12 Early Isekai Anime Before Sword Art Online (1990-2009)

1900-2009 anime have a great charm because they feature iconic series that established the foundation for the anime world we know today.

To make some examples we can say that the popularity of isekai anime with fantasy settings can be traced back to shows like Magical Knight Rayearth.

Additionally, .hack//Sign can be credited for introducing isekai shows centered around videogame worlds.

So let’s go back in time and discover the best early isekai anime from 1900 to 2009 that molded the genre into what it is today.

This genre deserves more attention because many fans associate it with Sword Art Online but its origins are much older.

12. El Hazard: The Magnificent World

El Hazard: The Magnificent World is a 7 episode OAV series released in 1995.

The protagonist is Makoto, a model student that decides to follow his morals and reveals that the newly elected student council president rigged the election.

But in the process, he is transported to mysterious ruins under the school where he meets a mysterious girl who has been waiting for him for 10,000 years and takes him to the fantasy world of El Hazard.

Together with the PE teacher, Makoto finds himself in a mysterious forest with special powers. What will happen next?

This short series has a pronounced vintage feel and the world of El Hazard is stunning and different from the typical isekai fantasy worlds. And for that, we absolutely recommend it.

11. MaR – Märchen Awakens Romance

MaR: Märchen Awakens Romance is a good isekai anime from the early 2000s. With 102 episodes, this series offers an entertaining experience.

Ginza, the main character, is a weak and nerdy kid who is often dismissed by his peers.

He has a secret passion for video games and fantasy stories, and every night he dreams of adventures in the world of MAR. Only his crush Koyuki believes him, but when he is suddenly summoned to this world as the chosen hero, everything changes.

MaR is a fun isekai with a vintage feel that is typical of early 2000s anime. The characters are enjoyable, and the story is simple but entertaining.

The only downside is that the anime deviates from the manga halfway through the series, becoming its own separate story. So, you can choose to experience this work through anime, manga, or both.

10. Maou From Now On!

Maou From Now On! is an underrated isekai anime series released in 2004 that’s worth a watch. With 78 episodes, it’s well above average in length but still entertaining.

The main character, Yuri Shibuya, tries to defend one of his classmates from bullies but ends up becoming a target himself.

During a bullying incident where his head is put in a toilet, he’s transported to an unknown world through a strange energy.

After meeting knight Conrad Weller, he’s told that he has been summoned as the new king of the Mazoku, a race of demons.

Maou From Now On! has a cool vintage feel, well-developed characters, and a quite different storyline. It’s a hidden gem worth discovering, and one of the best isekai anime with a royal MC that you can find.

9. Summer Wars

Summer Wars

Summer Wars is a movie directed by Mamoru Hosoda, released in 2009. Like all his works, this is another animation gem you should give a chance.

The film revolves around Kenji Koiso, a math genius with social problems who spends a lot of time in a virtual world called Oz.

At the start of the summer, the most popular girl in school Natsuki hires Kenji to pretend to be her fiancé in front of her grandmother.

However, a mistake made by Kenji leads to the release of a powerful computer virus called the Love Machine, which attacks Oz and causes disasters worldwide. It’s up to Kenji to stop the threat and restore peace in the network.

This movie focuses on a relatable countryside setting and explores the risks of unchecked technological and videogame advancements, an always interesting topic. Give it a chance both if you’re a fan of Hosoda’s works or if you still have to know him.

8. Fushigi Yuugi

Fushigi Yuugi

Fushigi Yuugi is a 1995 anime of 52 episodes and an underrated isekai gem set in a historical setting

Miaka Yuuki and her friend Yui Hongo stumble upon a mysterious book at the national library which transports them to a fantasy world set in ancient China.

Upon their arrival, they encounter the emperor, Hotohori, who believes Miaka is the foretold priestess of the kingdom’s protector god, Suzaku.

She is tasked with finding the seven Celestial Warriors to summon Suzaku and have all her wishes granted.

Although the series is now dated, having been released in 1995, it can still offer much appeal to vintage anime fans.

Fushigi Yuugi features a heavy romance element, with reverse harem mechanics and a fantastic ancient China setting that you shouldn’t sleep on.

8. Aura Battler Dunbine

Aura Battler Dunbine is an isekai anime that was released in 1983 in 49 episodes, and is undoubtedly one of the fathers of the isekai subgenre with strong political and war themes.

The story follows Sho Zama, a Japanese boy who, after a motocross accident, finds himself in the fantasy world of Bystol Well, populated by dragons, knights, and powerful robots.

Due to being endowed with an intense aura, Sho is soon enlisted by the ambitious Drake Luft, a powerful lord aiming to expand his territories, as the pilot of an Aura Battler, an insectoid mecha.

However, an encounter with the rebel army causes Sho to discover Drake Luft’s true plans, leading him to switch allegiances and kick off an epic battle of ideologies.

Aura Battler Dunbine is a small masterpiece of the isekai genre and an anime not to be missed if you are a fan of political and mecha stories.

