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Magic by Any Other Name

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"Let's just say 'polarity torsion does it,' translate that to 'it's very expensive magic,' and leave it at that."
Liraz, Afterlife Blues

This is when a work has an intangible element that is obviously supposed to be magic, but is explicitly not called that. Maybe the word "magic" doesn't exist in their universe, maybe Agent Scully is using Insistent Terminology (as maybe their religion explicitly prohibits "magic") — yet whatever power they're using lets them levitate, throw fireballs and anything else that standard-issue Fantasy magic can do. This trope also applies to works where a practiced mystical art such as alchemy, tarot cards or ninjutsu has been broadened to the point where it functions as all-purpose magic.


In a Science Fiction setting, Magic from Technology and "psionics" are favorite stand-bys along with Minovsky Physics, possibly with a "quantum" or "nano" tacked on for good measure. If Everything Is Online, Hollywood Hacking may be utilized as well. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that have evolved to the point where the physical laws of reality no longer apply to them (such as The Doctor or Q) generally do not count unless their powers are something Puny Humans can learn. Sometimes, a more limited power may turn into this over time, due to abuse of New Powers as the Plot Demands.

See Also Sufficiently Analyzed Magic when Magic is treated as like a science, and Differently Powered Individuals for "Supers by Any Other Name". See also: Not Using the "Z" Word, A Mech by Any Other Name, Insistent Terminology, Magic Versus Science, Doing In the Wizard, Flat-Earth Atheist.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In A Certain Magical Index (and the spinoff, A Certain Scientific Railgun), esper powers are basically just Inherent Gift magic under a different name. Really, the only difference between the mages and the espers is that the mages use lots of crutches in the form of magic circles and magic items, while the espers develop Super Intelligence to control their powers instead. And espers only get one power, while mages can learn multiple (though most don't use more than a few).
    • The lines between esper abilities and magic are further broken down when it turns out that that the training programme for unlocking esper potential was invented by a mage, based on a ritual intended to give the user traits of angels (and that the so-far theoretical Level 6 espers are essentially Deities of Human Origin). And while most esper powers are based on a clear scientific concept, such as control over electricity or friction, the Gemstones (espers who unlocked their powers at a young age without training) often have far more abstract powers or ones that seem to do multiple unrelated things.
    • Also played with by protagonist Touma's "Imagine Breaker" power. Academy City classifies Touma as a very weak esper for the sake of Plausible Deniability (which even he seems to be fooled by), but he's actually a Muggle with some kind of Cosmic Keystone inside his arm.
  • Darker Than Black: Contractors are able to do very specific things with their powers. These include generating massive amounts of electricity, using their blood as explosives, and draining people's life span. However, none if it is ever called "magic."
  • EDENS ZERO has Ether, which the series typically prefers to call magic, an "unscientific" word for despite there being no firm science behind it. It's both the Life Energy of the universe and a power source for machines, which can convert it into Hard Light objects, and people can tap into the Ether in their bodies by using a technique called Ether Gear. It's also present in the atmosphere of planets, with many Ether-abundant worlds having unique planetary phenomena depending on its type (Blue Garden's Water Ether creates a river that floats through the sky, Norma's Earth Ether creates huge pillars of crystal in its clouds that regularly bombard the surface, etc.).
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Alchemy is accompanied by flashes of light, requires mana, and can perform actions that look like Playing with Fire or Dishing Out Dirt, etc., but Edward is quick to point out that it is not magic but science. He's not entirely wrong, either, despite later revelations that certain fundamental assumptions about Amestrian alchemy, including Equivalent Exchange as they know it, are false.
  • Fushigiboshi No Futago Hime: The Prominence and the Power of Darkness. Neither are explicitly called magic despite looking just like it. Altezza refers to the former as Fine and Rein's "weird power".
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has several examples throughout its history, using different excuses for different types of what boil down to magic, from martial arts to what originated as visualized psychic powers.
    • The Ripple is a martial art that supposedly lets you channel the power of the sun. In practice, it's a touch-based magic that allows you to do everything from disintegrating undead, healing wounds, weaponizing liquids, and climbing sheer surfaces with your bare hands.
    • Stands start off similar to a sort of summoning magic, with users manifesting avatars that can fight for them with various combat powers. As the series progresses, Stands begin to cover any magic power imaginable, even if that means stretching or breaking some of the universal rules.
    • The Bow and Arrow are artifacts that grant people Stands. A scientific explanation is posited involving a virus, but ultimately the arrows are magic, most clearly in how even the deadliest wounds they inflict somehow leave the target unharmed if they are "worthy" of gaining a Stand. How the arrows interact with people who already have Stands gets even more complicated, often involving some level of Reality Warping, and has led to much Wild Mass Guessing.
