Love may be dead in real life, but there is one realm where it continues to thrive unopposed: fandom. There is just no way to escape the ubiquity of romance in our geeky celebration of pop culture. The most popular fanfiction and fanart focus on the love lives of our favorite main characters. Ship manifestos about a couple's relationship have reigned supreme from the ye olde days of Geocities to Tumblr. The first kiss of a One True Pairing (OTP) can fan the flames of excitement for weeks, and a breakup -- or any ill-received development, really - can incite years-long devastation and rage.
That's one of the major downsides with shipping. Passionate fans are not inherently bad, but some fans just have the unfortunate tendency to take things a bit too far when it comes to their ships. At best, the backlash is a strongly worded post on social media or inspiration for a canon-divergent AU. At worst, it's the kind of obsessiveness and even outright harassment that reveals the dark underbelly of modern fandom. Not all ships inspire this kind of ire, but there are some ships that will forever be infamous for their controversial fans and anti-fans alike. Here are the 15 most egregious examples, but trust us, these just barely scratch the surface.
15 HARLEY QUINN AND JOKER (DC COMICS)
Let's start with that old-fashioned Mad Love. When Harley Quinn was created for the Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, her sole role was to be the comically lovesick companion to the Joker. Since this first appearance, she has evolved into an antiheroic trickster, one who favors petty mayhem with her queerplatonic partner Poison Ivy. Harley has thus risen to pop culture prominence thanks to her rich character development.
Yet there are still so many people who think Harley shines brightest as a character when she's with her first love. We see it in media like Suicide Squad and the stray comic issue, which try to argue the Joker has genuine love for Harley despite his severe abuse towards her. DC fandom as a whole doesn't approve of this couple by now, but the romanticization of their toxic romance still occasionally crops up in the most cringe-worthy ways imaginable.
14 YUURI KATSUKI AND VICTOR NIKIFOROV (YURI!!! ON ICE)
Yuri!!! on Ice is an interesting inclusion on this list for many reasons. It's the youngest show or movie out of all the others here, having premiered on Crunchyroll's animation streaming site in late 2016. Yet even with only one season under its belt and vague plans for future installments from creator Mitsurō Kubo, its fledgling fandom rivals any other in strength... and has courted surprisingly serious controversy.
Most of these controversies seem to stem from the ice-skating anime's main couple, Yuuri and Victor.
Even with their relationship canon-approved, fans have gone to extremes to show their continued commitment. Some fans have been relatively harmless annoyances who spam the social media pages of figure skaters resembling the pair in real life, while others have gone much further.
13 BRUCE BANNER AND NATASHA ROMANOFF (MCU)
If shipping can tear even the smallest of fandoms apart, it's amazing how anti-shipping can unite fans in a gleeful hatefest. Look no further than the Brutasha controversy that rocked the Avengers fandom in 2015. When word got out that the Black Widow and the Hulk would hook up in Avengers: Age of Ultron thanks to Joss Whedon, fans relentlessly mocked the new paramours. Once the film hit global theaters soon after, the situation became so much worse.
From their lackluster lullaby to Bruce faceplanting into Natasha's chest, the overall Avengers fandom was highly critical of this new relationship. Common complaints included the lack of buildup and painful attempts at sexual tension, but the most vocalized issue concerned the comparison between Natasha's "monstrous" infertility and Bruce's Hulk situation. Fans felt Natasha was both demonized and demeaned, forced into playing a particularly pathetic and uncharacteristic damsel in distress.
12 OLIVER QUEEN AND FELICITY SMOAK (ARROW)
Out of all the shows in the CW's Arrowverse, the titular adventures of the Green Arrow consistently irritate its loyal fandom. Sure, the poor characterization and lackluster plots are frequently scrutinized among viewers, but they've always been accepted as part of the otherwise fantastic superhero television genre. But when it comes to the writers' preference for a romance between Oliver and tech genius Felicity, fans really cannot turn down their extreme displeasure.
Let's just say Arrow and Flash fans were inconsolable after that faux pas.
Anti-Olicity shippers in the Arrow fandom claim that their constant breakups and makeups disrupt the team's activities, their relationship insecurities overshadow even the most deadly threats, and other characters like Laurel Lance have been unfairly sacrificed to elevate this toxic couple. The Olicity drama has even crossed over to other shows, as they blew up and dramatically reconciled during Barry Allen and Iris West's wedding. Let's just say Arrow and Flash fans were inconsolable after that faux pas.
