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Traditional Hermetic Magic often required creation of elaborate Geometric Magic e.g. runes, magic circles, and pentacles or pentagrams before a spell could be cast. These would typically be scratched into the ground, or made with special materials. This takes too long to be practical in a fight or immediate crisis, but it does look really cool.

Many works get around the time limitation and amplify the coolness factor by having special effects do the work. As soon as the mage calls out the attack, any required circles, designs and written magical incantations appear glowing in the air. Sometimes the spellcaster actually draws them in midair; at other times, these designs are prepared by the mage beforehand and manifest from some sort of device, or whatever force the mage contracts or serves does it for them. But this is mostly speculation on our part, as it's rarely, if ever, shown how it's actually done.

Being easy to animate either traditionally or in CG, this effect originated in Anime & Manga, specifically among Hermetic-flavored Magical Girls.

In latter years, it has become increasingly common in other media. Many video games adopted the Simple, yet Awesome effect: circles are easy to notice and have clear boundaries, thus, they're ideal to designate the effect radius of a magical Area of Effect attack in RPGs and Real-Time Strategy games.

From anime and gaming, this effect has also spread to modern fantasy webcomics and, having come full circle, manifested even in the artwork of 3rd edition d20 Dungeons & Dragons. It's hard to deny that glowing magic circles and mystic runes floating in the air around the spellcaster look so much cooler in a visual medium than a wizard waving a staff around.

See also: Simplified Spellcasting and Sphere of Power. Magic portals very frequently have these inscribed on them to show how magical they are. When the runes come before the magic happens, that's Runic Magic.

For the Sci-Fi cousins, see Tron Lines and Matrix Raining Code.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 07-Ghost uses Instant Runes as a kind of battle magic. And a whip-like weapon. And transport. And doll-crafting. And praying. There is quite a lot of it to be found in the anime.
  • Both played straight and averted in Ah! My Goddess depending on the skill/power of the caster. The goddesses themselves can instantly generate smaller spell circles, but still need to manually draw larger ones, more powerful entities like Urd's mother Hild can easily generate complex spell circles with little effort.
  • Ayakashi Triangle:
    • Shirogane's sex-changing curse creates a stylized male and female sign in midair that attaches to his target to take effect.
    • Garaku manually makes drawings and inscribes text at Super-Speed to use his art-based powers.
    • Mei's sealing technique involves her paper servants drawing a symbol in the air with their Colorful Contrails. Later, this symbol, now called the "Life Halo", appears floating being Suzu's back as Shadow Mei possesses her and unleashes her full power.
  • In Black Clover, Magic Knight Zora Ideale independently found a way to use his Ash Magic to draw magic circles that create his Trap Magic. As a result, despite having a magic affinity that's useless in a straight fight, Zora can defeat much more powerful mages by turning their own magic against them. As well as a variety of other traps, such as bombs and pitfalls.
  • In Brave10, Okatsu's snake magic works like this, as seen in the seals on their eyes, and her fight with Kakei.
  • Brave Story: Mitsuru produces one in the movie by tapping his staff on the ground.
  • Campione! invokes this with much of the magic cast in the series.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura shows it whenever Sakura uses her magic to seal a card, or use one.
  • A Certain Magical Index:
    • Averted with Stiyl. He carries around cards or photocopies of the runes needed for his spells and has to strategically place them around a place, but he can move them with his mind.
    • Index plays this straight when casting an actual spell. This is meant to show just how much power she has at her disposal, to be able to form runes and symbols out of light and air is the mark of the highest level of magician.
    • The angel encountered during "Angel Fall" when it uses a spell: it instantly turns day to night, the moon's phase to full, and rearranges the stars to form the runes and designs it needs to cast spells. Not for nothing are angels considered among the most powerful beings in the Indexverse.note  Also, while rearranging the stars, the angel lazily fought Kanzaki Kanori, a powerful magician in her own right.
    • In Miracle of Endymion the Big Bad builds a Space Elevator to make a spell powerful enough to kill her along everyone on Earth below. The Runes were highly visible and had a radius several times bigger than the station built on the end of the elevator.
  • Satella and Fiore have these appear around them when they use their "jewel summoning" powers in Chrono Crusade.
  • Dr. Muraki in Descendants of Darkness at one point uses an intricate magic circle that rises from the floor as pure light. However, it is still linked to a simpler circle he apparently prepared beforehand, and that can be destroyed by shooting the glowing gems at the points of the pentagram.
  • The Devil is a Part-Timer! shows this in the anime adaption. Mostly from the titular character, though a few others have been seen pulling such things off.
  • Digimon Tamers combines this with Geometric Magic for Beelzemon's final epic-level attack. He draws the star in the air with his gun, then the circle appears around it, and then even more markings appear right before he begins firing through the symbol.
  • Disgaea features these in the OP, the ED, and the eyecatch, as well as within the show itself. A few attacks in the games utilize them, too.
  • In the anime adaptation of Fairy Tail, most uses of magic cause a magic circle to appear near the caster, most often around the hands. Phantom Lord's walking fortress makes a really huge example of this, one used for casting "Abyss Break". Unlike the instantly-appearing magic circles, this one is drawn into the air by the fortress' giant arms, which allows the entire attack to be aborted since the spell couldn't be launched before the circle was complete. Also, there are wizards who specialize in rune magic, which is written in the air to do whatever it's supposed to at the time do. Given the amount of time that these generally take to cast, they're more suited to laying traps, rather than having any real direct combat use, and Hades' usage of the Amaterasu runes with almost instantaneous casting time is pointed out in-universe as incredible and nigh-on impossible for even expert magicians.
