The opening chapter is quite familiar: a young guy gets run over, stabbed, or just plain evaporates from his seat. He wakes up to a choice: be revived and save the world, or vanish forever. He takes the bait, and finds himself in an unfamiliar world full of strange people, with no idea what to do.
This formula is quite overused, but it’s the foundation of what’s commonly known as the isekai – getting transported or revived in a parallel world, often tasked with something grand. It will take you around 100+ chapters, an anime adaptation, and 2 OVAs to complete.
If that’s something you can commit to, you just found yourself a treasure box filled with unique stories! Here are 10 of the best ones to get you started.
1. The Rising of the Shield Hero – (Manga: Aiya Kyu, 2014 / Novel: Aneko Yusagi, 2012)
There’s no better way to start this list than an underdog tale of a hero who began his new life with just the clothes on his back.
Summoned alongside heroes with strong offensive weapons, Naofumi Iwatani was the only one to receive protective equipment, the Legendary Shield. Seemingly useless against attacking hordes of monsters, he was betrayed, stripped of any support from the people who summoned him, and left to fend off for himself in an unfamiliar world.
You’d be foaming at the mouth just from reading the first few chapters when you realize that he was set up to fail by the same people who plucked him off an easy-going life back in Japan.
Even with all the frustrating experiences, repeated betrayals, and the initial powerlessness, the protagonist never lost hope and strived to get stronger in whatever way possible. It’s not like he has a choice—he has no other way to get back to his comfortable life, and the only way to investigate is to fulfill his role as a summoned hero.
Fortunately, he found a formidable crew to serve as weapons in his fights. It also doesn’t hurt to learn that he can unlock various forms of his shield the more he fights, with the strongest one allowing him to counterattack with ever-burning black flames!
You can get volume 1 on Amazon here: The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 01
2. Overlord – (Manga: Satoshi Oshio, 2014 / Novel: Kugane Maruyama, 2010
If you’re not fond of underdog stories like the previous one, Overlord‘s probably your cup of tea.
Imagine this: you’ve played a game for more than a decade already, and you’ve acquired every legendary item, every godly buff, and learned all the possible skills you can cram on your character. You then find yourself trapped in the game, with that same overpowered character, but with no other “players” to interact with. You’re left to rule a guild of overpowered NPCs (non-player character), and out of boredom, you chose to take over the whole game world.
This is easily what isekai dreams are made of: you’re an overpowered protagonist, with access to the best equipment, the most powerful underlings, and are the object of many ladies’ affection.
As the only “player” left in the game, Momonga (a.k.a. Ainz Ooal Gown) also has unmatched knowledge of the lore of the world he’s in now. He uses this to his advantage, calculating his every move and manipulating others in his drive to conquer everything. After all, it’s the only way he can learn more about his predicament, and hopefully find a way to get back to his normal life.
Check out volume 1 on Amazon here: Overlord, Vol. 1
3. KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! – (Manga: Natsume Akatsuki, 2014 / Novel: Natsume Akatsuki, 2012)
If you want a more practical approach to isekai, KonoSuba is a must-read. Shield Hero gave you a glimpse of what’s like to start from scratch in a new world. Overlord showed you what happens when you’re super powerful from the start. KonoSuba depicts the most accurate scenario of what happens when you die and get revived in a different world.
Though tasked with defeating the Devil King, Protagonist Kazuma Sato aims to just live a comfortable life using what little power he has to make it possible.
You’ll see him form a party, do quests, earn rewards, the works. But once he gets an opportunity to live his new life comfortably, he has no qualms about dropping the adventuring life and just settling down, even if it means working with disgraced demon army generals to manufacture Ikea-esque household items.
But that peaceful life is usually short-lived because of the companions he keeps: a good-for-nothing goddess he chose to bring in his new life instead of a cool weapon or superpower; a masochistic crusader who can’t hit anything, and a one-hit KO wizard who can only cast one spell per day. Even with all his eccentricities, Kazuma is probably the most normal person in his party.
Volume 1 of the manga series is on Amazon here: Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!, Vol. 1
4. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime – (Manga: Fuse, 2015 / Novel: Fuse, 2013)
It’s common for isekai manga to have a powerful, intelligent, and most importantly, human protagonist. That is until we’re introduced to this one.
