As an avid consumer of Japanese light novels and manga, I'm no stranger to the isekai genre. Below you'll find a list of my favorites.
Best Isekai Light Novels and Manga
Ah, isekais. Who doesn't want to read yet another story about a Japanese high-schooler reincarnating into a fantasy world, acquiring awesome magical powers, joining the adventurer's guild, and getting fawned over by a harem of beautiful girls?
I kid, I kid. My top five list below spans a vast array of genres from deconstruction, to comedic parody, to a straightforward take on the isekai tropes, and I hope you'll find something in it that you'll enjoy. I certainly did!
1. Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Re:Zero takes the tired formula of isekai stories and deconstructs it. The protagonist, Subaru Natsuki, is your usual shut-in who gets transported to a fantasy world and acquires mysterious powers. He's in for a rude awakening, however, when his video-game-inspired expectations meet harsh reality. It's one of those rare isekais where the protagonist's arrogance and treatment of everything as if it were a game is examined seriously and not depicted as something positive.
The world is filled with conspiracies, mysteries, and characters with their own motivations, so it really feels that Subaru is getting in over his head rather than everything revolving around him like the protagonist. That isn't to say that it's all dark and bleak, for he keeps persevering and changing himself for the better.
Re: Zero started out as a web novel, and currently exists as a light novel, manga, and anime, so you can pick whichever medium you prefer to enjoy it.
2. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Unlike my first pick, Mushoku Tensei deserves to be called the quintessential isekai. You've got your loser, unemployed shut-in who gets killed by a truck—always a classic—and reincarnates in a fantasy world as a baby. As he retains his memories of his past life, he trains in magic from a young age and grows up to be immensely powerful. There's a harem (a trio, to be more precise) of beauties who all have feelings for him.
Sounds incredibly cliche, I know—so why the second spot? To begin with, while this is clearly a power fantasy, the author knows how to hold back. The protagonist has plenty of struggles in his second life, including losing people dear to him, and it never feels like he's coddled by the narrative. Second, there is an actual story in which he is an important, but not exactly central figure. Lastly, the harem aspect is resolved in a satisfying manner (marry them all!) instead of dancing around the issue all the time. Overall, Mushoku Tensei is a straightforward isekai, but can be considered one of the classics of the genre.
3. Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!
We've had a straightforward take and a deconstruction, so how about a parody? KonoSuba is a story about a gamer shut-in Kazuma Sato, who almost gets hit by a truck, dies of sheer fright, and is told by the goddess Aqua that he may reincarnate in a fantasy world and pick one item of great power to aid him in his travels. Annoyed by her haughty attitude, he picks Aqua herself, and so begins their quest to defeat the demon king... or at least make enough money to not have to sleep in the stables.
Any isekai trope you may think of, KonoSuba pokes fun at. Adventurer's guild? It's there, sure, but poor Kazuma's stats are so bad he gets the lowest-tier class. Harem? Certainly, he adventures with a trio of beautiful girls—but each of them has been cast out of their own parties due to their eccentricities, and as the only one with a lick of common sense, he'd rather be rid of them.
Reading (or watching) their wacky misadventures and banter is a treat, and I can't recommend KonoSuba enough. The only reason I'm not ranking it higher is that it would feel weird to have a parody of isekai listed as the best isekai.
4. No Game No Life
No Game No Life centers around a pair of siblings—Sora and Shiro—who stay cooped up in their room playing games. After building a reputation of being the world's strongest gamers, they get summoned into a fantasy world where everything from countries' borders to everyday conflicts is decided by games. While they might be the strongest, Sora and Shiro have their work cut out for them because in this fantasy world, humanity is the weakest of 16 races, has no magic ability whatsoever, and has been pushed back into the confines of a single city.
When you read or watch No Game No Life, don't expect much realism and just enjoy the ride. Sora's and Shiro's clever plays might not always make sense, but they're always cool and fun to watch, and that's what matters. The shiritori game from the anime adaptation—you'll know when you get to it—remains one of my favorite scenes ever!
5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime comes from that later wave of isekais in which authors really start playing with the concept. After our hapless protagonist dies after getting stabbed by a crook, he gets reincarnated—yep, you've guessed it—as the titular slime. That isn't to say that he's helpless, for he possesses immense magical power, the ability to devour anything, and an all-knowing Sage skill.
Unlike the previous entries, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (what a mouthful) focuses less on adventure and more on city building and management. The formula is simple: the protagonist meets a new race of monsters (goblins, orcs, or whoever), befriends them, grants them names, and makes them a part of his ever-growing village. Word of it spreads throughout the land, and what started as a village soon grows into an entire country of monsters with the slime as their ruler. It's simple, but it works really well.
Andrew Po (author) on November 16, 2019:
I loved Skeleton Soldier too! But only up to a point. It goes completely off the rails toward the end, suddenly introducing high-tech and nuns driving motorcycles.
Hello on November 16, 2019:
Oh and Oda Nobuna no Yabou
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna.
Is pretty good iskeai. Not gonna lie. XD