    • The second timeline has things like the Spin and the Wall Eyes, which serve similar purposes as the above.
  • The Clans in K never refer to their powers as magic. The Slate is an "energy source". Their powers aren't from any standard, they don't all operate the same way, and they're quite easy to lose control of, but "magic" is never used. It's possible that they're trying to avoid the dreamy, inspiring connotations of "magic", since their powers are something frightening, with intense potential for disaster. The Green Clan's more versatile powers (incl. walking through walls) are frequently called a "manipulation ability", a particularly standout example of this.
  • Katekyō Hitman Reborn!: Dying Will Flames, split into multiple variations and applications.
  • Naruto: Ninjutsu. Although Naruto's techniques are explicitly magical, they have no defined limits and allow New Powers as the Plot Demands, a lot of which aren't traditionally associated with ninjas.
  • One Piece has Devil Fruit powers that allow for all sorts of effects. Beyond the standard fire/ice/lightning sort of elemental powers one might expect, the protagonist is a Rubber Man, an enemy can generate poison gas, and one of the Big Bads of the series is capable of Casting a Shadow and causing earthquakes with a swing of his hand. None of these powers are ever explicitly referred to as magical; the few times magic is brought up, the whole thing is brushed off as silly.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Valiant Comics titles set in the 41st Century (Magnus: Robot Fighter, Rai and the Future Force and Psi-Lords), "ectotheric energy" is used by some people to achieve the effect of "magic", even though it is in reality a variation of Psychic Powers and is scientifically comprehensible. "Necromancy" occurs in many titles from the 20th Century, and is even more overtly expressed as a kind of "magic" (obviously, given the name), although it too is really psychic in nature.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season shows that it's a fact of life that some people are cursed with "orogeny": the power of Dishing Out Dirt, seismic manipulation, and energy redirection. In The Obelisk Gate, characters manifest powers that are called "magic" in-universe, like transmuting flesh to crystal. The Stone Sky finally reveals that orogeny and "magic" were originally two halves of a single ability, called "tuning", which was suppressed from history to limit orogenes' power.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has Earthpower, an ambient quasi-mystical energy of The Land, which some humans can channel to devastating effect. Though the series also has magic (via the Wild Magic of white gold [platinum]). Comparably, Earthpower is fire, wild magic is an atom bomb.
  • Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere multiverse in general uses this; individual systems of Functional Magic are referred to by their names, and the term "magic" hardly ever comes up. The exception is in The Stormlight Archive, where one magic system is called "the Old Magic". In The Alloy of Law, allomancy is referred to as magic a few times. By contrast, the multiverse's resident Meta Guy, in the appendix of the same book, seems to refer to all forms of magic as "investiture", but exactly what this means is not yet explained.
  • Dragonriders of Pern is officially classified as science fiction, because the dragons in question are actually alien creatures who have had genetic engineering added to them by human scientists. But how were the original alien creatures able to teleport or engage in mind-to-mind communication? That's attributed to an innate psychic power, which is different from having an innate magical power for... reasons.
  • Strength & Justice firmly assures that everyone's powers in the books are called "dynas" (short for "dynamism"), but at several points magic circles are said to appear when a dyna is in use, and the history of the city very clearly states that the users are all with an innate magical capability. It's a bit unclear as to what it is exactly.
  • The Wheel of Time: The One Power, which is segregated by sex, with males using saidin and females saidar. Using the Power is called channeling. The Big Bad has his own flavor, called the True Power. Then there are miscellaneous bits of Outside Context Magic floating around, like dudes who can talk to wolves, Ogier Treesinging, Dreamwalking, and Min's aura vision. All of it is clearly magical, but the word "magic" is never used; the closest they come is when Aes Sedai (female users of the One Power) are occasionally called "witches" as a pejorative.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who tends to handwave would would otherwise blatantly be magic with Techno Babble, but it is established canon that magic did once exist, before it was banished by the Time Lords in favour of rationality, and bits of it are still floating around.
    • Block Transfer Computations — complex mathematical equations that were never openly compared to magic, but the most blatant use of them (at least until the novels decided that TARDISes were made out of them) involved a planet of monastic aliens chanting arcane formulae to reshape reality.
    • A funny lampshade (or is it a reference) is made in "The Girl in the Fireplace", where the Doctor says that the window they're looking through to XVIII century France is a "spatial-temporal hyperlink".
      Rose: What's that mean?
      The Doctor: No idea, I just made it up. Didn't want to say "magic door".
    • The Carrionites — witches who use what the Doctor insists is not magic, but physics based on words rather than numbers.
