Ever since my early teens, I’ve always been a fan of Manga and Anime, and one particular genre that I’ve always enjoyed is the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) genre. Now, there’s a bit of confusion as to what constitutes this genre, as it can in many ways be interchangeable with the Isekai (異世界, “Parallel World“) genre.
To me, there is a clear difference, however, as the true MMORPG genre Anime and Manga have a clear distinction between what is a game and what is real, whereas the Isekai genre blends the two, as the Main Character(s) is often transported to a parallel world with game-like mechanics. In these stories, the game-like world is real, but in MMORPG anime, the game-like world remains a game.
One of the most well-known, and polarising, entries in the MMORPG genre, is Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン). This series is credited with establishing the genre as mainstream, but the MMO genre Anime has been in existence for a full decade prior, with series such as .Hack (ドットハック), being launched in 2002, a full 10 years before Sword Art Online. The original web novel of Sword Art Online began in 2002, but it wouldn’t be turned into an Anime until 2012.
When you look up “MMORPG Anime” or just “MMO Anime“, you are presented with a mix of actual MMORPG Anime and Isekai Anime. On such lists, you’ll often find: Log Horizon (ログ・ホライズン); Overlord (オーバーロード); and Hai to Gensou no Grimgar (灰と幻想のグリムガル, “Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash“). And while these all portray worlds set inside a game, all of them are technically in the Isekai genre, as each of them involves the Main Character(s) being transported to a Parallel World, with seemingly no escape, hence, why I believe they are not MMORPG Anime.
In .Hack and Sword Art Online, the MCs enter a world they can, for the most part, escape, though they have to go through a lot of trouble to do so. In many of the stories in the .Hack universe, characters are trapped inside the game called The World, but they do ultimately escape, and in other stories, many characters clearly disconnect from the game to return to the real world. Similarly, the first Arc of Sword Art Online involves the struggle for players to escape the world of Sword Art Online. Still, in the second (Alfheim Online), third (Gun Gale Online), and fourth (Alfheim Online merged with Sword Art Online) Arcs, as well as in the movie Ordinal Scale, the characters can leave the game at any time and spend much of the screen-time in the real world. The ability to disconnect from the game is what to me separates the MMORPG genre from the Isekai genre.
Other MMORPG Anime are: Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu (痛いのは嫌なので防御力に極振りしたいと思います, “Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense“); Quánzhí Gāoshǒu (全职高手, “The King’s Avatar“); Net-juu no Susume (ネト充のススメ, “Recovery of an MMO Junkie“); Infinite Dendrogram (インフィニット・デンドログラム); and Netoge no Yome wa Onna no Ko Janai to Omotta? (ネトゲの嫁は女の子じゃないと思った? “And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?“). There are many more Anime in this genre, but by going off of these, you can no doubt imagine what I personally categorise as being in the MMORPG genre. Many of these I don’t personally think are worth watching, but I still admire the various ways they try to represent the genre. Also, I included The King’s Avatar, despite it being Chinese, as it portrays E-Sports in MMORPG, which is a topic often neglected in the genre.
Anime that are actually Isekai, but often get mislabelled MMORPG: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! (この素晴らしい世界に祝福を! “KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!“); No Game No Life (ノーゲーム・ノーライフ); Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (盾の勇者の成り上がり, “The Rising of the Shield Hero“); and Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka (ダンジョンに出会いを求めるのは間違っているだろうか, “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?“). Again, I cannot recommend all of these, but they just happen to be the ones I see often come up on lists that talk about MMORPG Anime, despite each of them being Isekai Anime, as the MCs are transported to Parallel Worlds with MMORPG mechanics, but no clear distinction between game and reality. No Game No Life isn’t even an MMO, nor an RPG for that matter, so its inclusion on these lists is doubly incorrect.
There are also Anime which don’t really fulfil the criteria of the Isekai genre but also don’t have the “realistic” depiction of the real world required to be considered in the MMORPG genre. These are Anime such as: Accel World (アクセル・ワールド) and Darwin’s Game (ダーウィンズゲーム), which depict games set in the real world and accessed through an ability to enter a different dimension, wherein some events affect the real world through a sort of game-related magic/technology. As such, these Anime fit neither genre and are in a category of their own.
