Progression fantasy is a genre of fiction that primarily focuses on the protagonist’s growth and development over time, often in a systematic or quantifiable way. In this genre, the protagonist typically starts with a lower level of skill or power and gradually becomes stronger, more skilled, or more powerful as the story progresses. This progression is depicted in a detailed and methodical manner, with clear benchmarks or levels.
The protagonist faces challenges and obstacles that test their abilities and push them to grow. These challenges are integral to the character’s progression and the plot’s development. These stories inspire us by showing the protagonist’s journey from weakness to strength, emphasizing themes like hard work, perseverance, and self-improvement.
Progression fantasy can overlap with other genres like fantasy, science fiction, and litRPG (literary Role-Playing Games), but its distinct focus on systematic progression sets it apart. Examples of progression fantasy include series like “The Cradle” by Will Wight and “Arcane Ascension” by Andrew Rowe.
10 Progression Fantasy Books
Like other fantasy genres, progression fantasy offers a form of escapism into a world of adventure and magic. The added focus on character progression adds an extra layer of engagement, as you’re not just exploring a new world but also following a character’s journey.
I will talk about ten popular progression fantasy series and books. These novels feature a world with defined rules, systems, or magic that govern how characters gain and use their abilities. This can include magic systems, martial arts hierarchies, or other forms of structured power dynamics. Let’s begin!
1. Cradle by Will Wight
The Cradle series is a very popular progression fantasy series popular for its intricate world-building, complex magic system, and fast-paced storytelling.
Genre: Progression Fantasy, Xianxia (a sub-genre of Wuxia with elements of Chinese mythology, martial arts, and Taoism)
Series Debut: 2016
Setting: The series is set in Cradle, a place deeply influenced by martial arts and magic.
Storyline: The story follows Lindon, a young man born into a weak and unrespected clan. Deemed unfit to practice the clan’s martial arts, Lindon’s life changes when he meets a remnant from a fallen immortal, setting him on a path of relentless self-improvement and discovery. The series tracks Lindon’s journey as he seeks to become powerful enough to save his family and clan from impending disaster.
So, Lindon starts as relatively weak and systematically works his way up in strength and ability. This journey of progression is central to the plot and is a core aspect of what makes the series fit into the progression fantasy genre. The series features a unique martial arts system and magical abilities, where characters cultivate their ‘madra’ to ascend through various power levels.
Books in the Series:
- Unsouled (2016).
- Soulsmith (2016).
- Blackflame (2017).
- Skysworn (2017).
- Ghostwater (2018).
- Underlord (2019).
- Uncrowned (2019).
- Wintersteel (2020).
- Bloodline (2021).
- Reaper (2022).
- Waybound (2023).
Lindon’s journey takes him through various realms and challenges, meeting diverse characters and cultures. Like many progression fantasies, the “Cradle” series includes clear and distinct levels of power and achievement that characters strive to attain. These levels are well-defined, and advancing through them is a significant part of the narrative.
The series has garnered a large and dedicated fanbase, praised for its compelling characters and imaginative world. Readers who enjoy fast-paced stories with detailed magic systems, character growth, and elements of Eastern mythology and martial arts will likely find the “Cradle” series captivating. I recommend the series if you are new to the progression fantasy genre.
2. Arcane Ascension series by Andrew Rowe
Arcane Ascension is a clean progression fantasy series with elements of LitRPG that covers the magic system, an engaging plot, and the strong development of its characters. The series is set in a world where magical towers challenge their climbers with various puzzles and battles, and success in these towers grants magical powers.
Storyline: The main character, Corin Cadence, seeks to find his older brother, who went missing in one of these towers. Corin himself must face the challenges of the towers, discover the secrets behind their creation, and understand the intricate magic system that governs his world.
A significant part of the story revolves around Corin attending a magical academy, learning about magic, and developing his skills. The series is rich in mystery, with the protagonist unraveling the secrets of the magical towers and the larger world.
Books in the Series:
- Sufficiently Advanced Magic (2017).
- On the Shoulders of Titans (2019).
- The Torch that Ignites the Stars (2020).
- The Silence of Unworthy Gods (2022).
