I am an unabashed fan of isekai stories (protagonists being transported to a fantasy world), but I’m too lazy to make a large recommendation post so I am gonna talk about a sub-genre I like a lot. Namely stories where the main character finds themselves in the game world of a game they enjoy but instead of being a protagonist they are the original story’s antagonist.
Note: My silly title says reincarnation but sometimes it is more akin to soul possession. They sometimes die in the real world before ending up in the game one and in some cases they just wake up in the game seemingly without having died.
The plot line of most of these stories is that our protagonist feels that unless they take action to avoid the mistakes and cruelty committed by the game’s antagonist they too will suffer the same bad fate. Most of these game worlds seem to be otome based, so the villain (now our reincarnated protagonist) is often the romantic rival of the game’s original heroine or hero.
There are a few things that make these kinds of stories rather amusing. The first is that in trying to avoid their bad end, the protagonist usually overdoes it to the point that somehow everyone loves them (contrary to the game expectation of hate) and of course the protagonist is so involved in trying to follow the game plot they DO NOT NOTICE THIS. THEY ARE SO ABSORBED IN THE PLOT LINES THEY TOTALLY MISS THE OBVIOUS THE OBVIOUS DEVIATIONS.
Another amusing thing is just seeing how the expected game results end up differing so much from what our protagonists thought they’d be. Nice to see them get dunked.
Also interestingly enough so many of these characters are aristocratic children of ‘dukes’ and on occasion, royalty. That’s how you know it is a collective art movement lol.
Note: When I say heroine/hero in this post I mean the hero/heroine/main character of the video game that forms the setting of the isekai. When I say main character, protagonist or mc-kun I mean the lead of the isekai story who has probably been reincarnated as the villain of that game! Sorry for any confusion.
Note 2: Most of these involve engagements and fiancees. These stories are usually set in aristocratic Europe like worlds so these engagements are usually family arranged affairs. In the original game, the heroine or hero would win over characters by having them fall in love with the heroine/hero and consequently annulling their prior engagement (which is usually to the villain of the story).
You know, it is the standard ‘do I pick the girl I love or the ones my parents engaged me to’ thing. So more often than not the villainess is trying to keep the heroine away from her partner to be. Some of these stories emphasize the villainess not being wrong in trying to protect her relationship, but others like Destruction Flag Otome strongly condone the original villianess‘es actions.
Because I’ve Been Reincarnated as the Piggy Duke, This Time I Will Say I Like You
There’s only one manga chapter out for the Piggy Duke so I scanned ahead and read a small amount of the web novel. I didn’t really get too much of a handle on the story progression though. Basically, our main character finds himself in the body of a game’s villain except even in the game most of his villainous actions were a front to hide his affection for a girl who’s eventually stolen away by the hero of the game. After losing his attendant, the villain (the so called piggy duke) falls into extreme ruin.
So, finding himself in this new villainous body our main character goes on a strict diet, improves his magic and basically swears he’ll confess his love for the girl he likes before she is won over by the game’s hero. From what little I read this is mostly about becoming better at magic, making friends and so on. Not bad and I am hoping the manga improves on it.
Caveats: There’s a fair bit of mockery of fat folk (through self-hatred especially) and well standard het romance ideals of winning over someone etc.
Expecting to Fall into Ruin, I Aim to Become a Blacksmith
I really like the few chapters of the Blacksmith manga that I’ve read.
Unlike other stories here, the protagonist doesn’t find himself reincarnated as a villain, but rather as a super minor character who for reasons unknown ends up marrying the villain at the end of the game when both of them fall into poverty. Trying to account for this our mc-kun picks up blacksmithing as a money making trade and well basically just goes to school, learns magic, has the former villain fall for him and stuff. It is nice.
I especially like the small hints of romance between the protagonist and well former villain girl and I also really like how the former game’s main heroine is a sweet good, pretty likable girl. A lot of these stories turn the heroine into a man stealing villain, but that’s not the case here. I only hope she doesn’t fall in love with mc-kun. Please.
