Magic by Any Other Name

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Liraz: [..] let's just say "polarity torsion does it", translate that to "it's very expensive magic", and leave it at that.

Afterlife Blues

This is when a work has an intangible element that is obviously supposed to be magic, but is explicitly not called that. Maybe the word "magic" doesn't exist in their universe, maybe they are using Insistent Terminology to Do In The Wizard—yet whatever power they're using lets them levitate, throw Fireballs and anything else that standard-issue Fantasy magic can do. This trope also applies to works where an actually practiced mystical art such as alchemy or tarot cards has been broadened to the point where it functions as all-purpose magic.

In a Science Fiction setting, Magic From Technology and "psionics" are favorite stand-bys along with Minovsky Physics, possibly with a "quantum" or "nano" tacked on for good measure. If Everything Is Online, Hollywood Hacking may be utilized as well. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that have evolved to the point where the physical laws of reality no longer apply to them (such as The Doctor or Q) generally do not count unless their powers are something Puny Humans can learn. Sometimes, a more limited power may turn into this over time, due to abuse of New Powers as the Plot Demands.

Note that "magic" in our vocabulary means something that breaks physical laws. Someone who was born and raised in a consistently magical universe would see magic as logical and sensible, much like electricity seems to us. What we call "magic", they would call physics. (Or "quantum".)

See Also: Not Using the Z Word, A Mech by Any Other Name

Examples of Magic by Any Other Name include:

Anime and Manga



Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • The Carrionites - witches who used what the Doctor insisted was not magic, but physics based on words rather than numbers.
    • It also has Block Transfer Computations - complex mathematical equations that were never openly compared to magic, but the most blatant use of them (at least until the novels decided that TARDISes were made out of them) involved a planet of monastic aliens chanting arcane formulae to reshape reality.
    • A funny lampshade (or is it a reference) is made in the Tenth Doctor's episode "The Girl in the Fireplace", where he says that the window they're looking through to XVIII century France is a "spatial-temporal hyperlink".

Rose: "What's that mean?"
The Doctor: "No idea, I just made it up. Didn't want to say 'magic door.'"

Tabletop Games

Video Game

  • Anarchy Online: Nano Programs
  • BioShock (series): Plasmids
  • Dead Space: The kinesis and stasis modules. Somewhat dissonant with the otherwise realistic sci-fi horror setting, but any shooter with physics puzzles needs a levitation ability because it's too much work to properly implement the character picking up and throwing things with his hands like a normal person.
  • EarthBound: Psi
  • Golden Sun: Psynergy
  • Half-Life 1: The Vortessence
  • StarCraft: Psionics (Complete with glowing hands in the sequel even though it is supposed to be a mental power.)
  • Mass Effect: Biotics (It's basically telekinesis and kinetic energy bolts by another name - extremely detailed justifications, but in the end, its still lift spells, shield spells, and Magic Missiles.)
  • The Lord of the Rings Online: Rune-Keepers and Lore-Masters, to get around not being allowed to have wizards running all over the place.
  • Star Ocean: Heraldry, Symbology, Runeology, Whateverology... Justified in-universe as being programming code--the universe is actually an MMORPG, and magic is really just the AI hacking the system, and the eponymous symbols and runes are the game's code.
  • Tales of the Abyss: Fonic Artes
  • Valkyria Chronicles: Valkyrian Flames
  • Phantasy Star: It's an ostensibly Space Opera and Planetary Romance, but ESP and "techniques" are functionally magic.
  • Secret of Evermore: Had alchemy, in what was essentially a VR simulation.

Web Comics

  • Girl Genius: The Spark. Semi-example. The machines are powered by science, but you have to be born with the mysterious "spark" to make them work, and once you do, you can kind of bend the laws of physics. It's not clear to what extent, though, since the technology is never clearly explained.
  • Initally, Tales of the Questor used "Lux" and "magic" indiscriminately. Then they decided to ban the latter term and stop styling themselves “wizards” because it's only magic to other people, and those go by the principle most monotheistic religions have that Magic Is Evil.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Ether; etheric science. A case of insistent terminology by the Court, as opposed to the creatures of the forest.

Web Original

  • Played with in RWBY. During the first couple of volumes Miles Luna and other members of the production staff admitted that Dust was Mana, period thud. Its use, however, is apparently not magic -- not when magic appears to be something an order of magnitude or more powerful than Dust use.

Western Animation