The title itself is very descriptive: the protagonist got isekai-d as a slime. Simple and straightforward. But how the story moved from that initial premise made this manga deserve a spot in this Top 10 list.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime or “Slime Isekai” for short, has unique world-building elements that you won’t see in many other titles. Yes, the protagonist seemingly started from scratch. Still, along with his personal development, he was also building a community of “monsters” and turning it into a legit kingdom that could rival that of any other higher races.
How is this possible for a lowly slime, you might ask? When the protagonist got resurrected as a slime, he conveniently gained a “predator” skill, which allows him to consume anything, mimic its appearance, and absorb its powers. And on his first few days as a slime, he stumbled upon an overpowered dragon imprisoned by those who fear its powers. Long story short, the dragon “allowed” himself to get devoured by the slime, in hopes that he’ll get freed someday.
Convenient plot twists aside, this Slime isekai paved the way for a new “genre” of isekai manga, to the point where manga artists are just trying to one-up each other with weird protagonists: spiders, swords, even vending machines!
Get volume 1 of this series on Amazon here: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Volume 1
5. Re: Zero – Starting Life in Another World – (Manga: Tappei Nagatsuki, 2014 / Novel: Tappei Nagatsuki, 2012)
Perhaps the polar opposite of Slime Isekai, Re: Zero has no world-building element whatsoever. The story is very protagonist-driven as if that’s even a thing.
You see, Natsuki Subaru was summoned to another world without any powers or unique weapons. Heck, he’s not even the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s summoned in a world where almost everyone has powerful magic, and not having any makes him stand out negatively.
He’s not even handsome, and was summoned in his everyday tracksuit! He has no redeeming feature, but as you’ve read earlier, this manga’s storyline is anchored to him, the protagonist.
You see, he’s not truly devoid of magic or power. This is where you hope he’s got some unique latent superpower he’ll awaken when he’s in a bind.
But you’re wrong. Or maybe half wrong—his unique “magic” enables him to return to a “saved” state when he dies. He can then retrace his steps, redo his actions, and ultimately avoid getting killed. He learned this the hard way in the early chapters, where he got killed repeatedly by a bunch of nobodies, just so the manga artist can drive a point: the protagonist is pathetic, but he can persevere. And if that’s not enough to convince you to read this, I don’t know what will.
Check out volume 1 of this series on Amazon here: Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World, Vol. 1
6. Log Horizon – (Manga: Mamare Touno, 2012 / Novel: Mamare Touno, 2010)
Besides getting summoned and resurrected to a different world, another surefire way to start an isekai manga is by getting trapped inside a game. And there’s no better way to tell that story than to use every element of the game: mechanics, characters, lore, NPCs, etc. Yes, Log Horizon is probably the most vanilla game-themed isekai manga that you can read. And there’s nothing wrong about that.
It’s because Log Horizon is faithful to the game elements without overly pandering to the game it was based on. Not that it’s based on anything, it’s just that it’s easy to relate to and understand when you’ve played quite a lot of RPGs (role-playing games) in your life.
The characters and classes are well-defined—you have offensive types like wizards, assassins and swordsmen, crusaders as tanks, and the protagonist, a support-type sage/wizard hybrid. The game dynamics are more dungeon crawly, where you party up and hunt bosses at the very end. Considering that the story was conceived as a novel in 2010, MMORPGs or massively multiplayer RPGs are still very popular, so it’s not hard to understand and enjoy it.
So if you’re taking a break from playing competitive shooting games and you want to reminisce days spent grinding on World of Warcraft or Ragnarok Online, this manga is highly recommended!
Check out the manga on Amazon here: Log Horizon Vol. 1
Of if you are interested in the light novel, you can find volume 1 here: Log Horizon, Vol. 1 (light novel): The Beginning of Another World
7. Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious – (Manga: Light Tuchihi, 2018 / Novel Series: Light Tuchihi,2016)
Good looking and well-built: check!
Insanely high stats: check!
Unique skillset: check!
Highly risk-averse and obsessed with preparedness: check!
