Alpha/Beta/Omega

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Alpha/Omega, Alpha/Beta, A/B/O, A/O, ABO, AO, omegaverse
Related: Knotting, Mpreg, BDSM AU, Dominance Hierarchy, Bonding, Heat, Mating, Werewolf
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Alpha/Beta/Omega or Alpha/Omega (occasionally Alpha/Beta) is a kink trope wherein some or all people have defined biological roles based on a hierarchical system, with the terms originating from animal behaviour research. There may be werewolf, knotting, or other animalistic elements involved, or the characters may be otherwise purely human.

Basic Elements

Alphas are generally dominant and able to impregnate Omegas. Male Alphas usually have a knot when aroused. In some works, female Alphas are also able to impregnate others.

Betas are subordinate to Alphas and may or may not be able to impregnate Omegas; in some fanworks Betas aren't present and the trope is known as Alpha/Omega, in others they take the role and functions of Omegas and Omegas aren't present. Betas are often presented as having "normal" human anatomy with none of the special attributes of Alphas or Omegas.

Omegas are generally lowest on the hierarchy (although in some fanworks Omegas are rare and prized). Male Omegas are self-lubricating and have the ability to become pregnant, sometimes referred to as being bred or mated. Lovers may form pair-bonds with a special connection with telepathic or empathetic qualities. Paired Alphas may be jealous and possessive of their mate, while the Omega may become submissive. Omegas and Alphas may go into heat and need to have sex; this may be the only time Omegas are fertile.

The ratio of alphas to betas to omegas within the population is sometimes mentioned in fanfic, but varies depending on the needs of the plot.

From these basic elements a wide variety of fanworks can be constructed. Some A/B/O works are straight-up porn, some explore social justice issues, some turn the trope on its head and makes alphas rather than omegas the disenfranchised group, etc. A/B/O is mainly known as a fic trope, but fanart is possible.[1]

History

The trope originated in Supernatural fandom with a few very specific AU kink meme prompts for the J2 RPF ship. The first one[2] was in May 2010 and has also been identified as the culprit responsible for the popularity of knotting in SPN fandom:

AU - Their world is just like ours...except...in their world there are two types of men. One is the alpha male, the other is the bitch male. Alpha males are like any ordinary guy with the exception of their cocks, they work just like dog cocks (the knot, tons of cum etc) The bitch male, is just an ordinary guy without the special cock.

I'd like to see Alpha male Jared, and Bitch male Jensen. Jensen is a snotty prude (think Lady from lady and the tramp) he may be a bitch male but he's not just going to let anybody take a go at his sweet little ass...until he meets Jared...then prudey little Jensen turns cock slut for Jared. Bonus points for J2 being OTP, Jensen was a virgin before Jared, and now that they met each other, it's for life.

Completely up to you if mating happens just anywhere like in the middle of the sidewalk, in a park etc or on a more private level.[3]

In response, tehdirtiestsock posted "I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp" aka Tramp!Verse in July and August 2010.[4]

A similar prompt was posted to two different Supernatural anon memes in November 2010 and January 2011 and included the now standard alpha/beta/omega terminology:

There are three types of men, alpha males, beta males, and omega males. Alpha males are like any ordinary guy with the exception of their cocks, they work just like canines (the knot, tons of cum, strong breeders, etc) The beta male, is an ordinary guy without the special cock. Omega males are capable of child bearing and often called bitch males.[5]

The prompt inspired several fills, including Heat (Between You and Me) by the_miss_lv (reposted in namespace 2010-11-28) and No Substitution by pianoforeplay (reposted 2011-01-27). See netweight's timeline outlining the evolution of similar prompts that led to the invention of the A/B/O genre. See also Knotting.

The trope was a natural extension of SPN's popular werewolf and knotting kinks.[6] The concept of going into heat may also have been influenced by Dark Angel, where heat was canon and explored in the fic; there was likely overlap in the fandom due to Jensen Ackles being a cast member on both shows. "Anyway, for a while there, these fics were called Knotting AUs, which is how we know that Dark Angel was an influence, because there actually is a Blindfold fill where the author acknowledges that the 'J2, animal traits, knotting' fic they've written is a Dark Angel fusion."[2] Another source of inspiration may have been the existence of bestiality fic featuring one actor's dogs; people wanted more knotting, but without the bestiality.

