Magic plays a key role in many anime worlds, and the various magic systems out there tend to be incredibly powerful. It's important for spells and abilities to be balanced and reasonable.
More importantly, the magic system in an anime shouldn't be an easy out for characters when they run into obstacles.
Yes, viewers don't want generic magic systems that are boring and impotent—but we also don't want deus ex machina to rob the tension from any and all conflicts that befall our protagonists.
Only the most carefully crafted magic systems strike that balance, and in doing so, they provide us with a fascinating world that's exciting, memorable, and full of potential.
Here are my picks for the best anime magic systems that are unique, fun, thrilling, and downright interesting.
5. Alchemy (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Whether you watch Fullmetal Alchemist or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the magic system—called Alchemy—is largely the same.
Alchemy presents itself as a logical system of "equivalent exchange" that turns matter and energy of one form into another. Examples include pulling a spear out of a stone floor, turning a spark of fire into a raging inferno, or fusing two kids into an unholy abomination.
Characters in Fullmetal Alchemist approach this magic system as a science, using a huge amount of study and practice to make seemingly impossible feats happen right before our eyes.
Alchemy allows for a huge variety of powers, with characters developing their own signature techniques. This gives everyone spells and attacks that are uniquely their own without ever feeling out of place.
4. Magic (Fairy Tail)
The world of Fairy Tail is filled to the brim with magic. There are magical creatures everywhere and entire guilds of wizards who compete against each other for power and prestige.
This is a softer magic system than many of the others on this list, with fewer strict rules and more fluid creativity. There are some rules, of course, and those core concepts stick around throughout the show, but some rules end up being subject to change.
Each spell in Fairy Tail falls into one of two categories: Caster Magic (the spell comes from within a magic user) and Holder Magic (the spell comes from an item held by a wielder).
There are countless subcategories, but having two broad terms to define every spell makes it easy for viewers to identify characters while giving the story plenty of room to improvise when the plot requires it.
3. Stands (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure)
Very few anime series have dared to completely revamp their magic systems midway through their runs, but JoJo's Bizarre Adventure took a shot at it—and pulled it off beautifully.
In the first two parts of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, there was Hamon, which involved controlled breathing and sunlight energy to perform attacks. Then, starting in the third part, the series shifted to Stands.
Stands are manifestations of an individual's mental state, and this system of magic paved the way for all kinds of diverse, powerful, and outlandish abilities that simply weren't possible before.
With Stands, anything is valid: an orangutan can create an entire ship, a character can open someone's life like a book and rewrite key parts, and the inside of a turtle can become a dimensional pocket safe room.
This sense of boundless potential makes the show remarkably chaotic and unpredictable, and that's a big part of its appeal. The characters never know when the next Stand User will appear to try to kill them, nor can they predict how they will strike.
2. Nen (Hunter X Hunter)
Hunter X Hunter offered a magic system known as Nen, which is one of the most well-defined magic systems in anime. There are six categories for the type of Nen used, along with four distinct methods of using Nen.
Some of the simplest abilities may involve one Nen type and one delivery method, but there are countless combinations that characters use to create their own techniques.
This anime magic system works so well because it always obeys its own rules, even when it seems to break them.
Writing a story where magic has such a strict classification system is tough, but it provides the necessary structure for the characters to be infinitely creative in how they layer their techniques.
Subtle changes can produce dramatically different results, keeping both heroes and villains training hard to master their signature moves. Creativity can turn the tide of any fight in Hunter X Hunter.
1. Chakra (Naruto)
In the real world, ninjas are known for performing superhuman feats of skill and speed, but Naruto took that to a whole new level.
Chakra allowed characters to do things like run up walls, spit fireballs, and increase their strength to impossible levels, not to mention the manifestation of special abilities unique to certain bloodlines.
Nearly all characters in the Naruto universe have certain amounts of chakra at their disposal, and that chakra is used up whenever they expend it to perform special abilities and attacks. The more powerful the technique, the more chakra is used.
This simple limitation made even the biggest and most dramatic fights feel grounded. By limiting how often characters could pull off their ultimate attacks, Naruto could ratchet up the drama in every episode.
Some of this went away by the end of the series, but for most of the journey, the chakra magic system was compelling to watch.