That was a question I had too a few years ago, and boy was I surprised by the answer after I did some reading.
Ever wondered what your favorite characters would be like if they lived in a world in which people exhibited certain characteristics of wolves? Well, ABO fics are for you.
Okay, it's actually not that simple and is a fairly popular type of AU that is still rapidly growing—AO3 has over 50,000 fics tagged ABO, a number that has grown by more than 10,000 since I checked it less than a month ago. So, I'm going to break down some of the basics of ABO for you, so you can see if it seems like an AU you could get into—I never thought I would be into reading it, but here I am. I must confess that I have only read M/M ABO fics, so my guide will reflect that in most of its information. Please let me know if there are any important factors I have left out of this breakdown, and I'd also love to hear if F/M or F/F ABO fics differ from these general M/M ABO rules.
First off, ABO stands for alpha, beta, omega, and refers to the role hierarchy in the animal kingdom—specifically wolves. ABO can also be called omegaverse.
In ABO fics, people present as alphas, betas or omegas—either at birth or during some sort of puberty—which each have their own physiological, and sometimes psychological, qualities that set them apart from the other groups. Below is a breakdown of some of the typical and most common characteristics that each group—referred to in fics as genders a lot of times—exhibit. Note: each fic tends to have its own take on ABO dynamics and makes changes from the general ABO "rules."
Alphas: In the majority of ABO fics, alphas are at the top of the hierarchy. A lot of times, they are rich and successful natural leaders. They are also commonly portrayed as stronger and more aggressive than betas and omegas. Much like wolves or dogs, alpha males have a knot on their penis that "locks" them into their partner while having sex in order to best breed as well as above average amounts of cum during ejaculation. In a lot of fics, alphas go through a "rut," which is an alpha's version of a heat—basically for a few days either every month or every few months, they have an almost uncontrollable need to have sex and procreate with an omega. Another common characteristic is the alpha voice, which if used to give a command to an omega, the omega can't help but obey. They also tend to have the ability to deliver a mating bond bite to an omega, and sometimes a beta, that will tie them together as mates—usually irreversible. The role of alpha women—if they exist in the AU—is often unclear or loosely defined in an M/M fic.
Betas: Betas most resemble regular humans in ABO fics. In AUs in which there are only alphas, betas and omegas (no humans), betas are the most ordinary and have very few—if any—special characteristics, though they tend to still be stronger and more respected than omegas. In AUs that include humans, alphas, betas and omegas are usually given more characteristics of wolves, making them werewolves—or borderline werewolves—but betas typically have less of those abilities and characteristics than alphas or omegas. In some fics, betas can only reproduce with other betas.
Omegas: How omegas are seen and characterized really depends on the fic. There are a few ways that are generally used as how omegas work in the AU: as the property of alphas, as lesser than alphas and betas with less rights, or as something to be treasured and protected. Omegas can be male or female, and omega males and females tend to have the same characteristics. Both can get pregnant—though the logistics of the carrying and delivery of a male-carried baby change with each AU—and both go through heats during which they have a nearly uncontrollable urge to have sex with, and be knotted by, an alpha in order to procreate. Omegas tend to exhibit softer characteristics and tend to be pushed more toward a homemaker lifestyle.
Phew, now that we've got the character roles down, let's get into more of the nitty-gritty specifics that are found in ABOs. What follows is a guide to some of the common things that you'll come across while reading these AUs (some are mentioned above, but better defined below).
Suppressants: There are different types of suppressants, but they tend to be supplements for omegas to take either to suppress their scents around alphas, to suppress the intensity of their heats or as birth control.
Knot: A bulb at the base of an alpha's penis that allows them to more easily impregnate their partner.
Rut: A rut can occur once a month, quarterly or twice a year, depending on the AU. It is a few days during which an alpha has an almost uncontrollable urge to have sex and procreate with an omega.
Heat: A heat is a rut for omegas.
Slick: Male omegas will produce slick as self-lubricant while aroused, or only during heat.
Mate: Either a mate is seen as a soulmate (the person cosmically meant for another person) or is seem similarly to a spouse.
Bond: A bond is created when an alpha bites their partner (almost always an omega), mating them together. A bond is either created only during sex between an alpha and an omega while an alpha knots, or can be given any time in a sort of ceremony.
Alpha voice: Omegas are susceptible to commands given by an alpha in their alpha voice and must obey. Betas can be vulnerable to this too.
Due to the nature of ABO fics, they are much more popular with M/M pairings than F/F or F/M (the F/F ABO tag has less than 4,000 fics on AO3, F/M has about 8,500, and M/M has more than 45,000). With many of the fics, it is unclear what role alpha women play in the AU. I've only personally read one fic that adequately explained the role of a female alpha that made sense with the other rules of ABOs. In the fic, a character's sister was an alpha female, but she was barren, since it is the role of omegas to carry children in ABOs.
Omegas also tend to be victim to gender discrimination very similar to gender discrimination women have faced for centuries—lesser rights and autonomy than those of alphas and betas. Very few ABO fics seem to have a beta main character and they tend to be background characters.
My personal favorite type of ABO is the fics in which the characters are werewolves because that adds an extra layer of nuance to the dynamics and gives the reader a bit more to enjoy than just the sexual content of general ABOs. I also read a lot of "Teen Wolf" fics, and those ABOs tend to lean heavily on the presence of werewolves in the show.
That's it for the basics of ABO fics, but there are many more nuances that can be found in specific fics due to how the author shapes their AU. Each AU is a bit different than all of the others, so if there's an ABO that doesn't appeal to you, don't knock them all out because they can be really interesting and well-written stories.
Do you read ABOs? Is there something on the guide that I got wrong or forgot? Are there differences between M/M ABO fics and F/M and F/F ones?