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Buddhist Study

Portal Fantasy and Isekai Anime

Illustration by liuzishan / Adobe Stock.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first novel in The Chronicles of Narnia series, four siblings are evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. They break out of their gloomy lives when they walk through their wardrobe closet and enter the fantastical land of Narnia. There, they help the talking lion king Aslan defeat the evil White Witch and are crowned kings and queens of Narnia before returning to their life in the countryside. 

This notable portal fantasy novel, written by C.S. Lewis in 1950, offered an escape for audiences burdened by the difficulties of the postwar years. In portal fantasies, heroes enter fantastical worlds where they ensure that justice and peace prevail. They access these realms via portals, like a closet, a train platform or a painting in The Chronicles of Narnia series. 

Trending now among youth in the U.S. is a portal fantasy subgenre called isekai in Japanese (meaning “alternate world”).[2] In isekai stories, protagonists are transported to other worlds and undergo radical transformations, often gaining extraordinary powers. 

For instance, in Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online series, a student escapes competitive academic life by slipping into the world of virtual reality sword fighting through a gaming system. Using his study skills, he learns swordplay and joins the ranks of top fighters who defeat wicked generals. 

The rising popularity of isekai anime may be due to young people’s growing dissatisfaction with life. According to Gallop’s 2024 World Happiness Report, self-reported wellness and overall happiness among young people have decreased in the U.S. 

The report states that in North America, Australia and New Zealand, “happiness has decreased in all age groups, but especially for the young, so much so that the young are now, in 2021–2023, the least happy age group.”[3] One analyst suggests that climate change, social inequality and political divisiveness weigh heavy on young people.[4] 

Moreover, “the emerging epidemic of loneliness” may also be impacting younger generations disproportionately.[5]

These findings may suggest that young people desire the power to change their lives. 

Ikeda Sensei also wrote stories that share aspects of isekai and portal fantasies. As a teenager, he experienced the horrors of World War II, which forged his determination to dedicate his life to inspiring hope and friendship among the world’s peoples to establish peace.

Among the 23 children’s books he published, his story Rainbow Mountain[6] focuses on three best friends who are transported to a magical mountain where their drawings come to life. They learn that everything they need to overcome challenges is within them and to never give up on striving for their goals. 

The story’s lesson for us all: Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by difficulties, we can tap limitless power from within to transform our circumstances. Sensei affirms that Nichiren Buddhism teaches us “that the inner determination of the individual can transform everything; it gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity in each human being.”[7] 

A powerful antidote to the loneliness and dissatisfaction pervading society today is our efforts to introduce young people to what some might see as an almost fantasy-like realm of Soka that brims with warmth, friendship, hope, equality and respect. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

April 5, 2024, World Tribune, p. 10


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. See <accessed on March 28, 2024>. ↩︎
  3. <accessed on March 27, 2024>. ↩︎
  4. See <accessed on March 27, 2024>. ↩︎
  5. See <accessed March 27, 2024>. ↩︎
  6. See <accessed on March 28, 2024>. ↩︎
  7. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 1, p. 7. ↩︎

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