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Healing Magic Is the Hardest
In speculative settings, magic usage ranges from Utility Magic to world-breaking rituals. Very often, however, it will completely fail at fixing grievous bodily harm (unless some "natural" Healing Factor is in play) or resuscitating a recently deceased person. If healing magic is possible, it will require a disproportionate amount of power to pull off, compared to anything else on the same scale—up to a divine intervention.

This can be justified by Life being a different kind of energy, accessible only by gods, but a simpler (and more realistic) justification lies in the complexity of all living things. Even simply closing a wound is more complicated than just stitching the flesh together, and dealing with organ damage or disease is even worse. In any setting which applies this justification, expect anything as complex as turning someone into a frog to be right out.

Out-of-universe, this is done to make the characters avoid injuries as hard as they would in Real Life. When you can easily recover from grievous bodily harm or be brought back to life altogether, things get a lot less dramatic and the threats, less credible. An alternative approach to increase the risks is to introduce dangers that are either exempt from magical healing or worse than death.

Compare All Deaths Final.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Sally the Witch, Sally's trials involving healing are always pretty complicated since, despite being a highly skilled Cute Witch, her healing capacity is next to none and healing magic in itself is extremely hard to perform since it involves either the use of the four basic Elemental Powers or filling a quest with a time limit. In the original series, she goes to Find the Cure when one of Yoshiko's brothers almost has a leg ripped off him by a Threatening Shark; in the 1989 one, she must learn a very complicated spell with the aforementioned Elemental Powers to heal the injured leg of Erika, a Broken Bird ballerina who got into an accident and wants to dance for her father.
  • In the Lyrical Nanoha series, magic can fix cuts, bruises, and even sprained ankles — but get yourself wounded for real and it's weeks to months in the hospital.
  • In Naruto they can do a lot of different jutsu's including making 10,000 copies of themselves, summoning giant animals and make themselves almost immortal, but Lady Tsunade struggles healing Lee's bones when he gets savagely beaten by Gaara.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, healing is a sign that an alchemist is skilled. In the first anime, this is limited to Dr. Marcoh because he has a Philosopher's Stone. In the second anime, there are more characters able to heal, but it's still not something that many are capable of.
    • In the manga, it has more to do with Amestrian Alchemy having been developed to be highly military and industry oriented. It's made clear that healers are more common in Xing. Which isn't to say that healers aren't skilled, just not necessarily moreso than someone who can create a giant fireball.
  • In Bleach, characters with healing powers are exceedingly rare.
    • Neliel has healing saliva/vomit, which only slightly accelerates natural healing—her drooling on Ichigo is played for laughs, but the ability itself is treated as valuable.
    • Orihime has the power to "reject" wounds and injuries on other people, but she can only do it slowly. This power is so sought after that Big Bad Aizen kidnapped her for it. (Sort of.)
    • Many Lieutenants can cast healing and attack Kido with near equal proficiency, it's just that few bother to learn it, because Squad 4 (the healing squad) is kind of the Zoidberg of the Court Guard Squads.
  • In Claymore, the eponymous warriors possess an impressive Healing Factor but only two characters (Cynthia and Yuma) can actually accelerate others' regeneration. The fact that there seems to have been no healing techniques used by the many previous generations of Claymores suggests that they were the only ones who actually found a way to use yoki for it. Healing normal humans is right out. Moreover, only "defense-type" Claymores can regenerate from particularly grievous injuries (like having an arm cut off); "offense-type" Claymores must resort to either Pulling Themselves Together or Appendage Assimilation.
  • In Scrapped Princess, Raquel Casull can blow up buildings just by looking at them funny but all her magic cannot prevent Pacifica from bleeding out after being stabbed in the back. It takes a personal intervention by Lord Mauser to fix that wound.
  • In Ojamajo Doremi using magic to heal is a forbidden technique because it comes at cost of magic user's own health. This comes in play when Hazuki attempts to heal a bunny that is about to die to spare the bunny's caretaker, Nanako, from feeling guilty; she does so despite knowing the risks, and gets a severe cold... but only because the Queen of the Magical Land witnessed all of this. And she still can't remove all of the "bad karma", so Hazuki doesn't die but gets the cold and is Brought Down to Normal as punishment for being reckless.
  • While there are still ways of treating injuries with magic in Fairy Tail (for instance, one of Ichiya's perfumes acts as a painkiller and can cure some poison), actual healing magic is considered a lost art. The only shown to be capable of healing magic is Wendy, and hers has its use limited by being Cast from Hit Points.

