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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 Review/2020 Preview - Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach

Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach: Our GamerLit Favorites of 2019

Travis: Ever since I wrote Forever Fantasy Online, I’ve been diving into the world(s) of litrpg, isekai, and gamer fiction. By the way, if the terms litrpg (literary rpg) and isekai (new world) are unknown to you, that’s awesome! There’s a vast, unexplored, and exploding world of new sub-genres that you might love. If you need some help with this, please check out this twitter thread I posted a while back. It’s a quick 101 on this new landscape.

I reached peak fervor in 2019. My reading and watch lists were dominated by these genres this year!

Rachel: Fun fact: Travis is my cool finder. Most of the things I watch and read are stuff he finds first, which means my 2019 was also dominated by gamer fiction/fantasies where people get reborn to a new world. There were hits and misses, but overall we found some really great stuff! (Note: It might not all have been *published* in 2019, but this was the year we found it, so totally counts.)

So, without further ado, here are the titles we felt were the best of our shared 2019 obsession.

Favorite Books 

Travis: I wish I could list Rachel’s books but that would be cheating, haha. Hrm...authors-not-Rachel...

So, my favorite read of the year has to be Sarah Lin’s New Game Minus which is a LitRPG where an evil lich NPC gets body-swapped into a player’s body and becomes the hero. It’s hilarious, unusual, tells a good progression story, and even three books (finished series) weren’t enough for me to tire of Bloodwraith’s antics.

My second favorite read, but it’s really splitting hairs, is also a Sarah Lin novel - Street Cultivation. This one came out of nowhere for me since I’m not on Royal Road. It’s a fantastic urban wuxia wrapped around a progression fantasy with some really excellent world-building, tons of fights, and an extremely lovable main character who really deserves to have someone buy him lunch.

Rachel: This is super cheating since I’ve actually been reading this for years and it’s not technically a book, but my favorite read of 2019 was (yet again) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Yes, it’s a Harry Potter fanfic, and yes you should absolutely read it. I came back to this story after letting it sit for many years because I got tired of keeping up with weekly updates, but the story is now complete, so I came back for the finish and just freaking loved it.

The story actually reminds me a lot of an isekai, which is both true and my flimsy excuse for including it in this list. No one is actually reborn or teleported to another world, but HPMOR’s premise--what if Harry Potter was raised by a kind profession of rationality instead of beastly relatives--creates the same effect that makes isekai so addictive. You get to watch a brilliant, rational person with knowledge of the modern world wreak hilarious and incredibly satisfactory havoc on what is essentially a low technology magical setting. It’s fun, it’s satisfying, it’s well written, and it’s online for free! What more could you want?

Favorite Anime / Shows 

Travis: That Time I was Reborn as a Slime was a lot of fun to watch as it does the reborn/isekai formula well and without killing the audience with stats. It was a tad too far on the fan service side of things for my comfort at times but I found the main character to be a really likable, friendly, and caring guy which made the antics and progression pretty enjoyable. I was sad when I hit the last episode but that’s the sign of a good show.

Restaurant to Another World enraptured me by combining portal fiction and slice-of-life with a healthy serving of food porn. It’s only 12 episodes long and I wish there were 1200 instead because I could watch critters from a fantasy realm eating modern cooking all day long. I hope there’s a good Japanese restaurant nearby if you watch this cause it’s gonna cause some hella bad food cravings. (Like pork cutlet and beer. MMmmmmm. You’ve been warned.)

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is one of my favorite gamer/nerd shows now. It’s basically a SitCom except the escapades involve Monster Hunter and other games. I’m not normally a SitCom or RomCom fan so I was surprised by how much I liked this. I guess the moment the situations are about gamer stuff I actually care about, I’m in. 200%.

Rachel: Restaurant to Another World and Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku were also my favorites! They’re both lovely and endearing and funny and you should watch them both right now.

I’m also going to throw in Recovery of an MMO Junkie, a show about an office worker in Japan who mysteriously quits her job and moves into a tiny apartment to live off her savings and play a super generic MMO all day long. This story is less about the game (though the game is a hoot) and more about what would make someone give up their life and escape into video games. It’s GamerLit at its best: poignant and funny and way too real sometimes, but with a focus on the gamers as real characters with complicated lives that I really enjoyed. I wish there was more than one season!

Favorite Mangas

Travis: How do I pick favorites here?! I read a lot of manga, widely across genres, and’s not a problem, haha ha-- (scuttles up to a dark corner of the ceiling to read more.)

Tales of Gods and Demons goes top on this list cause I’m still reading it in 2019. It’s a reborn wuxia progression fantasy about a guy who wanders the wastes after his home city is demolished, he becomes an enormous badass and then is reborn to before it’s destruction to save it. As reborns and progression fantasies go, Tales is one of the best out there and it’s also a quality wuxia with one hell of a world. If you want some really unique world-building, this is gonna be your thing. It’s also super-mega long which I think of as a plus. I look forward to every update.

(Btw, the current title cover on the scanlation group is very pin-up girl for some reason. That’s not the original cover and it’s not representative of the contents of Tales. The MC is a stand-up guy chasing his one true love.)

