While not a recent invention, isekai has grown especially popular in manga and anime over the last decade. The success of series like Sword Art Online helped usher in a new era when everyone and, occasionally, their mother is being sent to alternate worlds defined by RPG mechanics. As tired as the formula can get at times, isekai has produced some gems that serve as fantastic wish-fulfillment series.
Which are the best isekai anime set in games or worlds similar to games? Synonymous as isekai might be with RPGs, only a handful of series actually take place within games; however, plenty of shows are set in fantasy worlds that make use of traditional gaming conventions. Permitting these gaming elements are featured prominently, these anime will also be considered. An example of a series that does not qualify would be the brilliant Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World, as its universe does not function that much like a game outside of Subaru’s respawn power.
Updated March 27th, 2020 by Mark Sammut: It is not hard to understand the appeal of isekai anime. After all, they represent the ultimate power fantasy; an escape from reality to a world that, typically, works on strict and easy-to-follow guidelines. In some cases, the protagonist goes from an average person to a vanquisher of armies, with the “only” requirement being death. Games, specifically fantasy RPGs, also simplify the world-building, as most viewers will already be accustomed to the rules that govern these universes. There are plenty of isekai shows set in games, so let’s take a look at a few more.
16 I’m Standing On 1,000,000 lives
Until the second season releases in Summer 2021, I’m Standing On 1,000,000 lives‘ anime adaptation is difficult to recommend as it is not a satisfying sit on its own. The anime follows three classmates that are teleported to a fantasy world by a Game Master who assigns classes to them and tasks them with completing ten quests.
All three characters are introduced as stereotypes, but the anime does eventually begin to hint that it wants to be something more. The first season very much feels like a prologue that mainly exists to set up a more interesting sequel, one that will hopefully justify the existence of this series.
15 The Beauty Blogger
A Chinese shoujo series that aired in 2018, The Beauty Blogger focuses on cosmetics and has quite a relaxed tone compared to most other isekai anime. After tragedy strikes, the titular blogger finds herself in a game world based on Imperial China. Through love, comedy, and a whole lot of makeup, she learns to exist within this world while slowly changing its naturally traditional characters.
The Beauty Blogger has solid animation, unsophisticated but largely inoffensive characters, and some serviceable romance. While far from a must-watch anime, this show is worth a try for those looking for something different.
14 Death Parade
It might seem like a stretch to describe Death Parade as an isekai, but it does involve (recently deceased) people coming to another world (aka a bar) that will determine their future. Episodes revolve around Decim, the host of different games pitting two people against each other to decide who will be reincarnated or lost forever.
Be it darts, bowling, or arcade fighting games, Death Parade constantly keeps things fresh by cycling through various activities, all of which are elevated by Madhouse’s great animation. Death Parade has mystery, suspense, and philosophical musings.
12 Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody
Rather than a player, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody teleports a programmer into a world inspired by the video games he worked on. This change only impacts the anime’s backstory because the end result is another overpowered protagonist who has a habit of collecting women as party members.
These types of series are a dime-a-dozen in the isekai genre, and with good reason. They are the ultimate escapist fantasies and typically revolve around central characters designed to serve as surrogates for viewers. Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is an example of a stereotypical isekai anime.
11 Hunter X Hunter – Greed Island Arc
Hunter x Hunter is not an isekai anime, but it does make a detour into a game for a single saga. The Greed Island arc is named after a game designed by Ging Freecss, Gon’s father, and it is limited to only Nen users. Hunters are physically taken into the game’s deadly world, with the ultimate goal being to collect 100 restricted cards.
Greed Island is not generally regarded as one of Hunter x Hunter‘s strongest storylines, mainly because it is sidelined by two of the anime’s greatest arcs and feels somewhat like a side-quest. That said, it does progress Gon’s plot to find Ging, works as a training arc for the two leads, and provides a break from the anime’s often dark tone.
10 Ixion Saga DT
“Isekai” is more of a premise than a genre, as any show featuring a protagonist who is transferred to another world qualifies. This premise leaves a lot of room for variety when it comes to tone. For example, Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World and Ixion Saga DT are both isekai anime, but the former is grim and complex while the latter is comedic and unapologetically stupid.
A great player in an MMORPG, Kon Hokaze receives a friend request and, naturally, winds up in a fantasy world. Kon meets a princess, joins a party, and sets out to save the world. As Ixion Saga DT‘s humor is quite immature, this anime is an acquired taste, but it can be hilarious funny at times.
