Fantasy story without magic elements?

Considering writing a story that takes place in a fantasy world but the story itself will have ZERO magical elements.

Still fantasy? If so, what genre of fantasy will this be?

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Fantasy is “speculative fiction” so if your story still fits into that then yes, it’s fantasy, although I have no idea what sub-genera.

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I would still call it fantasy. I mean, take one of my books as example. I call it fantasy mainly because it takes place in another world but I refuse to say that there’s magic in it. Any type of magic. But I do have strange beasts that can’t be explained any other way I mean, I just use our own Earth as an example for that though plus probably a few other elements that I would count towards fantasy.

I want to say high fantasy. that’s what google says

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Doesn’t high fantasy have magic in it or is that epic fantasy?

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Sadly, I really don’t know. I usually call mine low fantasy but I looked at two different places that said a magicless fantasy is high fantasy. I do know that Epic fantasy has magic and usually dragons (or am I thinking that wrong… I should go do more research on the genre I write in).

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If there’s enough of the fantastical in your fantasy world and you don’t try to explain the fantastical with science, then it’s fantasy. Alice and Wonderland is a canonical fantasy example. It is full of fantastical and hallucinogenic things, but Carroll made no attempt to explain them systematically, either with a ‘magic system’ or science.

Or, if your world has no magic and is not fantastical, but is definitely not ours, it’s fantasy. Medieval fantasy, set in worlds replete with warring royal houses and secret assassins is of this sort. If you try to re-imagine real Earth history, then it might fit the ‘historical fantasy’ sub-genre.

I struggled with this question myself, because the story I have up on WP now straddles the boundary between Fantasy and SF. The world has no magic of the ‘mumbling-and-wand-waving-make-unexplained-but-complex-and-story-convenient-things-happen’ kind, but it is has technological relics and unexplained phenomenon that the story people, lacking advanced science themselves, perceive as magic. So it has a cultural belief in magic. At the moment, I’ve called it Fantasy, but it’s really a mash-up.


This is definitely one of my WIPs, but not really but kinda :stuck_out_tongue:

So even without magic, a story can be fantasy because there are fantastical things as you said.

I suppose I could call mine fantasy then because although there is no magic, the main character is a half-animal, half-human creature living in a half-animal, half-human society. The things that happen will involve zero magic though and the half-animal, half-human creature was not created by magic. Just evolution and such.

The fantasy sub-genres are honestly confusing to me. There’s also magic realism and…here I am wondering well, it is magical like fantasy but in a non-magical world or magical like magician magic and not really magic?

Then…I think I remember seeing somewhere some debate about Steampunk being fantasy or not really fantasy but kinda.

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High fantasy usually means the setting is in a completely different world. Epic fantasy is defined as the plot being of epic proportions. LOTR would be high fantasy and epic fantasy because the world is not earth, but a unique world, and the story being told is a battle for the state of things. If the villain wins, life will be destroyed, and if the heroes win, life will be preserved.

Harry Potter is more portal fantasy since it takes place on earth in a hidden world within the world, but also epic because of the stakes.

If this story is set in a completely different world, then you can place it in the high fantasy subgenre. If the plot’s stakes are world or universe ending, then you can also place it in the epic subgenre.

And no, it doesn’t need to contain magic to be fantasy, it just needs to have elements of fantasy, otherwise it becomes science fiction.

Say dragons were in the story, but they came from a different planet. That’s scifi, but if they existed in secret on earth and always have been, or existed on an entirely made up world and always have been, that’s fantasy.

Scifi deals with more questions of humanity and our place in the universe whereas fantasy deals in what ifs.


My take on it is if the story’s set in a fictional world (and I don’t mean just fictional towns in real-life countries), then it is a form of fantasy. Probably low fantasy, where there is little to no magic? My Wakeful Dead duology is exactly so. It’s set in a fictional country and there’s no magic at all. Everything else has an otherwise scientific explanation.

I feel like my story is kind of that way yet I’ve never thought of it as anything other than fantasy.

My story is based on a girl who, in the book, is referred to as a “psychic.” A psychic in the book can have any kind of power like telekinesis, turning into animals, blowing stuff up etc. Some people believe it is magic but it is never addressed in book one where this power actually comes from.

In book 2, it’s revealed that it’s actually from a mutation in the brain. This has no effect on the story, does not alter the plot and, in a way, is irrelevant. To me, that makes these kinds of characters kind of like mutants (x-men).

The source of their power is not important. What is important, is what they’re able to do.

It may also be worth mentioning that there are characters in my book who do practice magic. They are rare because of the social stigma but anyone can practice magic. It doesn’t require any special skill.

I guess I’d put it in high fantasy then. It’s set in another world and the characters are not human.

That’s interesting. Not even dragons are always existing in the fantasy genre! :open_mouth:

This almost sounds like scifi to me. I suppose if you really delved into it deep it could turn into scifi??

Lol I believe we discussed the exact same thing before. I would say no just because it’s really not relevant to the story compared to all the mythological creatures and gods.

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I just correlate fantasy with magic, but that’s mostly because I’m acquitted with medieval fantasy of wizards and all that.

I think a lot of us do but fantasy is so much more.

Yes, yes. I just like magic and how flexible it can be. Personal preference.

lol, deja vu? XD

To me, magic has always meant something mechanistic happens. A sorcerer conjures a spell to do . . . something. This would be distinct from non-rational abilities such as telepathic communication or a mythical creature like a unicorn. My King’s series has no magic in it, yet it’s classified as high fantasy. My current work in progress, Shackles of a Hero, has magic but no mythical creatures, telepathy, or etc.

On the other hand, I categorize science fiction stories which have elements of weird, non-physical phenomena as fantasy. Reality will still be reality even in the future. I’m that much of an old stick in the mud.

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Fantasy on its most basic level is fiction set in a world that’s strange compared to our reality, most often characterized by some supernatural phenomena or mythical creatures. SF is similar but the strangeness is explained through some form of science or technology, while fantasy is not. Naturally this leads to a lot of overlap.

It really comes down to how different your world is depicted to the reader and how you explain this strangeness. If your world physics are similar to ours and you get into the biology of its organisms, people will probably see it more as a parallel universe or alien planet SF. If you focus more on the wonder of exploring a strange new world, it will read more like a fantasy.

That being said, there are certain tropes that are almost universally tied to certain genres. If you have space travel and robots, it’s gonna be seen as SF, or at least science fantasy, regardless of whether or not you go into the engineering. Conversely, even a well described method for genetically engineering a dragon from dinosaur DNA, will almost always be seen the other way around.