A standard plot/Myth Arc for Speculative Fiction: The Ordinary High-School Student, frequently their friends, and sometimes their enemies are all transported (often summoned) to another world distant planet, a Magical Land, Alternate Universe, the past, The Future where they find they have an important role to play in Events of Significance that are occurring at the same time as (or sometimes because of) their arrival. Usually there is no hope of their finding a means to return home until after the great threat facing them has been defeated. Occasionally, they will then question if they even want to leave, especially when there is an ongoing Fantastic Romance. These stories often feature alternate methods of bringing the protagonist to the new world, such as Reincarnation, swapping bodies with an inhabitant of the new world, or becoming their own video game avatar, though simple bodily transport is still common.
In Japanese media, this is known as "Isekai",note with such protagonists typically being their local demographic's flavor of hero, note and usually involves said character gaining RPG-like powers on arrival (or at the very least, is set in a Role-Playing Game 'Verse). Though it's been around in many forms of media long before the term was coined, the majority of isekai stories as we know it are derived from Web Serial Novels or old stories reworked into Light Novels, with their premises and writing style even being noted as a subgenre: Narou Isekai.note A lot of these are also Harem Series, to the extent that a party of sexy heroines (or heroes) who are attracted to the protagonist has become part of the standard formula. During the 2010s, these types of stories became so popular thanks to Japanese publishing companies like Alphapolis and Media Factory that, by the end of the decade, it had become an Undead Horse Trope: being parodied, subverted and even ridiculed to hell and back, while straight-forward examples still remain very much present.
In Literature, this is often referred to as a "Portal Fantasy". This plot device is also extremely popular in Crossover events, as it's a good way of bringing together disparate settings in a semi-logical manner.
The inversion of this, where a person from the other world comes to ours, often inverts the premise along with it: Whereas an Earth hero usually gets called over to where the action is, the Otherworldly hero is usually transported where the action isn't, or becomes the action when they get there.
Super-Trope to Portal Book, Portal Picture, Summon Everyman Hero, Fourth Wall Shut-In Story and Trapped in TV Land. Often overlaps with Down the Rabbit Hole, Fish out of Water, and You Can't Go Home Again. But if returning home is a goal, then there's overlap with There's No Place Like Home. When returning home proves to be relentlessly mundane and you wish you'd stayed in the magic world, it's So What Do We Do Now?. This trope is the inverse of Alien Among Us.
Compare with Kidnapped by the Call. Contrast with Constructed World, which doesn't involve present-day Earth at all. For generic types of other dimensions, see Another Dimension. See also The Homeward Journey. For the reincarnation flavor of this plot, see Reincarnate in Another World or if the new world was fictional in universe Media Transmigration. If the protagonist is lucky, it comes with a New Life in Another World Bonus.
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- This was Adam Strange's origin in DC Comics. An archeologist who accidentally discovered an alien transport system, Adam became the number one hero of the planet Rann. His problem was that the Zeta beams which teleport him are only temporary and he has started a family on Rann. He has since been able to stay there permanently, but on occasion he finds himself on Earth and this trope applies there.
- Birthright deconstructs this premise with the typical teenager from Earth thrown into a fantasy land ruled by the Big Bad whom he must defeat. And to do that, he is put through the grinder, forced to become a Child Soldier and see things first hand what no one else should see. The end result? He pulls a FaceHeel Turn, joins the Big Bad because he offered to return him home in exchange of becoming his enforcer and leaves the fantasy world to rot.
- Whitman Comics produced the official Comic-Book Adaptation of the film The Black Hole and actually continued the series for a few more issues past the end of the film's story, depicting the new universe the heroes wind up in after passing through the weirdness inside the black hole. It contains a parallel counterpart of Reinhardt, Maximilian, and the Cygnus. Reinhardt is a Galactic Conqueror there, persecuting a planet inhabited by Human Aliens and alien wildlife that happens to look like dinosaurs. It's an odd little comic.
