Not just specific to anime, the literary genre of magic realism is used to encapsulate anything that provides a realistic view of the world while also having dashes of unexplained elements, or “magical” elements. Typically these elements are sorted into more specific sub-genres of the fantasy genre which can make magic realism so hard to classify. However, the overall definition of magic realism is a world with magic or magical creatures that everyone (including the narrative) treats as normal. If you like you like reality with a side of fries and magic, then these anime recommendations are definitely for you.
Durarara is almost the perfect example of magic realism in anime. Ikebukuro is very much a normal town with a bunch of weird shit that happens in it that no one really questions. They just kind of accept the headless rider as urban legend even when confronted with it or they just except that a guy can kick around vending machines. There is clearly a bunch of magic at work, but the show is still very grounded in its setting.
Clannad probably wouldn’t be the first show you think of for magic realism, but it works. For example, you have a girl astral projecting herself into the world. A child that was dragged up to a spot and magically brought to life by…wishes or whatever those balls of light were. Clannad, overall, features a normal world with just quick dashes of magic that don’t at all undermine the setting or make it any less realistic.
The Eccentric Family
The Eccentric Family sits very close to being Urban Fantasy, but the difference is that people are oblivious to the tengu and the tanuki in the series, instead of just pointing them out all the time. Since they find ways to blend into society, it presents a very normal human world while focusing on this one very odd family.
Some might see the fact that Tatami Galaxy is about a character being stuck in a time loop as science fiction. However, since it is not explained in a scientific way, but rather more of a plot magic way, that it counts as magic. Overall it is mostly a normal setting with a lot of introspection and just a touch of magic to push a plot forward.
The whole plot of Death Note is how if you introduce a drop of magic into the world, in this case a notebook that kills people, it can throw the whole world into chaos. As the series goes on, you find out just how influenced the regular world is by the supernatural world as it sort of lifts the veil on it.
If you have only watched a bit of Detective Conan, then it seems like your standard detective show, and it could have been. However, it is about a teen turned into a boy by a drug that clearly uses magic instead of science. Throughout the series, while most of the cases are realistic, he is also confronted by characters like witches and even his girlfriend that has premonitions of danger. Clearly witchcraft, but everyone seems to just ignore it.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The thing about Haruhi is that is goes into other genres like sci-fi and urban fantasy, but there are also elements of magic realism in it that makes it a topic of debate. As Haruhi’s powers are very subtle, and at the beginning even the audience doesn’t know they exist, it makes it seem like nothing magical is happening when it really is.
Satoshi Koin films as well as Paranoia Agent all heavily play with this concept. For example, Paranoia Agent, right down to the art style, is hyper realistic. You even believe that the kid whacking people on the head is real at times. Only near the end does the “magic” of it all get a little over the top.
As it was created by the same author as Durarara, Baccano as similar themes of magical realism. However, it actually excels more because the difference is the older setting. Audiences tend to treat the magic touches in Baccano as more realistic because of its setting in the past, and because alchemy is not such a leap or bound away from regular old science.
Erased follows a man who has an unexplained power to go back to the future when he seems something bad happen. Usually, this is just a few minutes, but when someone close to him is murdered, he jumps all the way back to his childhood. While this all seems very steeped in fantasy or even sci-fi, since how time travel is done is not focused on, the real murder mystery of it all takes command of the show.
The magical girl genre in general can often be a pretty good place to go to for both magic and realism, at least lately. However, in Madoka Magica’s case it starts off very much in the way of magical realism, but transcends it into full fantasy later in the series. As you watch, things get significantly less normal as a bit of magic turns into a lot of magic all the time.
The Devil is a Part-Timer
While it probably didn’t mean to be, The Devil is a Part-Timer became a pretty great magic realism show. These magical warriors come to Earth where they really can’t use their magical powers, but they start to come back over time. This adds a bit of magic to the regular life displayed in the shows and ends up being pretty awesome to watch.
Whether or not the Fate series is magic realism is actually pretty debatable. For the most part, in the Fate series, the world is perfectly normal, but there are clear elements of magic in their society with the Holy Grail Wars. However, does that count if the only people that are really dealing with this magical elements come from very specific families while everyone else is normal?
Although Glasslip fails at plot progression, it sets itself up to be magic realism, but never fully realizes it. Its future fragment plot point sets it up as some characters can see into the future, but then it just kind of abandons that point. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to someone as a show, but I can recommend it for its infamy and a valiant attempt at magic realism.
Many Studio Ghibli Films
Studio Ghibli plays with this a lot in many of its films, but often times it either moves away from it or transcends it completely. For Spirited Away, for example, it starts off realistic, then you get a dash of magical, but it very quickly evolves into full-on fantasy. However, movies that aren’t pure fantasy often have that air of whimsy to them that is easily considered magical.
What is and isn’t considered magical realism is such a hotly contested thing in anime since shows can easily border the line between it and other fantasy sub-genre’s like urban fantasy. So when you undoubtedly disagree with our recommendations, let the world know why in the comments section below.