Magic Realism

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from Magical Realism)

It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendía with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (after the arrival of the railroad, when dozens of new inventions—the phonograph, the telephone, the electric lightbulb— flooded Macondo), One Hundred Years of Solitude

It definitely isn't Science Fiction and not quite Urban Fantasy and yet... stuff happens. Unlikely stuff like tchotchkes telling the heroine what to do (Wonderfalls) or the ghost of your father showing up at odd intervals to offer personal and/or professional advice (Due South) or perhaps it's just a quirky vibe that infuses the environment (Northern Exposure or better yet, Twin Peaks). It's Magic Realism.

One of the easiest ways to distinguish magic realism from other genres is the use given to the omniscient/omnipresent narrator device which can be used one way or another. Should the story be told from a first person perspective, then the work in question tends to side more with other genres. Another feature is that the magic which affects reality comes either from a plurality of sources, such as god, black magic, spirits, all at the same time; or from no source at all, being like the weather instead. It might be worthwhile to point that usually there is a strong correlation between magic realism and Surrealism.

Magic realism is often intentionally vague, and (as in Kafka's The Metamorphosis) it can be hard to determine if the protagonist actually is experiencing magical phenomena, or if he's just going insane. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that the story takes place in some sort of mostly normal reality. To sum it up, magic realism is a story that takes place in an ordinary setting (this excludes futuristic space colonies, lost ancient cities et al.), incorporating spiritual elements (ghosts, spirits, angels, heavens, etc...) where extraordinary or even impossible things are viewed as normal and thus, nobody really bothers to explain why such things happen.

Also a helpful guideline (again, just a guideline, not a rule): with fantasy, often a character finds out the Broken Masquerade. However, everybody is the protagonist in their own story; what about the random Muggle who saw something really strange, but never gets an explanation? Well, that Muggle just got the point of view in magic realism. There may very well be vampires and wizards doing what they do, but the Masquerade is upheld. What's a Muggle to do after seeing a guy Immune to Bullets? Well, go about his life and do his thing of course. After all, magic doesn't exist, right? This is the essence of this genre.

The use of Magic A Is Magic A typically helps the audience accept the incongruity. Psychic Dreams for Everyone is also widespread.

Among some people, magic realism is sometimes misused as a term to explain why a work they liked is "literary fiction", and thus allegedly somehow superior to "genre fiction" like Fantasy and Science Fiction. On the other hand, the inclusion of well-written Magic Realism into the canons of Lit Fic is historically well supported, as Latin America's major 20th-century authors mostly wrote in this genre. Indeed, the literary world outside of Latin America so closely associates the region with Magic Realism that the McOndo movement (for which see below) exists chiefly to prove that no, not everything literary that comes from Latin America involves magic and angels.

Magic Realism can also be interpreted as a very progressive form of Speculative Fiction, showing that elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy can be used legitimately in literary fiction. In other words, a great way towards getting out of the Sci Fi Ghetto. Also, it should be noted that Speculative Fiction is not the only genre fiction. Romance, mystery, horror, and the like are also genre fiction that literary snobs enjoy looking down on as well.

When Magic Realism is applied to a long-ago historical setting, compare Demythtification, which involves a "quasi-realistic" retelling of a popular legend in a historical setting. When fantastic elements are more and more outrageous, see The Time of Myths. Not to be confused with a Fractured Fairy Tale, where the fantastic elements may be parodized as Mundane Fantastic.

From another perspective, it's a given that any non-fantasy musical is by definition magic realism, since spontaneously breaking into song with invisible accompaniment gets taken as a perfectly normal thing, although there are a few exceptions where the incongruity is lampshaded, the most notable recent example being Enchanted. (See Musical World Hypotheses for other interpretations.)

Not to be confused with Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy is an old genre in a contemporary setting, Magic Realism deals with a different set of genre rules.

Rule of thumb: Say there's vampires in New York.

  • If the cover gets blown and the protagonists spend a lot of time with vampires, either taking evil ones down, incorporating them into romance stories, etc. it's Urban Fantasy.
  • If a cop's partner is very pale, very strong, generally acts odd, and come to think of it, he's never been seen in daylight, but the story focuses primarily on just a Police Procedural or the interpersonal relationships, it's Magic Realism.
  • If the cop just goes through his life as a cop, but his partner is a vampire, is greeted with "Hi, Mr. vampire!" by cheerful little children in the street, and casually drinks blood in plain sight out of transfusion packs during coffee breaks, it's a case of Mundane Fantastic.

Not to be confused with Doing In the Wizard where fantastical elements in an otherwise realistic setting are explained away. Compare How Unscientific but can have flavors of Domino Revelation if the supernatural starts to be revealed slowly.

Examples of Magic Realism include:


  • In this Corona Commercial the environment shifts between a ski resort and a beach and nobody finds this weird.

