For the past few years, there has been an increase in the release of BL manga and series focusing on what is now familiarly called the Omegaverse. The popularity of the Omegaverse is as such that currently, if you go to Animate in Japan to see the newest release of BL manga and doujinshi, there will be a nice number of line up of manga that will bring you stories of relationships between male alpha, beta, and/or omega. The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 boasted an interesting BL manga sales ranking where at least three different titles of Omegaverse BL manga snagged a place in the top ten, including the popular Kashikomarimashita, Destiny series.
Some of use are probably already familiar with the Omegaverse from reading slash fanfictions, and consequently might have been surprised to see the rapid rise of the Omegaverse’s popularity in BL manga these past few years. How did the Omegaverse trope reach the BL manga industry in Japan, and how did it become so popular? Let’s take a brief look at it together!
What is the Omegaverse?
Simply put, the Omegaverse is a trope where the characters written in this universe are given specific biological roles based on the hierarchical system originating from animal behavior research. If you feel like you’ve heard the term alpha, beta, and omega before without knowing what the Omegaverse is, it’s likely because you might have read or heard about them in context of animal behaviors. This is also why the Omegaverse trope often involves other animal behavioral elements, despite the characters portrayed in the universe are fully humans.
The core premise of the Omegaverse is really quite simple; it is a universe where the characters could be assigned as Alpha, Beta, or Omega. Alphas take the dominant roles, the highest in the hierarchical system, might be able to knot when having sex, and are able to impregnate Omegas. Omegas, on the other hand, are the lowest in the hierarchical system, take the submissive roles, and have the ability to self-lubricate and become pregnant regardless of their sex. Lastly, Betas are the ones who are placed under Alphas and above Omegas in the hierarchical system, and most often portrayed as “normal” humans with no special attributes like Alphas or Omegas. In the Omegaverse, lovers might form a bond when they meet their fated mates, which gives them a heightened connection with their bond partner. The concept of “going into heat” is also largely used in this universe, which is a time where the Alphas or Omegas really, really need to have sex.
This simple core premise usually stay the same no matter what Omegaverse stories you read, but the general world-building for the universe itself is very flexible. The Omegaverse largely started as a kink trope—a trope intended to portray non-normative sexual practices or desires. As such, it’s really no wonder that most stories involving the Omegaverse has an intense focus dedicated to portrayal of sexual acts and their impacts on the characters. However, while this trope essentially began pretty much as a porn fodder, through its development in the hands of creative fandom, the Omegaverse also serves as an interesting canvas to explore a wide range of stories and world-building—from human rights issues to social power dynamics, or simply telling stories of a Beta paired with an Alpha or an Omega instead of the usual Alpha-Omega pair? If you dive into the the Omegaverse trope nowadays, you can pretty much find any kind of stories you want.
How it started
The Omegaverse trope is said to have originated in the Supernatural fandom, specifically in one of its many kink memes. At that time, the Supernatural fandom was rife with werewolf and knotting kinks, so the Omegaverse trope might have been a natural extension of that. The popularity of this trope spread it out the Supernatural fandom, which is not surprising considering fandom has already had experience with older tropes that are pretty similar or have similar elements to the Omegaverse, such as the Mpreg (male pregnancy) trope, BDSM Alternate Universes, Soulmates, and others.
Now, if you’ve been reading slash fanfictions for years, these tropes would be extremely familiar to you. The Mpreg trope is one of the most common and popularly used—whatever fandom you’re in, there would be at least one slash fanfiction utilizing the Mpreg trope. It’s a trope that fan creators had always been very creative with; after all, how do you make a male pregnant? Magic, body-altering science, or turning the character into non-human? It could get sort of tiring having to think up reasons for Mpreg, doesn’t it? The Omegaverse, on the other hand, gives not only a convenient set-up for Mpreg settings, but also offers a much more interesting sandbox for the fan creators to play with relationship dynamics!
With this fresh, exciting sandbox, it’s no wonder that a lot of fan creators want to try their hands on the Omegaverse. By the year 2013, the Omegaverse has already become one of the common slash genre tropes in fanfictions, especially in non-anime and manga fandoms. Fandoms for American TV shows and movies, novels, and even RPF are rife with the Omegaverse stories, with, of course, varying responses from readers. The Omegaverse then slowly makes their way to the Japanese anime and manga fandom.
What is it actually that made the Omegaverse enticing for its readers? There have been people commenting that the Omegaverse is simply an excuse to have two characters indulge in what basically is marathon sex. Some people like the concept of pair-bond, as it is quite similar to the much older Soulmate trope, especially tied with the tropes such as “going in heat” and “knotting”, and later, male pregnancy. Some others like the endless possibility of world-building, considering how the Omegaverse doesn’t have a specific rule outside of its core premise. Whatever the reason is, it is clear that the Omegaverse’s popularity has a lot to do with the fact that it combines so many older, popular tropes into one—similar concepts, yet still different enough to make it look fresh!
Omegaverse in BL manga
Omegaverse in Japan, much like it is internationally, first emerged in the creative fandom space. Most likely, Japanese fans who ventured to the international fandom brought the Omegaverse back to their own fandom space by producing Omegaverse stories. After an interesting adventure in the pixiv webpage in order to trace the earliest origin of the Omegaverse in Japanese fandom, we found that the earliest Omegaverse doujinshi sample had been uploaded in pixiv on June 2013 for the X-Men: First Class fandom.