  • Fate/stay night:
    • One of the first things you see is Tohsaka Rin summoning her Servant with a pretty red glowing rune/incantation circle rising from the floor, through her body and above her head (though this is subverted in the original game, where she does, in fact, prepare the circle beforehand). This is actually a subversion in the anime too, as the circle is shown drawn on the floor and does not rise up past her until after she begins the summoning ritual.
    • Played straight with Rider, in using her Noble Phantasm "Bridle of Chivalry". The best example would be in the Fate route, where a spell circle is formed from her own blood.
    • Subverted in the verse with runic magecraft. One major drawback is that it must be somehow inscribed on the target. Two characters have shown the use of runes in combat: one drew the symbols in mid-air with cigarette smoke and overlaid them on the target, while the other carried around a talon to physically carve them out.
  • An interesting inversion is made with Fullmetal Alchemist: alchemy, here seen as Magitek and dependent on the energies of the earth, requires the alchemist to draw the runes beforehand before attempting any effort. However, this does not stop the alchemist from bringing permanent copies of it whenever they need to use it. Subverted in the film of the first anime, Conqueror of Shamballa, where a certain character is able to perform alchemy via remotely cast instant runes.
  • A primitive and weirdly non-magical example: In King of Braves GaoGaiGar, when the titular Humongous Mecha uses his "Protect Shade" power to defend himself, the averted lasers/energy bolts trace out a pentacle-shaped path in the air in front of him rather than being directly reflected. This is apparently inherent to the Protect Shade technology. The heroes reverse engineer it to develop their base's shield system, and the "PS generators" do the same thing.
  • Ga-Rei: The Tsuchimiyas' Spirit-eater Byakuei appears from a circular seal which hovers behind the summoner's back.
  • In the Hellsing anime, Alucard does this once, causing a massive, glowing pentagram to hover over the Hellsing mansion. He makes the pentagram so big that it not only covers all of London, but is visible from low-Earth orbit.
  • Hoshin Engi: The super paope Taikyokuzu when unleashed forms a colossal, beautifully-detailed Taijitu set of Yin-Yang symbols, kanji, and trigrams suspended in midair. When it's bestowed to Taikobo, he can draw the symbols from the tip of his baton/whip, which he also needs to unleash Fukki's space-based paope Bansenjin and Chusenjin.
  • The Legend of the Legendary Heroes, only in the anime. The original novels explain that part of casting a spell involves literally rearranging magical particles in the air, thus creating the appearance of drawing a magic circle in midair. Though some people are really, really fast at it.
  • Lyrical Nanoha does this frequently. Interestingly, it's shown in the manga that those circles must be constructed mentally. If you don't have the math right, the magic won't work. This is exactly why a Magic Wand in this series is called an Intelligent Device - in addition to being a tool for focusing magical energy, it's also a computer providing assistance with manifesting predefined templates of magic and assisting with targeting solutions.
  • Subverted in Magical Circle Guru-Guru, where "Guru Guru Magic" works mainly in summoning creatures through drawings in circles. While these drawings can be very simple, Kukuri (the little, naive Guru Guru witch) does them wrong more often than you expect. And more often the summoning still works with wrong circles, displaying nonsensical monsters and gag devices. Finally, Kukuri figures out how to invent new spells. Well, not so simple.
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, Ascot uses traditional Hexagram Seals of Solomon whenever he's summoning one of his monsters.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid:
    • Magic circles occasionally appear when Tohru uses her dragon magic . The anime standardized it so that it happens every time she uses a spell (with the circle appearing either in front of her face or hand, depending on whether or not it's self-targeting).
    • Shouta's low level spells are accompanied by pictograms that resemble computer icons, in keeping with the fact that magic was the in-universe source for at least one programming language. The one time he uses a stronger sleep spell during a Wizard Duel, the circle has the kanji for "sleeping" in the center.
  • Munto has Gass as the only one with these as part of his unique magic and casting style.
  • Naruto:
    • Kanji and geometric patterns have been known to appear on fingers or hands of the caster, or their target, or the surrounding ground and air. This primarily goes for sealing jutsu and summoning jutsu. Examples in other types are rare and primarily anime-only, such as Neji Hyuga's Eight Trigrams, Sixty-Four Palms and a Villain of the Week's "word binding".
    • In a rare aversion, in the second Naruto movie, one of the characters uses existing runes on the ground to summon a black hole.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: For the most part these don't even require prior construction, but a significant aversion to this occurs in the Magic World Tournament finale, when Negi activates a massive set of runes out of nowhere to absorb Rakan's power, and Rakan realizes with a shock that Negi had written them in the ground unnoticed while in his Fragile Speedster mode much earlier in the fight. The inscriptions in the outer circle are in Armenian. Negima also features an aversion in the Pactio circles, which must be drawn by hand.
  • Abe no Seimei's modus operandi in New Getter Robo, for barriers and pain spells and everything in between. Sometimes, he takes the trouble to trace his pentagrams with his finger, but mostly he just sticks out his hand and they appear. And as the war between him and Getter goes on, he sometimes doesn't have to expend that much effort.
  • Magic circles appear sporadically in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Most obvious is with Sayaka, who has, rather than runes, musical notes appear. The actual runes in the series don't fit the trope, as they're more of a weird background detail.
  • Reborn! (2004) has shown this with the Simon Family unleashing their Ring Weapons and later with the Vongola Gear weapons. Apparently they're made of Dying Will Flames.
