Worldbuilding is one of the most important aspects of any fantasy novel. It allows authors to create detailed and believable worlds that just suck you in with their magic. Plus, good worldbuilding tends to be pretty memorable — which is especially true when we talk about today’s topic: magic systems. If you ask me what is one of the things I remember best from A Darker Shade of Magic, one of my favorite fantasy books, I’d definitely mention the Antari and the way they can use magic throughout the trilogy. But that’s not the kind of magic I’ll be talking about today. In this post, we’ll explore fantasy books that have “no rules, just vibes” magic systems.
This whole thing is actually inspired by fellow Book Rioter Alice Nuttal’s post, titled 10 of the Best Magic Systems in Fantasy. In it, she mentions there are books that have “no rules, just vibes” magic systems. You could also call it a soft magic system, if you’re familiar with Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic. Alice Nuttal’s term is more self-explanatory, though, so I like it better. The point is that “just vibes” magic systems don’t have rigid sets of rules. You just have to accept that that’s the way magic works in that particular world.
But without further ado, let’s dive into eight amazing fantasy novels that use “just vibes” magic systems to great effect!
Fantasy Books with No Rules, Just Vibes Magic Systems
The Enchanted Hacienda by J.C. Cervantes
Let’s kick things off with a fun and romantic novel full of witchy vibes! The magic in The Enchanted Hacienda comes from flowers, which the characters can harness to do things like interpret dreams or heal hearts. But that’s pretty much all you know about this book’s magic system.
The story follows Harlow Estrada, who has recently returned to her family home. She’s the only one in her family who can’t harness the power of flowers. So when she’s tasked with something involving this magic, she panics. Harlow will have to learn to believe in herself in order to accomplish her task — which will show her she’s more powerful than she ever imagined.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
The magic in Sangu Mandanna’s novel seems like this almost sentient, ineffable thing. It loves witches and likes when they use magic. It can occasionally misbehave too!
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches follows Mika Moon, a witch hiding in plain sight. Or so she thinks. Because the inhabitants of Nowhere House have noticed her online content. And they’re in desperate need of an adult magic-user who can teach the three young witches who live there how to control their powers. Which is how Mika ends up in the midst of a new and loving family.
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Classic fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings or even Game of Thrones often have “just vibes” magic systems. But this is especially true for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series! In it, magic is absolutely unpredictable and can even have a mind of its own. The entire world is full of strange and often silly magical things that adds to the comedy of the series — where else would we find sentient Luggage?
The series begins with The Color of Magic, which follows a hapless wizard named Rincewind. His life is forever changed when he stumbles upon the first ever tourist in Discworld. The tourist’s name is Twoflower, and the two of them will travel across the world and get into the funniest adventures ever.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Moving on to a fantasy that is full of pacts, illusions, ghosts, and most importantly: paper-cutting magic! This magical ability allows people to make paper-cut images come to life. There’s no explanation as to why or how this works; it’s just a part of Jordan’s heritage. But it works well within the story.
The Chosen and the Beautiful is a retelling of The Great Gatsby, but told from Jordan Baker’s point of view. She’s a queer, Asian woman in 1920s New York. Plus, she has paper-cutting magic. These creative decisions really change the tone of the story, even if you’re already familiar with its beat. Sure, there’s Gatsby obsessed with getting Daisy back. Nick is there too. But thanks to the new details, the novel also becomes a story about privilege, racism, misogyny, and — of course — the impossibility of the American Dream.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
This is another classic example of “just vibes” magic systems. We have wizards, witches, curses, a talking fire demon, and a door that can portal you to different places. The entire world in this novel is full of magic, and you never get an explanation as to why or how exactly it all operates. But you also don’t need one. The magic is super whimsical and you never question why.
Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie. She’s destined for a quiet life, but everything changes when she makes the infamous Witch of the Waste angry. Now, cursed to look like an old woman, Sophie joins the ranks of the heartless Wizard Howl — hoping he’ll help her break the spell.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
At first glance, it might not seem like the magic in this novel is “just vibes.” It involves learning to write the gods’ language, which is a very precise and detailed process for the characters in the story. To them, there is an established set of rules that must be followed for the magic to happen. But Jemisin purposely described the whole thing as little as possible. So it truly becomes a “just vibes” magic system for us readers.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms follows an outcast named Yeine Darr. With her mother’s mysterious death, Yeine is suddenly summoned to the city of Sky where she discovers she has a claim to the throne. The problem is, she’s not the only heir. This results in an epic power struggle in which Yeine will have to learn the intricacies of court if she wants to survive.
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Next, I generally think there’s something ineffable about the magic systems in Alix E. Harrow’s books. But I particularly love how the Fractured Fables novellas gives you a multiverse of fairy tales out there. There’s no explanation for it, or for how the main character can travel across worlds. It’s just a dark and magical vibe — and it works incredibly well. So, of course, I had to include it in this list!
A Spindle Splintered follows Zinnia Gray, who is not supposed to live past her 21st birthday. Zinnia loves the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, because it mimics her own story — which is why her best friend has thrown her a Sleeping Beauty-themed party complete with a spinning wheel. Of course, Zinnia pricks her finger, which accidentally transports her to another world — and another sleeping beauty who needs her help.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
Last but not least, the Montoya family is surrounded by an inexplicable magic in this novel. It has a nature vibe to it, with a woman who becomes a tree and a flower growing on another woman’s chest. There’s also a source for these blessings (no spoilers!) but it’s not explained in depth — making this a perfect “just vibes” magic system.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina follows the Montoyas, whose lives are turned upside down when their matriarch summons them home and then transforms into a tree. More specifically, it follows cousins Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon. All of them have manifested strange gifts since Orquídea’s transformation. Seven years later, there’s a dark figure picking them off one by one. So Rey, Marimar, and Rhiannon must uncover the secrets of their inheritance in order to save what’s left of their family.
Want to read more about unique magic systems? Then check out our lists for fantasy novels with art-based magic — or there’s one about music magic too! We even wrote about magic systems that rely on books and words.