Isekai. Much like the word chuunibyou, the term never actually gained popularity despite the genre itself going all the way back during the 1990s.
It has only gained attention within the last few years, with some of the modern pioneering series that specifically popularized the term.
Due to the massive popularity of isekai series today, we have quite a wide selection of recommendations that we can start with.
But before we begin, we would like to make a few clarifications to what can be technically considered as an isekai title:
- Must involve the main protagonist(s) not originally from a specific realm/world.
- High fantasy =/= isekai
- In a strict genre-definitive sense, VRMMO is NOT isekai. (e.g., Bofuri, Pre-Alicization SAO)
- In-universe MMOs that turned real, however, are CONSIDERED as isekai. (e.g., Log Horizon)
Well then, let’s dive deep into their worlds, shall we?
- 21. The Rising of the Shield Hero (Tate no Yuusha)
- 20. Knights and Magic
- 19. Cautious Hero: The Hero Is Overpowered but Overly Cautious (Shinchou Yuusha)
- 18. Zero no Tsukaima
- 17. That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime (Ten Sura)
- 16. The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Hataraku Maou)
- 15. Drifters
- 14. Twelve Kingdoms
- 13. Ascendance of a Bookworm (Honzuki no Gekokujou)
- 12. Gate: Thus, the JSDF Fought Here!
- 11. Dog Days
- 10. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (Hame Fura)
- 9. KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
- 8. Fushigi Yuugi
- 7. No Game No Life
- 6. Overlord
- 5. Magic Knight Rayearth
- 4. Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World
- 3. The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki)
- 2. Digimon Adventure
- 1. Log Horizon
21. The Rising of the Shield Hero (Tate no Yuusha)
Tragedy is definitely a good, staple driving force and a source of motivation for the main character in any series, and this includes isekai.
Tate no Yuusha kind of jumped the gun a bit too much, yet it still gains some good points in the cautionary tale department, plusthe skills, lore, and scenes are quite entertaining to digest.
Fair warning, though, it gets cringemore often than you would like to, even if it never gets nearly as bad as some of the more blatant power-fantasy isekai series churned out there.
20. Knights and Magic
The premise of mechas using magic as a form of scientific technology within an isekairealmis certainly something that can instantly catch attention. Indeed, for the most part, it does not disappoint in this category.
The setting and lore of the world, seen through Ernesti’s eyes, is interesting enough that it can feel vibrant and alive-ish.
Though our lovable shoutamay feel like your typical always-save-the-day boring hero, there is at least a minimum level of technicality to the methods that he uses to solve problems.
In any case, you are in for a somewhat unique ride as you explore this series step by step.
19. Cautious Hero: The Hero Is Overpowered but Overly Cautious (Shinchou Yuusha)
Admit it, most of us who have played RPGs have at some point tried to over grind ourselves in order to beat bosses.
This series is basically an ode to such tendencies, being the primary entertainment factor in cool moments and comical scenes.
Though mostly depicted as a parody series, it has serious undertones, especially when more of the lore and story become revealed.
Bonus reference points for those who have seen/watched it in Japanese! (hint: both are over-preparation type protagonists)
18. Zero no Tsukaima
One of the all-time isekai classics of the early 2000s, Zero no Tsukaima’s story oddly seems very simple on paper.
But the connecting events with regards to the series’ conflict as a whole and the eventual reveal of certain hidden “attributes” actually makes it quite a comprehensive series to explore.
The earlier magic academy setting does have a lot of game tutorial and linear exposition vibes, however, and Louise can occasionally get a tad bit too unreasonable at times.
17. That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime (Ten Sura)
Being reborn as the hero of the world you arrived in is just too mainstream, amirite?
But seriously, in terms of subverting expectations, TenSura sure gave its audience a lot of things to watch and enjoy. There is one important thing to note, however.
If you are expecting Rimuru to tactically plowhis way through the series a-la Shikamaru, then be prepared to be sorely disappointed.
The underdog aspect (concept?) of the series kind of just melts away (pun intended) pretty much as soon as he learns the mechanics of his slime skills.
