Manga publishers have been crowding the shelves with fantasy series in recent years, and one of the most popular types of fantasy is isekai, stories in which the lead character is abruptly transported to another world and has to learn to deal with a whole new reality.
In most of these stories, the lead character is either trapped inside an immersive MMORPG or dies and is reincarnated into another world. There’s a lot of variation within these story types, though, and one of the things that makes isekai interesting is that it often explores how people react when they are taken away from their ordinary lives and put into a completely different context. In some stories, the character is all-powerful in their new world, but in others the deck is stacked against them. In every case, they have to learn a whole new set of rules, and these books are reader-friendly because the rules are explained as the story goes along. They usually have a gamer-ish feel, as the hero acquires new skills, battles various enemies, and often racks up points that increase his or her status.
Most isekai series are multi-platform, with light novels, manga, anime, and games all revolving around the same story. Here’s a look at some of the most popular isekai series of recent years as well as some new ones:
Sword Art Online
: 10,000 players log into an immersive MMORPG for the first time only to learn that they are trapped inside the game and can only be released by makingtheir way through 100 levels of a steel castle called Aincrad. They are held captive in their virtual reality helmets, and if they die in the game or try to leave, they will die in real life. A player named Kirito, who was part of a closed beta of the game, uses his experience and gaming skills to get through the levels and free himself and the other players. This story has a number of different arcs, each of which has its own subtitle and volume numbering, which can make following the series a bit confusing. The first arc is Sword Art Online: Aincrad,
and the most recent one is Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization
; Yen Press will publish Vol. 6 of that in July. Vol. 19 of the light novels is scheduled for April.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
: At 38, salaryman Satoru Mikami has no family and no girlfriend; in fact, he’s a virgin. He dies while saving an acquaintance from a knife-wielding attacker and is reborn as a blob of slime. While he initially has no physical sensations at all, he does have some new powers and the voice of a sage to guide him. He quickly levels up and, though he still looks like a slime, he is able to use his powers to help others. After meeting up with a friendly village of goblins, he sets out to improve their lives and prove his own worth. The manga, which is ongoing, is licensed by Kodansha Comics, and Vol. 12 is due out in March. Kodansha has also licensed the spinoff series The Slime Diaries,
and two volumes have been published so far. Yen Press has the license for the light novels and will release Vol. 8 in May.
: The immersive MMORPG Yggdrasil is shutting down, and Momonga, the leader of the AinzOoal Gown guild, is spending the last few minutes before the servers go down in the vast stronghold he and his guild-mates built together, with only the non-playing characters (NPCs) they designed as company. When midnight strikes, though, the world of the game doesn’t go dark. Instead, the NPCs come to life, and Momonga is now their supreme leader. With little going on in his real life, he decides to stay and explore this new virtual world, embarking on adventures he hopes will make his presence known to any other human players who are out there. Yen Press has the license for both the manga and the light novels and will publish Vol. 12 of the manga in May. They also publish the gag manga Overlord: The Undead King Oh!
and the fan anthology series Overlord à La Carte.
Final Fantasy: Lost Stranger
: This is another trapped-in-the-game story, but the twist is that it’s a real game. Sasaki Shogo is a super Final Fantasy
fan, and he’s initially thrilled when he gets a job at Square Enix, but the glow wears off pretty quickly when he realizes he won’t be working on Final Fantasy
at all. As his sister, a fellow Square Enix employee, is trying to cheer him up, they both are hit by a truck and wake up inside the world of Final Fantasy
with Shogo retaining his encyclopedic knowledge of the game. Yen Press is publishing these and the physical volumes are gorgeous; Vol. 4 just came out in January.
The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious
: This is one of a number of isekai manga that have fun with the game-like aspects of the genre. In this story, the goddess Ristante calls on a Japanese teenager to help her save a world, but she only looked at his picture and his stats and didn’t notice that he’s very timid as well. Yen Press published the first volume in February.
I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level
: Another parody of the genre, this one stars a young woman who dies of overwork and just wants to take it easy in the next life. She is reincarnated as a witch in an easygoing fantasy world and just kills a slime whenever she needs money for food or books. What she doesn’t realize is that she has been racking up points every time she does that, and after several centuries she has enormous powers. When word gets out, visitors start coming by to challenge her or ask for her help, and her life of leisure becomes a thing of the past. Yen Press published the first volume of this series in January.
A Gentle Noble’s Vacation Recommendation
: This looks like it will be a pretty laid-backstory: A traveler named Lizel finds himself in a city that is similar to his hometown but actually isn’t, and he soon realizes he is in another world altogether. Figuring he’ll get home eventually, he hires a local guide and sets out to see the sights and maybe have some adventures. Tokyopop will publish the first volume in June.
Fiancee of the Wizard: A woman is reincarnated as a young girl into a classic fantasy world and must contend with young man who is handsome but unpleasant. Yen Press will publish the first volume in July.
By the Grace of the Gods
: Ryoma Takebayashi, a middle-aged salaryman, dies and is reincarnated as a young boy in order to help three gods with their divine mission. Roaming the forest in his new world, Ryoma takes it pretty easy but finds opportunities to use the gaming skills he built up in his previous life to good effect in his new one. Square Enix will publish the first volume in November.
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