In portal fantasy books, characters are transported, via some sort of portal, to another land, realm, time period, or location. The portal can take different forms (for example a magical wardrobe, a mirror, or a rabbit hole), and characters usually travel from our world to another world. The new world is usually very different from the world they are used to, and often it is magical in some way.
The characters who travel through the portal are often regular people and they are forced to adapt to their new reality. Often they don’t go through the portal by choice, and once the characters are in the new world, the storyline often revolves around their attempts to find a way back home.
Sometimes the characters know what is on the other side of the portal, and sometimes the destination is unknown. Sometimes the characters voluntarily move through the portal, and sometimes they are forced to leave their homeworld.
Is Isekai a type of portal fantasy?
Isekai is a genre of portal fantasy from Japan. It can take the form of anime, manga, light novels, movies, and video games, and it involves a character or a group of protagonists being transported to another world and learning to survive. The new world is often a magical fantasy world, but it can also be a parallel universe, a different time period, or a virtual world.
Isekai is a popular structure for anime and manga because it allows the audience to learn about the new world as the characters do.
Often the main character who finds themselves in the new world is overpowered.
Examples of Isekai stories include So I’m a Spider, So What? by Okina Baba, Log Horizon by Mamare Touno, Lord of Goblins by Michiel Werbrouck, and Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody by Hiro Ainana.
Are LitRPG books portal fantasy?
LitRPG (literary role-playing game) is a genre of fantasy fiction where the mechanics of a role-playing game form a vital part of the story. Often, role-playing game statistics are written into the text, and the main character interacts with the game rules as the plot progresses.
In some LitRPG games, the characters start the book as part of the game, but in others, there may be in-game portions of the book and real-world storylines running side-by-side. If the main character is transported into the game world at the beginning of the book, the story could be considered an isekai story and a novel that falls under the portal fantasy umbrella.
Examples of Isekai LitRPG books and series include Summoned! by Osiin Muldowney, Isekai Magus by Han Yang, The Land by Aleron Kong, Tales of an Unlikely Wizard by CookieCrumble, and The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba.
Portal Fantasy Books for Children
Here are some examples of the portal fantasy books written for children.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – the portal is a rabbit hole, and the new world is called Wonderland.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis – the portal is a magical wardrobe, and the new world is called Narnia.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – the portal is a magic tollbooth, and the new world is called the Kingdom of Wisdom.
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende – the portal is a book (The Neverending Story), and the new world is called Fantastica.
- Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins – the portal is an old air duct, and the new world is called the Underland.
- The Golden Acorn by Catherine Cooper – the portal is a golden acorn, and the new world is called the Otherworld.
- 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson – cupboards hidden behind a bedroom wall are the portals.
- Fireball by John Christopher – a fireball is the portal, and the new world is a parallel universe.
Portal Fantasy Books for Adults
Here are some examples if portal fantasy book written for adult readers.
- The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R Donaldson.
- The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey
- The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe
- The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
- The Fionavar Tapestry by Gay Gavriel Kay
- The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman
- Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire
- Almuric by Robert E Howard
- Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! by Terry Brooks
- A Sorcerer’s Treason by Sarah Zettel
Is Harry Potter a portal fantasy?
Although the Wizarding World exists alongside the world of the Muggles, it can only be observed and accessed by those in the know. There are two portals described in the first book in the series – Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London, and the entrance to Diagon Alley behind the Leaky Cauldron.
When Harry arrives at Hogwarts School of Withcraft and Wizardry, he certainly enters a new world, and it’s a world that the ordinary people of the world cannot enter because they can’t see it – the castle has been bewitched so that it looks to Muggle-eyes like a ruin with a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign.
However, even though portals exist in the Harry Potter books, because they aren’t the only way for magical folk to enter the Wizarding World (hiding in plain sight in the real world), the Harry Potter books aren’t strictly examples of portal fantasy books.