Anime and Manga

  • Kino's Journey portrays what seems to be a normal pastoral world, and in fact much of the technology is very similar to its real-world counterpart. But the show also has a talking motorcycle, a possibly talking dog, and portions of the countryside that move on their own. No one seems to find the unusual parts that unusual. May be set After the End, although this isn't made clear.
  • Serial Experiments Lain might fit into this category better than Science Fiction. Among other things, it seems that dead people go to (or through) the Wired after they die, computer equipment can grow like vines, and the physical reality is as much "data" as the computer-world and can likewise be programmed by gifted individuals.
    • And it's perhaps the only cyberpunk, or scienfictionish, narrative to convincingly do so. The reason why Serial Experiment Lain might be an example of this trope is because it basically deals with the digital world merging with the real world, thus creating a hybrid where the rules of this reality don't apply. The problem with this theory is that people do seem to take notice of the change -- one guy even shoots himself in the head because of it.
    • Perspective is everything. Lain's point of view perhaps flips towards Urban Fantasy in the end, but Arisu's remains in the field of Magic Realism.
  • Haibane Renmei also fits. Yoshitoshi ABe is a huge fan of the genre.
  • Nagasarete Airantou is a comedic first-class example. Ikuto, young man of the modern age and the main character finds himself on an island stuck -culturally, at any rate- in the late 19th century. Normal enough at first but before long he's rationalizing away the more... unconventional aspects of his new home, like magic, talking animals, youkai, etc.
  • Despite being ostensibly sci-fi, the Aria series incorporates the supernatural whenever cats are involved. This includes time travel.
  • Asatte no Houkou - The setting is mundane except for the wishing stone that changes Karada and Shoukos' ages.
  • The over arching plot and background of Haruhi Suzumiya has elements of Magic Realism even though the individual pieces are Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is due mainly to Haruhi's powers being very subtle and especially the lack of certainty about what is really a coincidence and what is outright alteration of reality.
  • Lucky Star (anime only) dips into this once when the main character's dead mother visits her family as a ghost. This was later in a manga volume.
  • School Rumble is a normal high school story with normal (if goofy) protagonists. Then Yakumo states that she can magically read people's minds. Another example where it's hard to tell if she really can, if she's just unusually good at reading people, or what.
  • The crux of the plot of Death Note is a magical item from another world falling into the hands of an ordinary (albeit with some... personality quirks) human boy in our world and what he chooses to do with it. Aside from the Death Notes and shinigami, the world depicted in Death Note is highly realistic, and much of the plot focuses so heavily on the human characters using real-world methods and technology to try to catch the Villain Protagonist - and the magic itself is treated in such a mundane and almost scientific fashion - that you might occasionally forget that the plot is founded on the supernatural to begin with.
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service might seem like Urban Fantasy—you've got a psychic, a hacker, a dowser, an embalmer and a channeller of aliens all in the business of physically transporting dead bodies to where the dead want to go—but the setting is resolutely realistic, and they've got the footnotes to prove it.
  • Monster is about the hunt for a Serial Killer who may or may not be The Antichrist. He has an almost supernatural talent for evading justice and detection, despite having murdered probably hundreds of people over a decade, and he seems to have the ability to show other characters a visions of The End of the World as We Know It, albeit on an individual only basis. Near the end, a character sees him as a dragon with multiple heads, another reference to The Antichrist, but said character was drunk. The killer also survives (with surgery) two gunshot wounds to the head in separate incidents, once as a child, which is yet another reference and, further, which he survives with no obvious brain damage (he was already a murderous psychopath before he was shot), though he seems to have become a little more depressed in the intervening years. Most of the rest of the story in contrast is actually fairly realist.
  • Tekkon Kinkreet has the main characters be able to fly/glide, alien assassins, and psychic bonds between brothers. None of this is explained or even really acknowledged.
  • The works of Satoshi Kon offer lot of examples of this, specially in Paranoia Agent and Tokyo Godfathers.
  • Clannad is mostly a slice-of-life romance in a realistic, present-day setting...Except for the Genki Girl in a coma somehow astral projecting herself whom only some can see, a cat who temporarily turns into a human boy and can grant one wish, a lonely world no-one can see that exists somewhere between the layers of our own, and the past being rewritten after years of tragedy, finally resulting in a happy ending.
  • Kanon, another Key anime, is very similar: it's just a normal high school anime, except for the fox that turns into a human girl, the girl with healing powers who fights invisible monsters with a sword, and (yet another) girl in a coma projecting herself and magically producing a happy ending.
  • Skip Beat!! is a story about a girl who sets out to become a star in the Japanese entertainment industry, and follows her ups and downs, new friendships and possible romantic interests, and her burgeoning career. Said girl also has a demon army that gives her anger and resentment a voice and physical presence, and the resident esper is actually not a fake.
  • Arguably the existence of personified countries in Axis Powers Hetalia would count, especially when their dynamics are played with.
  • Helen ESP never explains the nature or origin of Helen's psychic powers, and they don't really change that much about her life.
  • Da Capo. The main character is a mage who jumps into people's dreams, there's also a magical cherry tree that grants wishes, a reality altering witch, mind readers, cats becoming human, a human sized cat that the girls see around town, and ever blooming cherry trees, and although it's a bit odd, nobody ever questions their reality.
  • Mawaru Penguindrum, where the main characters' souls are represented by penguins only they can see, aphrodisiac potions brewed from frogs really work, and key scenes take place on a strange, alternate version of the Tokyo subway all pass without much comment. For extra credit, the show makes several references to other examples of Magic Realism, such as Night on the Galactic Railroad and Haruki Murakami's works.
  • For what seems to be a Slice of Life series about cute high school girls riding motorcycles, Bakuon!! has a strange undercurrent of Magic Realism -- Hane learns to drive on a talking motorcycle that coaches her through her lessons (and which later has a conversation with one of the driving school's technicians), many of the staff at the school appear to be animate crash test dummies and marionettes, and Hane meets someone who just might be Jesus on the road to Aomori, who gives her the Holy Grail because she helped him with a breakdown. Among other things.


