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The Inept Mage is not a charlatan or fraud; he actually does have the ability to do Real Magic. However, he lacks finesse. His spells frequently backfire, producing an effect other than he intended. This can be a source of comedy.
This differs from How Do I Shot Web? in that the Inept Mage understands the theory, but can't make it work in practice. Also, How Do I Shot Web? is usually temporary while the Inept Mage usually remains inept. Quite often, though, an Inept Mage will have moments of Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass when things he tries finally go off without a hitch, in spectacular fashion, in a critical moment, reminding characters and audience both why they're there.
Anime & Manga
- Chacha from the manga and anime Akazukin Chacha.
- Louie of Rune Soldier Louie.
- Early in Mahou Sensei Negima, Negi Springfield himself appears to be one of these, until it is revealed that the target of his spells has an anti-magical aura that cancels out or messes up any spell used on her.
- Negi's father is an interesting case in that he is considered one of the most powerful mages of all times, but he just needed to bring spark notes into battle to remember how to do his spells.
- Ojamajo Doremi. "Ojamajo" is a Portmanteau of the words for "clumsy" and "witch".
- Lufa from Dragon Half. No, dragons do not attract lightning.
- Louise from Zero no Tsukaima is a partial example. She can't cast any spells (they instead manifest as comically powerful explosions), but later in the series it's revealed that this is because she's the legendary void mage, capable of casting (only) void magic. Naturally this is about the point in the series where she takes a level in badass.
- Sae Sawanoguchi from Magic Users Club. Her magic is by far the most powerful, if she can control it, and if it comes out in the first place.
- Nina Sakura in Ultra Maniac is one of these. Eventually it is revealed in the manga that this is because her magic potenital is so high that any magic she casts is over powered and thus messes up, she just needs specialist training.
- Koyomi of Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou knows one spell. She can turn a spell into a falling washpan. Any spell, belonging to anybody. A cantrip, a fireball, a nuke, a MacGuffin.... Yeah, once the implications are realized, the other mages see her usefulness, although she doesn't quite realize what a Game Breaker she has.
- In The Slayers, the abundantly competent white-magic user Shilfiel tries her hand at black magic to balance out her repetoire and be more useful in combat. She's so woefully incompetent at this (her spell creates a magic carrot) that Zelgadis later asks her to cast the spell for him, relying on her inability to make it harmful, since he wants to use it to snap a teammate out of their trance.
- Subverted in the second season, when she uses the Dragon Slave against Phibrizzo, and later says she learned it to be more like Lina so she could travel with Gourry proving that she has no inherent weakness in offensive magic, is just unpracticed at it.
- Urd from Ah! My Goddess is explicitly stated as being more powerfull than Belldandy, yet ranked lower because she has little control over it.
- England from Axis Powers Hetalia.
- The hero of Kurt Busiek's The Wizard's Tale is fearfully inept, partly because he knows he is supposed to be evil and can't pull it off.
- Mongo Iron-Hand from The Warlord.
- In Superman Mr. Mxyzptlk briefly became one during the Day of Vengeance event when the Spectre declared war on all magic and completely messed up the mechanics behind it. The powerful 5th dimensional imp was reduced to a pitiful broken figure trying desperately to remember how to get back to his home dimension -- he was so messed up he couldn't even remember that all he had to do was say his name backwards.
- Donald Duck in the early issues of Wizards of Mickey, which gets him in trouble with someone he owed money too and tried to get out of the deal by turning spoons into gold. But it turns out his magic does work, but is slow acting.
Films -- Animation
- Mickey Mouse in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Fantasia.
Films -- Live Action
- From the film Krull: Ergo the Magnificent, whose transformation spells always affect himself regardless of who he aims them at. Good thing he has a spell to turn someone into a tiger...
- Mr. Magorium's magic went all wonky near the end of his life in the film version of ~Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium~
- Schmendrick, from The Last Unicorn, who is so inept that his teacher decided it meant that he had some kind of incredible potential, and made him immortal so that he could live long enough to sort it out.
- Questor Thews, from the Magic Kingdom of Landover novels.
- Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter novels. Until the fifth book. It doesn't help that he's been using his father's wand for most of the series instead of a wand better suited to him.
