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Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems

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"So... you want a realistic down-to-Earth show... that's completely off the wall... and swarming with magic robots?"

Fantasy stories set in magical lands, Fairy Tale kingdoms, worlds of High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, or Sugar Bowls and Science Fiction stories set in a Crystal Spires and Togas Utopia or somewhere on the squishier end on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness seemingly take place in universes far removed from the concerns of reality. Yet despite how fantastic these worlds seem upon the first impression, it can turn out that their denizens still spend much of their time dealing with the same ordinary matters (e.g., money, employment, taxes, bureaucracy, politics, lawsuits, potholes in the street, etc.) that people do in Real Life. This is how the Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems trope works. It can be invoked by anything from a quick joke, a parody of fantasy and science fiction tropes, or a complete deconstruction of either genre. One way to get the point across is to feature an outsider who's initially in awe of the new setting but soon learns things really aren't much different from the mundane world he or she came from.

It can overlap with Weird Trade Union, Magical Society, and Signed Up for the Dental when labor issues and disputes crop up in the fantasy or science fiction setting. Often comes up in a Fractured Fairy Tale. Frequently part of an Urban Fantasy work (and is among the Urban Fantasy Tropes).

A variation on Surprisingly Realistic Outcome and also Fantasy All Along if the aspect of Real Life is only briefly brought up as a joke. Compare with Low Fantasy, Mundane Fantastic, Magic Realism, Mundanger, and Realism-Induced Horror. See Fantastic Angst, where a character suffers from a real-world personal problem with an extraordinary source. Compare Inexplicable Cultural Ties and Slow Life Fantasy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Parade is a Gothic Horror that revolves around a Celestial Bureaucracy who judge the deceased, often in brutal ways. What is the main setting? An ordinary bar fronted by someone who looks like a (somewhat) ordinary bartender, who prompts the guests into playing the same games you'd play at any other bar. Despite taking place in a fantastical setting with characters shown to have some kind of supernatural powers, these skills are of little consequence. They still have to work, cook, and clean, and they often make irreparable mistakes and get admonished by their higher-ups, who are also overworked and prone to error. There's even an episode where the main character gets audited.
  • Dragon Goes House-Hunting is a High Fantasy series that revolves around a dragon's humble goal to find a home. He is helped in his quest by Dearia, an elf who runs an architect/realtor firm, and meets various fantasy creatures and monsters who live and work like regular humans (e.g., Dearia's builders and contractors have regular 9-to-5 hours). And while Letty often has to deal with heroes/adventurers trying to capture and/or kill him for glory and body parts, his main concern, aside from finding a suitable home, is to earn enough money to pay for Dearia's services, buy food for his adopted child, and pay income taxes.
  • Musuko ga Kawaikute Shikataganai Mazoku no Hahaoya: Lorem is a demon, one of the most powerful known to boot, and lives in a world struggling to find peace and reconcile after humans won a war with demonkind. However, her biggest worries are frequently in relation to her ability to care for Gospel. Whether it's fear he will hate her after her carelessness nearly gets him seriously hurt, worry that her checkered past will cause Gospel problems in the future or concern that Gospel's development might be behind other kids when they meet another baby who can say her own name when Gospel can't.
  • One Piece: The main premise is about Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates traveling the world for the ultimate treasure, the titular One Piece, in a highly wacky yet beautiful world. On the many islands they visit, however, they may find issues of oppression (frequently from the place's ruler), rival pirates terrorizing the place, or (like in Enies Lobby or Marineford) the Straw Hats simply trying to rescue one of their friends.
  • Saitama from One-Punch Man is a ridiculously overpowered superhero, who lives in a dangerous world where cities are under constant threat of attack by extremely deadly monsters and supervillains. But as Saitama can instantly defeat any enemy by throwing a single punch at them, he finds his hero work to be too dull and unfulfilling; and so he shows relatively more interest in doing mundane tasks like buying food and groceries, rather than in saving the day.
  • In a world full of demi-humans and magic, the most notable issue in RPG Real Estate is finding housing that works for you.
  • Tweeny Witches: The series takes place in the Magical Realm, but Arusu and her friends still deal with problems like animal exploitation, conservatism, war, oppression, and racism.
  • ViVid Strike!, despite taking place on the capital planet of an interdimensional federation run by Wizards from Outer Space, has the negative effects of school bullying be the source of its conflict. Ironically, this also makes it the most grounded entry in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, despite being the only one to not feature any characters from Earth.

