|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, Genera|
|Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Alpha/Beta/Omega or Alpha/Omega (occasionally Alpha/Beta Beta/Omega) is a kink trope wherein some people have defined biological roles based on a hierarchical system. The terms were borrowed from older behavior research on captive wolves that had been misappropriated by popular culture, but do not reflect current wolf behaviour research. Fanworks using this trope may involve werewolf, knotting, or other animalistic elements, or the characters may be otherwise purely human.
The term is generally written with slashes (a/b/o). Many fans, particularly ones from Australia and New Zealand, are uncomfortable seeing the term without slashes because it is also an Australian slur for aboriginal people.
Alphas are able to impregnate Omegas. Alphas are often (but not always) "dominant" in some fashion (depending on the worldbuilding of the specific story). Male Alphas usually have a knot when aroused. In some works, female Alphas are also able to impregnate others; some will temporarily grow a penis to do so, or their vulva will permanently grow into one when they present.
Betas are subordinate to Alphas within the concept of a dominance hierarchy, but depending on the needs of the story, this element may not be included. Betas are often presented as having "normal" human anatomy, with none of the special attributes of Alphas or Omegas. They may be the peacemakers between Alphas and Omegas. Depending on the story they may 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.
Omegas can get pregnant and go into heat. They are generally lowest on the hierarchy (although in some fanworks omegas are rare and prized). Some mangas don't have this hierarchy; their society is just like the actual human world. Male Omegas are self-lubricating and have the ability to become pregnant, sometimes referred to as being bred or mated. In some fanworks Omegas are the most fragile of the hierarchy, with frailer bodies and painful presentations. Male Omegas are especially subject to fertility issues, miscarriages, and difficult pregnancies.
Alpha and Omega lovers may form pair-bonds (often involving mating bites) with a special connection with telepathic or empathetic qualities. In some works paired Alphas may be jealous and possessive of their mate, while the Omega may become highly tied and needy. Omegas may go into heat and need to have sex; this may be the only time Omegas are fertile. The Alpha equivalent is known as a rut.
The ratio of alphas to betas to omegas within the population is sometimes mentioned in fanworks, but varies depending on the needs of the plot.
From these basic elements a wide variety of works 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.
The trope was a natural extension of SPN's popular werewolf and knotting kinks.[note 1] 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."
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. The first A/B/O fic was posted to a livejournal community for bestiality, cfamiliaris.
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.
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.[note 2]
The trope A/B/O spread so quickly through fandom culture beyond SPN and J2, that by 2013 Kristina Busse publishes "Pon Farr, Mpreg, Bones and the rise of the Omegaverse", in which she discusses the various fannish tropes that feed into omegaverse on world of fanfiction and consequently of literature.
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.[note 3]
A/B/O is a trope most often seen in m/m, but there is a small yet mighty tradition of it in f/f too...
[snipped]Alphas correspond most closely to ideas about masculinity, and omegas about femininity, but where it gets really interesting is when this doesn’t match up. Male omegas, female alphas… with three “genera” that interact with and don’t correspond to different genders, you can get some really interesting and queer writing. You can also get reinforcing of some really not great stereotypes, with “alpha” used to just make one half of a same sex couple “the man” and the other half “the woman... 
A/B/O made its way into Japanese fandom around 2014 through both doujin and fanart featuring the trope on Pixiv. 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. 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. 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 is also the case with anime and manga fics featuring the trope.
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 2013, EXO released the lead single Wolf which inspired EXO fandom writers to write Wolf AU, incorporating the theme of A/B/O in stories and becoming widely popular on Asianfanfics, the main website for k-pop RPF. EXO fandom popularized A/B/O fanfic in non-western fandoms. As of 2019, the third most popular fandom to feature A/B/O on the Archive of Our Own is the popular K-pop fandom BTS. There are also other K-pop and J-pop bands represented. A/B/O is also popular in other types of non-western fandoms, 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.