  • Rosario + Vampire:
  • In later chapters, some of Tsukune's new powers involve these. Apparently, "youjutsu" (a variety of magic/Ki Manipulation specific to youkai), which the Chairman specializes in and which Tsukune recently was trained in by the Chairman's own mentor, often involve these.
  • Shakugan no Shana: Unrestricted Spells tend to manifest these, and their form varies between casters. The most common forms are ribbons and circles.
  • Katsumi Liqueur Silent Möbius uses runes when casting more powerful spells.
  • Slayers: Anime only, and then only with some larger spells. Averted in the novels, where Lina mentions that she does have to prepare spells in advance, but can then cast them later with just an incantation. Also, any magic circles that show up have been drawn (or in Seyruun's case, built) by someone. Also, when Lina uses her magic to transmute ordinary trinkets into magical ones, she draws the circles by hand, explaining the process as she goes.
  • Soul Eater has one with the Kishin. When he's going to do his beam attacks, a rune circle appears in front of him.
  • Strike Witches has these (as magic circles) appear as shields and when the Strike Units start up. Miyafuji's circle is a little under 3 football fields. In radius.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- has both this and a variation. Fay's magic seems to work by him literally writing it out on the air with his staff, though he can use other forms.
  • The Siestas in Umineko: When They Cry have Formulaic Magic equations and Greek text appear out of nowhere when they're using magic to shoot people.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Artemis Fowl graphic novels, the time stop forcefield is covered in gnomish runes.
  • A 1975 Doctor Fate story by Walter Simonson (from issue #9 of the try-out title 1st Issue Special), where, rather than the simple glowy effects and occasional Ditko Ribbons of previous appearances, the magics of Fate and his Mummy adversary manifest as glowing ankhs and hieroglyphics. Almost every subsequent Doctor Fate artist has used the ankh motif for his magics. Simonson is also the artist who first depicted the Anti-Life Equation as glowing glyphs orbiting the head of its possessor as a halo.
  • The comic adaptations of The Dresden Files often show Harry's evocation spells (combat magic, basically) with this, even though this is most definitely not the case in the books. When using ritual magic, the runes and things are generally imagined, as they don't have to be drawn.
  • In a World… where the Justice League are all powerful magic users (Earth-33 of the DC Comics Multiverse), Superman's spells manifest as Instant Runes ... in Kryptonian.

    Fan Works 
  • Magic in the version of the Nanoha multiverse the fanfic The New Math is set in works via complex math equations. The stronger spells generate rune patterns when used.
  • In Rising From The Shadows, Harry Potter learns the ancient Kryptonian Battle-magic which consists of the projected sigils of the 23 Great Houses used in various combinations. Notably, only 1 sigil can be used by itself while 17 of the potential combinations are noted to be disrecommended to the point of being lethal to the caster.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • How Doctor Strange's magic manifests. Sorcerers create glowing symbols in geometric patterns when they use magic, as a focusing mechanism for their spells. By default, they take on an amber hue, but channeling power from alternative sources can alter the color; spells involving the Dark Dimension turn red, while the Eye of Agamotto's energy imbues them with its characteristic shade of green.
    • Thor: Ragnarok: Heimdall saves a family from Hela's mooks and brings them to the place where he hides the other Asgardians. To open the door to the cave, he touches the ground making a number of runes appear in a circle.
  • Shows up for some spells in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, where they appear to be made out of colored flame.
  • Warcraft (2016): Human magic requires runes to produce any effect of sufficient power. Khadgar has to sketch his onto the ground, but Medihv, as the most powerful mage in the universe, can just conjure runes of light into the air.

  • Though the circles used for demon summoning in David Eddings' The Belgariad and Malloreon are traced by hand (usually with a big stick), particularly potent sorcerers can hold them stable whilst, for example, walking on a storm-tossed ocean...
  • The Weis/Hickman series The Death Gate Cycle features 'instant' glowing runes in the air when Greater Magic is being worked. They do key off of movements, song, and (for the Patryn) pre-existing runes tattooed onto the body, however.
  • Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files (sometimes averted). In the books, runes and circles are explained as not actually required to perform magic, but they make magic easier to use by offering a sort of focus or map for the magic user to concentrate their power with. Where this trope comes in is that a practitioner can simply imagine the runes and circles he needs if necessary, but it is difficult to maintain while performing the actual magic.
  • In Elantris, though they don't appear automatically, Elantrians can "draw" AonDor runes in midair to activate their magic.
  • In Tanya Huff's The Enchantment Emporium the characters with magical abilities are able to trace or sketch charms very quickly with their fingertips onto any surface, even the skin of another person. These charms can be used for anything from protection to healing to a form of mind control. Some characters are able to trace charms in the air and one character is able to mark people from a distance with charms using Magic Music.
  • In The Kane Chronicles, Egyptian hieroglyphs appear in the air when spells are cast.
  • In The Light Fantastic, the Great Spells materialise as glowing words in the air when cast. Twoflower, a non-wizard, can look at them and deduce that one word was pronounced incorrectly, because it's the wrong colour.
  • Averted in Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician, and more explicitly in Magician's Ward, as Mairelon explains that the use of most magic requires runes prepared in advance.
  • The trenuses in Tough Magic use spell-diars that are formed through magic, to make a more powerful spell than just by chanting or triggering one.
  • Words of Radiance (second book of The Stormlight Archive): Kaladin speaking the Third Ideal of the Windrunners creates the sigil of the Order in Stormlight after his transformation. He gets this again when he pulls a Three-Point Landing on the Assassin in White.