Except for the last one, all these are the ingredients for a perfect protagonist. Unfortunately for this manga’s protagonist, all these are canceled out by one fatal flaw: he’s overly cautious.
Seiya Ryuguin doesn’t take chances, especially when he has to save Gaeabrande, a world that’s about to be destroyed by a demon lord. But extreme doesn’t even describe his obsession for preparation. Upon getting summoned, it took him several days to finally leave the safe zone, as he trained to a level he’s confident with first.
He uses his ultimate skills to kill even the lowest level monster, and would already consider resting when his hit points drop by a percent!
It’s absurd, but it’s undeniably fun. This manga is a breath of fresh air for a saturated genre like isekai. But seeing how this formula worked for Cautious Hero, it’s only a matter of time before we see some copycat storylines trying to do the same. Perhaps we’ll even see something like “Summoned as an Introverted Toilet Bowl: I can kill the demon lord when he poops.”
You can find volume 1 on Amazon here: The Hero Is Overpowered but Overly Cautious, Vol. 1
8. Fushigi Yugi – (Manga: Yuu Watase, 1992 – 1996)
Most isekai manga were created as a novel or light novel before they got adapted into a manga format. Many of them started as farfetched ideas that will eventually make sense as the story progresses. Before this was the norm, characters had to be plucked from the present time and transported to the past Or sent to a parallel world that bears a resemblance to a point in history.
This is why Fushigi Yugi is a part of this list.
Fushigi Yugi “isekai-d” teenage girls to a world resembling an ancient feudal China. One girl is in charge of gathering celestial warriors to summon a god that grants wishes. Imagine Dragon Ball, but instead of collecting dragon balls, you’re like the HR manager of highly dangerous, good-looking characters.
Fushigi Yugi deserves a spot on the list because of its storytelling, though leaning more towards the shoujo (preferred by young ladies) side of the manga spectrum. It also helps us compare different implementations of isekai, as it is older by a couple of decades compared to most titles on this list.
Here is volume 1 of this series on Amazon: Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play, Vol. 1: Priestess
9. The Saga of Tanya the Evil – (Manga: Carlo Zen, 2016 / Novel: Carlo Zen, 2012)
Once in a while, you’ll stumble upon a manga with such an absurd plot that you’ll stick around and read just to see how it implodes. Well, that’s what I had in mind when I discovered this title.
Imagine how absurd this is: a Japanese salaryman got “isekai-d” when he was killed by a coworker he fired. However, he was reborn as an orphaned girl in a world that resembles Nazi Germany. The world is at war, but the participants are using magic users as troops.
Having retained the memory of a cold-hearted HR manager, the orphaned girl joined the army at a young age. Her knowledge about her original world’s history gave her an edge, which made her rise up the ranks quickly.
I was skeptical at first, but after reading several chapters, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the story is, despite being a Frankenstein of a plot. If you like war stories and great tacticians, you’ll love this manga and its protagonist. If you can get past the loli physical appearance and just focus on the solid storytelling, conflict, and even the supporting characters, you’ll understand why this is on the list.
You can check out volume 1 of the manga series on Amazon here: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Vol. 1
10. Restaurant to Another World – (Manga: Junpei Inuzuka, 2016 / Novel: Junpei, Inuzuka, 2013)
The last one on the list is the perfect palate cleanser after everything we’ve listed so far. The title definitely fits an isekai manga, only this time, it’s not just one character that gets transported to another world—it’s a whole restaurant.
Yes, this manga is about a small, hole-in-the-wall food joint that serves Japanese cuisine, Western dishes, and an amalgamation of both. It usually operates on the weekdays, but on Saturdays, it serves as a doorway to a parallel world.
It can appear as a literal hole in the wall, and the patrons range from soldiers or nobles from distant kingdoms, or lizardmen from a tribe in the swamp.
Just like any food-related manga, there are many gratuitous panels of food alone. But the great part is how the restaurant doesn’t discriminate, as it feeds anyone willing to try, even an all-powerful dragon who takes the form of a woman just to have her favorite meals.
Volume 1 is on Amazon here: Restaurant to Another World, Vol. 1