First of all, what is Isekai? You’ll be surprised to know that the word “Isekai,” in its literal sense, only means “World” in Japanese but in the world of anime, it is a prominent sub-genre of fantasy where the main protagonist of the anime travels or is magically summoned/reincarnated to a completely unfamiliar new world. There are some anime where the main character is a complete NEET and feels disconnected to her his/her actual reality but finds true purpose in the new world.
There are also other shows like ‘Sword Art Online‘ and ‘Overlord‘ where the character ends becoming a part of MMORPG. So why exactly are these characters summoned to a whole a new world? Usually, the main character who is transported has a purpose to fulfill in this new world and possesses skills that are superior to that of a normal being. The protagonist has to then just stomp on everything that comes in his/her way and what usually ensues, is a series of dramatic and humorous cliched events.
The purpose that the character needs to fulfill can either involve saving this new land from dark forces. Or, there are also times when he/she might have died a tragic death in the real world only to be reincarnated to this new world. Some premises also involve random characters getting thrown into a parallel universe only to be experimented upon with some latest technological development. In the end, it does not really matter as the point is to simply plop a random Otaku punk into a new world to create a sense of adventure, pretty much how ‘Harry Potter‘ is exposed to the whole new world of wizardry when he turns 11 or how a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins lives a peaceful life until one day he is dragged into an adventure of a lifetime by a wizard named Gandalf.
Come to think of it, Isekai is pretty much everywhere and the reason why we enjoy it so much is that it gives us a sense of escape. So that’s the reason why we decided to make a list of the top Isekai anime. Just so you know, we have not ranked these in chronological order as all of them have their own unique charm and liking or disliking them can be very subjective. You can watch several of these best Isekai anime on Netflix, Crunchyroll or Hulu.
12. Digimon Adventures (1999 – 2000)
For most of us, ‘Digimon‘ is pretty much where it all began as it was the first Isekai anime that went viral in the West. The story of the anime is about a bunch of “DigiDestined” kids who are transported to a Digital world where they find strange animal-like creatures known as Digimon. Each of them then gets a Digimon as companions and the kids set out on an adventure of a lifetime that involves saving these cute little monsters from dark forces. ‘Digimon’ is a long-running anime but it is definitely worth your time and will always bring back some pleasant memories for those who got a chance to see it during its initial run.
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11. Overlord (2015 – )
‘Overlord‘ is one of the highest-rated anime on this list and is very well known for its portrayal of an insanely huge universe. Momomga, the protagonist, lives an ordinary life and the best part of his day is when he gets to play his favorite video game called Yggdrasil. When he finds out that the game is being shut down permanently, he decides to log into it for the last time. But somehow, even after the game is shut down completely, he notices he is still online and that’s when he actually finds himself inside the game as a Demon Lord who goes by the name Ainz Ooal Gown.
‘Overlord’ might seem like every typical gaming anime you’ve ever seen but it’s actually much better than most and almost as good as ‘Sword Art Online.’ If you haven’t seen it yet, then you should check out the entire series on Funimation.
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10. Sword Art Online (2012 – )
‘Sword Art Online‘ has been adapted from one of the highest-grossing light novels of all time and it has also become one of the most popular anime shows in the last decade. Set in the year 2022, ‘SOA‘ is about a futuristic role-playing game in which players can control their avatars solely by using their own thoughts.
Kirito is one of the few lucky kids who get to lay their hands on this game and its cutting-edge ‘NerveGear’ technology. All excited about this new experience, he logs into the world of Aincrad along with 10,000, only to realize that logging out is impossible. Kirito and all the other players trapped in the game must now somehow learn to survive in the game because if they die in the virtual world, they will be dead in real-life as well. For those who haven’t seen this amazing anime yet, you watch it on Netflix.
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9. No Game No Life (2014)
A bright color palette, some fanservice and nonsensical yet hilarious jokes; sometimes that’s all it takes to make an Isekai dear to us. ‘No Game No Life‘ is about two extremely intelligent NEET siblings who are sick of their monotonous lives. But one day, everything changes when they get transported to a whole new gaming world that ruled by 16 different races. In this strange land, the genius pair is exposed to many complex and weird levels that pose some really high stakes. With the motive of uniting all the races, Sora and Shiro play each game with sheer determination and give everything that they’ve got to become the gods of this new world where gaming is life.
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8. Zero no Tsukaima: The Familiar of Zero (2006 – )
The only one rule that you need to follow while watching most Isekai anime is leave your brain out of the equation! If you’re able to do that, then you’ll not only be able to enjoy ‘Zero no Tsukaima‘ but it might just become your favorite fantasy anime as well. It revolves around a young girl named Louise Francoise who studies at a prestigious school for magicians known as the Tristain Academy.
