Dying from food poisoning, you awaken to find yourself as a character in the shitty webtoon you were just reading. Not only that, you’ve even been reincarnated as the cannon fodder destined to die!
This may read as a plot for a self-insert fanfiction where an Original Character (OC) dies and reincarnates into their favourite manga. However, it’s the premise for many webnovels and webtoons under the transmigration genre.
Wait, transmi-what now? Transmigration is a rising genre in storytelling that has grown to be extremely popular. In many ways, it revolves around the villain. Ah, we sense some confusion. So today, we present a Geek’s Survival Guide on how to navigate through this strange new world while avoiding death flags.
Put simply, transmigration is “the movement of the soul after death”. The genre revolves around the soul of a normal person being transported to or reborn in a novel/game/comic. It can also involve the soul of a person being sent back in time/reborn again.
The genre is quite similar to Isekai or “accidental travel”, a genre that finds its roots in Japanese literary works. However, Isekai also sometimes consists of the entire person, both body and soul, being transported to the new world.
Despite the dubious titles such as Suddenly Became A Princess One Day, Scum Villain’s Self Saving System or A White Lotus Host Who Does Not Want To Be a White Moonlight is Not a Good Host, it’s a niche genre that has seen a surprising surge in popularity. But even the fans have yet to grasp why it appeals to them so much. Then, there is the extension or subgenre (see Survival Tip #1 below), which features the cannon fodder or villain as the main lead, which has seen a jump in readership lately. A coincidence? We think not!
Some key definitions:
Death flags: Plot points that characters have to work to avoid or overcome to survive the entire plot. Sort of like overcoming mini side-missions during a game quest.
Face-slapping: Yup, it’s exactly what you’re picturing in your head right now. It means one character slapping another’s face, symbolising the main character’s (MC) criticism towards ridiculous plot points in the story.
Tsukkomis: Exclamations of disbelief and “butting in” to yell about how the correct plot should flow.
Tea Spilling or Spilling the Tea: Something like gossiping.
Golden Halo: The protagonists’ uncanny ability to overcome all challenges no matter how ridiculously the odds are stacked against them. It also takes a jab at how these characters are seemingly infallible.
White Lotus: Someone who is pure in appearance but not in character.
MC: Abbreviation of Main Character and may be seen in the form of Male Lead (ML) or Female Lead (FL).
Steps to begin transmigration:
There are a million ways to die and the quickest surefire method for authors to transport the soul is through death by a vehicle running over the person. In fact, the plot device has been overused to the point of becoming a meme of itself. Some people from Japanese fandoms even fondly named the vehicles in question Truck-kun. Other deaths can be as silly as keeling over from a heart attack induced by the rage of reading a novel. (*Cough* Scum Villian Self-Saving System *coughs*)
Survival Tip #1: Know your place!
When the MC transmigrates, they have to try and understand which story they have been transported to. Usually, it’s the last thing they’ve read about or the last game played.
For the more “unlucky” transmigrators, they often find themselves reincarnated as the villain or cannon fodder. Cannon fodders are inconsequential characters destined to die inconsequential deaths.
The Villain or Cannon Fodder Transmigration is a subgenre in the Transmigration genre whereby the MC is transmigrated or reincarnated into a villain or cannon fodder character, and has to survive by avoiding death flags and counterattacks in the original story’s plotline.
Survival Tip #2: Why are you so obsessed?
Like snorting M&Ms on a lonely Tuesday night, once you start on transmigration works you’ll find it hard to stop. After finishing a story or waiting for the next update, readers often find themselves with an empty hole to fill, leading them to binge read one after the other.
No one wants to die a nobody, and the biggest allure of the transmigration trope is that even in death, the MC gets a new chance at a more fanciful life. Readers are thrust into a world whereby the MC is able to take the reins of his or her own fate, and steer the plot towards a favourable ending.
Sometimes their focus in avoiding the death flags render them clueless about the positive changes around them, causing misunderstandings that add to the slow-burn experience (that don’t we all just love?).
Cussing out dumb plotholes, unrealistic character stats and their overall need to overcome the endless troubles, wishing for a simple happy afterlife does seem like too much to ask for our poor MCs.
