Many thanks to Roki inviting me to participate in his Favourite 4 challenge. Be sure to check out his list here and give it some love.
For those who don’t know, isekai is a popular fantasy subgenre in anime nowadays. The protagonist(s) are involuntarily thrown from their original world into another fantastical (yet dangerous) new realm by physically passing through a portal (of sorts) or by reincarnation. Besides trying to survive, the protagonist(s) are usually summoned for a noble cause – they’re victims forced to become heroes assigned to deal with someone else’s crap.
Like most things in life, the subgenre in anime evolved over the years but never fails to be entertaining for me. If anything, it is the combination of certain tropes and how a story is structured and written that can make or break a series for me. It did take me a hot minute to narrow down my top four, especially when Roki chose great ones on his post and how I challenged myself to think of other anime (thereby, shooting myself in the foot).
Luckily, I was able to come up with these following anime series:
Fuyumi Ono’s The Twelve Kingdoms
What would you do if a beautiful man with long blonde hair, dressed in elegant robes, bows before you one day, informing you that you were meant for greatness? That you were to become a ruler to a great country in a far-off magical realm? Well, Youko Nakajima wanted nothing to do with her so-called “destiny” since she only ever wanted to be a normal person. Even though Youko begins her journey reluctantly, she grows into her role once she comes to understand the dangerous yet beautiful reality of the other world.
The Twelve Kingdoms is one of my favourite fantasy anime series with great writing in which its cast go through great character development to become stronger and wiser individuals. The worldbuilding weaved into the narrative is realistic and really fun to learn. For example, people from The Other World don’t speak Japanese, but their own language. Each country in The Other World has their own culture and customs as well. One interesting fact about The Other World is how women don’t bear children, instead, they’re born from Ranka, large eggs grown from the branches of special trees.
Not only do we follow Youko on her path to becoming a charismatic ruler, the plot also introduces us to Shouryuu, the ruler of an ally country, and the rare, black Kirin (a magical creature tasked with choosing the ruler of a country), Taiki.
Junpei Inuzuka’s Restaurant to Another World
I’ve mentioned this factoid in the past, but I’m a HUGE sucker of food and the slice-of-life genre, so adding Restaurant to Another World was a no brainer. It can be considered a reverse isekai because fantasy races like dwarves, (half) elves, demons, vampires, and halflings visit Western Cuisine Cat Restaurant, Nekoya, an eatery in our world, every Saturday, and are introduced to delectable dishes that I can’t sink my teeth into.
There’s no major plot to this series but what brings me back to watching the series is how I, as the viewer, is invited to enjoy the many culinary delights through the experiences of its charming cast. I find it funny how the characters speak like seasoned food critics, describing the flavours and textures of each dish and how the dishes successfully satisfy their food preferences. The show does a nice job of showing how great food brings people of different backgrounds together and it’s fun seeing characters happily chowing down on yummy food and drinks. In short, this series is like escaping into a fluffy, warm blanket, safe from any frigid wintry weather.
I’m only a bit sad that Junichi Suwabe who voices Master (Nekoya’s owner and chef) has little lines in its two seasons and is a mysterious character. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any episodes that explored his character in depth compared to the other characters.
Tappei Nagatsuki’s Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World –
The idea of being whisked away to another world seems so fun, but what if there was a unique ability attached to this opportunity? Say that, if and when, you die (horribly most of the time) in the other world, you’re automatically revived back to a moment prior to your death?
Natsuki Subaru is the unlucky man stuck with this curse, who faces a lot of strife and dangerous situations as Emilia’s knight, a candidate aiming to become the forty-second monarch of the Dragon Kingdom of Lugnica. Subaru’s resilience to continue living in endless cycles and numerous failures, forcing him to make decisions in high stake situations is something I respect him for. He may not be the strongest character or the smartest, but he works hard and uses the power of friendship to get by.
Re:Zero has its share of positive and negative critics, but I enjoyed watching its two seasons. Its story arcs progressively get better and better in unveiling Emilia’s backstory and Subaru’s role in the grand scheme of the story. I was consistently left on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen after each episode. Its nail-bitingly exciting action scenes are nicely animated and its music is great.
Carlo zen’s Saga of Tanya The Evil
If you asked me if I enjoyed watching an anime featuring an office man who reincarnates into a young badass loli with magical powers and a strong vendetta against God in an alternate Germany during WWII, then I’d aggressively nod my head. Tanya Degurechaff is unlike any of the protagonists on this list. She’s not the epitome of justice nor is she considered the devil (although her colleagues may claim so). All she wants is to successfully rise up the ranks in her country’s military before retiring peacefully, swimming in money.
I confess, I was a bit lost with all the war politics and planning, but I enjoyed how this series didn’t use any comedic tropes or fanservice to keep me invested in Tanya’s success.
What isekai titles are in your Top 4? Let me know down in the comments.