The Extraordinary Popularity of "Being Popular in Another World"


The last five years has seen an astronomical rise in the popularity of manga, anime, and light novels themed around reincarnating in another world, or “isekai tensei,” so much so that some large-scale companies now rely on these sales as their primary source of profits, with entire bookstore corners dedicated to the sub-genre. In February, Kodansha pointed to the success of the manga That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, boasting cumulative sales of 1,400,000 copies (including the original novels and spin-offs), as keeping the company afloat during a period of uncertainty in the publishing industry. What is it that is drawing so many readers to isekai media, and why has it seen such a recent boom in popularity?

Isekai novels often feature a male protagonist living out a dreary life in the real world, before an incident causes them to become reincarnated in a fantasy world where they find themselves elevated to a position of success and popularity. Kanto Gakuin University’s Nakanishi Shintaro, a sociologist who specializes in the development of youths in society, points to a rise in cases of exploitative corporations attempting to poach fresh graduates, as well as the proliferation of social media and anonymous accounts leading to increasingly stressful social lives. He noted that “many Japanese youths feel a greater sense of fatigue than most adults.”

While media such as Lucky Star and K-On!, which depicted heartwarming “everyday” stories with a careful focus on detail had once been massively popular, they have recently become eclipsed by the boom of isekai novels. Nakanishi states that “As people’s real life experiences became more stressful, the sense of reality in these stories began to fade.” With isekai novels focusing more on a calm life than going on adventures, readers began to prefer heartwarming “everyday” stories set in the context of an escapist fantasy life instead of a contemporary real world setting.

One other reason for isekai media’s success may come from the Buddhist tradition of reincarnation as historically, commoners in Japan would often seek salvation through reincarnating in a new life in times of great peril. Nakazato Nichikō, head priest of the Nichren sect temple Ryohoji, says that while many young worshippers may not struggle with physical concerns, they are troubled by the existential anxiety of “not knowing why they exist. The troubles of the soul are difficult to resolve, and it may be that stories of reincarnation offer some solace to them. However, the concept of reincarnation is deeply tied to our actions in this life. We consider everyone capable of attaining Buddhahood, so it is important to value your life in this world.”