For many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, expressing their love for stories and characters through transformative works is what they love the most. The transformative fandom that includes fan fiction, fan art, and other fan works is massively popular and has been for decades, and with sites like AO3, it’s easier than ever for people to write about their favorite characters and relationships.
While discussions of shipping, ship wars, and the love of ships are common, the actual figures showing which relationships are the most popular are fascinating. These numbers reflect trends and show what writers and readers want, but they can also show some troubling truths that illustrate the lack of diversity in both the source material and the fandom itself.
10 James “Bucky” Barnes / Reader: 9,102
While most of the top ten relationships on this list are between two real characters, this one is not. Self-inserting or reading fics are common in many fandoms, and some more than others. And, while most of the main characters have fics where the writer / reader is the love interest, Bucky Barnes is the character with the most.
This reflects how a character who was truly a supporting character or was overlooked for a time in the narrative can be hugely popular with fans, especially those who interact with the narrative in specific ways.
9 James “Bucky” Barnes and Steve Rogers: 9,698
Ninth, we have a relationship that fans aren’t surprised to see, but they might wonder why it’s not higher on the list. The truth is that it is much higher on the list, but relationships in AO3 are presented in different ways.
A relationship that uses the & symbol often indicates a friendship, platonic, or family relationship, while a “/” symbol indicates a romantic relationship most of the time. So this tag reflects how this friendship is a big deal both in canon and with fans.
8 Loki / Tony Stark: 10,148
While many of the fan-favorite relationships in the MCU are with two characters who interact often, this is one of the exceptions. Ships can become popular even if the source material between the two characters is minimal. But, since Loki and Tony are very much loved in these types of fan jobs, it is not surprising that they were sent together.
Fans were most drawn to the somewhat antagonistic and sarcastic nature of this relationship, and it’s also worth noting that Tony is one of the most popular characters in the MCU for fans to submit.
7 Clint Barton / Phil Coulson: 10,335
This couple may come as a surprise because this ship is not as big as it used to be. However, these numbers look at the number of fics over time, so all the stories that were written in the early days of Avengers the fandom is still included.
While this boat is not that popular now, it used to be hugely popular. It definitely reflects a very different era in fandom. And while it wasn’t in the top ten, the Clint / Coulson / Natasha polyamorous boat was popular too. This relationship focuses a lot on how Coulson was Clint’s controller in his days as a SHIED agent.
6 Clint Barton / Natasha Romanov: 10819
This is the first relationship to feature a female character, and it’s worth noting that in general fanfiction for the MCU there is a lack of women. In some ways, the source material is the culprit, as for many years there were few main female characters, and this could also be the reason why there is so much fiction revolving around romance between men and so little focus on women. , also sometimes known as femslash.
However, the reason this particular couple is popular makes sense given their close ties in both the comics and the movies.
5 Loki / Thor: 13,179
This could be one of the most controversial couples on this list because these two are adopted siblings. While this kind of weird relationship is taboo in our society, it may not seem particularly out of place in mythology, which is what Loki and Thor are based on.
It also reflects how often the topics explored in fanfiction tend to be exploratory in different ways. There is no denying that this one has many different opinions.
4 Pepper Potts / Tony Stark: 18,521
While most of the relationships on this list are non-canon, this is the big exception. It is also one of the few heterosexual couples, as most couples are between two men. Pepper and Tony are together in the MCU, and since they are one of the main couples in the movie, it makes sense that this is reflected in the stories.
And, like all the other couples on this list, mentions of Tony and Pepper also include stories in which they are characters, but not necessarily the main relationship in the fic.
3 Peter Parker and Tony Stark: 20,351
This is another case where the relationship is not romantic. Instead, the “&” symbol shows that fans really love this relationship as it is in canon and like to see it reflected in general fics.
So most people don’t send these two together, but they want to see more of the mentoring relationship here and explore how this bond affects the two characters.
two Steve Rogers / Tony Stark: 31,760
It’s probably not a huge surprise to those in the transformative MCU fandom that Stony is one of the top two couples. Steve and Tony are very popular characters in fanfiction and their relationship is very beloved. However, it is also good to reflect at this point on the fact that there are no people of color on this list. This is both a failure of the MCU and the fandom, and it’s important for both properties and fans to reflect on ingrained racism in society and where work still needs to be done to combat the many things it affects. Ships like Stony, Phlint, and even Frostiron (Tony / Loki) are very popular, while ships that would make a lot of sense, like Steve / Sam Wilson and Tony / Rhodey, have very few fics.
On her own merits, Stony is a dynamic ship because the two characters have a lot of chemistry and a lot of tension. All this heartache is definitely attractive.
1 James “Bucky” Barnes / Steve Rogers: 50,927
While the ship war between Stony and Stucky was one of the biggest in the MCU fandom, Stucky has Stony’s beat based on AO3 numbers. Given that the relationship between these two men was so central to the Captain America trilogy, it’s no surprise that fans see a romantic relationship between these two and want to explore it since canon didn’t.
Overall, this list is a good reminder that greater diversity of genders, relationship types, and racial representations would be welcome in both fandom and popular property canon today.
NEXT: MCU: 5 Reasons Steve and Peggy Were Good Together (& 5 Steve Should Have Been With Bucky)
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