Suicide Squad ISEKAI, the very first DC anime television series, debuts this month on the Hulu and MAX streaming services with a wild new swing at Harley Quinn and her crew. Amanda Waller’s team of incarcerated super-villains turned expendable black ops agents find themselves transported to a world of magic and fantasy, with no clear way of returning home. In other words, a textbook isekai.

But what exactly is an isekai? If you’re an anime fan who has been following the medium over the past decade, you’re probably familiar with the term. But if this is your first time hearing about it, isekai is a subgenre of fiction popular in Japanese comics, film and television which has always been a part of the culture, but has found particular mainstream dominance over the manga and anime landscape in recent years.

In English, the Japanese word “isekai” literally means “different world,” which succinctly describes the features of the genre. Isekai stories are typically about a character or characters from one setting, who find themselves transported into another. Typically, the protagonist originates from a mundane reality similar to our own, transitioning into an unfamiliar one—whether that be a fantasy world like in Suicide Squad ISEKAI, a video game world, an alien world, an alternate dimension, or another period in time.

One can trace the isekai genre back hundreds of years to folktales about humans entering the realms of gods or spirits, or even such early 20th century classics like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But from the 2012 anime season onward, the isekai format has captured the anime zeitgeist and maintained a consistent presence that’s grown in popularity ever since. So, with DC establishing greater ties to manga and anime studios, it’s only natural that a partnership would take advantage of this cultural wave and develop a DC story in the isekai format.

In fact, this isn’t even the first time DC has produced an isekai anime. The 2018 film Batman Ninja features Batman and his family, along with many of Gotham’s most notorious villains, transported back in time to an altered Sengoku era Japan. Likewise, the 2023 anime-inspired Justice League x RWBY features the heroes of the Justice League reborn as teenagers into the world of the RWBY web series. But casting our scrutiny even further back, examples and even subversions of the isekai format have always been present in the history and lore of DC Comics. Which means it’s finally time for us to get in on one of the most popular debate topics amongst manga and anime fans: what is, and what is not, an isekai?


The nature of the shared DC Universe is such that most stories take place with our heroes and villains all occupying and coexisting on the same Earth. Functionally, that means there aren’t too many opportunities for stories which shunt a character away into an entirely separate plane of existence. However, this does mean that the DCU has always been rife with potential for one of the most popular subversions of the isekai format, the reverse isekai—that is, a character from a fantastic world coming to occupy our own, as opposed to the other way ‘round. Still a fish out of water story, but the protagonist is the source of novelty as opposed to the setting.

The concept of Superman itself, for example, might technically be considered a reverse isekai, with a hero from a distant world making a new life on Earth. This is disputable, though. What Superman lacks, unlike your typical isekai protagonist, is any lived experience from his point of origin with which to contrast his new circumstances. For this reason, one might argue that Supergirl, who recalls her own childhood on Krypton, makes for a more fitting isekai protagonist than Superman. Other examples might be Martian Manhunter, who was accidentally teleported to Earth in his earliest incarnation, time-traveling heroes in the modern day like Booster Gold, Impulse and Gnarrk of the Teen Titans, and Wonder Woman, in venturing from the idyllic Paradise Island into the world of man.


Traditionally, the isekai genre demands a one-way trip, the core of the story being our protagonist’s adjustment to their new, presumably permanent, circumstances. An isekai protagonist may or may not return to their original world at the end of the story, but they rarely travel between worlds frequently or willingly. Some characters and concepts from DC history fall partially within the isekai genre, save for this freedom to walk in two worlds—like Adam Strange, transported by Zeta Beams between Earth and the distant planet Rann; Amy Winston, who doubles as Princess Amethyst as she travels back and forth between Hudson, New York and the mystical Gemworld; or even the Silver Age Superboy, who often split his time between his friends in Smallville and the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century.


Then, there are some concepts from DC history which fit into the isekai definition rather neatly. Mike Grell’s Warlord is probably the straightest example, featuring United States Air Force pilot Travis Morgan permanently stranded in the fantastic realm of Skartaris, adjusting over hundreds of issues to a life of swords and sorcery.

Self-contained story arcs might be considered isekai as well, like 2011’s Flashpoint, featuring Barry Allen stranded in an unfamiliar timeline; the 1980s series Hex, where DC’s premiere wild west anti-hero is transported to a post-apocalyptic future; or even 2010’s Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, where each issue can be considered an isekai in its own right as Batman is reincarnated again and again through the ages of man until he finds his way home.

One very interesting case is that of Superboy-Prime, whose story is an isekai in the sense that the DC Universe itself is the more fantastic realm our protagonist finds himself within. Born on the mundane Earth-Prime, a world functionally identical to our own reality with no superheroes or superpowers, the Clark Kent of that world finds himself interacting with a wider, more fantastic multiverse in a series of adventures culminating in a heroic turn defeating the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and subsequently a catastrophic downfall in Infinite Crisis.

Exactly what category Suicide Squad ISEKAI falls under remains to be seen—although so far, it seems like a straight isekai. Will our team of malevolent misfits find their way home? Well, let’s just say they better because they have 72 hours to rendezvous with Amanda Waller again before their internal detonators automatically go off. Better keep your sword art online.

Look for new episodes of Suicide Squad ISEKAI every Thursday on Max and Hulu.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Bluesky at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.