    Comic Books 
  • Top 10 takes place in a city filled to the brim with people with superpowers, but most of the crimes that Precinct Ten has to deal with are mundane crimes like prostitution, domestic abuse, and public intoxication.
  • In the Winx Club comics, Mirta, Bloom, and Musa get very mundane jobs: hairdresser, waitress, and library assistant, respectively. Mirta wants to learn a trade in case magic doesn't turn out to be profitable, and Bloom and Musa are struggling with money (coming from working-class families).

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas: Empty Fullness: The one-shots published so far as of July 2023 focus on giant, prehistoric and/or transhuman Kaiju characters living in a post-apocalyptic world, as they navigate grieving troubles and unexpected relationship prospects.
  • Vow of Nudity: Played for laughs repeatedly with Carnerri, the succubus Haara and Fiora encounter in the demon city. Despite the rest of the abyssal realm being painted as a dangerous violence-filled hellscape, Carnerri initially tries to scare them from her backyard by brandishing a frying pan in her bathrobe, before quickly offering to let them stay if they wash her carriage. Later, her motivation for betraying the demon lord is that he defunded her HOA and passed a local ordnance which makes it harder for her to find parking spaces.

    Films — Animation 
  • This is played every way to Sunday in The Incredibles. The Parr family is basically your average family, but with superpowers, and all the typical concerns are still there... at least in part due to the superhero relocation program, which prevents them from doing any actual supering (not that this stops them from using their powers in, say, typical dinner-table squabbling).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Star Wars universe is one of the softer science fiction settings. However, in The Phantom Menace, the invasion of Naboo is sparked by some rather dry and prosaic disputes over interplanetary tariffs and trade. There is also a surprising amount of attention focused on how the corrupt and ineffectual bureaucracy of the Republic helped to enable the crisis.
  • TRON: Cyberspace is a beautiful, fantastic setting. In the first film, it's under a totalitarian government persecuting religious believers, trying to invoke Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions so they viewed the state (and the cruel AI in charge) as a quasi-god. The Betrayal comic and TRON: Evolution are all over Fantastic Racism between Programs and Isos, with Clu cheerfully fanning the flames to get more power. TRON: Legacy has, again, a totalitarian government with Clu believing himself to be a liberator and benevolent dictator when the truth is that he was anything but. TRON: Uprising has criminal gangs, rogue scientists, occupation forces who really believe that Clu's the best option, and the protagonist has to report to his "day job" in what amounts to an auto repair shop. Even TRON 2.0 shows that spam, shady back market products, and criminal malware gangs are a headache on that side of the screen. Justified in that the digital world was built by humans and populated by digital avatars that reflect the best and worst of the humans who built them.

