Humans weave a vast tapestry of fantasy. Throughout cultures and histories, humanity developed stories filled with fantastical beasts, legendary heroes, and critical lessons about the human condition.
Mankind’s imagination knows no bounds. Here are some of the most iconic mythical creatures humans created around the globe and throughout history.
What Are Mythical Creatures?
Mythical creatures are fictional animals humans create to enhance stories. Some are akin to biological portmanteaus, combining features from two existing animals into one horrendous mash-up. Others may be exaggerations of real animals, massive counterparts lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on primitive man.
Finally, there are mythical creatures pulled entirely from fantasy. Storytellers created these beasts from the depths of their imaginations, and they’re now available for everyone to enjoy.
Fascinating Mythical Creatures from Around the World
The mythical creatures on our list transcend time and geography. They appear in stories, legends, and films from the earliest writings of man to modern times. Some are allies, joining man in his ultimate battle against evil, while others seek to destroy everything good in the world.
Regardless of where their loyalties lie, these are our favorite mythical creatures.
A gorgeous golden bird native to the Southernmost regions of the Americas, the Alicanto is said to feed on gold, giving it majestic glimmering feathers. Alicantos come from Chilean myth.
The lion-headed eagle is one of humanity’s earliest mythological creatures. Legends of the ferocious beast date to ancient Mesopotamian.
Many likely know the scorpion man from the Mummy movies and subsequent prequel starring Dwayne Johnson, The Scorpion King, but the creature has even earlier origins, appearing in the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.
The Abenaki people, indigenous to the Northwestern forests of North America, tell of a tricky raccoon-like creature who’s always getting into trouble. The Azeban isn’t malevolent. Like many of us, he’s primarily motivated by food.
The hodgepodge combination of various real animals devours nightmares, helping children sleep peacefully. It’s not always good, though. This mash-up of an elephant, cow, bear, tiger, and rhino can also eat good dreams if you call it too often.
The Irish rock band, The Fenians, sing of a boy with a Banshee under his bed who worries it will eat him up in the dead of night. His fears aren’t unfounded. In Irish folklore, a Banshee is a wailing female figure who often foretells an impending death.
Harry Potter made the basilisk famous, but many are surprised to find its earlier origins. The first recorded mention of the ferocious beast comes from ancient Rome, but it also appeared in Legends and stories from Medieval England.
A bugbear is akin to a boogeyman. It’s a goblin-like creature made up to scare children into behaving. Bugbears appeared in popular mythology in 16th-century England.
The majestic half-man, half-horse originated in ancient Greece. The creature highlights man’s dichotomy, portrayed as both barbaric and wise, representing man’s struggle to overcome his animalistic nature.
In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monstrous beast with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail. However, the term “chimera” now represents any imaginary being that’s a mash-up of different animal parts.
Latin America’s most famous mythological creature stalks livestock and feasts on their blood. The Chupacabra is a recent addition to the annuls of legend, first appearing in Puerto Rico in 1995.
The giant with one eye rose to fame in ancient Greece when Odysseus and his crew battled the man-eater in their epic quest to return to Ithaca.
Dragons appeared in several cultures and mythologies throughout the ages. From the lucky Chinese dragons to the ferocious European ones, these mythical creatures enchanted humanity for eons.
The iconic miners originated in Norse mythology as a byproduct of creation. Originally maggot-like creatures, the god Odin and his brothers gifted them with intelligence and a human-like visage.
Though elves are common in modern fiction and contemporary culture, the mythological being originated in Scandinavia. In Norse mythology, elves were beautiful yet mischievous creatures known for their skills with magic.
Fairy folklore dates to the Middle Ages, though similar beings appear in earlier legends. The fae folk are often beautiful and well-practiced with magics. They have their own motives. While some help humans, others find joy in mischief.
Inspired by French Gothic architecture meant to siphon water from buildings, gargoyles come to life to either protect the buildings they inhabit or menace humanity.
Though popular culture transformed the mystical jinn into a wish-granting powerhouse, the original creature wasn’t always as benevolent. The earliest Jinn appeared in Arabic myth. They could inspire poets but also had a destructive sense of justice and were known to punish humans severely for the slightest grievance.
Celtic mythology tells of an aquatic horse creature that stalks unsuspecting women, hoping to carry them away.
First introduced in 16th century Germany, gnomes have adapted over the years. They’ve been grotesque counterparts to fairies, underground protectors of the Earth, and even celestial protectors of women. Modern culture sees gnomes as benevolent protectors of plants and gardens, a viewpoint that took off with the prominence of commercial garden gnomes.
Jewish tradition allows humans to create a helper out of dust. The Golem can help or hinder. Though it can act as a warrior for the community or a trusted servant, and can also turn on its creator, wreaking havoc until it’s destroyed.
The Griffin combines the king of the forest with the king of the skies. The majestic beast features an eagle’s head and wings affixed to a lion’s body. Griffins are often guarding precious treasures and vast riches.
