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Inept Mage

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Ron isn't going to have a very good year.
Beastmaster: I summon... ah... ah... [sneezes]!!!
Beastmaster, Warcraft III

The Inept Mage is not a charlatan or fraud; they actually do have the ability to do Real Magic. However, they lack finesse and actual skill. Their spells frequently backfire, producing an effect other than they intended. This can be a source of comedy.

Quite often though, an Inept Mage will have moments of Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass when things they try finally go off without a hitch, in spectacular fashion, in a critical moment, reminding characters and audience both why they're there. As a consequence, it can be an excellent Obfuscating Stupidity mask: be wary of all characters whose spells always work when really needed. Alternatively, they may get results similar to Achievements in Ignorance, with the spell working better than intended, but not in the way intended.

Due to their erratic spellcasting capabilities, Inept Mages tend to be the most frequent users of Wild Magic, potentially even mastering it: rather than attempt to control the magic, they put their faith in the magic they summon, allowing it to do as it will. This type of mage can become Unskilled, but Strong, with their magic being Powerful, but Inaccurate. If they don't, they'll probably be Powerful, but Incompetent. This trope often overlaps with Hedge Mage, as rural, self-taught, or "amateur" wizards often tend to lack the breadth of knowledge, skill, and practice of formally trained sorcerers.

This differs from How Do I Shot Web? in that the Inept Mage understands the theory but can't make it work in practice. Also, How Do I Shot Web? is usually temporary while the Inept Mage usually remains inept.


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  • Juga from Qumi-Qumi, thanks to not bothering to pay attention and believing he's better than he really is. The biggest issue is the fact that his entire tribe is built around magic. His magic staff is also ridiculously finicky, a simple tap on the ground can cause an out-of-control magic burst.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Urd from Ah! My Goddess is explicitly stated as being more powerful than Belldandy, yet ranked lower because she has little control over her magic. This is contrasted against the youngest sister Skuld, who can barely muster any magic. Skuld's best spell is to basically print words across people's faces, something that can be achieved with a common Sharpie. Otherwise Skuld is pretty hopeless with magic, displaying neither of her sisters' raw power, at least initially. She compensates by being a Gadgeteer Genius.
  • Glenn in Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor isn't able to shorten magical chants like his students can, and has low magical reserves. However, he does have extraordinary knowledge of magic, can cast some high-level spells if he has time to chant them, is experienced at applying his magic to combat, and even invented a spell of his own.
  • The eponymous character of Akazukin Cha Cha is this. For example, she'll summon a spider when she means to produce a cloud. (This is because the words for "spider" and "cloud" are similar.)
  • The Black Bulls division in Black Clover are full of these types, each of them inept in different ways. Asta, the protagonist, can use magic only through his sword and cannot use magic in any other way. Noelle has incredible potential for magic, but her spells always veer in unexpected directions and more often than not hit her allies instead. Gauche is too obsessed with protecting his sister to be of any use in combat when she's not involved. Luck is too bloodthirsty and reckless to know how to use his magic for anything but combat or get along with anyone else. Averted with their captain, Yami, who is scary competent and likes recruiting misfits in hopes that they'll one day become as strong as he is.
  • Bleach:
    • Renji has poor Kido (which is magic arts used by Shinigami) skills. He attempts to create a ball of light to guide his group's way through dark tunnels but only manages to produce a tiny marble-sized ball that gives off barely any light. Rukia chastises him for trying to cast Kido spells bypassing any incantation since only talented Shinigami Kido users can get away with that and Renji isn't good enough to do it. Later on, he uses this habit of Kido spells backfiring on him in battle against Szayelaporro, deliberately casting the same Hado spell (this time properly chanted) so that it explodes on both himself and Szayelaporro at point-blank range. They both survive, but Szayelaporro has to call a temporary time-out from fighting to pull himself back together.
    • Omaeda is also noted for having poor Kido skills. When he attempts to cast a Hado spell during his fight with Barragan, it doesn't work at all well and he bemoans the fact he lacks the abilities that certain other lieutenants are famous for.
    • Iba chastises Ikkaku for his lack of Kido skills. Ikkaku states he's not cut out for it, but Iba implies that he could be if only he wanted to be.
    • Zaraki is the only captain with absolutely no Kido abilities whatsoever. Although he's not the only captain who doesn't use it, others (such as Komamura) do have some small level of ability, even if the ability is only poor. Zaraki, however, has zero ability for it. Not like he really cares though; if anything, it just makes the fights funner.
  • Louise from The Familiar of Zero. She can't cast any spells, and any attempt to do so has them instead manifest as comically powerful explosions. Subverted in that later in the series, it's revealed that this is because she's attuned to a magical property known as the Void, which everyone assumed to be little more than myth. As such, while she can't perform spells of any other type, she's an absolute savant at void magic. Naturally, this is about the point in the series where she takes a level in badass.
  • Little Witch Academia (2017): Akko is one of these, not even able to fly a broom. This initially seems like a combo of her being both of muggle heritage and just not taking her studies seriously, but even when she rectifies the latter, she still struggles. Then it's revealed that it's because her magic was unintentionally taken by her idol Shiny Chariot while attending the magic show that inspired her to become a witch in the first place. This also reveals that Diana was also once this, as she attended the same show.
  • Sae Sawanoguchi from Magic User's Club. Her magic is by far the most powerful, if she can control it, and if it comes out in the first place.
  • Koyomi of Modern Magic Made Simple knows one spell. She can turn a spell into a falling washpan. Any spell, belonging to anybody. A cantrip, a fireball, a nuke, a MacGuffin... Yeah, once the implications are realized, the other mages see her usefulness, although she doesn't quite realize what a Game-Breaker she has.
  • Naruto almost failed his ninja academy exam in the first chapter/episode due to being unable to make proper Shadow Clones (any attempt resulted in a duplicate that looked pale and sickly and malformed). However, he ends up passing after learning the Multi-Shadow Clone Jutsu, which makes an army of solid physical clones (and is considered forbidden because it could drain the user of their chakra). However, it's implied that Naruto's massive amount of chakra and poor chakra control is why his normal Clones failed. The Shadow Clones are more taxing, but likely a lot easier for him to use because they consume more chakra and thus easier for him to divide his chakra into.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • Early on, Negi Springfield himself appears to be one of these, until it is revealed that the target of his spells has an anti-magical aura that cancels out or messes up any spell used on her.
    • Negi's father is an interesting case in that he is considered one of the most powerful mages of all times (reputed as the "Thousand Mage" because he supposedly knew a thousand spells...and supposedly had a thousand women), but he just needed to bring spark notes into battle to remember how to do his spells. Out of his head, he really only knew six spells.
  • Ojamajo Doremi. "Ojamajo" is a portmanteau of the words for "clumsy" and "witch". Doremi, the titular character, fits this particularly during S1 when many of her spells simply work differently than what she was expecting. These include turning into a police cruiser when she tried turning into a cop, ending up in a butterfly costume when she tried turning into a butterfly, and conjuring a large steak instead of the required dish when taking the level 9 exam.
  • Rune Soldier Louie's eponymous character is too lazy to study, because he'd rather use his fists. So Louie only knows how to use simple magic and can even get those spells wrong since he often gets the incantations mixed up, or simply forgets how the spells themselves work. Which is where Ila usually comes in.
  • In Slayers, the abundantly competent white-magic user Shilfiel tries her hand at black magic to balance out her repertoire and be more useful in combat. She's so woefully incompetent at this (her spell creates a magic carrot) that Zelgadis later asks her to cast the spell for him, relying on her inability to make it harmful, since he wants to use it to snap a teammate out of their trance. Subverted in the second season, when she uses the Dragon Slave against Phibrizzo, and later says she learned it to be more like Lina so she could travel with Gourry proving that she has no inherent weakness in offensive magic, is just unpracticed at it.
  • Nina Sakura in Ultra Maniac is one of these. Eventually it is revealed in the manga that this is because her magic potential is so high that any magic she casts is overpowered and thus messes up, she just needs specialist training.

