"It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise ... to 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."
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).
One of the easiest ways to distinguish magical 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 magical realism and surrealism.
Magical realism is often intentionally vague, and (as in Kafka'sThe 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, magical 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.
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, magical 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.
Magical 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 Magical 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 magical 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 Magical 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.
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 it's 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 shots 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.
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 dips into this once when the main character's dead mother visits her family as a ghost.
School Rumble is a normal high school story with normal (if goofy) protagonists. Then Yakumo states that she can magically read people's minds, her older sister can bend spoons with her mind, Dracula helped out with a school festival, Akira may or may not be a secret agent, and Yakumo and Iori the cat once switched bodies. There's definitely odd things going on, but they're not the focus of the story.
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.
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 killed 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.
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.
To complete the trifecta, Air also does this, with several characters supposedly descended from Winged Humanoids, or possibly just nuts. A distant-past segment has some winged women, yet implies that their wings may have been an embellishment to the story and/or a metaphor for their deaths. The male lead has a doll which he can control seemingly through telekinesis, but it's never explicitly stated to not be just a trick. Near the end, he appears to go back in time and become the bird that was hanging around throughout the series. If he actually did, there's no explanation of how, and it's possible he just went crazy.
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 Magical Realism, such as Night on the Galactic Railroad and Haruki Murakami's works.
In Pulp Fiction, Vince and Jules are shot at point blank range and all the bullets miss. This triggers an theological argument between the two characters. It may be significant that Jules, who accepts it as a miracle and quits his gangster career is still alive at the end of the movie while Vincent who rejects it dies.
In Kill Bill, the martial arts master Pai Mei is said to be at least a thousand years old. The credibility of this statement isn't even questioned by any of the characters.
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.
David 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 Magical 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 what it is, Dune, really was bad.
There is some disagreement over the setting of Eraserhead, whether it's a Magical 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 magical realism.
None of his films are magic realist, actually. They generally fit under surrealism.
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.
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 Walk 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.
The original script had an ex-girlfriend curse him using a spell she found in a book.
L.A. Story, written by Steve Martin, applies many of the tropes of Magical Realism. What else can you call a story where a variable-message sign on the highway offers a character advice on his love life?
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 magical 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 has the main character's father spice up his life story with small magic tidbits every now and then. The main character believes he's making it all up, until the father's funeral, where many of the magical characters show up. He concludes the only way to tell his father's story is the exact manner his father told it.
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 fnd that he has green hair.
Ruby Sparks is about a writer who dashes off twenty pages about his perfect woman in a fit of inspiration. When said perfect woman appears in the flesh in his apartment, at first he freaks out, but soon he accepts it as a bona fide miracle.
P.T. Anderson'sMagnolia features a relatively standard ensemble drama, until the final act, which leads to a rain of frogs all over the town
Raising Arizona could count. The plot is centered around a fairly mundane love story/kidnapping scheme, but it also involves a bounty hunter who may or may not be a demon from Hell. And then there's the main character's tendency to have prophetic and/or clairvoyant dreams, which he doesn't seem to consider unusual.
Gabriel García Márquez' 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.
The Tigers 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.
Magical Realism is very prominent in 20th century Latin American literature. In fact, Magical Realism is so prevalent in Latin American literature that the McOndo movement was formed specifically to distance itself from its clichés.
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 magical realism and "straight" fantasy both within and without Latin America. See also Chocolat, for instance.
Other prominent writers include Alejo Carpentier and Isabel Allende.
Italo Calvino is a famous Italian writer whose works skirted Magical 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.
The Big One and it's subsequent series, written by Stuart Slade, is an extremely realistic alternate history, which avoids many of the cliches of the genre in favor of a deconstructivist look at the historical implications of World War II-era superweapons. Over the course of the series, however, it becomes increasingly clear that, not only are some or all of SAC's bombers sentient and capable of speaking to their crews, but the Seer, the Thai Ambassador, and several other characters are also nigh-immortal demon-type creatures, who are carefully steering world history.
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).
Pick a Salman Rushdie novel. Any Salman Rushdie novel.
Much of Salman Rushdie's Midnights 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.
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 Magical 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.
