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What is an Isekai?

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

The literal translation of Isekai is "Different World" and is a subgenre of fantasy.

Digimon would be one of the easiest examples to give to describe what an Isekai is. The main character or multiple characters are thrown into a world that they can't escape from until a certain goal is achieved. In some situations, not ever able to return from the new unfamiliar location.

The term coined in Japan, the Isekai genre is expanding more and more. Anime such as Sword Art Online, Overlord and Shield Hero are to name only a few of the countless amounts of stories of such.

In these specific anime, the protagonist is dropped (or more accurately "spawned") into a fantasy style world. And their progression is built around skill trees like in Role Playing Games. So the gaming aspect is heavily influential, especially Japanese Role Playing Games, which have plenty of options and skill upgrades which helps progress a story. Sometimes the protagonist even knows they're in a game, breaking the fourth wall to bring another level of humour. In many cases, the protagonist is hilariously overpowered.

In films and games, the Isekai genre is almost disguised in the west because there isn't really a word for it that isn't explained as sci-fi. Tron, Ready Player One and even Back to the Future fit into this genre. For example, Marty Mcfly being trapped in a different time and needing to find his way back to his own time whilst fixing the timeline at the same time.

Waking up as a Pikachu with Pokémon for friends, I'm not going back.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Nino Kuni and even Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask are all games where a character is transported to a world they are trapped in. Pikachu, in Mystery Dungeon, is even originally a human who wakes up as a Pokémon trapped in a far off land.

Have you ever played an Isekai game or watched a program with this sub genre? Have you noticed it? Let us know which ones in the comments.

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