“Isekai” or “alternate world” anime encompasses a wide range of storylines in which a character is transported to a new life. One popular form of isekai begins with a bang: a struggling protagonist, often portrayed as a loser, dies a violent death only to be reincarnated as a hero with unique abilities.
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This genre has gained renewed popularity in Japan and worldwide, with Crunchyroll, a US-based streaming service specializing in anime, reporting a “great appetite” for isekai titles such as “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.”
According to Crunchyroll’s Chief Content Officer Asa Suehira, these titles have had strong viewership globally. In 2021, five out of the top 10 most-watched Japanese anime on China’s video platform Bilibili featured isekai storylines. The genre’s popularity is such that “isekaied” has even been included in the Urban Dictionary as a term meaning “the act of being run over by a truck and reborn.”
Experts and fans believe that isekai taps into the pent-up frustrations of people who feel undervalued and dissatisfied with modern life. While traditional anime franchises often feature heroes navigating hostile worlds, isekai offers a chance to start over and excel in a new life.
Satoshi Arima, an editor with publishing giant Kadokawa, explains that the prevailing mindset in isekai is “I’m better off just being transported into a world where I can excel.”
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Isekai Makes Life Free from Regrets?
According to Yamada, the popularity of isekai, a genre of manga and anime that transports characters to alternate universes, is on the rise in Japan and around the world. Although Yamada finds it sad that people turn to this form of escapism, it serves a therapeutic purpose. A search on a major manga-curating site reveals more than 4,000 works with “isekai” in their titles.
While the genre has produced so many works that it risks becoming “overcrowded,” according to Suehira, the subgenres it has generated have helped keep it fresh. Some isekai narratives involve protagonists dying to escape their current lives, while others transport characters into alternate universes in less violent ways.
Some iterations of isekai involve heroes battling for survival in outlandish forms such as spider monsters or slime, while others showcase characters enjoying a stress-free and tranquil “slow life” in their new world. Suehira believes that isekai can appeal to a broad fanbase, from those who fantasize about a more relaxed lifestyle to those seeking a more thrilling existence. Ultimately, the genre offers a fresh start, unencumbered by the regrets and mistakes of real life.