  • Field of Dreams: "If you build it, he will come."
    • Your Mileage May Vary. Field of Dreams shares the same plot as many fantasy ghost stories: the undead communicate with the living in order to achieve a certain goal. Usually, these stories are in the horror genre and Field of Dreams is obviously a drama but otherwise, it's pretty standard.
  • A Hard Day's Night. Most of it is realistic enough that viewers have mistaken it for a real Documentary; but there are a couple of segments which just cannot happen in even The Beatles' real life, and (this being a comedy) there isn't even a Hand Wave for why they happen.
  • Nearly every film the Coen brothers make has at least some Magic Realist elements, with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Barton Fink being the most obvious examples.
  • The Film of the Book of Being There diverges from its source novel in this manner. Hal Ashby, the director, came up with a different ending than the one scripted as a salute to how believable the actors were - since the audience would already accept Chance the Gardener becoming one of the most important men in the world in a matter of days simply through misunderstandings, then they would also accept the final shot's revelation that he can literally Walking on Water. There's no explanation given as to how, and Chance is as surprised as the audience is; he even tests the depth of the water with his umbrella...but, being who he is, he accepts it right away as just something he can do.
  • Groundhog Day: Bill Murray gets stuck in a weird time loop, for which no explanation is ever offered.
    • The original script had an ex-girlfriend curse him using a spell she found in a book.
    • A possible example as Bill Murray often questions why it's happening and nobody believes him when he tells them.
  • L.A. Story, written by Steve Martin, applies many of the tropes of Magic Realism. What else can you call a story where a variable-message sign on the highway offers a character advice on his love life?
  • Liar Liar: Be Careful What You Wish For forces Jim Carrey to tell the truth. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Pan's Labyrinth At first sight it might seem as a fairy tale, albeit not a happy one, once you take into account that Orfelia might have just made everything up and add to the mix a mandragora... which is ignored by everyone since they are all too busy dealing with this little thing called the Spanish Civil War ... then it becomes less clear whether it's a straightforward fairy tale.
  • Stranger Than Fiction. The movie is more or less like this, Harold is struggling with life, and the only magical thing is that he seems to be the main character of a book. The book in question also seems to have Magic Realism elements to it, as his watch becomes sentient for a second.
  • The 1998 theatrical film based on the Cirque Du Soleil show Alegria. It's obvious the world the characters exist in is a little more colorful and eccentric than ours, but possible magic comes in at the end when the manager/ringmaster encounters and converses with his own stage character.
  • Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a surreal Czech film based on novel of the same name, in which love, fear, sex and religion merge into one fantastic world.
  • The revenge western Seraphim Falls verges into magic realism in the third act, when a Magical Native American and a snake oil saleswoman appear out of nowhere to each of the two main characters and engineer a final confrontation between the nemeses. The Native American is named Charon in the credits and the saleswoman's name is revealed to be Louise C. Fair.
  • Take "magic realism," replace "magic" with "video game," and that's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Enemies have unique mystical powers, video game graphics show up and may even be interacted with by characters, and people explode into coins once bested in a duel. But otherwise, you know, just the normal lives of twenty-something Canadians. While these elements appeared in the graphic novel source material, the film revels in it all, maybe just because we see it all in motion.
  • Big Fish[context?]
  • The Tin Drum is both a novel and a film about a boy who Never Grew Up, was perfectly aware while in the womb, and can create destructive screams. While the book version of the character is likely insane, the movie plays it straight. It's a historical/political drama.
  • Don Juan Demarco: The title character is a mental patient, with delusions of living in a wonderful world full of romance and adventure. In the movie's final sequence, he and a couple friends hop on a plane and go to that world.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock: When the girls from a Victorian age Australian girl's school go on a picnic, some odd things happen.
  • Midnight in Paris. When Gil Pender waits on a certain street corner of Paris at midnight, a car arrives and takes him to famous Paris locales in the 1920s, where he spends his nights with people like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. In the 1920s, waiting in a certain spot allows the protagonist to travel to an even earlier era, and so on and so forth.
  • Several sequences in Come and See are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so.
  • The 1948 film The Boy With Green Hair about a war orphan who wakes up one morning to find that he has green hair.
  • I ♥ Huckabees.[context?]
  • Enchanted: While there are fairy tale elements (honorary princess Giselle is our heroine after all), there are also realistic elements as well. Nathaniel and Narissa are on the fairy tale side, but it’s not unrealistic for Nathaniel to end up in an abusive relationship because a woman decided to use her good looks to her advantage. Unfortunately for Nathaniel, Narissa doesn’t see him as a friend (or a love interest). She considers him to be a slave.
  • Indiana Jones: While the deaths in Indiana Jones are supernatural a lot of the time, it's because the villains simply weren't careful about what they wished for, which is fairly realistic. Either that, or because they chose to be careless, as with the case of Donovan (he chose the wrong grail, and suffered the consequences). Though in the case of Mola Ram (the main villain of Temple of Doom), he more or less died because Indiana Jones ended up outsmarting him... and because he fell into crocodile-infested water.
  • The film Bewitched is about a Continuity Reboot of the 1960s TV series as a vehicle to rescue the career of a floundering actor -- which just accidentally happens to hire a real witch to play its version of Samantha. In addition to her Rule Magic and that of her Witch Species, though, there is Magic Realism-verging-on-Wild Magic swirling around her and her Jerkass costar, which ultimately manifests as characters from the TV series appearing to advise both of them.


