Follow TV Tropes


Magic or Psychic?

Go To

Mark: We're not magic. Magic doesn't exist.
Sarah: Says the man keeping company with two literal sorcerers.
Mark: Sorcery is just physics gone feral. We're psionic. It's not the same thing.

Functional Magic and Psychic Powers frequently fulfill similar purposes in a plot. They're mysterious, fantastic, and enable one individual to wield incredible power. They are for the most part intertwined and interchangeable.

What happens when a creator decides to use both in one universe? What if they want to differentiate them? Is there a real difference? Do mages and psychics get along? Are psychics just mages that have streamlined the process of using magic?

Compare Unequal Rites, which is about multiple kinds of magic in the same setting. Compare and contrast Magic by Any Other Name, "psychic" being one of them.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Eastern cultures (in general) having never really gone through wide scale Witch Trials endemic to monotheistic religions in the west, view cultural depictions of magical and psychic powers a bit more acceptingly and to that end both usually fall under the purview of a “spiritualism”/“ki”/“chi” perspective. A lot of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy from Asia will view magic, psychic powers, and divine powers as interchangeable terms for the same thing.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stands are psychic manifestations of the soul, and Hamon is an sun-elemental martial art used to combat the undead. Both are entirely separate phenomena within the universe, though Hamon can be channeled through a Stand, as is the case with Joseph Joestar channeling Hamon through Hermit Purple's vines. Hamon essentially vanishes after Part 3, because a distinct lack of vampires in Part 4 onward parts means there's no longer a need to channel The Power of the Sun to take down villains permanently.
    • Part 7 introduced the Spin, which the errata in an omake chapter states is an alternative universe version of Hamon. The same chapter also stated that "Stands" are likely the true power that the developers of the Hamon and Spin sought.

    Card Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has the Spellcaster and Psychic types. Interestingly, many Psychic-Type monsters resemble what in the past were Machine-Type, Fiend-Type, or Spellcaster-Type monsters (such as "Mutant Mindmaster", "Cipher Soldier", "Mind on Air" and especially "Jinzo").

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe: Psychic powers are common mutant or alien powers, while magic stems from a variety of sources. However it seems that nearly anyone, human, mutant, or other, can learn or acquire magic.
  • DC Comics: Psychic abilities are given the same rules as science. Magic, on the other hand, bends the laws of science and can even be a broad weakness for sturdier characters, like Superman.
  • Monstress: Purebred humans can't use magic but a small percentage of women (mostly the witch-nuns of the Cumea) have psychic abilities. The Ancients and their Half-Human Hybrid "Arcanic" progeny do have magic to varying extents while some Cats are "nekomancers".
  • Judge Dredd treats magic as a type of psychic ability with the Justice Department's PSI-Division having a Department Of Magic.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has both, and there's a certain degree of crossover between the two, with both able to do many of the same things - to the point where it's easy for one to be mistaken for the other, and the White Council, who have a zero tolerance attitude to Black Magic, have executed psychics gone bad in the past. However, there are definite differences; magic, for one thing, is described as being just a little bit alive...
  • In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, telepathy and telekinesis are considered different from magic powers to the point where magic can cancel out telepathy and telekinesis, unless one is possessed with a great amount of mental energy from a mindlink, like Empath on occasion with his fellow Smurfs. And there's also power that comes from God, which is greater than either.

  • Lone Wolf has the titular hero learn psychic abilities such as Mind Blast and Nexus. These mental powers are supernatural abilities that were taught to the Kai Lords by their gods, so they are somewhat different yet not too far off, from the magic used by the various wizard-types in this world (though Lone Wolf has the capacity to master two of these sorcerous paths).