  • In Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, a lot of wizardry requires diagrams drawn out in the wizardly Speech. At first, these are mostly drawn out in the dirt, on paper, etc., but as the characters become more proficient, they can learn to conjure glowing diagrams (or sometimes 3D models) in the air, which can be stored in their manuals and later pulled out to be glowing diagrams in the air again. And one character uses a computer program to plot out and save spell diagrams.
    • Justified in that magic is explicitly stated to be highly complex statements in an actual, speakable language — akin to programming code for reality itself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played straight and then subverted in Angel, where a giant pentagram on the floor is used in a couple of attempts to connect to a Hell dimension, but also gets to be a Brick Joke about how they have a GIANT BLOOD RED PENTAGRAM covering the floor of their business's lobby.
  • Fringe of all shows has recently introduced "stasis runes" as powerful traps, utilized by none other than William Bell. September remarks that this technology should be considerably ahead of them.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Kiva: Kamen Rider Dark Kiva can summon his symbol, which is a bat-shape, to attack other people.
    • Kamen Rider Wizard features the titular hero using such runes to perform pretty much every ability in his repertoire.
  • In The Magicians, offensive battle spells use these.
  • Supernatural:
    • Notably averted with devil's traps and other warding, as the frequently used runic circles are always drawn laboriously by hand (although spray paint does speed things up). (Sam and Dean would carry around a sheet or something with a demon-trap painted on it, but it'd be easy enough to tear a sheet open.)
    • Castiel helps Sam and Dean hide from angels in season five by placing his hands on their chests and instantly carving Enochian warding into their ribs. Dean later gets an x-ray to find that his ribs are now covered in elaborate symbols.
  • Super Sentai/Power Rangers:
    • Everyone in Mahou Sentai Magiranger and Power Rangers Mystic Force, with Wolzard/Koragg being perhaps the most obvious example.
    • Subverted in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai in that the protagonists have to write out (or text in the Gold Ranger's case) the kanji all of their summons in the proper stroke order. For example, the second episode of Shinkenger begins with Chiaki failing at summoning blades of grass because he's writing the kanji (草, learned in first grade in Japan) wrong. However in the first episode it only takes two seconds for Takeru to magically summon a horse, a kanji that consists of ten strokes (馬, a second grade kanji).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: Runechildren are sorcerers born with magical glyphs hidden under their skin that begin to glow whenever they collect enough magical energy. In addition to the runes on their own body, Runechildren also have the ability to make any hidden magical writing glow if it's close enough to them.
  • Iron Kingdoms: Mages have these appear around their arms while casting (or around their weapons while channelling magic through them). Characters in the IKRPG can learn to identify a spell just from the runes that appear as it's being cast (one of the pre-made characters for the quickstart rules, the Arcanist/Investigator Eilish Garrity, has this skill
  • In Spheres of Power, this is a possible manifestation of the Magical Signs drawback.

    Video Games 
  • In the .hack games, these appear both above the caster and near the target whenever magic is cast (either by a PC or by an enemy).
  • Most probably the only use in a sci-fi game that doesn't even use magic: Ace Online. The spell "Purify" is available to M-Gears after obtaining the rare Special/Elite Skill Opening Card. The activation animation is quite distinct: you suddenly gain an instant magic circle with a symbol on top, sending sparkles downward. Non-players assume it's a godly buff; players know it does the opposite. No, it doesn't purify you or allies of negative status effects, it nullifies all buffs and skills you have, including the that lets you do the Macross Missile Massacre.
  • Avencast: Rise of the Mage: Many of the player character's Pure Magic-themed Soul Magic spells conjure up elaborate circles of runes, either as a side effect, like those that rotate around a Kamehame Hadoken, or as projectiles in their own right, like the Soul Chalice One-Hit Polykill.
  • In Battle for Wesnoth, the Scribe line of units from the user-created (and very well-done) faction Windsong use Instant Runes to attack. No projectiles or anything, the rune just appears over the scribe's head and the enemy mysteriously takes damage.
  • In Beyond Good & Evil having a teammate perform a special attack (which launches the enemy off the ground) followed by a stick attack causes floating runes to show up. The result causes the target to become a projectile.
  • Some characters in BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger have attacks that manifest Instant Runes (such as Hakumen's counterattack ability); like Negi in the Naruto example, these seem to be visual conceits, usually no more visible to the actual characters than the lifebars at the top of the screen. Then there's the attack of Nox Nyctores Gigant in the Story Mode.
  • In Breath of Fire IV, most of Ryu's transformations into his dragon forms involves a semi-circular sphere enveloping him and his party, which was then decorated with runes.
  • Castlevania is fond of this trope in general, having lots of occultish magic. Two notable examples would be the collectible runic glyphs in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and those in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow which the player must draw themselves with the DS stylus to activate.
    • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow downplays this trope by actually making the player draw the rune, but this is only used in specific situations, and the game has Instant Runes elsewhere.
  • Certain boss characters in City of Heroes have an ability to curse player characters, halving their endurance pool. They do this by firing a magic bullet at the target, which when it hits produces an instant rune at the victim's feet as they're cursed.
    • Heroes themselves gain a Rune of Warding of their own, a temporary power gained from a storyarc that is especially effective against certain magical creatures. And looks awesome.
    • City of Villains Masterminds have two powers which enhance the abilities of their pets. For the Ninja Matermind the visual effect for the 'upgrades' is large, glowing kanji appearing under the feet of the pet being buffed.
    • With Going Rogue, Masterminds got access to the Demon Summoning powerset, which uses this trope to, well, summon demons. You even get to pick what color your magic circles are going to be!
