Genre Explained: Progression Fantasy and LitRPG

Cody Moore
May 19, 2023

Have you ever wanted to witness a brand-new genre bloom and flourish right before your eyes? Over the past few years, progression fantasy has emerged as a burgeoning subgenre within the vast realm of fantasy literature, captivating readers with its narratives of character growth and development. In this article, we’d like to take you on a journey through these evolving genres, shedding light on their defining features and unraveling the magic that has captured the imaginations of readers worldwide. Maybe you’ll even be interested enough to add a new book to that endless backlog!

What is Progression Fantasy?

Progression fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that has gained significant popularity in recent years. At its core, progression fantasy revolves around the journey of the protagonist's growth and development. Unlike traditional fantasy narratives where characters often possess inherent power or extraordinary abilities from the start, progression fantasy takes a different approach.

In progression fantasy, readers are introduced to heroes who kick off their grand adventures from a place of relative weakness or everyday mundanity. As the story unfolds, these characters embark on a quest to become stronger, acquiring new skills, abilities, and powers along the way. The progression is usually governed by a set of rules or mechanics that determine how characters gain experience, level up, and improve their capabilities. These mechanics serve as more than just a backdrop; they become a compelling draw for many readers of this genre. The intricate ideas and concepts behind the powers that characters wield become as enthralling as the spectacle of witnessing their growth from feeble to formidable.

As the story progresses, readers witness their favorite characters evolve, both in terms of their strength and their overall character development. Characters face increasingly challenging obstacles and adversaries, pushing them to unlock their full potential and overcome the odds.

The mechanics and systems in progression fantasy novels vary widely, ranging from traditional RPG-like progression systems with experience points and levels to more unique and imaginative systems specific to the world or magic system within the story. Regardless of the specific mechanics employed, the genre thrives on the thrill of witnessing characters push their limits, acquire new abilities, and rise to the occasion.

Readers of progression fantasy are drawn to the sense of achievement and fulfillment that comes from seeing characters overcome challenges and grow stronger through their efforts and perseverance. The genre often explores themes of self-discovery, determination, and the pursuit of excellence, resonating with those who appreciate stories of personal development and triumph against adversity.

A Subgenre Within A Subgenre: What is LitRPG?

LitRPG, an abbreviation for Literary Role-Playing Game, is a genre that seamlessly combines literature with the immersive elements of role-playing games. In LitRPG novels, characters find themselves immersed in virtual reality or game-like worlds, where the rules and mechanics of a game shape their experiences and interactions.

Imagine being transported into a realm where the boundaries of reality blur, and you become an active participant in a living, breathing game. That is the essence of LitRPG. Within these digital realms, characters navigate through epic adventures, facing quests, challenges, and battles reminiscent of those found in video games.

One of the defining features of LitRPG is the incorporation of gaming elements into the narrative. These elements can include character statistics, experience points, leveling up, skill trees, and the acquisition of loot or items. Readers get to witness characters grow stronger, improve their abilities, and strategically develop their skills, mirroring the progression of a player in a video game.

The allure of LitRPG lies in its ability to provide readers with an immersive escape from reality. It allows them to live vicariously through the characters, experiencing the thrills of leveling up, conquering dungeons, and discovering legendary treasures. The genre often taps into the innate human desire for adventure, exploration, and the pursuit of power. It also manages to satisfy the addiction for ‘number go up’ that seems to be a primary need for humanity. 

While the gaming elements form the backbone of LitRPG, these novels also explore richly detailed worlds, complex characters, and engaging storylines. Readers become engrossed in the quests and challenges that characters undertake, rooting for their success and eagerly anticipating their next level of growth.

LitRPG has captivated a wide range of readers, from avid gamers seeking to extend their gaming experiences into literature, to those looking for an exciting blend of fantasy, adventure, and strategic character development. Whether you're a seasoned gamer or simply crave an imaginative escape, LitRPG offers a unique reading experience that combines the best of both worlds—the captivating realm of literature and the immersive allure of gaming.