  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez' book One Hundred Years of Solitude popularized the term and is often considered to be the master work of the genre, and one of the most important pieces of universal literature written in the 20th century. A few years of rain, a gypsy who keeps coming back to life, a man who just sits in the basement and doesn't speak, and a couple dozen civil wars are some of the more normal aspects of the book. Marquez' other works also tend to feature this to a greater or lesser degree, such as A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.
  • Before Marquez, there was Juan Rulfo and Pedro Paramo
  • The Tiger's Wife features a lot of fantastical elements (most obviously 'the deathless man', who is exactly what he sounds like), which are being related at second- or third-hand and may or may not have happened.
  • Diana Wynne Jones likes to play with this trope in most of her short stories. Plague of Peacocks, Little Dot, and Carruthurs are good examples. Even Dogsbody has this from Kathleen's point of view.
  • Magic Realism is very prominent in 20th century Latin American literature. In fact, Magic Realism is so prevalent in Latin American literature that the McOndo movement was formed specifically to distance itself from its clichés.
    • Jorge Luis Borges' body of short stories pretty much invented Magic Realism.
    • Mexican Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, wherein the protagonist's feelings for her beloved are transferred into the food she is preparing, which her sister then eats, which causes her to literally burn up in passion—she goes to use the outdoor shower and ends up setting it on fire before a soldier of the revolution rides by on horseback, scoops her up, and they have passionate sex while riding away on the horse.
      • Magical cooking is a popular concept for magic realism and "straight" fantasy both within and without Latin America. See also Chocolat, for instance.
    • Other prominent writers include Alejo Carpentier and Isabel Allende.
      • And don't forget Rudolfo Anaya.
  • And The Ass Saw the Angel, by Nick Cave, is either the paragon of Magic Realism or the narrator is even crazier than he seems. Or both.
  • Franz Kafka
  • Italo Calvino is a famous Italian writer whose works skirted Magic Realism. His book Invisible Cities consisted entirely of Marco Polo describing to Kublai Khan various cities he had visited which become less and less real as the book continues. These include a city where the buildings have washed away leaving only the pipes, a city where the streets are filled with soil instead of air, and a city which is never finished being built so that it cannot be destroyed.
  • The Illuminatus trilogy and most of the other novels by Robert Anton Wilson tend to alternate between this genre and Science Fiction; the world is mostly as we know it, but there's usually some technology that can't exist in the era the stories are set in, such as a sentient computer in Illuminatus!. There are always Psychic Powers as well, some more subtle than others.
  • Writer George Saunders is big on this. In the short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline he has several examples, as most of his stories are very dreamlike. In the title story, the main character works in a Civil War themed Amusement Park where he regularly encounters a family of ghosts who lived on the land during the Civil War. Another story features a man hounded by the ghost of a child who was killed due to his negligence. Other than these elements the stories are grounded in reality (if perhaps an overly bleak version of reality.)
  • Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz seems to be straight post-apocalyptic Science Fiction—except for the recurrent appearance, over intervals separated by centuries, of a character who is clearly the Wandering Jew.
  • Pick a Salman Rushdie novel. Any Salman Rushdie novel.
    • Much of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is considered Magic Realism, as the children in the title have various powers and abilities ranging from beauty capable of blinding people to an ability to physically hurt people with words.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a normal life story and period piece, except the title character was born as an old man and ages backward.
  • Virtually everything by Haruki Murakami falls into this category, along with Magic A Is Magic A, New Rules as the Plot Demands, and How Unscientific. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and A Wild Sheep Chase are probably the best examples.
  • The Time Traveler's Wife. Exactly What It Says on the Tin, folks.
  • A big portion of Etgar Keret's stories. Few examples: A winged man pretending to be an angel, several magicians capable of real magic, soldiers who got turned into body targets, a guy with mind-controlling ability (who uses it to get laid) and a boy who can control ants (and uses them to take the school away).
  • You could make a point for House of Leaves as Magic Realism, but however you cut it, it sure has a way of straddling reality and unreality.
  • Snow In August by Pete Hamill pulls out the Magic Realism card in the last few chapters. In order to punish the gang of anti-semitic thugs that beat a Jewish store clerk into a coma, threatened Michael and his friends, beat him up later on, attempted to sexually assault his mother, beat up Rabbi Hirsch, and repeatedly vandalized the temple with swastikas, Michael performs the Golem summoning ritual in the legend the Rabbi told him and actually succeeds. As part of the miracle, all of the gang's victims are also healed, and the Rabbi's wife who was killed by the Nazis is brought back to life.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated has often been described as magical realist.
  • Michael Bishop's Brittle Innings is a coming-of-age story about a mute teenager who plays on a minor-league baseball team in the Deep South during World War II, when all the 'real' ball players are fighting the war. It's almost an incidental detail that the team's slugging first baseman is Frankenstein.
  • In The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To, nobody knows why Eric can't sleep and doesn't have to (and very few people are even aware that's the case): most of the narrative attention is given to his and Darren's life as geeky high schoolers until The Men in Black find out.
    • Interestingly, there may actually be an explanation for it. Rhett Lamb almost never slept, and Hai Ngoc hasn't slept in thirty years. It looks like this can be caused by odd, rare medical conditions, though it's certainly fantastic.
  • Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange proudly parades its magic realism and Gabriel García Márquez influence. Seven main characters in modern-day Los Angeles and Mexico's lives interweave in strange and not-very-satisfying ways when an orange causes a gigantic traffic accident, then firestorm on a major freeway. Meanwhile, another orange that happened to grow on the Tropic of Cancer (which was fertilized somehow by the woman who works on the property) causes the geography to shift completely when... well, it still doesn't make much sense, except there were lots of Author Tracts.
