9 Fanfic Tropes I Can’t Live Without

9 Fanfic Tropes
Stock image by RetroSupply @unsplash

The Geekiary is 9 years old today! Fanfiction is a huge part of many fandom experiences, and it’s no different here at The Geekiary. Last year we even celebrated International Fanworks Day with a webcast devoted to spotlighting our favorite fics, fanart, and more. This year, to help ring in our 9th anniversary, I thought I’d talk about my favorite tropes in fanfic.

I know that we tend to be critical of some of the tropes we come across in media, but not all tropes are bad! I mean, the basic definition of “trope” just means “literary device”. And while we would love to yeet some tropes into the sun (goodbye, Bury Your Gays!), anyone who says that they don’t have at least one favorite trope is probably lying to themselves.

And I know some people prefer to keep their fandom and IRL selves separate, but I have never been one of them. So I will now proudly present, in no particular order, the 9 Fanfic Tropes I Can’t Live Without (plus some fic recommendations – from my own bookmarks!).

1. Harry Potter AU

My relationship with Harry Potter and its greater universe has become increasingly more complicated over the years. I’ve already sworn off buying any new official merchandise or paying to see any future films in theaters. But JKR doesn’t make any money off of fanfic, and I get all weak-kneed for a good Hogwarts set AU (alternate universe). I don’t even care that most of the time, it doesn’t make any sense! (Why are all the characters from an anime set in Japan attending a wizarding school in Scotland? Do you think I care?)

I have no idea why I love these so much. I suppose it’s partially to do with the fact that HP was a big part of my life since I discovered the books in college. One of the ways I adjusted to New York City after moving here was joining the local HP meetup group. Sorting characters in other fandoms into Hogwarts houses was the thing to do for literally years. I will never not get excited to read about my favorite characters (regardless of fandom) wandering the halls of Hogwarts learning magic.

Recommendation: In Defense of Reptiles (And Other Gross Things) by rikke (IwaOi, Haikyuu!!)

This is by far my favorite HP AU of all of my fandoms. It features Oikawa being chosen as Hogwarts champion for the Triwizard Tournament and Iwaizumi realizing that Oikawa’s in love with him. But it also includes the best use of footnotes in a fic I think I’ve ever seen. (It very much reminded me of reading Discworld.)

2. Fake Dating/Married

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t enjoy a good Fake Dating fic? It often covers so many other tropes like Mutual Pining and There Was Only One Bed. I even enjoy this trope in other media, because it’s just so much fun. A character is put in a situation where the only logical solution is to go out and find someone to pretend to be their significant other, and naturally the first person to agree is the character that they’re secretly in love with.

It’s all about the yearning, everyone. It’s about that italicized oh. The characters have to be put in these ridiculous situations, because otherwise they’ll spend their entire lives pining!

Recommendation: The Simplest Way Forward by harriet_vane (WangXian, Mo Dao Zu Shi/The Untamed)

This one is cheating a little bit, because they don’t so much pretend to be married as actually get married under false pretenses. But Wei Ying has suddenly found himself the caretaker of a four-year-old child, and obviously the only thing that Lan Zhan can do to help is suggest marriage. (Bonus Accidental Baby Acquisition!) And no one knows that they’re not really married, for reals.

3. Hurt/Comfort

Ah, the coveted whump!fic. Sometimes you just need to read about one of your favorite characters being injured and the other one taking care of them. This works especially well if they don’t like each other (or think they don’t!) when the comforting happens. Hurt/Comfort allows for amazing character development, because you get to put the characters in crisis situations and theorize how they would react. (Of course, in some fandoms, Hurt/Comfort fics are just another Tuesday.)

I think one of the reasons this trope resonates with me so much is because I live alone, thousands of miles away from everyone in my family. When I get sick, there is no one to make me soup or bring me juice. I like reading about my favorite characters being taken care of. It makes me feel less alone.

Recommendation: Learning to Walk (So That We Can Run) by ricekrispyjoints (IwaOi, Haikyuu!!)

This is definitely one of my favorite IwaOi fics, which has Iwaizumi taking care of Oikawa after he has knee surgery. I love the way their relationship is written here, and this is an almost 30k fic where the entire thing is Hurt/Comfort. There are big things, like waiting through the surgery, but there are also little things, like bringing him his backpack so he doesn’t have to get up. Where is my Iwa-chan?

Stock image by Markus Spiske @unsplash

4. Royalty AU

There are several flavors of Royalty AU. Maybe one of them is royalty and one is a commoner. (Yum!) Maybe they’re both royalty from neighboring kingdoms. They could be in a fictional country, in a period setting, or the modern-day Prince of Wales. Whatever the reason, I absolutely love reading about the misunderstandings, the social conventions, the arranged marriages- anything that comes up when your ship is royalty.

I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with the idea of royalty. If I had to hazard a guess, I’m sure it would have something to do with watching Disney princess films during my formative years. Or maybe it’s because I will likely never encounter royalty, and I like to read about things I don’t deal with in my everyday life.

Recommendation: A Desperate Arrangement by mikkimouse (Sterek, Teen Wolf)

One of my earliest bookmarks on AO3, and one of the only fics I ever read while it was a work in progress (WIP). This one also sort of fits under the Fake Married trope, as Stiles and Derek get a quickie marriage in order to shore up a peace treaty between their kingdoms. You can also throw some Hurt/Comfort into there, because Derek is dealing with some trauma from his previous broken engagement. Basically, there is a nice buffet of tasty tropes to feast on.