16. The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Hataraku Maou)
It’s always refreshing to see isekai flipped to its side, with characters beyond our own realm arriving here instead.
HatarakuMaou is somewhat more comedic in nature to most series with such a basic plot, but that is precisely what makes it very worthwhile to watch.
It’s also a tiny bit subversive, as this is also one of the series that shows that a Demon King and his subjects are just the “other side.”
But seriously, the well-timed comedy in this show is always great to see, and the interactions of its characters make the series as a whole even more awesome.
Don’t you just hate it when you wake up in a Western high-fantasy world after leaving your Far Eastern-themed homeworld far behind?
With a mix of alternative history, complex earlier life backstory that could beat TenSura’s flashbacks, and realistically hardcore combat tactics, Drifters, delivers action that is eerily reminiscent of Hellsing.
Heck, even the idea of extraordinary individuals fighting the odds against a superior horde of different “monsters” feels almost too familiar.
It might not be the perfect isekai series, but it still definitely counts as one entry for this particular top list.
14. Twelve Kingdoms
One of the several titles in this list that would feature an open alternate realm as opposed to a closed-off world for the reincarnated, Twelve Kingdoms have very strong anthology-like vibes, despite the anime adaptation being made to give more focus on central protagonists.
The constantly evolving, albeit depressing at times, development of Youko’s story may seem far less exciting than the skill progression of other OP isekai protagonists.
But you can definitely feel her become stronger and more mature as a result.
13. Ascendance of a Bookworm (Honzuki no Gekokujou)
Does it always have to be this epic adventure or struggle against insurmountable odds when it comes to people thrown into fantastic magical worlds?
The Ascendance of a Bookworm definitely isn’t the first to dial down the stakes, but it is one of the most recent ones that took a long hard look at the isekai itself.
Fair warning, though, there’s a bit of a contrast to how soft and mellow things around here are, in what is supposedly the lowest caste in medieval society.
As such, this may occasionally break the immersion.
But Myne’s wily opportunism and snarky selfishness definitely is a breath of fresh air, aside from, of course, the aforementioned lowered, “normalized” stakes.
12. Gate: Thus, the JSDF Fought Here!
Initially, the portal plot thingy of Gate doesn’t exactly make sense, but the story clearly hints at something that made it deliberate.
But forget about that, forget the “glorious” modern-tech JSDF, forget about Itami even.
The entire world beyond the portal, as well as its lore, is at least enough to carry the entire series on its own.
It also introduces a wide cast of characters that bring life to situations that may be a little bit too dull, albeit in a rather stereotypical manner.
Spoiler alert though, if you don’t like certain political directions being taken by a series, then Gate could actually prove to be a more irritating series than it should be.
11. Dog Days
What about an isekai series that absolutely has NO stakes? While still staying pretty much action-heavy, by the way!
This series is one of those “just sit down and relax” action series, offering a grand cast of characters of very adorable and striking designs, cool animations that tingle your sakuga nerves, and interesting interactions that make the world feel very much alive.
No edgy elements, no angsty tendencies, though there will, of course, be situation-appropriate serious moments.
Oh, and if you’re a VA/seiyuu junkie, Dog Days would pretty much be your absolute jam as well.
10. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (Hame Fura)
Forget about saving the world, or getting a harem, or even becoming super OP in this isekai.
Much like Ascendance of a Bookworm, your primary goal is simply to build yourself as a person within the new world that youfinally remembered being thrown into.
HameFura proves to be not only an entertaining series but a wholesome one as well.
It shows Catarina’s intertwining complex relationships and how the world that she knows in the original game slowly changes into something completely unexpected, both for her and for us, the audience.
9. KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
HatarakuMaou may be funny, but the “integrated” comedy of KonoSuba is the one that still stands the test of meme trends even to this day.
Kazuma and gang’s wild antics and misadventures are etched to the canon so much that his VA is basically typecasted now to him that bits and pieces of the series manage to fly off to wherever parts of lesser-serious isekaiit may land.