    • Similarly, her novel Through the Arc of the Rainforest. The plot revolves around a massive field of plastic with seemingly magical properties being uncovered in the middle of The Amazon, and the manner in which the main characters (including an American businessman with three arms, a Japanese railway conductor with a little ball floating in front of his face, and a Brazilian radio evangelist who thinks that the plastic is holy) interact with it.
  • In Skellig, a la the page quote, the eponymous character is a man with wings who might be an angel and who lives in the young protagonist's garage.
  • Jonathan Carroll's novels, especially his earlier work.
  • Zenia from Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride has no provable supernatural abilities, but with her palpable aura of evil she reminds one of a fairy tale witch.
  • Pretty much the entire output of both Kelley Link and her husband Gavin J. Grant. In almost all of the stories the two have written, really weird stuff happens (ghosts, zombie apocalypse, a handbag that holds an entire town, a stream-of-consciousness television show that appears on random stations at random times) but no one reacts as if it was at all strange.
  • Anything written by Alice Hoffman. A good example is Practical Magic.
  • Sarah Addison Allen's books.
  • Flemish writers Johan Daisne and especially Hubert Lampo.
  • An unusual biographical example in Stranger Than Fiction: The Life and Times of Split Enzz, which chronicles the foundation and original run of the New Zealand band Split Enz... oh, and God shows up at one point.
  • Amos Tutuola's books depict magic realism in an African setting. The protagonists live in a world where they often come in contact with spirits of the Bush. A good example is The Palm-Wine Drinkard.
  • Grooves: A Kind of Mystery by Kevin Brockmeier has a pretty normal world, but audio messages are encoded in such unusual things as the ripples on rippled potato chips and the texture of blue jeans. The message? "He's stealing the light from our eyes," which is literally what "he" was doing.
  • There's a whole sub-genre of historical fiction that fits this. Generally the earlier the era and/or the more non-western the culture dealt with, the more likely this is. Common features are prophetic dreams/visions, an individual or group of individuals with mystic knowledge and something like the Australian Dream Time.
    • Steven Barnes' Ibandi novels set in Late Paleolithic Africa.
    • Manda Scott's Boudicca series about the Celtic warrior woman.
    • Daniel Peters' The Inca
    • Both The Spiral Dance, set during the Great Northern Rebellion in Elizabethan England and American Woman, and account of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the events leading up to it from the perspective of the white wife of a Cheyenne warrior by Rodrigo Garcia y Robertson. In fact most of Garcia y Robertson's stuff qualifies.
  • Tananarive Due's The Between in which a man is haunted by the ghosts of his alternate selves who feel that he should have died in their place.
  • An odd example is David Weber's In Fury Born, which starts off as a typical Weber military space opera, until the Greek Fury Tisiphone shows up. (This is exacerbated by the fact that In Fury Born is an expansion of the earlier Path of the Fury, in which Tisiphone shows up about twenty pages in; In Fury Born introduces her around the halfway point.)
  • Elizabeth Goudge's children's novel Linnets and Valerians rides a boundary very carefully. Certain of the characters believe very much that magic, fairies, and curses exist as verifiable reality. Others don't, seeing only dreams, mystery, and coincidence. While many mysterious events happen over the course of the novel happen that might well be magical in nature, the characters (and reader) never quite get the final confirmation which interpretation is correct.
  • The first part of Justine Larbalestier's Liar is like this. The reader is given subtle hints that Micah is a werewolf but it is never touched on, the majority of the section focusing on Zach's murder. The second part is more explicitly fantasy.
  • The novel Hothouse Flower and The Nine Plants of Desire tends to blur the line between reality and folklore.
  • Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad novels, sliceoflife/mysteries set in rural North Carolina featuring Nora Bonesteel an old woman who has "The Sight".
  • Happens in two of Jodi Picoult's books. In Change of Heart, Shay Bourne is somehow able to cure one of his cellmates of AIDS and cause water to turn into wine. In fact, a priest specifically sees him as a Jesus-analogue. The main focus of the book, however, is on the ramifications of the death penalty. The trope is in fact double-subverted because some of his miraculous acts have mundane explanations, but then the little girl who he donated his heart to miraculously brings her dog back to life. In Harvesting the Heart, Paige has the ability to draw pictures of people and weave some of their hidden memories or desires into the drawing. The focus of that book is mainly on Paige's problems with being a mother.
  • In contrast to his better-known works, J. R. R. Tolkien uses this trope in the fragment The Notion Club Papers.
  • Ray Bradbury relies on this fairly often when not writing straightforward science fiction. The most obvious example is "Uncle Einar", possibly an homage to the Marquez story mentioned above.
  • While Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series mostly avoids this (except for Morelli's Great Aunt Bella whose curses are a case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane) the holiday oriented subseries feture Diesel (now with his own series), a magical bounty hunter who specializes in chasing "specials" (people with mutant powers) gone bad.
  • Toni Morrison's classic Beloved has the resurrection of Sethe's unnamed daughter (whose tombstone simply read "Beloved"). How this happened, or why Beloved is as old as she would have been, is never discussed.
    • The ghost in the opening sequence (implied to be the same character as Beloved) would also qualify.
  • Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, which would be a normal historical romance set in the 18th century if one of the two main characters wasn't from the 20th.
  • Jo Walton's Among Others about a Welsh girl in an English boarding school trying, with the occasional help of the faerie to cope with life and the psychic attacks of her mother, an evil witch.
  • Michael Chabon's Summerland starts out as this. It revolves around a quirky little island community where it always rains (but always has inexplicably perfect weather at the local baseball field), and includes a Bungling Inventor who builds miniature airships, a teenage boy who's convinced that he's an android, and a 109 year-old retired baseball player. Then the Save the World plot starts, and it makes a Genre Shift into full-on High Fantasy.
  • Bruce Sterling's Zeitgeist set in the midst of Y2K hysteria and featuring one "Leggy" Starlitz and his rather odd daughter.