But unlike most other kids of her age, her magic skills are quite subpar and that has earned her the nickname “Louise the Zero.” She casts one of her “summoning” spells one day which causes a huge expression and yet again, she becomes the butt of the jokes because of her failure. But moments later, to everyone’s surprise, a young boy named Saito Higara appears from the dust of the explosion. Is his appearance simply an accident or has he been transferred to this new world with a deep underlying purpose?
7. Drifters (2016 – )
‘Drifters‘ is one of the most underrated anime shows of this genre. It has a very unique and interesting plot that centers on a character named Toyohisa Shimazu who is a samurai from the 16th century. Somewhere in the middle of an ongoing war, he gets injured and suddenly finds himself in a modern white gleaming hallway. In front of him, a man named Murasaki opens hundreds of doorways on both sides of the wall and suddenly Toyohisa is sucked into one of them.
Toyohisa now finds himself in a fairly modern world that is full of eccentric creatures and warriors who are believed to be dead in their own respective real worlds. He must now join the “Drifters” and battle against the “Ends” in a whole new World War scenario where the “Ends” are the opposing forces who are trying to take over the Empire they live in.
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6. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (2018 – )
With one of the catchiest anime titles, ‘That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime‘ is a popular show in the genre. It’s about a middle-aged man who is content with his boring life as a corporate employee. But one thing that he hates about his life is that he is now about to be a 40-year-old virgin who’ll probably never know what it feels like to fall in love with someone. One day, he gets stabbed by an assailant on the streets and as he bleeds to death, he hears weird chants that make no sense at all.
Upon waking up, he realizes that he has reincarnated as a small goop of slime and he can now destroy pretty much any living thing to assume it’s shape and abilities. Later, he runs into a monstrous dragon named Verudora who has been sealed since the past 3 centuries for causing havoc in the town. Satoru feels really bad for him and decides to help him out. In return, Verudora names him Rimuru Tempest and also gifts him a more human-like appearance of a young boy. Free from all the troubles of his old life, Tumhri sets out on an adventure with a newly found sense of purpose in his life.
5. The Rising of the Shield Hero (2019)
‘The Rising of the Shield Hero‘ is yet another gaming Isekai that adopts more of a loli-harem theme and in the end, it reminds you of nothing but ‘Sword Art Online.’ But despite its “unoriginality,” the anime manages to stand out through its excellent narration. Later, it even touches other interesting themes that may not seem too evident in the beginning. You might have gotten sick of how repetitive Isekai anime can get at times, but if you end up skipping this one solely because of that, then you’re seriously missing out on a good show.
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4. Log Horizon (2013)
‘Log Horizon‘ starts off as just another ripoff of the ‘Sword Art Online’ before it turns out to be a hidden gem in the world of Isekai anime. It has its own elements of fantasy but it does not focus too much on battles, instead, it emphasizes on the importance of strategy and manipulation in the gaming world where all the characters of the anime live.
It’s these ideas that make ‘Log Horizon’ much better than other similar shows of the genre. It has some heavy plot holes that will be evident to most viewers but at the end of the day, it is enjoyable and engaging. Isn’t that why we watch anime in the first place?
3. Re Zero: Starting Life in Another World (2016)
Speaking of repetitiveness, you’ll again find a lot of that in ‘Re Zero‘ but with some very interesting plot twists of its own. Its story is a lot like the Hollywood film ‘Source Code‘ where the protagonist, Natsuki Subaru, has the ability to come back to life to a certain saved point in time after death.
Now, withstanding all the exertion that comes with this process is beyond the abilities of a normal human being. But luckily for Natsuki, he has friends and family who support him and help him to get through this tedious process each time. The anime can get really confusing at times, but if you’re patient enough, you’ll fall in love with it somewhere around its end.
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2. Inuyasha (2000)
When it comes to ‘Inuyasha,’ it can be very debatable if this anime is Isekai or not. Many fans have different views on this but I personally believe that it does qualify as one. The female protagonist, Kagome, falls into a well and then finds herself in a completely different timeline. The entirely different parallel world has more of a fantastical appeal to it. What more do you want from an anime to qualify it as Isekai? So now that we’ve settled that, undoubtedly ‘Inuyasha’ is the perfect example of a “classic Isekai” that came out long before the genre was even considered to be cool.
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1. Spirited Away (2001)
This entry might be a little surprising for many readers but if you think about it, ‘Spirited Away‘ is actually Isekai at its best. The concept of Isekai is not new, it just recently became quite popular in the world of anime. Going beyond anime, even classics like ‘Narnia,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ and even ‘Alice in Wonderland’ perfectly fit in with the description of Isekai. The genre is starting to lose its charm because of all the clichéd garbage that is being produced these days. But one must not forget that it also has a much better side where Oscar-nominated masterpieces like ‘Spirited Away‘ exist.
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