11 LAPIS LAZULI AND PERIDOT (STEVEN UNIVERSE)
Even feel-good cartoons for children are not safe from the passion of older fans and shippers. The most common example of this fandom nightmare may be bronies, but the Steven Universe fandom has been giving them a run for their money in scandalous behavior since 2013. While not a romance heavy show, minor fandom schisms did occur due to characters' unrequited love pains. But once enemies Lapis Lazuli and Peridot began moving into flirtier territories, things took a turn for the worse.
Some fans pulled out all the stops to justify their ship hate. They claimed this ship was underdeveloped and abusive, declared their ships to be superior, and rallied against anyone with an interest in Lapidot. Unfortunately, Steven Universe storyboard artist Lauren Zuke got caught in the fandom's anti-Lapidot backlash. After Zuke shared ship art, she endured several weeks of online harassment that forced her to delete her accounts.
10 DRACO AND HERMIONE VS. DRACO AND HARRY (HARRY POTTER)
There's nothing like a good throwback to remind you how little fandom messiness has changed. Most geeks surely remember the shipping wars that happened in the early Aughts between the Harry Potter fandom's two most popular ships: Hermione Granger/Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy. The drama within and between these two ships definitely served as a blueprint for bigger and badder fandom troubles in the future.
Anti-Dramione fans accused shippers of fetishizing racism and abuse, while anti-Drarry fans accused them of fetishizing homosexuality... and abuse.
Despite both ships clearly being a problematic form of the enemies-to-lovers trope, the two factions couldn't help but constantly criticize one another while promoting their own ship. For Dramione shippers, this meant harassing creator J.K. Rowling for her disapproval of the ship. For Drarry fans, this meant bombarding the actors with sexy manips of their characters. The fandom collectively died of secondhand embarrassment.
9 CAITLIN SNOW AND BARRY ALLEN (THE FLASH)
Whether you're an avid comic reader or occasional viewer of the CW, there's one simple truth that ties all versions of The Flash together: Iris West is Barry Allen's one true love. He has repeatedly died for her, lived endless happy lives with her, and has risked the sanctity of the Multiverse to protect her. That kind of all-consuming love would embolden other shippers to rabid conceit, but Westallen fans seem comfortably chill in their place in canon.
Caitlin Snow and Barry Allen shippers are another story entirely. These shippers have gone to great lengths to validate their interpretation of the sibling-like relationship -- typically at Iris' expense. They frequently ignore Iris' existence, vilify her actions, accuse Westallen shippers of fetishization, and bring their complaints of the show's romantic direction directly to Iris' actress on social media. The harassment has been a minor, but consistent, sore spot in the fandom.
8 DEAN AND CASTIEL VS. DEAN AND SAM (SUPERNATURAL)
In 2005, Supernatural tapped into a previously ignored demographic of viewers through a simple formula: horror, supernatural intrigue, and very pretty young men with problems. It was the first major fandom of the modern age, as it was created during a time of increased global online access and innovative marketing strategies that encouraged creators to interact more with fans. Naturally, disaster was always one bad comment away.
Shipping in the Supernatural fandom was ripe with controversy from the start.
For one thing, Dean and Sam are brothers, so Dean/Castiel shippers could easily justify their hate of their rivalship. For another, both ships were openly criticized by the show's actors and showrunners, which in turn inspired these rivals to harass their detractors for over a decade. Their harassment is relatively innocuous compared to other fandoms, but they helped establish many of the issues we see from heavily invested fans today.
7 SHERLOCK HOLMES AND JOHN WATSON (BBC'S SHERLOCK)
Speaking of shows about tragic men, this age-old trope found a new fervent fanbase across the pond through the BBC's revival of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes book series. The new television show followed the early adventures of the titular detectives, whose tumultuous relationship was the source of the fandom's most popular fanworks and art. Everything would have been fine if it wasn't for one thing -- another new Sherlock series.
Over in America, CBS produced its own TV series known as Elementary. Competition was immediately ignited between British and American shippers over the best version of the ship, which intensified when Lucy Liu was cast as Watson in Elementary. British shippers threw racist insults and accused American shippers of homophobia, while American shippers accused their British counterparts of fetishization and misogyny. It certainly didn't help that the British show did have a problem with respecting its female characters.
6 EDWARD AND BELLA VS. JACOB AND BELLA (TWILIGHT)
Another shipping throwback that deserves a high spot on this list comes from the Twilight fandom -- the stuff of even this writer's prepubescent nightmares. The popular supernatural drama certainly needs no introduction, as it blew through pop culture like a hurricane in late 2005. Teens and adults alike flocked to this tale of forbidden love between human Bella and her inhuman lovers, propelling it to a level of popularity -- and sheer fandom pandemonium -- not seen since the height of Harry Potter.
