If you read fan fiction or BL manga, you may have come across a phenomenon called “Omegaverse.” This Alternate Universe (AU) is so popular it recently gained mainstream traction on TikTok (the tag #Omegaverse has over 357 million views!) and is even getting the attention from university academics!
However, just as the zombie genre is a metaphor for human fears like mass contagion, communism, and racial sublimation, the Omegaverse can also be used as a literary device to showcase real-world issues.
So what is Omegaverse?
The term ‘Omegaverse’ is a genre that’s used to describe a unique relationship that’s based on an animalistic wolf-like hierarchy, with people belonging to either Alpha, Beta, or Omega groups. Alphas are the dominant class, and capable of impregnating Omegas, who are, by contrast, submissive. Betas are in the middle – essentially ‘normal’ humans. Here’s the confusing bit: both men and women can be Alpha, Beta or Omega.
It began as an alternate universe normalising male-male relationships, without labelling them as “gay”. The AU has been around since at least 2010, as part of the Supernatural fandom before spreading to other male-male fiction, like Teen Wolf or Sherlock and Watson.
Apart from the power dynamics within the Omegaverse, this AU has another intention: male Omegas are capable of getting pregnant (a scenario referred to as “mpreg”).
Over the years, the world of Omegaverse – with its A/B/O hierarchies – became more defined and fleshed-out. It introduced fated pairs (aka soulmates), and bonds between the two – when an Alpha wants to mark an Omega as theirs – are formed by a single bite to the back of the Omega’s neck during mating/sex.
Other common premises include Omegas going into “heat” every month for a week, which attracts the nearest Alphas for mating (this often brings about rape situations). Alphas also go through a similar scenario, called a “rut” when they become ragingly randy. However, in many of the later fictional works, an Omega’s heat can be masked by taking suppressant pills, thus also masking an Omega as a Beta.
Interestingly, while Omegaverse was largely relegated to fanworks in the West, the mainstream Japanese manga industry quickly adopted it as a subgenre of their already popular yaoi (or boys’ love, aka male-male stories) genre. It has since spread to other Asian boys’ love genres.
Omegaverse and Social Justice
Much like other supernatural genres – like vampires, werewolves, and zombies – the Omegaverse is legitimately an established AU, though it started out as an excuse for male-male relationships focusing on sex (ok, porn), but with unique power dynamics. But writers – and readers – are now using Omegaverse as an allegory to explore social justice and human rights.
Omegaverse fics touch on the experience of real-life societal issues like alternate gender identities and the societal expectations of gender norms. The genre is particularly popular among women and trans folk because gender and sex aren’t binary in this universe.
Characters in Omegaverse come in two sexes (male and female) and three genders (A/B/O) so in effect, there are many forms of pairings. Aside from the traditional A/O, you can have B/B, A/B, or B/O with the sexes normally disregarded.
Whether the character is male or female is irrelevant to their ultimate identities as Alpha or Omega – male Omegas can get pregnant, while female Alphas are capable of impregnating. The Omegaverse also normalises the concept of male pregnancy and same-sex parents, celebrating rather than villifying it – this resonates with trans couples and same-sex parent units.
In a way, it also re-examines patriarchy and “gender hierarchy” where men are valued over women. The Omegaverse explores what happens when you have male Omegas – representing women in the real world – who’re considered the bottom-rung of society. They have no power, and are often regarded as baby-makers for Alphas.
Consent and victim blaming
Since Omegas experience the “heat” every month, they feel helpless to the advances of Alphas (this is like when female mammals go into heat during mating season). They have to stay away from the public or they’d risk having nearby Alphas trying to knock them up. In these scenarios, the Omegas are effectively raped, although they’re seemingly willing. If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because you can easily see how someone in “heat” behaves the same way as someone who’s drunk or intoxicated. Consent is not sought, because the Omega is not of sound mind.
Much like in the real world, even though the rapists are responsible for the crime, Omegas are still subject to victim-shaming because they’re forever seen as “asking for it” simply they’re Omegas. This is because Omegas – whether male or female – are submissive creatures, with a biological desire to reproduce.
When Alphas go into “rut” they tend to become uncontrollable rapists – and here’s something that many people latch onto: Alphas often get away with it. The idea of men getting away with sexual assault, or barely getting real punishment for it, is eerily close to what happens in the real world. Just look at the how many perverts get away with what they do, with their only defense being ‘I can’t help it’.
Suppressants and reproductive rights
While Omegas go through an insufferable “heat” every month, they also have the option to suppress them by taking heat suppressants – this is basically akin to women taking the pill in the real-world. Many on TikTok have poked fun at this aspect by implying how religious conservatives would disapprove of the suppressants, since they’re basically birth control pills.
When Omegas are “marked” by an Alpha – with a bite to the back of their neck – they’re essentially only able to mate with the same Alpha (the Alpha as no such restrictions). This serves as a “wedding ring” for happy couples, but for Omegas hell-bent on being single (or wanting to choose their Alphas), they wear a collar to prevent being bitten as a way to control who they end up with.
This brings to the fore issues of power and consent, offering ways of negotiating a consensual relationship within an abusive social structure. In a broader real-world context, suppressants and collars represent Omegas taking a semblance of control over their reproductive rights.
Betas and the middle class
In most Omegaverse fiction, the primary story is usually one between the Alpha and Omega. Alphas make up the upper crust of society – they’re rich, attractive, and smart; the comparison explores the social dynamics between the privileged few and the lower class society at large, represented by Omegas.
The Beta role is often relegated to just friends or subordinates. However, Betas are unique – while they can mate with other Betas, they cannot get Omegas pregnant. Hence, a Beta is not as desirable to Omegas (who can often find a semblance of power when mated with an Alpha) and is often not considered by Alphas because they can’t get pregnant.
Betas represent a majority of the population – the middle class, if you will, nudged out of the power struggle by birth.
The popularity of Omegaverse
These are just some of the issues raised in Omegaverse fiction. As of 2020, over 70,000 Omegaverse fan works have been published on AO3 (Archive of Our Own), with thousands more titles appearing as published novels and manga (and manhwa). The popularity of Omegaverse is fueled by the fan fiction community – it’s not afraid to use fiction to explore concepts and topics often shunned in traditional publication.
Just like how the zombie genre is a metaphor for pandemics, the Omegaverse is ripe for exploring and discussing gender roles, stereotypes, discrimination, oppression, and power dynamics. Since it’s gaining traction in academic circles as a potential for meaningful social dialogue, you can also look forward to more Omegaverse representation in all works of fiction, even mainstream.