Why Are Isekai Anime Always So Bad?

Why Are Isekai Anime Always So Bad In the Land of Leadale
Credit: Maho Film

Why Are Isekai Anime Always So Bad In the Land of Leadale
Credit: Maho Film

Isekai anime are very popular right now, and that's great for those who enjoy the fantasy subgenre. But many fans are tired of seeing similar isekai every season. So, why are all isekai anime always so bad lately?

First, a bit of context: we discuss the isekai anime formula that we've seen done the most in the past decade.

This formula involves an often (though not always) male adult who dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy world, where he's overpowered and has all sorts of adventures.

While not all isekai anime with this premise is bad, here are some of the reasons most are hard to like:

  1. Same Premise Recycled Repeatedly

    A man in our world is living a relatively purposeless life, dies, and gets reincarnated in a fantasy world.

    There, he gets to be an overpowered main character, surrounded by exciting and colorful friends, living all the adventures he didn't get to experience in his past life.

    This premise would have been interesting if it didn't describe more than five anime we've seen in the past five years, including but not limited to The World's Finest Assassin, Mushoku Tensei, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and several more.

    If you add isekai anime with a female lead, like The Saint's Magic Power Is Omnipotent, the list only grows.

    The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent
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    On a basic level, there is a limited number of plots, and most fantasy works partly rely on tropes.

    It is, however, a bit surprising that isekai anime don't even try to be original. Instead, they blatantly recycle the exact same premise.

    Some anime try to play with or reverse the trope by having a character reincarnate under unfortunate circumstances.

    An example would be the self-explanatory So I'm a Spider, So What? but even those don't do very much to reinvent the premise, making it boring after a while.

  2. Trivial Treatment of Everyday Life

    Isekai titles weren't always limited to reincarnation plots. The subgenre used the transportation of diverse characters either permanently, as in Inuyasha, or temporarily, as in the Ghibli movie Spirited Away. Death and reincarnation weren't always involved.

    Before the reincarnation isekai plot became so overused, it used to mean something. In anime like Ascendance of a Bookworm, it still does.

    In it, a young librarian is killed by being buried under her book collection during a natural disaster.

    Her dying wish to read more books takes her to a medieval world where literacy is rare and printing is all but non-existent. Her insistence to keep reading even if she has to print the books herself drives the story forward.

    This makes for a compelling character-driven premise because the character's dying wish, reincarnation, goals, and obstacles are all associated with her personality and desires. But this is not the case with many other isekai.

    Nowadays, we've seen too many anime with people living mundane lives with absolutely no purpose.

    Isekai anime rarely address that meaningfully. Characters who get isekai'd get to live a dream life and rarely have to struggle with who they used to be.

    In Mushoku Tensei, a highly problematic main character gets reincarnated with all his unlikable character traits intact, but he gets to conceal those under the guise of a gifted child.

    In the Land of Leadale, on the other hand, follows a disabled, bedridden character who enjoys escaping in a video game, only to die and find herself in the setting of that game.

    In her new life, she's able-bodied, not allowing any opportunity to show a disabled character living a fulfilling life.

    This isn't to say that anime is meant to be simply fun. However, all sorts of media -- including fantasy anime -- have the potential to be relatable and tell us something about our own world.

    While not every reincarnation story is bad, changing settings shouldn't erase one's problems completely.

    Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with fantasy adventures that feature a more ordinary life, and seeing characters improve the one life they do have will often be more compelling.

  3. Reliance on Fanservice

    Overreliance on fanservice can be annoying for fans of any anime, but things tend to get particularly bad in isekai due to the strong wish-fulfillment element.

    There's nothing inherently bad with depicting sexual elements in anime if it's meant for an adult audience.

    But when a male main character is surrounded by an all-female cast who are overtly sexualized without much characterization beyond that, it does get annoying.

    Moreover, watching a single character that has 10 potential love interests, and is attracted to them but doesn't really engage meaningfully with anyone, is bound to get tiring really fast.

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  4. Too Many Overpowered Leads

    Isekai characters rarely have to struggle, and when they do, they often manage to save the day anyway.

    This was dealt with in slightly more original ways in anime like That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, where Rimuru Tempest experiences devastating loss.

    But even in this anime, the effects of this destruction are ultimately mitigated by the character's overpowered status.

    Fights between overpowered individuals can be fun. They are, after all, at the heart of shonen anime such as Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen.

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    But what makes such battles worth caring about are the high stakes, and few isekai have those.

    At this point, most viewers go into isekai anime with OP main characters knowing that the lead will triumph over anything that comes their way.

    Sometimes, this type of stress-free, escapist watching can be comforting. But, at some point, I would like to be surprised or shocked by a plot twist I didn't see coming.

  5. Clichéd Fantasy Settings

    In many isekai anime, the clichés are not limited to the premise. Not only do most main characters get isekai'd in similar ways, but they also find themselves in generic worlds.

    Most reincarnation isekai transport their lead to a Western-like, usually medievalist fantasy world. Fantasy creatures such as elves are often among the world's residents, and so are magic users.

    Monarchy or an equivalent system seems to be the default form of government.

    Kyo Kara Maoh isekai anime
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    In most cases, these worlds are pre-industrial and depicted as idyllic and much less stressful than our own world.

    Nothing bad with cozy fantasy, of course. But cozy fantasy can take many forms, and we would love to see fantasy worlds inspired by something other than D&D and medieval England or Western Europe.

    An honorable mention would be That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, which does a decent job of portraying imaginative cultures and a wide range of non-humans beyond elves.

    Why are Isekai Anime Always So Bad That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
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    Sonny Boy, whereby an entire classroom is transported into another dimension, manages to tell a mind-bending, surrealist story that's unlike anything we've seen before.

    But too many other isekai look just like the many other isekai anime airing at the same time.

    Some variety wouldn't harm. If anything, it'd bring more viewers to isekai shows.

  6. RPG Mechanics

    We do love tabletop games and RPGs. In them, some type of numerical point system is often necessary to mark progress, level up, and compete with others.

    But when you are playing, rather than watching, things are a little different.

    A complex magical system can still be fun and valuable, but a few isekai feature characters that level up just like video game characters.

    However, real life is more random than that, and no set of stats can reflect its unpredictability.

    For some viewers, the RPG mechanics often found in isekai battles can break immersion.

  7. So, Is There Hope for Isekai?

    The above points aren't meant to attack fans of isekai -- the genre wouldn't be popular if it didn't have an audience that likes it.

    My main objection to the genre is that it has so much more potential than its present formula.

    The idea of a character being transported or reincarnated in a magical world can be done in a thousand different ways, so it's a bit sad to see anime studios only presenting one of these ways.

    In past decades, isekai anime have told beautiful, and often sad and disturbing stories about decaying worlds worth saving. Spirited Away and Inuyasha are only a few examples.

    Spirited Away good isekai anime
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    There can be something comforting in fantasy stories that are simply fun and escapist, following a stress-free and uncomplicated pattern.

    The issues encountered in this story time don't mean that all isekai following this formula has to go.

    It would, however, be great to see more diverse approaches and isekai anime that cater to different types of viewers.

    After all, everyone needs some escapism, and I'd love for isekai to reflect that.

Discover more of our insights and the latest anime news by following us on Twitter @epicstreamanime.

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