You don’t need me to tell you that the isekai genre has quickly taken over the world of anime during the past few years. Some of it is good, some great, but much of it is bad. That said, even the bad stuff can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure.
Most of the isekai anime we enjoy, however, started life as isekai manga or — usually more often — isekai light novels. A lot of those light novels have been adapted into manga as well as popular anime.
Just because it found success as manga before being adapted into anime, however, doesn’t make it good. There is as much bad manga as there is bad anime.
So, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff and check out the best isekai manga and light novels for you to check out right now.
What is Isekai Manga?
It can be easy for us to forget that many fans of manga and anime, new and old, are unfamiliar with certain terms. So, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page: what does isekai actually mean?
Isekai (異世界) is a Japanese term meaning “different world”, which combines the words kotonaru (異なる — “different”) and sekai (世界 — “world”).
This term is used to describe a subgenre of fantasy manga and anime that take a protagonist, usually from modern day Japan, and places them in a fantasy world.
These fantasy worlds sometimes resemble video games. Sometimes they actually are video games. Sometimes the character dies and is resurrected in another world; other times they are summoned there via gods or magic.
What are Light Novels?
Most anime enthusiasts are also, at least, casual readers of manga. A lot of us, however, overlook the popularity of light novels (many of which appear on this list). In fact, it’s via the light novel medium where the isekai genre really shines.
Light novels have their origins in pulp magazines, and their existence is kind of genius. Like manga, light novels are published quickly and churned out in quick succession.
Light novels are also short, designed to be read quickly and collected. Again, similar to manga. In terms of audience, production, price, and almost everything else, light novels are just like manga. The only difference being that they have a lot more text.
Light novels bridge the gap between manga and traditional prose. And it’s out of the light novel medium that the isekai genre really exploded.
The Best Isekai Manga and Light Novels to Read Now
Now that we know what isekai manga and light novels are, and we understand the medium of light novels, let’s take a look at some of the best isekai manga and light novels — new and old — that you need to read right now.
These are in no particular order whatsoever; all are isekai manga and light novels worth checking out. Also, you won’t find Sword Art Online, No Game No Life, or The Rising of the Shield Hero here because they’re all bad and sexist.
Translated by Paul Cuneo
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is pretty much where the isekai genre (as we know it today) began, with a run that spanned twenty-five isekai light novels and was in print from 2012 to 2015.
Beginning in 2014, there is also an isekai manga adaptation of Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation that you can read instead. And then there’s the isekai anime adaptation from 2021.
When the anime of Mushoku Tensei first dropped, it stirred up a lot of controversy due to its protagonist being an unforgivable, slimy, nasty, perverted incel. And while that is true, to begin with, the story of our lowlife protagonist’s journey of redemption is a good one.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation tells the story of a man kicked out of his house, his parents having died and his family having given up on him. He then almost immediately dies while attempting to save a group of teenages from an out-of-control truck.
Our NEET protagonist is subsequently reincarnated into a fantasy world; into the body of a newborn baby named Rudeus Greyrat. He retains his memories (and disgusting thoughts and opinions) but slowly builds a new life of his own, raised by a swordmaster father.
Rudeus, however, develops a knack and passion for magic, tutored by a kindly and powerful magician, and thus begins to redeem himself and embrace life as a talented young mage.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is one of the quintessential isekai manga and light novels. A difficult recommendation because of Rudeus’ beginnings as an all-out skin-crawling creep, but a very worthwhile read once his redemption arc kicks in.
Translated by Jeremiah Bourque
If Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation represents the humble beginnings of isekai manga and light novels, then Re:Zero represents the point at which the isekai subgenre got experimental, dark, and extremely intelligent.
Starting out as an isekai light novel, Re:Zero has been adapted — with a lot of fits and starts — into an isekai manga, as well as a hugely popular and beloved isekai anime that also saw a massive hiatus between seasons.
What makes Re:Zero a smarter and darker isekai manga is the way in which it plays with its own premise, rules, and the concept of isekai itself. Couple that with some really detailed world-building that rivals the best fantasy novels of our time.
Re:Zero is another isekai manga that features an unlikable loser protagonist in Natsuki Subaru, but this one presents its protagonist with more of a wink and a nod that lets the audience know: he will improve.
Subaru wakes up in a fantasy world built with complex interwoven politics, history, and lore. Very quickly, however, he is killed.
This moment reveals the unique crux of Re:Zero. Subaru is, for some mysterious reason, fated to restart after death, revived time and again several hours or days back in time, with the world as it was but his memories of that timeline still intact. It’s traumatising to say the least.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Tensei Shitara Suraimu Datta Ken) by Fuse (story) and Mitz Vah (art)
Translated by Kevin Gifford
It’s pretty likely that most people reading this have at least heard of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (abbreviated into all kinds of shorthand but I like Tensura — short for Tensei Slime).
The anime adaptation of this isekai manga and light novel series has been a colossal hit, proving to the naysayers that the isekai series can be a delightful mix of camp, silly fun, smart character drama, and satisfying world-building.
Tensura does everything right. It has a lovable protagonist who begins his new isekai life as a slime (like the little blue guys from Dragon Quest).