Survival Tip #3: Further Deciphering of Strange Occurrences
From an entertainment standpoint, transmigration stories barely hold any literary value. The exaggerated plots, Mary Sue characters and cliche tropes all point toward lackadaisical writing.
Yet, the transmigration genre unashamedly utilises it all and manages to turn a recipe for disaster into its biggest selling point.
The insertion of the Mary Sue character in the transmigration genre stems from the fact that the main character crossed over into a new world that they have read or watched about back in their own universe. Another possibility is that the main character travelled back in time into their younger body after their own untimely death within the same universe. This set-up gives them an advantage as they have pre-knowledge of future events.
However, they aren’t simply ridiculously overpowered (OP), unrealistically competent, cannon fodders. These Mary Sue characters also engage in regular self-criticism as well as serve as the face-slapping critic of the plot. The main characters sometimes dissolve into rants criticising the protagonist and the entire plot as a whole while actively attempting to survive in the transmigration story’s world.
The plot is generally self-aware with character archetypes being toyed around with. Even the dramatic schemes or plot twists that are generally cringe-worthy material are artfully twisted into exhilarating story points (aka epic anime moments). Readers even crave for these cliches just to see how the main characters will twist the plot into their favour.
With revenge and survival being the biggest tropes in this genre, it’s even cathartic to see how the world and other characters start revolving around the main character after all their struggles. There is great satisfaction in watching the main character trump situations and turn the tables whenever enemies try to humiliate them.
Moreover, the writing style is usually episodic, with chapters ending on misunderstandings or similar cliffhangers. This compels the reader to seek out one chapter after the other in order to see justice served as calamity befalls the enemies in the near future.
Survival Tip #4: Comedy and Beauty are the soul
Comedy is also an important ingredient of many plots in the transmigration genres. Many stories featuring villains, cannon fodders or characters who reincarnate back in time due to unhappy first lives. Hence, the original path laid out for the characters isn’t exactly the brightest. To strike a balance, comedy is used to lighten the mood and even create useful misunderstandings that may help in future character relationship developments.
Humans are also naturally drawn to beautiful things, and sometimes a highly effective attraction point of these webtoons, manga and novels is the art. Even if it’s simply the cover art of the novel, the authors may engage highly talented artists to illustrate for them. One well-known artist who does this is a Korean artist 스푼 spoon (Twitter @spoon_1122). With such good looking characters on the cover, one can’t help but be drawn to read about it.
One of the greatest joys about reading these is the fandom. It’s a different kind of online communal experience seeing people interact so closely with the authors and translators by leaving their comments on every chapter. Commentary varies widely and can swing from love to downright dissing. Authors can use the feedback for new chapters if it’s an ongoing online work. If not, it’s just great fun dissecting the plot and finding solace in like-minded people when you have opinions (or the feels) for certain plot points.
The tea spilt within the community is so fun to see. And you can even find solace in the tsukkomis left behind by other readers whenever you’re especially frustrated or angsty at some plot points.
Plus, with a little bit of suspension of disbelief, who wouldn’t like to enjoy pleasure reads filled with detailed worldbuilding and exploration of the period and wuxia worlds, tooth-rotting fluff, angst with a happy ending, a variety of comedic scenes, or even engaging romantic dynamics every now and then.
Choosing Your Portal And Destination:
There are various types of transmigration novels and below is an examination of the different categories along with reading recommendations.
Female Cannon Fodder Transmigration
For those who enjoy reading josei, shojou or even about wholesome father-daughter stories. You’ll enjoy this type of stories featuring whip-smart female protagonists armed with cute aegyos to win over people’s hearts.
Suddenly Became A Princess One Day
A woman finds herself reborn as the novel’s princess, Athanasia, who was killed by her own father, the cold-blooded Emperor Claude de Alger Obelia. The plan to avoid that death flag?
Swindle Win over her father’s and palace attendants’ hearts with her cuteness. If all else fails, she will save up enough gold to run away. But between her tyrannical father, a ruthless wizard and the male lead who has taken a sudden interest in her, how will she survive?
I Became the Wife of the Monstrous Crown Prince
The lead transmigrates into Ancia, the wife of the monstrous crown prince, Blake, in an R-19 romance novel. In the original story, Ancia commits suicide on her first day of marriage, leaving Blake with a huge trauma. This time, she decides to protect and raise him until it is time for her to step down and let the heroine take over. Yet, right now…“Ancia, don’t leave me!” He keeps chasing after her like a little rabbit.
