One aspect to world building which is crucial in any speculative fiction is deciding on the magic system of the world. This expands beyond the basic question of is there magic and what kind it is. A magic system is not all powerful. There have to be rules and regulations, or else it won’t be believable.
The scientist in me sees magic as its own form of science. To create a system, I must know how it can be used and how it can’t. Who can wield it and how do they make themselves stronger? Do they train at a magic school? Are their magical beings? What happens if someone uses magic too much? Can magic wielders combined their powers to make them stronger?
Once you set the rules, you cannot break them. If you do, it would be like breaking gravity. It pulls the reader out of your story. There are many different types of magics that have been used. Below, I will list a few along with books and/or TV shows that exhibit that type of magic. Though you want your own system to be unique, these examples will show you systems that were well done.
We cannot go through a list of fantasy books and not mention Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling created a very complex magic system with a set of rules and laws. At Hogwarts, she expanded on how wizards and witches are taught. Her magic combines spells, potions, and magic animals.
Everything is detailed and the readers can follow along with the system. The only slip, in my opinion, was the time-turner.
Alchemy is based on the Law of Matter: Nothing can be created or destroyed. The Japanese Anime Fullmetal Alchemist (and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) is an excellent example of Alchemy.
Elemental magic is probably one of the more overused magics. That’s not saying it can’t still be done, but it tends to surface a lot. One of the most well-known elemental magic examples is Avatar: the Last Airbender and its follow-up show The Legend of Korra. In these, each form of bending was inspired by a different martial arts technique.
This is a magic system where people can only perform a specific type of magic. Elemental is an example of this, but it can go beyond elemental. There are two authors who use this magic system very well. First in Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, Maji are born into separate clans. Each of these clans has a separate power (Reapers can call on the dead, Tiders move water, etc.)
Leigh Bardugo also created specific groups n her Grisha-verse. The magic system is first introduced in the Shadow and Bone series. There she set up perimeters for her Grisha. In Six of Crows, to be able to expand on the rules she already created, Leigh added a drug that could heighten powers. This is one plausible way she could break her rules.
There are many types of witches in fantasy. Many tend to rely on spells and talismans to channel their powers, but it depends on the story. One of my favorite examples is the television show Charmed. Recent YA books with witches are the Brooklyn Brujas series, and The Wicked Deep.
Magic can also come in the form of creatures. How to Train Your Dragon is an excellent example of magical creatures being the only magic. Holly Black tends to use immortal fae in her books. The most recent one is The Cruel Prince. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series combines a magic system, immortal beings, and magic creatures together.
These books are only a few of a great many which use a magic system. In creating yours, I suggest researching how these magic systems run to get your base rules, but then make it your own. Happy creating!
What are some of your favorite magic systems you’ve read? Share below!