Soon enough, he figures out how to take full advantage of his unique skills, as well as the knowledge he gained from a life lived in modern Tokyo, in order to gain power, a humanoid body, and complete control over a town which he then builds as a haven for the downtrodden and threatened races of this new isekai world.
Rimuru Tempest is a joy to follow along on this journey of discovery and world-building, whether you choose to read the light novels, the isekai manga adaptation, or watch the excellent anime adaptation.
If you really want to get the most out of Rimuru’s character and story, however, the original isekai light novel is going to provide the meatiest meal, what with it being the original and the best way to experience the full story.
That said, the art of the Tensura manga is really delicious so, if you prefer manga to light novels, you’re in for a decent art treat.
Translated by Emily Balistrieri
Overlord is another twist on the often predictable isekai trope. This is doubly impressive given how the isekai light novel series started back in 2010.
Overlord begins in the future, with the servers of an advanced MMORPG known as YGGDRASIL about to be shut down. The last remaining guild decides to stay online until the end, but when the end comes the guild leader — Momonga — finds himself stuck in the game’s world.
As a powerful guild leader, with almost limitless power, Momonga is now trapped in an isekai prison; the twist being that he is the strongest thing in this world. To put it simply, Overlord is the ultimate in isekai power fantasies.
If you choose to pick up the Overlord light novels, you’ll find a series of books with beautiful cover illustrations but little else. This is an impressively-sized series of light novels. The Overlord manga, on the other hand, has some really stellar artwork for you to enjoy.
Which one you choose simply depends on whether you prefer isekai manga or light novels. The novels feature more written detail, but a picture speaks a thousand words. Reader’s choice.
Side note: The Overlord light novels were translated by Emily Balistrieri, a talented literary translator and outstanding human being.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! by Satoru Yamaguchi (story) and Nami Hidaka (art)
Translated by Marco Godano
A charming, refreshing, and often hilarious isekai manga and light novel series, My Next Life as a Villainess is a real joy.
In case you’ve never come across one before, an otome game is a blanket term for visual novels and dating sims with a target audience of young women. They present the player with multiple relationship threads to explore.
My Next Life as a Villainess takes the concept of otome games and turns it into an isekai manga in which our protagonist, a Japanese teenager, has been reincarnated as the villainess of the otome game Fortune Lover.
The story opens with Katarina Claes, a young lady from a prestigious family, falling and hitting her head. This leads her to regaining memories of a past life as an otaku playing Fortune Lover.
With her memories of the game restored, she realised that she has been reincarnated into the story of this game, but as the otome game’s villain, not its heroine.
As this isekai light novel’s subtitle indicates, all roads lead to doom for Katarina Claes; every potential relationship thread is fated to end in disaster. This isekai comedy pokes fun at the genre while placing us in a unique place and situation. A true treat for fans of isekai manga.
It’s also a great manga for fans of the English regency period, with characters and relationships loosely inspired by the books of Jane Austen and the Brontes (but with magic, because this is still an isekai manga).
Translated by Emily Balistrieri
Tanya the Evil is, without a doubt, one of the smartest and most compelling isekai stories out there. A genuine must-read for fans of isekai manga and light novels.
While most isekai manga and anime drop their protagonist into a traditional fantasy world (think swords and sorcery, and a setting inspired by Middle Ages Western Europe), Youjo Senki went a different route, and it’s this route that makes it so smart and so damn unique.
Beginning with a salaryman facing an unexpected death, our protagonist’s soul is quickly confronted by God, a being whom our protagonist does not believe in. As punishment, God (Being X) reincarnates our protagonist into the body of a young girl named Tanya.
Tanya is an orphan who lives in a world inspired by Imperial Germany circa 1920. If she is killed, she’ll be sent straight to hell for her sins. And so, she uses her savvy to gain a safe and tactical position within the Empire’s army, thus living up to the name Tanya the Evil.
Youjo Senki is a fantastically clever isekai manga and light novel series, led by heavy moralistic themes that engage the reader consistently, volume after volume.
Translated by Jenny McKeon
With what is perhaps the greatest name in the history of isekai manga and light novels, So I’m a Spider, So What? lands an excellent one-two punch by also being a really fun, really strange, and really smart entry into the isekai genre.
Originally a web novel, So I’m a Spider, So What? Was bought and adapted into a light novel series. Next came the manga, written by Asahiro Kakashi. Finally, in 2021, we got an anime adaptation which combined superb 2D and 3D animation.
The story of So I’m a Spider, So What? begins with a modern Japanese high school being obliterated. Most of its students find themselves reincarnated as human nobles and powerful beings, except for one girl who wakes up as a weak little spider at the bottom of the darkest dungeon.
Using her human memories, spidery wits, and a positive mental attitude, she must rise up through the dungeon, fighting off horrific beasts and getting stronger as she goes; the threats escalating all the time.
Translated by Kevin Steinbach
Shortened from the Japanese Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o, KonoSuba is an isekai manga and light novel series which leans on, and extracts from, the tropes of isekai to make one of the best-laugh-out-loud series’ in manga history.