  • The Dagger and the Coin is in a world where dragons once ruled, there are 13 races of men, and the plot largely concerns what rapidly becomes a world war of conquest. The other half of the plot is about banking and financial maneuvering.
  • The Discworld was created to showcase this trope.
    • Yes, there are trolls and dwarfs and vampires and goblins and wizards. They all live in the big city and are, for the most part, trying to get by in life like everyone else, with regular jobs and all. Every fantasy series has a big city — few of them go into detail about how much trade and bureaucracy is needed to make that city work. Terry Pratchett has said the concept of the Discworld is taking a very realistic look at fantasy, and he envisioned it as a world that keeps functioning even when it's not on the page.
    • The same applies outside the big city. About ninety percent of a rural witch's work is a combination of district nurse and social worker (and occasionally community police officer), rather than magic.
  • The Wizarding World in which the Harry Potter series takes place has many problems that resemble the non-magical world: political corruption, excessive administrative red tape, manipulated media, and most importantly, Fantastic Racism in the form of pure-blood wizards hating those with muggle ancestry, as a commentary on real-life racism and discrimination. This is even lampshaded in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, during the meeting in the first chapter between the Muggle Prime Minister, and the Minister of Magic; when the Muggle Prime Minister states that the magical world is full of wizards who can surely do anything, Fudge points out that the other side can do magic too.
  • I Do Not Want To Do This seems to be set in a mashup of Dungeons & Dragons and various other popular fantasy games, pulled forward into a magic-powered modern age, complete with people obsessing over politics, forms to fill out, and a sexy tiefling coworker who is implied to have filed a sexual harassment complaint against someone who made a Hot as Hell joke in her presence.
  • Impractical Magic: Istima is a Wizarding School, but the students struggle with overwork, Fantastic Racism, the cost of books, sleep deprivation, the addictive properties of cheap stamina potions (amphetamines), and magically horrible public restrooms in college dormitories. It's also noted that species with different body plans are great for books until you have to imagine how an institution would bulk order desks.
  • I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level: After Azusa died from overwork, she is reborn into a fantasy world. After she learned she became the strongest witch, she starts to help individuals or places in trouble while thinking about similar situations from her past life. Such as a musician leaving their hometown and struggling to succeed, or a town that can't get tourists.
  • The main premise of Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits is that Aoi Tsubaki gets abducted by an ogre and taken to the spirit realm where she ends up having to find a job to pay off the debt her grandfather saddled her with. This later morphs into trying to open and run a restaurant in the spirit realm which comes with all the usual problems like finding food suppliers, advertising, managing a budget, et cetera.
  • The world of KonoSuba is an RPG Mechanics 'Verse with magic and monsters and dragons and such, but that doesn't stop the fact that Kazuma came into the world with nothing but the clothes on his back. The first two volumes have him struggle to find where rent could come from (he sleeps in a barn until halfway through the second volume), and in the next several volumes he's deep in debt due to a combination of his party members' antics and the lack of Hero Insurance.
  • In Franz Kafka's short story "Poseidon", the Greek god of the sea does not rule his realm by chauffeuring through the waters with his trident but rather by endlessly filling out forms and writing administrative reports for his periodic trips to Olympus.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, Alethkar's War of Reckoning against the Parshendi began in retribution for the assassination of their king, but continues because Parshendi lands are a fantastic source of gemstones to fuel the Functional Magic of Soulcasting, which produces a vital source of food for the Alethi armies. That the competition over-harvesting gems is a good source of political capital in the Alethi Decadent Court doesn't help matters either.
  • The Wheel of Time is set at the End of an Age, where The Anti-God is breaking free of his prison and The Chosen One is destined either to win a Pyrrhic Victory over him or fail and doom the world. Incipient Final Battle, armies of monsters, regime changes, and high-powered Wizard Duels notwithstanding, the most pressing threat to most of the world is... climate change: the Dark One's influence messes with the seasons, which causes escalating food shortages and famines throughout the series.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Following on from the Star Wars example, Andor is one of the most grounded works in Canon. The villains are motivated by ordinary ambition and cruelty rather than the supernatural, inhuman evil represented by Palpatine or Darth Vader, the Force is nowhere to be seen, and there are hardly any aliens at all. In particular, the Rebel Alliance's eventual figurehead, Mon Mothma, is a major character. Her biggest problem is getting around the Empire's spies and new banking laws so she can fund the nascent Rebellion without getting caught. Her second biggest problem is her strained relationship with her husband and daughter, the result of a loveless political marriage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mutant City Blues: 1% of the world's population having superpowers hasn't created superheroes or true-blue super-villains, but rather street crime has become more... odd.
  • Red Markets: Just because there was a Zombie Apocalypse doesn't mean that there aren't still bills to pay and retirement plans to save up for. The game's rules deliberately play Loan Shark and One Last Job for horror.
  • Wanderhome: Hæth is a world full of spirits and gods, with the aftermath of a war looming over the land. At the same time, the text predisposes players to problems that are interpersonal and local such as "conflict between expectations and demand" in a village workshop. Even if the characters do end up encountering any major gods or conquerers, any epic-level adventures exist outside the game's scope.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Imperium of Man faces rebellion and invasion on numerous worlds, and its responses to each of these are entirely dependent on how competent the Administratum feels on a regular basis. One mess-up by this organization and insufficient forces can be deployed, entire worlds can starve to death, et cetera.