Griffins combine with ponies to make the legendary creature popularized in the Harry Potter franchise. The stunning creature has the head and wings of an eagle, but a horse’s back, making it perfect for riding.
The nine-headed snake of legend is difficult to best in battle, as two heads respawn as soon as you cut one off. The hero Hercules defeated the terrifying monster by cauterizing the neck wounds with fire, preventing new heads from growing.
The American West created a fabled creature similar to a rabbit but adorned with gorgeous antlers. Visitors to states from North Dakota to Texas will find taxidermized jackalopes decorating saloons and lodges, a testament to how much goes into maintaining these fantastical legends.
Angolans tell of a smooth-talking demon seeking to charm young women to their doom. The Kishi draws them in with the attractive face of a man, then devours them with the hidden hyena face.
Hailing from Japan, the kitsune is a magical fox imbued with supernatural abilities. Some kitsune are human shapeshifters, while others are spirit guardians.
The most loveable figure in Irish folklore stores his gold at the end of the rainbow. Though similar to fairies, leprechauns are typically solitary creatures, and their mischief is usually limited to minor pranks. They don’t typically mean to cause actual harm.
The famous sea creature is found in folklore from all over Europe. Some think they may have origins in the Greek siren stories. Merfolk are associated with shipwrecks, sailing, and the sea, and despite the lack of tangible evidence regarding their existence, people still report seeing them today.
The night spirit of Bengal lures unsuspecting women to their doom with their irresistible voices. Nishi can be easily detected, as they can’t call more than twice. If someone truly needs you at night, make sure they call three times!
Oni are Japanese ogres who make their homes in caves. Although typically evil man-eaters, Oni can bring good fortune.
The winged horse that assisted Perseus with his quest is one of the most well-known legendary creatures. Pegasus differs from the rest of the list, as it’s the horse’s name, and as far as the myth goes, he’s the only one of his kind.
A peryton is a recent addition to the encyclopedia of mythological creatures. The stag with a gorgeous set of wings was first described in 1957.
A phoenix burns itself and then rises from the ashes once every 100 years. The modern view of the phoenix comes from Greek myth, but similar creatures appear in Egyptian and Persian cultures.
Pixies originate in Britannia. These tiny, humanlike creatures are similar to fairies but tend to be helpful more often than not. They’re playful little beings and may cause mischief in the pursuit of fun.
South Asia brings us a creature in the nightmares of all women: a pregnant being who cannot birth the child growing inside. The Pontianak is a vengeful spirit, often found luring unsuspecting men to their doom.
Irish shapeshifters deliver fortune, but not all is as it seems. These fairy-like creatures sway from good to evil. Pooka prove that getting your fortune isn’t always good, as they can bring both good and bad luck.
The thunder beast from Japanese mythology looks like a dog wrapped in lightning. It’s unclear whether there’s just one, the companion to the Shinto God of Lightening, or if it’s an entire species. Raiji likes to nap in human navels, prompting some folks to sleep on their bellies during thunderstorms for protection.
Satyrs hail from ancient Greece. These amorous creatures are known for their hedonism, drinking, eating, and engaging in a wide range of scandalous activities. Some are known for carrying off unsuspecting maidens.
Satori are monkey-like creatures that can read minds. Some Japanese legends say they’re mountain gods who fell from glory, while others say they eat people if given a chance. Thankfully, they’re easily frightened if they get hit unexpectedly. Stories about the Satori vary wildly, so it’s unknown whether they would really eat you or if they want to live in peace with humans.
Trolls originated in Scandinavia, where Norse myths describe a species dwelling in rocks and dark caves. Throughout the years, stories about trolls changed wildly. They’ve been good and evil, ugly and kind of cute, helpful and hindrances. There’s no telling how a troll will behave.
The fabled horse with a single horn holds strong as a favorite mythical creature. Unicorns symbolize purity and grace, and rarity. Some have healing powers.
The seductive undead entice unsuspecting victims with their infinite youth, but the quest for immortality often bleeds folks dry. Vampires originated in Europe, sustaining themselves with the life force of others.
The traditional idea of a witch showcases evil women practicing black magic and worshiping demons. However, much of the folklore regarding witches has roots in misogyny. Real witches are helpers, healers, and regular women who embrace the inherent power in mother earth.
These hodgepodge rodent-like creatures are said to live in the Alpine forests of Bavaria in Germany. They’re a random mashup of a rabbit, squirrel, deer, and pheasant. They’re typically depicted as a rabbit with antlers and wings, not too far from their North American cousin, the jackalope.
Yokai is a general term for certain Japanese entities. They are typically spiritual beings that can be either good or bad, and although they usually look human in form, they can often have some animalistic features.
Humans Created an Abundance of Creatures
This short list is just the tip of the iceberg. Humans have created (and continue to create) a wide range of fantastical creatures throughout the ages. Some serve as warnings, others explain how the world works, and some are just for fun.
Human ingenuity knows no bounds, and we hope our imaginations continue to soar and spawn even more delightful creatures.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.