Fantasy anime are a great escape from the realistic world. Whether you like reading ‘happily ever after’ fairy tales or a darker take on magic, it doesn’t matter. They are still a welcome respite from the mundane real world we live in. But sometimes, even amidst all the magic and supernatural elements, some stories end up striking a chord with us.
There have been times when I’m watching a fantasy anime and I get lost in the rich world it creates. And then suddenly, there is an interaction or moment that ends up feeling so raw, and real, breaking the immersion your immersion. Because magic or no magic, emotions are universal.
While, yes, realistic fantasy anime sounds like an oxymoron, I like it when my expectations are subverted. The thought that even paladins and fierce warriors can have moments of vulnerability? That is an extremely intriguing concept to me. Here are my top picks for fantastical anime that end up being extremely relatable!
1. Violet Evergarden
I normally don’t rank these lists. But I will say Violet Evergarden is the first one I’m starting with for a reason.
Our protagonist is Violet Evergarden, who is a young girl raised as a child soldier, with no goal beyond following orders and risking her life. But then the war ends, and she is left with nothing but the last words of her mentor and guardian, Major Gilbert Bougainvillea. Words she can’t even begin to understand.
Violet is led by Gilbert’s friend, Claude Hodgins, to start a new life at his workplace, CH Postal Services. There, she sees the work of an “Auto Memory Doll“; transcribers that are hired by people to write down the client’s emotions on paper for letters. Strangely transfixed by this idea, Violet starts working as one herself. And this kickstarts her journey of self-discovery, learning what it means to have lived, loved, and lost.
This anime is one of my favorite anime of all time, period. Not only is gorgeous in its aesthetic, but the emotions it makes you go through are so heartfelt. Every moment of this anime is special, and that fantastical beauty just adds to it.
2. The Rising of the Shield Hero
A ‘realistic fantasy’ Isekai? I know, I know. But hear me out here! The Rising Of The Shield Hero takes the idea of an OP protagonist and turns it over its head. I can appreciate that!
We follow Naofumi Iwatani, a laidback average dude, as he gets transported to a parallel world, alongside three girls. Together the group goes on to become Cardinal Heroes, protecting the world against inter-dimensional monsters called Waves. Naofumi gains the Legendary Shield, the sole defense-heavy item. And then a misfortune befalls him, when his companion, the princess, betrays him and falsely accuses him of sexually assaulting her.
Naofumi is left humiliated and shunned by society. That is until he comes across Raphtalia, a demi-human girl, and Filo, a bird-like creature. He frees them from slavery, and both grow into powerful warriors under his care. Together, they start helping various people in need, including spirits like Ost Horoi, the human manifestation of a God. But they must unravel the mystery behind the Wave hordes before it’s too late.
The male lead isn’t automatically perfect, nor he is instantly beloved by all. If you like underdog stories of rising from rock bottom, this one is for you!
3. That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime
Man, I remember when I first saw the title of this anime and thought ‘how does that even work?’. Turns out, That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime is about as straightforward as you can get when it comes to having a realistic fantasy world.
Satoru Mikami is just another salaryman from Tokyo, content in his mundane life. And then one day, he gets attacked by an assailant and stabbed. While he’s bleeding out, he hears a mysterious voice that guides him to recite words he doesn’t understand. And then, he’s alive again, in a strange world. Oh also, he’s a Slime?
But this existence comes with a strange power called “Predator,” allowing him to devour and mimic what he’s consumed. And then, he comes across Veldora, a powerful ‘Storm Dragon’, who has been imprisoned for 300 years for eviscerating a village. Of course, Slime Satoru feels bad for him, and immediately the two become friends. Veldora gives him the name Rimuru Tempest to grant him divine protection. In turn, Rimuru proceeds to consume Veldora, vowing to free him one day. And now Rimuru is free from his boring past, ready to alter his fate!
The fact that there is no suspension of belief here, is the appeal. The main character wished to be powerful, and now he is. But also, he’s a literal blob of Slime. It’s such a dumb premise, but a hilarious watch.
Some series don’t need any introduction whatsoever. Berserk is a cult classic that echoes everything we love about the genre and how it tackles very real issues too.
Guts has not known peace, not for a long time now. He thinks he might’ve found a place with the Band of Hawk and Griffith, its leader, but even that turns to ashes in his palms. Everything falls apart when the very person he trusted, takes away everything important to Guts, just to further his own agenda. Guts is marked by death, thrown to a fate where demonic beings pursue him and the last of what remains of his broken world. Formerly known as the ‘Black Swordsman’, he is now a mercenary out for revenge. Nothing, not even death, can stray him from the path of destroying the man that stripped him and his loved one of their sanities.