    Video Games 
  • The Dragon Age franchise has elves, dwarves, dragons, Blood Magic, and The Horde of man-eating zombies, yet most of the world's major problems stem from imperialism, racism, class divides, religious extremism, and a general lack of proper communication between its denizens.
  • Drawn to Life: The game takes place in a fantasy world with anthropomorphic fox creatures, berries that make you grow to the size of a house, and a villain that wants to cover the entire world in dark shadows, among many other oddities. However, this doesn't stop the villagers from worrying about rather mundane things, such as preparing for a festival, bickering over the sale price of mayonnaise, and complaining about the lack of toys at the beach.
  • This is common in the Fallout universe. While the main quests always resolve around problems specific to the retro-futuristic wastelands of America, many of the sidequests are helping people with their mundane problems, like picking up some paint for a handyman, helping an alcoholic become clean, help an insecure boy become more confident. Given that it is still a game, the problems get a fantastic twist but are ultimately still very mundane.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, the protagonist is a human who was turned into a Pokémon, a super-powered creature, and teams up with another Pokémon, in a world entirely inhabited by them, to use their powers to save people lost in dangerous areas full of evil Pokémon. But since saving Pokémon is their job, that means they have to worry about income tax, as shown in a cutscene where the protagonists are offered a significant amount of money as a reward, but end up with only one tenth of the sum, with their employer taking the rest.
  • The Splatoon universe is a very colorful, very stylish, and very headbanging world, but despite all the fantastical elements it still has to deal with racism (the second game alone has a popular idol pass for the majority and get freaked out when a Splatfest sounds like the verge of a race war), shady businesses attracting young part-timers with the prospect of spending cash, prominent bands moving on or breaking up, and even old hangouts becoming ghost towns.
  • Stellaris being a simulation 4X grand strategy game, has some aspects of it. The greatest threat to your fleet aren't Lovecraft Lite horrors older than the universe, but the more mundane budget cuts because you do not think you have enemies worth fighting anymore, and bad ship/fleet designs is not far behind. While the technology has advanced dramatically, people still need food and thus need to tend the fields, larger empires need large amounts of bureaucrats to keep the hyperlane ships running on time, galactic Realpolitik is shockingly similar to real world Realpolitik, the Fictional United Nations that is the Galactic Community is just as prone to corruption and inefficiencies as critics of the real world UN claim it is (especially with the creation of the Galactic Council, which is more or less the UN Security Council, who can denounce an empire that is not actually in breach of Galactic Law to impose sanctions or veto a resolution that everyone else in the galaxy votes in favor of, over and over again), deep space black sites where the Not NSA is spying on the citizens of a Direct Democracy, drug cartels causing trouble, unemployment still happens depressingly often and is a common problem when running empires... None of the Endgame Crises would stand a chance against a unified galaxy, and yet sometimes not even a common threat to all life is enough to unite the bickering nation states as they are picked off one by one...

    Web Animation 
  • This is essentially the premise of Helluva Boss. All the characters are demons who live in literal Hell, with some high-ranking demons like Stolas and Asmodeus even based out of actual mythology. Most of the plots, however, are about navigating work relationships, dealing with toxic family members, keeping a struggling start-up company afloat, managing trauma, and fending off jilted exes.
  • RWBY: In a world where everyone has special powers, hybrid weapons are commonplace, and giant monsters roam the wilderness, they still must deal with typical burglaries, credit cards being declined, and the stress of high school.

