|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 by using the you and your pronouns. The protagonist is always the reader, or "you," and is usually paired with one of the canon characters. "Reader-insert" is typically written with a hyphen. It is also sometimes known as Canon X Reader, or CanonXReader. Imagines are also be a version of reader-insert, inserting the reader using second person pronouns into short-form "imagine if..." scenarios, and paring the reader with a canon character or person.
A comparable type of stories in Japanese-language fandoms is dream shosetsu (ドリーム小説 lit. "dream novel"), also called yumeshosetsu (夢小説) or yume (夢 lit. "dream" or "fantasy") for short. Stories in this genre almost always feature romance between a female protagonist who is assumed to be the reader, and a male canon character. 
There is a certain stigma among some content creators and content consumers centered around self-shipping media, most of it being negative (see Criticism and Support). But whereas the stigma is strong, the fans of reader-inserts are still many.
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, however some of the earliest reader insert fanfiction is dated to 1999 on FFN for the Star Trek fandom. Then in 2005, Fanfiction.net placed a ban on reader-insert and self-insert fanficion (see 2005 Ban on Choose Your Own Adventure Fic/Self-Insertion Fic/2nd Person Point of View Fic).
As Anime & Manga fandoms became more popular in general (My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Haikyuu!!, Naruto, etc.) a lot of fans started to create and consume Reader-Insert works. Other 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 reader-insert stories from FFN persist despite the reader-insert ban, such as the Reader Insert community created in 2012 which hosts mainly anime reader-inserts from between 2010 and 2015.
They also had a strong presence on DeviantART, but during the 2010s became less common on DeviantART as the website began culling smut/NSFW works. Their removal from the website may in part have been due to underage authors or underaged characters, which presumably would violate the DeviantART TOS. The Lemontalia DeviantART group, a community for Lemon-rated Hetalia Reader-Insert fics, had many of them, but was shut down.
Imagines, a sub-genre of reader-insert works, are believed to originate on Tumblr and there are early appearances of reader insert imagines in 2010. This genre may have been popularised by 1D fandom during the early 2010s.
"Reader" is not often a choice within the search options of fanfic archives, even when reader-inserts aren't against the TOS of the archive. This may make finding reader-inserts on some websites difficult. 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 typically formatted as [canon character]/Reader or [canon character]/You. For example, in the Smile for Me AO3 the second most popular relationship is "Dr. Boris Habit/Reader."
On Quizilla and Quotev, reader-inserts appear 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.
Reader-Insert fic is usually F/M (Female/Male), 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. This is to allow the reader to more easily project themself onto the main character of the fic. These placeholders are often single-letter abbreviations for words with a slash between the letters. 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.
Abbreviations can include:
- Y/N for "your name," or _______ or [Name] for the reader's name
- (F/n) for "first name"
- (L/n) for "last name": more common in Japanese fandoms 
- (h/c) and (e/c) for "hair color" and "eye color"
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. Reader-insert fics of explicit nature may also take measures to avoid describing the genitalia of the reader, particularly when writing penetrative sex.
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.
These fandoms contain a great deal of Reader insert fic
- 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
- Undertale -- such as Sans/Reader, Papyrus/Reader, and Grillby/Reader
- Stranger Things
- YouTube RPF -- common in MCYT communities, where readers are often a part of the YouTuber/Streamer's chat or fanbase
- The Exophilia Community -- both in original works and in fandoms with monsters, such as Undertale
- Bandom -- credited as helping popularize imagines on Tumblr in 2010, particularly the One Direction fandom
- After the First Death -- Star Trek, no pairing, Apr 30, 1999. One of the first reader-insert fanfics that remain archived on the FFN community "The Archive for Self Inserts and Original Characters."
- Fix Your Attitude -- Star Wars, Kylo Ren/Reader, Sept 5, 2016. This fic saw a resurgence in popularity in 2020, 2-3 years after the fics completion. This engagement came from a (presumably) new generation of fans who had discovered the story through Tik Tok.
- Rough Day -- Star Wars The Mandalorian, Mando/Reader and Din Djarin/Reader, Aug 1, 2021. Searching the Reader-Insert tag on AO3, this is the reader-insert fanfic with the most kudos (2800) as of Jan 22, 2022.
- 7 Minutes -- Attack on Titan, Eren/Reader, undated. Originally on AO3, 7 Minutes was deleted by the author due to the backlash that accompanied its popularity. Fans can be seen asking for copies of it on Reddit, where a Reddit user credits the author as attackonfic.
Meta & Further Reading
- X Reader, Reddit discussion of Canon X Reader fics (2015)
- Reader-Inserts: A Guide & Background by DarthSuki (2018)
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on AO3.
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on DeviantArt.
- all-reader-inserts a DeviantART group for reader-inserts
- Works tagged "reader-insert" on Wattpad.
- a multifandom FanFiction.net community for reader-inserts despite them being banned on the site. Most fics archived here are for anime fandom, and the earliest fic here is from 2010.
- Fuck No Reader Inserts - a critique blog
- フォレストページ - Wikipedia
- "pixivが"夢小説"機能を正式リリース 登場人物を好きな名前に変換しよう". KAI-YOU.net (in 日本語). 2019-11-18. Retrieved 2022-01-24.
- The Archive for Self Inserts and Original Characters, Fanfiction.net. Oct 27, 2014 (Accessed 1/22/2022)
- After the First Death, Fanfiction.net. Apr 30, 1999 (Accessed 1/22/2022)
- If you enjoy reader insert fanfictions this is the right place to you! Reader Insert community, Fanfiction.net. Aug 6, 2012 (Accessed 1/22/2022)
- 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
- Smile For Me (Video Game), Archive of Our own. (Accessed 1/21/2022)
- Search results for "Seven Minutes in Heaven" on Quotev
- 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.)
- Hey! Can someone tell me where I could read “7 minutes” (the eren fanfic)?? Reddit. Jan 18, 2021 (Accessed 1/22/2022)