5. Enemies to Lovers

Yeah, Friends To Lovers is good, but have you ever tried Enemies To Lovers? There is just something so engrossing about two people who fall in love basically against their will, or their better judgment. Fics that are about enemies falling in love tend to include other popular tropes, usually Hurt/Comfort or There Was Only One Bed. 

Enemies To Lovers can allow for some really great character exploration as they delve into why they’re so attracted to someone who is supposed to be there enemy? There can also be some great moral or ethical discussions because, let’s face it, there are different kind of enemies. It’s one thing to be athletes on opposing teams, but what if you’re soldiers on opposing sides? The possibilities for character development (and angst) are endless.

Recommendation: love, in fire and blood by cicer (WangXian, Mo Dao Zu Shi/The Untamed)

Let me tell you, this fic is amazing, ok? It’s over 300k words, and when I got to the end, my first thought was, “That’s it?” I could legitimately read another 300k words set in this universe, where Lan Zhan is basically bartered to Wei Ying in order to secure his help in the war against the Wen. Lan Zhan has only heard awful things about Wei Ying, and Wei Ying suspects Lan Zhan is a spy. This is more of an Enemies To Friends To Lovers, but let’s not split hairs.

Stock image by Jessica Lewis @unsplash

6. Coffeeshop/Bakery AU

The Coffeeshop AU is probably the most ubiquitous AU in all of fandom. You will find at least one Coffeeshop AU for every fandom you can think of, and I’m sure most fanfic readers can name one off the top of their heads. I’m including Bakery AU as a subset because they’re similar enough that they should count as one thing. (And also, I love baked goods and hate coffee.)

Coffeeshop AUs work best in fandoms where it’s completely out of character for them to be working in a coffeeshop (for example, something like Star Wars, where coffeeshops don’t exist). There’s just something about putting these extraordinary characters in mundane situations. I know I said that I like to read about things I don’t deal with everyday. But I also like to read about sappy, fluffy, everyday things. (I have layers, ok?)

Recommendation: The Advent of Coffee by mixtapestar (Merthur, Merlin)

Includes everything you love about a good Merthur fic: everyone loves Merlin but Arthur, who is a bit of a prat. But they figure it out in the end.

7. Temporary Amnesia

A Temporary Amnesia fic can go one of two ways: either it’s hilarious, or it’s heartbreaking. I swear there is no in-between. The fluffy kind of Temporary Amnesia fics are the ones where someone is doped up after surgery and doesn’t remember that their partner is their partner. But then you have the ones where someone got into an accident and has no recollection of the person they’re dating.

As with Enemies To Lovers, the potential for angst is off the charts with this trope. In some instances, it can be used for a fresh start. In others, a ship is back at the starting point. I don’t like to read anything that doesn’t have a happy ending, so I enjoy reading about characters who find their way back to each other in the end. It gives me the hope that love can survive anything.

Is it a little bit soap opera? Maybe, but I don’t care. I’m usually not reading fics for the realism.

Recommendation: you’re the trouble that i always find by sundiscus (WenZhou, Word of Honor)

I’m not sure if this technically counts as Temporary Amnesia, because much of the fic takes place in Zhou Zishu’s head, but nonetheless, it revolves around him forgetting about Wen Kexing, and Wen Kexing having to break through to his memories. So I’m counting it. And recommending it, because it is so good.

8. Famous AU

This is not to be confused with a Royalty AU! Trust me, these are two very different things. A Famous AU can encompass literally anything. I enjoy fics where they are actors, YouTubers, professional athletes… You name it, there is a fic for it. Whether it’s only one of them that’s famous or whether they both are, I love reading about how these losers in love navigate their way through a relationship unfolding in the eyes of the media.

A good Famous AU can explore a lot about relationships. Namely, the sacrifices that you sometimes have to make when you’re in one. Is your career important enough to you to run the risk of driving away the person you love? Or did you discover that you’d rather prioritize your relationship? I feel like a lot of us struggle to find a good work/life balance, so fics like this can be really cathartic.

Recommendation: Next Big Thing by earlgreytea68 (Arthur/Eames, Inception)

This fic is bonkers in the best way. It’s the third in a series, but you don’t really need to read the earlier fics to read this one. Basically Arthur and Eames are personalities on an HGTV show and get invited to judge a reality competition for interior designers. Shenanigans ensue. At times this fic is just too ridiculous to be real but at that point you’re so invested, you don’t care.

9. Soulmate AU

You think I’m not going to include Soulmate AU on this list, when that is one of my all-time favorite tropes? I am a sucker for these fics, whether it be soulmark, first words, can’t see color, or what have you. Fic writers can get really creative in how they write what determines a soulmate, and I will happily read every possible scenario.

I am one of those people who believes that there is someone out there who is more suited for you than anyone else, which is why I love Soulmate AUs. Also, as an introvert with social anxiety and low self-esteem, I have just always loved the idea of the universe doing all the work for you. Dating is scary! I would love to have a mark on my arm that matches someone else’s.

But just because the choice is made for you doesn’t make it easy. Soulmate AUs can cover a lot of ground. After all, relationships take work regardless of how you ended up together. And what about people who meet at the wrong time in their lives? What about people who don’t want soulmates? There are a lot of directions you can go with this.

Recommendation: deuteranopia / 緑 by dollcewrites (BakuDeku, Boku no Hero Academia)

This is one of those fics that gets a little creative with how characters identify their soulmates, in that they can’t see a specific color until they see it in their soulmates’ eyes. But what happens when someone is color blind?


Thank you so much for supporting us for the last 9 years! Make sure you tune in to our anniversary webcast tonight on our YouTube channel! And sound off in the comments with your favorite trope!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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