    Comic Books 
  • Knights of the Old Republic protagonist Zayne Carrick was never a very good padawan, seeming destined to be passed over when it came time for him and his classmates to be promoted to Jedi Knight on account of some literally supernaturally bad luck.
  • Superman:
    • Mr. Mxyzptlk briefly becomes one during the Day of Vengeance event when the Spectre declares war on all magic and completely messes up the mechanics behind it. The powerful 5th-dimensional imp is reduced to a pitiful broken figure trying desperately to remember how to get back to his home dimension — he is so messed up he can't even remember that all he has to do is say his name backwards.
    • An obscure Silver Age character, Yellow Peri (real name Loretta York), often tries to assist Superman with her magical powers. While she is powerful, Superman tries to get her to retire because her ineptitude causes more harm than good.
  • The Warlord: Mongo Iron-Hand is an eccentric who has considerable skill at performing small-scale magical feats but has difficulty performing large-scale ones. He somehow has knowledge of the Earth of our present day, which enables him to conjure up cigars and martinis for himself.
  • Wizards of Mickey: In early issues, Donald Duck's magic appears to be completely ineffective, which gets him in trouble with some frequency — for example, when he tried to repay a debt to a barkeep by turning his spoons into gold. As it turns out, his magic does work, just with several hours of delay. Which, okay, is still pretty inept.
  • The hero of Kurt Busiek's The Wizard's Tale is fearfully inept, partly because he knows he is supposed to be evil and can't pull it off.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm: Hermione can perform ordinary magic flawlessly and even learn wandless magic, if less intuitively than Harry. This is largely because she thrives on rule-based magic. Unfortunately, she is also potentially the most powerful wielder of Chaos Magic since Wanda Maximoff — herself the most powerful Chaos Mage in centuries, if not millennia. And Chaos Magic, as is observed, tends to point and laugh at rules, working on a principle of bullying reality into doing what you want it to.
  • Fate/Starry Night: Ritsuka has all of one magic circuit and wouldn't be able to support a Servant if not for Chaldea's infrastructure. What he does have is a working knowledge of the basics, Mystic Codes to let him cast simple but useful spells (though he has practiced Gandr enough to use it even without a Mystic Code, albeit with diminished effectiveness), and unsurpassed compatibility as a Master. When he learns that Shirou has been trying to use his own nerves as Magic Circuits, Ritsuka decides to get him to a proper magus (read: Rin) for training ASAP, as he can't teach Shirou much of anything.
  • Outsiders: As in canon, Louise's... issues with her spellcasting kicks off the plot. While she learns of her true affinity much sooner than canon, Louise lacks a way to actually learn Void spells, so she's still stuck with just the misfiring Fireball spell.

    Films — Animation 
  • Mickey Mouse in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Fantasia. As noted in the introduction to the segment, Mickey knew enough about magic to bring the broom to life and have it fetch water for him, but not enough to make it stop.note 
  • Schmendrick The Magician in The Last Unicorn bumbles around ineptly for most of the film. Even when his magic does the thing he wants it to, he isn't controlling it directly, instead instructing the magic to "do as it will".
  • The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea: None of Morgana's magic works by itself; she depends on items such as Ursula's leftover magic and Triton's trident to actually pose a threat. It's yet another sore point to Morgana's issues about her inadequacy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dragonslayer: Sorcerer's Apprentice Galen Bradwardyn does have some magical power, largely (but not entirely) thanks to the amulet he inherits from his master Ulrich. But his control leaves a lot to be desired. The novelization goes into more detail: Galen has power but little control; sometimes his spellcasting works as intended, sometimes it does something completely unintended, and sometimes it does nothing at all. In general, the more powerful the spell, the less likely it is to work for him, with or without the amulet.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has Simon Aumar. He's actually a pretty powerful sorcerer and has a very solid grounding in magical theory, but his terrible self-esteem issues mean that his attempts at actual spellcasting fizzle out more often than not.
  • Godmothered: Eleanor usually fails to get her magic to do what she wants. For example, she fails to turn a pumpkin into a carriage, and fails to give Mackenzie a fancy dress, instead just making her coat bigger.
  • Harry Potter:
    • The films feature Seamus Finnigan. Where the books usually had Ron or Neville be the one whose magic backfired, Seamus becomes the victim of a Running Gag where whatever it is he is casting magic on has a tendency to explode (including, memorably, a feather). It's even lampshaded in Goblet of Fire, where he's chatting with Ron about how it always happens. It is then weaponized by Professor McGonagall in Deathly Hallows Part 2, where he and Neville are the ones who destroy the bridge into Hogwarts.
    • Ron has this issue throughout most of his second school year. Because his wand is damaged in an accident at the beginning of the year, it messes with his ability to do magic.
  • From the film Krull: Ergo the Magnificent, whose transformation spells always affect himself regardless of who he aims them at. Good thing he has a spell to turn someone into a tiger...
  • Mr. Magorium's magic goes all wonky near the end of his life in the film version of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Dave starts out as this when Balthazar begins his training. Naturally, given the name of the film, there is a recreation of the famous scene from ''Fantasia', as a result of which Dave is nearly electrocuted.
  • In The Ten Commandments (1956), Jannes, the High Priest of Egypt and Court Mage is humiliated by God through Moses in front of his ruler Rameses II, first when Moses' rod turned cobra swallows his, then discrediting him and his gods during the Plagues which he proves unable to prevent.
  • The High Aldwin in Willow is the only mage in Willow's Nelwyn hometown, and a big deal is made when he has to choose an apprentice each year. However, he resorts to superstitious trickery when he "consults the bones", instead supplying his own judgment on the matter, and a bird he materializes from an apple flies back to the village instead of leading the quest as he intended.
    High Aldwin: ... Ignore the bird. Follow the river!
  • Caedmon in Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2, the last and also least of the good wizards, who bungles nearly every spell he casts: from turning straw into dung rather than gold, to destroying the wrong chains, to attempting to turn a rock into a roast chicken and leaving it rock-flavoured. It takes Tyor, a whiny teenager who becomes instantly distracted by anything with breasts stepping within a mile, about four and a half days to become a more gifted wizard. In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode based on the movie, Jonah and the Bots delivered a sketch themed around Caedmon Worth-A-Fox's "You Might Be A Crummy Wizard If..." jokes, most of them pointed directly at Caedmon.

