Devoto formed Magazine in Manchester, shortly after he left Buzzcocks in early 1977. In April 1977, he met guitarist McGeoch, then an art student, and they began writing songs, some of which would appear on the first Magazine album. They then recruited Barry Adamson on bass, Bob Dickinson on keyboards and Martin Jackson (previously of the Freshies) on drums, forming the first lineup of the band. After signing to Virgin Records, Magazine played their debut live gig at the Rafters in Manchester on 28 October 1977.
"Motorcade" co-writer Dickinson, whose background was in classical and avant-garde music, left shortly after several gigs in late 1977. In early 1978, the band released their first single, "Shot by Both Sides", a song Magazine recorded as a quartet. It featured a guitar-bass-drums sound similar to punk rock. Shortly after the single's release, Dave Formula, who had played with a briefly successful 1960s rock band from Manchester called St. Louis Union, joined as keyboardist. "Shot by Both Sides" used a chord progression suggested by Pete Shelley, which was also used in the Buzzcocks track "Lipstick". The Magazine single just missed the UK Top 40. The band, with Formula on keyboards, made its first major TV appearance on Top of the Pops in February 1978, performing the single.
Following a British tour to promote their debut album Real Life (which made the UK Top 30), Jackson left Magazine in late July. He was replaced briefly by Paul Spencer, who performed with the band for gigs across Europe and some television appearances, including The Old Grey Whistle Test, where they played "Definitive Gaze". Spencer quit partway through the tour, joining the Speedometors shortly afterwards. He was replaced in October by John Doyle, who completed the Real Life promotional tour and remained in the band.
Magazine's second album, Secondhand Daylight, was released in 1979, reaching the UK Top 40. The album featured a greater use of synthesisers. That same year, McGeoch, Adamson and Formula joined electronic project Visage, recording and releasing the single "Tar".
After the release of Secondhand Daylight, Devoto decided to change producers. He chose Martin Hannett, who produced their next album, The Correct Use of Soap, released the following year and again making the Top 30. Following its release, McGeoch decided to leave the band, tired of Magazine's low sales and their less guitar-oriented songs. He soon joined Siouxsie and the Banshees. To replace him, the band hired Robin Simon, who had been in Ultravox and Neo. That lineup toured across Europe and Australia, recording their next release, the live album Play. Simon made some initial recordings and rehearsals for what would be the next Magazine album, including co-writing the song "So Lucky", but he left the band before the album was released so that he could record the John Foxx solo album The Garden.
Again without a guitarist, Devoto called in his former college friend at Bolton, Ben Mandelson (a former Amazorblades member). This lineup completed the 1981 recording of the band's fourth studio album, Magic, Murder and the Weather, but Devoto quit in May of the same year, months before its release, and the remaining members decided to disband. A year later, After the Fact, the first Magazine compilation, was released.
Adamson continued collaborating with Visage, and also began to work with Shelley, the Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Jackson later played with the Chameleons, Swing Out Sister and the Durutti Column); Formula continued as a member of Visage and joined Ludus; and Mandelson joined the Mekons. Doyle joined the Armoury Show in Scotland in 1983, which also featured McGeoch; the latter later played guitar for Public Image Ltd. After a brief solo outing and two albums with Luxuria, Devoto quit music to become a photo archivist, until a new collaboration with Shelley produced the Buzzkunst album in 2002.
In July 2008, Devoto and Magazine confirmed that they would reform for five dates in February 2009. The lineup included Devoto, Formula, Adamson and Doyle. In November 2008, the band announced that Noko, Devoto's bandmate in Luxuria (who had also played with the Cure and Apollo 440), would be the guitarist in the reformed lineup, taking the place of McGeoch, who died in 2004.
The sold-out shows received widespread critical acclaim. The group then went on to play at festivals in the UK and abroad over that summer, before performing "The Soap Show" in Manchester, Edinburgh and London. At these concerts, the band played two sets: a performance of The Correct Use of Soap in full, followed by a set composed of other songs from their catalogue.
In January 2010, Noko officially joined the band, becoming a full member of Magazine. The band started work on new material. In November 2010, Barry Adamson left to concentrate on his film work and solo recordings. Jon "Stan" White joined as bass player on the new recordings and debuted live on 30 June 2011 at Wolverhampton Slade Rooms where Magazine were playing a warm-up show for their Hop Farm Festival appearance two days later.
A new studio album, No Thyself, was released worldwide by Wire Sound on 24 October 2011, and the band embarked on a UK tour in November.
On 16 April 2016, as part of Record Store Day, the band released Once @ the Academy, a live 5-track 12" EP recorded at their reunion shows at Manchester Academy in February 2009.