Another type of hard-to-distinguish Anime is Btooom! (ブトゥーム!), which features people fighting a recreation of a game in the real world. The game they’re recreating is similar to Call of Duty or Battlefield, but revolves around the use of various explosive. It is technically an MMO, but it is not an RPG as it lacks any form of progression systems or traditional role-playing elements. It also doesn’t involve characters travelling to an alternate world, and as such fit neither category, despite often being considered an MMORPG Anime on many lists.
As a veteran MMORPG player with over 15 years of exposure to the game genre, one thing that I often dislike about the portrayal of such games in Anime is the lack of “realism” in terms of how the game operates and is handled by its developers in the stories. One of the main features of the .Hack series is that characters can access The Net Slum, which is a place where rogue AI, bugs, and so-forth, congregate in an alternate dimension within the game. The stories also involve people dying in the real world as a result of events in the game. Similarly, Sword Art Online has in its First Arc people dying in the real world as a result of dying in the game, as well as life-like AI, hacking the very core of the game, and many other unrealistic elements. Its Second Arc features people in the real world affected by the game, a real person trapped in the game, more hacking, etc. However, the Third Arc of Sword Art Online has a plot that is 100% possible in the real world, the Fourth Arc is somewhat possible, but the movie Ordinal Scale is similar to Arc 1 and 2, and fairly unrealistic.
The only Anime I’ve encountered to treat their made-up game with a surprising degree of realism is Bofuri, which revolves around the MC becoming so powerful that the developers constantly struggle to try and nerf her through lowering the effectiveness of a lot of the things she’s capable of doing, such as literally being able to devour anything. It’s mostly used for comedic effect, but balance changes (aka “nerfs”) are a very real part of MMORPGs that is often neglected when they are portrayed in Anime. Granted, this is a thing that’s hard to portray in a compelling manner, which is probably why Bofuri is one of the only examples of it being used.
Lastly, I’d like to finish off by recommending you watch a few of the series I’ve mentioned above, with some explanations as to why:
1) Sword Art Online: I’d recommend this Anime if you’ve never watched it, as it does a great job providing entertaining stories. It does get quite a bad rep in the Western Anime Community. Still, it is well-loved in Japan, and I personally really enjoy its first two seasons (aka “first four arcs”) and the movie Ordinal Scale.
2) Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: There’s very little negative I can say about this Anime, other than: I wish it had more than one season. I’ve watched it three or four times so far and recently bought the Light Novels, so I can continue with the amazing story. It’s animated in a spectacular yet realistic way, and the dialogue and plot are fantastic.
3) KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!: Honestly, the funniest Anime I’ve ever watched. It’s ridiculous but extremely hilarious with its crude humour and insane characters. It currently has two seasons and a movie, all of which I can highly recommend.
4) Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense: The dialogue is pretty terrible, but it has a lot of very funny moments and the fight scenes are quite amusing, at least when they’re not bogged down with pointless exposition. It’s also one of the few Anime in this genre to have a female MC, though the character is pretty 2-dimensional, which is a shame. Still, I enjoyed watching it. So far, this Anime has one season.
5) No Game No Life: Though there’s perhaps a bit too much objectification of women in this Anime, it is quite entertaining with its pseudo-intellectual MCs squaring off against different opponents in various types of games. This Anime has only one season and is unlikely to get a second one, though it isn’t officially cancelled.
6) Btooom!: Although neither in the MMORPG nor Isekai genre, this is quite a thrilling anime to watch. It does involve scenes of sexual assault and gore, which isn’t for everyone, but I enjoy the story it tells. However, it only has one season so far and is doubtful to receive a second one.
Do you like MMORPG’s anime? Please share a slice of your opinion in the comment section below! The Cake is always thrilled to read about your thoughts!
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Featured image taken from PicMe.
“SAO” picture taken from My Anime List.
“.Hack” picture taken from Anime News Network.
“Btooom!” picture taken from Amazon.
“Bofuri” picture taken from Vignette.
“Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash” picture taken from Blogspot.
“Konosuba” picture taken from My Anime List.
“No Game No Life” picture taken from Hulu.