    • There's also Instant Runes costume change animations, the Mystic Fortune power, costume auras... point is, the devs like their shiny runes. It's a superhero game; they're entitled.
  • Many of the Monk's powers in Diablo III manifest runes when used.
  • In the Dm C Devil May Cry 2013 reboot, Kat plays with this. She spends weeks preparing the materials used in her magic, and then stuffs them into a spray paint can when they're finished. When her magic is needed, she pulls out the spray paint can and a stencil to create the necessary runes in seconds.
  • In Dokapon Kingdom, any hero or villain who attempts to block magic will do so by conjuring an elaborate wall of runes between him and the caster.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins has a line of 'glyph' spells which summon glowing purple sigils at the target point. They essentially serve as magical Status Infliction landmines.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition adds magic circles to the casting animations to many spells that didn't have them before. The wonders of increased development time and special effects budget.
  • Dragon Quest VIII: Norse runes (or near equivalent) swirl around characters when they cast spells.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features spells which create circular runes that act as landmine-type traps.
  • Western videogame example: Eternal Darkness for the GameCube does this every time you cast a spell, complete with columns of light shooting from the Instant Runes and an ominous, supernatural voice (that varies based on spell alignment) pronouncing the runes.
  • Fable has the spells "Divine Fury" and "Unholy Wrath," the latter of which was referred to in Zero Punctuation as "Evil Pentagram Soul Suck Horror."
  • Fate/Grand Order: Caster version of Cú Chulainn able to use Norse runes (instead of Celtic). An Author's Saving Throw has his teacher later explaining that he used Norse runes instead of Celtic because they're instant and suited his style, and they appealed to Odin for him to be able to do so. It's also later revealed that Caster Cú Chulainn is a Pseudo-Servant for Odin himself.
  • Final Fantasy games have started doing this with summoning magic; Final Fantasy X is a prime over-the-top example, while Final Fantasy XI does it in a relatively low-key fashion. Crisis Core also features this when Genesis does his Limit Break.
    • Final Fantasy bosses do it too. The final Sequential Boss of Final Fantasy X calls up a massive, personal sigil of flame in the sky for the last segment of the fight. And Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth summons a supernova with physics equations, of all things. (Though since physics and astronomy go hand in hand, there is a certain logic to this.)
    • In Advent Children, runes can be briefly seen when Kadaj summons Bahamut SIN.
    • Edge in the Final Fantasy IV remake for the DS shows these when he uses ninjutsu.
    • In Final Fantasy VIII, the Guardian Force Eden turns the entire planet into an incredibly elaborate magic circle in order to transmute it into a cosmic cannon that blasts the enemy into a galactic core. The beam itself also instantly generates (and pierces through) its own magic circles when it is fired.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, Freya's best Dragon skill uses this, despite not being "magic" (as it can be used on the Anti-Magic continent). There's also Zidane and his Dyne attacks. Almost all of them result in runes appearing, whether they simply signal some huge effect or are the weapons themselves. No circles, though, just the runes. And of course, they are in full force for his appearance in Dissidia Final Fantasy. Finally, the Eidolon Ark "draws" a magic circle beneath the enemy party with its laser eye, using it more as a targeting reticule for its subsequent attacks.
    • In Final Fantasy X, each Aeon has their own distinctive crest that flashes briefly on the ground, above it,or even high in the sky —with Bahamut smashing through a succession of them as he descends from the heavens.
    • In Final Fantasy XII, Chaos' Limit Break Tornado includes creating a giant mandala, of things. In addition, Balthier's quickening, 'Element of Treachery' uses these. To turn him into a meteor. Element of Treachery would return in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius almost unchanged.
    • Final Fantasy XIII features Instant Runes for some of the Eidolon summons. Some of them also combine this with Sphere of Power. And each party member also has a variation of their unique magical circle in their Crystarium System.
    • Dissidia Final Fantasy:
      • There are various attacks involving Instant Runes, but by far the most notable is The Emperor's Starfall. During the charging animation, the runes appear and then expand and grow in complexity as the attack nears completion. ''Very'' cool to watch.
      • Zidane uses Instant Runes for his attacks, and one of them, Free Energy, takes the trope to the logical extreme: Free Energy creates a rune of energy that explodes, and is almost literally instantaneous.
      • Yuna uses Instant Runes for basically every attack, as she summons her Aeons from them.
  • Warping in Fire Emblem games causes Instant Runes to appear. Especially in Path of Radiance, is this very visible.
    • The critical for Shamans in the Game Boy Advance games involve a magic circle being drawn under the character's feet while charging the spell. Criticals for Valkyries and Mage Knights involve creating runes in the air around their hands. Runes appear in the air whenever Sages attack.
    • Criticals and Flare for Arch Sages in Radiant Dawn make layered runes.
    • All magic users in Awakening conjure magic circles around themselves when casting spells.
  • In Galaxy Angel II, Tequila casts spells this way, even in space from her ship, where they appear bigger than it is.
  • Ryudo, main hero from Grandia II, despite being swordsman, does that during his ultimate special by sticking his sword into ground.
  • Guild Wars 2 features these in a few places. Elementalist Glyph skills' animations include drawing a glowing symbol in the air, while Guardian Symbol skills (and Smite) create glowing runic circles on the ground, either by magical casting or smashing your weapon into the ground. Necromancer Mark and Well skills also create symbols on the ground, these ones glowing vile green.
  • Dizzy of Guilty Gear summons these when she gets dangerous. Also, Chipp Zanuff averts this by drawing the lines of the pentagram of his One-Hit Kill move after the victim gets caught in it.