- DIE: In 1991, a group of teenagers is sucked into the world of a new RPG that one of them created. It takes two years for them to learn that all they need to do to leave is unanimously agree to do so — unfortunately, as they do so, one of them is grabbed by the Grandmaster and left behind, eventually killing the Grandmaster and taking his place. 25 years after the others returned home, he drags them back into the game and forces them to play again, refusing to agree to leave unless they win. Eventually he's killed, but by this point two of the others have decided to stay for their own reasons, leaving the other three trapped by default.
- Exiles revolves around superpowered beings lost from their dimension, world-hopping until they get to go home.
- The tag line of the late Steve Gerber's Marvel comic Howard the Duck was "Trapped in a world he never made!" A native of a Talking Animal world of anthropomorphic ducks, Howard fell through a portal and wound up in Another Dimension — namely, the Marvel Universe version of Cleveland, Ohio.
- In I Hate Fairyland, Gertrude has been stuck in Fairyland for 27 years, and hasn't aged in all that time. To say she's not happy about it would be an Understatement.
- The premise of the Jinty story "Worlds Apart" — six schoolgirls find themselves in a series of strange worlds governed by their main characteristics. There's one way out, but it's not a pleasant one...the creator of that particular world has to die.
- CrossGen's Negation featured a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits trapped in an alternate universe that did not obey the laws of physics. At least one character started out convinced that it was All Just a Dream.
- Power Girl was the Supergirl of Earth-2, but, after the first Crisis, Earth-2 didn't exist anymore, and Kara was trapped into the single surviving universe.
- In Escape from the Phantom Zone, a dimensional vortex throws Supergirl, Batgirl and a friend of theirs into a parallel dimension, leaving them with no apparent way to return.
- In The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot, the titular heroines spend several days trapped in a pocket dimension, fighting an eldritch abomination, until they manage to break through.
- Resident Alien features an alien protagonist stranded on Earth with little chance of ever returning to his home planet.
- Sonic is trapped in the Special Zone for about fifteen issues in Sonic the Comic.
- In Transformers: Shattered Glass, Cliffjumper finds himself trapped in the titular universe after traveling through a mysterious portal.
- The plot of King Grimlock sees Grimlock of the Dinobots transported to a fantasy world where a group of humans call on his help. Grimlock, being Grimlock, isn't exactly thrilled about it.
- The Unbelievable Gwenpool stars Gwen Poole, a young Marvel Comics fangirl from what is either our reality or a world very similar to it, who through a Noodle Incident that she doesn't like to talk about and is apparently subject to numerous Cosmic Retcons, winds up on Earth-616, Marvel's "prime" universe. Using her encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise, she sets out to become a mercenary superhero in the hopes that it'll keep her from getting unceremoniously killed off.
- Mike Grell's DCU comic The Warlord, a deliberate homage to Pellucidar (in setting) and John Carter of Mars (in tone).
- Buck Rogers is about the titular hero who goes into suspended animation and wakes up in the 25th century. It was based on the novel Armageddon 2419, by the same author and with the same premise.
- Flash Gordon is about the titular hero and his friends getting stranded on the planet Mongo. In the original comic strip, they do eventually escape Mongo, return to Earth, and engage in still more voyages to other worlds, but the Mongo arc is the one everyone remembers and on which most subsequent adaptations have been based. The long-running comic eventually brought them back to Mongo and found an excuse to bring back the supposedly-dead Ming because, well, Flash Gordon didn't quite feel like Flash Gordon without them.
- Adventures in Dinosaur City, a group of three kids are transported to the titular city.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: See Literature section.
- In the sci-fi thriller Coherence, once characters pass the dark area they are randomly transported into Alternate Timelines with little hope of returning to their homeworld.
- In Cool World, both Frank and Jack are transported to the titular world.
- Enchanted: Characters from an animated film appear in live-action New York City.
