I have been obsessively reading a certain subgenre of isekai manga and manhwa. It’s the stories of the villainess remembering her past life as some Japanese or Korean woman who played an otome game or read a book and is now in that story world as the villainess or the heroine’s rival. Sometimes you find out that the villainess was absolutely a horror who tormented the heroine and maybe even the love interests as well, but usually you learn that she was simply misunderstood or she wasn’t paying attention when people did things in her name. Frequently she is the betrothed of the crowned prince and she is trying to teach this upstart commoner who is trying to steal her fiance or maybe doesn’t understand the first thing about etiquette.
It can be great fun to see the story from two points of view at once as the main character is trying to reconcile what she played or read to what she is seeing before her eyes now. Usually she remembers both her former life and her current one, but often times the former life doesn’t mean much to her, something I do tend to have an issue with. One of my current favorite series is not one of these, but it does have the main character finding herself remembering her former life as a Japanese woman and not only does she retain a connection to the person she was before she remembered her past life, that connection eventually becomes the most important thing in the world to her, which if you knew this character and her single minded obsession would probably be a shock and I think was a shock to the character who realized this and helped her get that connection back.
I have also seen it done where the character is not the same person and is acutely aware that she is taking over the body of someone else, that the family who so much loved the former owner of the body has no idea their daughter and sister is dead and gone and dead and gone she is. A few of these actually see the Japanese or Korean woman interacting with the soul of the person whose body they are taking over with more than one of those case they are asked to get revenge for their death or to fulfill a wish that they couldn’t.
What I think I have seen the least often is what is in this prompt where the villainess remembers another life, presumably her past life, and she continues to be the dominent personality. Even when this is done, usually she remembered vague things about her past life in dreams long before she actually remembered enough to recognize it as memories. Usually what happens is she is eight, ten, twelve, or thereabouts and remembers wholesale the life of a twenty-something young woman and now she changes her life completely, taking on new hobbies, wearing different clothes, losing all feelings for someone she cared for before that point. To be fair, I get it. If I lived a decade as some young girl and suddenly remembered my entire life as it is now, I suspect my personality would more reflect the woman who has lived over three decades than the one who has lived one. I’d miss my family and I would be cautious of any new family I might have, wondering if I could ever have a good relationship with them. And I would want to tell them about me, because no matter what it would be a huge part of who that young girl would now be.
This prompt doesn’t necessarily have to be about someone’s past life. Maybe they are seeing the memories of someone else who is currently alive. And it certainly doesn’t have to take place in another world. She could easily be on earth remembering a life long ago.