Comic Books
  • Played With in Lanfeust de Troy. Of the main cast, the only one with a non-obvious limitation is the healing power. The other two main cast powers are heating metal and changing water temperature. The healing power can nearly instantaneously heal any non-fatal wound the caster can see, but only at night. The casting itself isn't easier or harder then any other power but for an unexplained reason it only works at night and is the only power with that limitation.

Film
  • In the Star Wars movie canon, the Force can supposedly be used to heal, but the ability to do so is extremely specialized and none of the onscreen characters ever demonstrates the power. Darth Plagueis allegedly developed this kind of ability, but even his apprentice Palpatine did not know how it worked. Which kind of sucked for Anakin since he turned to the Dark Side specifically because Palpatine promised to teach him how to do it. The Expanded Universe contains many examples of reliable Force healing, but like the rest of the EU, all of them have since been declared non-canon.

Literature
  • The Dragonlance books, based on the early Dungeons & Dragons games, has healing magic reserved to clerics. In the first book of the series, the appearance of clerics with healing powers is a sign that the gods have returned.
  • Magical healing in The Witcher series is extremely difficult even for powerful mages, to the point where trying to treat a critical injury pretty much guarantees the healer dying from overexertion. In the non-canon Revised Ending, Yennefer (who previously brought down fortresses without breaking a sweat) passes out after healing a shallow wound on Ciri's face.
  • In the Arcia Chronicles, Gerika is powerful enough to shake mountains like maracas but gives up on fixing Alexander's hunchback without even trying, saying that only Erasti may be capable of it.
  • Deryni Healing is a rare talent, so rare even before the Ban on Magic that Deryni found to be Healers were actively discouraged from taking vows of celibacy. By the 1120s, only four people in the whole nation of Gwynedd are known to be able to do this, and three of them are blood relatives.
  • In The Dresden Files healing magic seems to be nonexistent, at least for humans (Listens-To-Winds does have some capability in this matter, but he's a Senior Council Member and regularly goes back to medical school). Magic can be used to staunch a wound or keep someone alert, but not in any more direct fashion. Very powerful beings like the Faerie Queens can do more, including fixing a broken spine and bringing Harry back from the brink of death, with the help of a powerful Genius Loci. According to the RPG, Summer Magic can be used to heal people (at least, better than most people) as the magic grants some kind of instinctive knowledge of physiology. Miss Gard's Runic Magic and certain forms of Necromancy can also stave off death.
    • A Justified Trope in that the reason healing is so hard is that the body is really complicated and if you try to fix someone without knowing exactly what you are doing, you'll probably kill him or at least make him even worse.
  • In the Iron Druid Chronicles, druid magic is very powerful but it cannot do direct healing on others. Using druid magic to directly harm another living being will kill the caster on the spot and any healing process can harm the patient even if only temporarily. Druids can use healing magic on themselves but to heal other people they need to use indirect means like potions.
  • In The Inheritance Cycle, magic can heal, but it takes a lot of strength - unless it's life-threatening, it's better to just let it heal on its own.
  • In Rivers of London magic can do a lot to the human body, Your Head Asplode, blending people and cats, keeping a severed head alive for decades, but sadly for Lesley it cannot heal injuries. A human body is just too complex to put back together again.
  • Largely averted in Harry Potter, where broken bones can be healed with a wave of a wand and injuries that would be serious in the real world are treated rather cavalierly (Harry fracturing his skull is at one point Played for Laughs and fixed fairly easily). Exceptions are some types of serious magical harm. While Healing is a challenging career, it's challenging in the same sense that medical school is challenging in the regular world.
    • Played straight, in the sense that Harry never learns any healing spell or potion at Hogwarts. The only healing spell he ever learns is by copying it after Tonks casts it (which is an aversion again).
  • In the Smoke series, wizards can use magic to heal. But in doing so you have to endure all the pain you would normally experience over the time it would take for your injuries to heal naturally - all at once! Needless to say, it is not something one would want to go through unless really necessary.
  • In the Nightrunner series this is very much the case. Even the Drysians, priests who are known for their healing powers, cannot always cure certain illnesses or negate the affects of poison. The fact that healing magic is so difficult is what drives the villainous side of the plot in a couple of the books, as an evil alchemist undertakes an elaborate effort to produce a superior source of magical healing.
  • In Ra, magic is a field of physics and anything that needs doing must be described completely. Human bodies are VERY complex, and the magic it takes to fix them unimaginably more so.
  • In the Powder Mage trilogy, it's noted that healing is an extremely difficult branch of magic. Only Privileged (the most powerful and versatile of the setting's three main types of magic-user) have healing magic, and even most of them aren't very good at it.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, healing is common, but a wizard healing an injury does so at least in part by taking on the pain and/or disease of whatever he's healing. So when Zedd regrows Adie's severed foot, he experiences the pain of her lopping it off in the first place. So while a Wizard can heal most things that aren't fatal, they usually need a substantial break between patients to recover their strength. The few times we've seen Wizards acting as mass healers, they work themselves to exhaustion—and even that is still one patient at a time. By contrast, a Wizard can throw around Wizard's Fire around over and over for hours before they start to get tired.

