If you’re new to isekai, you’ve come to the right place! Here you will find a quick guide to isekai itself, as well as a list of some of the best isekai manga to get you started reading in the genre.
First things first: what is isekai? “Sekai” is Japanese for “world”, with the prefix “i-” meaning “other” or “different.” So, logically, the isekai genre revolves around stories involving the protagonist being transported to another world in one way or another (including by reincarnation or summoning). You can think of it as something like the Japanese equivalent of portal fantasy.
The concept of isekai has been long-standing in Japanese culture, appearing as far back as in traditional folk tales such as Urashima Tarō, the story of a fisherman transported to a palace under the sea on a turtle’s back. Upon his return home, he discovers that though he seemed to only have spent a few days at the palace, over 100 years had actually passed in his world. A more recent, and especially recognizable example of isekai would be the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away, in which 10-year-old Chihiro finds herself working at a bathhouse in the spirit world after her parents are cursed and turned into pigs for eating the food of the spirits.
In terms of books, isekai is especially huge in the light novel format, having been especially popularized by such titles as Sword Art Online. But there are plenty of manga in the genre as well, so here are some of the best isekai manga for you to enjoy!
Best Isekai Manga
Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP
Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are three junior high students who have all come to Tokyo Tower on field trips with their respective schools. The girls suddenly hear a mysterious voice and find themselves summoned to a magical world called Cefiro by the Princess Emeraud, who believes them to be magic knights who were prophesied to save the realm. The trio discover they have magical abilities, learn to work together, and develop a friendship as they proceed through their journey in Cefiro.
Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi
Under the broadest definition of the genre, stories about being transported between times can also fall under the isekai umbrella. This classic manga follows Kagome, a high schooler in modern-day Japan, who one day falls down a well at a shrine. She is transported to the Sengoku period and meets Inuyasha, a half-demon. The two must journey to recover the scattered fragments of the Shikon Jewel, a powerful and sacred gem.
PandoraHearts by Jun Mochizuki
Oz Vessalius’s coming-of-age ceremony quickly takes a turn from celebratory to horrific when he is captured by the malicious Baskervilles, who claim his mere existence is a sin, and thrown into a supernatural prison called the Abyss that exists in a different dimension from the real world. The Abyss is home to monsters called Chains, and Oz befriends one named Alice, who helps him in his attempt to escape the Abyss as well as in his journey to discover the deeper meaning behind his own existence. This manga pulls inspiration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with plenty of references and nods throughout.
Fushigi Yûgi by Yuu Watase
Miaka is a normal girl studying for her high school entrance exams when she finds a book titled The Universe of the Four Gods in the library. Upon reading the book, she and her friend Yui are pulled into an ancient Chinese kingdom, where Maika finds herself a priestess. She must now find the seven Celestial Warriors of the god Suzaku in order to save the kingdom and find a way home.
Uncle from Another World by Hotondoshindeiru
Takafumi’s uncle, who was in a coma for 17 years after being hit by a truck, finally wakes up claiming to have been in another world as a magical guardian all this time. Now, Takafumi must get to know his now-magical uncle, while also trying to update him on all that has changed in our world. This is a humorous manga that plays with and pokes fun at various isekai tropes.
Yakuza Reincarnation by Takeshi Natsuhara and Hiroki Miyashita (Seven Seas, March 29)
The English release of this manga just started this month, so if you’re looking for something new, look no further! It’s about an older member of the yakuza who, after being killed in a trap, is reincarnated as a young princess in a fantasy world. As you can imagine, comedy ensues as we watch the princess go about her adventures with the mind and actions of a hardened yakuza.
Best Isekai Manga Adapted From Light Novels
As I mentioned earlier, isekai as a genre looms quite large in the world of light novels. Because the formats are so closely related, many of these find their way to become manga adaptations, as the selection of titles below!
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime by Fuse and Taiki Kawakami
Adapted from the popular light novel series of the same name, this manga follows a normal salaryman who is murdered in the real world and then reincarnated into another world as a slime with powers. In this new world, he begins to befriend other monsters, and they build their own nation. As their new nation grows, it starts to attract the attention of neighboring powers.
I’m in Love with the Villainess by Inori and Aonoshimo
Rei Ohashi is a normal office worker who, in a (sadly) unsurprising depiction of Japanese work culture, works herself literally to death. However, she is reincarnated as the protagonist of her favorite otome game. But, instead of following one of the game’s original three routes in which she could have a romance with one of the princes, Rei decides to use her existing knowledge of the game to try to woo Claire, the main antagonist.
Ascendance of a Bookworm by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
Urano Motosu is a book lover and aspiring librarian after our own hearts. When she is killed in an earthquake by being crushed by fallen books, her last wish is to be reborn into a world where she can do nothing but read forever. She is reincarnated, but into a world where books are rare and only reserved for nobility. With her knowledge from her previous life, Urano (now a 5-year-old girl named Myne) decides to create more books herself.
Overlord by Satoshi Ōshio and Hugin Miyama
This manga is adapted from a light novel series written by Kugane Maruyama and illustrated by so-bin. A popular virtual reality game is being shut down, and Momonga, the leader of a powerful guild within the game, decides to stay logged in until the very end, even though all of his friends have already quit. However, once the shutdown occurs, Momonga finds himself within the game world in the body of his avatar. He sets out through the game world to investigate what happened and to see if there is anyone else who was transported from the real world as well. It’s an interesting look at morality, exploring a character’s psychology in a world where ethical lines have been obscured.
Restaurant to Another World by Junpei Inuzuka and Takaaki Kugatsu
In this slight twist on your typical isekai, an unassuming restaurant in Tokyo secretly connects to another world. On Saturdays, this doorway appears and allows various creatures from the other world to come and eat at the restaurant. This slice-of-life variation on isekai highlights the stories of the restaurant patrons as they interact with the owner and each other while enjoying delicious meals.
I know I’ve mentioned light novels a lot throughout this post, so be sure to check out this list of the best isekai light novels as well to really get the most from this genre!