There’s A New Fiction Genre In Town: Isekai

There’s A New Fiction Genre In Town: Isekai


Are you looking for something different in a genre? Read more about a genre that’s making an impact around the world. It’s called Isekai.

Writing In A Whole New World

We often think that every genre already exists. So when a new one pops up it’s quite exciting.

In this article I will be talking about a Japanese genre that is blowing up around the world. I will also talk about whether or not you should be thinking of writing something in this ‘light novel’ genre.

1. What Is an Isekai?

Isekai (異世界) means a Different World. This is a Japanese term used in the publishing industry especially in Kadokawa Publishing’s light novel department.

It has been around for a while, but its popularity is new. Click on this chart that shows how its popularity has increased in the last few years. It shows when the term began being widely used.

These stories have a number of things in common.

  1. They are about a human from earth (generally they are from Japan) who dies/is transported/finds a way to a different world.
  2. They are trapped there. It is unlike most fantasy stories, where they are usually on a quest, and they come back from this world.
  3. They are generally an outcast on Earth, but the centre of attention in this new world.
  4. They tend to garner a loyal following of companions. This might be a fantasy party or a brigade of WW1 soldiers.
  5. It can be crossed with any main genre. It could be crime Isekai, romance Isekai, fantasy Isekai, or horror Isekai.

That being said, they differ quite a lot from one story to the next.

The protagonist might enjoy or hate being in this new world. They might have super powers. They might just be average.

In one instance, the protagonist just liked to read in her past life, so she knows a lot of useful, modern things that can be taught in her new world. In another series, the protagonist is just a ball of slime.

Regardless, this genre has been around for a while, but only recently has it become the dominant genre in the fantasy/sci-fi space in Japan.

2. Is it worth your time?

I think, it is made mostly for young people with a few notable exceptions. So, it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

But, it is insanely popular and has a growing following in the West, which historically means that it will be normalised in the next few years. I don’t know if we will still be calling it Isekai, but I’m sure we will be getting more shows on TV that are like The Magicians.

In general, thanks to the latest influence of Dungeons and Dragons with young people, the fantasy genre has exploded.

The last time we saw such interest in the genre was in the early eighties. Which of course led to novels like Harry Potter becoming the new normal in children’s fiction.

I’m not really young anymore, but I am very geeky, and, it does seem that Japanese media, be it Anime, Manga, or Light Novels, are in vogue. So, this trend is something to watch. More importantly, it is teens and twenty-somethings that are talking about it, an age group that drives sales in the fantasy demographic.

3. Should you be writing one?

I hope it does come to the West because frankly I’d like to write a manuscript based on this premise.

I don’t think the publishing industry is willing to take the risk on a genre that is not fully understood. It is easier for them to simply translate the Japanese texts to English and see how that goes.

Hopefully, it goes well. Here’s why:

Isekai is the best form of escapism I have ever come across. If you loved Harry Potter but didn’t get your magic letter, a little piece of your soul died. I know I was a kid when these came out. It was devastating.

But, with Isekai, you can be 99-years-old and still buy into the premise. You can say to yourself, “Ah, maybe, I’ll be reincarnated as a magician in my next life”. You can be 10 and believe you will be transported to another world where you don’t get bullied at school.

This is a gold mine. It allows the author to dangle hope in front of disillusioned readers who have already given up on life, thus expanding the escapist demographic beyond the normal age limits.

What should you read?

You only need to read a few to know what this is all about. Luckily they are all short light novels and can be found in Manga and Anime forms for the lazy. 

  1. Re: Zero: Starting Life in Another World. It’s fun and quirky with a dark twist.
  2. The Saga of Tanya the Evil. This is dark and funny. It revolves around a young girl who is put in charge of a squad of soldiers in a fictional, magic World War.
  3. Overlord. This is about a man transformed into an evil undead monster and his quest to conquer the world. It is deeply funny but gruesome at times.
  4. Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! This is a satire of the genre. Read it after you have a grasp on the genre. It is written in a very Japanese style. I think it will offend most Western sensibilities. But, it’s hilarious.

To conclude, I think you should have an idea in your back pocket if the time is ever right for an English publication of this genre.

Source for image

by Christopher Luke Dean (Hoping to be reincarnated with the super power to make wise life choices in another world.)

Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean

If you enjoyed this post, read:

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  3. 3 Super Sidekicks & What They Do For Your Story
  4. The 3 Best Tips For Writing Dialogue
  5. Why Writers Should Know About Monsters Before They Write a Word
  6. Character Arcs Or Character Development? What’s The Difference?
  7. A Complete Glossary Of Terms For Fantasy Writers

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This article has 4 comments

  1. Tracy S

    Log Horizon is a serious take on the genre, with thousands of gamers being trapped in an online game world and struggling to adapt to a setting that isn’t exactly as they recalled from the game. The Rising of the Shield Hero is another serious, rather dark work which may not be suitable for some; it got a lot of attention last year through the anime adaptation.

    • Christopher Luke Dean

      Most of the work I have suggested are also quite dark. Overlord particularly.

      I’m glad you are enjoying the genre.

  2. Marie Q Rogers

    Could I have written in this genre without knowing about it? My heroine in Trials by Fire is transported to a different world and can’t get back!

    • Christopher Luke Dean

      They tend to be quite formulaic so it would be very lucky to do this.

      Hope it works out for you!

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