  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the Golux explains that both his parent fell under this trope. His mother was a witch who tried to turn people into fish but only got mermaids; his father was a wizard who cast his spells upon himself when he was drunk. It's an open question how much the Golux keeps up the family tradition.
  • Arthurian Legend: A short story, set during King Arthur's childhood, has a character who appears to be a severely inept mage; during his final exam to earn a mentor wizard, he attempts to make a rock turn into a pig — it floats in the air, turns invisible, and then when he tries to undo the spells, it becomes a (visible) dragon. Subverted when he turns out to be a chaos magician — that dragon is vital to taking out a Saxon invasion a moment later. His magic never does what he wants, but it always does what needs to be done.
  • Linmer, the Great González's apprentice, in Bellacrín y la Sombra. He can't even stand up straight in his master's clothes. Zigzagged with the Great González himself, since he doesn't really do magic...but has a lot of cool gadgets...that also fail to work spectacularly.
  • Let us not forget Goodgulf from the parody Bored of the Rings, who often passed himself off as a great wizard but whose talents lay mainly in sleight-of-hand, chicanery, and bald-faced lies.
    Goodgulf: Insult not the White Wizard, for I have many powers. Here, pick a card. Any card.
  • Chrestomanci: The Magicians of Caprona sing their spells, and Angelica Petrocchi is tone-deaf. Her spells always do something, but they never work as intended. She may never live down the day she turned her father green.
  • Harry Turtledove's Darkness Series has one wannabe magician who attempts to cover up his squad's tracks with a spell of his own design and ends up making them glow.
  • Discworld:
    • Rincewind is a borderline case. By all rights he is a proper wizard: he can see octarine, see Death (he seems to lack the proper magical ability to know his death when it nears, but that probably has more to do with all the stuff he's been involved in messing up his timeline so much that even Death does not know when Rincewind will die), detect magic, and act as a magical lightning rod just like all other wizards. Thing is, he can't actually cast any spells, because, during his short time at Unseen University, he read one of the eight spells that created the universe, which made itself at home in his head and ruined his chances of ever learning any other spells. He actually does say it (along with the other seven) at the end of the second book, freeing him of them, but apparently his ineptitude for magic is permanent. He also casts a simple spell unaided in that book, but that might be chalked up to Early-Installment Weirdness (and the effort nearly kills him in any case). In at least one of the books, it's noted that, when Rincewind finally dies, the average spell-casting ability of the human race will actually increase, very slightly.
    • Magrat Garlick's magical skill can impress even Granny Weatherwax (as in the incident where she turned a centuries-old oaken castle door back into a tree), but she tends to have problems getting the magic to do what she wants because she's caught up in the romantic ideas of mystical runes and whatnot. She has absolutely no luck with a fairy godmother's wand, in spite of wishing for results just as hard as she can. As it turns out, this was because she was wishing for things rather than actually trying to make them happen - Granny, who subscribes to the opposite philosophy, apparently examined it for a few minutes, twiddled a few of the gold and silver rings on the bottom of it (which were not ornamental), and produced a bouquet of flowers.
    • In Mort, Cutwell is a wizard who can do magic, knows the theory, but can't even manage a basic fire spell (he burns his fingers when he tries).
    • Some of the novice witches from the Tiffany Aching subseries have difficulty working magic, although in A Hat Full of Sky that's mostly because Annagramma won't stop criticizing them.
    • Ponder Stibbons and the other younger wizards who hang around the High Energy Magic Building are probably the world's foremost experts in magical theory, having basically discovered the supernatural equivalent to Quantum Physics. They are quite adept at using these principles to, say, build a sentient machine out of ant farms and random junk. But as the more traditional senior staff notes, if you asked any of them to cast an actual spell they'd look at you like you were mad.
  • Doom Valley Prep School: Magic classes just don't work for Petra, at all. She repeatedly tries her best to follow the lessons, but she just winds up with minor mistakes that cause her to lose control of her magic.
    • Day 1: She is tasked with showing a spell she already knows. She manifests a flame-lighting cantrip she learned in the local equivalent of the Boy Scouts. It works. She tries to dispel the flame only to have it turn into a fireball and fly towards her own head.
    • Day 2: She's asked to try an invisibility spell. She mis-speaks and only makes her clothes invisible in the middle of class.
    • Day 3: When testing a shield spell, she casts a minor cantrip [Force Bubble], which works as intended... for a second or two, but starts picking up momentum with each impact until it eventually smashes a student into the wall.
    • Day 4: She somehow manages to make a shield that boosts the magic it's hit with, turning a spell that normally summons a bolt of air that would stun a mouse, into a hurricane!
  • The Dresden Files:
    • When Harry Dresden gets an apprentice, she alternates between terrifying and being an adorable example of this trope. Once, she literally glowed with praise. Her potion-making adventures have involved her getting her clothes covered in acid and the potion then exploding, which Harry then had to remove and give her CPR right as his girlfriend lets herself in. (She gets better after finishing her training.)
    • The White Council tries to accommodate this trope by teaching young wizards fire magic as far away from civilization as possible.
    • Harry is by no means inept but notes that he lacks the finesse and knowledge of most members of the White Council, only making up for it through brute force, stubbornness, and cheating, holds some water.
      • Harry tried to fly once via a broomstick he'd enchanted; in some combination of this and not knowing how to fly to begin with, it didn't go so well (and went down as a UFO). Harry's track record with potions isn't very good either, as they've done things like make him so unnoticeable he can't warn someone there's a werewolf approaching.Although...
      • It's worth noting that he tends to compare himself to the strongest and most experienced members, with literal centuries of experience on him. The notable exception is Ramirez, who's Weak, but Skilled compared to Dresden - and really, really, really skilled, with Dresden going into detail about just how complex and efficient his favoured entropy blasts are. He also tends to underestimate himself, designing magical tools that impress other characters - Little Chicago in particular grudgingly impresses Bob, a magical supercomputer who observes that none of the Evil Geniuses he'd worked for could manage something like that (though some of the psychotics might have done), and a spell worked through it bamboozles the best tracking enchantments of Eldest Gruff, direct counterpart of Lea, who swats Fallen Angels like uppity pixies and has killed three Senior Council members in duels. When he was forced to dabble in necromancy, it came naturally - even while exhausted and wounded, he managed to unleash a freaking dinosaur.
      • Harry's training was first based on turning him into a killing machine, then based on Defusing the Tyke-Bomb, resulting in Crippling Overspecialisation - he's hell on wheels in a fight, and his thaumaturgy is brilliant, but his magical training everywhere else is both stunted and based on what he's had to time to self-study.
    • The wannabee-Evil Sorcerer gang from the short story "Day Off" are so inept that when they threaten Harry for having neutralized the curse of misfortune they'd placed on his client, he's flabbergasted that it actually had been a curse: the client's bad luck had been so meager that he'd assumed it was just that and he'd mostly done the cleansing rite to make her feel better.
  • Goblins in the Castle: The evil sorcerer Ishmaelnote  is this by the time the story takes place. At the end of his first appearance, he disappears in a puff of smoke, but wherever he's gone to, apparently it wasn't easy — William hears his voice "as if from a great distance, exclaim "Wow, that hurt!"". Later, when he tries to stall or silence several people at once, he can't hold it for too long.
  • Many characters from the Harry Potter novels demonstrate through themselves how wrong things can go when one doesn't have full control of his power.
    • Neville Longbottom is lousy at spellcasting for the first four books, only improving during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It's implied that Neville's poor magic skills stem from a lack of confidence and using his father's wand instead of one that's properly attuned to him.
    • Ron Weasley struggles to perform magic during his first two years at Hogwarts because he's using a hand-me-down wand from his brother Charlie, his family being unable to afford a new one, rather than one that chose him. Ron's problems worsen when his secondhand wand breaks early in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, gaining a tendency to backfire until it eventually explodes at the end of the year. It isn't until Ron gets his own wand during the following summer that his magical prowess improves, demonstrating that he's really no less skilled than the others.
    • Hagrid never completed his education in magic and botches the few attempts at spell-casting we see him perform. Once again, the reasons behind it lie in his using a broken wand (he keeps the pieces hidden in his umbrella's handle).
    • Gilderoy Lockhart is lousy at most forms of magic; the only thing he seems to be good at is memory charms. He was initially a very promising (but self-entitled) student who was sorted into Ravenclaw due to his brilliance, but at some point, he decided he could get by on that and his natural charisma alone. (And he very nearly did.) Years of neglect rendered his skills at magic besides memory charms faulty beyond repair, leaving him barely competent enough to be considered a wizard in adulthood.
  • Akar Kessel from The Icewind Dale Trilogy never managed to produce more than a few sparks with his spells... until he found Crenshinibon and went From Nobody to Nightmare.
  • Rest in Loyal Enemies is still an apprentice (and The Klutz at that), who actually forgets how to use his magic in situations when it might come in handy and is so insecure about it when he does use it, that it comes out to forceful and everything goes heads over bucket.
  • In King's Quest: The Floating Castle, the spells of Alexander's apprentice wizard sidekick Cyril actually do in fact do what they're intended to. His ineptness instead comes from the fact that he's an inherently powerful wizard who hasn't yet developed control, so his spells all do what they're intended to so overwhelmingly that they go horribly right.
  • Schmendrick, from The Last Unicorn, is so inept that his teacher Nikos decided it meant that he had some kind of incredible potential, and made him immortal so that he could live long enough to sort it out. Turns out Nikos was absolutely right, as Schmendrick is actually Unskilled, but Strong — he has immensely powerful magic but zero way to control it, making him more of a conduit for powerful Wild Magic than an actual wizard. At some point in the future, he learns to control his magic and becomes a truly great wizard.
  • The Licanius Trilogy:
