One of the greatest parts about being in a fandom is the sense of community among like-minded individuals. Common interests in television shows or books brew fan theories and discussion, fan fiction and art. But more importantly, fandoms breed “ships,” pairings of popular characters in platonic or romantic relationships. Often times, the most popular ships are those that aren’t canon, that haven’t been explicitly established or consummated in their respective franchises. “Shipping” is considered a fan’s emotional response to the ongoing development of multiple characters and their interactions with one another.
It’s widely accepted that the first “ship” came about in the mid-1970s when Star Trek fans began pairing Kirk and Spock together. “Shipping” originated in the 1990s with The X-Files with fans of the show strongly believing main characters Fox Moulder and Dana Scully either were or should be in a romantic relationship. Supporters called themselves “relationshippers,” eventually becoming shortened to just “shippers.” Arguments about which ships are better often leading to what are known as a “ship wars,” pitting multiple pairings against each other to determine the ultimate one, known as a “One True Pairing” or OTP. Below are a few examples of the most popular fandom ships set to the tune of photoshops.
X-Men: First Class introduced younger versions of iconic X-Men characters including Mystique, Magneto, and Professor Xavier. The latter two have become one of the most popular ships of the X-Men fandom. The bromance between the older versions of the frenemies, portrayed by Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen is undeniable and it appears James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were inspired to continue the affectionate friendship in their versions.
Both characters are extremely strong-willed, determined to ensure the survival of their fellow mutants but were at odds when it came to doing so. Charles’ route was one of compassion, opening a school as a safe haven. Erik, meanwhile, believed confrontation was the better choice. Despite their deep respect for one another, the characters have often bitterly clashed, as was evident in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand. Their relationship remains one of the most complicated and beloved of the X-Men franchise.
Considered the OTP of the Teen Wolf fandom, fans couldn’t resist pairing lovable goofball Stiles with the stubborn hunk Derek. Audiences enjoyed watching the polar opposites interact with each other, both being the only characters in non-canonical romantic relationships. Despite making several attempts to make the ship canon, including a letter to executive producer Jeff Davis and an online petition, fans were left disappointed when their efforts proved unsuccessful.
Cast members, including the actors who play Stiles and Derek, had varying opinions of the ship. Some would whole-heartedly support it one day then cautiously avoid the subject the next. Such devotion to their ship turned many fans against Tyler Posey, who plays the show’s main character, when he stated the relationship “is a bizarre, weird, twisted thing.” This led to the controversial “Poseygate,” which in turn led to the actor receiving death threats and resentment from some of the show’s fans.
13. WARRIOR PRINCESS / SLEEPING WARRIOR
Once Upon A Time reimagines classic fairytale characters and their backstories. Season Two introduced Mulan, the Chinese warrior from the Disney film, who aided Prince Phillip on his quest to awaken his true love, Aurora. Once reunited, an awkward love triangle formed and on October 13, 2014, fans were on the edge of their seats when Mulan almost revealed her affectionate feelings, not for the prince, but for Aurora.
Of all the ships in OUAT, this one has struggled to gain momentum; any suggestion it would turn canon seem highly unlikely. When introduced, audiences generally assumed Mulan was straight, believing she had fallen for Phillip, clearly uncomfortable with his reunion with Aurora. The show “broke new ground” after her queer reveal. Sadly, keeping true to the “love is a sacrifice” theme of the show, Mulan put Aurora’s happiness above her own and decided to part ways with her crush.
OUAT‘s most popular ship is SwanQueen; the pairing of heroic Emma Swan with the Evil Queen Regina. Since the first episode, fans have watched these dedicated mothers fight over their shared son Henry. At first, the two were at odds with one another, sharing a deep resentment, but as seasons progressed, the two learned they were better fighting together than against each other. In 2015, the duo won AfterEllen’s Ultimate Femlash Tournament.
The relationship between the two was ever-developing, eventually leading each other to realize that they were capable of so much more. Emma helped Regina realize she didn’t have to let her evil past define her while Regina helped Emma avoid fully succumbing to her inner darkness as well. Fans immediately responded to the genuiness of these two characters toward each other and in doing so have made SwanQueen one of the most dedicated ships of any fandom.
