Isekai novels are a sub-genre of light novels that have taken the manga and anime worlds by storm. The term isekai (異世界) roughly translates to “different world” or “other world” from Japanese. In an isekai novel, a protagonist is taken (almost always from modern-day Japan) to a fantasy world, a virtual reality–based world, or even a parallel universe. The characters can be transitioned (i.e. by traveling/transmigrating or being summoned by a magical entity) or reincarnated (i.e. dying and being reborn or resurrected) into other magical worlds.
The characters themselves are generally mundane but usually have one trait that is seen as ordinary in our world but is extraordinary in the fantasy world. This trait can be anything from eye color or engineering knowledge. Alternatively, characters can be given special gifts once they arrive in their new world.
Isekai novels can be pretty quirky in nature. In fact, some of them overlap with the harem genre, in which the protagonist has several love interests. I haven’t included books from this genre for this list, but they’re out there!
Because isekai novels are a type of light novel, they have a really quick turnover time in publishing, meaning that the series themselves are long and are great for collecting. They also bridge the gap between illustration-heavy manga and prose-heavy novels. Basically, you get the best of both worlds.
This brief list contains some of the best isekai light novel series that work really well for those wanting to start reading the genre.
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow by Fuyumi Ono
The Twelve Kingdoms follows young Yoko Nakajima who’s living a pretty ordinary life until she meets Keiki, who informs her that they must return to his kingdom. Not long after, Yoko is confronted by a mysterious entity that whisks her away to said kingdom. Here, she’s left with a magical sword, a gem, and a question or two about what is going on.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime by Fuse and Mitz Vah
Like I said, isekai can get quirky, as you may have surmised by the word “slime” in the title. Satoru Mikami is a salary worker who is suddenly killed. But that’s not the end for him because he’s reincarnated into…well…a Slime. In this new world full of monsters, Satoru tries to find his place and even help some of his new friends.
Ascendance of a Bookworm by Miya Kazuki and You Shiina, Translated by Quof
As you may have guessed from the title, this one is for all the bookworms out there. A college girl who (of course) happens to be a bibliophile is reborn into a new world as Myne, a sickly toddler. What’s more, her new world has a low literacy rate, and books are incredibly rare. She decides then to become a librarian.
Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest by Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki, Translated by Ningen
Hajime Nagumo is an average teenager who also happens to be an otaku (i.e. a younger individual who is addicted to computers and/or specific parts of popular culture, resulting in poor social skills). But his normal life is upended when he and his entire class are summoned to a fantasy world, where they’re treated like heroes. Their mission? To save the human race from becoming extinct.
So I’m a Spider, So What? by Okina Baba and Kiryu Tsukasa
Getting back to yet another quirky isekai novel, So I’m a Spider, So What? follows (you guessed it), a high school girl who has been reborn as a spider. Fortunately for her, despite being a little spider, there is a chance for her to level up and survive in this new world.