I’ve been reading through Will Wight’s Cradle series, which is my first exposure to “Progression Fantasy”
Progression Fantasy is something like a book-length training montage. The main appeal is to watch the hero increasing in power or competence over the course of a book or a series.
In Cradle this power comes through training in the ‘sacred arts’, a combat-oriented idea of magic. Everybody wants to level up through a series of named ranks, from Copper to Iron to Jade, and beyond. Your rank determines, among other things, your chances of winning in hand-to-hand magical combat.
It all feels like Dungeons and Dragons, or a computer game. This isn’t just in the named levels, but in the shape the world takes on in order to accommodate them. So the hero starts in a low-powered village before venturing out to encounter increasingly more advanced enemies. It is considered dishonourable to fight somebody of a lower level, because otherwise every hero would be splatted immediately. A sister genre, LitRPG, leans even harder on these game-related aspects.
The end result is something which satisfies one very particular itch, but does that extraordinarily well. If you don’t want to play games yourself, but still want to vicariously experience the joy of leveling up, go for Cradle.