T5W: Favorite Magic Systems

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is Favorite Magic Systems.

This October, T5W is exploring not only the paranormal, but also magic and wizardry in general!

My favorite kind of magic has always been the very weird one without clear rules; I think it’s more fun that way. That’s one of the reasons magical realism and surreal contemporary fantasy are some of my favorite genres. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a well-written magic system – in a fantasy book, I need one. Magical realism, surrealism and related genres can afford not having rules for their magic; the average fantasy does not.



Grishaverse was one of the first fantasy universes I got to know in which I actually liked the magic system. It has well-defined limits, and a cost for those who decide to ignore them – as we see with the abominations that are merzost and jurda parem.
I love how this series blurs the line between magic and science – as you’ll see from this post, it’s one of my favorite traits a magic system can have – as the Grisha’s magic is called “small science” and also studied as such.
I also love reading about factions that are not based on personality traits or bloodlines, and to see how the magical school was organized – the corporalki are healers and killers, the etherealki are elemental magicians, and the materialki are those who work with inanimate objects like metals or chemicals – was one of my favorite aspects of Shadow and Bone.

For a Muse of Fire


I read For a Muse of Fire recently, after not feeling strongly about Heilig’s previous duology (liked the first book, didn’t like the second one, just average overall), and I can now say that a magic system rarely gets better than shadow plays made with possessed puppets.
The main character of this book is able to see and control ghosts. At the beginning of the novel, she uses this power to make shadow plays with stringless puppets, and the result is… a very unusual form of necromancy. I would have liked to know more about the details and limitations of her magic but I really liked the concept.

Book of the Ancestor


The only thing that I don’t like about this magic system is the fact that it’s tied to a character’s bloodline and that’s not a trope I like that much, but apart from that, I love this. My favorite aspect about Red Sister‘s magic system is the visuals. It’s a magic system focused on fighting, and the way marjal (non-path magic) and hunska (supernatural high speed) magic are shown in the fight scenes is one of the reasons I liked this book so much. But the most interesting part is quantal magic. I can’t explain what “the path” is in so little space, but I can say that it is one of the most imaginative aspects of a magic system I’ve ever read.

Anything by Yoon Ha Lee


One of the main reasons I like Lee’s worlds is the way he writes magic. The line between magic and science is always blurred and there’s a lot of fictional math, sometimes even fictional physics. I love all of this, and it’s what I want from science fantasy. In Ninefox Gambit, the magic system is based on calendars and people go to war over them. It’s very weird and I love it. In his collection Conservation of Shadows, you’ll find:

  • shadow magic, killer shadows, and shadow mathematicians
  • quantum chess warfare
  • ancestry-erasing guns
  • deadly weapons unfolding from raining origami
  • magic able to erase languages + “tactical linguistics”
  • myths coming to life from the pages of books, and more

Tensorate series


This is one of the best novella series I’ve read because of the worldbuilding, and my favorite aspect of the worldbuilding is the magic system, especially the way it is explored in The Red Threads of Fortune. This is a series about the conflict between magic and science, and the way magic and science come together, and most of the magic is based on threads and five natures (and while I didn’t understand how it worked immediately, I loved the very pretty descriptions of it since the beginning).

What are your favorite magic systems?

16 thoughts on “T5W: Favorite Magic Systems

  1. I love the magic in Six of Crows, which reminds me I still have to read Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy! I haven’t read any Yoon Ha Lee but I’ve heard great things, and judging by your description I’ll really enjoy it — I love it when magic steps out of the box and bases its rules in original concepts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the magic in Six of Crows so much. It has some steampunk-like aspects but not quite – I haven’t seen that often.
      The magic systems/science (most things he writes are magical science) in Lee’s books are very… original (and weird). Maybe too much at times according to some but I love every moment of it.
      Anyway, I hope they work for you too if you decide to read them!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore the magic system in the Grishaverse. It’s so well thought out, and I’m really pleased that the fantasy setting wasn’t so heavily focused on European traditions.

    That said I’m sort of partial to alchemy from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. It’s a great hard magic system with all kinds of possible applications.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist, but alchemy as a magic system does sound really interesting.

      I love how detailed the magic system in the Grishaverse is, especially for a series that started in 2012, though I’m not sure what you mean with “European traditions” – isn’t the setting inspired by European countries in both The Grisha and Six of Crows?
      Anyway, I did really like that it didn’t feel like the average fake-medieval fantasy setting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Six of Crows does have a London inspiration I suppose but much of the setting in the original trilogy features Ravka which is heavily Russian influenced and you can definitely see it.


  3. My favorite kind of magic is also the weird, unpredictable kind. Like in magical realism and fairytales. I still appreciate magic systems, but I don’t like it when the how and why’s are explained to the point that the magic doesn’t feel magical anymore. I love the magic system in the Grisha books and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The one in For a Muse of Fire sounds super weird and interesting, which makes me more interested in picking it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The magic system was my favorite part of For a Muse of Fire. The plot was a bit formulaic but I loved that world and most of the characters.
      And I agree about explanations – sometimes they’re useful and/or necessary because no rules can mean plot holes in some cases, but to have too many of them… that would take away the magic.


    1. High fantasy books in which the magic has no/very little cost are boring to me (and also tend to be full of plot holes…) so yes to defined limits. I feel like there’s more to the Grishaverse magic than we think (at least, Six of Crows and its sequel made me think that) so I can’t wait to see what will happen in King of Scars.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am the complete opposite from you when it comes to magic! I specifically enjoy the parts where magic is explained, with rules and restrictions and certain ways to do it! Nevertheless, the world in Yoon Ha Lee’s books sounds so unlike anything I’ve ever read and I would love to find out more about it, so… off to my TBR list it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you like them! I haven’t read anything similar to his books either, it’s one of the main reasons he’s my favorite author.
      I enjoy well-written magic systems too, especially if I’m reading high fantasy (it needs to have a cost!), but I prefer the surreal, weird magic common in contemporary fantasy, fabulism and magical realism.

      Liked by 1 person

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