Live-Action TV

  • The Golden Girls: Sophia encountered her husband's ghost twice, Blanche may have encountered her grandmother's ghost once, Dorothy may have been cursed by a witch, Sophia may have been a witch, the girls encountered bizarre dreams, and let's not get started about St. Olaf...
  • The unfortunately Too Good to Last Fox sitcom Key West was, in its time, one of the best examples of this on television.
  • The British Sitcom 2point4 children is a prime example. It is a perfectly mundane show, with the exception of the strange things that happen to the mother, Bill Porter. Like the number of prophetic dreams she's had, or the time she found herself chased... by a hurricane (the storm literally followed her when she left Miami to avoid it, and was also named Hurricane Bill).
    • Odd things occasionally happen to her husband as well. Yes, it's possible that his Sitcom Arch Nemesis (who's a The Prisoner fan) might kidnap him and leave him in Portmerion ... but then Rover appears...
    • And the man on the motorcycle who kept appearing whenever Bill needed help and who may actually have been Dead All Along.
  • Later seasons of Seinfeld toyed with magic realism, such as a nightclub that turns into a meat-packing plant by day, or Elaine meeting a group of people who are physically similar but emotionally the exact opposites of Jerry, George and Kramer. Also, a woman who seemingly changed from beautiful to hideous on the spot, and Kramer owned a dummy that apparently came to life at the end of the episode.
    • Also the stink in Jerry's car.
  • My So-Called Life was a straight up teen Soap Opera Dramedy and contained absolutely no supernatural elements whatsoever. Except for the episode "Halloween," where Angela encounters a ghost. Or "My So-Called Angels" (widely regarded as one of the best and most tearjerking episodes) where both Angela and her mother talk to a (sort of) angel.
  • Twin Peaks actually barely fits here, but it's worth mentioning. Most of the show is fairly mundane, but when it isn't, it's uproariously supernatural. Actually, most of the works David Lynch is known for are like this: mundane human drama interspersed with the pants-crappingly bizarre.
    • Lynch's films have it both ways. Some of them really do fit the definition of Magic Realism and fit comfortably within the genre, while others are clearly supernatural but are lumped in with Magic Realism because it's an easy way out of the Sci Fi Ghetto. It doesn't help that the only Lynch film they really can't weasel their way out of acknowledging as anything but what it is, Dune, really was bad.
    • There is some disagreement over the setting of Eraserhead, whether it's a Magic Realist Pittsburgh or a Post Apocalyptic nightmare land or Purgatory or anything really. Perhaps it would be better to say that there may be some agreements about Eraserhead.
    • Inland Empire straddles the line of this and Absurdism, but Mulholland Drive is magic realism.
  • Spaced featured elements of light Magic Realism, such as Colin the dog (who seems to be more intelligent than he ought to be), a vivisectionist who can disappear at will and a pair of Creepy Twins who speak with one voice.
  • As mentioned above, Due South allows ghosts, who demonstrate abilities to affect the real world. They do, however, appear mostly only to those with an emotional connection to them. One story, too, involved the likely involvement of the literal Raven trickster, and another a voodoo conflict which may or may not have involved actual magic.
  • Slings and Arrows, depending on your perspective. It's possible, of course, that Geoffrey's just crazy - but it's also not made obvious that Oliver's ghost isn't hanging around.
  • The Adventures of Pete and Pete is a bit like Twin Peaks FOR KIDS!. The world isn't really magical, but it is extremely bizarre and the inexplicable often happens.
  • In the Bones universe, ghosts probably exist.
    • And Angela's psychic may have been more than just deluded.
  • Felicity broke into this by the end. The main character can't decide between Ben and Noah? Simple; her Wiccan friend will cast a spell that sends her back in time a few years so she has enough time to figure everything out. Yes, kids, J.J. Abrams created it.
  • NCIS is about as grounded in reality as they come, except for the slightly surreal season four finale, where Jeanne is implied to see the Angel of Death, in the form of a small child. At the end Jeanne mentions the girl and is told that it was a girl who was lost and whose parents were looking for her, so it seems like this is subverted, but then we see the girl... and she looks nothing like the one Jeanne saw before.
    • Plus Gibbs' infallible instincts.
      • And his ability to get a boat out of his basement.
      • Be fair, no one really knows for sure what happened to the boat. He may have simply broken it down and started over. Both this and his instincts are justified by Rule of Funny.
  • Even ignoring Zack's fourth wall breaking powers Saved by the Bell had some weird stuff going on including an apparently sapient robot and a lightning strike causing a character to temporarily gain precognition.
    • Speaking of the fourth wall powers. Zack could actually say "Time out," and everything but him stops, and he usually does this to talk to the audience, but he was capable of actually moving things around while time was frozen, and once quickly used "time out" to avoid being punched in the face. It's not a gag that "doesn't count" story-wise; Zack Morris has for-real time altering powers.
  • It's sketchy, but Lost fits the definition of Magic Realism better than it does any other type of Speculative Fiction. When you boil it down, Lost is the story of some seriously dysfunctional people who get stuck together, forge some real connections, figure out how to survive in a hostile environment, become better people and eventually let go of their issues. This story just happens to take place on an island that's been known to move through space and time, can heal people, and is home to ghosts and people with immortality (among other things).[1]
  • How I Met Your Mother sometimes verges into this territory, including events that waver between magical and highly unlikely. (Dopplegangers, some of Barney's schemes.) However, the show can always fall back on the fact that Ted has been established as an Unreliable Narrator, leaving it unclear which events happened exactly as described and which have been embellished or misremembered.
    • Also, a couple of season five episodes have Marshall seemingly time-traveling as minor elements.
  • Pushing Daisies was weird about this: the premise is that the main character can bring the dead back to life, so it's clearly Urban Fantasy, but that's the only explicitly magical element. The rest of the world is a Magic Realism-esque one: there's a car that runs on dandelions, two characters who can Sherlock Scan by smell and a jockey who had the legs of his dead horse transplanted into his body to replace his own, but none of this is treated as magical, unlike the protagonist's necromancy.
  • Life On Mars and its spin-off Ashes to Ashes.
  • There has been at least one ghost (maybe) and an alleged vampire on the otherwise reality-based Diagnosis: Murder.
  • The ghosts that visit Tommy in Rescue Me may or may not be real.
  • Night Court was packed with examples of this trope -- including an appearance by Wile E. Coyote.
  • Alias does this with the Rambaldi artifacts with which Arvin Sloan has an obsession. They do things that are on the border of magic and technology, and are never fully explained. In the series finale, the Rambaldi artifacts become clearly magical, as they preserve Sloan alive forever, trapped underground. J.J. Abrams, y'all.
  • The Unusuals is an otherwise completely normal (if quirky) cop show that has a character who receives occasional prophetic messages from fortune cookies and, in the pilot, is the recipient of a Pulp Fiction-style miracle. And then there's the episode "42," which seems to indicate that a psychic they question can really see the future.
  • While The Suite Life of Zack and Cody was firmly based in reality, On Deck and The Movie started introducing more fantastical elements. Possibly to make it fit better in the same universe as the less realistic Wizards of Waverly Place.
    • Don't forget that The Suite Life of Zack and Cody had the boys travel to an alternate universe and come back with a coin from said universe thus proving it to not be a dream, a ghost haunting the hotel, Raven visiting with her psychic powers and Arwin building a robot.
  • The real world portions of Once Upon a Time are this. the Fairy world portions are of course much more explicitly magical.
  • American Horror Story
  • Kenneth in 30 Rock is Really Seven Hundred Years Old. This is played totally as a Running Gag.
  • Quantum Leap: The time travel stuff and the seldom-seen future setting of Mission Control were the only non-mundane features of the universe, as the bulk of an episode was the mission to Set Right What Once Went Wrong in the lives of normal people. "That guy runs someone over on Friday if he keeps up the illegal street-racing; help him learn his lesson before then" was the usual mission rather than "prevent World War Three." But we once met the Devil, and once had Sam leap into a vampire. He also met a ghost and an angel.
  • If Halloween specials count, every sitcom in ABC's TGIF line ran into the supernatural but its characters never saw fit to mention it during the rest of the year or adjust their worldview knowing that Cory traveled through time or that TJ got dating advice from a ghost.
  • Another "the fantastic exists, but not that kind" example: Power Rangers Time Force shares The Verse with magic-based teams, but that particular series was all sci-fi - good guys were a Heroes-R-Us organization, bad guys were Gattaca Babies Gone Horribly Wrong. However, the Yellow Ranger meets the ghost of a previous owner of their clock tower. The ghost is gone once she ends up changing history and giving him a happy ending, and there's some question as to whether or not any of it happened, but we get the Or Was It a Dream? reveal with a painting that is now different.