    • Davian's position at the start of the first book. He has a Mark, so he knows he is Gifted, but for some reason, he can not figure out how to manipulate Essence. It turns out that this is because he's not Gifted. He's an Augur, who manipulate Essence via a completely different mechanism to regular Gifted.
    • Caeden as well. He has vast power, but his amnesia means that he no longer remembers how to use his abilities. Occasionally he'll pull off an effect he doesn't understand on instinct, but for the most part, he can't make his powers work.
  • Magic 2.0: Martin starts as this in Off to Be the Wizard after discovering the file and fleeing to Medieval England. Figuring that he can pass himself off as a "genuine" wizard while simultaneously scaring away charlatans, he puts on his Draco Malfoy costume, teleports to the White Cliffs of Dover in the 12th century, and travels to the nearest town. Arriving there, he walks into the tavern and suggests free food and lodging in exchange for "real" magic. As proof of his powers, he produces a plastic bag, which the locals find fascinating. The tavern keeper has the local wizard Phillip summoned to meet Martin. Martin, naturally assuming Phillip to be a charlatan, produces more plastic (by teleporting to his parents' house in the present and taking two rolls of heavy-duty plastic wrap from their kitchen). Finally, he challenges Phillip to a Wizard Duel, using the Android app he wrote to levitate several feet off the ground (a very shaky and uncomfortable affair). In response, Phillip effortlessly flies off into the air, creates a cool light show, and then blasts the helplessly floating Martin into the nearby forest. It turns out Martin isn't the first to discover the file and end up in Medieval England. He gets better after becoming Phillip's apprentice.
  • In The Magicians, the Physical magician Josh is unable to get his magic to work consistently, but when it does work, it's very powerful: for example, when casting a spell to dispel a magical light, he ends up going over the top and producing a black hole.
  • The Magician's Nephew:
    • The titular magician Andrew Ketterly is "inept by comparison In-Universe". With his Mad Scientist approach to magic, Andrew is able to create magic rings that let people teleport to other worlds (although forging them takes him a few decades) - but he's completely outclassed and humiliated once he meets the likes of Jadis (who completely destroyed an entire planet with a word) and Aslan (who creates a new universe by a song). Given that Andrew Ketterly is a big bad wannabe, this is just as well; as Jadis alone wreaking havoc in the series is quite enough, Andrew has a bad crush on her, and would desperately like to prove himself to her if he could (she's not interested in the least).
    • Andrew's nephew Diggory (who shares his talent for science but not for magic), with Aslan's tutelage, finds out that both magic and the whole Big Bad stuff aren't for him, but science is, and becomes a famous professor in other books of the series.
  • Questor Thews, from the Magic Kingdom of Landover novels. There's a certain amount of The Peter Principle here, as while Questor does gain competence throughout the series, he's almost at every point functioning outside that range. (A running theme in the series is the intimate tie between an individual's connection to magic and self-recognition, so it's no surprise a lot of his problem is psychological.)
  • Moongobble and Me:
    • Moongobble, full stop. Most of his spells end up turning things into cheese, causing explosions or otherwise going wrong, to the point where it's more surprising when he doesn't mess one up. Part of it is apparently in how he pronounces his "A"s.
    • Felicity the Finder, featured in book 2, tends to become inept when she gets upset.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series:
    • Jon-Tom Meriweather can produce magical effects via music, but the lyrics have to be ridiculously specific and are likely to produce unwanted effects; when he conjures up a ship with the song "Sloop John B." and names himself first mate, he spends the entire voyage feeling badly drunk. It's implied a lot of his problem is combining the high emotion and energy of rock music with limited vocal control; his singing voice is too harsh to smoothly harmonize with his playing, giving him less control over what elements of a song actually produce magical effect. As he fades from being a viewpoint character after a few years of practice he's finally getting it down. (Naturally, his son rebels against rock, becomes a rapper, and continues the tradition.)
    • Clothahump is mostly competent, but he also has his moments. In his first attempt at using magic that the readers see, he attempts to conjure up gold coins but produces chocolate coins instead.
  • In Tales of the Fox, Gerin the Fox had less than a year of wizard's training before being called home, yet desperation sometimes drives him to attempt magic anyway. But only when he's really desperate, as he knows full well just how dangerous an unskilled mage can be. Generally, his use of magic can be summed up as "get desperate enough to summon a god, then trick them into solving his problem for him by playing on their ego."
  • In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, Hugi recounts how Mother Gerd had cursed a peasant's field — and only killed the thistles.
  • Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby from The Unorthodox Chronicles is a witch suffering serious Power Incontinence due to the physical and psychological scars from a childhood housefire. He can only do three spells, and when he tries to join the Auditors, he fails miserably for being a "Decent person, mediocre witch."
  • Wodehed from the Welkin Weasels series never has his spells work out the way he wants them to. In one memorable instance, he gave a boar holding the group captive some magical wine that would turn whoever drank it into a frog. Because the wineskin the wine was in was made from leather, the wineskin turned into a frog instead. In the third book, he gets his inevitable things-finally-go-right moment when HE SUMMONS A KRAKEN.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • The series does a good job of deconstructing this, though Rand's ineptitude is really more a case of How Do I Shot Web?. Rand has no one to teach him to channel for four books, and he's the most powerful channeler ever. He learns bits and pieces by luck and maybe past-life memory, but when things go wrong he's apt to accidentally pull down half a mountain or set a forest aflame.
    • Nynaeve is the most powerful female channeler seen in centuries, but her mental block prevents her from using magic unless she is very angry. While she still can be helpful in the battle, it severely hampers her training.
  • Same for Wind and Sparks series. Shen and Posthumous Character Kavalar are magicians with a rare set of skills — so-called "Healers". Male Healers are stronger and more versatile than female healers, they are born once in several centuries, thus nobody can teach them. Their biggest problem? All the world's spellweavers use the power of either heaven or hell, but male Healers need both. Until the middle of the second novel the only weave Shen managed to use more than once was Healing Hands. Though readers get to see only one spectacular failure: Shen tried to light a campfire and instead blasted dozens of square yards of steppe; nobody got hurt.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm:
    • The protagonist Emily starts as one of these, having spent lots of time fantasizing about being a great witch who stops evil mages and saves the world, but not having spent nearly as much time training to use her magic in battle. As a result, during her first field mission, she's completely thrashed by a set of evil witches, and she finally realizes just how much she has to learn. The rest of the plot involves her infiltrating and undermining the evil Wizarding School that those witches came from, and she admits to herself early on that she's hoping the school's brutal curriculum will help stop her from being one of these by forcing her to get good.
    • The evil Wizarding School has a few of these too, including a girl who didn't want to join up and seems afraid of her own powers and a very lazy witch who keeps trying to bribe others to do her work for her and thus doesn't actually put in any practice herself. When the students are all sorted into tiers according to their ability, these witches are put into 'Tier 6,' the lowest tier which is used only for the most incompetent witches in the school.
  • Wyrdrune, from Simon Hawke's The Wizard of _____ novels, is as powerful as a fully-credited wizard but was never certified due to his tendency to rush through his spells. He frequently makes mistakes with his magic, especially when he teleports with his companion Kira: he appears wherever he intends to, but she appears on/in fire escapes, rooftops, closets, or dumpsters nearby.
  • The Worst Witch: Mildred Hubble. Though it's worth noting that — while abysmal in the classroom — she does prove quite good at thinking on her feet with using magic in tight situations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Aunt Clara and Esmerelda, two witch characters from the Bewitched. In Aunt Clara's case, it's explained in the show that her frequently faulty magic is a result of her old age.
  • In the first seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow always messed up her spells, with unfortunate results. She got better. She continued to have her inept moments in later seasons, such as when she accidentally gave the entire Scooby gang amnesia in season six. After that, she rarely screwed up spells.
  • Merlin in the French series Kaamelott. He once tries to cast a spell to make plants grow, and ends up giving Arthur and Léodagan brightly glowing eyes. He tries to explain it via Not That Kind of Mage, as he's a druid: supposedly all his nature-aligned powers take a sharp dive when there's a roof over his head, i.e. in his laboratory. However, his talent as a druid is dubious as well: he can't even read the Druidic language. He's also a semi-effective leader of La Résistance against Lancelot in The Movie, Kaamelott: Premier Volet.
  • Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire: Zezelry is unable to do magic most of the time. It sorely disappoints Kröd, whom he'd promised very impressive spells.
  • Mannitol from The Legend of Dick and Dom: his incantations tend to backfire horribly, for example, turning a friend into a disembodied head; impressive, given that at one point non-mages successfully cast a spell.
  • Udonna's apprentice, Clare, from Power Rangers Mystic Force starts out as this and remains so for the duration of the series; but a major crisis turns her into a How Do I Shot Web? case, and she ends up competent when all is said and done.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch:
    • Sabrina herself, most of the time. Though in this case, it's mainly from her being too quick to read the fine print or not thinking things through.
    • Dreama, a minor character from Season 4, can't cast any spell without it going wrong.
  • Marnie Stonebrook from True Blood doesn't have a clue about her spells. But whenever she gets possessed by the ghost of the witch Antonia Gavilán, she becomes one of the most powerful villains in the show.
  • Lisa from Weird Science, in that her own powers constantly play the Jerkass Genie to her. Usually she can make anything happen with a snap of her fingers, but if it's something important, it'll typically turn out sooner or later it's Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • Max Russo in Wizards of Waverly Place regularly has his spells go awry although there is no doubt he can work magic; he's just inept, especially in contrast to his older brother Justin, a hard worker, and older sister Alex, a slacker but naturally gifted.

