The Critical Fan Toolkit

The Legend of Korra Fandom by Numbers Storyboard

Below are a series of data visualizations created using Tableau Workbooks. You can make each visualization full screen by clicking the "Full screen" button on the bottom right corner on each.

If you are using a screen reader, these workbooks may not be screen reader friendly. However, I have included a description before each visualization to describe the data trends so you can interact with the data and findings.


TLOK Fanfiction Publishing Trends

These descriptions are also available on the visualizations themselves.

The top graph shows the publishing trends of The Legend of Korra (TLOK) fanfiction published on Archive of Our Own across the years, from the first published fic in 2011 to approximately July 2015. The top graph shows how many fics were published on specific weeks up until July 2015, several months after the series finale aired.

Publishing activity in TLOK fluctuates often. The first spike of publishing activity is around June 2012, when TLOK first aired. Fans actually had content to work with then, which explains the uptick in publishing rates. The next spike in fan engagement is around February 2013. TLOK was originally supposed to be one season, which explains why there is no continuity in the narratives across all four season.

However, season 2 did not air until late 2013, so the spike in February 2013 may be because the show was announced to come back, again stirring excitement within the fan community. When season 2 actually aired in late 2013, fans engagement barely rose; this may be because season 2 was widely unpopular in TLOK fandom.

The bottom graph zooms in on Seasons 3 and 4, which brought another larger spike of fan engagement. Season 3 aired June 2014, while season 4 aired October 2014 and finished in December 2014. What makes seasons 3 and 4 so special was the writers' choices to develop Korra and Asami's relationship and lead to a romance. Towards the end of season 3, Korra survives a battle and is left traumatized both physically and emotionally. While helping Korra get ready for a celebration, Asami puts her hand on Korra's and says "I want you to know that I’m here for you, if you ever want to talk, or - anything." Fans began to read into this interaction, seeing a new possible romance budding between Korra and Asami.

Season 4 — which aired from October to December 2013–continued a similar trajectory, dropping hints that Korra and Asami may see each other as more than friends. Fans picked up on this subtext, and the amount of fanfictions published spiked. Finally, at the end of Season 4 in December 2014, Korra and Asami's romance seemed to be confirmed canon. January 2015 brought the highest spike of fan engagements when almost 400 new fanfictions were written.


Relationship and Romantic Data

These descriptions are also available on the visualizations themselves.

There are multiple slides in this visualization. First is relationship categories counts. Relationship categories show the general gender pairings represented in the fic. The three corpora are pre-Korrasami (before Korra/Asami even seemed to be a possibility in canon), sub-Korrasami (when Korra/Asami seemed to be a possibility), and post-Korrasami (when Korra/Asami was confirmed canon).

During the Pre-Korrasami seasons of the show— or seasons one, two, and arguably three — depict only heterosexual relationships, so F/M (female/male) is the most popular relationship category pre-Korrasami fanfictions. However, as the seasons continue, especially around season three, Korra and Mako's relationship falls apart, while Korra's relationship with Asami grows stronger. There is a huge uptick in F/F (female/female) relationship categories after Korra and Asami's relationship is confirmed canon, demonstrating the power this moment had over fans.

While the previous graph demonstrated general trends in relationship categories according to gender, the second visualization on the slide looks more in-depth at some of the most popular ships in TLoK fandom. These are the 10 most popular across the entire TLoK corpus. Take some time to explore these 10 most popular ships, or use the above search function titled "Relationship" to search for another ship. In total, you can explore the top 30 ships!

The next visualizations shows the top 5 ships in the Pre-Korrasami corpus. Korra and Mako are the most popular ship; they are the main couple in the show, after all, so there are parallels between the show and the fandom.

There are a few important arguments to be made from this visualization. First, canonical relationships — and therefore representation in cultural materials — do impact fan communities and how fans engage with texts. In the first few seasons, Korra/Mako may have been popular because they were the lead couple on the show, but the act of them being the lead couple of the show may have also invited mainly a heterosexual fan audience to engage with the show. Second, even though Korra/Mako is the most popular ship, Korra/Asami fanfics were still being published. Even if a fandom replicates heteronormative narratives, there are still fans who challenge this exclusion. Not every fandom's shipping patterns directly mirror the show's canonical relationship; in fact, some of the most popular ships in certain cultural text are LGBTQ+ relationships that are not canon (such as the most used ship in My Hero Academia being two male characters who are not canonically in a relationship). The growing interest of Korra/Asami, even before there are any subtextual hints at their relationship, demonstrate the resilience of fans invested in LGBTQ+ narratives. Even when the Mako/Korra ship reigns over the canonical text and the fandom, the Korra/Asami ship sails on.

The last visualization looks at Korra/Asami's ship (Korrasami). Korrasami jumps in popularity in both the "subtextual-Korrasami" and "post-Korrasami" corpora. Not only that, but the rate of fanfics published also had a huge jump because of this fan investment in Korrasami. There are almost 1,000 more Korrasami fanfics published in the post-Korrasami fanfics than Mako/Korra fanfics published in the pre-Korrasami corpus (300), as displayed here.

This jump both in fanfic publication numbers and the number of Korrasami fanfics published demonstrates the importance of queer representation in cultural texts, especially in fandoms. To have a bisexual relationship represented between two women in a children's cartoon in America had not been done before, and the excitement around this reveal resonated across the entire fandom. And this data spike captures that excitement.