Newspaper Comics

  • Calvin and Hobbes was a wonderful, delightful comic about a six-year-old boy and his stuffed pet tiger who go on all sorts of crazy adventures. It's unclear to what extent Calvin is imagining the whole thing or believing makes it real. In particular, the strip was very cagey about the true nature of Hobbes, with evidence both for and against him actually being a sapient, animate being.
  • Candorville is usually credible enough, allowing for a pretty serious undercurrent to the punchlines in Lemont's life. But every few months, he'll meet someone like a talking scarecrow, a ghost, or himself from the future.
  • A world where one encounters inexplicably sentient plants and animals, mythological creatures who may or may not really exist, buildings that are larger on the inside than the outside, and several young children with unexplained highly-advanced talents and knowledge would probably be considered by many to be a magic realist setting. And that's the world Charlie Brown wakes up to every day.

Professional Wrestling

  • The Undertaker. He can apparently control lightning and fire, the arena lights always dim when he makes his entrance and then there's the rolling fog. None of the other wrestlers question this or even seem bothered by the fact that they are sharing a locker room with an apparent supernatural being. Except of course there was that brief time when he went around in a biker costume calling himself the American Badass.
    • This was later worked into his gimmick as Taker got older and his body couldn't keep up with a rigorous schedule, working (at best) a few months out of the year. It's now explicitly stagecraft; the "power of the Undertaker" is his ability to awe through his mere presence, and being the most long-running performer to still look good by his own merits.
  • A more recent[when?] example would be the character Winter in TNA. She only appeared in backstage segments with Angelina Love and kept disappearing whenever she looked away. The announcers never mentioned her and apparently only Angelina could see her. Then Angelina accepted her and now she actively competes on the roster.

