cannot be further from the truth. The Isekai genre has not only been around for decades, but has already enjoyed immense success. Shows like Inuyasha and Digimon are massive successes, but neither spawned an Isekai movement like we see now.
It’s almost a shame, because it’d be easy to point to the inherent merits of the Isekai genre to explain its popularity. After all, the genre gives us an opportunity to project ourselves onto the protagonists of these often fantastic adventures. But the real reason Isekai is popular right now is… perhaps a little silly.
It’s all about trends. And Memes.
Yes, this is a twofold answer, and memes are absolutely half of it.
If there’s one thing the Western anime community loves, it’s taking fragments of popular Japanese vocabulary and memeing it to the moon and back. That’s why I can say “my kawaii tsundere kokoro goes doki doki every time watashi sees a sugoi husbando” and have it make sense in weird anime meme logic. So naturally, now that Isekai anime is trending in recent anime seasons, that term joins that limited meme vocabulary.
While Isekai as a term isn’t quite as exploitable as the before mentioned examples, you’ll still see jokes about how The Wizard of Oz is the best Isekai anime ever made. That’s why you’ve personally learned of the term recently, despite the genre’s storied history.
Of course, the memes are only a response to a trend, not the originator of it. And when it comes to why Isekai anime itself is trending nowadays, it’s because… well, we’re seeing breakout hits in the genre! That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime is a unique twist on the formula (turning the hero into a low-level slime monster), and The Rising of the Shield Hero is rife with great reviews. And just as shows like Attack on Titan and Madoka Magica inspired anime of somewhat similar genres, that’s what we’re seeing with Isekai anime. Everyone wants to get their take on the genre out there while the iron is hot, and we should expect to see more Isekai anime in the future before the trend dies down again.
So should you watch Isekai anime?
At the end of the day, there’s nothing magical or special about the genre that makes it popular. It’s just popular now because there are some good shows that have lent to some great memes in the West.
In other words, if the word has been confusing you all this time, don’t worry, you’re not missing out on anything. But if you happen to discover some critically acclaimed shows through the trends and the memes, then hey, go ahead and teleport yourself into those worlds.