3 isekai anime that play with the genre conventions

So you got transported into another reality.

The world is always greener on the other side!
Image: Wallhere

Recently, an anime set to premiere in October was cancelled due to allegations about the insensitive content the light novel had and over the author’s previously racist tweets regarding China and Korea. While some commentators noted that the offensive material was relatively minor and removing it wouldn’t impact the story, there was enough furor over it (and the tweets) that the publisher also decided to cease distribution of the light novels. (Side note: apparently the offensive material wasn’t in the light novels, but in the original web novel source. The offensive stuff got removed when it transitioned to a light novel format.)


So what was the story about? The synopsis for “[New Life+] Young Again in Another World” (what a name…) is as follows:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Renya Kunugi learns that he’s dead. God, in the form of a young girl, informs Renya of his demise. He had lived long and prospered and he died naturally and peacefully, but at the request of Her Holiness, he was transported to an alternate world to start a new life as a young man. Thus did Renya, who was definitely your average everyday guy, ends up fighting off bandits and vanquishing monsters. Eventually, after his successively blossoming talents coalesce into a force of sheer awesomeness, he will go on to leave his mark upon this alternate world. Source: Anime News Network

This cover makes me cringe so very hard.
Image: Amazon.com

It’s quite a standard premise for the “transported into another world” genre. In fact, the last line even screams “male power fantasy” to high heavens (even the cover for the first novel has the protagonist in the arms of two ladies). If you’re a fan of this genre or of this series: great! Glad you’re enjoying it.


Personally though? I hate it. Straight forward male power fantasies are boring to me; often times there’s a harem of ladies that fall in love with the protagonist, the protagonist can easily solve most conflicts that come his way – even if it’s a situation he’s unaccustomed to, and he is the center piece for all of the story.

That being said, the last few years have produced a few solid isekai anime that either buck or play with the stereotypes, here are three of them.




The first season aired in the summer of 2015 and fans had to wait until this last winter (January to March 2018) for the second season to continue the adventures of the guild Ainz Ooal Gown. The protagonist, Momonga, plays the virtual reality game Yggdrasil as part of the guild, Ainz Ooal Gown. However, with the game set to shut down permanently and all the guild members having left the game already, Momonga stays logged on to the end as a send off to his time in the game.


Except he gets transported into a world, alongside the guild hall and guild NPCs, and is in the body of his character, an elder lich. The series follows Momonga as he lives in the new world with the guild NPCs, now autonomous characters, following his every command.

How it plays with conventions: whereas most shows have the protagonist facing conflicts and overcoming them through hard work, training and a bit of luck, Overlord does away with all this and Momonga is instead, so strong that he can one-shot most of his enemies (like One Punch Man). Why?


Because he’s level 99 in a world where the strongest enemy is around (probably) level 50. Much of the fun in Overlord is seeing the “villains” gloat about how strong they are and how victory is assured, only for them to be utterly destroyed very easily.

The show still has the genre conventions of having two of the female characters utterly in love with Momonga, though he doesn’t reciprocate at all, nor does he feel any emotion at all (he’s a lich, he literally has a debuff that ceases emotions when they arise). Furthermore, one of the female characters, Albedo, is only in love with Momonga because he decided to change her NPC parameters before he and the guild got transported.


Have I also mentioned that, for all intents and purposes, the guild of Ainz Ooal Gown is made up entirely of non-human characters (except for one) with an evil alignment? Plus, Momonga is, based on the traditional definition, not a hero but the villain – it’s just that the people he takes down are worse villains than he.

That’s not an animation error...
Image: Random Curiosity

Season 2 was also interesting because Momonga has very little screen time, most of the episodes are instead dedicated to world building and showing how the rest of the world continues to move without needing the presence of the show’s protagonist.

While Overlord is still very much a (male) power fantasy show, its strong world building and delightful characters (as well as having a protagonist that’s as overpowered as all heck) makes for a very entertaining watch. A season 3 is set to air in the summer of 2018 (that’s next month!).