  • A Certain Magical Index includes both espers and mages. The former are public knowledge but hoarded by the super-advanced Academy City, which is among the factors contributing to its status as an N.G.O. Superpower. Mages meanwhile operate under The Masquerade, and exist all over the world but present less of a unified faction due to their rituals being tied to rival religions. As their powers are equally "illusions", Touma's Imagine Breaker works on both.
    • Espers are people who've gone through the city's Power Development Curriculum, granting them a "Personal Reality" which allows them to control a specific force in a specific way (such as electricity, friction, etc.) in proximity to their body.
    • By contrast mages operate on "Idol Theory", where they emulate figures from mythology or even fiction in order to recreate their feats, and their range of abilities operates more on Semantic Superpower. Notably, this means that an esper (even a powerless one) cannot use magic without suffering backlash from rejecting their own Personal Reality, meaning that mage-esper hybrids are limited to a small number of people with some way of surviving this.
    • Natural-born espers do exist, but are so rare that they're nicknamed "Gemstones", and tend to have more magic-like powers which are unusually complex or don't seem to follow any internal logic. The first sorcerers developed their techniques in imitation of Gemstones.
    • There exists a Secret Art of "angelic magic" where the practitioner ritually aligns themselves with one of the four Archangels, gaining great power over that angel's domain but losing the ability to use conventional spells. Known to very few, the Power Development Curriculum which creates espers is actually a heavily-refined humanist adaptation of this ritual, and the AIM fields generated by espers can actually create new angels in sufficient concentration.
  • In Harry Potter, mind-reading and defending against being read are specific schools of magic known as Legilimency and Occlumency, though when Harry describes it as mind-reading, Professor Snape gets annoyed before stating that calling Legilimency "mind-reading" barely scratches its full potential.
  • In InCryptid, many different types of mages exist, including sorcerers, routewitches, and ambulomancers. None of them have been shown to have Psychic Powers, though several species, like the Johrlac (which both Mark and Sarah from the page quote are) have innate telepathic powers.
  • In There Was No Secret Evil Fighting Organization, a chronoprohiberic esper who has always dreamed of becoming a Magical Girl laments that her power is not true magic. Esper power is basically an intangible muscle, so it must be exercised to grow, and there's no deeper meaning to having it. Wielders of classical magic, like the elf Baba-Nyan, can do amazing things from the get-go. The trope applies even on a universal level: a world's inhabitants have magic or esper powers, but never both. And should the inhabitant of a magical world move to an esper one, all their magic is lost. They can't benefit from an esper's Super Empowering, either.
  • In the Rivers of London short story "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Granny", the eponymous granny is surprised when Peter describes her gifts as magic, because she'd been thinking of herself as an elderly version of Carrie.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel, So Vile A Sin mentions that psychic powers were originally magic but survived the Time Lords forcing the universe to run on physics by changing to be grounded in science.
    • The Whoniverse generally takes a Clarke's Third Law approach to psychic powers and magic, meaning if you want to consider them magic or an advanced science to be a matter of opinion.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar series, True Magic and Mind Magic are separate (inborn) abilities: true magic manipulates energy from outside sources, with your level as a mage determined by how much power you can channel; mind magic draws its power from the user's own resources. It's possible to have both, and a trained mage can use magic energy to boost their mental abilities. Persons with Mind Magic have the advantage that pure mages often don't or can't counter their abilities, and a shield strong enough to block strong mental powers will often protect the user from anything their enemy tries to throw at them magically.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Telepaths get their powers from a gene that is found in a small percentage of many species' populations (and seemingly all of the First Ones) and which was installed by the Vorlons so they could be used as weapons in the Vorlon-Shadow Wars. While technomages have cybernetic implants that allow them to manipulate energy and employ other magic-like abilities and were devised by the Shadows.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Arcforge campaign setting for Pathfinder, magic exists. So does psychic magic, which comes from the mind. And then psionics...which are neither. Dreamscarred Press' psionics rules get reskinned to cover a form of occult technology instead of magic.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: It has one of the more notable distinctions. While magic has a variety of sources, psionics always stem from the user's mind. And psi lacks verbal, somatic, or material components like spells usually do. In addition, in 3rd edition most magic-using classes function by Vancian Magic while Psionics are limited by Mana. With all this said, psionics is sometimes defined as a type of magic.