- Ronald Weasley is rendered fairly inept for much of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, when his wand is broken. See the page image.
- A similar thing happens to Harry in The Deathly Hallows.
- Gilderoy Lockhart may count: The only thing he seems to be good at is memory charms, though it's never revealed whether he's naturally inept at everything else or if he just decided at some point that he could get by on that and his natural charisma alone. (And he very nearly did, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.)
- Rincewind is a borderline case. By all rights he is a proper wizard: he can see octarine, see Death, detect magic, and act as a magical lightning rod just like all other wizards. Thing is, he can't actually preform any spells, because during his short time at Unseen University he read one of the eight spells that created the universe, which made itself at home in his head and ruined his chances of ever learning any other spells. He actually does say it (along with the other seven) at the end of the second book, but apparently his ineptitude for magic was permanent.
- Magrat Garlick's magical skill can impress even Granny Weatherwax, but she tends to have problems getting it to do what she wants, because she's caught up in the romantic image of magic, with the mystical runes and what not.
- Fizban the Fabulous in the Dragonlance books, although he's more than he appears.
- Geraden, from the Mordant's Need duology.
- Wodehed from the Welkin Weasels series never has his spells work out the way he wants them to. In one memorable instance, he gave a boar holding the group captive some magical wine that would turn whoever drank it into a frog. Because the wineskin the wine was in was made from leather, the wineskin turned into a frog instead.
- A short story, set during King Arthur's childhood, has a character who appeared to be a severely inept mage; during his final exam to earn a mentor wizard, he attempted to make a rock turn into a pig -- it floated in the air, turned invisible, and then when he tried to undo the spells, it became a (visible) dragon. Subverted when he turned out to be a chaos magician -- that dragon was vital to taking out a Saxon invasion a moment later. His magic never does what he wants, but it always does what needs to be done.
- Jon-Tom Meriweather of Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series. He can produce magical effects via music, but the lyrics have to be ridiculously specific, and are likely to produce unwanted effects; when he conjures up a ship with the song "Sloop John B." and names himself first mate, he spends the entire voyage feeling badly drunk.
- Clothahump is mostly competent, but he also has his moments. In his first attempt at using magic that the readers see, he attempts to conjure up gold coins, but produces chocolate coins instead.
- In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the Golux explains that both his parent fell under this trope.
- In The Magicians, the Physical magician Josh is unable to get his magic to work consistently, but when it does work, it's very powerful: for example, when casting a spell to dispell a magical light, he ends up going over the top and producing a black hole.
- In King's Quest the Floating Castle, the spells of Alexander's apprentice wizard sidekick Cyril actually do in fact do what they're intended to. His ineptness instead comes from the fact that he's an inherently powerful wizard who hasn't yet developed control, so his spells all do what they're intended to so overwhelmingly that they go horribly right.
- When Harry gets an apprentice, she alternates between terrifying and adorably this trope. Once, she literally glowed with praise. Her potion-making adventures have involved her getting her clothes covered in acid and the potion then exploding, which Harry then had to remove and give her CPR right as his girlfriend lets herself in.
- The poem Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerers Apprentice) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
- Udonna's apprentice, Clare, from Power Rangers Mystic Force starts out as Inept Mage and remains so for the duration of the series; but a major crisis turns her into a How Do I Shot Web? case, and she ends up competent when all is said and done.
- Aunt Clara and Esmerelda, both from Bewitched.
- Mildred Huble from The Worst Witch.
- In the first seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow always messed up her spells, with unfortunate results. She got better.
- She continued to have her inept moments in later seasons, such as when she accidentally gave the entire Scooby gang amnesia in season six.
- Eureka from Eureekas Castle had her off-moments.
- Merlin in the French series Kaamelott. He once tried to cast a spell to make plants grow, and ended up giving Arthur and Léodagan brightly glowing eyes.
- Lisa from Weird Science, in that her own powers constantly play the Jerkass Genie to her. Usually she can make anything happen with a snap of her fingers, but if it's something important, it'll typically turn out sooner or later it's Gone Horribly Wrong.