Doomed to be Cannon Fodder
After dying from a cactus sting, Liu Yangyang transmigrated into a book as Mistress Xiu, the supporting female lead, who was beaten to death! The solution? Ignore the ML, be on good terms with the concubines and hug onto the second biggest thigh, the second ML, for protection. She even tries to get the FL and ML together. But, staying in the shadows becomes a challenge when the ML takes interest in her due to her antics.
For those who enjoy plucky strong female leads with a gift for snark and maybe a hint of ruthlessness, these stories will surely resonate in your heart. This is also one of the most popular tropes for this genre.
Death is the Only Ending for the Villain
Here, the protagonist reincarnates as Penelope Eckart, the adopted daughter of Duke Eckart and villainess of an insane dating sim game. Throw in two brothers who constantly pick fights with her, a psychotic crown prince, an elusive magician and a loyal yandere knight, it doesn’t matter where she turns, all routes for the villainess lead to death! So, before the “real daughter” appears, she must raise her favourability with one of the male leads and reach a happy ending to survive. But somehow, the more she claps back against them, the more the favourability meters of the male leads seem to increase.
Beware of the Villainess
So what if the main character has been reincarnated as the villain, Melissa Podebrat, of the story? Melissa can simply live a leisurely life as the duke’s daughter…or at least, that was the plan until she witnesses her fiancé, the Crown Prince, having an affair right in front of her. Follow the story of the pragmatic villainess who helps the heroine (who’s equally miffed by her suitors) kick away all the idiots-antiquated society, be damned!
Survive as the Hero’s Wife
Canaria has been reincarnated as the villainess of a popular cliché novel. According to the novel her character is destined to be executed by her husband, the crown prince! This is because her character used to bully him when they were young. In order to survive, Canaria’s objective is simple: raise the young prince well and then get a divorce!
The Villainess is a Marionette
Cayena, the Imperial Princess, lived her first life as the most beautiful woman in the Empire who knew nothing but evil and luxury. However, she is killed by her crazy husband after being used by her younger brother to secure his throne. Reincarnating back to her younger self before everything begins, she chooses to take fate into her own hands.
These works are for those who enjoy Seinen and Shounen genres. Some may even include Yaoi (BL) content! Get ready to delve into a world of fantasy, comedy action and adventure.
Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System
This is the sad story of Shen Yuan who transmigrates into a novel he just left a scathing review for before it indirectly causes his death. With such a tragedy, one would expect him to at least reincarnate as the protagonist, right? Wrong. Instead, he transmigrates into Shen Qingqiu, the scum villain who, in the novel, gets killed by the male protagonist! To avoid that fate, he hugs the protagonist’s thighs. The only thing saddling him down is a video game-like “System” that keeps him from going OOC.
Trash of the Count’s Family
Rok Soo awakes in a different world and finds himself possessing the body of a minor villain or a novel. He tries to avoid being beaten up, but his actions lead to the original plot derailing. He finds himself dragged into the centre of many conflicts happening in the world.
**The novel is still ongoing but on hiatus due to the author’s family circumstances.
How to Survive As a Villain
Xiao YuAn is diagnosed with cancer and accidentally transmigrates into a novel. He becomes the villainous emperor the male lead will kill. Moreover, this male lead is the prince of the enemy kingdom that is currently being imprisoned by him. Saddled down by the past actions of the villain, it feels like YuAn is just taking steps closer to death!
Male Cannon Fodder Transmigration
This section will appeal to those who want to see shounen action without the cliche bullheaded characters or tropes. They usually feature a badass and sometimes cunning male protagonists who are able to keep their wits about them.
The Novel’s Extra
Waking up, Kim Hajin finds himself in a familiar world but an unfamiliar body. He has somehow transmigrated into a world that he himself had created. Moreover, he is now his novel’s extra, a filler character with no importance to the story. The only clue to escaping is to stay close to the main storyline. However, he soon finds out the world isn’t exactly identical to his creation.
