Whether you’re looking for magical beings or mythological beasts, this list is a good place to start. I started making it for my book Master Lists for Writers. I didn’t finish it for inclusion there because it seemed like I could keep adding creatures forever, there are many variations of some myths, and my explanations were getting too long. Here I’ve kept most of the descriptions short and I’ve linked to more information. (For most of these, click on the name of the creature and it’ll take you to a useful link!)
For each creature, I’ve made sure I could find at least two sources saying the same thing, but in some cases I may not have landed on the most popular or the most accurate version.
With a few exceptions, I haven’t included the names of individual demons and creatures and such, but only general categories or species. Although I am labeling them as mythical, I’m not claiming that any of them don’t exist. The line between “mythology” and “religion” is slippery, and I never mean any disrespect.
Check them all out!
abiku – among the Yoruba and Dahomey people in West Africa, these are evil tree spirits that are born as children and die several times, often within the same family. I could be wrong, but I think the ogbanje are basically the same thing.
angels – They show up in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and other traditions of belief.
bakru – these little gnome-like people in Suriname are half flesh and half wood. They will do your dirty work for you if you enter into a pact with them — which is a terrible idea.
barghests – giant demonic dogs with huge teeth and claws who live in northern England. One shows up when you’re about to die. Some creatures like this are simply referred to as Black Dogs.
basilisks – these reptiles can kill a person with a single glance. Sometimes people call them cockatrices.
brownies – in England and Scotland, these are little people who are loyal to human households and will sometimes help out with the chores. You don’t want to make them mad, though. Harry Potter fans, take note: a dobbie or dobie is a kind of brownie, and an angry brownie can turn into a boggart.
btsan – the btsan are fierce sky spirits in Tibet that look like red hunters riding red horses.
Cerberus – a three-headed dog that guards the door of the Underworld in Greek mythology.
chimera – this monstrous beast of ancient Greece has the body and head of a lion, a goat’s head sticking out of its back, a set of goat-udders just for fun, and a serpentine tail.
changeling – many European countries have stories about the fairies or trolls stealing human babies and leaving sickly or malignant magical babies in their place. These myths have some similarities with the abiku, above.
Co-hon – in Vietnam, these are the spirits of people who died a violent death and weren’t buried with ceremony. They bring bad luck to people who pass by them unless they are appeased.
Coraniaid – the Coraniaid are Welsh dwarves with very sharp hearing who are immune to weapons. They use fairy money, which looks legit but soon turns into toadstools.
dæmons – (also spelled daimons.) These not the same thing as demons. In ancient Greek mythology, they were helpful spirit guides, similar to guardian angels.
demons – obviously you know about these guys. Variations of them appear in ancient near East religions, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and other faiths. Here’s a fun list of some of the worst ones, and a here’s a list of many or all of the demons with names.
dodore – these are little people in the Solomon Islands have one eye, one leg, and long red hair, and they don’t seem to be friendly.
djinn – these are supernatural beings of Arabian mythology who can be conjured up for aid. However, they are malicious tricksters and shape shifters. There are a few different classes of djinn, including the afrit (also spelled ifrit), who are large beings made out of smoke.
dracae – singular “drac.” These weirdo water spirits in England take the form of floating wooden dishes. If women passing by think, “Yay! Free dishes!” and try to grab one, the dracae drag her under the water and make her their nanny forever.
dragons – they appear in the mythologies of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
dryads – tree nymphs in Greek mythology.
dwarves – most of them come from Norse mythology, but there are also Teutonic dwarves, Slavic dwarves, Welsh dwarves (see the Coraniaid, above), and other kinds. Dwarves are almost always miners and/or smiths who live underground.
duende – the Spanish word “duende” has an abstract meaning that I find hard to grasp, even though I’ve read plenty of Federico Garcia Lorca. However, the duende are also pixie-like creatures who may either get you lost in the forest, or help you find your way home, depending on the story. In some other tales, they hide in the walls or under your bed, accidentally cut off kids’ toes in attempts to clip their toenails, or just give people nightmares.