- In the first I Love Wolffy movie in the Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf franchise, Wolffy, Wolnie, and Paddi are trapped in real life and must seek the toy robot that got them there in the first place to return. The second one doesn't count because Wolffy and Wilie go to the real world willingly.
- In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the characters are sucked into the Jumanji world once they start the game. Averted with the original movie, however — that only happened if the player landed on a certain square.
- A Kid in King Arthur's Court is a time-travel variant, based on the book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. This time it's a 90's kid being sent to the past.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Ant-Man: Dr. Hank Pym warns Scott Lang not to mess with the regulator on his suit that grants him his Sizeshifter abilities. If the regulator is turned off, the wearer will shrink down to a quantum level, forever trapped in the Acid-Trip Dimension between molecules. How does Hank know this? It's how his wife, a fellow size-changing hero, disappeared, and the sequel revolves around Scott working with the Pym family to bring her back.
- In The Stinger for the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott finds himself in this predicament. Now equipped with a better understanding of the realm, Scott goes subatomic while the Pyms stay behind as Mission Control. However, seconds before they can bring him back to normal, they are all killed by Thanos, due to the events of Avengers: Infinity War.
- The Neverending Story: Downplayed in that Bastian isn't physically trapped there, but reading the book and identifying with Atraeu's adventures builds a Psychic Link of sorts.
- Planet of the Apes, with the famous twist that it's actually our world after all, just many centuries in the future. Its sequel, Beneath The Planet Of The Earth, follows in the same vein, while the third movie, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, inverts this by taking two of the chimpanzee characters from the scifi world of the previous films and pulling them back in time to the 20th Century.
- Technically Space Jam, in which Michael Jordan gets lassoed down a golf hall into the cartoon world.
- In an attempt to recover evidence that proves Corrupt Corporate Executive / Cracker Ed Dillinger stole his promotion-worthy ideas for video games, Playful Hacker Kevin Flynn ends up physically digitized into Cyberspace by the Deus Est Machina Master Control Program.
- This has become the franchise staple, as no protagonist gets digitized voluntarily. In Tron 2.0 Jet Bradley gets digitized by Benevolent A.I. Ma3a in a desperate act of self-preservation. Later, The F-Con thugs forcibly shoot Alan in there, too. The rival company exploit and deconstruct the trope by planning to upload an army of mercenaries into that world to steal and control everything from weapons systems and state secrets to the global finance markets and media.
- In TRON: Legacy Sam learns the hard way that you shouldn't press "yes" at every pop-up dialog on somebody else's system. He looks at the last command given to the computer before him (i.e. Flynn's last command) and then tells the computer to run it again. Then again, he apparently did inherit his old man's copious forethought...
- In the beginning of Warriors of Virtue, Ryan is thrown into the world of Tao.
- The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy from Kansas gets trapped in Oz after being swept away by a tornado. Subverted as it ends up being All Just a Dream, unlike the book. See the Literature section for the book.
- Classical Mythology: Persephone was kidnapped by love-struck Hades and spent an unspecified period of time in the Underworld as his captive bride. Even after Demeter finally got her released, she ate several pomegranate seeds that bound her to the Underworld forever and forced her to periodically return there. This was actually a "Just So" Story to explain why we have seasons: Demeter, the harvest goddess, is too depressed for any crops to grow during the months that Persephone is trapped in the Underworld.
- Many early legends describe accidentally entering a fairy realm, often falling victim to the Fair Folk or arriving back home years in the future after spending only days in the other realm.
- This happened to Arnie in Hello, from the Magic Tavern, who fell through a magical dimensional portal behind a Burger King in Chicago and found himself in the fantastical, magical land of Foon. Luckily, he's still getting a wi-fi signal from the Burger King through the dimensional rift and so he hosts a weekly podcast from the tavern the Vermilion Minotaur in the town of Hogsface, in the land of Foon.