Philippa Gregory blends Historical Fiction with Magical Realism in her Cousins' War series; several of the main characters are convinced that they can do magic and their success rates, while never unambiguously attributed to magic, do slightly strain the bounds of coincidence.
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.
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.
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 mostly due to 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 as to 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. (Probably. Given the extreme unreliablity of the narrator, it's very hard to be sure.)
Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad novels, sliceoflife/mysteries set in rural North Carolina featuring Nora Bonesteel an old woman who has "The Sight". One book also features a ghost.
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.
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. Later books in the series throw in ghosts, Indian wise men and woman and slaves practicing Voudoun. Although her Lord John Grey stories are set in the same world they're straight mysteries that, ironically in one story uses a Scooby Doo Plot.
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 Climax plot starts, and it makes a Genre Shift into full-on High Fantasy.
Tim Powers' Last Call could be a Donald Westlake story of a gambler in too deep with gangsters except for the tangle of Tarot mysticism, astrology and folk magic that gets thrown in and that the debt the gangster is trying to collect on is the gamblers body.
Kathi Appelt's The Underneath, which takes place in a New-Agey spin on the Louisiana swamps and bayous.
Kevin Brockmeier's books and stories are almost always this. The fantastic elements are used to illustrate and explore aspects of human nature. (For example, The Illumination deals with how the world would change if physical pain was suddenly manifested as visible light.)
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell is a fairly standard historical drama set around the Dutch trading post in turn-of-the-19th-Century Nagasaki except for the villainous Lord Abbot Enomoto who can drain the life out of small animals and insects and who claims to be six hundred years old thanks to child sacrifice.
His Ghostwritten is a collection of loosely connected vignettes, some which are this. One has a young girl's ghost haunting the narrator's apartment, two others feature a wandering soul that has become detached from the cycle of reincarnation, one of which is told from the souls perspective, the other has it masquerading as a tree spirit.
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and the prequel, Tracks, take elements of this trope. In Tracks, natural disasters seem to happen whenever one of the main characters is wronged and throughout both novels the character Nanapush is hinted to be descended from the trickster God of the Ojibwe tribe.
Live Action TV
The supernatural soap opera Passions was mostly focused around the mundane escapades of the Crane family...but ongoing subplots focused on the resident Wicked Witch Tabitha.
Word Of God claimed that the show was meant to actually serve as a subversion of this trope, since supernatural elements, which proved to be popular in story arcs for soaps, were present from the get-go and lasted throughout the series' run.
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...
Much like The Golden Girls,The Nanny had a few moments like this. Fortune tellers prophecies coming true in eerily accurate ways. Fran endures a curse that begins to reset itself the second she starts making things right. The miracle of Hanukkah is reenacted in one Christmas episode (with gas in their car instead of oil in the temple.) They also implied that Fran's family had some kind of supernatural powers (they implied that Yetta had the ability to curse people, and once, when Sylvia is dancing with joy, a freak thunderstorm started.) A short while before marrying Fran, Mr. Sheffield is visited by his dead wife's ghost, where she reveals that not only she's happy to see him get married again, she was the one who sent Fran to him.
The unfortunately Too Good to Last Fox sitcom Key West was, in its time, one of the best examples of this on television.
The BritishSitcom2point4 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 magical 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.
My So-Called Life was a straight up teen Soap OperaDramedy 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 David Lynch's works are like this: mundane human drama interspersed with the pants-crappingly bizarre.
Community normally stays within confines of (wacky) realism, but it did feature a ghost, a boob-obsessed robot and evil versions of the main characters from an alternate reality. In all instances it's unclear whether the supernatural elements are imagined by the characters or not.
Spaced featured elements of light Magical 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.
In the Bones universe, ghosts exist. In one episode, Booth was helped by the ghost of a dead soldier while stuck inside a booby-trapped ship. Brennan meets him at the end of the episode without knowing who or what he is. Then in a more recent episode the story is viewed from the perspective of a victim's ghost.
Avalon, Angela's psychic, appears to be more than just deluded. She has made several uncannily accurate guesses about Booth and Brennan's relationship and about the victim in one of the Institute's cases.
Temperance recently had a near death experience in which she encounters her dead mother.
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.
In one episode Gibbs has a near death experience in which he encounters dead friends and family.
