Progression within fantasy has been around for a long time, but it has only been within the last few years that it has become it’s own distinct genre. The most simplistic definition for the genre, is a fantasy series where the main character starts off with little to no power and grows in strength throughout the series, usually ending up as one of the strongest characters around by the conclusion. For this reason, progression fantasy is sometimes referred to as ‘Zero to Hero’.
This idea isn’t new, most fantasy books have some form of progression, however it’s only recently that authors have began to focus more on the progression aspects of their books and have tried to increase that feeling of power that can only be gained from watching someone incredibly weak, grow in strength step by step, until eventually they are able to beat anyone that stands in their way. In my opinion, and many others, there is nothing more fulfilling than watching an underdog, fight their way to the top, tooth and nail.
Below is an excerpt from the progression fantasy sub-Reddit providing examples of specific series and why they would be classified as Progression Fantasy.
(Warning: Possible spoilers)
- In the Cradle series by Will Wight, martial artists train to reach higher levels of Cultivation by perfecting their body, mind, and spirit. At each level of Cultivation, they gain access to increasingly potent abilities.
- In the Arcane Ascension series by Andrew Rowe, mages train to increase the amount of mana in their bodies. This allows them to cast stronger spells, and eventually, to increase their Attunement Level and gain formidable new powers.
- In Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic, the protagonist is a mage who is stuck in a time loop. As he repeats events in the loop, he gains new abilities, more mana, and more powerful spells.
- In the Traveler’s Gate Trilogy by Will Wight, the protagonist trains in the titular House of Blades, unlocking new abilities and items with each room he successfully conquers.
- In Six Sacred Swords by Andrew Rowe, Keras practices existing magical techniques that increase his physical strength and durability, and also gains new spells and techniques throughout the story.
- In the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson, members of the Knight Radiant can advance to different ranks, each of which provides additional powers.
- In The Tutorial is Too Hard by Grandara, Lee Ho Jae is transported into a game-like “tutorial”, where he gains levels and abilities as he attempts to survive the deadly scenarios it prevents.
- In Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, characters train to grow stronger and learn new techniques, and later in the story have numerically quantifiable power levels.
Sub-genres of Progression fantasy
Their are many different forms of progression fantasy, below are some examples.
Standing for Literary Role Playing Game, LitRPG is a book with game-like elements. Three main styles exist within this sub-genre:
- Virtual Reality – The story revolves around a world where virtual reality has come so far that when playing games, it feels like you are literally living within the game.
- Transported/Isekai – An average person is somehow transported in to a game or game-like world, usually against their will.
- Real World – The people within this world are real people who have no concept of games, however game-like elements are a reality in their everyday lives.
Below are examples of common elements within LitRPG:
- Stats & Levels
- User Interface overlaying vision
- Quests & Achievements
Dungeon Core is a part of LitRPG, but it has such a distinct feel, that I’ve added it as it’s own category. Imagine a LitRPG book, but instead of being the adventurer going in to a dungeon and slaying all the monsters, you are actually the sentient dungeon itself and it’s your job to grow and increase in power by trying to destroy any would-be invaders coming to defeat you.
Books within this sub-genre usually have a heavy Mana/Energy focus, where the dungeon can grow by absorbing mana from the environment and any enemies it defeats. The more mana/energy it possesses the bigger it can become and the stronger monsters and defences it can create.
Wuxia/XianXia aka Cultivation
This style of book puts focus on improving the human body, mind and spirit, and is usually broken down in to stages of advancement reaching up to deity and beyond. There are many ways to improve ones self and inherent powers, but the most common methods are:
- Physical and Mental exercises
- Martial combat
- Hardening the body against pain, damage and poisons
- Eating/absorbing foods and elixirs made from potent spiritual sources
Wuxia/XianXia is often very martial arts focussed, with artists usually having the ability to transcend the mortal plane if they become powerful enough.
General Progression Fantasy
Besides the previously stated examples, there are many other looser themed styles. These series will generally have a more mainstream fantasy feel, with a focus on progression. The magic systems will often feel unique and progression will usually be slower, but not always. Usually these will focus more on the main character increasing in skill as opposed to LitRPG where strength is gained through levels/abilities or Wuxia and XianXia where the main character strengthens themselves.