Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked...
This is when the process of defining nations in fantasy
settings is to have each group be under the domain of one kind of magic. The main appeal to this is, naturally, the easy convenience of being able to define who is from what nation, since they'll have the appropriate elemental affinity
to go with it, and the trappings of the culture itself will be clearly delineated by that element as well. This is often paired with tropes like Single-Palette Town
in order to get the full effect. On the downside, this can sometimes result in a Planet of Hats
situation on a small scale, since all members of a specific nation must, by definition, fit into the general archetypes of their nation's element.
Taken to extremes, the nation can fall prey to the problem of Poor, Predictable Rock
Compare Elemental Plane
Anime and Manga
- The Five Great Shinobi Countries in Naruto are the Lands of Wind, Earth, Water, Lightning, and Fire (the last being the homeland of the main cast), all of whom tend to produce ninja with a corresponding elemental affinity. However, it's subverted in that many, if not most, ninjas can use abilities that do not correspond to their respective national affinities; in fact, Naruto's own main affinity is wind, while most of the main cast his age specialize in Non-Elemental abilities and don't use any fire techniques onscreen.
- The names of the ninja villages play with this a bit; they do correspond with the names of their respective nations (Sand goes with Wind, Stone with Earth, Mist with Water, Cloud with Lightning, and Leaf with Fire), but they're also associated with abilities their respective villages are famous for; for example, the main founder of the Leaf was renowned for his wood-based abilities. The names also are a pretty clear indicator of the kind of environment each village is situated in.
- Akatsuki no Yona: The five tribes are Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Sky (the reigning tribe), though it's subverted in that each was supposedly founded by a dragon of that element, and there's very little magic in the world at large.
- The Death Gate Cycle, though it's more of an Elemental Worlds thing there.
- The Banned and the Banished series of books have a variety of different tribes/races associated with different elemental magic forms. Dryads and Earth, Elves and Air, Mountain tribes and Rock.
- Employed by the Xanth series.
- In The Great Tree Of Avalon trilogy, each of the seven roots of the World Tree is attuned to a different element which dominates its landscape (Woodroot is heavily forested, Stoneroot is very mountainous, Airroot consists entirely of open skies, etc) and has at least one race specifically attuned to that element, even though they usually aren't its sole inhabitants (this depends mainly on how inviting it is to other races; you won't find many humans willing to settle in Shadowroot or Waterroot for example).
- In Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov's novel Wrong Time For Dragons, the living part of the single continent of the Middle World is largely split between the lands of the four Elemental clans. While most people living in the clans' territories are ordinary folks, each Elemental clan is a magocracy. The most powerful and experienced mage of each clan is in charge. Even low-ranking mages are automatically afforded more respect than non-magic folks. To be fair, though, there is every indication that the mages are not tyrants, and most genuinely care about their people and lands.
- The Water Clan is the most powerful, and its lands never experience drought. Their jewel is the city of Hundred Fields full of fountains, canals, water mirrors, and other wonders. Every night, a refreshing light rain washes all the grime and dirt into the river.
- The Air Clan rules from a mountain peak called the Fang of the Four Winds, although the actual administrative center is the nearby city of Horsk. The winds whisper to the Air mages of things happening all over the world and, sometimes, beyond.
- The Earth Clan has the most fertile lands and the most profitable mines. Their capital of Feros is not exactly beautiful, though, being a largely industrial city. Like their element, the Earth mages are fairly passive.
- The Fire Clan has the best combat mages, and their capital is unique in that it lacks any defensive fortifications, relying exclusively on Fire mages for protection. It's also the wealthiest clan, but it has little to do with magic and more to do with trade. Their capital of Oros is almost entirely underground. Specifically, under the former center of power for the overthrown Winged Masters.
- Some interpretations of J. R. R. Tolkien's world assign elemental symbolism onto the four main races of the Middle Earth; Elves are air (wise and spiritual), Dwarves are earth (ambitious and strong), Orcs are fire (temperamental and unpredictable) and Men are water (emotional and adaptable). Even their weapons are associated with the elements according to the Esoteric tradition, as, for example, Elves use arrows, Dwarves use axes, Humans use swords and Orcs use explosives. Also the places where they live can re-enforce the elemental association; Elves live in high castles and mountains, Dwarves live underground and in caves and inside mountains, Men live near big water bodies and are one of the very few races that sails (Elves only use ships to go to the next world) and Orcs live near an active volcano.
- Magic: The Gathering does this fairly frequently. Aligning tribes with certain colours or colour combinations, which in different blocks can be associated with different elements.
- Taken to extremes in the Odyssey block (and the Onslaught block, which took place in the same setting) where the entire map was created simply by superimposing two colour wheels on the spare continent outline they had lying around.
- And the 5 Shards of Alara were elementals worlds; Alara broke in to 5 pieces, one for each color of mana, accompanied by the two allied colors. The design of each of the shards was based off a world with only 3 colors of mana (Bant is super organized and caste based, as it lacks the chaos of red or the jockeying for position of black, for example).
- Tarkir similarly is ruled by five warrior clans, each modelled after an historical asian culture, aligned with each colour of mana plus its enemy colours, albeit is focus is arbitary and random (for instance, the Mardu, which features White and its enemy colours Black and Red, focuses primarily on Red and not on White).
- In the past, five dragon broods allied with ally colour pairs also existed on Tarkir, though at least they were justified by being born from elemental storms that took mana from different terrains. They were also elementally aligned too: green-white dragons breathed lasers, white-blue dragons breathed ice, blue-black dragons breathed poison, black-red dragons breathed lightning and red-green dragons breathed fire.