Berserk is not for the faint of heart. It is gritty, terrifying, and heartbreaking. But all of that is exactly what makes it so vulnerable, a story of suffering and rising above. This is one realistic fantasy story you cannot miss.
5. The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II
Waver Velvet, the bumbling master of the Rider class, was my favorite during the Holy Grail War. So, when The Case Files Of Lord El-Melloi II was announced, I was excited!
Waver Velvet is now Lord El Melloi II. A decade after the Holy Grail War, he now teaches mage craft at the Clocktower. However, the “Lord” status comes with a compromise. He must obey the orders of Reines, Kayneth El Melloi’s younger sister until she comes of age to take over the House of El Melloi.
Waver must tackle cases assigned by Reines and the Mages Association. But the real mystery lies with the Clocktower itself, and the secrets that Reines hides.
Fate/ series tend to be pretty hit or miss for me, but I adored Waver and Iskander’s relationship during Fate/Zero. This detective noir take is interesting for the mystery buff and the realistic fantasy lore adds to the feel.
Speaking of Fate/Zero, man. This anime was the peak of the Fate/ franchise, and I will not hear any critique regarding it.
In this prequel to Fate/Stay Night, the fourth Holy Grail War has begun. After three bloody wars with no victors, the wealthy Einzbern family is desperate to win. So, they contract Kiritsugu Emiya aka the Magus Killer, through marriage with their only daughter, Irisviel.
Kiritsugu must battle against six other participants for the Holy Grail, armed with his ancient familiar, Saber. But his greatest opponent proves to be Kirei Kotomine, a priest who seeks to rid his emptiness through spilled blood.
An epic tale of blood spilled, legends rising and love lost, Fate/Zero is nothing less than amazing. A must-watch!
7. Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions
Do you like good character development? And great world-building? Then this could be the show for you!
When a group of strangers is dumped into the strange, game-like world of Grimgar, they have no choice but to accept the only job that will allow them to survive. Becoming soldiers in the Reserve army, they must stand their ground and protect the new realm from anything that threatens its peace. Together, our rogue band of fighters, led by Manato, a charismatic priest, must learn to survive in a world where life and death are separated only by a fine line. While it resembles a game, the stakes are much higher – there are no respawns here. It’s kill or be killed.
This is a thrilling story of strangers meeting and their fellowship leading to something greater. Highly recommended.
8. Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
God, Re:Zero seeped into the collective Isekai conscious and just never left.
The story follows Subaru Natsuki, a shut-in who gets teleported to a fantastical world and befriends Emilia, a half-elf and he is killed shortly after trying to save her. But for some reason, he wakes up a few hours before his supposed ‘death’. After a few more deaths, he realizes that first, Emilia is set to become the new ruler of Lugunica. And secondly, he has the power to reset time upon his killing. Enamored by Emilia, Subaru uses his ability to aid her in becoming the new queen, all while helping others he befriended on the way. But he does that at the cost of his own pain and suffering through death, repeatedly. He carries the memories of all he experienced, but only he remembers, while the rest forget.
This is such an intriguing take on the realistic fantasy Isekai genre. Being stuck in a time loop where only you remember the excruciating pain and hurt, you can’t help but root for Subaru.
9. How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom
The title always makes me laugh. I love when Isekai pokes fun at themselves!
Our protagonist is Kazuya Souma, a civil servant who has no family in the world left after his grandfather dies. Suddenly, he finds himself in the strange Elfrieden Kingdom, a frail country in a parallel world, that chooses Kazuya as their ‘hero’. Kazuya was summoned as a sacrifice in a war against the demon army, which threatens to put the world in disarray.
And Kazuya just nopes out. Instead of forging through with a war, he decides to aid the failing kingdom by reforming their economy through…administrative changes? And it works!
It’s an Isekai, but with political discourse and bureaucracy. It’s wild and genuinely worth a try!
I haven’t really looked into period piece anime but Mushi-shi is a promising one for first-timers!
Mushi are primitive supernatural beings that reside in a closed-off Japan, set somewhere between the Edo and Meiji periods. Due to their otherworldly nature, most humans can’t see Mushi but there are a few who can perceive the strange creatures, such as our protagonist, Ginko. Ginko calls himself a Mushi Master and travels the lands researching them, in hopes to help people who might be troubled by their existence.
This anime is unique thanks to its almost comforting style. The Mushi are rich in variety, with something new to experience each episode. A lovely watch if that’s your thing!
So, which one of these amazing realistic fantasy anime are you going to try? Let us know below!