Isekai stories are all the rage in Japan right now. From light novels to manga and anime, fans are eating up these otherworldly adventure stories. That’s what “isekai” means, by the way: “different world.” The genre is, at its most basic, the age-old trope of someone from our world finding themselves in a fantasy world. The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, for example, would count as isekai series. Inuyasha and, heck, even Digimon are some slightly earlier anime examples.
The modern wave of isekai series tightens the definition (or at least, the preferred definition) way up. Our protagonist is almost always male and Japanese. His background is mundane at best (student or salaryman), embarrassing at worst (full-on otaku or NEET), occasionally with a mitigating factor like being really nice or really smart. How our hero gets to this other world varies, if indeed it’s explained at all… but a popular way nowadays is for him to straight-up die and be reincarnated there.
Whether through chance, death, or inexplicable weirdness, the protagonist doesn’t necessarily end up the same as he was before. While some are fortunate, with the only change being a power-up or getting to keep a piece of real-world tech, others go through… let’s just say some heavy-duty changes, and end up reincarnated as all kinds of things What kinds? These, for a start.
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A Giant Skeleton (Overlord)
When we create characters in MMOs, we tend to go for at least some degree of wish fulfillment. Apparently Satoru Suzuki, a salaryman from the 22nd century, decided what he wanted to be most was a big-ass skeleton named Momonga. And, since he decided to be stubborn and stick around on his favorite game’s server until it shut down for good, that’s what he is forever now. Because apparently the game didn’t end: it became its own reality, and now Momonga’s just stuck there like a chump with a bunch of NPCs who became sentient.
Fortunately, he’s technically a lich, meaning he has a few perks in his favor. For one thing, he doesn’t need to eat or sleep, so basic necessities are a non-issue. For another, he’s hard to kill, which means he has a bit more freedom as he roams the world of Yggdrasil trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It doesn’t hurt that he’s at a super-high level, either.
Also fortunately, that horrific visage won’t stand in the way of him getting any action. He modded an NPC named Albedo to fall in love with him as a joke, meaning that in the recreated world of Yggdrasil she is really super in love with him. To be fair, she’s not alone in her feelings… but maybe those demon ladies see something in liches that we don’t.
A Slime (That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime)
If you had seconds to choose what to be in your next life, “the weakest mob in every fantasy RPG” would probably not be high on your list. And yet, being reincarnated as a slime may well be the best thing that happens to the protagonist of… well… That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.
In our world, a salaryman is stabbed by a robber, staying alive only long enough to ask that his hard drive be destroyed and to throw out a few inadvertent requests concerning not wanting to feel pain or cold. The end result lands him as a cute little blue slime. Not the greatest of results? Not so fast. Rimuru (as the protagonist comes to be called) gains powers from anything they devour: magical spells, new skills, and the ability to shapeshift into various forms.
Rimuru ends up being pretty awesome in this new life, setting up a nation devoted to the peaceful coexistence of different races. Oh, and there are plenty of other people on isekai adventures in this story, too. They’ll occasionally run into Rimuru and ask for updates on the latest anime. You know. Priorities.
A Sword (Reincarnated as a Sword)
[Editor’s Note: I’m like 90% sure Kara made this one up to see if I’d notice.]
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A salaryman is minding his own business, gets killed, and finds himself reincarnated in a beautiful fantasy land in a new form. With me so far? Great, because this time he’s a sword.
Our protagonist doesn’t remember his name, but he does have three things: the ability to move under his own steam, memories of his past life, and standards. In particular, he’s looking for someone to wield him: cute girls only, no time-wasters. And this nerd gets his wish in spades, because he ends up in the possession of a catgirl named Fran.
Having saved Fran from her life of servitude, Teacher (as our sword-tagonist is now called) seeks out adventure and answers with his new owner. The light novels are still underway, with new volumes due to come out soon, so it’ll be a bit until we find out more about this lethal weapon’s mysterious past.
A Big Pink Spider (So I’m a Spider, So What?)
While it’s not impossible for an isekai series to have a female protagonist, it’s pretty rare — at least when it comes to titles that get noticed. There are a few out there, though, and one stars an unambitious schoolgirl who has to work her way up from the bottom.
When an explosion kills an entire classroom full of students, all the victims get a second chance in a fantasy world. Some become royalty, while others don’t fare as well. Our heroine (referred to only as “I”) ends up as a big, pink, admittedly pretty cute spider. Not the best way to start over… but it does spark her ambition to start giving a damn about her life.
The good thing about starting at the bottom is there’s nowhere to go but up, and our arachnid protagonist begins taking initiative and becoming a stronger person… er… spider. If you want to follow her adventures, there are light novel and manga iterations, with an anime apparently on the way.
A Vending Machine (Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon)
Okay, are you ready?
Take one vending machine otaku (which is a thing). Drop a vending machine on him, killing him. Reincarnate him in a fantasy world as… take a wild guess. And yes, this is a completely real light novel series that is more than one volume long.
The adventures of our hero Boxxo [Editor’s Note: Nope, this one is fake too.] and new traveling companion Lammis have gotten decently high reviews from light novels readers — apparently because it’s less tropey than most reincarnation isekai. Well, we can’t argue that it’s definitely bringing new things to the table.
For a start, our hero’s fantasy world perks are balanced out with some inconveniences. Boxxo can only speak in standard Japanese vending machine phrases like “Thank you” or “Sorry,” and he can’t actually move on his own. But he can stock anything he ever bought in his previous life and use money he makes to keep himself fed and looked after. Plus, he gets carried around by the aforementioned Lammis, who’s learning to control her gift of super-strength. It’s a match made in Heaven… or somewhere, anyway.
There are plenty more where these came from. Heroes have been reborn into other worlds as zombies, pebbles, and level 1 skeleton soldiers. Humans aren’t the only ones getting involved, either: apparently there’s a dragon that was once a cicada. No matter how weird these transformations get, one thing is for sure: some aspiring author will be upping the ante any day now.