Trope Spread

The trope spread rapidly beyond SPN and J2, and by 2013 A/B/O was so saturated within fandom culture that Kristina Busse included the essay "Pon Farr, Mpreg, and the rise of the Omegaverse" in Anne Jamison's fanfiction academic anthology, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World.

A/B/O has also spread into some original fiction and other media, such as the Omegaverse Project series of doujin anthologies, which began in 2015 and is still ongoing, and BL game Omega Vampire. It became popular enough in romance fiction circles that in 2018 one author tried to claim that she had invented the het omegaverse subgenre, leading to the Omegaverse Litigation.[7][8]

Non-Western fandoms

A/B/O made its way into Japanese fandom around 2014 through both doujin and fanart featuring the trope on Pixiv.[9] As of 2019, A/B/O is such a popular trope in Japan that some stores have started creating displays solely populated with A/B/O content.[10] Sometime in late 2013, A/B/O was also introduced into Chinese BL circles and it's now a relatively common trope used in both Chinese-language fanworks and fanworks about Chinese media (such as Guardian). Much like in Japanese fandom, A/B/O also features in Chinese original works like webnovels.[11] Most often, in both the case of Chinese and Japanese fans, they're likely to call this trope "Omegaverse" rather than A/B/O.

This trope has also made its way into the general fanfic universe, and the Alpha/Beta/Omega AU tag is used in many non-western fandoms as well. In fact, the third most popular fandom to feature A/B/O in large amounts is the popular K-pop fandom BTS.[12] There are also other K-pop and J-pop bands represented. A/B/O is also popular in other types of non-western fandoms, such as Anime and Manga, and Omegaverse fic has become very popular in the Fire Emblem fandom in recent years, particularly in the Awakening and Fates subsections. It's also extremely popular in the Yuri!!! On Ice and Haikyuu!! fandoms, as well as Boku no Hero Academia fandom. Both Yuri!!! On Ice and Haikyuu!! are in the top 10 fandoms represented on AO3.

Similarities with Other Tropes

The A/B/O trope contains elements of tropes that appeared in many earlier fan stories. It is perhaps the combination of these elements that makes A/B/O unique.

Among those elements are MPREG, going into heat, a hierarchical biology-based class/caste system, and knotting. Other tropes dealing with "a basic biology they cannot deny" include pon farr, the Sime~Gen universe, and some elements of Sentinel AU.

According to one commentator on FFA, A/B/O fic can be distinguished from earlier tropes by its combination of biological changes with a culture structured around the differentiated biology:
I always say it's the class system based on biological characteristiques and knotting, though other nonnies have pointed out that knotting isn't omnipresent in fic being written nowadays. Mpreg isn't so much needed as the possibility of mpreg - and someone may write fic where alphas and omegas are biological dead ends and thus remove the possibility of mpreg and thus remove that possibility and I, personally, would still consider it a/b/o as long as they'd be a differentiated social group. The same rational goes for heats, as long as other biological markers are in place to account for the biological part of the genre. It's the the articulation between those differences and the social [side] of things that is really the indispensable part.[13]

A similar premise was used in Life from the Ashes in X-Files fandom in the 1990s. In that story, a virus biologically changes half of the male population into breeding partners who emit sex pheromones. Social differentiation between the biologically determined groups is not explicit, although by the end of the story, it is implied.

You also see many of the same elements in Indago[1], a Harry/Draco story from the skyehawke archive published in 2005. Draco, Harry, and Snape turn out to be magical creatures called Indago, who are genderless but fall into categories of Supero and subicio, who are extremely similar to alphas and omegas, except for knotting. There is still scenting, heat, self-lubrication, mpreg, use of Supero pheromones to control or placate subicios, and Superos establish a dominance hierarchy and use the terms alpha and beta.

In March 2011, the NCIS Gibbs/DiNozzo Centaur-fic Heat was posted by Kathana-grey, positing many of the same concepts used in early Omegaverse works but without the same terminology. Omegaverse elements included the submissive character going into heat, differentiated male biology, self-lubrication, fights for dominance, specific body postures to show submission, marathon sex, and a culture structured around differentiated biology.

