10 Fantasy Books with Unique Magic Systems (that Can't Currently Be Adapted)

Magic rarely seems to make sense in media. The rules of magic are rarely established in film. Despite going to Hogwarts, we never learn why Harry Potter can cast spells. Despite being a central figure, we never understand why Gandalf can't summon the eagles. This is in part due to the time constraints of film, as many stories struggle with fitting in all the details of the world into a two or three hour time window. Magic laws are often left on the wayside.

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However, there are numerous books out there with intricately detailed laws and rules for their magic. These "hard magic" fantasy novels often focus on making the immaterial material. Due to rights or stalled development, these books have yet to be adapted to screen -- or at least, they were not adapted effectively. But which ones have cool magic systems?

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10 Dungeons and Dragons

It would be misleading to not mention the expanded lore of Dungeons and Dragons when discussing fantasy magic systems, as D&D uses, in essence, multiple simultaneously.

Wizards learn magic from old tomes. Warlocks create contracts with unknown entities, such as fae, demons, and outer gods. Sorcerers are born with magic in their blood. Clerics and paladins channel the wills of Gods into their beings. Druids draw magic from nature. Multiple magic systems run co-currently in the world, each leading to various unique characters throughout the lore of DnD.

9 Godless by Ben Peek

Many magic systems require calling upon the powers of a God, but what happened if all the Gods are dead? In Ben Peek's Godless, the Gods are long since dead and their remains have rotted into the Earth. Should a person consume the remains of a God, they gain its powers.

The book is a morbid, dark story, but its magic system is so unique it would a disservice not to utilize it in a future fantasy adaptation.

8 Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore

Shadow And Bone Leigh Bardugo Grishaverse

Both of these series have similar enough magical systems to compare the two. In essence, both series feature individuals born with a unique set of skills. They can only cast one sort of spell, but these spells are then utilized by political powers in order to enforce certain agendas.

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In Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, the main heroine Alina can conjure light in a world of darkness. In Graceling, Katsa's Grace is believed to be the power to kill, which is used to commit political assassinations for the king.

7 Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Inkheart with Brendan Fraser

What if you could read anything from a book, and it would just come out? While more famously seen in Inkheart by Cornelia Funk, the Libriomancer series by Jim C. Hines features a world where select individuals can conjure magic by reading books. And they exercise this to sometimes remarkable results.

Want vampires? Got them. Curvy dryads? Got them too. Jim C. Hines creates the ultimate Kitchen Sink fantasy series by finding a way to incorporate anything ever written into his world, leading to predictably insane results.

6 Old Kingdom by Garth Nix

The Necromancer in The Hobbit

Starting with the award-winning Sabriel, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series features a world where magic is controlled by harnessing the powers of Death. The series features necromancy in a positive light, as the balance between the worlds of death and life need to be carefully balanced.

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Most notable of all is the use of bells, used to traverse deeper into the world of Death. However, go too far, and something truly abhorrent may come back with you.

5 The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks

The Lightbringer series, starting with The Black Prism, is a series of novels where magic is dictated by shades of light. Governments and magical law are influenced by the concept of the light spectrum. Chromaturgy is a concept that allows people to channel the light into magic. While most individuals can use only one spectrum, there are a select number who can use all the colors, known as Prisms.

To elaborate, light creates a material called Luxin, which can be a solid or liquid, and is used for magical spells. Individuals sometimes attempt to channel Luxin into their bodies, often to grotesque results.

4 The Long Prince Quartet by Daniel Abraham

Enchanted verses appear to be a favorite in the world of fantasy novels. The written word holds so much power. However, in Daniel Abraham's world, words can be used to entrance the Gods themselves under the influence of select individuals.

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Poets can create poetry so compelling it draws influence or even dominance over the Gods and their powers. The magic is then channeled through the Poet to enact their will. While some Gods are benign, others are entities of pure chaos, which require poets to tailor suit their verses to the needs of whatever Gods they want to ensnare.

3 Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin

Earthsea has been twice adapted to the screen, and each time failed to explain Le Guin's poetic magic system in any meaningful fashion. Magic is relayed through the words of creation. In order to channel magic, you need only speak the True Name of all things aloud.

But it's more complex than that. You need to know the specific name. You need to name the specific winds or specific pebbles in order to make meaningful change. Mistakes or carelessness can lead to catastrophic damage, like one typo in a computer code. The series features all the potential issues that can result in tampering with forces you do not understand, including the creation of eldritch shadow creatures to the death of the afterlife itself.

2 The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

The Dying Earth is one of the classics of fantasy and science fiction. Jack Vance's epic presents a slowly dying world of magic and power. In this world, there are a limited number of spells remaining. However, once cast, the spells are forgotten, forcing the magic user to relearn the spell from a dwindling number of tomes.

While not in theory too different (essentially using magic spells) it is compelling how the spells remain so rare and so difficult to use even once, putting gravity in any situation where a spell is utilized. Jack Vance's magic system was also one of the biggest influences on the original Dungeons and Dragons game.

1 Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson


Brandon Sanderson has made a name for himself by pushing for magic to have more rules. Nowhere is this as obvious as in his iconic Mistborn series. In this series, magic is conjured by digesting certain kinds of metals, which, when digested, grant the user certain powers. However, the powers are specific to how much metal is consumed. And only certain individuals can digest a certain number of metals.

While the series becomes a sprawling epic, Sanderson's Mistborn remains a favorite for both how strictly it abides by its magical rules and the incredible ways the magic is utilized without breaking any of the laws established.

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