Actors from the Sandman, A League of Their Own, House of the Dragon, The Rings of Power, Obi-Wan Kenobi, She-Hulk

Which New TV Shows Have the Most Fanfiction Being Written About Them—and Which Have the Least?

New TV shows trend online and rise in awareness for a host of reasons. Sometimes it’s ecstatic reviews. Sometimes it’s eager viewers already clamoring for renewal. Sometimes it’s groups of trolls causing troll problems on purpose. But one metric I find fascinating to explore is how many stories are currently being whipped up about said property in the realms of fanfiction. Fanart—and, these days, TikToks and fanvids—tend to have more traction on social media due to their visual nature and ease of sharing, yet we shouldn’t underestimate the power of fic writers to pull in new fans and cement a property’s place in the fandom pantheon.

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The rise in production of fanfiction is often a barometer of what’s catching people’s attention and which shows are really clicking with dedicated communities. A great example of how fic reflects fan excitement and engagement in real time is Our Flag Means Death, which had a few dozen stories present until its final two episodes blew the lid off the Internet and killed queerbaiting; six months later, it boasts over 12,000 stories on the fanfiction mothership Archive of Our Own. The nonstop fandom frenzy over Our Flag Means Death helped secure a second season for the HBO Max pirate dramedy.

Let’s take a look at some of the shows that have emerged since OFMD, and how many related works of fiction are being created. (We’re using AO3 for our numbers and not thinking about Wattpad or fanfiction.net, because no one has time for that.) Judging by the sheer production of fanfiction alone, Netflix’s The Sandman is leading other recent TV series by leaps and bounds since its August bow. The Sandman (2022) has 1846 stories on AO3 at the moment; yesterday, when I checked that number, it was 1792—which means 50+ additional stories have gone up overnight. That The Sandman would attract fannish audiences seems like a given, but it’s still exciting to watch its influence grow. Netflix’s production is lush and fantastical, both faithful to Neil Gaiman’s legendary comics while providing for some excellent modern-day updates.

The Sandman features a gorgeous and gorgeously diverse cast, more queer characters than we can count, and it deftly defies genre categories. It’s a hit with audiences and critics alike, and it’s hard to imagine it won’t receive a second season. Not only is it the ideal sort of TV property for fandom to glom onto, but The Sandman as a whole—the comics, anthologies, audio productions, and more—has had its own dedicated fandom for well on thirty years. Much like what occurred with Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens when it became a popular series, the fandom for The Sandman isn’t a sudden phenomenon so much as an explosive growth in a universe that’s been around for a long, long time.

The Sandman Dream captured

Though it came out in May 2022 and so has had longer to percolate, Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi also has a strong AO3 showing with 907 stories. Given how extensive the Star Wars fandom is and how many people have been longterm Obi-Wan fans waiting to leap back into the fray, this isn’t surprising. (Obi-Wan Kenobi, the character alone, is featured in an astounding 33,000+ stories.) But if we were to compare Obi-Wan Kenobi’s fic numbers to, say, HBO’s House of the Dragon, which premiered three months later and already has 690 stories, you’ll see that the enduring power of the Game of Thrones fandom challenges even Star Wars’ grip on pop and fandom culture.

Delightfully, Amazon’s A League of Their Own (2022), which came out in mid-August, is currently on House of the Dragon‘s tail with 483 stories. This is wonderful to witness, as fantasy and science fiction-driven properties tend to have the advantage in fandom, and also because most of the stories for A League of Their Own feature F/F pairings, or relationships between women. The queer historical baseball comedy has found an appreciative and exuberant audience. As a point of contrast, Amazon’s splashy, much-watched superhero dramedy The Boys has been on since 2019 and has 1993 stories. This isn’t to pitch the shows (which couldn’t be more different) against each other, but to demonstrate how impressive A League of Their Own’s newfound fandom foothold truly is.

A League of Their Own on Amazon Prime Video

Far less fanfiction engagement is seen for two other recent big-name productions. The Marvel/Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has just 52 stories since its August debut (though at least there’s some rallying for Jennifer Walters/Nikki Ramos). And Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, one of the most expensive TV shows in history, has what is to me a shockingly low number of stories, with only 68 on AO3 since its first episode dropped on September 1st, 2022. While The Rings of Power is releasing on a weekly schedule and is halfway through its run, the same can be said of House of the Dragon, another high fantasy drama. What surprises me about the relatively low fannish engagement here for The Rings of Power is that Tolkien-related fandoms have been such juggernauts in the past. The original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy took online fandom by storm in the early 2000s, and The Hobbit films were wildly popular in fan circles, with over 20,000 AO3 stories. Where have the fic-writing Tolkien fans gone?

While many factors lead to a property’s popularity in fandom, one element that often spurs the brains of fic writers worldwide is a meaty central relationship (whether friends, enemies, lovers, or, ideally, a mix of all of the above). So if I were to guess, The Rings of Power is lagging herein at current because the show is juggling so many characters and storylines that there isn’t a primary relationship in focus, and there is not much romance shown save Arondir and Bronwyn, who are currently apart in the narrative. RoP is also pretty much G-rated, without House of the Dragon’s onscreen saucy goings-on. A dastardly, dashing villain can go a long way toward hooking fandom, and at current, Rings of Power’s villains are hidden on purpose. I think this theory bears out for She-Hulk as well; The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which featured better-known Marvel characters, a strong dynamic between Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, and an exciting baddish guy in Baron Zemo, has 12,855 stories on AO3—so it’s not as though there’s not a ready crop of MCU fic writers waiting in the wings.

The amount of fanfiction produced for a property is certainly not a metric by which to judge said property’s overall popularity or even its quality. There’s a special alchemy in what sets off a massive fandom or ship, and ardent fan devotion doesn’t always augur high ratings or renewals. But as a yardstick by which to measure what people are devoting their creative energies towards and where they’re spending much of their free time, it’s compelling stuff.

(featured image: Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney+)


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Author
Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.