There are also similarities with BDSM AUs, where the characters are Doms (sometimes called "Tops"), Subs, or (sometimes) Switches. Helenish's Stargate Atlantis BDSM AU Take Clothes Off As Directed offers a dissection of this trope[14]—as a Sub in the military, John is subjected to harassment and insubordination. Parallels can be drawn between the role of Subs in society and that of women, LGBT/queer people or minorities to examine prejudice and discrimination caused by "designationism."

The Ragnarok takes a similar approach of Alpha/Beta/Omega AUs in her Inception fic The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, in which Arthur is heir to the ruler and keeps his Omega status a secret, as Omegas are not believed to be capable of serving in the military or making political decisions. In this universe, both Omegas and Alphas go into heat, and Alphas are more capable of restraint than Betas when faced with an Omega in heat. Female and male Alphas can impregnate male Omegas, and male Omegas need medical treatment to conceive.

Statistics

Graph by destinationtoast showing the increasing popularity of omegaverse on AO3 over time

In August 2013, destinationtoast created an analysis of Alpha/Beta/Omega fics based on how these fics are tagged on AO3. The statistics look at how A/B/O fic fits into the general categories on AO3 including how much is slash, femslash, or het, how it is rated, and how much is marked with the archive warning. The stats also explore popularity over time, common co-occurring tags, the relationship with mpreg, which fandoms produce the most A/B/O, and popularity within fandoms.

Destinationtoast concluded that:[15]

Example Fanworks

Western Fandom Examples

Never is a Promise by manic_intentFandom: Marvel Cinematic UniverseDate: 2012Length: 9,976Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Steve/Tony fic which reverses the usual trope in that Alphas are an oppressed minority instead of Omegas.
A Matter Of Inertia archive by roseapprenticeFandom: Marvel Cinematic UniverseDate: 2012Length: 15,742Medium: FicStatus: Complete
In which Tony makes a lot of bad decisions, and regrets none of them. Loki/Tony Stark
Omegalomaniac by the_ragnarokFandom: BandomDate: 2011Length: 19,528Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Pete/Patrick. Exploration of people who don’t fit neatly into the A/B/O ternary.
The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized [2] by the_ragnarokFandom: InceptionDate: 2015Length: 53,565Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Arthur/Eames epic. "Arthur is the son of the ruler, and an Omega male. Eames is leading the revolution. Which kidnaps Arthur. This is only the start of their problems."
Lupercalia [3] by novemberliteFandom: MerlinDate: 2012Length: 8,268Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Merlin/Arthur Canon AU. On his way to Camelot, Merlin goes into heat for the first time. Things progress from there, as they are wont to do.
Tasty Little Treat by playniceliamFandom: One DirectionDate: 2016Length: 121,005Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
Louis Tomlinson/Liam Payne, Harry Styles/Zayn Malik, and Niall Horan/OFC fic that explores unique nesting dynamics and bonding and the affects one omega can have on all genders. It also features a character that transitions from a beta to an alpha.
Genesis by aimmyarrowshighFandom: One Direction/Union JDate: 2014Length: 139,431Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
Harry Styles/George Shelley fic exploring the effect of A/B/O dynamics on Western religion and subsequently on culture. A/B/O status is a heavy metaphor for misogyny and sexism.
The Secretary by [saltandbyrne]Fandom: SupernaturalDate: 2012Length: 7,194Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Written for a kink meme prompt. It's a Terrible Life 'verse. Dean Smith's new secretary has been driving him crazy for weeks, with his natural obedience, perpetual sex hair and that goddamn scent. So when Castiel forgets to take his suppressants and goes into heat in the office, Dean just can't freaking help himself anymore and bends Cas over his desk in a frenzied, possessive, semi-public claiming.
The Pumpkin Pie Started It by wiccanstielFandom: SupernaturalDate: 2013Length: 8,118Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Dean Winchester is your ordinary college student. He does his work, fixes cars, complains about being broke. Except when he visits the new campus bakery, he ends up getting more than the pie he asked for.
A Fine Job of Bending All the Rules by ChashFandom: Supernatural RPFDate: 2011Length: 7,127Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Femslash, pairing Danneel/Genevieve. Deals with the idea of female alphas (and to a lesser extent: male omegas).
Wait for It and Good Things Come by concernedlilyFandom: Supernatural RPFDate: 2011Length: 7,127Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Jared/Jensen. Semi-non-AU fic in which Jensen, an alpha, is cast to play Dean Winchester, a beta, and beta Jared is cast to play alpha character Sam Winchester, against common entertainment industry and societal conventions.
All You Ever Needed to Know About Knotting by KuriKuriFandom: Teen WolfDate: 2015Length: 4,781Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Derek had started reading the column by accident. Really, reading strangers’ questions about knotting and heat had never really appealed to him. However, at that point in time, he was a little desperate. And he was right: most of the questions submitted by anonymous readers didn’t appeal to him. The answers, though, did.
Pidge the Alpha loves you, baby by SaasanFandom: Voltron: Legendary DefenderDate: 2018Length: 5,480Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Pidge Gunderson/Lance. A subversion of Alpha/Omega roles in a het pairing. Part of the larger Shiro the Hero loves you, baby series.
Into Your Hideaway by thepinupchemistFandom: SupernaturalDate: 2014Length: 176,557Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Dean/Castiel. A fic exploring the darker side of an omegaverse society in which an omega Dean gets caught up in human trafficking. Mainly focused on the recovery after his escape, this fic also plays with non-traditional Alpha/Omega roles (namely with a soft, gentle alpha and a rougher omega).
I Know You're a Mistake I Won't Regret by LunaCanisLupus_22Fandom: Hawaii Five-0Date: 2016Length: 40,931Medium: FicStatus: Complete
“I don’t know how your omega at home lives with you,” Danny says, half serious, half mocking. It’s a throw away comment. Not meant for further thought but Steve stiffens considerably, hackles rising with the urge to attack and defend. Mostly because there is no omega waiting for him at home. And there’s no alpha Lieutenant Commander, Steve McGarrett, either.