11. BAGGINSSHIELD / THILBO
Thorin and Bilbo, from day one of their journey together, shared a rocky relationship. While Baggins had immense respect for the dwarf, Oakenshield severely underestimated the hobbit. Despite never being a confirmed relationship in the Tolkien novels, it hasn’t stopped Hobbit fans from pairing the unlikely duo, resulting in the ship being the most popular of the Hobbit fandom and the most popular slash pairing in the LOTR fandom.
Initial “shipability” of the characters is first cited in the infamous “The Hug” scene at the end of An Unexpected Journey when Thorin embraces Bilbo and admits his previous opinions of the hero were wrong. In The Desolation of Smaug, fans responded to Thorin’s willingness to trust Bilbo more, especially in the third film when he is afflicted with the Dragon Sickness. “The Acorn Scene” shows a more genuine side of Thorin, one capable of showing emotional rage beyond anger. While most fan fictions keep to the Tolkien mythology, some fans have gone for Modern AUs, turning the pair into partners in crime or swoon-worthy detectives.
Speaking of detectives, another Martin Freeman character is involved in a widely popular ship. Considered the “father of all gay ships,” fans of Sherlock Holmes have been pairing the detective and his companion since their introduction in Doyle’s novels. The BBC program made the relationship a worldwide phenomenon; writers including some not-so-subtle teases when it comes to establishing it as canon.
Despite the common assumption that Sherlock is asexual, there have been suggestions that he is willing to indulge the notion of homosexuality. In the first episode, Watson is led to believe that Sherlock is gay, the later concluding Watson is flirting with him. Supporting characters often mistake the two for a couple, Mrs. Hudson believing that they may be sharing a bed. While Sherlock isn’t known for having friends, it is very significant that he deems Watson as worthy to accompany him on his investigations.
9. TWISSY / TWELFTH DOCTOR AND MISSY
Another popular BBC program is Doctor Who, featuring the adventures of a time-traveling alien. While the Doctor is known for having many companions, few have shared a romantic relationship with him. Most notably are Ten and Rose and Eleven and Clara. But Whovians also ship the Doctor with one of his greatest enemies, The Master.
Season 9 of the British sci-fi series introduced a female regeneration of the villain known as Missy. She always walked that thin line between good and evil, and the Doctor struggled to find a glimmer of humanity in his childhood friend turned bitter rival. Despite outwardly flirting with him, Missy was conflicted when it came to fully pledging her loyalty to the Doctor, unsure if she could forgive her dark past. In the season finale, she kills her male counterpart and declares “It’s time to stand with the Doctor” before being fatally shot.
Fandoms are well-known for pairing the hero with their villain but no pairing has been as controversial as that of Kylo Ren and Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The ship has become the most popular when it comes to Star Wars fan fiction, despite some viewers believing it has abusive undertones. Either way, this problematic couple has created waves within the Star Wars fandom.
Fans often use a redemption arc as a means to ship enemies. Those against the ship are quick to say that Kylo Ren is past saving; using The Force to essentially “mind-rape” Rey and killing his own father Han Solo, a beloved character in the Star Wars universe. Supporters argue the pairing is made up of two deeply complicated characters. Kylo struggles to remain in the dark while often being tempted by the light and Rey being hinted at venturing toward The Dark Side.
Another unlikely pairing is that of Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. It’s accepted canon that Malfoy despises “Muggle-borns” and had confrontational encounters with Hermione, in once instance getting slapped by her. But that hasn’t stopped Potterheads from shipping the bad boy and bookworm, much to Harry + Hermione and Ron + Hermione shippers dismay.
Despite J.K. Rowling confirming Draco’s teasing of Hermione was because he had a crush on her, most see the ship as highly impossible. However, Dramione shippers rejoice in its improbability, their fan fiction reimagining Harry Potter canon by suggesting what could have been if the two developed a relationship. Some argue that Draco’s journey toward redemption would have come sooner, turning the hated character into a somewhat likeable guy. Others continue to emphasize the prejudice between Malfoy’s Pureblood family and Muggle-Borns and the fact that their “romance” would be nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome.