  • Hellgate: London had a delicious sigil in motion forming the title screen.
  • Igniz from The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match makes these appear below his opponent to start his Disintegrational Universe attack.
  • Kingdom Hearts invokes this when using Trinity Limit, conjuring a large circle of runes that radiates a massive burst of light from its center. It's recreated faithfully in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, though without Donald And Goofy's assistance. The version that appears in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep features a smaller circle with spaces for all three of the main characters to stand in, which they will if it's used when they fight together against the Trinity Armor.
  • League of Legends uses runes as cast targets for skillshot spells, sometimes with more particles and glowing effects than the spell they are the target for.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, The Mirror of Twilight forms Instant Runes after it is repaired, with the bonus of Cool Gate. The Time Gate in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword does exactly the same when it's reactivated in the Sealed Grounds.
  • In Lufia: the Legend Returns , the visual effect for "holy" elemental attacks uses a simple form of this trope.
  • Omni-tools in Mass Effect create orange geometric holograms when used. They can even be forged into weapons for offensive use.
  • Master of the Wind has these appear at characters' feet before they cast a spell. One of the side-effects of Ketsu gaining wings is that he no longer has to deal with this delay, and this is commented on by other characters.
  • In Melty Blood, Aoko Aozaki instantly creates runes around her arm for her "Severe Break" Arc Drive.
  • The X-Box game Nightcaster: Defeat the Darkness uses rune attacks for large-area elemental spells. Each rune flavor has a unique look — Fire magic symbols are primitive and tribal, Water runes appear as sigils and seals, Dark magic uses ornamental stamping patterns, and Light runes look like astral or zodiacal charts.
  • The titular Door in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door starts instant-runing whenever you return a Plot Coupon.
  • In Persona 3, fusing Personas places them on a rune configuration before combining them into a single entity.
    • Also with the One-Hit KO Hama and Mudo spells; with Hama, several Ofudo surround the target, accompanied by a square of light and with Mudo, a circle of darkness and seemingly gibberish is drawn either on the ground or in the air.
    • This is the method of summoning Personas in-battle in the first two games of the series, accompained by pillars of light.
  • Phantasy Star Online:
    • A similar circle to the Fate/stay night example appears around the Pioneer II after it comes out of hyperspace (or whatever method it uses for space travel), closely followed by a similar circle from Pioneer I on the ground, and then a beam linking both. According to narration, this was all part of a communication uplink. The circle also shows up whenever your Mag uses its Limit Break photon ability.
    • The final fight against Dark Falz (on Hard mode and above) is fought on a giant circle made of Instant Runes that the boss attacks you from the center of.
    • Phantasy Star Universe also features these magic circles, in places. However, in both cases, this is justified by the setting's (literally in one case) Doing In the Wizard. All 'magic' in the online Phantasy Star games is technology derived, with the resultant runes almost certainly created by the electronics on-board the casting device.
  • The Nameless One in Planescape: Torment, if the player follows a certain path, can gain the use of the Awesome, but Impractical spell "Rune of Torment", which carves itself into the ground before it goes off.
  • During the Sinjoh Ruins event in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions, there is a prominent pattern on the floor of the Mystri/Triad Stage chamber. A different pattern is featured during the Google Images montage when Arceus creates a new member of Sinnoh's Dragon Trio.
  • The color-group-matching game QuantZ has Instant Runes all over its backgrounds and transition animation, without any particular explanation.
  • The standard RPG Maker XP sprite set features instant pentagrams as the default spellcasting animation. As a result, they are used in most RPG Maker games.
  • In the Samurai Shodown games, at least Amakusa (from the 3rd game onwards) and Mizuki can make rune-like images to attack.
  • In Skies of Arcadia, each of the magical Moons has a crest assigned to them from the Old World. Naturally these crests appear whenever magic is cast.
  • The StarCraft Protoss's warp systems no longer look like wobbly portals in StarCraft II, but rather have neat geometrical effects, with diagrams and strange alien symbols all around them. And the Mothership's Vortex power has mathematical graphs as well as the classic "squared" 2D representation of 3D space. It's never clear if these are holograms, or if space simply works that way. The effects could well enough be the alien equivalent of holographic "STOP signs", that are projected around warp rifts and vortices.
  • In the Star Ocean games, this is an actual science, referred to as Symbology (or Heraldry, or Runology, depending on the game). The distance from the rune to the caster affects the strength of the spell, so most casters tattoo the symbols on their bodies. The third game deals with three children who were experimented on to have the runes inscribed in their chromosomes, giving them access to various abilities which should allow them to transcend their dimension. The other three games have characters with genetic runes as a trait of their species. Although one character doesn't take advantage of it.
  • The magikoopas in Super Mario Bros. fire a jumble of simple shapes at the player as a projectile.
    • Green Magipiranhas, one of the replacements for the Magikoopa in Super Mario World: Piranha Island, shoot shapes at Mario. The Green Magipiranhas are much better at it than their Koopa counterparts because the Magipiranhas can do it with a simple wave of their hands and they don't have to rely upon magic wands.
  • The Cybuster's "Akashic Buster" attack in Super Robot Wars involves creating a circle and hexagram in midair, before invoking a flaming phoenix from it and merging with it to slam into the enemy. In the Lord of Elemental remake, EVERY unit now summons instant runes for their final attack except Lune's. The Ryu-Ko-Oh does this with Chinese-style trigrams. The Alsignos, Shigzarl AND Larva does when invoking their attacks.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, instant runes appear as part of the "warp magic" that makes up Marth's and Ike's stage entrances. Also, Triforce Slash and Toon Triforce Slash also use images of the Triforce rendered in the respective styles in leiu of runic symbols.