Video Games

  • Metal Gear Solid. Real world setting, real guns, walking robots, magical floating psychics, autotrophic snipers, bee men, ghosts, and a bisexual, flamenco-dancing vampire. The original title featured a collection of Charles Atlas Superpower bosses, the Ensemble Darkhorse of which was a floating, fourth-wall breaking psychic. Later games would expand upon this with a steady increase of Magic Realism. Metal Gear Solid 4 dabbled with Doing In the Wizard, but official Word of God is that Vamp was still immortal in Metal Gear Solid 2 and Ocelot was possessed, but had the arm removed and started faking possession instead.
  • No More Heroes seems to take place in a fairly dull Californian city. Except for the fact that the protagonist purchases a functioning lightsaber on eBay and proceeds to off progressively more bizarre assassins. At one point his mentor dies, but afterward the mentor's ghost continues his job working at the gym. No one seems to find any of this at all odd.
    • Of course, this is from the same mind that brought us Killer7, a political thriller starring a man who can transform into seven different people, see and speak to the dead, and fight exploding monsters that possess human bodies. And then there's No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, which has Travis Touchdown using dimension warps and fighting ghosts, among other things.
  • In the Ace Attorney series, spirit channeling exists but is totally incidental to most cases and really just a way for Phoenix to get help from his dead mentor. Except in the cases where spirit channeling was directly involved with the murder.
    • And then, there's Apollo and Trucy, who both have superhuman perception, which basically makes them living Lie-Detectors.
      • It's acually explained in the game that it's not a supernatrual power but rather a biological gene passed down through the Magnifi family line. This is based on an acual biological gene that gives people more then average twitch and nervous detection, it exists, just look it up.
      • Though they may have the gene that permits advanced perception, Apollo still has a bracelet that reacts when it senses that someone is feeling tense.
  • A recurring element in the Sly Cooper series. Mojo and ghosts exist, and raising the dead nets you a life sentence in prison.
  • The entire MOTHER/EarthBound series has definite elements of Magic Realism, which are especially prominent in Mother 3.
  • The game of The Darkness is about a mafia hitman who just so happens to become possessed by a millenia-old demon that grants him superpowers. The main focus of the plot is still his quest for vengeance against the entirely mortal don who betrayed him.
  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories follows an ordinary man journeying through a realistic town... which periodically turns to ice and spawns hideous monsters. Exactly what is causing these things to happen is never fully explained (merely implied, and ambiguously so at that).
    • Heck, the Silent Hill series as a whole. There are various explanations, but they're ambiguous, or contradictory, or there are elements in place suggesting that things aren't quite as they seem.
      • It's not Magic Realism at all. Regarding Shattered Memories, None of it happened. It's a metaphor. Cheryl, the protagonist's daughter, is sitting on the couch in the psychiatrist's office. The real protagonist, Harry Mason, died in a car accident some time ago. The player's actions follow a symbolic - and absolutely not literal - Journey to the Center of the Mind of the conflict in Cheryl. The game uses the player's actions during that journey to try to guess the player's nature, and then tries to tailor that journey to pull a Player Punch. Whether it succeeds is up to each player. Also, the town and setting is clearly not realistic. The town's residents can be counted on one's fingers, despite some pretty big apartment buildings. There's quite a bit of Chaos Architecture in Shattered Memories (and the rest of the series). As for the others, Silent Hill I and Silent Hill Homecoming both have endings which could allow the events to have been fictional or a Dying Dream, but if Silent Hill I is a dying dream, then Silent Hill III could not happen. Silent Hill II‍'‍s, III‍'‍s, IV‍'‍s, and Origin‍'‍s endings all accept that the events in question did happen, and only the final outcomes could be in doubt (joke endings excluded). They also lack the restraint that Magic Realism requires. Blood-splattered trips to a hellish alternate reality populated by things which would make Giger wet himself are not a feature of Magic Realism.
  • Pathologic. The setting is realistic, the characters are very human, one of the playable characters has Lovecraftian Super Powers. There are a bunch of medicine men wrapped head to toe in bandages who sell herbs that grow from blood. There are loads of children walking around without parents, and occasionally wearing the dead heads of dogs as masks. Disease clouds attack you. They come in the form of horrendous, symbolic abominations. We haven't even discussed the rather meta theater themes...

Web Comics

  • Shortpacked is an interesting example. The previous webcomic by the same author, It's Walky, was straight-out science-fiction adventure about a group of alien-abductee government agents. Shortpacked exists in the same world, but in a much more mundane setting—a toy store. Thus, the elements that took center stage in It's Walky are pushed to the edges, and the genre shifts to Magic Realism.
  • Pictures for Sad Children is mainly about the pressures of modern life and the clash between the opposite sides of the Sliding Scale. The main characters are Paul, a recently-deceased Bedsheet Ghost, and Gary, whose extended family was recently revealed to collectively possess the same powers as Jesus.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Within the Achewood anything made in Mexico contains "Mexican magic realism." For example, a camera that takes pictures of what a person feels like, an RV that is always raining on the inside, and a helicopter that moves by causing the occupants legs to grow to several hundred feet and walking.
    • Most recently[when?], a Nagel serape that grants wishes (actually only the "Hecho en Mexico" tag attached to it grants wishes).
  • Questionable Content slips in a fair amount of this, mostly in science-fiction or alcoholic form.
  • Homestuck is a great offender. It is perfectly normal that everyone stores their things in a Hyperspace Arsenal that can only be accessed in weird ways, item cards have captcha codes that serve strange purposes, and everyone can only use one particular kind of weapon unless they obtain additional equipment slots. The proper response when encountering your loved one is to engage in a brutal but bloodless battle, and a program that can remodel your room over an Internet connection is met with no surprise at all. Rose is also rather unfazed by gaining actual magic powers. And Dave takes everything in stride.
    • Eventually explained by the fact that the universe was created by internet trolls playing a video game.
      • Though that's still no excuse for why the Troll universe follows the same mechanics.
        • That's because the Troll universe would have been created by 36 players from a previous game, following the pattern that the game has. The Trolls created the Kids' universe, where there are only 4 players. It's a big confusing loop.
  • Penny Arcade is a Two Gamers on a Couch comic set in what is nominally the real world, although sometimes Jesus Christ comes over to play Mario Kart.
  • In The Devil's Panties, which is mostly slice-of-life, the main character occasionally chats with both Jesus and the devil, her shoulder angel and devil seem to have lives of their own and one of her roommates used to keep Legolas naked and locked in a closet.
  • Think Before You Think happens in a normal world, but the main character can read minds, and he is the only one, as far as we know.

Western Animation

  • The Boondocks is sometimes like this. Notably, the ghost segments, and Stinkmeaner coming back from hell to possess Tom Dubois.
  • The Simpsons started out fairly ordinary but around Season 10 more and more ridiculous elements started showing up.
    • It makes the Season 8 quote "You want a realistic, down-to-earth show... that's completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?" amusingly prophetic..
  • Beavis and Butthead occasionally did this. For example, the Morning Wood Fairy turning out to be real in "The Mystery of Morning Wood".
  • One episode of King of the Hill had Luanne being visited by the angel of her dead boyfriend Buckley, though they kept it ambiguous whether she was imagining it or not.

Other Media

  • The Everything2 short story, How to spot a powerful mage.
  • The Residents‍'‍ "Bunny Boy" series is set in what could loosely be construed as "reality", if it weren't for such things as Psychic Dreams for Everyone, people who might not exist-but on some level do anyways, warped Bible prophecy, and just enough little additions and subtractions from what's "real".
  • Many David Firth works, e.g. Roof Tiling, World Within a Sock, can be described as this, although they can also be described as Surreal Horror.
  1. And just so you lot are clear, there was absolutely nothing magical or supernatural about the polar bear.