9 Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online is the first anime most people are likely to think about when isekai stories set in games are discussed. With a fantastic opening stretch of episodes and multiple seasons to follow, Sword Art Online presents a string of interesting worlds that are not always explored to their full potential.
Sword Art Online is far from perfect, including a rather bland protagonist, but it has just enough memorable action scenes to make it worthwhile. It should be said that the franchise’s best incarnation, Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, is not an isekai.
8 My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom!
My Next Life As A Villainess has a fantastic premise. Katarina Claes suddenly realizes she has been living in an otome game called Fortune Lover and that she is the villain who has a future of bad endings to look forward to. This awareness inspires Katarina to get creative, as she tries to go against destiny and attain a happy ending for a character who is specifically forbidden one.
Despite being set in basically a dating sim, My Next Life As A Villainess primarily focuses on its main character’s development and drive, with romance taking somewhat of a backseat.
7 Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions
Most isekai anime lack tension since they feature practically invulnerable main characters, even if they are set in worlds with permadeath. Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions remedies this by pushing a collective to the forefront rather than an individual.
A group of novices find themselves stuck in the unforgiving Grimgar, a high fantasy setting built on the foundations of RPGs. Together, they set out to hunt goblins and grow stronger, but every battle comes with risks and potentially lasting consequences.
6 How NOT To Summon A Demon Lord
More often than not, an isekai anime will center around a hikikomori who spends all of his time in an MMORPG. Be it death or a summoning gone wrong, the character ends up in a fantasy world where he is an instant hero, mainly because he retains his stats from the MMORPG. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord is a stereotypical isekai anime in a lot of ways, but it raises above its contemporaries through sheer personality and strong comedic timing.
Although powerful, Takuma Sakamoto, the anime’s resident hikikomori turned Demon Lord, retains his social anxiety while in the game world. Consequently, it is not all smooth sailing for the protagonist.
5 KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
KonoSuba is set in an alternate world that functions very much like an MMORPG, including quests, traditional party roles, and plenty of monsters to hunt. After his untimely death, Kazuma meets a somewhat arrogant goddess, Aqua, who allows the NEET to take one thing with him before he reincarnates in an alternate world. Naturally, Kazuma picks Aqua, a decision he comes to regret.
KonoSuba is basically a parody of isekai anime. Not only does it poke fun at conventions seen in the genre and video games, but it does it all while featuring a roster of characters who are mostly awful (but in the best possible way).
.Hack//Sign is often hailed as the forefather of isekai anime set in games, but the show has quite a different tone to most series that would eventually follow it. Tsukasa, a timid player, wakes up in The World, an MMORPG, without any memories or the ability to leave.
.Hack//Sign is not interested in explosive action sequences or constantly supplying answers, opting to instead focus on Tsukasa’s psyche and his relationships with other characters. The anime moves at an incredibly slow pace that will put off some people; thankfully, .Hack//Sign‘s character writing is great.
3 No Game No Life
No Game No Life shakes things up by being set in a world, Disboard, where everything is decided through games. This presents a lot of room for experimentation, as No Game No Life constantly throws different contests and rules at the protagonists, the sibling team of Sora and Shiro.
Blending humor, memorable characters, and a very interesting world, No Game No Life is an epic series that is only held back by the fact it only has 12 episodes and a movie. Although not technically set in a game, no other isekai embraces gaming quite like No Game No Life.
When the MMORPG YGGDRASIL shuts down, Momonga finds himself stuck in a world similar to the game. One of the strongest characters in YGGDRASIL, Momonga is far more powerful than anyone who exists in this dark fantasy universe, a fact he learns over the course of three seasons. With NPCs acting as his subordinates, Momonga sets out to explore this world, although that proves to be only the beginning.
Overlord is an anime all about the “bad” guy winning, and it does not shy away from embracing this premise. Even though the later seasons experience a deep in quality, Overlord is still a fun ride throughout. For those who would prefer to watch the opposite of Overlord, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is a great option.
1 Log Horizon
Like the 30 thousand players stuck in Elder Tale’s world, Log Horizon goes out of its way to ensure viewers get to experience what it is really like to exist in an MMORPG. While there is some action, the anime primarily focuses on world-building and character growth. It is firmly about how these people adapt to this situation and try to co-exist with the NPCs and wildlife that populate Elder Tale.
Log Horizon boasts a great protagonist, Shiroe, who uses his mind rather than his brawn. As a third season is scheduled to debut in 2021, now is the perfect time to give this anime a try.