10 out-of-this-world alternate worlds fans are happy to have visited.

Isekai is a pretty handy term. Literally it just means “other world,” but it’s also become shorthand for describing an anime genre in which the main character, generally an ordinary everyperson in our reality, is whisked off to a magical alternate-world fantasy realm.

Of course, the reason why isekai has taken on this anime-specific meaning is because it’s become one of the most popular anime categories. But a popular genre is also a crowded genre, so which isekai anime are the best of the best? That’s the question Japanese Internet portal Goo Ranking asked its users, gathering 2,225 votes to create the following top 10 list.

10. Magic God Hero Legend Wataru (1.3 percent of votes)
9. Aura Battler Dunbine (1.3 percent)
8. Digimon Adventure (1.8 percent)
7. Fushigi Yugi (1.9 percent)

Though the isekai series are currently more in vogue than ever, the genre’s roots actually go back pretty far, with the 7-10 rankings including two series, 1988’s Wataru and 1983’s Dunbine, that pre-date anime’s international popularity boom (though Wataru sort of made it overseas when its video game adaptation was rebranded as Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, and some Dunbine toys made their way to the North American market in the 1980s without their accompanying TV series). There’s probably room for scholarly debate as to whether or not the digital realms of Digimon technically qualify as an isekai, but Fushigi Yugi’s mystical world within a book definitely counts, and its inclusion is a worthwhile excuse to get the ending theme stuck in your head.

♪ “Tokimeki no~, doukasen ga~”♪

6. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (4.1 percent)
5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (4.8 percent)

2021’s Mushoku Tensei and 2018’s That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime are both examples of a modern-era isekai trend of the main character being not a plucky teen, but a middle-aged adult who’s reborn as part of their transfer to the alternate world, giving them a fresh start to find a deeper purpose and fulfil their true personal potential.

▼ Wait, is “personal” still the right word if you’ve been reincarnated as a slime? Should we say “slime-al” instead?

4. Spirited Away (11.8 percent)

Like Digimon Adventure, Hayao Miyzakai’s Oscar-winner isn’t an anime that springs quickly to mind when most fans hear the word “isekai.” Maybe that has something to do with the bathhouse main character Chihiro discovers and its surrounding environs not quite seeming large enough to constitute an entire alternate world, or because it’s somewhat unclear whether those ethereal locations are separate from our reality or somehow stacked on top of it.

Still, a lot of the necessary elements for an isekai story are there, and if we are including Spirited Away in the genre, by nature of it being one of the most celebrated anime of any class it stands to reason that it would be near the top of isekai rankings too.

3. Gate (15.2 percent)

In most isekai stories, it’s only the main character, plus maybe a few friends or rivals, who get transported to the alternate world. The transfer is often involuntary, and if and when they do get back to our world, they have a hard time convincing anyone to believe their stories of what happened. Gate goes in completely the opposite direction by making an open portal between Japan and a fantasy world a matter of open public knowledge, and focuses on the military/defense implications this would have for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

2. The Twelve Kingdoms (19.1 percent)

Based on a series of novels, The Twelve Kingdoms is a textbook example of classical isekai storytelling, with its opening arcs following an emotionally conflicted high school girl grappling with the dramatic destiny that’s been waiting for her in a dangerous world she’s still struggling to understand. A grand, sweeping epic, Twelve Kingdoms does come with the caveat that the anime’s story just sort of stops rather than ends, though with the 2002 TV series covering only a portion of the novels’ content at that time, and two new novels published since then, there’s plenty of supplementary content for fans to sink their teeth into.

1. Re:Zero-Starting Life in Another World (21.8 percent)

Finishing at the top of the list is Re:Zero, which boasts a central plot point that really taps into the “second chance” appeal that’s at the heart of a lot of isekai series. As part of his summoning to another world, NEET-turned-hero Subaru gains the ability to rewind time back to before his death every time he’s killed, letting him use that combination of experience and foreknowledge to do things better the next time.

Oh, and drafting Japan’s number-one cosplayer to do official cosplay for the series probably didn’t hurt Re:Zero’s numbers in the poll either.

Source: Goo Ranking via Niconico News via Jin
Top image: Studio Ghibli
Insert images: Studio Ghibli, SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’d have put Escaflowne and Rayearth on his personal list.