  • In Sword of Mana, the Granz Realm's soldiers spawn by teleporting in using bright green magic circles.
  • Tales Series:
    • In Tales of Symphonia, any character that can cast magic causes a magic circle to appear beneath their feet as they cast. This is especially visible with Sheena, who creates four magic circles, and a giant triangle about 4 times as large as the other magic circles when she summons anything bigger then Corrine. Also, the spells "Photon" and its dark equivalent, "Dark Sphere", trap the enemy in circles of appropriately coloured Instant Runes.
    • Tales of the Abyss must have won some kind of award for most Instant Runes in a video game ever. They're in everything, for aesthetics when casting magic to being part of structures to being an integral gameplay element; every spell in the game leaves a 'Field of Fonons' near its target, and these can be used to power up attacks.
    • In Tales of Phantasia, casters would spawn elaborate magic circles from their hands as the screen froze when their spell resolved. There were even different circles for Arche's Magic, Klarth's Summoning, and Mint's Healing. If you look closely, some versions also have a circle pattern appear on the ground when Cless uses Shugohoujin, which creates a wall-like pillar of damaging light.
    • Just about every single scene in Tales of Vesperia that involves Rita and blastia, or Rita and spellcasting results in instant runes.
  • Present in the spellcasting animations in Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. Give the Idol Singer theming of the game though, the runes in question are autographs.
  • The Touhou Project series is big on magic circles, though the amount and complexity depends on the exact game. Touhou Koumakyou ~ the Embodiment of Scarlet Devil had them appear when you killed enemies, while later games tend to limit them to spellcards (in which they're absurdly huge). Some of these circles are actually funcional: your girl is permanently surrounded with a circle that indicates your grazing hitbox, holding down Shift causes a magical symbol to appear on your girl with a dot that indicates your hitbox, Touhou Youyoumu ~ Perfect Cherry Blossom has temporary invincibility indicated by a shrinking pentacle on a circle around your character, and the huge circle that surrounds the bosses during their spellcards shrinks as the expiration timer counts down.
  • The Final Battle of Vagrant Story takes place on a magic circle that floats high above the devastated Cathedral.
    • For that matter, a very early battle against a Dullahan has the animate armor slowly drag its sword across the ground, which creates an instantaneous magical circle around him.
    • Also, in a video sequence early on in the game—as one enters the sanctum—Sydney is shown carving a circle of runes on the stone floor of an abandoned chapel, which he later activates to summon the first big dragon.
    • The Rood Inverse itself, while always present as a tattoo on the character's back, also allows the user constant access to Lea Monde's power of the Dark.
  • The Real-Time Strategy game Warcraft III has certain spells manifest this in addition to the usual fireworks.
  • Averted in the story-within-a-story of Wild ARMs: Alter Code F, where we are explicitly being told that the heroine is drawing the runes into the air with a finger.
  • The Witchers cast sigils much simpler than full runes, but for the sake of gameplay they're cast instantly in mid-air. However, digging into the lore (or the novels the games are based on) reveals this isn't a gameplay conceit at all. Dedicated magicians can produce bigger and more esoteric effects, but requite additional resources, anything from a pre-prepared scroll and a few reagents to a large ritual space and several days of time. Witchers prefer their Signs, which are simple, practical effects designed to be cast with one-handed gestures.
  • Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land: Whenever anyone casts a spell spinning rings of arcane words appear that coalesce into a white light before the effect of the spell is shown.
  • Warlocks' demon-summoning spells in World of Warcraft do this, as do the hearthstones characters can use to teleport back to their home locations.
    • Warlocks also have a spell that generates one of these in the ground that allows the caster to teleport directly to it.
    • Most area effect abilities of bosses potent enough that a player should be dodging them create large, well-outlined areas on the ground, presumably to help people know the exact edges of their effects. As runes are clean and precise, they are used very commonly for this purpose (unless the attack is not actually a magical spell). In certain fights, however, runes on the ground denote beneficial effects and you're supposed to stand in them whenever possible.
    • A Mage's Arcane Explosion or Arcane Blast spell will leave a rune circle on its target.
    • A rune circle as a targeting reticle only visible to players is used for precision placement of targetted area-of-effect abilities.
    • Summoning another player will cause an array of runes to rotate around your character.
    • Many Monk abilities manifest with glowing runes floating in the air as well.
    • Ultimately, mages got an optional ability flat out called "Rune of Power", which increases the potency of mages' spells as long as they stay within its boundaries.
  • Shion's "Spell Ray" Limit Break in Xenosaga episode one involves creating a set of runes in midair, loading them into her weapon (a huge mechanical arm), and firing a BFG-level blast from one of these. Similarly chaos's Lunar Seal attack draws runes in the air, sets them on fire and then blasts them at the enemy.

    Web Animation 
  • Flint demonstrates some in Bunnykill 4.
  • Dreamscape: They appear with every spell Drake uses. This also makes his attack patterns flashy and easily telegraphed, but he is confident enough in his own abilities that he doesn't see it as an issue.
  • Red vs. Blue parodied the idea when Lopez activated his weather-control device. Immediately, glowing golden runes encircled him. Turns out that Doc added them as a special effect just because he thought they looked cool.