How can one even summarize the mess that was the battle royale between Team Edward and Team Jacob?
There were the racist rants against Jacob and the abuse discourse against Edward. The creepy obsession with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's relationship as the "real life" Bella and Edward. The harassment-inspired suicide attempts. The hacking of author Stephanie Meyer's computer... the drama really deserves its own dissertation.
5 STILES STILINSKI AND DEREK HALE (TEEN WOLF)
During the last few years, there's been a noticeable rise of queerbaiting in the media -- the phenomenon in which showrunners, knowing the power of intense same-sex friendships with certain fans, tease them with the possibility of developing these friendships into actual romances. This was always a problem with Supernatural and Sherlock, but Teen Wolf based its entire show around this trope since 2011 with Stiles Stilinski and Derek Hale.
The two were frenemies at best, consistently at each other's throats with nothing but barely controlled violence. Controversial shipper activities included the typical shameful bouts of racism and misogyny against canon female love interests, and anti-shippers condemned shippers' glorification of -- you guessed it -- abuse. But creator Jeff Davis fueled this insanity by coyly playing up, and never authentically exploring, Stiles' sexuality. Shippers were pissed, Davis and his crew became defensive, and virtual screaming matches ensued for years.
4 KARA DANVERS AND LENA LUTHOR (SUPERGIRL)
Out of all the awful interactions between shippers and a show's production team, nothing really beats the recent PR disasters that have befallen the Supergirl fandom as of late. While the show premiered in 2015, the shipping wars didn't get really steamy until the character Lena Luthor was introduced a few seasons later. With no other pleasant suitors for Kara at the time, numerous shippers fell hard for this new affectionate relationship.
Shippers unnecessarily insert this ship into any CW or Smallville related post this side of Tumblr.
Also, once again they have issues with racism against Kara's ex-boyfriend Jimmy Olsen. However, they have been energized into a particularly angry frenzy ever since the Supergirl cast openly mocked the ship -- in song no less! -- at last year's SDCC. The persecution complex this has caused threatens to tear apart the Supergirl fandom entirely with each new season.
3 LEXA AND CLARKE GRIFFIN (THE 100)
Another legitimately concerning, but at times very poorly articulated, concern for fans of queer ships is the bury-your-gays trope. This is what pushed Clarke/Lexa shippers over the edge in 2016. These once tame members of The 100 fandom transformed overnight, proving that sometimes controversy even comes when your OTP wins the ship war.
The unfortunate thing about the Clarke/Lexa debacle of 2016 is that these shippers had a legitimate grievance against The 100 showrunners. But some fans' hyperfocus on this ship revealed their troubling acceptance of the show's other problems, such as its blatant racism, and their lack of advocacy for other marginalized lesbians killed in the media at the same time, like Poussey from Orange is the New Black. Plus, these fans still worship on the altar of Clexa to this day. There is an annual Clexa Con to celebrate the ship, which is some serious dedication.
2 KEITH KOGANE AND LANCE MCCLAIN (VOLTRON)
If you haven't heard about the ship wars in the Voltron: Legendary Defender fandom, consider yourself lucky. When the rebooted children's cartoon hit Netflix in 2016, some fans became immediately enamored with Keith and Lance, thinking these two would embody the rivals-to-lovers trope. At the same time, other fans expressed a preference for Keith and his mentor figure Takashi "Shiro" Shirogane.
As the series unfolded, things in the Voltron fandom got ugly very quickly.
Vagueness about canon ages led some Klance shippers to accuse other rivalships -- particularly Shiro/Keith shippers -- of promoting pedophilia. They have since led organized harassment chains across the fandom and even towards the show's crew, threatening to publicly assault voice actress Bex Taylor-Klaus and sending death threats to voice actor Josh Keaton and his family. And sadly, it looks like they have no plans of ending their bad behavior anytime soon.
1 REY AND KYLO REN (STAR WARS)
Hands down, the most well-known and divisive fandom in the last few years is this new generation of Star Wars fans. When The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, a large number of fans latched onto newly minted Jedi Rey and villainous Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren. They rallied behind this new pairing with surprising voracity, especially after The Last Jedi saw the two form an uneasy partnership.
More or less totally unprompted, Reylo fans have defended their ship with the destructive energy of a dying star. They have launched racist campaigns against fans of Finn or Poe Dameron, claiming those shipping options are misogynistic. Conversely, anti-Reylo fans have been just as adamant that the ship harmfully perpetuates real life abuse and rape culture. There has been enough drama, harassment, and threats between these two sides to make anyone seriously reconsider joining the fandom -- or any fandom, really -- forever.