Spanning multiple light novel series’ manga adaptations, and a popular isekai anime, KonoSuba is huge. In fact, it’s likely to have been many readers’/viewers’ first isekai experience, which is weird given its status as a parody of the genre.
KonoSuba follows Kazuma Sato, a boy from modern Japan who dies and is reincarnated into a fantasy world. So far, so familiar.
What sets KonoSuba apart — and makes it such a successful isekai comedy series — is its central party of characters. In order to succeed in this fantasy isekai, Kazuma must forge a party, and what he chooses is three women, each stupid in her own way.
The first is Aqua, the goddess who reincarnated him in the first place, and whom he quickly outsmarts. The second is Megumin, a magician who can do little but make things explode spectacularly. The third is a masochistic crusader named Darkness.
Together, this band of adventurers make one hilarious party that bring some real fresh comedy to the isekai genre — comedy that toes the line between stupid fun and clever parody.
First a web novel, then a published light novel, and eventually an isekai manga, My Isekai Life has grown in popularity very quickly.
Many light novels have taken the beloved blue slimes from Dragon Quest to be their mascot. There’s That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, of course, as well as I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level.
My Isekai Life is another popular light novel to embrace the slime. The light novel’s protagonist, Yuji Sano, begins as an overworked salaryman but soon becomes the most powerful sage in the land.
This happens soon after Yuji is summoned to another world (but insists it must be a dream). With his Monster Tamer ability, Yuji gathers an army of slimes to help him absorb absurd amounts of magical knowledge, making him an unbeatable magical sage.
From here, Yuji joins a guild; the insane power he possesses coming as something of a shock to those who are unprepared for it.
I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level by Kisetsu Morita (story) and Benio (art)
Translated by Jasmine Bernhardt
Since I bought it up above, let’s talk about the utterly charming and sweet I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level.
I will never get enough of this gorgeous, colourful, heartwarming isekai manga and light novel series, as well as its vibrant anime adaptation.
Azusa is another overworked Japanese salarywoman who dies from karoshi (death by overworking). When she reincarnates as a witch in an isekai fantasy land, she finds that she doesn’t age and has not a care in the world.
And so, Azusa lives a peaceful, idyllic life in a highland cabin. There, she kills slimes for three hundred years and, unwittingly, maxes out her level (as the title explicitly states).
From here, Azusa’s quiet life is shattered by stranger and stranger women, some of whom seek her out for companionship, others for a fight. All of whom eventually become her companions, however; together they go on some sweet and charming adventures.
Translated by Kristi Fernandez
When Hiraku Machio, the protagonist of Isekai Nonbiri Nouka, is granted his wish of living the peaceful life of a farmer in a fantasy isekai world, he gets more than he bargained for.
Isekai Nonbiri Nouka begins with Hiraku building a farm in the Forest of Death. Against his own hopes and wishes, however, he finds himself attracting a variety of people and creatures to his farm, eventually growing it into a village, of which he becomes the chief.
This isekai world is a dangerous place, and Hiraku’s farm is a haven for those wishing to live peacefully.
This also wouldn’t be an isekai manga without a harem; many of those lured to Hiraku’s farm in Isekai Nonbiri Nouka are women who find themselves crushing on our farmer pretty hard.
Isekai Nonbiri Nouka exists as both an original light novel series and an isekai manga adaptation; though only the manga is currently translated into English.
Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill (Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi) by Eguchi Ren (story) and Masa (art)
Translated by Kevin Chen
Often shortened to Tondemo Skill, Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi is another hugely popular isekai light novel series.
A sweet and hilarious repeated setup in isekai manga and light novels is the trope: “protagonist arrives in a fantasy world but they have one thing that sets them apart”.
This trope has been explored in countless funny ways, but few as strange as what we find in Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi.
The protagonist of Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi, Mukouda Tsuyoshi, finds himself caught in a hero summoning, arriving in a fantasy world with none of the traits that make a hero a hero. Instead, Tsuyoshi has, as the title outrightly states, an absurd skill.
Tsuyoshi is able to summon food and goods from his home of modern-day Japan to this fantasy isekai world.
Thi skill attracts the wolf Fenrir, who becomes Tsuyoshi’s familiar. Together, they become travelling merchants who use his absurd skill to cook up wonderful meals for the people they meet on their travels.
Tondemo Skill de Isekai Hourou Meshi is a heartwarming and charming isekai manga for the ages.
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (Desu Machi Kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyosokyoku) by Hiro Ainana
Translated by Jenny McKeon
With a truly fantastic name to lure in its readers, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is an isekai manga power fantasy for readers who love that kind of escapism.
Originally published as an isekai light novel series in 2014, and soon after as a very pretty manga adaptation, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody tells the story of a Japanese games programmer who falls asleep and wakes up in a fantasy world inspired by the games he has worked on.
Using a skill he programmed into the game, Ichiro Suzuki fights off an initial wave of enemies, only for this to wind up killing a god in the fallout and, thus, maxing out his skill level instantly.
Now massively overpowered, our protagonist must learn this world, make friends and enemies, and all the while disguise his incredible power level in order to minimise unwanted attention.