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 Magical Realism better than it does any other type of Speculative Fiction. When you boil it down, Lost is the story of some seriouslydysfunctionalpeople 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).note And just so you lot are clear, there was absolutely nothing magical or supernatural about the polar bear.
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.
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.
The real world portions of Once Upon a Time are this. the Fairy world portions are of course much more explicitly magical.
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 BabiesGone 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.
Christmas specials often feature an element of magical realism. The plot often involves a character questioning the existence of Santa. Santa Clause often shows up. Santa Clause is often the element of fantasy in a show that is grounded in reality.
The live-action Disneyverse as a whole. There have been numerous crossovers so it's all one world and you have psychic teens, tallking dogs and of course wizards. You also have more normal shows that have the occasional strange occurences.
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.
Peanuts: 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.
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 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 as her lover and now she actively competes on the roster.
The BBC Radio 4 drama serial Little Grudges is based on real-life experiences of Radio 4 listeners, and is therefore as "real" as it gets. Except for the pixies...
Tony Kushner's Angels In America takes place in modern-day (well, modern at the time) America, and it has angels, Biblical visions, ancestral spirits, a dream sequence in which two characters who have never met are able to communicate with each other, and on and on.
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.
A recurring element in the Sly Cooper series. Mojo and ghosts exist, and raising the dead nets you a life sentence in prison.
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.
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...
Age of Empires occasionally slides into the supernatural, despite being a historical RTS game. For instance, one Viking level in the second game features lindworms in the sea that devour boats, and the campaign of the third game involves a mystical fountain of youth in the new world as the MacGuffin which, as we find out later, really does make people immortal, though that point is completely out of left field.
This trope is a staple of Key Visual Arts works, which tend to follow a common formula: firstly there's a common route set in a basic school setting with nothing remotely supernatural or only very vague hints at anything non-mundane, then there are a couple of character routes that involve explicitly supernatural elements (e.g., a character turning out to be a ghost) but also other totally realistic routes, and then the main route reveals some kind of important magical element that forms the basis of the entire game (e.g., for CLANNAD this was the balls of light, which appear when someone experiences true happiness (or, when you finish a route) and can be used to grant a wish.) But in the end, the character development and interaction is always clearly the focal point, the magical elements merely providing a frame for it.
Kentucky Route Zero paints the Bluegrass State as one of these. The elements of ghost stories abound, but no one pays much mind to them.
Spirit channeling is a real thing, but in most cases it stays in the sidelines, being only used as a way for Phoenix to get help from his late mentor. The existence of spirit channelers also leads to Phoenix owning a magical Lie Detector artifact, and to a few cases where spirit channeling was directly involved in the crime.
Apollo's Hyper Awareness through his bracelet, that leads to him becoming a Living Lie Detector, could be seen as another hint of magical realism at first, but it has a perfectly scientific explanation. His entire family has a gene that allows them to subtly percieve other people's twitches and nervousness, and the tight bracelet allows Apollo to notice more easily when he's subconciously percieving it through body temperature increases and the like.
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 Magical 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 magical 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, a Nagel serape that grants wishes (actually only the "Hecho en Mexico" tag attached to it grants wishes).
True story, as it turns out. The Russian chick with the scar turns up again in a later strip.
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 48 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.
In The Devils 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.
Girls with Slingshots is usually normal every day life. Except for the talking plants and the occasional impossibility thrown in for Rule of Fun, such as the laser tag game that somehow removes your clothing when you are shot. The talking house plants is a running gag and often lampshaded. Every time a new character is seen talking with them, they are relieved to find out they are not the only one that has been hearing them.
Kickassia is ostensibly set in the modern day real world, chiefly in the Real Life micronation Molossia. However, it keeps featuring talking stuffed animals, electromagnetic superpowers, teleportation, two-dimensional people, energy weapons, and SantaChrist; how these things exist is never explained, and most of them only have a small effect on the main plot. There's also a curious lack of interest from authorities when a bunch of internet critics invade a guy's home and start talking about conquering the world.
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.
In As Told By Ginger, Noelle has telekinetic powers. These are never explained, and the show is mostly a Slice of Life show about junior high students.
Littlest Pet Shop is mostly realistic except for Blythe's ability to talk to animals and the occasional cartoony gag.
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.