Low Fantasy vs Magical Realism: What’s the Difference? [2024 Edition]

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If you’re wondering what the difference is between low fantasy vs magical realism, you’ve come to the right post!

Fantasy and fiction and both broken down into numerous subgenres. These subgenres often have many similarities, but their differences can be helpful to understand. 

Within the fantasy genre, one of the most popular is low fantasy. This is a genre that has been around for many years. And it is definitely not going away anytime soon.  

Fantasy itself is a subgenre of fiction. Any story that is not real is fictional. This is a huge umbrella, so subgenres have formed to help make sense of and categorize the vast genre that is fiction. 

Low fantasy and magical realism have a lot of overlap. There are many similarities between the two. In fact, there are so many similarities that distinguishing between the two can be incredibly difficult. 

There are some nuanced differences to be aware of, though. These two genres encompass many incredible books, so lumping them together in the same genre would be a disservice to them and their authors. 

Also, knowing the differences between these two subgenres of fantasy is a huge help when deciding what to read. Not only will you be able to choose a book you will hopefully enjoy with greater ease, but you will also be able to give great recommendations. In short, identifying subgenres can be a helpful skill to have. 

That said, sometimes learning the differences between two genres is hard especially when the two genres are so similar.

Plus, this isn’t an exact science.

Identifying these genres is only meant to help, not cause endless debate about which category a story falls into.

Thus, I hope this guide helps you understand the differences between low fantasy and magical realism easily.

But don’t sweat it if a story doesn’t fit neatly into one of these categories.  

Low Fantasy vs Magical Realism: What is Low Fantasy?

The genre of low fantasy is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. Low fantasy takes place in the primary world. The primary world is the “real world” or the world in which we live. The setting of a low fantasy novel is a real place that you or I can visit. 

In a low fantasy novel, the author doesn’t create a new world. Instead, they create a fictional version of the world we know with characters who, by and large, follow the physical laws of our world. 

Low fantasy contains many magical elements, but the key feature is the idea that magic in a low fantasy world retains the wonder and fantasy of the magic. Characters in a low fantasy novel often find magic wonderful and surprising. It is not a part of everyday life. The magic within a low fantasy could be the existence of witches and wizards. It could also be the ability of characters to fly. Regardless of what kind of magic exists in a low fantasy, there is some kind of wonder to the magic in the world. 

Examples of Low Fantasy

By far the most popular example of low fantasy is the Harry Potter series. Elements of these books sometimes fall into a grey area when trying to classify the genre. But most would agree that low fantasy is the best place for them. Harry Potter checks nearly all of the boxes for a true low fantasy. 

The setting of these books is Great Britain. Though the characters do travel to a fictional school, it is based in the real world and in a real location. The magic in these novels is fantastic and gives a sense of wonder especially to non-magical beings or muggles. Magic plays a big part in everyday life for the characters who can perform magic. For the non-magical people, however, seeing magic would be incredible and surprising.

Low Fantasy vs Magical Realism: What is Magical Realism?

Magical realism, much like low fantasy, takes place in our world. It has a real setting where the story takes place. The characters have every day problems. They deal with issues similar to those that we might have. 

However, the key aspect of magical realism is how the characters react to the magic that exists in their world. Magic in a magical realism novel is completely ordinary. There is nothing special or exciting about it; it just exists. 

Magical realism blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Because magic exists, the story is fantasy. But because magic is ordinary, it is considered realism. Naturally, this is a bit confusing.  

Examples of Magical Realism 

Without a doubt, the most popular magical realism novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude. This novel was groundbreaking when it was published. And it continues to be an example of magical realism that is still lauded today. 

In this novel, the setting and the people are fictional, but they are based on reality and history. The supernatural and fantastic events that occur are not anything special. They are just part of the everyday lives of the characters. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude is so groundbreaking because the magical elements do not get much attention or explanation. They just exist. Magic is nothing special or if major importance. 

History of Magical Realism

Many people credit Gabriel García Márquez with the creation of literary magical realism since the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was seemingly the first of its kind. However, its roots seem to reach further back than that.

Though magical realism may have some of its roots in Latin America, writers all over the world have adopted the genre, and it continues to grow in popularity. There are now countless books that are categorized as magical realism, though the genre is fairly new.

How to Know the Difference 

After reading those descriptions, you may still have some questions about what is considered low fantasy and what is considered magical realism. The primary distinguishing factor to keep in mind is the characters’ reaction to magic in the novel. 

In low fantasy, characters will be astonished and fascinated by magic like Harry Potter was in the eponymous series. It is not something they see every day. Magic is something special, surprising, and typically thought not to exist in a low fantasy.

Just the opposite is true for magical realism. In these stories, magic is a normal part of everyday life. There is nothing special about it. The setting in a magical realism novel is not of great importance. It can be fictional or a real place. What matters is how the magic affects the characters and their lives. 

The setting of low fantasy, however, is fairly important. In the majority of cases, low fantasy takes place in the real world. Real cities and countries are often used as the setting for low fantasy. This gives the novel a bit more realism that makes the magic that much more exciting and interesting. 

Low Fantasy vs Magical Realism: Why is it helpful?

low fantasy vs magical realism

Knowing and understanding the differences between some of the many subgenres of fiction and fantasy can be helpful. As a reader, identifying your likes and dislikes typically becomes easier if you know which genres you like or dislike.

In short, knowing genre differences should make choosing a book that much easier.

No longer will you waste time starting a book just to realize it’s not something you’re actually interested in. Knowing which genres you are drawn to should mean more time reading and less time searching for a book.

Plus, you will also be able to give recommendations to people with similar interests. 

Knowing the difference between various genres also helps with understanding the nuances that exist in literature. There are countless genres and subgenres out there. Learning about some of them can give you a greater understanding and appreciation of literature. There are so many small details that vary between genres. The more you know, the better you can understand and appreciate what you are reading!  


I hope this article has clarified some of the differences between these two subgenres!

And if you want to learn more about different fantasy and fantasy-related subgenres, check out the other posts in this series:

Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or subject related to fiction literature!

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for writing this. Very helpful. But I wanted to ask you about the difference between low fantasy and Urban Fantasy. Are they the same or do you think they are different? Thank you.

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