The Gamer is about a gaming addict who becomes a character with stats IRL. Unfortunately for him, this opens up the world of the Abyss--the magical underbelly hiding behind barriers--and throws him into a life where leveling himself up is now an act of survival. This webcomic isn’t new in 2019 but damn it isn’t one of the best Litrpgs ever (IMHO). Stats, leveling, abilities, world-building, great combat, cool characters, etc this one has it all.

And since it’s still on-going, I’m taking liberties and putting it on my fav of the year list anyway.

Honorable Mention - In Another World, I'm Called: the Black Healer. This is a charming shoujo-focused isekai where the main character is a healer surrounded by very pretty men. It’s a refreshing change from the parade of shounen-focused ones where sword-mage dude is surrounded by girls. I found it fun to read and it was the manga that led me to realize “holy crap there are josei and shoujo isekai.” Which was a bit of a forehead-slap moment for me. How long have I been reading manga for, anyway? Josei is career-woman manga, it’s a vast ocean, and of course there’s a mountain of isekai that fall into that category too.

I could list manga forever, so I’m gonna drop a few other favs here and walk away slowly lest I get carried away:
Mage and Demon Queen (RomCom set in a JRPG fantasy world. What’s not to like?)
They say I Was Born a King’s Daughter (Imo, this is one of the greats. Isekai Reborn Josei)
Sleepless Domain (for those who liked Madoka Magicka and want more dark magical girls. I’ll say no more.)

Rachel: As you can see from Trav’s list, the isekai/GamerLit/LitRPG manga hole is a deep one. This style of story is absolutely dominating manga right now. You cannot escape it, and it’s not always good.

I read one about a girl who gets reborn as the villain of the fantasy RPG she was playing and decides to reform the kingdom the hero prevented her character from destroying back in the game with modern economics. Sounds great right? Yeah, it started great, but when she starts gathering her crew to actually put these reforms into action, it turns out everyone who works for her was an orphan she rescued from the streets.

(Travis: omg I remember that one. That lady has an orphan-hoarding problem!)

Leaving aside the character questions of why the noble lady whose body the MC was reborn into--who was supposedly the VILLAIN of the game!--was out there rescuing orphans, this trope quickly got way out of hand. By the time I stopped reading, we were up to a dozen named, beautiful, hyper-competent orphans. Lady, you were not an orphan rescuer. You were an orphan KIDNAPPER. I’m not reading your comic any more.

On a more positive note, I read a ton of isekai manga this year and my favorite hands down was They say I Was Born a King’s Daughter. This was the first reborn genre story I read and IMO it’s still the best. It’s incredibly tense, smart, and while the main heroine can come off as kind of overpowered, she needs that power to survive her insane situation. I really enjoyed this story and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a clever, well written, and entertaining reborn.

Upcoming for 2020 

Travis: Due to the massive litrpg/isekai binge I’ve been on, my normal watchlist is hella backed up. I need to get caught up on Food Wars S4, My Hero Academia S4, Fire Force S1, She-Ra S2-4, and many other great shows before I even get to that live-action stuff all over HBO and Netflix. Though if Yuri On Ice S2 or One Punch Man S2 ever drops...well, sorry watchlist! (not sorry)

Rachel: I’m glad Travis is looking forward, because I’m still working my way through my TBR. I’ve got so much good stuff in there I’ve forgotten half of it, but that just means it’ll be a surprise, right?

Travis: Writing-wise, I’m so happy that everyone seems to love the last book of my Forever Fantasy Online series. It was a grand conclusion that I’m very proud of.

As for what’s next from me as an author - I have many ideas but nothing I’ve committed to enough to talk about online. Basically, there’s a long idealist and I need to play with many of them to see which has the legs to stand a 3 book story on top of. I might write a wuxia reborn, another litrpg, some portal fiction, a straight military scifi, or a kinda alternative urban fantasy.

If you want to listen to hints and obscure portents about my writings, check out my twitter @TravBach.

Rachel: On the writing horizon for me is finishing up the last book of my DFZ trilogy (which I’m currently editing the next to last chapter of and should be out in Spring 2020!) and then it’s on to something NEW! I don’t want to say too much since a lot of my ideas fall apart when I actually start to write them, but I am definitely giving my Epic Fantasy Western a serious go. I hope you’re all ready for a sprawling drama of magic and six-shooters!

If you want to know when I have new books out, the most reliable way is to sign up for my mailing list! I always announce everything there first and I send, like, 2 emails a year, so no worries about spam. You can also find me on Twitter @Rachel_Aaron. This is where I am most active and also where I gush about new stuff I find, so feel free to come hang out!

So that’s our list of awesome for 2019! We hope you enjoyed it and that your new years is full of amazing stories. Thank you so much for reading, and if you haven’t already, Travis and I both hope you’ll give our own GamerLit/LitRPG entry Forever Fantasy Online a try! We loved writing it, and now that the trilology is done, we couldn’t be prouder.

Thank you so much to Mihir and FBC for having us, and here’s to an amazing 2020!

About The Authors

Official Rachel Aaron website
Official Travis Bach website

ABOUT RACHEL AARON: Rachel lives in Colorado with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.

ABOUT TRAVIS BACH: Travis is a nerd who loves gaming, reading, writing & hiking. He’s Rachel’s husband as well as one of her strongest pillars. He shares her fascination with gaming and reading fantasy. He lives in Colorado with his wonderful family.



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