Everybody wants to escape reality. That may be why - whether they love it or hate it - anime fans just can’t escape Isekai nowadays. As one of the biggest recent trends in the medium, the concept of being reincarnated in another world is everywhere. But just why is this the case?
Whether they're being reborn as a monster as in That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, or reborn into a videogame world as in Overlord, everyone seems to be crossing the street at just the exact moment Truck-kun is passing. While this may all seem like a random phenomenon at first, there are actually deeper ideas explored in Isekai which pinpoint why its popularity has skyrocketed.
Isekai taps into people's deepest shared experiences
Escaping from a mundane regular life
The majority of Isekai protagonists have one thing in common: their previous life was about as mundane as it gets. They are often shut-ins who were unemployed or failed in relationships. The archetypal Isekai protagonist embodies the idea that reality is a boring, sad place - in turn highlighting the amazing adventures they encounter in their new world.
If the popularity of video games is any indication, desiring a form of escape from the ordinary grind into some kind of adventure is a shared experience for a majority of people in modern society. In its acknolwedgment of this, Isekai often latches onto video game tropes to tap into that same longing to escape which video games themselves provide.
At the start of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Satoru Mikami is just a regular guy who works a 9 to 5 job. He muses over the fact that nothing significant really happens to him and that, while his life isn't terrible, he's generally unhappy nevertheless.
After being killed by a random act of fate and reincarnating into another world, Satoru Mikami becomes the incredibly powerful Demon Lord known as Rimuru Tempest and leads a nation of monsters as their beloved ruler. Stories like Rimuru's can provide fans with a sense of hope that, no matter how dull things may be, they can always take a turn for the better in an instant.
Exploring the afterlife
Death is one of the most mysterious and immediately present facts about life. It’s the very fleeting yet ever-near aspect of death that makes it such a frightening thought. The concern with what happens to human consciousness after a person dies has been a concept that human beings have philosophized about since time immemorial, and mankind is still no closer to knowing the answer than before.
While much of science subsumes that consciousness simply ends with death, no one can truly know for certain, and that uncertainty is where the boundary between religion and science begins. Isekai, being bound to neither science nor religion, can explore this gray idea in any way it chooses - even turning a potentially scary thing into the start of a new adventure.
In Konosuba, Kazuma meets his untimely end at the hands of a tractor and finds himself face-to-face with a Goddess in the afterlife. While immediately shocked by this fact, Kazuma doesn't dwell on the tragedy of it. Instead, he turns his focus ahead to his next life.
Though bringing a Goddess into their next reincarnation might not be on the cards for everybody, there is still a lesson to be gained from Kazuma's optimistic attitude in the face of what is usually the scariest thing in life.
The mystery of death is the start of a new adventure
With such a mysterious air around death, contemplating it in a lighthearted way through Isekai gives anime fans a way to confront such a heavy concept without it feeling quite so serious and final. In that sense, anime takes the place of a religious experience - providing answers to a mystery in a positive and interesting way.
That unknowable aspect of death is the perfect place for a somewhat-believable story about a fantasy world to start, and that's why Isekai is so good at tapping into it. While most don't truly believe they’ll be reincarnated as an overpowered Isekai hero when they die, the truth of it is never really off the table. Ater all, who knows?
In Re:Zero, Subaru's powers are both a gift and a curse. After being reincarnated into another world, he has the ability to be reborn after dying a set amount of time in the past. Using this power, Subaru can turn back time and try to change his world for the better - at the cost of his own life.
His power takes a constant psychological toll on him and highlights how death is never easy - no matter how many times you face it down. Still, he has the resolve to get back up and keep facing it, because he would give his life a million times over to protect the ones he cares about.
Isekai protagonists go from losers to OP heroes in a matter of episodes
The 0-to-hero concept is taken to its logical extreme in Isekai, where the genre’s protagonists are almost always losers in their past lives. Following rebirth, they suddenly become all-powerful heroes with unthinkable abilities that can save the world without even breaking a sweat. Not only that, but even their past failures in relationships are addressed: which is where the harem trope comes into play.
Gaining a person's deepest desires without any of the hard work involved in the task is a dream come true indeed, and one that's really only possible in the fictional worlds set up in Isekai. Living precariously through one’s children is one thing, but it’s perhaps even more effective to just live through a favorite anime protagonist.
Cautious Hero's main protagonist, Seiya, learned a valuable lesson in his last reincarnated adventure. Being that he rushed into things before he was sufficiently prepared, Seiya's entire party ended up getting killed by a powerful monster.
Seiya's tragic experience in the past caused him to be a bit overly cautious after being reborn once again - but that ended up working in his favor. Even though Seiya is reborn with incredibly overpowered abilities, he still remains humble and never gets complacent with his growth as a person.
Isekai heroes go through their struggles so fans don't have to
The mainstream popularity of Isekai anime isn't some random event: it's the result of how it explores shared experiences such as a longing to escape from a mundane life, or grappling with the fear of what's after death. While a lighthearted genre like Isekai isn't usually credited with exploring such deep concepts, it is precisely because it explores them without being explicitly obvious that it succeeds.
Though anime's greatest heroes can inherit incredible abilities simply by virtue of being reborn in another world, that isn't quite how things go in real life. Instead, the best that anime fans can do is turn on their favorite series, learn from the experiences that those heroes gain throughout their Isekai adventures, and apply them to life in their own world.