  • Fading Suns: Has both Psychics and Theurgists. Theurgists are priests of the Urth Orthodox Church who believe that they're channeling the divine power of the Pancreator, while Psychics are considered witches by the Church and forced to serve "penance" if not burned at the stake. Though it's not clear where either gets their power.
    • It's also notable that Gjarti, an animistic religion common to "barbarians", also has priests with theurgic abilities.
  • CthulhuTech: Sorcery is taught as a science in universities, while Parapsychics are some sort of mutation or other special ability subject to a Mutant Draft Board.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Warp is the source of power for supernatural powers, whether you look at it as psychic or magic. The "other" sources mimic the effect without the corrupting influence and risk of the Warp. Tyranids draw power from the Hive Mind (which is psychic), Orks draw power from their own WAAAGH! field (which is psychic, but looks like magic), the Sororitas' have faith-based miracles (which is confirmed to be close to magic), and the Space Wolves's rune magic which they believe involves channeling the spirits of their homeworld (which they think is magic, but is mostly psychic). In the latter's case, some of the higher-ups know perfectly well they're using Warp sorcery, but keep up the pretense anyway because nobody's about to question them and it's good for morale, especially when fighting Warpspawn.
    • Depending on who you listen to, all psychic powers and usage of the Warp is drawing on Chaos, whether it's believed or not. While there might be a hint of truth in that statement, many individuals can draw upon the Warp for their psychic powers without fear, the practice of sorcery is basically outright Ritual Magic that uses the Warp in ways that some just wouldn't be able to use their psychic powers for, or in lieu of them.
  • In Shadowrun, psychics are a form of mage who simply believe that their powers are different, similar to the difference between Hermetic Mages and Shamans. Technomancers, on the other hand, are able to access the matrix without using technology and have abilities that function like programs but are learned like spells.
  • Just like the comics, Marvel Super Heroes has psionics and magic. Besides needing different powers to withstand magic or psionic attacks, spellcasting superheroes have unique rules applied to them - including a massive x2 penalty to the Karma Meter when they do a crime like murder (the reasoning is that magic users are more in tune with the universe and have a better understanding of karma, so they are penalized more heavily when they break karma). Meanwhile, Psionic superheroes are treated no differently than other more standard superheroes.
  • GURPS has completely different rules for magic and psionics. However, if a given setting only has one, and the people in that setting call it the other, who's going to tell them they're wrong? So the Lodge in GURPS Black Ops are psychics with magical trappings, and there's a "psychic wizard" template in GURPS Wizards, with one of the sample characters being a psychic healer in a fantasy world who refuses to believe he's not a magic-user, however many wizards tell him otherwise. On the flip side, several of the sample characters for other templates are "modern day" characters who use standard GURPS magic, but think of it as psi because that's the paradigm they're familiar with.
  • Within Realms of Pugmire, both the dogs of Pugmire and the cats of Monarchies of Mau are capable of using magic, or rather Sufficiently Advanced Technology left behind by Man, dogs using external devices while cats can absorb artifacts and internalize their power. Rodents, as found in Squeaks In The Deep, however, are incapable of magic, but all have inherent potential for psionics. Magic is discussed as more open/obvious, requiring some sort of gestures or vocalization, and mainly used with the aid of a focus; while psionics, being more internally focused via mind honing, can be far more subtle (to the point that some powers can only be deduced as coming from a psionicist by the rodent's Tell). Psionics are also far more sensory than magic, where a rodent using psionics becomes as inherent as them seeing or hearing something.

    Video Games 
  • In Touhou Project the term "magic" is most commonly used to describe the Sufficiently Analyzed Magic used by magicians and Onmyoudou, but it can also be used as an umbrella term to describe supernatural powers in general, such as Sumireko Usami's psychic powers.
  • In the The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact series, there's the classic psychic of the series, Athena Asamiya, but there's a couple of magicians that interact with her: the Beart sisters, Mignon and Ninon; both are magic users but they manage white and black magic, respectively.
  • Zig-Zagged in Gothic. While mages recieve power from one of three gods, the psionicistsnote  of the Sect Camp use spells of a fourth kind, like mind control and telekinesis, and are not considered mages. Played straight in the alpha versions where psi uses "willpower" instead of mana.


    Web Original 
  • Metamor City: Mages have existed for millennia and the number of people with the inherent gift to become a mage has remained more-or-less constant. Psis, on the other hand, appeared within the last century and their numbers are increasing, in no small part due to the Psi Collective's breeding project.
  • Whateley Universe: Mages power their spells with essence, while psychics and other mutant powers are just constrained by skill and stamina.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • With their variable canon, magic and psychic powers can differ drastically, ranging from basically the same thing to completely different.
    • Magic Orientation