  • In Star Trek, humans are absolutely militant about this. No matter how scientifically-inexplicable something is, or if that something can outright change the laws of physics at will, it is still not "magic". Referring to it as such will provoke an immediate negative response and denial. Technobabble, even if it is completely unsupported by evidence, will invariably be accepted as an explanation before "magic" will. Things which would be considered "supernatural" in real life such as Psychic Powers or Reality Warpers are still regarded as scientific in nature, even though Federation science cannot explain them. Which is why talking about the limitless power of "thought" is acceptable, but using the m-word will get you an earful of Flat Earth Atheism.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Golden Sun: Psynergy can be harnessed by special humans known as Adepts. These Adepts are further divided into Venus (Earth), Jupiter (Wind), Mercury (Water), and Mars (Fire) Adepts. Psynergy is used by means of mental will, and can only be seen by other Adepts. Psynergy can be used against non-Adepts and they will be damaged/affected by it. In addition to combat elemental damage, Psynergy can also bestow certain other abilities, like mind reading (Jupiter), (tele)kinesis (Venus), and waterbreathing for one's self and others (Mercury). There are also special Psynergy types used for travel or secret hunting bound to typically mundane items. These range from a simple string of beads to an everlasting icicle. Some of these Psynergy-granting items can only be used by Adepts with the same elemental affinity as the item itself.
  • The Lord of the Rings Online: Rune-Keepers and Lore-Masters, to get around the fact that there are canonically only five wizards in all of Middle-Earth.note 
  • Mass Effect: Biotics. It's basically telekinesis and kinetic energy bolts by another name - extremely detailed justifications, but in the end, its still lift spells. All of the advanced technology in the setting works off the same principles.
  • Onmyōji: Onmyōdō, which is already considered Magic by Any Other Name in Real Life.
  • Phantasy Star: It's an ostensibly Space Opera and Planetary Romance, but ESP and "techniques" are functionally magic, with true magic being generally considered to be a rare lost art which only a select few can wield.
    • This is a plot point in Episode 5 of Phantasy Star Online 2, where the swords-and-sorcery alternate dimension of Omega has what is referred to by the inhabitants as Mana, which is used to cast Magic. Your allies immediately recognize this to be what you and they know as Photons and Techniques, just by a different name.
  • Secret of Evermore: Had alchemy, in what was essentially a VR simulation.
  • Spore: Any of the archetypes' superpowers qualify.
  • StarCraft: Psionics (Complete with glowing hands in the sequel even though it is supposed to be a mental power.)
  • Star Ocean: Heraldry, Symbology, Runeology, Whateverology... Justified in-universe as being programming code—the universe is actually an MMORPG, and magic is really just the AI hacking the system, and the eponymous symbols and runes are the game's code.
  • Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Xenoblade: Ether. At least in the case of Xenosaga, a lot of this is explicitly stated to be nanobots in the environs being somehow influenced by the characters. The effects are still just like magic.
  • The Matrix Online: Hacking. Building on the Matrix films' exploration of Magic from Technology, the game introduces an entire character class built around casting spells by hacking into the Matrix's code from within. Every "spell" is accompanied by an explosion of green binary code, just to remind players that it's not really magic.
  • In the Shinobi series, "ninjutsu" is the name generally used to describe special magical attacks based on fire, lightning, etc.
  • Inindo has ninjutsu as one of the three types of magic, consisting of Elemental Powers.
  • In Sanity: Aiken's Artifact, psionics were discovered by the scientist Joan Aiken during an artifact dig in the Middle-East. The psionics in the game doesn't conform to the usual Telepathy/Telekinesis, instead people who became psychic developed "totems" that granted a theme for their powers to develop around (Nathaniel Cain is the creator of the Fire totem, the closest thing to traditional psychic powers). These include the Totem of Science (science-themed powers like lasers or a binary number grid that generates energy), the Totem of Illusion (throw imaginary knives at people), Totem of Demonology (summon demons) and etc. - making psionics act more like magic.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • "Aura" is a Soul Power used for defense and attack, "Semblances" are unique Aura-powered abilities like Super Speed and Magnetism Manipulation, and Dust is a crystal that can be used to produce various elemental effects or enhance Semblances. None of these things are ever called magic, and Word of God was specific that they didn't want to use the word "magic." They still refer to several characters that use Dust a lot as "mages," but that word never shows up in-universe.
    • As it turns out, there is real magic in the world, but it is entirely different from Aura, Semblances, and Dust. The Maidens of the Seasons are four incredibly powerful women with Elemental Powers and Weather Manipulation, capable of far more than what anyone else can do—and they can do it without Dust. Ozpin is not shy about calling these abilities magic.
    • In volume 6, we discover that Remnant was once a High Fantasy world where everyone had magic. After the gods left, they took magic with them, leaving humanity with just a bare semblance of the power they once had. So Aura, Semblances, and Dust are magic, just so weak as to not even deserve the name. However, Ozma and Salem, the last two original humans, do have their full magic... except Ozma has sacrificed most of his power over the years, and Salem is the Big Bad.