- The main setting in Exalted, Creation, has the Elemental Poles of Fire (south), Water (west), Air (north), Wood (east) and Earth (center). The closer you get to the pole, the more prominent the element becomes; the south is a vast desert and then volcanoes, the west opens to a vast ocean, the North is frozen and windblown, and the east is thicker and thicker forests. The Elemental Pole of Earth, in the center of Creation, is a colossal mountain. The people naturally try to adapt.
- Played with regarding the largest nation in Creation. The Realm's ruling caste, the Dragon-Blooded, is made up of people who embody the various elements, but who aren't actually elementals (those are a separate thing). The played with aspect comes up in that they aren't divided politically by which element they embody; their divisions are based purely on politics.
- Duel Masters has five civilizations that each had a distinct elemental theme: Light, Nature, Water, Fire and Darkness (think the colors of Magic: The Gathering with the alignments of Green and Blue switched).
- Used by the Gormiti toys and TV show.
- BIONICLE: Mata Nui and Metru Nui were each divided into seven regions, six of which corresponded to the elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Stone and Ice (the seventh was a neutral zone in the center). Voya Nui and Bara Magna mix things up a bit: Voya Nui has similar regions but all the inhabitants share a single settlement; while Bara Magna has the regions and color-coding, but none of its peoples have innate elemental powers and most do not have cultural traits unique to their regional tribe (those that do, the Rock and Sand tribes, can attribute their traits to being led by a different race rather than being from a certain region).
- Mixels, thanks to having tribes made out of various elements, each has a region in Mixel Land based on that tribe's element. For example, the Infernites live in a beach-like area with pools of lava and volcanic hot tubs, while the Cragsters live in a mine filled with burrows and rock formations. This even extends to the Mixels without traditional element-based abilites, like the Spikels, who live in a desert with giant sunflower-topped cacti. Finally, to fit in the Nixels and their uncreative thinking, their habitat is a barren and empty black-and-white void.
- Skies of Arcadia uses this for all the defined nations. Though "magic" figures largely as a game mechanic, the cultures are all clearly influenced by the kinds of moonstones to which they have access: Valua has a strong industrial sector powered by electricity, Ixa'taka has lots of fast-growing trees, and Yafutoma has ships that can fly unusually high. Nasr mostly just has sand, but its people manage. The Silver Civilization were a race of nihilists.
- In The Legend of Zelda games, forest residents (Deku or Kokiri) have the Forest element; Gorons have the Fire element; Zoras have the Water element. This has more to do with their temple and artifacts than their magical abilities, since spellcasting isn't common in these games.
- Other races connected to elements (some of which are more abstract than anything) include the Gerudo (desert/spirit), Yeti (ice/snow), the Wind Tribe (air/wind), the Sheikah (shadow), and the Twili (Twilight).
- World of Warcraft has the Elemental Plane, another dimension (or dimensions, it's not clear) dominated by elementals of certain types. The Firelands, for example, are inhabited by hellhounds, fiery scorpions and turtles, magma elementals of several shapes, sizes and levels of intelligence, and so on. While that doesn't exactly fit this trope, in the Cataclysm expansion, the elemental place(s?) have begun to intrude on Azeroth, setting the scene for elemental invasions and stuff.
- The Adept clans of Golden Sun fall into this, particularly the Mars Clan of Prox, the Mercury Clan of Imil, and the (functionally-extinct) Jupiter Clan of (vanished) Anemos. Lemuria would also qualify, being exclusively Mercury, though it doesn't identify as such as readily as the others. There's no sign of where or who the Venus Clan was, and Adepts of all four elements have been known to exist elsewhere.
- Dark Dawn's massive twist is that Adepts exist outside the known elements... but we're promptly introduced to the Umbra Clan of Tuaparang, so this trope still applies.
- All of the faiths in Lords Of Magic, where each faith worships a different type of magic. (Includes the four standard elements, order, chaos, life, and death.)
- Pokémon Conquest features seventeen Kingdoms, each of which is associated with a Type from Pokemon. Amongst these are traditional elements, but also more "out there" types like Ghost and Dragon.
- Total Annihilation: Kingdoms the Kingdoms and their monarchs are based on the elements they control. Elsin and Aramon are earth, Kirenna and Veruna are water, Lokken and Taros are fire, Thirsha and Zhon are wind, The Sage and Creon are steel.
- Ryzom has strong hints of these in each of the four Homin Races you can play as. The Zoraï rely on water to procure their racial Shock and Awe spell and create their magnetism tech, the Matis need a strong connection to the earth to fuel their plant technology as well as their racial poison spell, the Fyros are the most obvious with their love of Playing with Fire, tying into their racial spell, and the floating cities of the Trykers require heavy reliance on the winds for power.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender features this prominently. Elemental "bending" is limited to characters from the appropriately named nation that engages in use of that element. Moreover, the nations themselves are easily defined by those elements. The Air Nomads, when they were still around, largely lived in high-up temples to which only they could glide. The Water Tribe lives at the poles (where they are naturally surrounded by water), except for one offshoot that lives at a swamp (which is mostly surrounded by water). The Fire Nation is mostly close to the equator and has an inordinately large number of active volcanoes in its territory. The Earth Kingdom, in addition to being a massive landmass, is very rocky and mountainous with lots of caves.
- It's played with by the time The Legend of Korra comes along though. Due to the complications caused by having the Fire Nation colonize part of the Earth Kingdom for a hundred years, with all the resulting cultural blending, those colonies developed into a fifth nation called the United Republic that's a mix of people from the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, and Water Tribes, as well as the home of the world's only living airbenders.
- A sci-fi example is Shadow Raiders, The Cluster's solar system has five planets; Rock, Fire, Ice, Bone and Water, with their inhabitants looking a lot like the element describing the planet (with the exception of the people of Bone, who look like reptiles).