Caveats: I can’t be 100% sure but I may have run into a casual transphobic joke but beyond that there aren’t really many bad things in this series at least in what I read of the manga.
I Appear to have been Reincarnated as a Love Interest in an Otome Game
This is a bit of an odd inclusion to this list because the main character is reincarnated not as the villain, but as one of the main characters who is originally engaged to the villainess. In the game, the heroine wins him over and his former fiancee is dumped. He (our main character) happens to really like the villainess and despises the heroine, so this story is about him dodging the villainess ruthless attempts at seducing him and being lovey-dovey with his fiancee. The romance is really rather sweet. Pretty much all the comments on the fan tl pages are to the tune of ‘I got diabetes’. Oh and the butlers are amazing. They are the best characters in here tbh.
Caveats: The heroine is called ‘bitch’ because of her man stealing ways. There’s something amusing about turning the otome game perspective on its head and asking ‘but is the heroine actually good?’ but still the tone here feels rather sexist. That and other stuff like conquering girls or protecting them from ‘bitch’ etc rubs me in a bit of a wrong way. I am hoping a manga adaptation (if it ever happens) smooths over some of that because I do find some of the romantic interactions rather cute (though folk have rightly noted that the mc is a tad creepy too).
Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter
Unlike most of the other stories here, Duke’s Daughter starts as the game is ending, right as the villain is about to fall, namely our protagonist can’t really act in a ‘better way’ to prevent her fate. All she can do and does is reduce her punishment for bullying the heroine. As part of her punishment (not really it is a fake punishment), she is banished to her family’s fiefdom and placed in charge of the area and thus begins her governmental reforms and stuff.
Basically this turns into what I’d call a governor’s isekai with our protagonist passing bills and stuff to improve the quality of her land. In the latest manga chapters the original otome story does become relevant once more when our main character runs into the heroine and her prince fiance.
There’s a bit of romance drama too with the protagonist, having been betrayed by the 2nd prince, finding herself falling for this mysterious man who provides her a great deal of help (I WONDER WHO COULD IT BE, DEFINITELY NOT ANOTHER PRINCE).
I can’t be sure of this but this feels like the one that started this trend of reincarnated as a duke’s villainous daughter in an otome trend. I say villainous, but this falls into the category of stories that is kind of apologetic for the villainess’es actions prior to the protagonist’s take over (I did not actually do much wrong but was framed by the other nobles and the heroine is the real villain!). All in all I rather like Duke’s Daughter! It is a nice isekai and features a very pretty, nice headstrong female lead.
Caveats: This isn’t necessarily a problem, but the heroine, and to a definite extent the author too, is hilariously capitalist. There’s even a line to the tune of ‘as a fervent believer of capitalism!’.
That said for the most part she’s a strong believer in working for the people, so she tries to pass policies and reforms that will help the population make money. There are a few iffy things in recent chapters like saying ‘giving the people free food now may make them happy but then they’ll revolt once they realize we’ve run out of money’. It is not a big deal, but it does make me smirk.
Destruction Flag Otome
So good! If there’s any manga adaptation in this post I’d recommend wholeheartedly it’d be Bakarina’s story.
Our main character finds herself in the body of a young girl. She realizes she’s now Katarina, the original super bully of an otome game she played. In the original game Katarina dies miserably in most of the ends as a consequence of her bullying of the sweet heroine.
To try and counter this, our main character…..picks up farming. Yeah, she figures her fate and demise is inevitable so she decides to aim for the route where she is just banished and thus if she can learn how to farm she can survive! (Or to be more exact she tries to destroy her destruction flags, but just in case picks up swordsmanship, farming and magic to try and alleviate the worst case scenarios).
The funniest thing about this series is just how blind Katarina is. Her reasonably kind actions and outright interesting charm wins everyone over. There is absolutely no chance she’s going to end up the villain despite her living in constant fear of it. Literally everyone, all the boys and the girls including the genuinely sweet heroine, fall for Katarina.
I am usually a bit iffy on dense characters, but it works so well here because our main character is a lovable goof. She is an incredibly endearing idiot. (Hence the fans of this calling her Bakarina.)