Non-Western Fandom Examples

Blind Man's Bluff by tiggeryumyumFandom: Haikyuu!!Date: 2017Length: 84672Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
Omegas Oikawa and Kageyama end up forming a reluctant bond after surviving a traumatic experience together. Alpha Iwaizumi tries to keep up.
White Blank Pages by AuthorInDistressFandom: Haikyuu!!Date: 2017Length: 168997Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
It was common knowledge by now that, at birth, a mark would be placed upon the skin of each child in order to dictate their partner in life,

It first began in the late 1800s, or at least, that was the only time that they'd ever had documents that spoke about it, and back then it wasn't rare to find that a bond was broken. The majority of the time, it was due to the death of the other half, sometimes before they'd even found each other which was somehow worse than knowing them and losing them afterwards.

But other times, a bond was broken cruelly because of the rejection of the other half of the soulmate. If that happened, it was said to be a pain that was unimaginable and many would prefer it if their bond had been broken through death than through this emotional torture.
All Eyes On Me by Aurum_AuriFandom: Yuri!!! On IceDate: 2018Length: 157,128Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Yuuri, under the username of Eros, is a size queen omega who most certainly does not have an obsession with fellow camboy and legendary silver-haired alpha Aria. Just like Phichit is not the most meddlesome roommate known to man.
this love will make you levitate series by persephoneggsyFandom: Yuri!!! On IceDate: 2017Length: 75,839Medium: FicStatus: Complete
A mafia/omegaverse au with intersex biology (meaning male Omegas and female Alphas have both sets of genitalia)
How To Train Your Shitty Omega by deanvspantiesFandom: Boku no Hero AcademiaDate: 2018Length: 293,790Medium: FicStatus: Complete
Izuku will have Bakugou's knot. He's Izuku's alpha after all.
I Run From You by MorpheelFandom: Boku no Hero AcademiaDate: 2018Length: 20,540Medium: FicStatus: Complete
What's a rabbit hybrid to do when cornered within the clutches of a savage, hungry wolf? Anything he can to escape. (Though his heat makes this a much harder prospect than expected)
Drink While The Water Is Clean by JYNXXXFandom: SEVENTEENDate: 2017Length: 51,264Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
Joshua's life flipped in a moment, the second he was determined to be the King's new consort. The Gods he once prayed to where tossed aside as he found a new God, the most beautiful God the world had to offer. His body which had never once been touched, was now constantly caressed by pairs of hands that tugged and tugged on him until he gave away everything they asked of him. Where once before he never thought of committing sin, he now indulged in it happily since it brought smiles to his lovers faces. Joshua's life changed within a moment; the moment he made a deal with a devil in disguise.
The Omega Revolution by PinkBTSFandom: BTSDate: 2017Length: 158,027Medium: FicStatus: Complete
There are things Jimin loves. There are things Jimin hates. In the middle of a shifting world, Jeon Jeongguk manages to be both. Available in other languages.
Oh Darling, Stand By Me by BeatitudinemFandom: BTSDate: 2017Length: 164,611Medium: FicStatus: WIP/Incomplete
Kim Taehyung had never coped well when there was an angry alpha around, no matter that he wasn't the object of their fury. Wisely choosing to keep his mouth shut, he ignored the flaring annoyance building up inside his chest at being treated like a frail and delicate porcelain doll who didn't know any better, once again. He wasn't frail. He wasn't delicate. And he also wasn't anywhere near ignorant.