The Saga of Tanya the Evil

Premiering during the winter of 2017, Saga of Tanya (Yojo Senki) follows the little girl, Tanya Degurrechaff, as she operates and rises through the military ranks in a war that resembles World War 1.


How it plays with conventions: combining the “moe” appeal of little girls with military premises have been done before (e.g. Girls und Panzer) but Yojo Senki is more serious about the ramifications of war and its impact on people. More at the forefront though, is that Tanya is not all that she appears to be.

I hope you like girls with giant eyes!
Image: Go Boiano

She is actually a salaryman from Tokyo who died, pissed off an omnipotent entity (“Being X” – basically God), and got reincarnated into the body of a little girl to prove a lesson and to make a believer out of the salaryman.

Yes, Yojo Senki is basically a giant pissing match between an atheist and God. Wait, where have I heard that headline before…. (side note: thanks Google).


However, instead of trying to rule the world, like in Overlord, or save the day, like in…almost everything else, Yojo Senki sees Tanya simply trying to live a cushy life. Her aim is to climb the ranks and then retire from military service, enjoying a peaceful and quiet life.

Shame that her military tactics (and the interference of Being X) keep sending her to the battlefield.

Tanya is very rarely happy. Makes for good sarcastic smiles though!

Voiced fantastically by Aoi Yuki, Yojo Senki is a very fun anime for military geeks that also like (ruthless) female protagonists.


A movie that continues the story is currently in the works with no current estimated release date.


Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Running for 2 cours from April to September 2016, Re:Zero was a hit and its merchandise (notably of the female character Rem) continues to be made and sold, always a good sign of a popular franchise.


Starring a 16 year old teenger named Subaru Natsuki; he has no special skills to speak of whatsoever. One day, he finds that he’s suddenly transported into a new world. Being an otaku, Subaru figures he must’ve gained something special, alas, the only thing he’s gained is the ability to rewind time when he dies. When he gets saved by some thugs in an alleyway by a female mage, Subaru falls in love with his savior Emilia and chooses to help her in any way he can.

Average boy without his mind broken.
Image: Re: Zero wiki

How it bucks convention: Subaru is an average protagonist in every way, except for the ability for him to return from death (by involuntarily rewinding time). By knowing how certain events play out, he often tries to solve and change things enough so that he can survive the arc and move onto the next one (and his “save point” changes as the show goes on). In many ways, Subaru is the otaku wish fulfillment of getting transported into another world – he meets a cute girl and has a useful power that can help solve many conflicts.

Shame he gets broken time and time again (both literally and figuratively). Subaru dies, a lot, and the show is not shy of showing limbs go flying or bodies going crunch (with it being censored by being shadowed, but you still see limbs bend in ways they do not bend). It also deconstructs certain genre tropes – Subaru falls in love with Emilia so by all accounts, she’ll fall in love with him through his selfless acts and help, right? (side note: it’s practically the Nice Guy thing)


Ha ha, no.

Average boy with his mind broken through many hardships and deaths, so many deaths.
Image: Re:Zero wiki

Subaru gets wrung through the ringer on more than one occasion, aside from being killed he gets manipulated, stepped on, ridiculed, and everything else inbetween. He’s the self-aware protagonist but without any actual training, he gets beaten in every way, which only makes him more determined (eventually) to succeed.

I could go on, but others have written more about it way better than I could.

Re:Zero doesn’t currently have any plans for a season 2 (it ran up to whatever light novel was published at the time), but an OVA is currently in the works.


The isekai genre likely won’t stop for a long while (in fact, it never has, it’s such a common plot device) but the gems that become super popular are far and in between. These are just three of them that play around with the genre trappings and do so quite well.

Overlord, Saga of Tanya the Evil and Re:Zero are all legally available for streaming on Crunchyroll.


Have you seen these anime? What’d you think of them? Do you have a favorite isekai anime? Tell me in the comments!

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