How to Live as the Enemy Prince
After his death, Bern awakens as the third prince of Kailis from the enemy country. He is now a weak and incompetent prince who will be assassinated before turning 15. Navigating through intricate politics, he has to gain mastery over his skills while fighting for the throne.
*** With a heavy heart, we announce that on 8 June 2020, the author passed on and the novel will be discontinued. Still, it’s a superbly good read worth picking up as they have published over 500 chapters.
Transmigrating into a Mob Character to Rehabilitate the Villain Plan
In summary, this is the tragic tale of a saint-like man who after leaving a scathing review about the bullshit ending of his favourite novel; transmigrates into said novel as a cannon fodder mob character. He decides to rehabilitate the villain. It’s just too bad that he only realises that the villain he helps raise only becomes increasingly villainous. Holy predestination paradox!
Childcare or Parent of Hero/Villain Transmigration
The stories here will provide a wholesome mixture of tooth-rotting mother-child fluff; paired with children who grow up to become powerful characters that will do anything to protect their favourite parent.
I raised a black dragon
Park Noah transmigrates into the body of the witch, Eleonora Asil, who has 15 previous convictions. To avoid the beheading that the original character received from the black dragon, she starts living a peaceful life away from the novel’s main plot. However…“Please raise me!” The black dragon ends up imprinting on her. And to make matters worse, the male lead suspects her as the prime culprit of stealing the dragon.
The Villain and the Cannon Fodder’s Mother
Transmigrating into the novel as Lin Yiyi, the top actor’s ex-wife, she resolves not to follow the usual trope and hug the thighs of the hypocritical man. Instead, she raises her two cute children, a soon-to-be villain son and cannon fodder daughter by herself. Using her culinary talents, she slowly cooks her way into the hearts of everyone.
After exploring the unique villain and cannon fodder subgenres, perhaps you may want to go back to the classic trope of those self-insert like stories whereby the MC transmigrates into the protagonist’s body or travels back in time to the body of their younger selves.
Way of the Devil
Finally, a cultivation novel with actual facts on how to fight ghosts! Lu Sheng wakes from a drunken stupor one day and finds himself trapped in a world terrorised by supernatural monsters. Struggling to survive, he stumbles upon a game mod he designed for a mobile app in his previous life. It enables him to instantly level up any skill, albeit at a cost. Thus, he begins his journey, striving for power beyond the reach of a mortal as he treads the way…of the Devil…
The Grand Prince Has Run Away
Jang The Great Prince, after going back in time to his younger self due to the destruction of the world, decides to not help mankind with stopping the world’s destruction and tries to run away to live a peaceful life.
Once you’ve become an expert at the genre, you will appreciate these special works that play on the transmigration genre. The stories mix things up by derailing the transmigrators’ expectations or even having the story told from the point of view of other characters who have to deal with the transmigrator in their midst.
Noble wife wants no love
Xu Xinyi wakes up in a new world with a system, which tells her that she is a villainess destined for a miserable end. She can choose to either endure all grievances or follow the original and become a vicious woman. Refusing to grovel, she chooses the second option.
Unable to tolerate Xinyi, the male lead, Yi Yang, demands a divorce. Xinyi is ecstatic but pretends to be sorrowful. She waits for her husband to sign but…Yi Yang, who suddenly discovers that he can hear Xu Xinyi’s thoughts, finds out that while his wife kept saying she loves him on the outside, in her heart she would laugh and curse and feels the complete opposite. Thus, he throws away the pen and declares, “Not signing!”
Transmigrator Meets Reincarnator
Chu Lian reads a book where the FL cheats on her wonderful husband, and wonders why. Naturally, she wakes up in the body of that very same FL! Chu Lian decides to welcome her wonderful husband with open arms but instead finds that his personality seems to have completely flipped! Fine! Be that way!
Unbeknown to her, her dear husband is actually a reincarnator and does not want to repeat his past with the cheating FL, and thus distances himself from her.
Left alone, Chu Lian puts her household in order, charms the rest of her new family, and does a little business on the side. Her days pass peacefully and leisurely until her dear husband gets in trouble. Wait, if he isn’t crawling back to her for help, she’ll just go save him herself!
Fumiko is an avid fan of spreading herself too thin and drowning in too many fandoms. She would love to spend all day reading fanfiction at home and crying.