  • Alla Pugacheva has a song (in Russian) about a wizard who didn't pay attention in school and ended up as one of those. From the examples given, it seems that their attempts to cast pretty much any kind of magic result in the spontaneous creation of malformed animals.

  • DND Is For Nerds has one player and his wizard Krifpum Pumkrif, who failed to become a court mage because he was deliberately taught a selection of useless and goofy spells as a joke. He eventually resorts to just trying to punch people, taking Improved Unarmed Strike at level-up. Compounding this is his relationship with his cat Familiar, which progressed from being useless to disobedient to an active pest, to attacking him in an alley and nearly mauling him to death.

  • The poem Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is about a sorcerer's apprentice who enchants a broom to do his chores but doesn't know how to stop the broom.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Eureeka from Eureeka's Castle had her off-moments. One example: she tried to make an ice cream float with magic and ended up with the ice cream floating in the air. She does admit that she's still learning, however.

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Leon Alcibiates is initially a very inept mage when he first tries to access his Andain powers. At first he can only turn into a kestrel because of a goddess's poison that affects him, and he sucks at most spells. It's only after he's gone through many years of training under various masters and coming to terms with who he is and how to distance himself from his Abusive Parents that he becomes a better mage who decides to safeguard the Land of the Living from the ambitions of both gods and mortals.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Tome of Magic sourcebook introduces the Wild Mage. Although able to master "wild magic" spells otherwise forbidden to other wizards, the level of power of their magic is variable, and they run the risk of causing a "wild surge" — a totally random effect — with every casting. Wild Mages aren't actually inept (unless that's how you play one). Just crazy. Consider their signature spell: "Nahal's Reckless Dweomer"; a spell that the mage casts in order to attempt to shape it into any other spell he knows without having the spell memorized. Wild Surges can be extremely deadly if you're lucky; casting Magic Missile has an equal chance of making your opponent (and everything in ten feet of it) explode messily as it does the chance of summoning harmless squirrels. The thing that really drives them toward possibly being inept mages was that whenever they cast a spell, not only do they have a chance of a Wild Surge, they also have a variable applied to their caster level, which can cause them to cast it at either a higher or lower level than they actually are. If they cast it at a level that is below the spell's minimum caster level, the casting fails completely. For example, Fireball has a minimum caster level of 5, so if they roll a result of 4th level, the spell fizzles.
    • This is downplayed significantly with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Wild Magic Sorcerers, who function like any Sorcerer but have a (small) chance of unleashing a Wild Magic Surge. The results of this may be beneficial but may also occasionally screw you over, especially if the Sorcerer happens to be standing in the middle of the party right as they randomly cast a fireball centered on themselves. At higher levels, they gain advantage on the roll for Surge results, almost entirely removing any risk of ineptitude.
    • Any lv. 1 wizard was this by default in some earlier editions. They could perform spells usually with the same chance of failure as swinging a sword, but while their magic could be deadly, their available spell slots (the game's mana system) were (and still are for non-cantrip spells) so few that they were just about pathetic, which was why many level 1 wizards who didn't fancy getting close enough to an opponent to use a dagger (never a good idea for a class that can't wear any armor) toted a crossbow (which, unlike a regular bow, they could use) or kitted themselves out with as many oil flasks as they could carry (the Molotov Cocktail build). In fifth edition, spellcasters get cantrips, which have no limitations on how often they can be cast. Wizards get access to several cantrips which produce reasonable attacks, if not as devastating as the spells requiring the expenditure of a spell slot, and they can use these to keep up with characters using physical attacks.
    • Supplements for the Mystara D&D setting on the wizard-ruled nation of Glantri include rules for playing underage wizards, whose spells are prone to malfunctions that DMs are encouraged to play for laughs.