The protagonist, Corin Cadence, experiences significant growth in his magical abilities and knowledge throughout the series. The series is ideal for readers who enjoy detailed magic systems, stories set in magical schools, and narratives that involve puzzle-solving and strategic battles. It is a strong example of progression fantasy, focusing on the protagonist’s magical and personal growth journey within a rigorously structured magical world.
3. Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic (Nobody103)
Mother of Learning, known online as Nobody103, is a highly regarded web novel in the progression fantasy genre.
Genre: Progression Fantasy, Time Loop, Fantasy Adventure.
Format: Originally serialized as a web novel.
Setting: The story is set in a fantasy world of magic and mythical creatures.
Storyline: The protagonist, Zorian Kazinski, a magic student, is trapped in a month-long time loop. Each loop begins at the start of a magical festival and ends with the destruction of his city. Zorian uses these loops to learn new magical skills, uncover secrets about the time loop, and devise a plan to break out of the cycle.
The time loop is central to the story, providing a unique twist on the progression of the fantasy genre. It allows the protagonist to learn and grow in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a linear timeline. As typical in progression fantasy, a major focus is on the protagonist’s accumulation of knowledge and skills, especially in magic and other abilities. The novel includes a lot of mystery as Zorian tries to understand the reasons behind the time loop and how to stop it.
The novel is ideal for readers who enjoy stories with time loop mechanics, detailed magical systems, and character-driven narratives focusing on personal growth and mastery.
4. Mage Errant series by John Bierce
Mage Errant is a captivating progression fantasy series known for its unique magical system, compelling character development, and intricate world-building. The series is set in a richly imagined fantasy world where magic and magical institutions play a central role.
Storyline: The story follows Hugh of Emblin, a young student at the Skyhold, a floating academy of magic. Hugh struggles with unique magical abilities that he finds difficult to control. The series follows his journey as he learns to master his powers, discovers secrets about his world, and faces various challenges and threats.
A significant part of the story occurs in a magical academy, focusing on learning and mastering magical skills, a popular trope in progression fantasy. Hugh’s growth, both in his magical abilities and personal maturity, is a central theme of the series. I love and enjoy his development so much!
Books in the Series:
- Into the Labyrinth (2018).
- Jewel of the Endless Erg (2019).
- A Traitor in Skyhold (2019).
- The Lost City of Ithos (2020).
- The Siege of Skyhold (2021).
- Tongue Eater (2022).
- The Last Echo of the Lord of Bells (2023).
The series is ideal for readers who enjoy stories set in magical schools, with detailed magic systems and narratives that focus on the growth and development of the protagonist. It’s a notable example of progression fantasy, featuring a young protagonist’s journey in a magical world, emphasizing magical skills and personal growth development within a structured and imaginative setting.
5. Street Cultivation by Sarah Lin
Street Cultivation is an innovative entry in the progression fantasy genre, notable for its unique setting and blend of fantasy elements with a modern, urban backdrop. The novel is set in a contemporary world where magical abilities and cultivation, typically in traditional fantasy, are integrated into modern society.
Storyline: The story follows the protagonist, Rick, who lives in a society where one’s magical power is akin to their financial and social status. Rick, from a lower economic class, struggles to improve his cultivation and magical skills to better his life and protect his family.
Unlike traditional progression fantasies set in ancient or medieval worlds, “Street Cultivation” places the concept of cultivation in a modern, urban environment, giving a fresh twist to the genre. The story explores economic disparity and social class themes, as magical power directly correlates with wealth and status. True to the genre, the focus is on Rick’s personal growth, both in his cultivation abilities and in navigating the challenges of his world.
The series stands out in the development fantasy genre for its innovative combination of cultivation elements within a modern societal framework, offering a refreshing and thought-provoking narrative.
6. The Dao of Magic by Andries Louws
The Dao of Magic is a notable series in the progression fantasy genre, blending elements of Eastern and Western fantasy traditions. The series combines a Western fantasy world with elements typical of Eastern fantasy, particularly the Xianxia and Wuxia genres.