Caveat: I have no real complaints though I am not a big fan of Keith (he’s just a bit boring compared to the other boys). But folk who’ve read the novels seem to find themselves bored with the more recent chapters, so much so that the fan translator even said they were bored and quit last year. I am hoping the manga doesn’t run into the same problems or that those problems are very short lived. All in all this is the top recommendation of this post!
edit: GOOD NEWS!
Fiancée’s Observation Log of the Self-proclaimed Villainess
Fiancee’s observation log is different from the other stories here because the main character of the story is NOT the one who was reincarnated into the game. The main character is the prince and fiancé of the girl who was reincarnated into a villain’s body. It is a pretty novel setup of getting the perspective of someone who has to deal with someone who keeps blathering about reincarnation and routes and villainous deeds.
The prince (our main character) is also a bit of a scheming, slightly sadistic perfect boy. Seeing him keep his fiancée out of trouble because he finds her antics amusing is very good. The novels lose a lot of their humor later on though and become a fair bit more serious and dramatic with the prince not entirely understanding why Bertia is trying so hard to set him up with the villainous and Bertia not realizing just how much happier the prince is with her. I actually did enjoy seeing the prince morph from thinking of Bertia as this amusing play toy into being completely in love with her.
Caveats: The manga thus far has been safe, but the web novel has a fair bit of questionable insistence on gender roles (men most defend their women, no hanky panky before marriage etc). I am especially not fond of phrases like “I hope Bertia doesn’t exercise too much, I don’t want a macho, muscular wife” (a tragically often repeated sentiment). The heroine (the original game’s heroine, not Bertia) is turned into a paper cut villain and the attitude towards her man stealing ways can feel very chauvinistic.
Still, I do genuinely like the romantic developments and the newer volumes are tense as heck, you really hope Bertia and the Prince stay together. Even the prince’s perfect facade seems to break in the latest chapters. Tense drama!
The Villainess Is Being Doted on by the Crown Prince of the Neighboring Country
This is a lot like Duke’s Daughter in that it takes place right as the game is ending and the villainess, the former fiancee of the country’s prince, is about to punished for insulting the girl the prince likes. But, right as she’s about to punished a neighboring country’s prince rushes in and saves her!
Our main character knows there was a sequel game in the production starring this new prince, but she has no idea what the story entails. I haven’t read much of this one, but from what I understand the main conflict of the story then becomes a question of whether she can trust this new prince with his interest in her or will she lose him to a ‘heroine’ too.
Villainess Brother Reincarnation
In this story, our protagonist is resurrected not directly as the villainess, but her older brother who is also a garbage human being. Fortunately enough for him, he gains his previous life memories early enough that he can change himself into a better person and also change his sister too in the hopes that both of them survive. He reforms himself by losing weight, trying to treat servants and friends better and so on, quickly become a seemingly very respectable older brother like person amongst his cohort of friends.
The original game also had a matchmaker feature, so MC-kun alleviates misunderstandings and disagreements between his friends and their engagement partners.
Caveat: A bit of self-hatred and fat shaming (not as bad as piggy duke), but if I recall beyond that it is just some standard light novel-isms
My Death Flags Show No Sign of Ending
I found Death Flag by accident and after my 2 day overnight marathon to read all 100 of the fan translated chapters, it has quickly risen to be one of my favorite web novels. It is always hard to say if I can recommend a fan translated web novel to others because the original writing is often muddied heavily by the translation, but there’s something here I just can’t help but like (though others may feel differently, this is just my kind of story).
One day our main character finds himself in the body of Harold, a major villain in an RPG he has played and loves. The first big difference from the other entries here is Harold’s mouth. It is incredibly toxic and can only spit venom! No matter what our protagonist wants to say, no matter how nice his thoughts are, when his mouth opens only the most vile interpretation of those thoughts escapes.
“You did a good job” would turn into something like “I guess you can do at least this much, you bastard”. It is extremely hilarious. The other big difference from the other stories in this post is that the original game was an old fashioned rpg and not an otome game.
