|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|
|Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
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.
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, or as peacemakers between Alphas and 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.
The trope originated in Supernatural fandom with a few very specific AU kink meme prompts for the J2 RPF ship. The first one 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.
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 1]
The trope was a natural extension of SPN's popular werewolf and knotting kinks.[note 2] 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.
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.[note 3]
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 fic 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 becomimg 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.
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
Western Fandom Examples
Non-Western Fandom Examples
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; archive link 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; archive link by azriona (March 2013)
- Omegaverse Genetics - One Theory; archive link, by Diana Williams (April 2013)
- Omegaverse: Possible overreaction…..I get angry sometimes; reference link 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; archive link;WebCite by netweight (October 2013)
- It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition!; archive link 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)
Notes and References
- 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).
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- ask about the Omegaverse project by bunnys-scans (archived link)
- "Presenting: the shinjuku Animate omegaverse display".
- "Novel Updates Omegaverse Tag".
- 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".
- fail_fandomanon, Archived version
- It’s time for fandom stats: Omegaverse edition! by destinationtoast, posted to tumblr 25 August 2013. archived.
- "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.
- "honestly im so tired of how a/b/o is used to enforce creepy-ass heteronormativity".
- AO3 comment by Eregyrn, 10 July 2012.