Storyline: The story focuses on a powerful Western wizard who reincarnates in a world governed by martial arts and Eastern magic. The protagonist, now with a weaker body but retaining his knowledge, must struggle with this new world, re-cultivate his powers, and adapt his Western magical knowledge to the Eastern cultivation system.
The series is notable for its fusion of Western and Eastern fantasy elements, particularly the combination of Western-style magic and Eastern cultivation practices. The central theme is the protagonist’s journey of rediscovering and rebuilding his powers in a new world.
7. Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe
Sufficiently Advanced Magic is the first book in the “Arcane Ascension” series, a notable work in the progression fantasy genre. It is set in a world where people can gain magical powers and abilities by exploring dangerous, magical towers.
Storyline: The protagonist, Corin Cadence, enters the Serpent Spire – one of the mysterious towers – to find his missing brother. Inside, participants face various challenges and puzzles. Success in the tower grants magical powers known as Attunements.
Much of the story involves Corin’s time in a magical academy, learning to utilize and enhance his new powers. The book features a strong element of mystery, with Corin trying to uncover secrets about the towers, his family’s past, and the broader world. So, it’s an excellent read for those who enjoy detailed magic systems, stories of magical training and development, and elements of mystery and adventure in their fantasy novels.
8. A Thousand Li series by Tao Wong
A Thousand Li series is a well-regarded progression fantasy series, particularly noted for its mix of cultivation elements inspired by Chinese Wuxia and Xianxia traditions. The series is set in a world inspired by ancient China, filled with martial arts, cultivation practices, and Taoist philosophy.
Storyline: The main character, Wu Ying, is a young villager who becomes a disciple in a sect and begins his journey in the cultivation world. His path involves not only martial arts and physical strengthening but also ethical and spiritual growth as he strives to reach the pinnacle of cultivation known as “A Thousand Li.”
Central to the series is the theme of cultivation, where characters undergo training and spiritual development to enhance their abilities and attain higher levels of power. The series heavily focuses on martial arts as a means of progression, intertwined with Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Wu Ying’s journey takes him through various trials, battles, and discoveries, exploring the rich and mythical world of the series.
Books in the Series:
- The First Step (2019).
- The First Stop (2019).
- The First War (2020).
- The Second Expedition (2020).
- The Second Sect (2021).
- The Second Storm (2021).
- The Third Kingdom (2022).
- The Third Realm (2023).
- The Third Cut (2023).
- The Fourth Stage (Expected publication March 1, 2024).
“A Thousand Li” is a perfect pick for readers who enjoy traditional Eastern cultivation stories focusing on martial arts, ethical cultivation, and character progression.
9. Reborn: Apocalypse by L.M. Kerr
Reborn is a notable entry in the progression fantasy genre, particularly blending elements of the LitRPG (Literary Role-Playing Game) sub-genre. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is forced to fight for survival against otherworldly beings and powers.
Storyline: The protagonist, Michael, is sent back in time just before the apocalypse begins. Armed with the knowledge of what’s to come, he aims to change the future and save humanity. He must face dangerous levels in a tower-like structure, each presenting unique challenges and opportunities for growth.
The time travel aspect provides a fresh twist, allowing the protagonist to use his foreknowledge to influence events. The post-apocalyptic setting adds survival and strategic planning elements to the character’s progression and battles.
This series is ideal for readers who enjoy progression fantasy with a blend of action, strategic battles, and post-apocalyptic settings. It is distinguished in the progression fantasy genre by its combination of time travel, strategic progression, and survival elements. It offers a compelling narrative that keeps readers engaged with its unique take on character development and world-building.
10. The Beginning After The End by TurtleMe
The Beginning After the End is a popular web novel series that falls into the progression and reincarnation fantasy genre. The story is set in a fantasy world with magic, mythical creatures, and diverse cultures.
Storyline: The protagonist, King Grey, has unrivaled strength, wealth, and prestige in a world governed by martial ability. However, solitude lingers closely behind those with great power. Beneath the glamorous exterior of a powerful king lurks the shell of a man devoid of purpose and will. He is reincarnated in a new world filled with magic and monsters, retaining his memories from his past life. Arthur Leywin seeks to live a life full of new meanings and purposes.
