By Ananya Roy
How cool would it be if you could be transmigrated into the world of your favorite fantasy novel? Or perhaps you could somehow go back in time to make amends? An increasingly popular sub-genre of Korean webcomics offering this form of escapism is called isekai. Isekai derives from Japanese 異世界, which translates to "different", "other" or "parallel" world(s). The concept of isekai began in Japanese tales, like Urushima Taro.
Previously a niche sub-genre of fantasy fiction, Isekai has now gained wide popularity in the form of otome/RPG/dating-simulating games, which in the majority of the manga and anime feature a sub-character or antagonist in charge of the wheel of fortune, aiming to capture the game targets, or ikemen, sometimes by creating a harem of men, infatuated and possessive of our MC’S (Main Character's) affections. Although isekai is a vast sub-genre that within itself includes tropes of its own, the most contested, controversial, and hotly debated trope is that of the villainess.
Below are the major arcs involved in this sub-sub-genre categorized:
The reader transmigrates into the body of the villainess
In these, the webcomics often feature a character being hit by the infamous truck summoned from hell, also known as "truck-kun". Other times, it starts with a modern-day female office worker who ends up inheriting the body and memories of the villainess after having died from overworking. It is interesting to note that the comics do not merely portray a cock and bull story, but instead, a social evil in the guise of fair pay for both sexes is exposed in a light-hearted manner. Most of these manhwas (Korean webcomics) expose the shady world of equality, and our MC uses her contemporary knowledge to outsmart the hypocrites in isekai. At times, the protagonists end up getting transmigrated to help them escape their less-than-perfect and abusive life on earth.
• Villains are Destined to Die
• My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom
• The Perks of being a Villainess
• The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to
• Father, I don’t want this Marriage
The reader takes revenge for having wronged the villainess, in Isekai
The majority of the time, the reader ends up remembering or inheriting the memories of its "previous owner." The MC has a revelation of sorts that allows her to gain access to the sections of the game or story that were never on display or in print. The original female lead who was tormented by the villainess, an act which ends up being the cause of her death, is revealed to be a hypocrite or a “white-lotus bitch,” who works hard enough to nearly disrupt the plans of the MC. Our MC hardly gets time to breathe before the wheel of fate - that is wielded by an invisible force - tweaks and twists up her life path to make it more difficult. The world of otome is played according to difficult levels: beginner, medium, difficult.
• The Way to Protect the Female Lead’s Older Brother
• Master Villainess the Invincible
• The Villainess is a Marionette
The Villainess is a Marionette webtoon by Tapas Comics has garnered a dedicated fanbase, potent enough to cast Cha Eun-Woo, Han So-Hee, and Lee Soo-Hyuk in its promotional videos for a widely anticipated season 2 and live-action!
The reader is transported back to their original world
In some game-manga, the MC is happy to spend their time in a different world, as they never had a happy life on earth to begin with. Other MCs are more realistic and yearn for their old lives, and in such cases, the MC is reunited with their romantic interest once again on earth.
• Kill the Villainess
• Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion
The reader is re-incarnated to settle scores and redeem losses
Regretful of the turn of events, the villainess reflects on her evils and misdeeds, right on the scaffold, as her head rolls on. She is sent back to the past by an omnipresent force akin to a god, to the decisive moment where she went wrong. There, she is re-incarnated once, twice, or innumerable times until she is finally able to break the cursed cycle and have her happy ending!
• The Villainess Turns the Hourglass
Reader Interaction, Association, Communication and the Future of Isekai
Fan-based forums like Novel Updates and Crunchyroll Threads are reflective of the sub-genre being increasingly popular. The extent to which these readers engage with each other heavily emphasizes the individual urge to transmigrate and get isekai-ed themselves, which might derive from the fact that most humans, at one point or another, have had such desires to go back in time to rectify our mistakes.
Isekai, although a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, seems to have its roots in science fiction (HG Well’s Time Machine anyone?). A too-good-to-be-true-trope, isekai has gained quite the fanbase across readers and non-readers alike, owing to its crafty, ingenious, and innovative story-line(s) - see Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp (a medical isekai), for example. The rate at which the trope is expanding , with new manhwas and light-novels being published all the time, isekai is here to stay and grow by leaps and bounds.
From a reader’s perspective, isekai is a timeline-specific sub-genre, warped unlike any other form. Readers of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84, would certainly enjoy isekai!
About the Writer:
Ananya Roy is perpetually an anxiety-induced, silently-loud writer of contemporary, pop, and grey-cell stirring intellectually riveting topics. A student of literature, independent scholar, and virtual detective, the majority of her time is occupied by summoning the dead, spooky, and gory out of books and sites, that are further anatomically analysed to suit her lust for the uncanny and terrifying! Give her some dough and she will make you a thing, since there’s always some Halloween waiting to be decoded and decrypted 'round the corner!