  • Girl Genius:
    • The Spark. Semi-example. The machines are powered by science, but you have to have the mysterious "spark" to invent technology that runs on incomprehensibly eldritch principles. Against the basic concept of intuition, the further down you go into The Madness Place, the easier it is for others, especially other sparks, to pick up on the basics of what you're doing (if they aren't killed by then). At the deepest levels, you can become a Reality Warper simply by 'thinking' about the supposed true laws of physics. It's not clear to what extent, though, since the technology is never clearly explained.
    • The old stories and legends of the setting's current Steampunk era include magic-using figures (explicitly as ancestors to the "modern" scientists), hinting that the Spark may indeed be some kind of Reality Warper power which manifests through the individual's understanding of how the world works (i.e. people used to believe in magic, so Sparks did magic, science has replaced that worldview, so Sparks do science).
    • Before the main plot kicks off and keeps him busy, the Baron used his (very limited) free time working on a side project where he was actually experimenting on the brains of Sparks (namely those who were too dangerous to let live anyway) to try to determine the origin of the phenomenon.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Ether; etheric science. A case of insistent terminology by the Court, as opposed to the creatures of the forest.
  • The Story of Anima, Anima is a mysterious force emitted by all individuals. Its exact nature is unknown; in fact, it's only called Anima because the theory that it's Soul Power is the most popular one. While normally it can only be wielded through the aid of Catalysts, some people, known as Animus, are capable of harnessing their own Anima into unique super powers.
  • Initally, Tales of the Questor used "Lux" and "magic" indiscriminately. Then they decided to ban the latter term and stop styling themselves “wizards” because it's only magic to other people, and those go by the principle most monotheistic religions have that Magic Is Evil.
  • In Unsounded, the world's Functional Magic is called "pymary". Word of God justifies this, though, saying that the word "magic" implies something mystical and unknown. Pymary may look supernatural to us, but in the world of Unsounded, it's an ordinary fact of life.

    Web Original 
  • At no point in Funny Business are Jeannette's Reality Warper powers called magic, even though that's what most people the characters' ages would think to call the ability to ignore the laws of physics at will. They're generically called her "abilities" or "powers" instead.
  • The debate between magic-users and scientists in the Whateley Universe whether magic is just "psychic powers" or whether psychics in turn are just this trope keeps going. In the meantime, a new approach called "pattern theory" offers potential insight into where superpowers in the setting come from in general, but is still very much in its embryonic stage as well as apparently nigh incomprehensible to most people.
  • Prolecto has the abilities of angels, demons, and members of certain sects of the Survivalist Project. Like Kayla.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Bending. Lampshaded in the very first episode:
    Sokka: Why is it that every time you play with magic water, I get soaked?
    Katara: It's not magic, it's waterbending.
    Sokka: Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Alternative Title(s): Not Using The M Word


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