emandwa – these protective household spirits in Uganda are loyal to families and help women to be fertile.
fairies – dozens and maybe hundreds of cultures across the world have myths about magical, tricksy little people, a few of which are called out separately on this list. Here are links to read about English fairies, Irish fairies, and fairies on the Isle of Man. There’s some discussion of Italian fairies, or “fatas,” in this article about Italian witchcraft.
firebird – in Russian mythology, this bird has feathers that glow in the night.
flagae – (singular, flaga) – this spirits have their roots in medieval Europe. If you are a witch, you can make them show up in your mirror and tell you about the future.
gahe – also known as the Mountain People, because they live inside mountains. According to Apache beliefs, these spirits have healing powers.
gandharvas – Gandharvas are male nature spirits who are, among many other things, wonderful singers and musicians. They figure in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
gnomes – they are somewhat similar to dwarves, but they don’t live underground, and they wear cute peaked red hats.
goblins – these European creatures can be very short or human-sized, and they are as ugly as they are mean.
gremlins – the British Royal Air Force blamed equipment failures and such on magical troublemakers called “gremlins,” but they were just as likely boggarts or goblins.
gryphons – also spelled griffins. They have the head, talons, and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.
hag – in some European tales, a hag is a supernatural being that takes the form of a crone. Some hags sit on people when they’re sleeping and give them nightmares.
harpies – in Greek and Roman mythology, these are vengeful wind spirits. They have the heads and torsos of ugly women, long talons, and bird bodies.
Hesperides – these Greek nymphs are associated with the light of sunset, and they guard a sacred tree of golden apples.
hobgoblin – like a brownie, but more into playing practical jokes.
hongaek – this Korean word means “Red Disaster,” and describes a cloud of fear and confusion that shows up at the scene of a suicide, murder, fatal traffic accident, or other catastrophes. The cloud infects people and brings them bad luck.
hu hsien – in Chinese mythology, these are shapeshifting foxes who turn into gorgeous women.
hydra – the terrorist organization in Marvel Comics is named after an ancient sea monster in Greek and Roman mythology. It has many heads, and if you cut one off, it grows two more in its place.
hyter sprites – awwww… these green-eyed fairies in East Anglia, England can shapeshift into sand martins, and they help lost children get home.
igigi – in the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, these spirits hovered above the earth’s horizon and, like angels, helped the deities.
incubi – (singular, incubus) – these are male evil spirits that have sex with women while they are sleeping and impregnate them. In medieval England, an incubus can shapeshift to look just like a woman’s husband or lover. However, in his natural state, he has cloven hooves. In a few variations, the incubus can take a male or a female form. Many cultures have their own version of the incubus.
javerzaharses – these Armenian nymphs sometimes have wings. Their name means “The Perpetual Brides,” and they are involved with planning wedding ceremonies.
kaches – in Armenian tales, these mean spirits hide in rocks and trap and torture humans.
kakamora – in the Solomon Islands, these little people have long hair, long teeth, and long nails. They hide in caves and banyan trees, and either eat people or play tricks on them, depending on who you talk to.
kanaima – in Guinia, these avenging spirits can possess people.
kitsune – “kitsune” is Japanese for “fox.” In some Japanese tales, foxes have magical powers and can shapeshift into women. The more tails a kitsune has, the older and more powerful she is.
kupua – these are supernatural tricksters in Hawaiian mythology. They are versatile shapeshifters.
keshalyi – Transylvanian fairies. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. They appear in Romani folklore.
kobolds – these little German guys might live in mines or in your house. They have similarities to brownies and to dwarves.
