Magic Systems in Fantasy Books

One of the most talked about areas of writing and especially in Fantasy, is the magic systems involved. Think back to the books you love that have magic and try to focus more on each system. It’s an intriguing look into how the author wrote the book and how you interpreted it.

Some magic systems are more believable than others, and there may be a bunch of different reasons for this. One of the most important first areas to look at is how the individual received the magic. These are often called Genetic or Non-Genetic Magic Systems. Understanding this important concept will help each reader understand possible limitations, the rationale for magic use, and the reliability of the magic.

Genetic or Non-Genetic Magic Systems


This type of magic system dives into areas where the magic system has been with you, hidden or otherwise, from birth. There are different adaptations of this process.

Harry Potter is a perfect example. It is clear that magic is passed (or not) through parents. Granted, there are those who are born with magic that comes from parents with no magic ability of part-member wizards.

Mistborn series appears that certain people are born with the ability to use magic related to science and metals.

Percy Jackson has abilities or magic that are a birthright because they are demi-gods.



Non-Genetic Magic is seen in Dungeons and Dragons. This is where the wizards learn magic only after years and years of study. It insinuates that anyone can learn magic if they work hard enough.

The Stormlight Archive series (Way of Kings) appears to illustrate that its magic is not a genetic result but the actual cause is yet to be given.

The Kingkiller Chronicles is another example of how learning magic is the only way to get magic.

Hard and Soft

Brandon Sanderson had spoken and written about this topic several times. In truth – many believe that he really caused this idea to become extremely popular with writers and readers.

Additionally, he was also part of a panel that discussed some aspects of Genetic and Non-Genetic magic as well.

Hard and soft magic ideas come from science – hard and soft sciences. Hard magic follows very specific rules, words, and such. The control of the magic is known and well understood.

Soft magic is where the rules or limitations are not clearly defined. This provides more uses and options with the magic and its system. The author and reader can often imagine other possibilities with the magic and create a world of wonder.

Another important idea is called Suspension of Disbelief

This came from Aristotle as he was describing theater and the reaction of the audience. This idea is that the reader must, in some form or another, avoid using logic and critical thinking when reading, watching, or listening to fantasy and especially magic. Magic is not logic and if you push too hard, the reader may get turned off by the magic types.

There are books that are too over the top and the reader will put it down because they just can’t “believe” what is happening. This is an important aspect of non-genetic magic systems. Despite it being magic, how the individual gets magic must be someone believable.

My Top 10 Fantasy Books with Magic

1.) Harry Potter

2.) Wheel of Time

3.) Lord of the Rings

4.) Mistborn

5.) Percy Jackson

6.) Eragon

7.) The Dresden Files

8.) Assassin’s Apprentice

9.) City of Bones

10.) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


Please comment if you disagree. What are your top 10 Fantasy books with magic?

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