Live-Action TV
  • Merlin seems to be this way. Merlin has a lot harder time when it comes to healing Arthur the couple of times he does it than he does doing other spells.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, supposedly they couldn't use magic to fix Joyce because "The Mystical and the Medical do not mix". Given what Willow would later do, this seemed like a cheap cop-out. It's apparently easier to turn someone into a rat than it is to heal. On the other hand, Joyce's condition following the removal of her tumor was undetectable until it was too late. Also, Osiris mentions that it is impossible to revive humans who have died by either natural means or at the hands of another human in the season six finale, following Tara's death at Warren's hand.

Tabletop Games
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, healing spells have traditionally been the prerogative of the clerics, who not so much cast magic as channel the godly powers of the their patron deities.
    • Only in the 3rd and 3.5 editions did Arcane healing spells (i.e. ones that don't require godlike powers) begin to proliferate. Oddly enough, Bards (and anyone with shenanigans to take spells from the bard list) are fully able to heal through arcane spells. The other group who can pull that off are dragons, but they are dragons.
    • Forgotten Realms in AD&D era already had The Simbul's Synostodweomer converting arcane spells into healing magic. Of course, it's high-level, and the developing wizard already was able to do it at will, though with some risk, as a daughter of the goddess of magic.
    • In the original Iron Kingdoms RPG, despite being based on D&D 3.5, healing magic was rare and difficult even for clerics. Raising the dead was almost non-existent. In the new version, healing magic is still rare.
  • In Ars Magica, you can heal someone easily, but the injury would come back a relatively short while after, and just as bad. Permanent healing required expenditure of vis, i.e. a scarce magical resource.
  • One observation in the 4th edition Hero System supplement Mystic Masters is that comicbook wizards in the mold of Dr. Strange for all their flashy powers generally don't do much magical healing, and that conversely what magical healers exist often aren't all that powerful when it comes to doing anything else — as though "active" combat magic and the "passive" art of healing were to some extent mutually exclusive. Consequently the book recommends keeping healing magic relatively scarce (especially among player characters) to help the game feel more like the comics.
  • Unknown Armies. Two Adept schools (Nacro-Alchemy and Eperidermomancy) have decent potential for healing, and neither of them are easy to work with. There is an Avatar of The Healer, and a complicated, long ritual to make a magic item that speeds up natural healing and protects against ailments. That's about it. Resurrections? Fuck you.

Video Games
  • Healing magic is available to mages of the Creation school, which is said to be the hardest of the four to master, in Dragon Age, but it cannot hold a candle to the Spirit Healers' abilities, which draw upon the energies of powerful benevolent spirits, which puts them at an even greater risk of Demonic Possession than a normal mage.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Restoration School, due to its (mostly) non-combat nature, is often the slowest magic school to increase in level. In-universe, this has lead many of its practitioners to bemoan the lack of students and perceived respect they get. Somewhat ironically, despite their deep mistrust of magic, Nords greatly value this school. One can only wonder why?

Webcomics
  • Psychic healing is possible in Zap!, but it takes a very strong telekinetic who has studied anatomy extensively and had a lot of practice.

Healing HerbHealing and Curing TropesHealing Potion
Good Powers, Bad PeopleMagic and PowersHeart Is an Awesome Power

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