  • Wicked:
    • Elphaba. Things get way out of hand.
    • Elphaba's sister, Nessarose is a truly tragic example. She tries to use a spell from the Grimmerie to make Boq fall in love with her. She pronounces it incorrectly, accidentally destroying his heart instead. Elphaba saves him by turning him into the Tin Man and Nessarose accepts the title of "Wicked Witch of the East".
  • In The Wiz, Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, seems prone to Magic Misfire. Her Magic Slate gives six inaccurate guesses about Dorothy's name, and she also needs to wave her wand multiple times in order to leave Munchkinland (in the play, she laments having to take the bus due to how unreliable her teleportation spells seem).

    Video Games 
  • Jormund from Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura plays with this trope. He's a Dwarven Mage, and he's not incompetent per se; He's fully skilled with the Force and Fire spell trees, and he knows the Disintegrate spell note , but he is also a dwarf, so his spells cost double the mana to cast. Not only that, his AI cannot cast spells in an intelligent way. His AI seems to have a pathological obsession with the Fire Elemental spell, the single most mana-heavy spell in the game. Also, Disintegrate in the hands of a properly specced player character is a Game-Breaker, but it is horribly unwieldy for NPCs and can lead to accidental Unintentionally Unwinnable moments. This means Jormund is a terrible choice for a spellcaster; more often than not, he simply gets into a fight, chucks a few Disintegrates, or becomes an Elemental, and drops down unconscious after about 30 seconds.
  • Atelier Series:
  • The Wild Mage class also appears in Baldur's Gate 2, this time with a set list of results, but an incredibly variable one. They can change a random target's gender, summon a cow right above their target's head, accidentally target themselves with the spell... At least in this case, you get the benefit of Save Scumming.
  • Jowan from Dragon Age: Origins. Between the generally inherent power of Mages and his dabbling in Blood Magic he should be very, very powerful. Alas, he's much weaker than almost every other Mage in the game, and only turned to Blood Magic out of desperation. It becomes a tragic plot point through the series: magical prowess varies widely from being barely able to light a candle with magic to the freakishly enormous raw power displayed by playable mages, but since powerful mages once lorded over the whole continent and enslaved the Muggles, society in general and templars tasked to watch over the mages in particular tend to assume that every mage is a powerhouse capable of slaughtering a village with a thought and as a result treat them all with extreme distrust and use increasingly oppressive methods to keep them in check. Many inept mages (or simply competent mages who aren't good at fighting) suffering from said oppression but lacking the firepower to actively fight back eventually turn to blood magic to even the field, get possessed as a result, which in turn increases the distrust and prejudice toward mages even more. To add insult to injury, it's made abundantly clear as the story progresses (especially to players who select a Mage as their PC) that the circles and templars cannot really contain the really powerful mages: characters like Wynne, Vivienne, Morrigan, a mage Warden/Hawke/Inquisitor can come and go as their please and often ignore the harsh rules imposed on their peers, meaning the harsh treatments supposed to contain dangerous mages are mainly used against those who wouldn't even become a threat to society had they not been driven to the brink by the aforementioned rules and mistreatment
  • The weakest Imps in the Dragon Quest series, and especially Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, are really terrible at magic. They continually attempt to use the Bang spell, only to blow themselves up. Standing still while an Imp tries to attack you will cause his magic to explode in his face. Running will cause him to chase you, trip, and explode, damaging everything in the area around it, meaning you, other enemies, and itself. This is all they can do.
  • Fate/Grand Order: The protagonist, Ritsuka Fujimaru, was an ordinary student who had no knowledge of magic and ended up dragged into a world-saving adventure. Though Ritsuka is slowly taught magic by their peers, they are constantly noted to be behind most mages and can only perform the most basic of spells. If not for their exceptional compatibility for being a Master to Heroic Spirits, Ritsuka would've been useless to Chaldea. They eventually develop impostor syndrome over not being a proper mage like other characters and subconsciously fear either being replaced or sidelined by someone better.
  • Dio? Odie from Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, though it's only prevalent in Cutscenes, whereas in gameplay he's pretty strong.
  • Viki from the Suikoden series fits roundly. She is quite competent, and can even be used in the player's parties in many games. It just so happens her area of expertise is teleportation magic, and when she's tired/been drinking/sneezes, she tends to wind up in strange places. Or times. She is one of the few characters to be featured in every game in the main series, despite the fact that it covers a period spanning centuries. It's implied that (side stories aside) she's gone through the games in numerical rather than chronological order, just like the player. She was even in one game twice. Oddly enough, she appears to be getting more and more powerful as the games go on. In the first game, she had a random chance of accidentally harming her party with her spells; by the fifth, she has a random chance to cast multiple spells in a row at no additional cost
  • Downplayed with Merasmus from Team Fortress 2. He's a competent wizard, but not a stellar one, and his design of the Wheel of Fate is dubious at best.
  • Wizardry:
    • All spellcasting classes in the series are like this at first, barring alchemy-based casters, until they build up their Oratory skill-a low Oratory gives spells a chance to backfire or fizzle. However, backfiring spells are no joke in this series — a backfiring spell can easily kill a party member, if not several, and force the player to quit and reload.
    • In Wizardry 8 the chance of success to cast given spell depends on the magic school skill and elemental school for given spell (for example Wizardry school and Fire magic for Fireball spell), spell tier, and power with which the spell is cast. The power levels explicitly indicate the probability of spell to succeed (green border for given power level means it's safe to cast while casting at power level with red border will literally never succeed). This means beginner mages will likely either cast low-tier spells at low power or having their own spells blow in their (and their party's) face all the time.
  • World of Warcraft: Post-Cataclysm, a quest line in the Western Plaguelands has the player helping a very inept druid named Zen'Kiki purify the area. In combat, he'll shapeshift into a random druid form and mess up the whole time. As a bear, he faces away from his enemy. As a cat, he pounces over their head repeatedly. As a moonkin, he casts Moonfire on himself over and over until he runs out of mana. He also sometimes turns into Aquatic Form on land and flops around. He was actually popular enough to get a cameo in Legion; when the player is named the new Archdruid, a number of notable druids are present and enter Flight Form to celebrate. Zen'Kiki instead enters Aquatic Form.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Smuggler companion Guss Tuno was briefly a Jedi apprentice but lacked both the talent and the temperament to excel there. A later expansion implies that his methods of using the Force are simply unconventional.

