If you’re reading this, you probably know all about “shipping” in the fandom sense. That is, rooting for two (or more!) characters to be involved with one another in a romantic way, whether or not canon (the original work) says it’s legit.
Everybody has their favorite ships. OTPs, NOTPs, BroTPs. But what are the biggest ships? Which lovebirds do the fandoms most support? We at SparkLife set out to answer this pertinent question.
Archive of Our Own (or AO3) is the fanworks site we chose to conduct this totally scientific study. As of this writing, it’s got 1,200,000+ works, 335,000 registered users, and countless readers. It also has one of the best tagging systems of any site for fanworks, which is why we chose it for this, uh, research.
To compile this list, we focused on the five biggest fandoms on AO3 set in fictional universes (apologies to our One Direction fans). In each fandom, we checked the sidebar option for relationship pairings and marked the hugest one. We then ranked the ships 1-5 by number of works total about them.
And believe it or not, we found a bunch of similarities in all five fandoms. Check it:
- The top ships were all non-canon pairings. The text, film, or show had no basis in the original work for these relationships, and yet the vibe between the two characters was apparently so great that the majority of the fandom picked up on it.
- The top ships were each male/male relationships. Does this speak to the dire need for prominent LGBTQ representation in media? Or more to the fetishization of gay male/male relationships by (predominantly) teenaged/young adult women? Or is there so much implied chemistry that these guys not hooking up is too absurd to consider? Probably a little bit of all three.
- Canon pairings—relationships the original works promoted or showed—were often far down the list of top pairings. Perhaps this is indicative of the idea that, while canon relationships are fine, it’s simply more exciting to focus on what could be rather than what is?
- Every single relationship has a foundation of sassy, snarky dialogue in the midst of these characters in danger. We’ll let you work out what that could mean.
At any rate, the number of writers, readers, and fan sites is a testament to the increasingly involved nature of fans who consume media. It’s not enough to just watch. We want to feel connected to these stories. We want to roll around in these characters’ worlds. So we write 120,000 word novels, compose scholarly essays, draw incredible fan art, devour theories—all based on a few lines of dialogue and some raised eyebrows. It’s an incredible amount of work and dedication, so the fact that many adults dismiss it as kid stuff is simply preposterous.
So let’s get to the ships.