Korrigan – in northwestern France, these elf-like female beings have long hair, flowing white garments, and sometimes delicate wings. Their songs and firelit dances can lead travelers astray.
knockers – also called “Tommyknockers,” these mine spirits live in Cornwall and sometimes in the U.S. (I believe some emigrated). They are similar to kobolds and to dwarves.
leprechauns – these famous little bearded shoemakers in Irish tales sometimes hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows.
limoneads – I know, it looks like “lemonheads.” These ancient Greek nymphs protected meadows and fields of flowers.
ma-mo – female disease demons in Tibet who dress entirely in black.
matabiri – nasty swamp spirits in Papua New Guinea.
matagaigai – malevolent tree spirits, also in Papua New Guinea. The females have one big breast and one small one.
mermaids and mermen – dozens of cultures have myths about these half-human, half-fish creatures.
minotaur – in Greek mythology, this monster with the head of a bull lived in a maze and required regular sacrifices of young people to feed his hunger.
moksin tongbop – in Korea, these wood imps can hide in an armload of firewood and come into your house, where they will cause disease and misfortune.
muses – in Greek mythology, these nine nymphs or goddesses are patronesses of the arts.
nats – these tree spirits, sometimes worshipped in parts of Myanmar, may guard the environment.
nixies – water spirits in Germany, Scandinavia, and Switzerland.
norns – also called the nornir, these are the three Fates in Norse mythology.
phoenix – this long-lived bird stars in the mythologies of several ancient cultures. After hundreds of years, he spontaneously combusts, and a new baby phoenix is born in the ashes.
pixies – red-haired fairies from Cornwall, England, with turned-up noses like pigs.
poltergeists – spirits of the dead or malignant forces that live in some houses and throw things around. The name means “noise spirit” in German.
saba-leippya – this is actually a sub-category of nats (see above), but they are so lovely I had to call them out specifically. They are guardian spirits of rice paddies. One is assigned to each field, and they take the form of butterflies.
salamanders – these are real lizards, but they also have legends associated with them. European medieval philosophers said that salamanders could create and put out fires.
selkies – most cultures have shapeshifter stories. In Orkney, the selkies are seals who can turn into humans.
skinwalkers – in Navajo mythology, a skinwalker can take on the appearance of any person or creature, and they can be terrifying. This link is scary and NSFW.
Sphinx – in Greek and Egyptian stories, the Sphinx is a creature with a human head and a lion’s body who likes to ask people riddles, and then eat them if they don’t know the answer.
succubi – (singular, succubus) – in European tales, these female demons have sex with sleeping men.
sylphs – these elemental, delicate spirits of the air may be the souls of women who died as virgins. From medieval European mythology.
trolls – unlike Internet trolls, mythological trolls of Scandinavia and England are useful once in a great while. Mostly they’re malicious, and most people agree that they’re hideous.
undines – beautiful but soulless female water spirits, according to medieval European tradition.
unicorns – I don’t really need to explain. Click the link to find out about the nine times they are referenced in the Bible, among other things.
Valkyries – finally we get to my favorites! Their name means “Choosers of the Slain,” and they show up at battles to decide who will die. Then they escort the souls of the chosen back to Valhalla, where everyone has a good time.
vampires – forget about sparkling — in all the old stories, vampires are beyond disgusting. This site has a pretty good breakdown of vampires and vampire-like creatures from different cultures. Most of our modern vampire lore comes from early 18th century Eastern Europe, when everyone lost their minds, claimed to see vampires, and tried to stake and kill them. (You can read about one case here.) The vampires in Romanian mythology are called the strigoi.
veela – Also spelled vila. These ladies are beautiful mountain nymphs of Serbia who like to dance in the forest under the light of the moon.
wendigos – in Native American mythology, these giant creatures was once human, but turned into lanky, hairy monsters after they resorted to cannibalism. They roam the woods looking for more people to eat.
winged horses – there are many of them, from a few different cultures, besides the famous Pegasus.
I hope this serves as good reference and inspiration, and if you happen to be an expert on one of these magical beings, please share more information in the comments! Happy writing!