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8 Anime That Were Isekai Before It Was Cool

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Isekai or "transported to another world" scenarios are huge in light novels, manga, and anime right now. Sword Art Online may be the most popular as a video game variation on the concept, but there's also Log Horizon, Re:Zero, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, No Game, No Life, and progressively wackier titles that focus less on world-saving and more on comedy like KONOSUBA and a host of light novels yet to get an anime adaptation: Do You Like Your Mom? Her Normal Attack is Two Attacks at Full Power, Reborn as a Vending Machine, Now I Wander the Dungeon, and The Hero and His Elf Bride Open a Pizza Parlor. It might seem like isekai is all the rage now, but this week's list is all classic isekai, anime that delivered this premise before it had a catchy nickname.

El Hazard Makoto Mizuhara, Katsuhiko Jinnai, his sister Nanami, and their history teacher Masamichi Fujisawa end up in the magic world of El Hazard in a variety ways depending on which version of the series you watch. The initial OVA has the characters' high school built over the ruins of an ancient civilization where a dormant woman transports them to El Hazard. The later TV series sees the cast end up there after a botched science experiment. Both versions blend a magic romcom with adventure as Makoto and crew attempt to track down the priestesses of El Hazard to prevent Jennai and his army of bugs from taking over.

Magic Knight Rayearth CLAMP's take on a classic role-playing game aesthetic stars the obviously named Hikaru (red), Umi (blue), and Fū (green) as they are transported to Cephiro during a strange phenomenon at Tokyo Tower. Cephiro is collapsing around them because the world's pillar, Princess Emeraude, is under attack by Zagato. To defeat him, the girls must power up their weapons and obtain access to the world's Rune Gods, which are actually giant mecha. Current isekai series are severely lacking in female protagonists, but Magic Knight Rayearth and a few more on this list are worth checking out if you're missing out on female heroes.

The Familiar of Zero This harem comedy with a side of magical politics sees our hapless protagonist Saitō end up in Tristain's local magic academy when "zero" mage-in-training Louise accidentally summons him as her familiar. Everyone else ends up with dragons, salamanders, or other magic beasts, but poor Louise gets a regular old Japanese guy. Or maybe the audience should feel more sorry for Saitō, since Louise is a full-blown tsundere who beats him whenever he's caught in a compromising situation. That ends up being most of the time, since most of her classmates, the Kingdom's Queen, elves, the maid, and more all seem to want in his pants.

Digimon Adventure Even if it was originally made to sell interactive keychains, Digimon remains a nostalgic part of many kids' lives and I'll eat my hat if the majority of you can't sing the English theme song. Seven elementary school kids find themselves in the Digital World after randomly encountering a set of small handheld devices at summer camp. One moment, ominous snow is falling in the middle of summer and then bzzt, the kids plummet to a mysterious island where they befriend their respective Digimon. The dubbed DigiDestined encounter many enemies (and evolutions), birthing a rival franchise to Nintendo's Pokémon in the late '90s.

Fushigi Yugi Maiagare! Suzaku Miracle La~. That opening sticks with a whole generation of thirty-somethings that were first introduced to Yū Watase's dramatic shōjo storytelling through Fushigi Yugi. Miaka and her soon-to-be frenemy Yui are transported to Not-China via a magic book called The Universe of the Four Gods. Miaka becomes the Priestess of Suzaku and must save the world from turmoil by gathering the Seven Celestial Guardians, which includes her eternal paramour Tamahome. The ensuing quest of two teenagers yelling each other's names continues for 52 episodes and a myriad of OVAs. Side note, Hotohori was always the better choice.

InuYasha Some wells hold the angry spirits of psychic children and others are portals to Japan's Sengoku period with a side of half-demons. Kagome ends up on her nearly endless journey to recover the shards of the Shikon Jewel and be granted any wish. As an added bonus: recovering the shards will also prevent numerous threats from spreading across ancient Japan and reveal the truth behind Kagome's reincarnation. Oh, there's also some dog-guy that the show is named after, guess I should mention him.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi This is probably the most obscure title on the list. This Gainax/Madhouse production is an original work following two Osaka kids who take a playful detour through worlds of their nerdy hobbies, instead of facing the less fun truth that one of them is moving away and their favorite arcade district is shutting down. One mishap after another sends the two through worlds of sword and sorcery, a mecha future, a Hong Kong-esque battle tournament, and even the Land of the Lost. Everything they experience ties back to the Heian era, but that's just window-dressing for the larger coming-of-age story.

Now and Then, Here and There Shū seems like a typical Shōnen Jump protagonist: he's determined, believes in the goodness of people, and never gives up. Unfortunately, he's not in a Shōnen Jump story, so when he decides to protect the mysterious Lala-ru, he finds himself in a war-torn desert world of child soldiers commanded by a mad king in search of water. Now and Then, Here and There remains one of my top five anime of all time for its stark look at war and the emotional journey of Sara, an American girl who gets captured because she resembles Lala-ru. Its 13 episodes will definitely tear your heart out.

Take me out to the ball game! Pick your favorite baseball anime.

The old poll: Which anime television series from 1999 do you want to see remade? The results were:

  1. GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka
  2. Crest of the Stars
  3. Excel Saga
  4. The Big O
  5. Zoids
  6. Pet Shop of Horrors
  7. Medabots
  8. Kamikaze Kaitō Jeanne
  9. Now and Then, Here and There
  10. Monster Rancher
  11. Blue Gender
  12. Orphen: The Revenge
  13. Infinite Ryvius
  14. Ojamajo Doremi
  15. AD Police
  16. Corrector Yui
  17. Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure
  18. Jubei-Chan The Ninja Girl - Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch
  19. Turn A Gundam
  20. To Heart

When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.

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