A recent trend specifically in anime and manga fandoms is the introduction of a fourth gender, Enigma. This concept was borrowed from the yaoi manga Kanraku Alpha ~Enigma~ 4 verse, where an "Enigma" is a rare and unique gender that can make anyone submit, even an Alpha. Authors have added fourth genders before, usually named "Gamma" or something similar to keep with the theme of Greek letters, but Enigma is the first one to be fairly widespread with a set definition. It's mainly popular in the Boku no Hero Academia fandom.
Alternate terminology was developed for Chinese A/B/O works in wuxia and other historical settings:
- Alpha: 乾元 Qianyuan
- Beta: 中庸 Zhongyong
- Omega: 坤泽 Kunze
- Heat: 雨露期 (Season of Rain/Dew)
The qianyuan/zhongyong/kunze terminology eventually filtered back into English-language fanfic for certain Chinese media fandoms. Heaven and Earth by ExtraPenguin, a 2018 MDZS fic, was the earliest English fic on AO3 to use the terms, but the terms were adopted more widely in Word of Honor fandom in 2021.
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.
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,[note 4] 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[note 5]—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.
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:
- The majority (55.7%) of A/B/O fics are rated Explicit
- 90% of A/B/O fics are tagged M/M
- Knotting, mpreg, mating cycles/in heat, AU, dubcon, angst, and fluff are tags commonly found on A/B/O fic
- A/B/O has been gaining in popularity over time, but is still less than 1% of fics produced on AO3 each month
- The most A/B/O fic comes from the Sherlock (TV), Teen Wolf, The Avengers, Supernatural, and Supernatural RPF fandoms
Top Fandoms in 2020
Fandoms with the highest number of A/B/O works on the AO3 as of March 2020:
Fandoms with more than 5K works with the highest percentage of A/B/O works on the AO3 as of March 2020:
- Yuri!!! on Ice - 5.43%
- Hannibal - 5.39%
- Borderlands - 5.04%
- Supernatural RPF - 4.87%
- Teen Wolf - 4.32%
Other fandoms of note:
- The 100 ("The 100 was (and is) a huge f/f fandom, and Blackrising’s popularity was instrumental in bringing A/B/O [there]. From The 100 fandom, the trope proliferated and got into other fandoms." 
- The Sentinel (related to the whole Sentinel/Guide thing)
Western Fandom Examples
Non-Western Fandom Examples
- Miracle Fate -- Haikyuu -- (2014) - A doujinshi where Alpha Kageyama wants to bond with Omega Hinata to stop getting distracted during matches.
- Works tagged Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics on AO3
- A/B/O Femslash & Het Ficathon (livejournal)
- Alpha/Beta/Omega Big Bang (2013–2014)
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.
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
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...
Unknown or General Date
- Guide to Omegaverse, Archived version by KemonoTheta on Wattpad
- Omegaverse m/f romance, Archived version at Goodreads (accessed October 28, 2018 and at that time had 43 books listed)
- 1 - 20 of 41802 Works in Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics on Archive of Our Own (accessed October 28, 2018)
- Alphas, Betas, Omegas: A Primer, Archived version; archive link by norabombay on AO3 (created May 2012, last updated September 2015)
- Omegaverse Genetics, Archived version by azriona (March 2013)
- Omegaverse Genetics - One Theory, Archived version, by Diana Williams (April 2013)
- Omegaverse: Possible overreaction…..I get angry sometimes, Archived version by pilgrimkitty on tumblr, (June 2013)
- The nonnies made them do it! [Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O]; Wayback copy; Webcitation copy by netweight (October 2013)
- The nonnies made them do it! - Annexes, Archived version;WebCite by netweight (October 2013)
- It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition!, Archived version by Destination: Toast! on tumblr (August 2013)
- Sex and Gender: A Biological and Social Guide to the Omegaverse, Archived version by PrincessPestilence (September 2013)