- Dungeons & Daddies begins with four dads, their sons, and their minivan being pulled into the Forgotten Realms.
- At a book signing, Sam from ElvenQuest is dragged into LowerEarth when a group of heroes kidnap The Chosen One, aka. Sam's dog, and he wouldn't get them go. Naturally the only way to get back is to go on their quest to get the Sword of Asnagar, which will (a) defeat the Lord Of Darkness and (b) let Sam go back home).
- Fire Emblem On Forums:
- Wonderful Blessing: Parodied with the Revivians, humans taken from Earth by the Goddess Dragons. So many of them have arrived in Generia and been trapped that they have their own nation, Kaisei, with its own, weird culture. Their national stereotype is acting as if they are the isekai protagonist of their own story....while so many others of their kind exist that they're no longer considered even special.
- This setting is currently the most popular for multifandom Journal Roleplay Games. The community has even coined a phrase for games based around this setting—"spooky jamjar". Which has now come full circle- meet Roleplayedingly. A roleplay where the characters are sent to a new world every week- and every world is an existing LiveJournal roleplay.
- After Meowfurryon was killed on NoPixel, he showed up in the NP Public Alternate Continuity and mentioned that his death in the main universe had "isekai'd" him to the new universe.
- The frame story of Castle Falkenstein involves computer game artist Tom Olam being magically summoned into the Victorian-fantasy world of the game. Though as it turns out, it was actually the copy of Leonardo's Sixth Codex in his backpack that his summoners needed...
- The original module of Ravenloft for Dungeons & Dragons has characters pulled from other D&D settings to face The Devil Strahd. This has since become such a traditional setup for adventures in that setting that it took thirteen years for them to write up information as to creating characters who were native to the setting.
- A short supplement, GURPS Fantasy: Portal Realms, covers this topic in detail.
- An even shorter supplement, GURPS Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World, describes a specific portal fantasy setting.
- This is also how the world of GURPS Banestorm came to be, with medieval and Renaissance humans (along with races from many other worlds) dragged into the fantasy world of Yrth. It's specifically mentioned that the Banestorm is still active and can grab player characters from modern Earth in order to kick off a fantasy campaign.
- Heroine always starts off with the eponymous protagonist's ordinary life in the real world, before quickly bringing her over to the Magical Land, which she can only leave after overcoming her personal flaws and completing an arduous quest.
- Magic: The Gathering: This is part of the process of planeswalker sparks igniting. If a person with a dormant spark faces certain death, experiences a strong emotion (such as betrayal, rage, or elation), or encounters a major revelation, there's a chance that their spark will ignite and allow them to awaken to their abiity to transverse planes, which comes with flinging them to another, random plane. Unlike most examples of this trope, they can easily return home once they figure out what happened, but often they'll become curious as to what other planes lie out there...
- Most of the Tsukiuta stage plays feature original stories where the idol characters are trapped in another world. The worlds will have a different theme each time, and different fantasy costumes. So far, there have been multiple ''wa-fuu'' worlds, an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired Rabbits Kingdom, and an upcoming Cyper Punk world.
- NU: carnival: The protagonist, Eiden, is warped from his homeworld into the fantastical Klein Continent after coming into contact with a mysterious gemstone. Given that the Klein Continent has plenty of good-looking men around, he's not complaining about his ordeal one bit.
- YU-NO: The Isekai plot twist that precluded the second act of the visual novel was genuinely revolutionary in 1996. The second act of YU-NO was a Trope Codifier of the Isekai genre.
- The Mother's Basement's PSA Isekai Anime Survival Guide is pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin — a survival guide for people who get teleported to another world.
- Discussed in the "Isekai" episode of Terrible Writing Advice, which lampshades the naked power fantasy aspects of the genre such as female characters being standard harem archetypes, the fact that most protagonists of the genre tend to have generic personalities for the audience to better project themselves onto as well as the hero getting slave girls as part of said harem.