  • Battle Kreaturez is a mon-themed webcomic that's about the lives of ordinary people who just happen to tame monsters. The titular Kreatures are grown in laboratories and kept in high-tech habitats where their Tamers have to feed them, clean up after them and provide enrichment.
  • Cirque Royale is set in a world of various Demihumans with the main characters part of a Clown Species in a circus-based traveling ingdom. However, the majority of the stories are about personal slice-of-life issues and characters dealing with their pasts coming back to affect their presents.
  • Crystal Heroes only has ordinary problems despite taking place in a fantasy setting. The characters only go into a dungeon in the first place because it has a library book that the main character needs for her college lit class.
  • Housepets!: Zig-Zagged. Some arcs, like Heckraiser, feature great universe-spanning conflicts. Others, like THE GALLIFRAX PROCOTOL, use supernatural settings (Tarot and Peanut travel to another dimension and meet up with Tarot's patron goddess) to explore mundane conflicts (Grape and Max's relationship troubles and Peanut being forced into a love triangle).
  • Questionable Content: Despite the widespread AI and the advanced robotics that go with that, most of the story is pretty much Slice of Life, and even the robots are treated as, essentially, another minority, with the complications (civil rights issues, a certain amount of Fantastic Racism) you'd expect.
  • In Unsounded, the Functional Magic of pymary requires rare First Materials — primordial versions of mundane materials, leftover from The Time of Myths — to create permanent enchanted items. Many First Materials have been exhausted and others are becoming rarer, so Magitek engineers struggle to use them as efficiently as possible and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Jab Beadman is willing to go to great lengths (including regicide and warmongering) to secure untapped deposits.

    Web Original 
  • The Homestuck Epilogues: Earth-C is an RPG Mechanics 'Verse home to four different species, godlike immortals, and advanced magic and sci-fi. In addition to the fantastic problems, the story's major conflicts arise from those same immortals engaging in celebrity fame, strained to toxic relationships, political corruption, and racism, the last two of which slowly build into war.
  • Turkey City Lexicon has the term "Squid on the Mantlepiece" for this trope when it's done badly — that is, when there's a significant mismatch between the mundane drama and the fantastic setting's overblown stakes. This contrast is why the trope is often employed for comedic purposes.
    It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is leveling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece."
  • Welcome to Night Vale takes place in a sleepy little desert city where few of the population could be considered "human", but they still deal with problems like tuition, rent, local elections, contract negotiations...
    "The Sheriff's secret police are searching for a fugitive by the name of Hiram McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels is described as a five-headed dragon approximately 18 feet tall and weighing 3600 pounds. He is suspected of insurance fraud."

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series and spinoffs are all set in a fantasy world which mainly borrows from Eastern cultures where certain people can "bend" elements. However, the conflicts in most of the story arcs are often mundane issues that just so happen to take place in such a setting. For example, the Fire Nation's imperialism in the first series is shown more akin to something like a European nation at the height of colonialism, the Roman Empire, or even Imperial Japan, rather than hoards of Always Chaotic Evil mooks marching out of Mordor. And then you have problems that are treated as Avatar-only problems. One such plot in the Sequel Series was centered on preventing The End of the World as We Know It by Vaatu and his Dark Spirits.
  • This is the setting of one of Dexter's Laboratory sections: The Justice Friends, in which the superheroes Major Glory, Val Hallen and Krunk live in a leased apartment and how their superpowers and personalities clash with normal life and problems, all themed as a Sitcom.
  • A lot of the humor concerning the Urpneys relates to this in The Dreamstone, since, in spite of working for an Evil Overlord of a fantasy world, Frizz and Nug tend to treat their work as a standard dead-end job, being Press-Ganged into most of the manual labor or scapegoated by Middle Management Mooks like Urpgor and Sgt. Blob (mostly to avoid the pressure of their own boss, Zordrak), and being treated as heartless scum for an occupation they don't even want to have. Some of the hero grunts, such as the completely apathetic Mr. Blossom and even the Noops, Rufus and Amberley, start to show glimpses of this later on since it is implied their frustrations with the Urpneys lie more in their constant bumbling schemes causing more collateral damage which they are made to fix.
  • Futurama: The main character, Philip J. Fry, is initially dazzled by the New New York of 3000 A.D. after being frozen for 1,000 years. However, he becomes more blasé about the setting as he finds he still has to do the same things he did back in 1999 like earn money, get a job, find a place to live, and pay taxes.