|Trope · Genre|
|Synonyms:||Canon X Reader, Canon/Reader Y/N, Character/You|
|Related:||Y/N, Imagine (genre), Choose Your Own Adventure, Quiz Fic, Personal|
|See Also:||Self Insertion, Self-Shipping|
|Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
- Not to be confused with Self-Insertion.
Reader-Insert is a type of fanfiction, almost always written in 2nd person Point of View; the protagonist is always the reader, and is usually paired with one of the canon characters. "Reader-insert" typically has a hyphen hyphen , but is also known as Canon X Reader (sometimes CanonXReader).
These fics had a strong presence on DeviantArt, but during the 2010s became more common in other archives as DeviantArt began culling smut/NSFW works--if either the author or the characters are underage, they are assumed to violate the TOS. The Lemontalia group, a community for Lemon-rated Hetalia Reader-Insert fics, had many of them, but was shut down.
They can be hard to find on many archives, which do not have "Reader" listed as a character in their search options.
AO3 has a Reader-Insert tag, as well as both Reader and You character tags (though these also include canonical characters called "Reader" or "You"). Relationship tags involving the reader are formatted [canon character]/Reader or [canon character]/You.
Reader-Inserts have been banned on FanFiction.Net since 2005. See 2005 Ban on Choose Your Own Adventure Fic/Self-Insertion Fic/2nd Person Point of View Fic.
History and Fandoms
Reader-inserts can be traced back to at least the early 2000s where fanfics written in this style were popular on Quizilla, and FanFiction.net before the 2005 ban. Popular fandoms at that time included Inuyasha, Naruto, Harry Potter, and Yu Yu Hakusho. Some of these stories can still be found on archive.org.
Other fandoms with notable amount of reader insert fics are:
- Homestuck, where it merges nicely with the 2nd-person POV of canon;
- Attack on Titan
- Ouran High School Host Club
- Achievement Hunter RPF
- Assassin's Creed
- Stranger Things
- YouTube RPF
Reader-Insert fic is usually F/M, with the reader assumed to be female. However, they exist across a broad range of genders and personal identities. Details about the reader-protagonist are often either kept vague, or filled in with placeholders. These are often single-letter abbreviations for words with a slash between the letters. They can include:
- Y/N for "your name," or _______ or [Name] for the reader's name
- (l/n) for "last name": more common in Japanese fandoms 
- (h/c) and (e/c) for "hair color" and "eye color"
There are no standard conventions for abbreviations; each author either makes up their own or imitates the ones used in fics they enjoyed. Some works avoid using any abbreviations and only address the reader through pronouns or titles.
Browser plugins such as InteractiveFics exist to replace these abbreviations with the appropriate name or detail.
Writing to avoid describing the reader-protagonist's physical attributes requires careful attention to language. For example, describing the reader as 'turning red' may not be applicable for readers with different skin tones.
They also appear as quiz results on sites like Quizilla and Quotev, in categories like Seven Minutes in Heaven (or twenty, or an hour, or seven minutes in Hell, etc.), where the "results" of the fic are a short reader-insert fic. They also appear in "what (fandom) characters think of you" quizzes, and "which character is your boyfriend" or "your (fandom) life" quizzes.
Rise to Popularity
With the rise of popularity in fandom, so rose the popularity of all forms of fan content.
With the rise of RPF and other forms of Fandom alike, a lot of fans felt that they wanted to be with their F/O, which led to popularity of a lot of works. One of the highest (by kudos, hits) English works on Archives of Our Own is "7 Minutes" in the Attack on Titan Fandom. It rose to the popularity it has today in just a day or two, but with its rise in popularity so came backlash, forcing the author to delete and orphan the work. The same goes for a lot of other works.
Archives of Our Own has a great number of Reader-Insert works, the most popular among them James "Bucky" Barnes/Reader and Dean Winchester/Reader. As Anime & Manga fandoms became more popular in fandom (My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Haikyuu!!, Naruto, etc.) a lot of fans started to create and consume Reader-Insert works.
There is a certain stigma among both content creators and content consumers centered around Self-Shipping media, most of it being negative. But whereas the stigma is strong, the fans of it are still many.
In 2020, a Star Wars reader insert story, Fix Your Attitude, which was completed in 2016, saw a resurgence in popularity. This engagement came from a (presumably) new generation of fans who had discovered the story through Tik Tok. These fans don't appear to be attaching any stigma to the reader-insert format.
