How to Start an Isekai Story

Isekai, or “second world,” stories are a staple of light novels and webfiction for many reasons. They start with a natural hook that makes readers interested, and then they lend themselves to all kinds of fun, adventures and romance. Not only that, they’re instantly relatable because the main character is usually from our world, and so the audience has an instant bond with them.

And, with so many isekai stories being written, it’s no surprise that patterns started to appear as people kept telling the same types of stories over and over again in different ways. Many of these being written by young people copying the stories they loved and doing their own variations on the theme.

As a result, what could be called a “generic” isekai introduction story eventually came into being that you can find endless versions of. I use the term “female lead” for the love interest because these are most often stories about male protagonists and their ideal female partners, but you can mix and match the genders, sexes and even species of your characters to taste.

See if this sounds familiar?

  1. The hero arrives in a new world and meets the female lead/guide/love interest character.
  2. The hero witnesses the local bad guys raiding an innocent village, usually a village connected to the female lead.
  3. The hero proceeds to use their magical powers to beat the crap out of the scouting force that’s attacking the village and looks all awesome. Then the hero learns all about the bigger setting from the people of the village, usually the village elder.
  4. The villains show back up with real strength and are usually smart enough to capture the female lead (or some other pre-introduced innocent) to use as a hostage so the hero can’t do anything. The hero then gets beaten to death or close to it.
  5. The villains leave, taking the female lead with them. They usually take loot and leave a whole bunch of dead people behind.
  6. The hero recovers and promptly tracks the villains down, slaughtering them without the problem of a hostage being in the way. They are now a big hero and everyone loves them, including the female lead who becomes their adventuring partner going forward.

If you’ve read more than a few isekai stories, you probably recognize this plot. Versions of it can be seen in countless isekai webfictions and webcomic stories. Of course, because it’s been used so many times people have tried to put their own spins on it, and the following are a few of those.

Minor Variations.

  • The hero is also taken away by the main bad guys and has to break out of their cell and work their way up to where they can rescue the female lead.
  • The female lead is also an outsider to the village and actually tells the hero not to waste his time helping them because of her selfish ways. However, he does it anyway and ends up causing her to rethink her own ways and reform to some degree.
  • The female lead turns out to be a traitor who is in League with the main bad guys.
    • She may be inspired by the hero to renounce her evil ways, after seeing how noble and cool he is, and help him in the end.
  • The ones the hero meets first are actually the bad guys, and the ones doing the raiding are actually the good guys. The hero has gotten it backwards because of who they met first.
    • We are tricked by our own preconceptions into believing these are the good guys. For example, in this setting the cute little fairies are a race that worships the vampire lords and spies on their “cattle” for them, acting as information brokers or informants.
  • The hero is utterly defeated by this situation and forced to run away and regroup instead of going to rescue the female lead right away.
    • By the time the hero can come back, the female lead may be long dead, have rescued herself, be working for the bad guys, or be long gone.
  • The hero discovers that the ones he thought are the Innocents are actually just as bad as the bad guys.
  • The hero discovers that neither side is bad, and both sides are just different “good guys” from their own perspectives who have differences that are bringing them into conflict.
  • The MC discovers that neither side is bad, however there is an actual bad side that shows up later on and makes the whole thing even messier. The hero defeats them and convinces the two sides to work together in the future.
  • The hero’s small victory here ends up snowballing into something big as that will affect the story way down to line.
  • The town elder is actually a bad guy, but the female lead didn’t know that. (Or did they?)
  • It’s a whole thing is a setup to test the main character, who the bad guys actually had a hand in summoning and want to see the abilities of.
  • The whole thing is a setup to trick the main character into having the wrong set of beliefs about the setting and go off in a direction that actually benefits the bad guys. They knew the main character would be powerful, and they couldn’t control them, so they set up an elaborate ruse to make sure the main character did what they wanted. Usually, the goal here is to turn the main character into a weapon against their enemies. (Often, the hero is not the first one they have summoned, so they know what to expect and how to set things up. The hero might end up in conflict with earlier summoned heroes who the bad guys lost control of.)
  • The whole thing is a setup to create a hero who the rebels will gather around so they can be more easily rounded up and killed. The bad guys knew that the rebels wouldn’t come out of hiding unless they believed there is some savior to lead them.
  • The real hero of the story is another character the main character meets and inspires through their actions and conduct. Usually, this is someone connected to the female lead or the female lead herself. In the final act, the main character isn’t the one who defeats the villain, but instead it is the character they inspired to overcome their personal limitations and take action.

And, not surprisingly, there are also some writers who have tried to use this formula but put a different take on it.

Major Variations

  • Instead of a female lead, the MC finds a whole community first and takes them under their wing as their guardian. The village is attacked by some outside force and the MC proceeds to wipe them out, deciding that this village needs them and gives them a sense of purpose. They then devote themselves to developing this village/community and using their knowledge and abilities to helping it grow and prosper. Usually, they will eventually have to start defending the village/community/city/territory they build against progressively powerful outside forces who want to destroy it and keep doing so until their community is safe and self-sustaining.
  • The generic plotline plays out in an urban setting instead of a rural one. In this case, the female lead is usually a store/shop/cafĂ©/restaurant (or hotel/clinic/school/etc.) owner whose business is in danger due to outside forces and is being bullied. The MC drives off the bullies, then uses their knowledge/abilities to help the female lead’s business to flourish and become their partner. The bad buys usually make one final push to wipe the love interest’s business out and are defeated utterly at the end of this story by the cool MC. (More baddies show up in later volumes.)

So, as you can see, this plot formula is quite flexible and has a lot of room to play with. Of course, it’s also just the “pilot” story for the main character’s adventures in the new world – a starting point. Where it goes from here will (hopefully) be a much more unique and interesting story that will show off the writer’s imagination and creativity.

Or the main character might just beat people up and collect girls like trophies.

That’s up to you!

Rob