    Visual Novels 
  • Shirou Emiya starts out this way in the Fate/stay night. He only knows three spells in the beginning, and only two he can do well. What's more, until he's corrected by Rin, he's doing them wrong because he misinterpreted his only teacher's instructions. (Granted, if you've read Fate/Zero, you'll get the feeling that said teacher probably wasn't in the best condition to teach magic.)
  • The player character of Shall We Date?: Wizardess Heart was mostly self-taught before being invited to attend the Wizarding School, and even after she begins attending classes, her magic misfires more often than it works. School Idol and prefect Klaus Goldstein speculates that she has some kind of rare talent that she simply hasn't been able to make proper use of; his theory is given support during his route when, fueled by the protective enchantment he put on an amulet for her, the protagonist's magic spontaneously causes her to time travel.

    Web Animation 
  • Harrison from Camp Camp is able to use magic and some rather powerful ones at that. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only person in the show's universe to possess such powers, so his lack of training means that his attempts at using them often do more harm than good to him and everyone around him. It probably doesn't help that his primary interest is in stage magic and that he may be oblivious to possessing actual magic powers. (He did honestly make his brother disappear but it's unclear if he's aware that there may be more eldritch circumstances behind it.)
  • Fumblemore in the Yogscast Minecraft Series, particularly Shadow of Israphel. His main specialty is blowing things up. And not always on purpose. He is surprisingly dangerous to the enemy, but apparently he blows things up so often that Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane are able to blame him for a series of creeper explosions.

  • Atshi Sonel, the main character of Anecdote of Error. Whenever she tries to use tshetsha, even for the simplest applications, it blows up in her face. Literally. It turns out that her magic potential is too low for her to have legitimately been accepted to the school, in fact, pathologically so, but was admitted by mistake because of a rounding error. This winds up deconstructed, as Atshi willfully rushes into danger over and over so that she can save everyone and prove that she deserves to be there, but just makes everything worse.
  • An unnamed druid from Digger was frustrated with the way the local slugs kept flocking to the beer he was trying to brew and drowning themselves in it while trying to drink, so he whipped up a ritual to make them stop. It was supposed to give the slugs "foresight" so that they could realize in advance that trying to drink the beer would result in their drowning, but what it actually did was give them prophetic Sight. This made the problem even worse because many of the slugs became suicidal and started drowning themselves in his beer on purpose.
  • In Doodze, accidentally turning the sh'leep into ravening monsters.
  • Abraham of El Goonish Shive is an interesting example. Although he is a very powerful spell caster, and deadly in combat, his lack of common sense has earned him a bit of a reputation for incompetence.
  • Trystan from The Forgotten Order has failed every magical entrance test. She also broke a window with an enchanted scrub brush.
  • Elan in The Order of the Stick is a Quirky Bard, and therefore can use magic, mainly illusions. Unfortunately, he's also The Ditz, meaning that most of his illusions end up being rather useless, and he has a tendency to forget he can use magic at all. Over the course of the comic, he does improve, mainly in the sense that he actually starts to stretch the limits of his own magic and think creatively in applying it, though he's still an inferior caster to the two dedicated magic-users in the party (to the point that Roy once angrily declared that he doesn't count as one).
  • In Penny Arcade, Jim Darkmagic, at least in his comic appearance. In the actual podcasts where he made his debut, Jim tends to be about as competent as the rest of the party, somewhat surprising considering that his player, Mike Krahulik, has never played Dungeons & Dragons before in his life.
  • In Slightly Damned, Jakkai and Earth Demons can only learn a couple of spells.
  • Gwynn from Sluggy Freelance very rarely gets a spell completely right. She enchants some monkeys to attack someone who's annoying her, without considering that, when someone else annoys her, the monkeys will change targets. Or she tries getting a demon to leave Riff alone but ends up making it possess her instead. Or she tries getting her and Zoe's hair to grow back, but, thanks to the spell relying on a Jerkass Genie, it makes them turn into fully-furred wookie-like creatures. Basically anything she tries other than moving things with her mind or making pretty lights isn't going to work as planned. It seems to be the rituals that give her trouble. If she has to blast something with lightning or force, she has no problems at all and can be downright dangerous when she's pushed.
  • Astyr Kaedermos of Sombulus frequently fumbles his transmutation spells, but rolls with the results anyway.
  • Kibbles' introduction in Uber Quest consisted of her trying to demonstrate a healing spell, and incinerating one guy and setting some others on fire. However it later turns out she was framed by an illusionist and is perfectly competent at healing spells.
  • Two in Unsounded.
    • One of the Red Berry Boys, Bette, casts spells by reading them directly out of a book with no understanding of the underlying principles, and Duane finds it trivial to seize control of his pymary.
    • Duane's daughter Mikaila also makes a number of dangerous mistakes, although the fact that she's doing it at all at her age shows she has an aptitude for it.
    • Will has difficulty casting any spells properly, with Mikaila outstripping him even when she was seven. This is due to his PTSD from his short traumatic stint as a child soldier during which he lost an arm.
  • Vampire Cheerleaders: Charlotte comes from a family of Wiccans and her spells have remarkable power... when she can actually remember the proper incantations for them. Which accounts for only half the time, especially when she's nervous, or under pressure. So she often resorts to simply making one up and hoping for the best.

    Web Original 
  • Leaving chaos in their wake is something of a hallmark of the "three little witches" — Abracadabra, Palantir, and Clover — from the eponymous story set in the Whateley Universe. May well yet turn out to be a case of How Do I Shot Web?, though; they are only kids (younger than the regular students at Whateley, even) at this point, after all.

    Web Videos 
  • Perf, of JourneyQuest, is an excellent example of this, up to looking like a Rincewind Expy. He has precisely three spells he can cast without recourse to his spellbooks: Conjure Milknote , Mend note  and Vaguenote . The one time we see him casting with a spellbook, he's trying to heal the party cleric, and fails so badly that said cleric dies. And becomes an entirely new form of undead. Just before that cleric showed up as said new form of undead, Perf tried to use the Gust of Wind spell from the book and blew his own clothes off, so he in fact used the book exactly twice.
  • In World's Greatest Adventures, Rufus Hooter Talltales can, surprisingly, perform actual magic. It is, however, terrible and near-useless.