- Mannitol from The Legend of Dick and Dom: his incantations tend to backfire horribly, for example, turning a friend into a disembodied head; impressive, given that at one point non-mages successfully cast a spell.
- Marnie Stonebrook from True Blood doesn't have a clue on her spells. But, whenever she gets possessed by the ghost of the witch, Antonia Gavilán, she becomes one of the most powerful villains in the show.
- The D&D 2nd edition Tome of Magic introduces the Wild Mage. Although able to master "wild magic" spells otherwise forbidden to other wizards, the level of power of their magic is variable, and they run the risk of causing a "wild surge" -- a totally random effect -- with every casting.
- The class also appears in Baldur's Gate 2, this time with a set list of results, but an incredibly variable one. They can change a random target's gender, summon a cow right above their target's head, accidentally target themselves with the spell . . . At least in this case you get the benefit of Save Scumming.
- Wild Mages aren't actually inept (Unless that's how you play one). Just crazy. Consider their signature spell: Nahal's Reckless Dweomer; a spell that the mage casts in order to attempt to shape it into any other spell he knows without having the spell memorized. Wild Surges can be extremely deadly if you're lucky; casting Magic Missile has an equal chance of making your opponent (and everything in ten feet of it) explode messily as it does the chance of summoning harmless squirrels.
- Wicked: Elphaba. Things get way out of hand.
- Elphaba's sister, Nessarose is a truly tragic example. She tries to use a spell from the Grimmerie to make Boq fall in love with her. She pronounces it incorrectly, accidentally destroying his heart instead. Elphaba saves him by turning him into the Tin Man and Nessarose accepts the title of "Wicked Witch of the East".
- Dio? Odie from Soul Nomad and The World Eaters, though it's only prevalent in Cutscenes, whereas in gameplay he's pretty strong..
- Viki from the Suikoden series fits roundly. She is quite competent, and can even be used in the player's parties in many games. It just so happens her area of expertise is teleportation magic, and when she's tired/been drinking/sneezes, she tends to wind up in strange places. Or times. She is one of the few characters to be featured in every game in the main series, despite the fact that it covers a period spanning centuries. She was even in one game twice.
- Oddly enough, she appears to be getting more and more powerful as the games go on. In the first games she had a random chance of accidentally harming her party with her spells, by the fifth she has a random chance to cast multiple spells in a row at no additional cost
- All spellcasting classes in the Wizardry series are like this at first, barring alchemy-based casters, until they build up their Oratory skill-a low Oratory gives spells a chance to backfire or fizzle. However, backfiring spells are no joke in this series-a backfiring spell can easily kill a party member, if not several, and force the player to quit and reload.
- Lilka from Wild Arms 2, though not as inept as most examples: she's still learning some things, but...
- Marie from Atelier Marie is an Inept Alchemist. While she has a lot of passion for the art, her absentmindedness often leads her to put in the wrong ingredient, screwing up the formula. Because of this, she has the lowest GPA out of anyone in her school.
- In her appearance in the Massive Multiplayer Crossover game Cross Edge, she tries to treat York with a bottle of Athena Water after he suffers injuries in battle, but winds up creating a Gargle Blaster that floors him instantly. When the party meets up with Lyner later, she tries the same thing. Despite York's protests, Lyner guzzles the drink, saying that it's rude to refuse a gift. The result is... rather predictable.
- The weakest Imps in the Dragon Quest series, and especially Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime, are really terrible at magic. They continually attempt to use the Bang spell, only to blow themselves up.
- In Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime, standing still while an Imp tries to attack you will cause his magic to explode in his face. Running will cause him to chase you, trip, and explode, damaging everything in the area around it, meaning you, other enemies, and itself. This is all they can do.
- Jowan from Dragon Age: Origins. Between the generally inherent power of Mages and his dabbling in Blood Magic he should be very, very powerful. Alas, he's much weaker than almost every other Mage in the game, and only turned to Blood Magic out of desperation.
- Gwynn from Sluggy Freelance very rarely gets a spell completely right. She enchants some monkeys to attack someone who's annoying her, without considering that, when someone else annoys her, the monkeys will change targets. Or she tries getting a demon to leave Riff alone, but ends up making it possess her instead. Or she tries getting her and Zoe's hair to grow back, but, thanks to the spell relying on a Jerkass Genie, it makes them turn into fully-furred wookie-like creatures. Basically anything she tries other than moving things with her mind or making pretty lights isn't going to work as planned.