The central theme is the protagonist’s reincarnation, giving him a new life where he can rectify past mistakes and grow differently. The novel explores the new world, meets magical creatures, and unravels this new life’s mysteries.
Readers have praised the series for its character development, world-building, and fresh take on the reincarnation trope within a progression fantasy framework. The series is ideal for those who enjoy stories about reincarnation, magical growth, and fantasy adventures with a strong focus on character development. I highly recommend it to you.
5 Progression Fantasy Romance Books
Progression fantasy romance novels combine the growth and development of characters in their abilities or powers with a significant romantic subplot. Here are five books in this niche that intertwine romantic elements with the typical progression fantasy framework:
“Sword Heart” by T. Kingfisher – This novel combines fantasy, romance, and adventure. It follows the story of a woman who accidentally summons an immortal swordsman bound to a magical sword. Together, they go on a journey filled with magical challenges, unraveling a larger plot, all while developing a deepening romantic relationship.
“Radiance” by Grace Draven – A part of the ‘Wraith Kings’ series, this book is set in a fantasy world where two people from different species, with their unique abilities and cultures, are forced into an arranged marriage. The story focuses on their growing respect, understanding, and eventual love, alongside their personal and magical growth.
“Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan – This novel is the first in the ‘Chronicles of the Warlands’ series. It blends romance with a fantasy world of warriors and magic. The story centers on a princess with healing abilities who becomes a warrior to a conquering lord, leading to an unexpected romance intertwined with political and magical conflicts.
“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik – Although not a traditional progression fantasy, this novel includes elements of the genre with its focus on the protagonist’s magical education. The story follows a young woman taken by a wizard known as the Dragon to learn magic, where she uncovers her powers and becomes entangled in a slow-burn romance.
“Air Awakens” by Elise Kova – The first book in a series, it follows a library apprentice who discovers her magical abilities and is thrust into a world of sorcery and conflict. The romantic subplot develops as she bonds with a prince and faces challenges that test her magical growth and heart.
These novels mix the characteristic elements of progression fantasy – such as character development in power or skills – with romantic storylines, offering a unique reading experience for fans of both genres.
5 Progression Fantasy Audiobooks
Progression fantasy audiobooks offer a captivating way to experience stories where characters grow in power, skills, or abilities over time. Here are five highly-regarded progression fantasy audiobooks, each known for both their compelling stories and quality narration:
“Cradle” series by Will Wight, narrated by Travis Baldree – Starting with “Unsouled,” is highly praised in the audiobook format. Travis Baldree’s narration adds depth to Lindon’s journey from a weak, unsouled youth to a powerful practitioner in a world governed by martial and spiritual prowess.
“Arcane Ascension” series by Andrew Rowe, narrated by Nick Podehl – Beginning with “Sufficiently Advanced Magic,” is popular for its detailed magic system and the protagonist’s journey through a magic school. Nick Podehl’s narration brings the characters and the complex magical world to life, enhancing the listening experience.
“Mage Errant” series by John Bierce, narrated by Ralph Lister – Starting with “Into the Labyrinth,” this series follows a young mage at a magical academy. Ralph Lister’s narration captures the nuances of the characters’ growth and the unique magical world they inhabit.
“A Thousand Li” series by Tao Wong, narrated by Travis Baldree – The series, beginning with “The First Step,” is set in a world inspired by ancient China. Travis Baldree’s narration adeptly conveys the story of Wu Ying’s journey in martial arts and cultivation, adding an engaging layer to the listening experience.
“The Beginning After The End” series by TurtleMe, narrated by Travis Baldree – This series, starting with the book of the same name, combines elements of reincarnation and progression fantasy. Travis Baldree’s narration is well-received for its ability to bring the characters and the world to life, enhancing the story of King Grey’s reincarnation and new life as Arthur Leywin.
These audiobooks provide an immersive way to experience the progression of the fantasy genre, with narrators skillfully bringing the characters and worlds to life, making them popular choices among fans.
These novels typically feature well-structured and detailed worlds, especially regarding magic or power systems. This genre can be particularly appealing if you enjoy diving into intricate worlds with clear rules and mechanics.
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