Of course, if you are simply searching for a good isekai anime with very distinct MMO elements in it, then KonoSuba may also be the series of your choice.
8. Fushigi Yuugi
However, you interpret FushigiYuugi’s basic setting; it still leaves a good impression of its audience’s complexity.
Well, okay, maybe not really.But even if the world itself doesn’t feel as alive as other settings in other isekai have, the characters and their development (especially the rowdier ones) does make it interesting to see how Miaka herself went through it all.
One caveat, though, if you are not particularly fond of the “innocent but perfectly insightful” character archetype, then you may find Miaka just a tad bit too perfect.
7. No Game No Life
When it comes to OP isekai protagonists, No Game No Life delivers the vulnerable, intellectual type, as opposed to the boring and predictables kill master type.
Think of Lelouch; meek, weak, and frail, but might also be unstoppable when it comes to anything related to thinking and strategizing.
That’s the “underdog” premise of the series. Watching the sibling duo duke it out with other players in the world they thrown into and actually win without feeling like it’s deus ex machina at work just feels utter and absolutely satisfying.
This series is definitely worth the watch.
Then again, if a story can be tweaked so that these boring OP protagonists can be made interesting, then the issue of no apparent developments gets temporarily solved.
Overlord is exactly that. Think of One Punch Man, but an entire guild instead of one person.
This is made even more interesting due to the apparent, or outward, alignment that their group seems to have on other players and on the population of the world Ainz came in.
In fact, step it up even higher since each character, both in personality and development (and thus interactions with other characters), is also made very interesting on their own.
5. Magic Knight Rayearth
Another one of the older OG isekai series, Magic Knight Rayearth, takes the cake for the best slow build-up story out of all of our recommendations.
It starts out like your typical isekai series, with the Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu learning new skills as they adapt to the world that they are supposed to rescue.
However, not everything is as it seems, and as the story progress, more and more information starts to fall out of place.
Unfortunately, the series becomes a bit less interesting after the conclusion of the first arc, but that initial story itself is already worth watching on its own.
4. Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World
But seriously though, are you tired OP isekai protagonists? Want to know how things would turn out if a completely normal dude was the one transported? Then this series is for you!
There are no plotarmors, mistakes are naturally committed, with its consequences thoroughly experienced (sometimes with excruciating pain) by our poor boy Subaru.
One particular thing makes this all possible, of course, but you’d have to watch at least the pilot episode first to know what it is.
Oh, and this series also inadvertently introduced one of the most revered waifus in recent anime history.
3. The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki)
Here’s another one that perfectly sets up the difficulty level for the protagonist of the series. But unlike Subaru, Tanya has her own, let’s say, innate abilities.
She (he?) also isn’t the type that you can just turn into a doll punching bag, as she also has the guts and personality to see to it that would see your own personal hell if you ever get in her away.
As a bonus, its premise being within an alternate pre-modern setting is instantly interesting, as opposed to the typical high-fantasy setting that probably 99.99% of all isekai series are.
So, does [a] God(?) actually exist?
2. Digimon Adventure
Yes, by all technical definitions, this series counts as an isekai anime.
What initially appears as a primetime show for children turned out to be a serious tale that tackles a lot of social issues, particularly in Japan, during the era when the anime was aired.
This made Digimon Adventure’s story far more interesting than just marveling at the fights and the evolutions.
That being said, evolutions beyond ultimate/perfect forms get really badass, with fight scenes getting hyped up further by awesome insert music.
1. Log Horizon
By far, the most balanced isekai series of all time is hands down probably Log Horizon. The series has it all. OP characters who are understandably strong by default.
A vulnerable protagonist that is nigh-unstoppable intellectually.
A grand cast of interesting characters plus their equally interesting interactions. A wider world that is much, much bigger than the smaller circle of main characters.
It has a nice blend of serious badass moments and light-hearted comedic scenes.
There are villains that are likable, and at times can actually get to your side. Lastly, it has a multi-faceted objective that involves a lot of characters and a complex web of motivations.
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