6. MURDER HUSBANDS
One of the most deeply intimate relationships to ever be shipped is that of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham on Hannibal. As a profiler for the FBI, Graham has the unique ability to enter the mindset of the killer, assuming their emotions and recreating their actions. After a traumatic case, he’s introduced to Lecter, who becomes his therapist. From that moment on, the two form an intense bond that remains unrivaled by anything before or since.
The more Will begins to fall under Lecter’s sway, it becomes unclear whether he wants to put a stop to the cannibal’s crimes or join in his monstrous legacy. The show ends with the two, embraced in a bloody hug falling presumably to their death off a cliff. Fannibals maintain that the ship is canon, referring to Lecter’s romantic actions toward Will and the fact that the show explicitly made references to the ship.
Despite their strict “no chick-flick moments” rule, the Winchester brothers share a profound bond that is stronger than most siblings. Both have literally been through Hell and back and would willingly die for each other. Perhaps that’s why Supernatural fans are eager to turn the brotherly bond into something romantic. It’s all about the subtext right?
The ship began in 2005, the first fan fiction posted within hours of the Pilot episode, since the majority of the first seasons focused primarily on the brothers who followed “the family business” of “saving people, hunting things.” Supporting characters often mentioned how dependent the brothers were of each other, seeing as how they lost their mother at a young age and their father had been both physically and emotionally distant from them their whole lives. Wincest supporters have concluded that the brothers’ tragic backstories fuel their romantic longing for each other.
Castiel certainly raised something when he pulled Dean out of Hell. Fans went crazy when the winged hunk was introduced as Dean’s savior from eternal damnation. While the two have shared deeply heart-wrenching scenes together that deepened their friendship, they have also shared some awkward scenes that eagle-eyed fans are quick to point out hint at Dean’s possibly bisexuality and special interest in his celestial companion.
The ship has quickly risen to the most popular of the fandom and in 2014, won Tumblr’s war for The Most Reblogged Ship on the Internet. However, when it comes to the show itself, there is still a question as to whether the ship will eventually become canon. Misha Collins, who plays the lovable angel, whole-heartedly supports the ship while Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean, hasn’t been as eager to share his opinion on the subject.
3. TORMUND AND BRIENNE
Move aside Jon and Daenerys, the greatest love story in Westeros is Briemund? Or is it Torienne? Either way, once Tormund made “heart-eyes” at Brienne, GOT fans went wild, setting the Internet abuzz with memes and montage videos of the unlikely pair.
Both characters are considered outsiders: Brienne is one of the few female characters that refuses to conform to Westerosi patriarchy and Tormund has the unfortunate luck of living on the wrong side of The Wall. Tormund is also from a society where warrior women are common to see, hence his attraction to the powerful Brienne who comes from southern Westeros where hatred for the Wildlings isn’t as rampant as it is in the North. While Kristofer Hivju fully supports the ship, his costar Gwendoline Christie believes her character has a stronger connection to Jaime Lannister, but admits both her options aren’t necessarily the best.
One of the most popular ships in the Marvel fandom is that of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. There’s no denying the two have a strong friendship, nearly threatened when Barnes is brainwashed into becoming The Winter Soldier. No matter the challenge, the two are determined to be by each other’s side, “to the end of the line.”
After their tense reunion in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve was forced to defend his troubled friend in Civil War when Bucky is framed for murder. It’s teased that their relationship will be the main focus of Infinity War, allowing Bucky to fulfill his redemption arc by possibly taking on the Captain America title. The Russo Brothers are determined to answer the question of what will happen with the relationship moving forward, maintaining that Steve’s faith in his friend will never waver when it comes to helping Bucky find his true self.
Considered the most popular characters of the DC Universe, Superman and Batman are polar opposites of each other. While both are determined to fight for justice, they operate differently. Superman is the ultimate symbol of hope while Batman is the dark vigilante. Their partnership, while often antagonistic, never fails to get the job done.
Fans of SuperBat rely heavily on the “odd couple” dynamic, pairing the billionaire playboy with the nerdy journalist. After the release of the Batman vs Superman trailer, the ship dramatically rose in popularity, leading to a photoshopped poster of Superman spooning Batman that made its way through social media. One Youtuber even made a Man of Steel 2 parody trailer suggesting the two are secret lovers. Like most fan art, images range from super cute to NC-17 territory.
Which of these, or any other pairings, do YOU ship? Let us know in the comments!
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