- Eridell's ABO Primer and Physiology Guide, Archived version by Eridell (January 2014)
- 'Knotting' Is the Weird Fanfic Sex Trend That Cannot Be Unseen, Archived version by Mark Shrayber (June 2014)
- Can U Knot? Exploring the Omegaverse, a slide show at DashCon (July 2014)
- Omegaverse Survey, Archived version (2015)
- A/B/O: Adventures in Fake Science., Archived version by Hells Bartender (Firebog) (July 2015)
- Possible Omegaverse genetics: Separate allele version, Archived version by Enirei (September 2015)
- A/B/O For Dummies - Fanfic Trope Explained, Archived version(Nov 2015)
- Re: Catching Up With Past Nonnies - Fanlore's a/b/o page, Archived version (2016)
- Omegaverse - Super-wiki, Archived version, 2016 entry at Supernatural Wiki (April 2016)
- What the hell is the “Omega’verse?” by Connor Johnson (May 2016)
- Omegaverse Explanation and Guide!, Archived version by Puppylover827 (September 2016)
- The World-Building behind my A/B/O fic "hearts on fire", Archived version by keepthekettleon (July 2017)
- Omegaverse - What Is A/B/O? a video essay by ShippersGuideToTheGalaxy (October 2018)
- TOASTYSTATS: Omegaverse! PART 1: Which characters get tagged most often with specific A/B/O roles?, Archived version by Destination: Toast! (February 2018)
- No one owns a genre, least of all Omegaverse by Zoey Ellis (October 2018)
- Into the Omegaverse: How a Fanfic Trope Landed in Federal Court, a video essay by Lindsay Ellis (September 3)
- Omegaverse and Gender Politics, a video essay by Jonah Bear that focuses on Omegaverse from a queer and trans perspective (Dec 11)
Notes and References
- See The nonnies made them do it! (Fannish history. SPN. A/B/O). netweight's timeline outlining the evolution of similar prompts that led to the invention of the A/B/O genre may also be helpful.
- 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 the_miss_lv. The same prompt was later posted at blindfold_spn on January 10, 2011 (now locked).
- For more context about this lawsuit, see No one owns a genre, least of all Omegaverse. Het is far less common in A/B/O, 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.
- You can find this fic here.
- 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)
-  Basics of wolf biology and behavior.
-  fairestcat on twitter, May 23, 2020
-  tomatocarnage replying to fairestcat on twitter, May 24, 2020
-  lydia_petze replying to fairestcat on twitter, May 23, 2020
- For example, SPN digital art by diminuel on tumblr (safe for work)
- According to an anon on fail_fandomanon: 2016-03-02 comment.
- Request: Jensen/Jared - AU Doggy style, bottom Jensen comment in spnkink_meme, posted 2010-05-17.
- I ain't no lady, but you'd be the tramp. (dog-like j2), posted to cfamiliaris livejournal community on 2010-07-24.
- in Anne Jamison's Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World. Full text: "Pon Farr: Mpreg, Bonds and the Rise of the omegaverse by Kristina Busse" (PDF).
- from The Rec Center #216 (February 21, 2020)
- ask about the Omegaverse project by bunnys-scans (archived link)
- "Presenting: the shinjuku Animate omegaverse display". Archived from the original on 2022-06-07.
- "Novel Updates Omegaverse Tag". Archived from the original on 2022-06-18.
- Works tagged with Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics, Archived version, accessed 13 July 2019. BTS is the third tag down in the fandom section of the filter sidebar.
- "A new gender in omegaverse has been added which is superior than Alpha. They are called ENIGMAS".
- Open Promises by manic_intent, Archived version, 2021-03-26
- fail_fandomanon, Archived version
- It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition! by destinationtoast, posted to tumblr 25 August 2013. archived.
- Numbers collected from AO3 while logged in on 29 March 2020.
- from The Rec Center #216 (February 20, 2020)
- "Okay you know that one fic trope in which a character magically wakes up in a differently sexed body?". Archived from the original on 2014-07-26. Retrieved July 24, 2014., posted by lierdumoa, 26 July 2014.
- "honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity".
- AO3 comment by Eregyrn, 10 July 2012.