Monday Musings: Is the Era of action-packed Isekai over?

The isekai genre has been in flux for decades now, ever since the 90s when we started seeing stories of people getting transported to other worlds appear in anime. Back then the landscape looked a lot different, primarily being that they featured more female main characters who suffered through a lot more hardship in order to survive and thrive in the new world. You could even say that the isekai genre goes back to children’s stories like Alice in Wonderland where unwitting children get sucked into worlds to face dangers and learn lessons. But that may be pushing too far back. Point being, human nature has always had stories of people being transported to strange places, it was really a no-brainer that Japanese animation would pick up these storylines and run with them in their typical fashion.

Anime like Inuyasha and Escaflowne brought us independent young women being pushed into new worlds to become heroines and love interests. Facing hardships and battles for their lives and loves. Over time, I think the genre transitioned to a more male-centric story-line, especially now that video games were becoming more popular. We started seeing less female heroines and more young boys being spirited away (so to speak). I feel like Digimon was a great cross between these two, having both male and female characters that played major roles. Either way, the stories stayed action-packed, with characters fighting off Demon Kings and steadily stronger monsters.

Somewhere in the past couple years though, I feel like we’ve been seeing a new trend emerge, which has made me beg the question: is the landscape of isekai evolving? And Why? Primarily I’m talking about the rise of isekai storylines that focus more on everyday life and less on action-packed adventures. Is this just a typical evolution of a genre that’s been pushing the boundaries for decades, or is it more because of a change in fanbase/ creators? I don’t necessarily have answers for these questions. If I did, this might be a much longer post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. 

In the manga and light novel market I think you can see this trend more clearly. There are a lot of new titles that have characters either not getting enough power to be heroes and then go off to search for a quieter life or people who do get power but reject the responsibilities of being a hero in favor of a comfier ideal. We also have titles that blend the ideas behind isekai and iyashikei, or healing stories. Ones where fantasy characters are given a measure of comfort from the transported character either through food or healing. 

Titles like:

  • A Restaurant in Another World
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm
  • Cooking with Wild Game
  • Drugstore in Another World
  • Farming Life in Another World
  • I’ve been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed out my Level
  • The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent

I could go on, but you get the point. Stories that blend everyday life and fantasy worlds are becoming more popular everyday. Is this a product of the environment of stress and overwork in real life these days? Combined with the pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised if people started to prefer a more laid-back form of escapism for their isekai of choice. I tend to gravitate that way too. Is it a product of more women writers adopting the genre again? I certainly love seeing the influx of titles geared towards shoujo and josei audiences, harkening back to the old days of isekai. Or is it that the people that are making the content have changed? Anime fans who grew up with older isekai titles are now writing isekai and adopting a lot of different influences from different places. That could be a big influence. 

I’m not entirely sure, but any which way it goes, there is a markedly different atmosphere of isekai out there now. Not that the action-packed stories have entirely gone away, just that more room seems to have been made for a different flavor to be added. I have to say I’m enjoying it! Let me know in the comments what your favorite non-traditional isekai series is.

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4 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Is the Era of action-packed Isekai over?

  1. I’ve always thought that, as a genre, isekai has the most potential. So many series end up following a very similar format, but there’s no reason they have to. Isekai has the ability to really do whatever you want, in whatever world with whatever people, so you can really make anything work. I look forward to seeing how isekai continues to evolve because it is getting pretty stale. At least some of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m significantly more biased against isekai stories but this is an interesting trend to note. Part of me is glad it’s no longer bland protagonist #445 going to a new world and being the best. At the same time I can’t help but feel most of these stories are crutching onto Isekai to sell – I could see a lot of these titles functioning perfectly well as just fantasy or just just a slice of life in the countryside. That’s probably just my negative bias creeping in though. I am glad that Isekai are expanding beyond power fantasies.

    Liked by 1 person

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