Imagine a new life in a parallel universe sprinkled with monsters and topped with a dollop of magic. Sound good to you? If so, you might be into isekai anime. Escapism in its purest form, isekai anime features a character transported to another world, be it an alternate reality or a virtual one. It makes sense that isekai literally means “a different world” in English.
In recent years, there has been a large influx of isekai anime, partly due to the worldwide popularity of Sword Art Online (SAO). However, this isekai anime list will not include SAO. Instead, we will focus on other fantasy anime that are, dare we say, better than SAO.
Here are five lesser-known titles that approach the isekai genre in unique and novel ways.
1. The Twelve Kingdoms
The Twelve Kingdoms is an anime that didn’t get much attention in English-speaking countries. However, it’s one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. While most action anime illustrate a clear distinction between good and evil, The Twelve Kingdoms shows that there are two sides to every coin. Whenever blood is shed, someone is always left to suffer the fallout.
This anime follows Yoko, an ordinary high school girl who only stands out due to her red hair, despite being born to 100% Japanese parents. Her world is turned upside down when a mysterious blonde-haired man appears at her school and tries to take her away. He claims that Yoko’s life is in danger and tells her she is the queen of his country in another world.
Despite being an older fantasy anime, first aired in Japan in 2002, The Twelve Kingdoms surpasses more recent anime in its unapologetic exploration of morality. The anime presents human struggles at every level of the social hierarchy. You get to watch Yoko evolve from the weakest, most annoying pampered girl you’ve ever met to a wise, powerful, and just ruler.
2. In Another World With My Smartphone
While this anime follows some typical fantasy fighting anime tropes, In Another World With My Smartphone introduces itself in a peculiar way. The anime follows Touya Mochizuki, a boy who finds himself sitting face to face with God.
In an incredible stroke of bad luck, God informs Touya that he was accidentally killed by God through a misplaced bolt of lightning. Touya is surprisingly nonchalant about the whole ordeal after learning that he is to be resurrected in an alternate world.
As an apology, God grants Touya a single wish, which Touya uses in a completely millennial fashion. He wishes for the indefinite use of his smartphone in his new world. God grants his wish, giving Touya’s smartphone powers beyond his imagination—magic, GPS, boundless information, and more. On top of that, God grants Touya combat abilities and magical powers akin to a severely overpowered character in an MMORPG.
While In Another World With My Smartphone is not a groundbreaking anime by any means, it is entertaining in its own right. As a lighter anime, it can be enjoyed without the need to ponder one’s morals or engage in deep introspection. If you’re looking for an anime to fill your Sword Art Online void, In Another World with my Smartphone is the most similar title on this list.
- Genres: Adventure, fantasy, harem
- Available on: Amazon Prime Video
3. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle
Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle follows Syaoran, a young archaeologist in his quest to help Princess Sakura reclaim her lost memories. CLAMP, the critically acclaimed all-female manga artist group behind Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits, are the masterminds behind this one. That means you know it’s gonna be good.
…the music alone is enough to make you feel like you’re traveling alongside the characters throughout their adventures.
After an unknown force lures Sakura to a ruin that Syaoran is excavating, she activates a dormant magic hidden in the cave and is enveloped in a strange light. While this is happening, a shady organization attacks the kingdom.
Syaoran learns that the mysterious force scattered Sakura’s memories and pieces of her heart to various parallel worlds. Syaoran vows to travel to those worlds and protect Sakura while searching for her missing memories before her life force runs out.
Often praised for its beautiful soundtrack, the music alone is enough to make you feel like you’re traveling alongside the characters throughout their adventures. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle is a perfect blend of classic action, romance, and fantasy worlds neatly crafted into a fast-paced anime that is sure to please any isekai anime fan.
4. Angel Beats
One of the strangest titles on this list, Angel Beats follows a group of high school students trapped in purgatory. In this purgatory, they must relive their high school days, graduate, and ultimately be reborn into a new life. At least, that’s what they’ve been told by the Student Council President, a quiet and mysterious girl known as Angel.
Good grades alone aren’t enough to graduate from purgatory, however. Instead, every student must somehow overcome a major struggle that’s plagued them in their past lives.
The backstories of each character are incredibly dark and painful, hence the reason their souls refuse to move on.
The newest addition to this school is Yuzuru Otonashi, a boy who, for some reason, can’t remember his past life. As soon as he wakes up in purgatory, he’s greeted by a bossy girl pointing a sniper rifle at Angel. She tells him they must fight Angel with all their strength or be obliterated. Dazed and in disbelief, Yuzuru approaches Angel and asks her to prove that they really are in purgatory.
Don’t let Angel Beats’ light and upbeat beginning catch you off guard. The backstories of each character are incredibly dark and painful, hence the reason their souls refuse to move on. In a bizarre blend of gunfighting, romance, school life, and fantasy, Angel Beats somehow finds a way to make you laugh, scratch your head, and cry in just 13 short episodes.
5. Children Who Chase Lost Voices
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a lesser-known fantasy anime from Makoto Shinkai, the famous animator and filmmaker who brought us Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) and Tenki No Ko (Weathering With You). Children Who Chase Lost Voices is vastly different from those anime that made Shinkai famous, which is probably why it hasn’t received the same widespread popularity.
It’s not a high school romance anime, nor is it an anime about “the one that got away.” Instead, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is about a girl named Asuna who lost her father at a young age. One day a mysterious creature attacks her. Luckily, she is saved by a boy named Shun, who claims he is from a country called Agartha.
Later, Asuna learns from her teacher, Morisaki, that Agartha is a mythical place known as the land of the dead. In hopes of resurrecting his deceased wife, Morisaki travels to Agartha dragging Asuna along with him.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a surprisingly deep and well-made fantasy, especially since Shinkai is primarily known for producing romance and human drama titles. However, real-world feelings of pain, loss, and longing are still the catalysts that drive the story forward.
This anime is a must-see for isekai anime fans and Makoto Shinkai fans alike.
When stress or troubles in life are getting you down, take a load off and escape to a different world with one of the amazing titles on this list.
What is your favorite isekai anime? Let us know in the comments below.