However, it was only around 2014 that the Omegaverse began to pick up its popularity in pixiv—after a certain pixiv artist had drawn an interestingly detailed explanation on the core concepts of the Omegaverse, a lot of fans began to show interest for it, enough that many of the well-known doujinshi artists began selling the Omegaverse doujinshi of their ships at doujinshi events. By November 2014, Kadokawa released Do-S Kaichou ni Gokaicho!? Alpha wa Omega wo Shihai Suru, followed by Fusion Project starting the monthly magazine Omegaverse Project starting March 2015, which published seven different mangaka’s Omegaverse manga in the span of about half a year. This helped spreading the Omegaverse trope to Japanese BL manga readers, familiarizing the terms and the workings of the trope. This turned out to be immensely popular that other publishers began to publish their own the Omegaverse anthologies.
It should be noted though, that while Japanese fans brought back the Omegaverse from the international fandom, they were never a stranger to the core concepts of the Omegaverse. Long time BL manga readers would be very familiar with the title Sex Pistols, a hit BL manga by Kotobuki Tarako, which told the story of a society where special individuals did not evolve from apes, but from other animals. Sex Pistols includes portrayals of various animal characteristics in its human characters, male pregnancy, as well as hierarchical system based on an individual’s breed rarity and desirability. Does it feel like ringing a bell to you? Yup, it has elements that are very similar to the Omegaverse
Interestingly, while the international fandom is pretty flexible about the concept and rules of the Omegaverse, the Japanese version of this trope is a little bit more restrictive. Unlike the international fandom who likes to bend the core concepts of the Omegaverse, the Japanese fans tend to stick to the Omegaverse guide, with explanations you could now find on the first pages of every volume of Omegaverse BL manga you read, impressively detailing the reproductive system, power dynamics, “going into heat”, and how pair-bond happens. Because of this, Omegaverse BL manga have considerably less variety in world-building compared to Omegaverse fanfictions and comics written in international fandoms.
Is the Omegaverse really that popular in Japan? Is it really thriving in the Japanese BL manga industry? Well, the enthusiasm for the Omegaverse series is certainly rising very notably for the past few years. In the 2017 annual Kono BL ga Yabai! ranking, one of the immensely popular Omegaverse series by Sachimo, Kashikomarimashita, Destiny ~Answer~, which is a sequel of the similarly titled manga, manages to snag the third place, just after the notable, long-running since 2011 Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai by Yoneda Kou.
Omegaverse BL manga also snagged a considerable number of the annual BL Award held by chil-chil, the must-follow webpage for fujoshi in Japan. Among the titles is the heartwarming Tadaima, Okaeri series by Ichikawa Ichi, Abarenbo Honey by Kevin Tobidase, Sayonara Alpha by Ichinashi Kimi, and Kurui Naku no wa Boku no Ban by Kusabi Keri. Just last week, Kusabi Keri had also finished an impressive, largely successful exhibition for the very same series at Torico, notably getting excited responses for the varied props in the exhibition, including displays of Alpha and Omega pheromone scents.
Why has the Omegaverse become such a huge hit in the BL manga industry in Japan? One reason might be because it’s fresh, but at the same time it is also familiar. Readers of BL manga would be familiar with popular series dealing with Mpreg (such as Sex Pistols), or stories depicting a human-animals hybrid (Sakyou Aya’s Kuroneko Kareshi series are immensely popular). So the technicality of the Omegaverse’s world isn’t hard to grasp, even for new readers. Add to that, tropes such as Soulmates or fated lovers has also always been popular in BL manga (Shimizu Yuki’s -ZE-, for example).
The good thing about the Omegaverse is that it caters to so many different tastes. You like fluffy, domestic shounen-ai manga that gives you family feels? There’s Tadaima, Okaeri series to enjoy. You want to read one that is sexy, pretty-much-just-porn, full of sexual scenes? There are tons of Omegaverse BL manga catering to that needs. You’re in the mood of reading complicated triangle relationship with dark relationship dynamics? Or perhaps some more of the “forbidden love” tropes? There’s Ai to Makoto or Elite Omega wa Yoru ni Oborete! Even though the Omegaverse is a specific trope, it still gives its readers such a wide variety of genre, which keeps readers for getting bored over the same tropes. From light-hearted BL to the darkest kind of angst, there’s always something for everyone within the Omegaverse, even if the established rules already has a specific setting.
Of course, nothing signals popularity much better than sequels published for a previously finished series. This year, one of the most popular of the early Omegaverse BL manga who had managed to rank first on amazon Japan, Sayonara Koibito, Mata Kite Tomodachi by yoha, gets a sequel under the title Sayonara Koibito, Mata Kite Tomodachi Lost Child. This only contributes to the long list of Omegaverse titles getting sequels after their previous successes, including the Kashikomarimashita, Destiny series and the Tadaima, Okaeri series. By the looks of it, the BL manga industry isn’t about to let go of the Omegaverse craze just yet!
Omegaverse, compared to some of other tropes in BL manga, is certainly considerably new, but perhaps it is what makes it so popular nowadays. The similarity with older tropes lent a reassuring feeling in diving into an unknown trope, but there’s just enough difference and twists to make it feel fresh and new for the readers. Those who are more familiar with the Omegaverse from the creative fandom space might feel the BL manga version of the Omegaverse to be more restrictive, but in the end, the core concepts stayed the same, which makes it easier to enjoy even for those who have been reading the Omegaverse before it got popular.
What do you think about the Omegaverse? If you are familiar with it, was your first Omegaverse experience in the fandom space, or was it from the BL manga, which cemented its Japanese version to the trope? Let us know in the comments!