Today's isekai anime often star characters starting a brand new life in an alternate world. Whether they are summoned, reincarnated or just randomly transported, many of these heroes abandon their previous mundane existences for a new setting full of adventure. Still, a more traditional approach t0 isekai focuses on the protagonist's quest to find their way home.
In addition to heroes who eventually claimed the reward of a return, a number of anime include characters who frequently, or even freely, travel between dimensions. Instead of promoting delusions of escapism, these series show the importance of valuing one's own reality. The following isekai series each feature main characters who actually make it back from their alternate worlds.
Inuyasha - From Home to Feudal Japan and Back Again
A shounen series with some major shoujo romance vibes, Inuyasha is a well-beloved anime with something for everybody. After Kagome Higurashi falls down a well, she surfaces to find herself in a feudal era Japan plagued by spirits and demons. Discovering she is the reincarnation of a holy priestess, Kagome joins the half-demon Inuyasha in reassembling the powerful Shikon Jewel to keep it out of the hands of evildoers.
Though Kagome is technically transported back in time, rather than to an alternate universe, Inuyasha is often considered an isekai because of the stark divide between the two settings and the nature of Kagome's movement between them. A unique aspect of her journey is that she is actually able to use the well to go back and forth between times at will, which she frequently does to study for school of all things. The sequel series Yashahime sees Kagome and Inuyasha's daughter Moroha similarly bounce back and forth using a sacred tree.
Kyou Kara Maou! - A Less Hygienic Method of Travel
Some methods of isekai travel are less than ideal, but few are as humiliating as the means found in Kyou Kara Maou. Yuri Shibuya finds himself sucked into a world of swords and sorcery through a toilet after being subjected to a swirly by bullies from his school. Upon arrival, he is declared the Demon King, unlocks his latent abilities and accidentally winds up engaged to Lord Wolfram von Bielefeld -- the son of the previous Demon Queen -- making this a rare instance of a BL isekai.
Even though Yuri is initially unsure how to return from the Demon Kingdom, he soon realizes that he switches worlds when immersed in water. Following this discovery, he continues to alternate between his mundane and adventurous lives to suit his needs. On later occasions, some of his subordinates from the Demon Kingdom even accompany him back to the human world.
The Vision of Escaflowne - Transported to a Nation Engulfed By War
One of the earliest entries in isekai anime, The Vision of Escaflowne is a retro look at the genre's starting point. The story traces the journey of Hitomi Kanzaki, who is carried off to the parallel world of Gaea. Born from the final hopes of the citizens of the ancient civilization Atlantis, Gaea is embroiled in a fierce war, led by the technologically advanced Zaibach Empire.
Hitomi returns to Earth midway through the series, shortly before the culmination of the battle's last days. She is able to return to Gaea to assist in the conflict's final stretch, but is sent back to her original world once the war reaches its end. Escaflowne has a bittersweet ending -- while it is clear Hitomi belongs home on Earth, returning also means being separated from her love interest Van Fanel, a native citizen of Gaea.
Monster Rancher - A Classic Isekai Inspired By The Video Games
When anime fans think of monster training isekai anime, Digimon Adventure is usually the first series that comes to mind. However, a select population of anime fans will recall Monster Rancher, another show that aired around the same time as the original Digimon. Based on the video game franchise of the same name, Monster Rancher follows Genki Sakura, who is pulled into the world of his favorite game after coming in first place at a tournament.
During the events of Season 1, Genki must help this world's denizens find the Mystery Disc containing the legendary Phoenix in order to save it from the evil Moo. Once this mission is over, Genki finds himself forced back into his home world in modern day Japan. Still, his desire to raise monsters and fight alongside his friends leads him to find a way back, and by the series' end, Genki is able to move freely between the realms with his monster partner Mochi in tow.
Isekai Izakaya - Serving Delectable Dishes in Another World
It is common practice for isekai protagonists to find themselves embarking on some grand quest in their new world. Isekai Izakaya thwarts this formula by bringing a feel-good slice-of-life entry to the genre. When the staff of Izakaya Nobu open their doors for business, Shinobu Senke and Nobuyuki "Taishou" Yazawa are shocked to find that their entryway connects to a realm of high fantasy known as Aitheria. Deciding to make due with it, the pair begin to serve traditional Japanese izakaya food to the citizens of this other world.
Despite becoming very popular with the people of Aitheria, many of the ingredients used in Taishou's cooking can only be found back in their original world. Luckily, the staff entrance in the back of Izakaya Nobu still connects to modern day Kyoto, where one of the pair often vanish to run errands. It can also be assumed that both Taishou and Shinobu still live on Earth, as they do not appear to stay in the shop overnight.
Spirited Away - The Thrilling Studio Ghibli Classic
Perhaps the best-known anime film of all time, Spirited Away is a Studio Ghibli classic that provides a thrilling otherworldly adventure. During their move to a new town, Chihiro and her family get distracted by a mysterious establishment. When night sets in, she finds her parents transformed into pigs and herself trapped in a world of spirits and specters. Forced to give up her name and work in a bathhouse for the supernatural, Chihiro searches for a way to free her parents from their curse and find a path home.
Spirited Away builds a universe that portrays the other realm as a mix of fantastical and horrifying elements. With the dictator-manager Yubaba, the eldritch apparition No-Face and the mystifying dragon boy Haku, Hayao Miyazaki's opus plays out like a Japanese take on Wonderland. The film does end with Chihiro finding her way back to the human realm, but the imagery and vibrant characters that surround her during her time in the spiritual realm are certain to follow anyone who watches this masterpiece for years to come.
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