Why Fantasy and Isekai Anime Are Not the Same Thing

As one of the biggest anime and manga genres, isekai has several tropes, archetypes, and subgenres. For the most part, the majority of isekai stories are grouped with fantasy anime, and that’s not a totally inaccurate classification. Many isekai anime are pretty firmly in the fantasy genre, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same.

Isekai has certain narrative requirements to qualify as such, and that doesn’t just mean being a fantasy series. This misconception has seen many modern anime mistakenly referred to as isekai even though they are not. Here is what separates the two genres which often mix with each other.

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Why is Isekai confused with fantasy?

As mentioned, many of the most popular isekai stories have fantasy settings. This is because the modern isekai craze was, at least to some extent, triggered by Sword Art Online. This series, along with other isekai mainstays such as Suzerainfeatured normal people reborn in the world of fantasy RPGs. Sword Art Online was admittedly more sci-fi and less traditionally fantasy-based in terms of game premise, but Suzerain is definitely in the same vein as classic fantasy RPGs and modern MMOs.

There are also other titles that, while not necessarily inspired by fantasy video games, are still based on generic fantasy tropes, settings, and societies. For example, This time I got reincarnated as a Slime it really feels like it’s in the same realm as fantasy anime such as Fairy tale. The same goes for much more classic isekai like the mecha series Escaflowne and adult swimming favorite Inuyasha. Magic, monsters, wizards, and valiant knights are fairly common elements of these shows, making them nearly indistinguishable from true fantasy stories. The only thing that separates them, however, is the very thing that defines isekai.

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Why Some Fantasy Anime Aren’t Isekai

Isekai literally means “another world”, and the stories involve someone from the “normal world” being suddenly transported to another. This may be due to some sort of magical accident, an intentional jump to another dimension, or the death of the individual in question. From there, the characters are often shocked by their new surroundings, especially if it does indeed resemble a video game they’re familiar with. Thus, without this reincarnation or transport, a series is not a true isekai.

anime such as DanMachi, which are often called isekai, are not. This series is already set in a fantasy world, with all of its protagonists being native to that world. There are no reincarnations or anything like that, so some calling him an isekai is incorrect. Many fantasy anime also start with light novels before moving on to manga and then finally to anime shows. Since the isekai franchises do this too, it only adds to the confusion.

The main reason for this confusion is probably the fact that non-fantasy isekai are incredibly rare. This is likely once again due to the genre playing so much into fantasy and especially fantasy video game tropes. Even rare mecha isekai have knight-like armor or fantasy costumes. Thus, viewers unfamiliar with exactly what makes an isekai an isekai may confuse it with just about the single larger genre it is represented by.

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