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New Poll - Hard vs. Soft Magic Systems
This week's poll was suggested by Sosseres, and it requires some explanation. The distinction between hard vs. soft magic systems was popularized by one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson.

Soft: The rules and limitations of the magic isn't really explained. It's all just fantasy to the reader. Stuff happens, and it's powerful. Some examples are The Lord of the Rings and the kind of magic you see in Disney movies.

Hard: There is an explanation for how magic works with clear costs and limitations. To the reader, it's more technical than fantastical. For example, you have Fullmetal Alchemist and Mx0.

It's really a spectrum though, so series typically fall somewhere in between. Naruto started hard but got softer as the series progressed. In my opinion, many long-running series fall into this trap of continually introducing new antagonists that are somehow stronger than anyone before with very little explanation. If you want a more detailed explanation, go read the .

You can submit poll ideas here

Question: Do you purchase fan art of manga/anime series?
I just own free stuff - votes: 457 (16.3%)
I don't have any art - votes: 1489 (53.2%)
I have some - votes: 486 (17.4%)
I only buy official art pieces - votes: 216 (7.7%)
Yeah, I own a lot of fan art! - votes: 149 (5.3%)
There were 2797 total votes.
The poll ended: January 18th 2020

I used to have a poster hanging on my wall, but I moved, and now my walls are bare
Posted by lambchopsil on 
January 18th 8:21am
Comments ( 17 )  
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» VawX on January 18th, 2020, 2:47am

Ah... so that's what it means mmm...
Both have their perk but soft magic system is very polarizing, if implemented right it'll be amazing but not it will be very annoying mmm...
And as far as I remember there are more bad soft magic system (oh I read so many bad manga) so Hard System seems better in general for me since it's less risky mmm...


» Sosseres on January 18th, 2020, 5:23am

Your argument is the same one I would have made. Hard is easier to get decent to good. Soft is quite difficult to do well since it in many cases shows a lack of thought.

A soft system done well is very good though. No problem reading both types if handled well. Just that a hard system handled badly won't have as much negative impact on the story since it forces constraints on the author.

An example I usually think about is mystery novels. In a badly written soft magic system the killer walked through the window without opening it. Even though you as a reader don't know it is possible. It makes it impossible for the reader to deduce the options available in that situation. A hard system forces the author to surprise you with how the tools are used and not with what they are.


» Rouzmary on January 18th, 2020, 3:26am

Aha, Sanderson. Amazing books indeed 😀

Eh, I would've preferred if there was also the option of "both", because I do love both of 'em and each has their own uniqueness I like.
Oh well, I guess I'll pick soft because I've read/seen that one more than hard.


» calstine on January 18th, 2020, 6:02am

There should have been an option for "both" instead of "what?" because it's already explained in the poll post what the two terms mean. My vote is on both.

Both can be done well, and both can be (and have been) done badly. Soft magic allows for more creativity and whimsy (which is quite charming) while hard magic allows for more planning and forethought (which is better for logical series like FMA). I don't see any point in picking what's "better," since they're both good for their respective genre and demographics.


» hkanz on January 18th, 2020, 7:57am

Hard 100%!


» Transdude1996 on January 18th, 2020, 8:22am

Hard because it's fun seeing some of the autism that goes into creating the world, meanwhile soft can suffer too much from a deus ex machina.


» Silent Howl on January 18th, 2020, 10:00am

I prefer a magic system that has a set of rules, but still has mysteries to be uncovered. While being logical, the readers/viewers can think of the ways to solve the problem themselves.

ex: Avatar the last airbender....bender can discover a way to bend metal, blood, lightning, in the basis that those elements are part of the greater rule: earth, water, and fire.

Hard should not become soft. Soft should not become predictable in a way to make the character fail or triumph for plot convenience.


» HikaruYami on January 18th, 2020, 11:58am

Silent Howl, what you just described is still definitely a hard magic system.

I prefer hard magic systems as well.


» residentgrigo on January 18th, 2020, 1:33pm

I have to go with soft, so LotRs, Star Wars (pure fantasy in a sci-fi setting), Sandman or even most urban fantasy stories. The point of fantasy is that the authors can let their imagination fly. You can obviously shit the bed pretty fast like Bleach did which quickly entered a world without stakes but good writers maneuver around that.

I wouldn't say the same if I had a sci-fi story (not science-fantasy, see SW) on my hands. Those need some rules to properly function. Hard fantasy can lastly function but how rarely is it seen? Just read lambchopsil´s post. Examples that stick to such rules and more importantly explain them are near nonexistent in the long run.
Hunter x Hunter comes to mind, the 2nd anime messed with this though. JoJo tried but overall failed. Etc.


» amy_levi on January 18th, 2020, 2:16pm

I chose "What?" because I had no idea what hard or soft magic means. After reading the explanation here, I'd say I prefer soft magic. But I don't really care, I guess...


» Mizutina on January 18th, 2020, 4:21pm

Since there is no both option, I went with what?

I enjoy hard cause it's informal but sometimes I just want something that is more action than technical like soft. Then again, I'm all about the story and didn't notice there was a difference till now 🤣


» dreamer00013 on January 18th, 2020, 6:22pm

Glorious "What?"er here.

After explanation: obviously hard! Soft magic can be done great - thinking of Tangled, a personal favorite - but usually it tends to be just really random. That and Deus ex.
Give me fixed rules any day, proves the author was actually thinking about the magic system and the world building!


» Lorska on January 19th, 2020, 9:30am

Until that explanation is literally copy-pasted from a fantasy game manual.
You don't need an MP bar and have Mana potions as well as a skill tree.

If it's unoriginal to this degree you might as well use a soft system, because what is the point.
A video game ruleset is not designed to be used like this. These rules are in place because of the medium it was created for.


» wotonito on January 19th, 2020, 12:36pm

My favorite magic system is Kubera's, in which there are a set number of gods and each god allows two specific spells to be used by magicians it's aligned with. This would be a Hard system.

In general, I prefer soft systems like the one in the web novel Pact; but I don't like how they frequently get abused in poorly written stories.


» aly_angelflight on January 20th, 2020, 12:48am

I honestly would prefer a hard magic system that has the subtlety of a soft magic system. The author should know how the magic system works, yes, but a lot of the intrigue of magic comes from it being mysterious. The more the reader knows about the magic system, the less it feels like magic and the more it feels like science.


» ebisu on January 22nd, 2020, 10:49am

I knew the difference between hard and soft but for science-fiction. I guess it applies to magic too. Of course I prefer magic Hard, or to have it some Hardness at least. It makes it easier to make predictions or imagine what may happen and dream.


» residentgrigo on January 22nd, 2020, 8:27pm

Oh shit, I forgot. My beloved Dune has a "hard magic" setting. Those books are mostly sci-fi, unline Star Wars, but all that ESP stuff (a more complex version of what the lab kids can do in Akira) is kinda prominent and follows stringent rules.
The "extended cut" fan edits of the 1984 film are pretty respectable:

The Denis Villeneuve adaptation will be legendary, I can already feel it but will it make money...?

Pre 2009 Star Trek (back when it tried to make sense) is a curious case btw. It set fairly hard rules for the sci-fi but the fantasy elements, greek gods for example, just showed up.
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