    Western Animation 
  • Abracadaniel from Adventure Time has stupid powers that are only ever useful once (in his debut episode) and he is also Pathetically Weak.
  • In "A Giant Problem" on The Backyardigans, both Tyrone and Pablo are inept mages who lament "It's hard to be, so yeah hard to be a wizard." At least until the end, when they finally manage to get it right.
  • The Eggplant Wizard from Captain N: The Game Master. For example, he only ever turns someone into an eggplant once, and he has to call on a genie to do it.
  • Morgana in Darkwing Duck casts a spell wrong more often than she casts it right. It's implied, if not outright confirmed that her magic is affected by her emotional state.
  • Uncle Oswidge from Dave the Barbarian. It's eventually revealed that his incompetence is because he's not a qualified mage; he did go to sorcery school but as a trainee cook, not a student.
  • Dorg Van Dango: Patronella can't cast a spell to save her life. Though losing her wand a long time ago and having to make do with miscellaneous blunt objects (enchanted with one of Jet's bodily substances, often his saliva) may have something to do with it.
  • Presto from the Dungeons & Dragons animated cartoon. His magic hat can conjure seemingly anything he asks for, but usually not what he actually wants. For instance, when Presto wished for an enemy to be removed from his sight, a bucket was magically conjured to drop onto Presto's head (making it impossible for him to see the enemy). In another instance, he tells the hat to send an attacking orc "on a trip" and the orc is promptly dressed in Bermuda shorts and a flowered shirt, wielding a ukulele. Embarrassed, the orc flees. In the unmade final episode when everyone else gets to go back to earth, he would've chosen to stay in the fantasy world to train to become a proper wizard.
  • Kyle from Fanboy and Chum Chum. His poor skills in magic are often used as the reason behind his failures, and it even becomes an important plot point in "Sigmund the Sorcerer".
  • Fuddy, Merlin's apprentice, in Filmation's Ghostbusters. Jake could count on this guy to get his requests wrong, yet everything seemed to work out all right in the end.
  • The Magician from Frosty the Snowman. His only "magical" trait was his amazing top hat, which brought Frosty back to life. Even his pet rabbit hated him!
  • In Gawayn, Elspeth's spells don't always work right, and it takes her three to four times to get it right. She sometimes misinterprets the instructions in the Great Book of Magic.
  • Zummi from Gummi Bears. Though his ineptitude can be excused by the fact that he is an autodidact. He doesn't seem to have had any teachers who practiced magic with him, instead he has to read it all by himself in the Great Book of Gummi.
  • Junior Genie Babu, from both Jeannie the Animated Series, where he was her Side Kick and apprentice; and in Hanna-Barbera's Laff-A-Lympics. In the latter series, Fondoo would be his Really Rotten Counterpart.
  • Masters of the Universe:
    • Orko, from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Justified, however. His home dimension, where he's actually a master mage with exceptional abilities, has completely different rules of magic to Eternia. His magic only functions on Eternia due to a special medallion (original series) or wand (2002 series) which is lost soon after he arrived on Eternia when he saved Prince Adam's life. As a result of the incompatibility between his native magic and Eternia's magic rules, he comes across as an Inept Mage to Eternians. However, some episodes of the original cartoon contradicted this by showing that Orko was just as incompetent in his home dimension as he was on Eternia.
    • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021), Orko was The Archmage and Court Mage to King Grayskull, lauded as "Orko the Great". This mage's knowledge and memories were accidentally uploaded to an RK security drone by Duncan while he was trying to repair the robot, making it believe it was Orko the Great. But as a machine rather than a Trollan wizard, our Orko, later dubbed Ork-0, cannot channel the magic he has knowledge of. It would later turn out that the actual Orko was just as bad as magic as Ork-0, with centuries of people forgetting his true self, combined with his coward nature when he bungled up.
    • Madame Razz from She-Ra: Princess of Power. She is actually very powerful but is so ditzy and absent-minded that she tends to mispronounce words. Fortunately, her mistakes still beat up bad guys. For example, when she tries to conjure a wall to stall the bad guys, she says, "ball", and the conjured ball bounces and smacks the bad guys around.
  • My Little Pony:
    • My Little Pony 'n Friends: Draggle is depicted as the most incompetent of the three witches, and finds it almost impossible to perform even basic spells — something that her mother and sister never let her forget.
    • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
      • Starlight Glimmer's childhood friend Sunburst is a bit of this. Despite being accepted to a prestigious academy for a show of magic, turns out that was a bit of a fluke. He's not that good at casting spells. However, he still becomes the court magician for the Crystal Empire because his cutie mark was in spell theory. His knowledge of spells and magic seems to exceed even Twilight's. Contrast his friend Starlight, who is a very capable spellcaster (though her weakness is her overreliance on magic along with how she channels it based on emotions.)
      • Twilight Sparkle has her moments as well, not due to any lack of technical skill but because she can be rather reckless when excitement over a new bit of Magi Babble or frustration at her inability to figure something out gets the better of her.
      • The "Great and Powerful" Trixie (in her first appearance) is a variation. She talks a big game, but when comes the time to put her skills to the test, she fails miserably. By the standards of regular unicorns (most of whom only use basic telekinesis and a few spells usually related to their special talent), though, she is not inept, her specialization being flashy entertainment magic which she is nowhere near bad at. She only comes off as an Inept Mage when compared to Twilight Sparkle, one of the very rare unicorns whose special talent is all of magic, and only because she built up a lot of hype around herself with nothing to actually back it up.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: "Monster Party" reveals Enid was a witch when she was younger, but grew dissatisfied with it and gave it up to pursue her true calling, being a ninja. When her friends from Ghoul School visit, Enid pretends to still be a witch. Since she hasn't practiced magic in years, she is rusty. She tries to perform a spell but keeps missing her target, then one of the stray spells brings a tree to life and she can't undo it.
  • Played with regarding Willow in The Owl House. She was a late bloomer when it came to magic and was mockingly referred to as "Half-a-witch Willow" by her peers (not helped by the fact that her parents had her studying in the abomination coven track due to its better career opportunities despite her lacking any talent for it), but she has incredibly powerful plant magic and excels once she's allowed to start studying that instead.
  • On ReBoot, the episode "Wizards, Warriors, and a Word from our Sponsors" has Dot take the part of a sorceress in one of the games. The extent of her magical prowess amounts to pointing at something, exclaiming "abraca-whatchama-dabra-callit," and hoping for a favorable result.
  • The Winter Warlock from the Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town Christmas Special. He was a fierce mage until his heart melted from a kind gesture... and then he could only do little tricks.
  • The titular character of Star vs. the Forces of Evil, especially in the first two seasons. The reason she was shipped off to Earth was because of her recklessness and inability to gauge what she's capable of actually pulling off with the wand. She can usually manage spells that are meant to be destructive pretty easily, but anything else is bound to go awry, and once or twice her wand has even gone off accidentally. For example, when she creates rainbows purely for show, they tend to be on fire and the fire will easily spread to things that shouldn't be flammable, like stone and metal.
    Marco: 'Suck'?! Why was the word 'suck' in that spell?!
  • Winnie the Pooh: In the The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "A Knight for a Day", Rabbit becomes one of these in Piglet's fantasy. Whenever he tries to cast a spell he only succeeds in turning himself into random animals.
    Rabbit-tortoise: What is going wrong with these spells?!
    King Pooh: Oh, don't feel badly. I can't spell very well either.
  • Dez from Wishfart wants to do good with his wish-granting powers, but every wish he grants seems to go horribly awry.


Video Example(s):


Dolly Clackhanger

Dolly is not very successful as a witch. All of her attempts at mixing various potions end rather explosively.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / IneptMage

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