New TV shows are trending online and gaining notoriety for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are ecstatic reviews. Sometimes it’s eager spectators who are already crying out for renewal. Sometimes it’s groups of trolls that cause troll problems on purpose. But one metric I find fascinating is how many stories are currently being fueled about this property in the realms of fan fiction. Fanart – and these days TikToks and Fanvids – tend to have more traction due to their visual nature and ease of sharing on social media, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of fic writers to attract new fans and cement a property’s place in the fandom. Pantheon.
The rise in fan fiction production is often a barometer of what’s grabbing people’s attention and which shows are really resonating with engaged communities. A great example of how fiction reflects the excitement and engagement of fans in real time is Our flag means death, which ran a few dozen stories until its last two episodes blew up the internet and killed queerbaiting; Six months later, it contains over 12,000 stories in the fanfiction mothership Archive of Our Own. The non-stop fandom frenzy is over Our flag means death helped secure a second season for HBO Max’s pirate dramedy.
Let’s take a look at some of the shows that have come along since then OFMD, and how many related works of fiction are created. (We use AO3 for our numbers and don’t think of Wattpad or fanfiction.net because nobody has time for that.) Judging by the sheer production of fanfiction alone, Netflix The Sandman has led other current TV series by leaps and bounds since bowing in August. The Sandman (2022) currently has 1846 stories on AO3; yesterday when I checked that number it was 1792 – which means more than 50 additional stories came up overnight. That The Sandman attracting Fannish audiences seems like a given, but it’s still exciting to see his influence grow. Netflix’s production is lush and fantastic, both staying true to Neil Gaiman’s legendary comics while offering some excellent modern updates.
The Sandman features a beautiful and delightfully diverse cast, more queer characters than we can count, and deftly defies genre categories. It’s a hit with audiences and critics alike, and it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be a second season. Not only is it the ideal type of TV ownership for fandom, but it is The Sandman Altogether – the comics, anthologies, audio productions and more – has had a fandom of its own for a good thirty years. Similar to Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Good omens when it became a popular series, the fandom for The Sandman is less of a sudden phenomenon than explosive growth in a universe that has been around for a long, long time.
Although it came out in May 2022 and therefore had to be leaked longer, it is Disney+ Obi Wan Kenobi also has a strong AO3 presentation with 907 stories. Given the breadth of Star Wars fandom and the number of longtime Obi-Wan fans waiting to jump back in, that’s not surprising. (Obi-Wan Kenobi, the character alone, appears in over 33,000 stories.) But if we were to compare Obi Wan Kenobis fic numbers to, say, HBOs house of the dragonpremiered three months later and already has 690 stories, you’ll see that the enduring power of Game of Thrones fandom challenges even the impact of Star Wars on pop and fandom culture.
Great, Amazon’s A league of its own (2022), which came out in mid-August, is currently underway house of the dragon‘s tail with 483 stories. This is wonderful to watch as fantasy and sci-fi oriented traits tend to have an advantage in fandom, and also because most stories for A league of its own show F/F pairings or relationships between females. The queer historical softball comedy has garnered an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. In contrast, Amazon’s sizzling, well-watched superhero dramedy The young has been running since 2019 and has 1993 stories. Not to pit the shows (which couldn’t be more different) against each other, but to demonstrate how impressive they are A league of its own newfound fandom football is real.
Far less fanfiction engagement is seen for two other recent big-name productions. The Marvel/Disney+ series She Hulk: Lawyer has only 52 stories since its debut in August (although there are at least some rallies for Jennifer Walters/Nikki Ramos). And Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powerone of the most expensive TV shows in history, to me has a shockingly low number of stories, with only 68 on AO3 since the first episode aired on September 1, 2022. During The Rings of Power appears on a weekly schedule and is halfway through its lifespan, the same can be said house of the dragon, another high fantasy drama. What surprises me about the relatively low level of Fannism here The Rings of Power is that Tolkien-related fandoms have been such juggernauts in the past. The original Lord of the rings The film trilogy took online fandom by storm in the early 2000s The Hobbit Movies have been hugely popular in fan circles with over 20,000 AO3 stories. Where have the fiction writing Tolkien fans gone?
While many factors lead to a trait’s popularity in fandom, one element that often spikes the brains of fiction writers worldwide is a meaty central relationship (whether friends, foes, lovers, or ideally, a mix of all of the above). So if I were to guess The Rings of Power is currently lagging behind here because the show juggles so many characters and storylines that it doesn’t focus on a primary relationship, and not much romance is shown other than Arondir and Bronwyn, who are currently separated in the narrative. RoP is also fairly adult free without house of the dragon cheeky bustle on the screen. A dastardly dashing villain can do a lot to excite fandom, and currently, Rings of Power Bad guys are hidden on purpose. I think this theory supports She Hulk also; The Falcon and the Winter Soldierwhich featured more familiar Marvel characters, a strong dynamic between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, and an exciting villain in Baron Zemo, has 12,855 stories on AO3 – so it’s not as if there isn’t a ready crop of MCU fiction authors the wings.
The amount of fanfiction produced for a trait is certainly not a measure of that trait’s overall popularity or even its quality. There’s a peculiar alchemy in what sparks a huge fandom or ship, and fervent fan devotion doesn’t always promise big ratings or renewals. But as a yardstick by which to measure what people spend their creative energy on and where they spend much of their free time, it’s compelling stuff.
(Featured image: Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney+)
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