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The REAL Reason Why Isekai Anime Is So Popular, And How It Started

sora and shiro no game no life anime
Avatar of Theo J Ellis

anime is almost comparable to Shounen for its insane popularity, and how big the trend is in 2020 and beyond.

You could even call Isekai the “new” Shounen.

The definition of Isekai is “different world”, and the anime genre started well before the 2000’s. Though it’s not actually an official anime genre like Shounen or Romance.


How Isekai Anime Started

magic knight rayearth 1990s

There aren’t too many anime you can point to, but Magic Knight Rayearth is one of the oldest Isekai out there.

This anime started in the early 1990’s and didn’t get as much coverage as titles like Dragon Ball Z. But however you wanna look at it – it’s the inspiration behind modern Isekai anime.

3 girls are transported to another world from Tokyo Tower, and turned into magic knights.

Their mission is to restore the world of Cephiro and help master mage clef who’s in danger.

Nobody cared about Isekai in the 1990s though because we all kissed up to Shounen more than anything else.

That’s the genre that dominated at the time.

Related: How Anime Has Radically Evolved In The Past 57 Years


anime in the early 2000’s

hack sign anime isekai

One anime you won’t know of if you grew up in the 90’s or 2000’s is .Hack//Sign.

Not the best name for an anime (I didn’t know of it myself) but it’s one of the main Isekai of early 2000’s.

Even to this day it’s a respected anime for what it brought to the table in terms of innovating, and delivering something fresh anime had never done before.

YouTube video

While it’s true the relatively small fan base of this anime LOVE it, that wasn’t enough to “shoot” the anime to mainstream success.

I can’t comment on the quality of Hack//Sign compared to modern Isekai, but I put its “failure” down to its timing.

Isekai still wasn’t popular in the early or even mid 2000’s because nobody gave a sh*t.

  • Death Note.
  • Naruto.
  • One Piece.
  • Bleach.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • Eureka Seven.
  • Clannad.

Romance, Shounen, Mecha and action anime dominated the 2000’s.

Isekai types of anime were considered “unique” but nothing that got anyone hype enough to push it to the mainstream.

Timing played an important role here. It’s the #1 reason for Isekai not “catching” on in that decade.

It wasn’t Isekai‘s time to shine.

Related: The Most Popular Genres In The Anime Industry


anime from 2006-2010+

the familiar of zero series

The Familiar Of Zero (2006).

This anime aired from 2006, a harem, romance fantasy where the male character is summoned to another world. And essentially becomes a man-slave for Louise de la Vallière (a princess).

This anime had better success than Hack//Sign. You could even call it “mainstream”, even in 2020.


But it still wasn’t enough to make “Isekai” trendy

isekai 2006 2010 trends

As you can see – the trend line for Isekai from 2004-2010+ barely moved an inch.

Nobody cared enough because it didn’t have enough appeal. And anime hadn’t reached “that point” yet as far as acceptance.


But then – “Sword Art Online” happened in 2012

sword art online characters season 1

And before the trolls claim SAO isn’t an Isekai, let’s get this sh*t straight before moving on.

Here’s an accurate snippet from Wikipedia:

“The .hack franchise (2002 debut) was one of the first to present the concept of Sword Art Online (also 2002 debut) following in its footsteps.”

Nobody wants to admit it because they love bashing Sword Art Online. But feelings aside – SAO is the reason Isekai became trendy.

Ever since the release of this massive anime, which piracy probably helped succeed, the genre exploded and hasn’t slowed down since.


isekai trend 2012 2020 1

Source: Google Trends.

When you pay attention to the line and the red arrow – this is the point when Sword Art Online is released.

Not long after this event – you can see the insane growth of the term “Isekai” according to Google.

The steep upward trend ever since is undeniable and it’s all thanks to Sword Art Online. The anime everyone loves to hate.


How Sword Art Online played an important role

sao episode 1 subtitles 1

Sword Art Online succeeded where .Hack//Sign failed. Timing played an important role.

The HYPE for this anime (and Isekai) started with the first episode of SAO.

The dark atmosphere, the cold concept of “dying” in real life if you die within a game, and the dangers of that… These are the few elements that pushed SAO into the mainstream.

In fact – it’s the reason it went beyond the mainstream and is now synonymous with Isekai.

sao movie 1

Since then – we’ve had:

  • Season 2.
  • SAO Ordinal Scale.
  • Alternative Gungale Online.
  • Alicization.

Plus video games and a continuation of successful light novels dominate the charts.

SAO Ordinal Scale surpassed Your Name for the success it managed to pull off.



  • Log Horizon.
  • The Devil Is A Part Timer.
  • Re:Zero.
  • Konosuba.
  • Tensei Slime.
  • Shield Hero.
  • No Game No Life.

All 7 of these anime are successful in their own ways. Each with their own loyal fan base.

Re:Zero, Konosuba and No Game No Life are the most popular of all 7 series (in general).

Once Sword Art Online set the stage for the Isekai train, all of these anime have continued to push the trend forward. And the train won’t be stopping anytime soon.


The granddaddy of Isekai

sao alicization isekai series e1578494396229

Unsurprisingly – SAO is still the most successful Isekai to this day, statistically. And it makes sense.

Dragon Ball Z did the same thing for the Shounen genre. That’s why it’s still so massive to this day, and why it’s still bigger than Naruto despite Naruto’s success.

But as far as where the Isekai trend will lead to next in 2020 and beyond, who knows?

The popularity is there, so it’s only a matter of time until we see a “new” Isekai blow up to keep the trend moving forward.


Why Sword Art Online Is An Isekai, And How It Became The FATHER Of The Genre

This Is Why Mecha Anime Is HATED So Much (And Why It’s Not A Great Genre)