- Abraham of El Goonish Shive is an interesting example. Although he is a very powerful spell caster, and deadly in combat, his lack of common sense has earned him a bit of a reputation for incompetence.
- In Doodze, accidentally turning the sh'leep into ravening monsters.
- Leaving chaos in their wake is something of a hallmark of the "three little witches" -- Abracadabra, Palantir, and Clover -- from the eponymous story set in the Whateley Universe. May well yet turn out to be a case of How Do I Shot Web?, though; they are only kids (younger than the regular students at Whateley, even) at this point, after all.
- Perf, of Journey Quest, is an excellent example of this: he has precisely three spells he can cast without recourse to his spellbooks: Conjure Milk, Mend  and Vague . The one time we see him casting with a spellbook, he's trying to heal the party cleric, and fails so badly that said cleric dies. And becomes an entirely new form of undead.
- Just before that cleric showed up as said new form of undead Perf tried to use the Gust of Wind spell from the book and blew his own clothes off, so he in fact used the book exactly twice
- In Penny Arcade, Jim Darkmagic, at least in his comic appearance. In the actual podcasts where he made his debut, Jim tends to be about as competent as the rest of the party, somewhat surprising considering that his player, Mike Krahulik, has never played Dungeons and Dragons before in his life.
- Fumblemore in "Shadow of Israphel". His main specialty is blowing things up. And not always on purpose.
- Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of both Fantasia films.
- "Presto" from the Dungeons & Dragons animated cartoon.
- Orko, from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Justified, however. His home dimension, where he's actually a master mage with exceptional abilities, has completely different rules of magic to Eternia. His magic only functioned on Eternia due to a special medallion (original series) or wand (2002 series) which was lost soon after he arrived on Eternia when he saved Prince Adam's life. As a result of the incompatibility between his native magic and Eternia's magic rules, he comes across as an Inept Mage to Eternians.
- Junior Genie Babu, from both Jeannie the Animated Series, where he was her Sidekick and apprentice; and in Hanna-Barbera's Laff-A-Lympics.
- The Winter Warlock from the Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Christmas Special. He was a fierce mage until his heart melted from a kind gesture... and then he could only do little tricks.
- Uncle Oswidge from Dave the Barbarian.
- Morgana in Darkwing Duck casts a spell wrong more often than she casts it right. It's implied, if not outright confirmed that her magic is affected by her emotional state.
- On Re Boot, the episode "Wizards, Warriors, and a Word from our Sponsors" has Dot take the part of a sorceress in one of the games. The extent of her magical prowess amounts to pointing at something, exclaiming "abraca-whatchama-dabra-callit," and hoping for a favorable result.
- In "A Giant Problem" on The Backyardigans, both Tyrone and Pablo are inept mages who lament "It's hard to be, so yeah hard to be a wizard." At least until the end, when they finally manage to get it right.
- Zummi from Gummi Bears. Though his ineptitude can be excused by the fact that he is an autodidact. He doesn't seem to have had any teachers who practiced magic with him, instead he has to read it all by himself in the Great Book of Gummi.
- Kyle from Fanboy and Chum Chum. His poor skills in magic are often used as the reason behind his failures, and it even becomes an important plot point in "Sigmund the Sorcerer".
- In the The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "A Knight for a Day", Rabbit becomes one of these in Piglet's fantasy. When he tries to enchant Piglet's spell to make it indestructible, for example, he turns himself into a frog.
Rabbit-frog: What is going on with these spells?!
- Madame Razz from She Ra Princess of Power. She actually very powerful, but is so ditzy and absent-minded that she tends to mispronounce words. Fortunately, her mistakes still beat up bad guys. For example, when she tries to conjure a wall to stall the bad guys, she says, "ball", and the conjured ball bounces and smacks the bad guys around.
- which, when used against a party of orcs that had captured him and his friends, earned him the appellation "lactomancer"
- a sewing spell
- the effects of which are kinda hard to nail down...