Although it is the oldest anime on this list and the animations are definitely dated, you have to trust us and go beyond this detail because it’s absolutely worth it.

It’s also one of the few isekai anime without ecchi or harem, if you’re looking for them.

7. Juuni Kokuki – 12 Kingdoms

12 Kingdoms

12 Kingdoms, is an isekai anime released in 2002 with 45 episodes, based on the light novel of the same name.

The main character, Yoko Nakajima, is a high school student who is bored with her life.

Her life changes when a mysterious man named Keiki enters her classroom, claiming to be her servant and guardian as she is the future queen of his kingdom.

The two are forced to flee from dangerous monsters, and Yoko begins a new life in a world unlike her own.

Despite not being a commercial success at the time, 12 Kingdoms boasts a well-made character design, a well-developed plot, and a cool vintage animation style that is characteristic of the 2000s. It’s definitely worth giving a chance.

6. Kiba

Kiba is a criminally underrated isekai anime that was released in 2006 and divided into 51 episodes.

Zed, a 15-year-old boy who is unsatisfied with his life, finds himself transported to a mysterious world after entering a space-time rift brought to him by a mysterious wind.

In this world, Sherd-Casters fight each other using magic drawn from crystals. Zed soon becomes one of these magical warriors and finds the excitement that was missing from his life.

Kiba offers a unique and innovative take on the isekai genre, with an interesting power system and beautiful character design.

It is a solid recommendation for fans of the genre or for those who are looking for something different.

5. Digimon Adventure (1999)


Digimon is a beloved franchise that has been a long-standing rival to Pokémon.

The story follows a group of children who are transported to a new world called Digiworld, inhabited by strange creatures called Digimon.

The children are tasked with finding their way back home with the help of their Digimon partners, led by Taichi Yagami and Agumon.

Digimon has a large collection of series, sequels, reboots, and remakes, making it a franchise that can appeal to fans of both vintage and modern styles.

And to stick with the classic vintage experience, we recommend the original series released in 1999 with 54 episodes.

4. Now and Then Here and There

Now and Then Here and There is a hidden gem in the isekai genre released in 1999. With just 13 episodes, it packs a punch with its unique story and vintage feel.

Shu, a young boy, finds himself transported to an alternate world after trying to rescue a kidnapped girl.

In this strange world, he is recruited as a soldier by a mysterious organization and embarks on a journey to find the missing girl and uncover the secrets of this new world.

The vintage animation style, an engaging and unique storyline for the genre, and memorable characters make this a must-watch for fans of the genre who appreciate classic anime.

3. Magic Knight Rayearth

Magic Knight Rayearth

Magic Knight Rayearth, released in 1994, is an anime that follows the journey of three girls, Hikaru, Umi, and Fu, who are transported to the fantasy world of Cefiro during a school trip to Tokyo Tower.

The world is in peril and they are tasked with saving it as Magic Knights, using their newfound magical powers.

The girls form a magical guild and fight against the evil High Priest Zagato to rescue Princess Emeraude, the key to victory.

We know, Magic Knight Rayearth is a bit old at this point, and that’s exactly why it became one of the most underrated isekai anime right now.

But although the anime is a bit dated, its writing is solid and the characters are well developed, making it a 100% worthy watch even today.

2. The Vision of Escaflowne

The Vision of Escaflowne

The creator of the popular Macross series presents The Vision of Escaflowne, an ambitious project that received a significant investment from Bandai, with 30 million yen allocated per episode for production.

The main character, Hitomi Kanzaki, is a typical high school girl with two passions: running and tarot cards. One day, through her tarot readings, she has a vision of being transported to an unknown world.

Initially dismissing it as a dream, she realizes it’s real when a dragon and a swordsman named Van Fanel appear before her during a training session.

Van saves Hitomi by defeating the dragon, and they are mysteriously transported to the war-torn planet Gaia, where a battle against the Zaibach empire is raging.

This isekai anime is highly underrated today, and blends war themes with mecha elements, making it a significant milestone in the isekai genre dating back to 1996.

1. .hack//Sign


.hack//Sign is a fantastic anime that belongs to the .hack multimedia project, and we consider it as the best early Isekai anime, mainly for its impact on the genre.

The main character, Tsukasa, is a mage-class player who finds himself unable to log out of the game due to unknown causes.

This raises questions about the true reality of the game and if it’s just a virtual world or something more.

.hack//Sign was a groundbreaking anime in its time and can be considered as one of the fathers of the MMORPG Isekai subgenre, inspiring other popular anime such as Log Horizon or Sword Art Online.

Despite its dated animation, the story and concept are timeless and a must-see for fans of the genre. Don’t miss out on this gem of a show that made history, or if you’re looking for a great isekai anime with experience levels too.

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Passionate about Japanese culture for years, serial devourer of manga, anime, and videogames that have now become part of my routine. My favorite series? Goodnight Punpun and One Piece.

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