10 Great Modern Fantasy Anime (That Aren’t Isekai)

To say isekai has dominated the fantasy genre for anime is an understatement. Almost every new release nowadays for fantasy fans involves some form of reincarnation into another world. While there’s a novelty in the concept of going into another world, it often boils down to a gimmick that inevitably makes the protagonist overpowered.

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To contrast, there are numerous traditional fantasy anime that make for a refreshing return to form for the genre. This isn’t to say that all isekai anime is bad — however, the reincarnation concept occasionally hampers the story more than it helps. On the contrary, a few fantasy series get to focus on the meatier aspects of their world and characters without distraction.

Updated on June 5, 2023 by Ajay Aravind: Although shonen is often employed as the face of anime, it’s hardly the only genre out there. In fact, there are countless isekai series with just as many fans and fandoms, many of which have also earned critical acclaim. That said, the terms “isekai” and “fantasy” aren’t always interchangeable. As such, we’ve revamped this list of modern fantasy anime that don’t fall into the isekai category.



10 Ranking Of Kings

Ranking of Kings centers around Bojji, the firstborn son of a powerful king in a world where rulers are expected to be fierce warriors. However, Bojji faces the unfortunate reality of being physically weak, which leads everyone to favor his half-brother Daida as the rightful heir. With his best friend Kage, Boiji aims to prove himself to the kingdom and become its ruler.

Ranking of Kings is deeply heartfelt and genuine. Despite the cute and childlike art style, there’s a distinct maturity in how Boiji tackles complex emotions. Add to that some genuinely awesome action scenes and Ranking of Kings is as good as any of the best isekai anime.

9 Made In Abyss

This dark fantasy follows the story of an orphan girl living in a city built around a massive, enigmatic pit known as the Abyss. One day, Riko discovers a humanoid robot boy named Reg, who has descended from the surface to the depths of the Abyss. Together, Riko and Reg embark on a perilous journey to explore the Abyss and find Riko’s mother.

Made In Abyss is a show that may look frivolous on the surface, but the story hides a lot of darkness. The Abyss itself is almost Lovecraftian: impossibly deep, and full of exotic creatures. Even more terrifyingly, many who go into the Abyss “feel its call” and never come back. It’s a gripping tale of mystery and thrilling adventure, albeit a traumatic one.

8 Land Of The Lustrous

This beautifully-crafted fantasy takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have been replaced by “gems.” These gemstones are sentient beings who can take on human form, have distinct personalities, and possess unique abilities. The story revolves around Phosphophyllite, otherwise known as Phos, a fragile gem who aspires to become a warrior.

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Land of the Lustrous is a beautifully animated show that manages to combine elegant character designs with hype-inducing action scenes. CG anime often gets a bad rap, but Land of the Lustrous proves that with the right people and budget, CG anime can stand toe to toe with the best-animated shows out there.

7 Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?

Taking place in the fictional city of Orario, Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon? chronicles the journey of Bell Cranel, a young and inexperienced adventurer who dreams of becoming a hero. After catching the attention of the powerful goddess Hestia, Bell becomes her champion and sets out to make his mark on this fantastical world of monsters and gods.

Despite having all the fanservice trappings of the best isekai, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is shockingly not an isekai. If anything, it’s proof that a popcorn crowd-pleaser doesn’t have to rely on the reincarnation gimmick. The cast is hilarious, the lore is complex, and the action-packed adventure is quite the ride.

6 The Case Study Of Vanitas

In this alternate version of 19th-century Paris, vampires and humans coexist in a delicate balance. The story follows Vanitas, a young vampire who possesses a mysterious grimoire that is said to hold the key to curing all vampires of their curse. Together with Noé Archiviste, a human with a strange power, Vanitas travels through Paris on a quest to solve the grimoire’s mysteries.

If ever there was an anime that showcased Japan’s love for the romantic aspects of France, The Case Study of Vanitas would be at the top of that list. With its beautiful and compelling characters, this show manages to take the classic vampire story and combine it with a genuine passion for French art and literature, making it a must-see for francophiles.

5 Little Witch Academia

Well before Hogwarts Legacy fulfilled the dream, Little Witch Academia was filling the void for magical school fans. The story follows Akko Kagari, an ordinary girl who enrolls in the academy with the dream of becoming a great witch like her idol Shiny Chariot. Despite her lack of magical ability, Akko goes on a series of misadventures that lead her to uncover deeper truths about magic.

Animated by Studio TRIGGER, there’s no shortage of hyperactive action and comedy in Little Witch Academia. There’s a distinctly Western feeling to the animation style, and the characters being so likable and goofy make this show a fun watch. Add to that the classic flair of intense action scenes from TRIGGER, and Little Witch Academia becomes a magical experience.

4 A Certain Magical Index

A Certain Magical Index offers something a bit edgier than wholesome magical schools. The story revolves around Touma Kamijou, a high school student with the unique ability to cancel out any supernatural power. Touma’s life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a young girl named Index, who possesses a vast library of magical knowledge within her mind.

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The best part about A Certain Magical Index is its hilariously complicated yet somehow intriguing magic system. Further, the anime does a respectable job of capturing the basics of its highly elaborate worldbuilding. Although friendship is at the story’s core, A Certain Magical Index shines brightest during the action scenes.

3 Shadows House

On the spookier side of anime fantasy, Shadows House chronicles the life of Emilico, a Living Doll who serves as the shadow of a young girl named Kate. As dolls, they maintain very specific purposes within the titular Shadows House. However, Emilico eventually discovers there’s more to this place than she was taught. Now, she must learn more about the secrets of the mansion and navigate the dangerous waters of social hierarchy.

With its blend of equal parts horror and mystery, Shadows House is a gripping thriller that doesn’t let go. The tension in the story is maintained by stellar character writing and intricately detailed animation. Plus, the story explores themes of personal identity and the class system, highlighting how little control humans have over their lives.

2 Humanity Has Declined

In this post-apocalyptic comedy, the human population has drastically declined. In their place, fantasy creatures have returned to claim their stake in the world. In the middle of this fragile ecosystem is a girl simply known as “The Mediator.” She must quickly learn the ins and outs of living as a human in a society where they are no longer top dogs.

The satire here is biting, and quick to make fun of the many flaws humanity has as a collective. Oftentimes, this satire comes in the most absurd and surreal ways, from simple cultural changes to living bread that literally bleeds. There’s no shortage of dark humor either, and it contrasts very well with the cutesy art style in Humanity Has Declined.

1 Maoyu

Flipping the script for heroic fantasy, Maoyu originally followed the journey of a young warrior known only as the “Hero,” as he sets out to defeat the Demon King and bring peace to the land. However, when the Hero finally confronts the Demon King, she turns out to be a thoughtful and strategic woman who’s been working to end the war, shattering the Hero’s preconceptions.

The story subverts the traditional “good vs evil” trope and adds tons of nuance through its two main characters. Raised in different cultures, it’s fascinating to watch the Hero and the Demon King interact and try to solve complex societal problems. Add to that the undertones of an unexpected romance, and it’s a perfect storm of classic fantasy with modern morality.

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