Magnetic instruments for laparoscopic surgery have the potential to enhance triangulation and reduce invasiveness, as they can be rearranged inside the abdominal cavity and do not need a dedicated port during the procedure. Onboard actuators can be used to achieve a controlled and repeatable motion at the interface with the tissue. However, actuators that can fit through a single laparoscopic incision are very limited in power and do not allow performance of surgical tasks such as lifting an organ. In this study, we present a tissue retractor based on local magnetic actuation (LMA). This approach combines two pairs of magnets, one providing anchoring and the other transferring motion to an internal mechanism connected to a retracting lever. Design requirements were derived from clinical considerations, while finite element simulations and static modeling were used to select the permanent magnets, set the mechanism parameters, and predict the lifting and supporting capabilities of the tissue retractor. A three-tier validation was performed to assess the functionality of the device. First, the retracting performance was investigated via a benchtop experiment, by connecting an increasing load to the lever until failure occurred, and repeating this test for different intermagnetic distances. Then, the feasibility of liver resection was studied with an ex vivo experiment, using porcine hepatic tissue. Finally, the usability and the safety of the device were tested in vivo on an anesthetized porcine model. The developed retractor is 154 mm long, 12.5 mm in diameter, and weights 39.16 g. When abdominal wall thickness is 2 cm, the retractor is able to lift more than ten times its own weight. The model is able to predict the performance with a relative error of 9.06 ± 0.52%. Liver retraction trials demonstrate that the device can be inserted via laparoscopic access, does not require a dedicated port, and can perform organ retraction. The main limitation is the reduced mobility due to the length of the device. In designing robotic instrument for laparoscopic surgery, LMA can enable the transfer of a larger amount of mechanical power than what is possible to achieve by embedding actuators on board. This study shows the feasibility of implementing a tissue retractor based on this approach and provides an illustration of the main steps that should be followed in designing a LMA laparoscopic instrument.