In the original game, the hero gathers a party, they journey together fighting monsters and villains (including Harold) before finally saving the world from utter catastrophe. So, Harold can’t act carelessly. He doesn’t want to die miserably like he does in the game, but he must also make sure the hero’s party succeeds in their formation and their subsequent mission to save the world.
Given how strong Harold becomes and how knowledgeable he is about the game, you’d think that he could just do everything on his own, but he can’t. There are some circumstances (like not being able to stop the main villain’s plans even if the villain is dead), but there’s also a sense that while the heroes at first seem entirely useless, maybe they aren’t.
There’s a short scene where a crybaby useless heroine gains the determination to venture forth and the villagers around her are left speechless by her almost heroic presence as if that is what she is meant to be, a hero. There’s a strong feeling (at least to Harold) that irrespective of the deviations the hero’s are the ones who need to finish off this story, not him.
This forms the central conflict and tragedy of the novels. I say tragedy because while this isn’t a story about likable characters dying left right and center, it carries a heavy tone and feels like an inevitable tragedy.
In the eyes of the wider world, Harold is viewed as a frightening, scary villain, but in truth he is constantly doing his best to try and prevent both his own downfall and that of the world as a whole. By the later volumes, Harold is this tired, exhausted hero who has taken on the burdens of the entire world and no one really knows that, no one should know that (in his opinion). Except that’s not entirely true either.
The story is primarily told through Harold’s point of view (first person), but it often swaps to other characters and their perspectives. The perspectives of his friends show an idolization for Harold. In their eyes, he is an unbeatable genius who can foresee everything and has all the plans laid out and while his mouth is mean his actions are always kind and just.
Harold’s viewpoint reveals himself to be a complete anxious mess. Every small deviation from the expected story path or run in with a story character ramps up his concern and anxiety. It feels like he is constantly on the breaking edge pushing himself to extreme limits in trying to make sure stuff works out (for him and the world).
Harold thinks everyone hates him or puts up with him, but in truth everyone who spends even a bit of time with him quickly realizes his mouth doesn’t match his actions and that he’s a pretty sweet, gentle kid. More so, his friends even realize Harold is pushing himself to the brink for some reason.
They don’t know exactly why he is acting the way he is, but they strongly believe he has something that must be done and is pushing himself via grim determination alone towards it. Unfortunately Harold is so absorbed in his quest, he fails to notice the folk who genuinely care for him. He thinks he’s alone, but really he isn’t.
This is perhaps best shown with the relationship between Harold and Erica (his fiancee). He thinks she hates him, but she thinks she is supposed to hate him, so she puts on act, but it is obviously clear to everyone and anyone else that she absolutely adores him and if Harold did notice he’d be fraught with worry because that’s against the plan, but also he likes her himself so alskdhjaskldjaskldjaslkdjaslkdas. It is a mess! I just want them to get together and be happy! ;__;
It sounds silly and ego-inflating and to an extent some of the opinions of his friends probably are (you know the standard ‘damn the main character is so cool!’ stuff), but they carry so much more weight here because we know that’s not how Harold sees himself. We know that in many ways the assessment of his peers is far more on the mark than his own self-assessments.
I am paraphrasing, but there’s a great passage by Erica to the tune of ‘it’s as if those eyes were shown some grand fate and he soldiers on tirelessly trying to bring it about’ and while she shakes off that feeling she got, she was right. He knows the ending and he is doing his best to bring it about.
And while he will always claims that he’s only acting in his own self-interest, to prevent his death flag if you will, you just know that if it came down to it, he’d lay down his life to see the story through. And in many ways that feels like the most natural possible conclusion to this novel (though I know it won’t be). He’s just….a really good boy. He’ll never admit it, but both his friends and I agree, he absolutely is a really good boy.
I splurged a lot of words, perhaps needlessly. The writing in the novel is a tad clumsy (especially with fan tls of varying quality), but to me at least it feels like there’s some genuine heart in there and the stuff I wrote about is explored with some thought in the story.
Caveat: A few minor light novel-isms but for the most part I think this is a pretty solid story at best folk other than me will find it boring.