Fannish Resources

Fan Comments

Omegaverse is really a fascinating fandom invention. 50% of it is totally problematic and reinforcing a lot of fucked up patriarchal, rape culture values. The other 50% is some of the most insightful, subversive social commentary I’ve ever read on gender identity/gender roles/queer oppression.[16]
honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity thats already at full blast with Popular Yaoi Ships… like wow, how fuckin original, the less masculine, submissive of the two is the Lesser Male meant to be a breeding factory, and often destined to be subjected to a forced, downright rapey relationship. you did a real good job going beyond our expectations there, real genre breaking

i really have no love for the fact that an au template that hinges on rape/dubcon fetishism and transphobia/cissexism out of ignorance happens to be The Most prevalent thing i have to see when i just want to jerk off[17]
Yeah, as Everbright says... the biggest *cough* "realism" issue is that in an actual wolf pack, alpha male mates with alpha female, not with the omegas. Alpha female wolves are like alpha male wolves -- often just as aggressive or more aggressive than their male partners. (There are documented cases of very aggressive alpha females with fairly easygoing alpha males.) Alpha males might in fact try to mate with other females in the pack, too, but it's generally the alpha female who warns off the other females (an alpha male's daughters will also warn off his attempts to mate with them), and I think I've seen theories that her dominance causes the subordinate females not to go into estrus anyway. Subordinate females, including omegas, who become pregnant in a pack risk the alphas killing them, killing their pups, driving them away from the pack, or in a best-case scenario, taking their pups to raise as their own...[18]

Meta/Further Reading

Unknown or General Date

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

References

  1. For example, SPN digital art by diminuel on tumblr (safe for work)
  2. 2.0 2.1 According to an anon on fail_fandomanon: 2016-03-02 comment.
  3. Request: Jensen/Jared - AU Doggy style, bottom Jensen comment in spnkink_meme, posted 2010-05-17.
  4. I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp. (dog-like j2), posted to cfamiliaris livejournal community on 2010-07-24.
  5. The prompt, Request- J2- AnimalTraits, Claiming, Knotting, DomJared, SubJensen, Impregnation was posted at spnkink_meme on November 8, 2010 and received one fill, "Heat" by miss_lv. The same prompt was later posted at blindfold_spn on January 10, 2011 (now locked).
  6. See The nonnies made them do it! (Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O).
  7. See No one owns a genre, least of all Omegaverse.
  8. Het is far less common, but has been around since the beginning of the genre; for example, see All Ways by netweight (Jensen Ackles/Danneel Harris, 2011-12-31), not to mention the het and femslash challenge A/B/O Femslash & Het Ficathon that was started in 2012.
  9. ask about the Omegaverse project by bunnys-scans (archived link)
  10. "Presenting: the shinjuku Animate omegaverse display". 
  11. "Novel Updates Omegaverse Tag". 
  12. "Works tagged with Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics in BTS Fandom". 
  13. fail_fandomanon, Archived version
  14. The story was a response to Coming Home by Xanthe where these characterizations didn't impact the social standing of the characters or the kind of jobs they could take; that was criticized as not realistic. (see comments to the original LJ post of Take Clothes Off As Directed)
  15. It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition! by destinationtoast, posted to tumblr 25 August 2013. archived.
  16. "Okay you know that one fic trope in which a character magically wakes up in a differently sexed body?". Retrieved July 24, 2014. , posted by lierdumoa, 26 July 2014.
  17. "honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity". 
  18. AO3 comment by Eregyrn, 10 July 2012.
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