What Should I Read - Progression Fantasy Recommendations

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Have you tried Cradle? How could we possibly begin our list with anything other than the gold standard of Progression Fantasy? Cradle is an 11 book series (soon to be finished at 12!) which follows Lindon as he progresses from getting beaten up by literal children to giving them the beatdown! His story, thankfully, doesn’t stop there, either. It isn’t long before Lindon becomes a force to be feared throughout the world of Cradle, though many will attest that the first few novels are a slow start. Somewhere between the third and the fifth books, though, Cradle rapidly becomes one of the most addictive stories in the genre. 

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Mother of Learning

Mother of Learning (MoL) follows Zorian as he notices some odd changes in one of his classmates, not long before the city he lives in is attacked by endless amounts of monsters and siege engines. He tries to escape, but is unable to avoid a tragic death at the hands of one of the world’s most dangerous liches… Only to wake up, nearly a month earlier. 

The story of Zorian slowly exploring his unexpected magical talents, and slowly growing into a great power among the many mages across the world of MoL is a wild ride. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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Mage Errant

Mage Errant follows Hugh as he finds himself blessed with the opportunity to learn magic - but every spell he tries to cast simply blows up in his face. Disdained for his inability to properly cast a spell, few think he will ever amount to anything, including himself. Luckily, though, one person thinks he can help, and before long one of Hugh’s biggest weaknesses is turned to one of his strengths, and Hugh even manages to find close friends who struggled with some of the same problems he did. 

weirkey book one soul home cover art

The Weirkey Chronicles

The Weirkey Chronicles follows Theo in his second - or possibly third - life, after decades of trying to find his way back to the worlds where he was betrayed and murdered. Hellbent on revenge, Theo has all the knowledge he needs to enact his plans. He just needs to get the materials and build himself up. 

The Weirkey Chronicles have one of the most interesting magical systems in the genre. Characters have an inner sanctum inside their soul, which is referred to as a Soulhome. Those who build Soulhomes strengthen themselves by adding new features to their home, and ensuring their home is built strongly and stably. 

Give Me The Numbers - LitRPG Recommendations

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The Iron Prince

Ever wanted a character who is quite literally the personification of disabled, but uses an ironclad willpower to push himself beyond all possibilities? The Iron Prince is for you. Unlike many other LitRPG stories, Iron Prince doesn’t take place in a world where reality has been overwritten with gameplay elements - the numbers here are mostly derived from technological metrics that show exactly what someone’s capabilities are. Iron Prince also takes place in a Science Fiction setting, which, while not unheard of, is certainly not the standard. The biggest misstep in this series is the tragically dissatisfying development of one romantic subplot, and the multiple years it’s currently taking for the sequel to be released. 

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Azarinth Healer

Ever wanted to read about a battle maniac? Ever imagined a healer becoming the personification of strength? Try Azarinth Healer. Ilea finds herself somewhere other than Earth, and without any power, she flees through the forest. She stumbles upon an old ruin, and before long manages to find the ability to keep herself alive. And not just alive - but entertained. She loves fighting, and this new world is filled with opportunities. 

he who fights with monsters book one cover art

He Who Fights With Monsters

Another character who is randomly transported to a new world. Jason, however, is nothing like Ilea, nor really any of the other protagonists of the genre. Jason is in a new world that he doesn’t understand, and his favorite way of managing that anxiety is by bringing it out in others. Full of both bombastic comedy and woe-is-me-am-I-becoming-evil introspection, He Who Fights With Monsters that attempts - and arguably succeeds - at slowly revealing how epic the stakes can be for a LitRPG story.

Want to hear about other stories we’ve loved? Let us know in the comments! 

Want to know how to start writing stories of your own? Check out Oddisy, for all your worldbuilding needs!

Written By
Cody Moore
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