  • RWBY:
    • In the pilot episode, Glynda engages in a powerful battle with a mysterious villain. She creates circles of purple glyphs that act as shields that can deflect attacks or which can be placed in the sky to summon storms. Glynda's Semblance is telekinesis and her Aura manifests with purple colours, so it's implied that her glyphs aren't her Semblance, they're simply a direct manifestation of her Aura.
    • Weiss's Semblance manifests as a circle of glyphs. The circle can appear anywhere she chooses, be it the ground, in the air, or even vertically. The glyphs allow her, or any person she chooses, to perform a range of different feats, such as becoming excessively fast, using glyphs like stepping stones to move across water or through the sky, or to bounce around an opponent like a pinball. She also possesses the ability to use the glyphs to summon ice-clones of past opponents that she has defeated, which will serve her for the duration they're summoned. When combined with Dust, her Semblance can perform additional elemental feats, such as creating gravitational force that can slow down crashing airships or anchor a person in an unstable situation, creating shields made from solid earth, or allowing Weiss to perform elemental attacks such as firing blasts of fire or shards of ice. Although Semblances are unique to each individual, the Schnee family is unique in having an hereditary Semblance. Both Weiss and her older sister can use this Semblance, although the creatures they summon are different as they depend on each Schnee's unique and individual history of combat. Weiss's younger brother does not possess the family Semblance.

  • All characters seen so far from Ashface's Daughter who cast magic have rune and geometric design filled circles appear in front of their hands whenever performing any spellcasting.
  • Aurora: Mages who want to avoid outside influences on the elements they control use runic circles, which appear around where the mage is casting and spell out what the spell is supposed to do.
  • Blindsprings uses this in the casting of Academic Magic.
  • In Broken Space, spellcasters "drip" glyphs from their hands and bodies when working magic.
  • Castoff has both this and full Runic Magic circles. In general, magic involves light effects and glowy runes.
  • In The Dragon Doctors, Mori explains this as using a simple light spell to create instant symbols for Ritual Magic. She can take it a few steps further.
  • These show up every time someone is altering Eidos (what passes for magic) in The Far Side Of Utopia - these seem to be growing more elaborate as art evolution continues.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, the Donlans' demon containment and shield magic are accompanied by a labyrinthine pattern of glowing lines.
    • And it's a computer program; as magic is sometimes known as the "etheric sciences" in the Gunnerkrigg Court continuity, this makes a certain amount of sense.
  • Homestuck has glowing clock faces show up almost every time somebody uses Time-related powers, but the real kicker is in the End of Act 6, where combination Aspect attacks called Fraymotifs always make their entrance with elaborate magic circles appearing centered on the casters, each one unique to each of the 12 Aspects.
  • Ninmu Nanmu features Instant Runes for some of the spells cast by various characters, as seen here.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius's Deal with the Fiends is completed with some Instant Runes and Ominous Latin Chanting. spoilery link.
  • In Roommates, Goblin King Jareth gets instant circles (resembling stylized clocks) when using time magic in addition to his canonical Crystal Ball and Glitter.

    Web Original 
  • In Episode 26 of Tales From My D&D Campaign, Lady Hazamura's mysterious Fey-psionic hybrid channeling produces this effect, with seven concentric vertical circles of runes appearing around her outstretched paw in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white, and black. In the same Episode, The Dragon Morduval has a cylindrical shell of glowing purple runes appear around him whenever he shifts into his Eldritch Abomination form. These runes make him Nigh-Invulnerable, but luckily for the heroes Lady Hazamura arrived to suppress them (which is what produced the above example).
  • TLF Travel Alerts came down with a case of this on April 15th 2016 where they spontaneously manifested out of thin air leading to much consternation and trains being held at stations.
  • This seems to be averted most of the time in the Whateley Universe. Hekate's "fools' circle" trap for Fey took tons of prep time, and she's a really dangerous mage.

    Western Animation 
  • Flambo from Adventure Time uses these when he casts his flame shield spell. And when possessed by Little Dude, the Gumball Guardian gets a ring of runes around its head that a laser fires from.
  • Doctor Strange and company does this in his Marvel Comics animated movie.
  • Maruvian magic does this in Elena of Avalor. It is notable in that it is one of the things that makes it different from other magic shown in Sofia the First and by foreigners in general.
  • LoliRock uses this heavily with everyone having a signature hand circle and larger magic circle. There are even magic circles for whenever characters combine their magic for a powerful spell.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Season 5 finale, "The Cutie Re-Mark," Arc Villain Starlight Glimmer's new Time Travel spell works via spherical portal surrounded by these.
  • Played with in The Owl House: Modern witches draw a simple circle in midair to cast basically any spell. Humans like Luz, however, have to actually draw out runes to get the same effect (as witches apparently did prior to evolving the ability to generate their own magic reserves).
  • One of the key differences between "learned" magic and "princess" magic in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is that learned magic tends to use this while princess magic doesn't, although the Heart of Etheria powering up does instantly cover them and Adora with glowing lines of First One script. The opening to the episode "Light Spinner" shows Light Spinner teaching some apprentices, including Glimmer's future father Micah, to create illusions; the students' hand gestures leave wonky circular auras that don't do much, but Light Spinner is able to straighten them up into proper magic circles. In season 4, we see Micah again after a long stay on Beast Island; his style has become a lot more raw out of necessity, with the complicated runic structures being replaced with much simpler circles.
  • Steven Universe: In the episode "Mirror Gem", when Steven is trying to free Lapis Lazuli from the mirror, a stream of water from the ocean flows up the beach and forms a magic circle around him.
  • Raven of the Teen Titans (2003) gets these on her skin as her father's prophesied conquest of Earth draws near.