Criticism and support
Like Mary Sue and self insert fic, some fans consider reader-insert fics immature and ill-conceived, especially when they follow the plot "you meet (sexy hero) and he falls in love with you."  Even people who enjoy the genre sometimes express that they wish there were less of a focus on sex.
Yeah, stories with the conceit "You, the reader, are literally having this adventure" don't work for me. Either because the protagonist does something that I wouldn't actually do in that situation (even in Choose Your Own Adventure stories, sometimes what I want to do just isn't given as an option)—or because the author goes out of their way to avoid alienating the reader, and winds up with a super-bland character who gets yanked around by the plot rather than doing anything.
Other fans find reader-inserts "unobtrusive and less annoying than first person to read" or easier to relate to than OCs. One fan explains:
I'm usually not a big fan of OCs, especially as a main character, but it turns out that, if that OC is me, I really like it. I prefer, in Reader-insert fics, the second-person-perspective. So yeah, I like it, and, if I had the talent, I would like to write some fics in this genre.
I would like them better if more of them followed the narrative style of Choose Your Own Adventure books, referring to the protagonist as "you" without attempting a description. Nearly every reader-insert fic I've ever seen is loaded with brackets instructing the reader to fill in their own name, hair color, eye color, etc. It's awkward enough when any story, fanfic or otherwise, obsesses that hard over the main character's physical traits; the brackets make these things effectively unreadable.
I find them really stimulating, emotionally speaking—provided I can ignore the inevitable spelling and grammatical errors. I wish the reader-insert genre were more highly regarded so that better authors would want to get in on the action.
It ISN'T one-size-fits-all. It's all-squeezed-into-one-size. Nor is it wish fulfullment for anyone except the author. Forcing the reader to have the same wishes as the author doesn't work.
Reader Inserts have their audience as well, though it is a lot more limited. I've both written and read reader inserts, but they aren't my first choice. Writing it was fun, since I was writing it for a friend of mine, but I wouldn't have been able to carry it through a longer narrative. For the same reasons that you mentioned: Background and character development.
There has also been criticism that reader-inserts that are supposed to be universally relatable often make unconscious assumptions about the reader being white, which can alienate readers of colour.
Most readers are coded to be white, or written in a way that only light skinned people with certain features can read themselves into. Black and brown readers – especially ones with curlier, thicker hair or darker skin – aren’t able to visualize themselves in place of the reader because the blank slate is a little too beige.
Meta & Further Reading
- Reader-Inserts: A Guide & Background by DarthSuki (2018)
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on AO3.
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on DeviantArt.
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on Wattpad.
- a multifandom FanFiction.net community for reader-inserts despite them being banned on the site.
- Fuck No Reader Inserts - a critique blog
- Armin X Reader - I'd never do that part 5 by ExtraStatus at AO3
- Both Lemontalia groups are GONE? by BTT-DA-ACCT, Dec 27, 2012 at DeviantArt
- Two by timeladyofletters: Sam Winchester/Reader at AO3
- Reader x Yuki: Achluophobia by xReaderBuddyz at FF.net
- Hetalia Heaven (Red) (Reader Insert) by UraharaSteph, DeviantArt
- ThriceCharming, Reader-Insert fics: yea or nay? Posted 19 Nov 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- Kelekona, Does anyone really like self-inserts? Posted 28 Feb 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- tkannelid, Does anyone really like self-inserts? Posted 28 Feb 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- PPPSSC, Reader-Insert fics: yea or nay? Posted 20 Nov 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- MetaFour, Reader-Insert fics: yea or nay? Posted 20 Nov 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- LadyRimouski, Does anyone really like self-inserts? Posted 28 Feb 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- SuiGenerisUsername, Does anyone really like self-inserts? Posted 28 Feb 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- Karalora, Reader-Insert fics: yea or nay? Posted 20 Nov 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- willyolio, Reader-Insert fics: yea or nay? Posted 21 Nov 2016. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- djinnequip, Reader Insert or OC, First or Third Person - What to do! Posted 04 Feb 2017. (Accessed 17 July 2018.)
- Stitch, On “Y/N,” Reader-Insert Fanfiction & Writing Yourself Into the Story Posted November 10, 2021. (Accessed 16 December 2021.)